Favourite Toronto Walks -Martin Goodman Trail

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 has closed the parks noted below. The Trail itself is open for walking, but the parks and their facilities are not.

And now on to the regular post …..

The Martin Goodman Trail winds along the shore of Lake Ontario, from the Humber River in the West, past Sunnyside Beach, Ontario Place, and Queen’s Quay, crosses the Don River and loops down around Cherry Beach, and then follows Lakeshore Road through Woodbine Park onto the Beaches Boardwalk to end at Balmy Beach. If you want summer, follow this path.

And if you’re not in summer, walk it anyway – the autumn colours, the spring flowers, and the natural ice sculptures of winter all offer sights to keep you interested.

And for people watching, this is Toronto hanging out in its backyard – the whole city makes an appearance at some point. It’s endlessly entertaining and changing to fit the seasons and your mood. Go walk it, and take the time to hang out and chill.

Length: roughly 18-19 km end to end, so 4-5 hours depending on stops. The Martin Goodman Trail is also part of the much longer Waterfront Trail, which within the City of Toronto itself runs from Mimico Creek in the west all the way to the Rouge River in the east. It’s around 50 km across the city, and I’ve walked that as part of my Crossing Toronto Big Walk.

Surface: paved the whole way, though you can walk on boardwalks too at Sunnyside and in the Beaches

Public Transit: to start (assuming you’re going west to east) take the subway Line 1 to either Queen Station or Osgoode Station. Catch the 501 Streetcar heading west to either the South Kingsway (east bank of the Humber River) or the Humber loop stop (west bank). From the streetcar, walk south to pick up the trail on the east side of the Humber Arch bridge At the finish, walk from Balmy Beach north up to Queen Street to catch the 501 Streetcar at Neville Park to head back west to Queen Station on subway Line 1.

Route: The Trail is strait-forward and well marked. It officially starts on the east side of the Humber River just past the Humber Arch Bridge, though there are also several km of waterfront trail on the west side of the river, between Mimico Creek and the Humber.

The Humber Arch Bridge

Strictly speaking, there are actually 2 parallel trails, one for bikes and one for walkers. On weekends especially, the bike trail can be busy with speeding spandex, so keep to the walking trail.

There are lots of park benches along the way, and in Sunnyside Park and in the Beaches, there are also lots of comfy Adirondack-style chairs. On a weekday morning, they’re heaven for resting tired feet.

The path follows the lake pretty closely with many little diversions through side gardens. There are a couple of street crossings to negotiate, near Bathurst Street, at Cherry Street, and near the Beaches. Otherwise you really can’t get lost – just head towards the CN Tower from the west end, and towards the Ashbridge’s Bay chimneys once you’re past the CN Tower.

Sights: There are lots of little joys along the trail. You might see a mother goose and her goslings trailing obediently. Or stop to take in the flowers and the visitors at one of the little butterfly gardens that dot the parks. Or there’s the site of planes taking off from Billy Bishop Airport on the islands (even more spectacular during the Toronto Airshow).

The view from the Humber Arch Bridge looking east

As you walk along the trail, there’s also many spots to take in the Toronto skyline. You may not realize it, but you are starting a bit south of the city when you are over by the Humber. As you walk towards Queens Quay, you’re walking north and east, and the many condo and office towers compete with the CN Tower and Rogers Center to dominate the view.

At Sunnyside Beach looking back west towards Mimico

Then as you move past all the shops along Queens Quay itself, and cross the Don River channel at the docklands to head to Cherry Beach, you enter a more relaxed area with sand and trees. It’s a great spot to stop for a picnic.

Cherry Beach
The trail heading east from Cherry Beach

Continuing on, the beach vibe takes over completely past Ashbridges Bay. The sand will tempt you in any weather, and in summer it’s our own version of Venice Beach. I once came across a movie shoot in progress, across the path from a step aerobics class, and alongside grandparents walking with grandkids slurping ice cream who were staring at muscle-shirted beach volleyball players.

The Beaches Boardwalk at Woodbine Beach
Balmy Beach on a not so balmy day …

Food & Refreshment: The Trail has several places for food and drinks, though most are open only during the Canadian summer – Victoria Day to Labour Day. Outside those months, the Trail has dozens of spots that are perfect for a picnic with may picnic tables, benches, chairs, shady spots under trees and sunny spots on sand.

The Sunnyside Pavilion Cafe is a lovely spot for coffee or something stronger.

There are many options around Queens Quay, especially on a summer weekend when there’s usually a festival or market of some kind.

