Leslie St. Spit/ Tommy Thompson Park

Developers: Toronto Harbor Commissioners, Toronto Port Authority | City: Toronto, ON | Project Type: habitat, urban wilderness, post-industrial
Date Visited: 09.01.12
Location: 3 Leslie St Toronto, ON M4M 3M9
Size: 5 km long, over 250 hectares (over 600 acres)
Official Opening Date: Public Access started in 1973

Leslie St. Spit–also known as Tommy Thompson Park–is an “accidental wilderness.”

A man-made peninsula that extends five kilometers into Lake Ontario from the base of Leslie St. in Toronto’s East End, Leslie St. Spit is a remarkable merger of man and nature. After the landmass was abandoned post-construction, the site developed into one of the largest existing habitats on the Toronto waterfront, from coastal marshes to wildflower meadows.

I visited Leslie St. Spit on my fifth day in Toronto and it sealed my newfound love for the city–this place is phenomenal.

Starting in 1959, millions of cubic meters of sand and salt were dredged from the Outer Harbor and dumped into the area of Leslie Street and Unwin Avenue to form an infrastructural breakwater project. Although plans for breakwater were later abandoned, waste rock material from excavation, demolition and construction from various sites in Toronto continued to be dumped into the Spit. Over time, pioneer plant communities and other wildlife took root on the expanding, abandoned landmass and, in the 1970s, after the need for port-related facilities was dismissed, the Spit was turned over for park development.

This post-industrial ecological sanctuary is still under construction. Throughout the year, the Toronto Port Authority adds additional fill to widen and extend the shoreline and to prevent erosion.

Since it’s still a working site, official visitation hours are limited to weekends and holidays. And though you could sneak in after 5:30PM on weekdays, it’s best to see the Spit in the day time.

I biked down to the Spit on another one of Toronto’s gloriously sunny and breezy days. On the way, you’ll pass by a community garden to your left and then eventually a large parking lot–I arrived a little bit after noon and the whole lot was filled with cars. Lots of people were out on the Spit, many of them families with young children walking and biking along the trails. Ever since it became recognized as a “Globally Significant Important Bird Area” in 2000, the Spit has also become a favorite gathering place for bird watchers.

Having visited Toronto Island, which lies fairly close to the Spit, just the day before, I was struck by the contrast between the two land masses. Toronto Island is carefully manicured and pastoral with its quaint farm, formal gardens and elegant fountains. In contrast, Leslie St. Spit is an overgrown wilderness of plant communities that have taken control of the manmade land mass; although trails have been laid out, some areas are impassable due to dense vegetation.

Near the edges, you can see where construction debris has been dumped; slowly, plants start to creep over and take root in the thin soil profile.

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