Bringing the dead zone back to life
For over sixty years the Gardiner Expressway has been a defining feature of Toronto’s urban landscape. The 18 kilometre concrete structure stands tall as a symbol of its time - functional in nature, monumental in both scale and ambition, and built to achieve single-purpose, car-centric planning objectives.
But much of the space beneath it has been a deadzone, barren and underutilised - until now. Reinvented as The Bentway, a linear park’s been developed underneath a stretch of the expressway, which when finished, will encompass over one and a half kilometres of trails, public space and art installations, linking together up-and-coming areas of downtown Toronto.
The first section was unveiled in early January - a 220 metre long ice skating trail where visitors can skate, listen to live music at weekly DJ parties, and participate in pop-up curling.
Named after the columns, or bents, that hold up the expressway The Bentway aims to turn infrastructure that normally divides neighbourhoods, into an amenity. Urban designer Ken Greenberg collaborated with landscape architects Marc Ryan and Adam Nicklin from the firm, Public Work, on the design. But it would never have got underway without the visionary philanthropic support of Judy and Wilmot Matthews, who donated over $27 million.
The area surrounding The Bentway is rich with a layered history. The site follows the original shoreline of Lake Ontario, when it was an important junction for trade, and a hunting and a gathering place for indigenous peoples. The Bentway site is located on the Treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and is the traditional territory of the Haundenosaunee, the Huron-Wendat, the Metis and many other indigenous nations.
The Bentway is a gateway to the waterfront, while providing access to important attractions and destinations - from Fort York National Historic Site, Ontario Place and Exhibition Place to Harbourfront Centre and the CN Tower.
During the summer the ice skating trail will become part of the park’s larger trail system. Roller-skating disco parties, artist designed mini-golf and community dining are also being considered to utilise it. Features to be added to the park in the next few months include a green amphitheatre for music performances and movie screenings, as well as a public market and space for special exhibitions and festivals.
When completed it’s estimated the park will be within a 10-minute walk for around 70,000 people; a welcome amenity in a part of the city short on leisure space relative to the number of apartment dwellers nearby.