And of course, when you get to the Beaches, a short walk north from the trail takes you to Queen Street with its many shops, restaurants, and bars, not to mention Beaches institutions like Ed’s Real Scoop Ice Cream.

There are a number of public toilets along the trail, at Sunnyside Park, at Queens Quay, Cherry Beach, Woodbine Beach, and Balmy Beach. These are only open between May – October, however. Outside those months, your best bets more or less on the trail are the shops at Queens Quay. Otherwise you’ll need to leave the trail and head towards the shops on one of the parallel shopping streets. Or just walk fast and drink lightly.

Diversions: Because the Trail runs though and nearby to many fun neighbourhoods, like Queens Quay, and especially the Beaches, there are many ways to change the route around.

  1. Shorten it and just walk from the Humber to Queen’s Quay, or from Queen’s Quay to the Beaches.
  2. West to east is fun for me because I like to end at the Beaches, but going east to west is also good. In that case, starting off with a great breakfast at a Beaches joint like the Sunset Grill sets you up to hike away.
  3. As mentioned, the walk changes character dramatically when you go off season. For a number of years, we liked to walk the Beaches Boardwalk on New Year’s Day, and often the wind off the lake is particularly icy. It’s still fun though, and when he was small our son liked to throw snowballs into the lake.

Walk Journal – Labour Day Weekend

Where: Sunday Sep 1, north Toronto exploring the West Don River valley. On Monday Sep. 2, south Toronto along the lake while watching part of the CNE Air Show.

Duration: Sunday Sep 1 – about 4 hours covering around 18 km; on Monday Sep 2, about 2 hours covering about 8 km.

Weather: Grey and rainy on Sunday, mostly sunny on Monday – around 18-22 C

This past weekend was the unofficial end of summer, marked by Labour Day weekend. Toronto always has an end of season feel to it the first weekend in September, even if the calendar says the official end of summer is still a few weeks off. With most kids going back to school the Tuesday after Labour Day, it means the summer holidays are over so everyone wants to cram in one last weekend of activity before buckling down.

It’s also true that the weather usually starts to change a bit in late August – we usually get a bit of a cooler spell after the heat of July and early August, and the humidity levels drop. That’s what we had this year as well, along with some rain.

All that added up to an excuse to do some walking over the long weekend. I decided to break it up into 2 days. On the Sunday, I did a long walk on my own, and on the Monday, my wife and I did a shorter one by the lake. Each was interesting in its own way, and showed off some of the things I like best about Toronto, as well as some of the things that are annoying.

For my Sunday walk, I set off up Avenue Road, all the way to Armour Heights just north of the 401. From here, I followed Westgate Blvd down down into the West Don River valley to enter Earl Bales Park and from there followed the trails along the river to the Hinder Property on the north side of Sheppard Avenue. At that point, I had to leave the parks to cross Bathurst St. and cut through the Bathurst Manor neighbourhood to reach the Forest Valley Outdoor Education Centre and then the West Don Parkland trails to continue north and west through to Finch Avenue. Finally, I crossed into G. Ross Lord Park to reach the Finch Hydro Corridor Park and followed that back east to Yonge Street, where I took the subway back home.

I’ve done this walk before, but in reverse from the north to south, when I walked the East and West Don River over a two day span in May 2018. That time, I started at Finch subway and walked west through the Hydro Corridor to G. Ross Lord Park and then worked my way south. On this day, going north from the Earl Bales Park, in late summer, made for a very different feel. For one thing, there were just a few hints of the cooler autumn weather to come, with a few trees just starting to turn colour, the rustle of dried leaves, and the skitter of squirrels gathering winter food.

Hints of autumn colours on September 1 in Earl Bales Park

There was also a reminder in Earl Bales Park – the ski lifts. This is one of the only places within the city where you can learn to ski and snowboard. Walking past them on a late summer day, you can’t help but think that within about 10 weeks, these could be in use.

It was a quiet day for walking. There were a few people out on the trails, but for the most part the city was chilling out – even the ever-present background traffic hum was dimmer than usual. I had to cross out of the parks and walk through some neighbourhood streets between the Hinder Property and the West Don Parklands, and there was little activity to be seen. The air was heavy and there were a few drops of rain sneaking about, and other than a bit of yard work going on, there was a sense of restfulness combined with anticipation – chill now, school soon.

