Favourite Toronto Walks -Mid-Toronto Loop

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! As part of its COVID-19 strategy, the City of Toronto had closed some facilities in the parks noted below. Check the City’s website for more info before you go.

And now on to the regular post …..

Graffiti art on the Lower Don

I was thinking about how to make an all-day walk that tied together some of my favourite parks and trails in mid-Toronto, and looking at a map I realized that I could put together something that stared and ended in mid-town and took in the Don Valley, the lakefront, and the parks and trails to the west around Roncesvalles. Here’s what I came up with:

This takes in a number of Toronto’s wonderful leafy parks (Moore Ravine Park, Corktown Common, Coronation Park, Marilyn Bell Park, Sunnyside Park, and Earlscourt Park), along with the Mount Pleasant and Prospect Cemeteries, and incorporates big chunks of the Kay Gardner Beltline and York Beltline Trails, Lower Don Trail, Martin Goodman Trail, and the West Toronto Rail Path Trail. Whew!

Length: Depending on your exact route and any detours, it will be about 30-32 km. Allow yourself about 7-8 hours to give time for breaks, picnics, and perhaps some shopping.

Surface: Mostly paved, with some gravel paths along the Kay Gardner Beltline.

Public Transit: Take subway Line 1 to Davisville Station and walk south 2 blocks along Yonge Street to Merton Street. Cross at the lights, walk about 50m east and turn into the laneway behind condo to reach the Beltline Trail opposite the gate into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The finish is the same spot, so just reverse your steps to get back to Davisville Station.

Route:

Starting in mid-town on the Kay Gardner Beltline Trail on the north side of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, it follows that Trail through the Cemetery and then out on the south-east end, to continue down the Moore Ravine past the Don Valley Brickworks. Here, divert to the Brickworks for a pitstop, and then cross Bayview to join the Lower Don Trail.

Continue south on the Don Valley Trail to Rosedale Valley Drive. Since the Don Trail stops here, it climbs the hill beside St. James Cemetery and then enters Riverdale Park, following the trails there back down into the Don Valley to pick up the Lower Don Trail again. Continuing south, it reaches Corktown Common and then bends around to the west as it joins the Martin Goodman Trail along the lake.

Continuing west on the Martin Goodman Trail, you go all the way across to Sunnyside Park, and then take the footbridge over the roads and rail lines to reach Roncesvalles Avenue. Walking north up Roncy, you reach Grenadier Road, turn east for a bit, and then jog north up Sorauren Avenue to reach Dundas St W. Turning east, you follow Dundas for about 100m to reach the start of the West Toronto Rail Trail. This takes you north for several km past Bloor Street, and deposits you on Osler St, where you jog north and west to reach Davenport Road, just west of Earlscourt Park.

Cutting through the park, you emerge onto St. Clair Avenue at the bottom of Prospect Cemetery. The roads through here wind north and exit onto Eglinton Avenue. Turning west for a bit, you find Caledonia Road, go north to Bowie Avenue, and then turn west to pick up the start of the York Beltline Trail. This then curves north and then east, taking you eventually to Marlee Avenue. Exiting this trail, you cross Marlee at the lights, follow Elmridge Drive over the Allen Expressway, and then turn into the lane to join the Kay Gardner Beltline again at its western end. Following this all the way back to Mount Pleasant Cemetery completes the loop.

Sights:

What I like about this route is that it shows off so many of the best parts of Toronto – the parks, the ravines, the trails, the lake, and diverse neighbourhoods full of shops, restaurants, and bars. You get some natural fun along with some urban colour.

At the start, Mount Pleasant Cemetery is worth a visit all by itself. I love wondering its cool shaded roads and exploring the history of Toronto expressed in the headstones and monuments. The Kay Gardner Beltline Trail is incorporated into the Cemetery, so you can just follow the purple line painted on the road, or you can detour and explore a bit.

As you exit the Cemetery, you enter one of the best walking trails in Toronto, the Moore Ravine Trail. The trees, the quiet, the burbling of Mud Creek, and the people watching are all fantastic. It’s a short walk, but it then takes you past the Don Valley Brickworks, again a worthy destination on its own.

Cool Moore Ravine shade on a hot summer day

From the Brickworks, following the Lower Don Trail takes you under the Prince Edward Viaduct that carries Bloor Street and the subway over the Don Valley. Climbing the hill at Rosedale Valley Road takes you into Riverdale and east Cabbagetown. The zoo and park here are great fun for kids, and in summer the hot dog and ice cream vendors are worth a treat.

And of course, then there’s Corktown. The Common is one of my favourite recent additions to the City. I remember this area in the 1980’s as a post-industrial grey wasteland, and to see it now, transformed, is to be reminded that even if we badly bugger up the world, we can, if we put our minds to it, help nature reclaim and renew it.

The wavedeck at the foot of Spadina

The Martin Goodman Trail takes you through the Queen’s Quay neighbourhood, another area that’s seen huge changes over the past 20 years. The shops at Queens Quay itself have been joined in the area by many condo’s, and while I can’t say I’m a fan of tall glass towers, it does mean that there’s a much more residential feel in the area now. Combine that with reminders of industry like the Redpath Sugar Mills along with the marinas, the Harbourfront Centre’s art galleries, and little parks like the Toronto Music Garden and you get a diverse area with many things worth a detour and exploration.