I was also surprised by the changes in the trail. When I walked it from the north in the spring of 2018, there was an actual trail to follow from Finch down through the West Don Parkland. At that time, I had eventually come out of the trail near the Prosserman Community Centre on the west side of Bathurst, where I’d climbed out of the valley to the west and cut through side streets to cross Bathurst and enter the Hinder Property. But on this day, standing at the bottom of the same river valley, opposite the Community Centre, I couldn’t find the northward trail at all.

Where’s the trail? Google Maps says it’s somewhere under those power lines.

There was a dense growth of wild flowers and tall grasses, and while Google Maps insisted that there was a trail somewhere amidst the growth, I couldn’t find it. After chasing dragonflies and swatting mosquitoes for a few minutes squelching through the marshy ground, I gave up. I had to climb back out of the valley and cut through side streets before I could descend again towards the river, at the Toronto District School Board’s Forest Valley Outdoor Education centre, and even there I had to jump a fence to pick up the trail again. I assume that since there is a lot of construction going on around the Prosserman Community Centre, there’s no way to get out of the valley past it to cross Bathurst and get to the Hinder Property, plus I don’t think this is official City of Toronto Parks property, hence there’s no trail maintenance. I’ll have to see if I can walk this again in winter, when the trail may be more obvious.

Since it was raining lightly at this point, I kept going into G. Ross Lord Park, and crossed the dam over the West Don River to reach the Finch Hydro Corridor.

The reservoir was low, and with the grasses and bushes looking dry, it had a melancholy feel, as if it had been abandoned. The river is tamed here, not that it needs another barrier on top of the concrete channels and golf courses that already bind its flow. The line of pylons carrying electrical transmission wires stretched off to the east and the west, spreading out from the valley and taking your eyes with them away from the trees below and towards the ever-marching forest of apartment and condo towers.

I had intended to keep going north and west, following the river north past Steeles and then heading home along Black Creek, but that sense of the city hemming me in, and the threatening skies, made me turn back east and head towards Yonge.

As I walked, it started to rain, properly now, so that I had to get out my rain gear, and that lowered my mood even more. But as I walked, I started to hear music. It took a few minutes to realize that it was coming from a festival at Esther Shiner Stadium. As I got closer, I could make out words, though not in English. I didn’t recognize the language, but I did pick up some tantalizing aromas coming from food tents, and I quickened my steps. But when I got the stadium, alas, the festival was ending – I must have been hearing the closing ceremonies, because there was a mass of people leaving as I came up. It was great to see a community event, but don’t tempt me with food and then close up when I get there!

So, trudging on in the rain I eventually came to Hendon Park, where there are several baseball diamonds. There were a couple of young guys throwing a ball around but otherwise it was deserted, as I sat down for a breather. Just then my son texted me from the Blue Jays game he was at, to tell me that the opposing pitcher, Justin Verlander, was in the midst of throwing a no-hitter – great, I thought, why am I sitting here in an empty baseball park in the rain when something historic like that is going on? And on that note, I lumbered off to the subway and home.

The next day, the weather had cleared and it was a lovely 22 C blue-sky morning. My wife and I decided to drive down towards High Park and walk down to the lakeshore to watch some of the air show.

We arrived just as Canada’s RCAF Snowbirds aerial display team has started their performance. Walking down a side street towards King, jets were roaring overhead and we kept catching glimpses through the trees, and them coming out into the open at King, the whole squadron came into view, doing a loop over the lake.

We stood with many others, all craning their necks as they watched the sky, and when the Snowbirds had finished with a roar and a flypast, we crossed the train tracks and the highway to get to Sunnyside Park, near the Palais Royale ballroom. We found a little open space by the water and sat on some rocks to watch a bit more of the show. I’ve always been a plane geek, and it was tremendous fun to spot the planes and identify them. This year there was a fly past of a Mig-15 Korean War-era fighter jet, and I’d never seen one before. It took me back 25 years, to when my friend Paul and I would play a flight simulator game flying against each other, taking turns with the Mig-15 against the F-86 Sabre.

After that break, we meandered west along the Sunnyside boardwalk, stopping to get a hot dog along the way. It was crowded with families, couples, kids, dogs, prams, and scooters. There were volleyball games going on, and kids splashing in the water. The planes kept zooming overhead – “hey look, that’s a Yak-50” “that’s nice” – and the sun was gentling baking with a lovely cool breeze to keep things bearable. It was a perfect way to end the summer.

I love Toronto on days like that – people from all over, diverse, mingling, and happy, taking advantage of the parks and the waterfront, and enjoying a long-standing summer-end tradition with the airshow. It was everything that makes Toronto my home. And I got to hold hands with my darling on the boardwalk. Take that winter!