Past Queens Quay, the lakeshore all the way west is mostly one big big green space divided into several parks – Coronation, Marilynn Bell, and Sunnyside. Each is chockfull of picnic areas, benches, Adirondack chairs, and cool shade. I could do without the roar of traffic from the busy nearby roads, but when you get a little quiet lull, the honk of geese and splash of waves reminds you that you’re next to Toronto’s greatest feature – Lake Ontario.

Little Norway Park along Queens Quay

Then you jump back into urban life, along Roncesvalles, where shops, restaurants, and bars abound. There’s a lot of life here and it’s changed so much over the past 20 years that I hardly recognize it. The recent addition of the Museum of Contemporary Art to the area just continues to boost an already-booming area.

The West Toronto Rail Path leads you into an area that hasn’t yet been gentrified (yes there are still some of those in mid-Toronto). This area still has a lot of older untrendy shops that remind you that actual working-class people still live in actual working-class houses.

Graffiti art along the West Toronto Rail Path

And then Earlscourt Park, leading to the Corso Italia area along St. Clair Avenue West brings you into a slice of Toronto that has seen waves of newcomers bring life along with their culture and foods. It’s changing still as it always has – come back in 20 years and the Corso Italia may become Little Mexico.

Prospect Cemetery is a cool oasis about 3/4s of the way through this walk, and like Mount Pleasant, it’s a reminder of so many things about Toronto’s past. Whereas Mount Pleasant’s early headstones show the Anglo-Scots surnames of the “Toronto the Good” era, in Prospect Cemetery the names are Irish, Ukrainian, Polish, and Portuguese – west Toronto has been working class for more than one hundred years.

Prospect Cemetery

You see that working class vibe as you leave Prospect and cross Eglinton. The houses and shops here are smaller but no less well tended than the bigger places near, for example, Rosedale or Forest Hill. And then joining the York Beltline, you are joining a path that follows one of the key transportation links that made this area an industrial powerhouse for decades. It’s slowly becoming more residential, and as you walk east back towards the finish, you move back in time from the newer redevelopments into the older, greener mid-town neighbourhoods.

greenery along the Beltline

In walking this, in many ways you do loops in time and in demographics as well as geographically. Along the way, the route takes you from the old City of York which dates back to 1780’s, neighbourhoods that grew up between the mid-nineteenth though to the mid-twentieth centuries, and up into the latest waves of downtown urbanization. It covers inner-city rent-controlled public housing, the latest young-homeowner condo forests, older working-class, and upscale old-money. And, it shows off the natural features of Toronto that I like the most – the ravines, creeks, rivers, and the lake.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the time of year will offer a lot of variety to this walk. You can do this in any season, though some of the trails can get icy in January and February. It’s, shall we say, bracing to walk along the lake in the winter, but when it’s cold and the waves are high the natural ice sculptures can be dramatic. Of course, autumn would always be lovely given the many treed paths and parks so a crisp October day might be perfect. And spring and summer offer their own joys. I did this walk recently, in July 2020, and picked a day that was in the mid-20’s. There are some stretches, especially near Ontario Place and on the York Beltline, where there is little shade, so if it’s bright and sunny you’ll definitely need sun protection.

Food & Refreshment:

There are many, many options along this route. If you like picnics, this route offers some excellent locations in the parks you pass. If you like quick bites, then there’s that too – food trucks, ice cream, coffee, and little cafes. And of course, there are restaurants galore, in parks like the Brickworks, or in neighbourhoods like Queens Quay, Roncevalles, or the Corso Italia.

Washrooms are located in most of the parks along the way, though many are closed in the cold months (November-April). There are year-round washrooms at the Brickworks, along Queens Quay, and in the community centres at Earlscourt Park and Memorial Park. There are also many coffee shops along the way where you can use the facilities for the price of a coffee.

In terms of water fountains, it’s best to carry at least some water. There are places in many of the parks but these are turned off in the cold months. Other liquid refreshment options abound along Queens Quay and in Roncesvalles.

Diversions:

  1. This is a route that is easy to break up over several days. The parks make good jumping on/off points – Corktown Common, Coronation Park, and Earlscourt Park are all near streetcar stops and can work well this way.
  2. If you are coming in from outside Toronto, you might want to stop/start at Union Station instead of Davisville. You can take the GO Train to Union and walk down Bay Street to Queens Quay, and join the loop that way.
  3. I’ve described this going clockwise around Toronto, but of course you could do it counter-clockwise. Either way, you have to descend from mid-town to the lake and climb back again, though I find the climb through Earlscourt and Prospect Cemetery to be a bit less steep than up the Don Valley and the Moore Ravine.
  4. In walking this, you’ll pass some great shopping/dining areas, especially around Corktown – the Distillery District and St. Lawrence Market are an easy detour away, and you can avoid the industrial grunge around the bottom of the Lower Don Trail where it joins the Martin Goodman Trail.
  5. If you really want to extend your loop, you can also incorporate the Toronto Islands. Just take the ferry at the bottom of Yonge over to Wards Island, walk the path west to Hanlon’s Point and ferry back to the docks to rejoin the path I’ve outlined. I’d allow at least 1.5 hours for this, including ferry waiting times.

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