This year Mike James and I have organized two Jane’s Walk events in Long Branch, one for May 4 and the second one on May 5.
The May 5 walk focuses on Marie Curtis Park and the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead. That walk will end at the Fair Grounds Organic Cafe and Roastery at Fortieth Street and Lake Shore Blvd. West.
The first Long Branch walk took place on May 4, 2013 with 25 people in attendance. Given the size of the group, we didn’t take along our portable amplifier, rented from Long & McQuade in Mississauga, as everyone could hear without the need for sound equipment.
Several of the walk attendees had their cameras along so we were able to get plenty of pictures. We also had a couple of digital audiorecorders in operation during the walk, so that we could record our conversations. We used Zoom H1 and Zoom H4n recorders, each equipped with an attached handle and windscreen. We checked the input levels from time to time to ensure optimal sound quality.
At the beginning of the walk, we asked if there was anyone who would wish not to be audio recorded, videotaped, or photographed. It’s always important, out of respect for people’s privacy and in line with privacy legislation, to attend to this detail.
The size of the group was ideal to learn more about the community and its history. Some of the people on the walk were from elsewhere in Toronto, and found out about the walk through the Jane’s Walk website.
Among the comments was that it would be great if the Jane’s Walks were spread out over a longer period of time, perhaps over several weeks, so that a person would be able to attend more of them, rather than just choosing one or two out of over a hundred great walks.
Some other people in the group have lived in the area for many years, and they too had much information and reflections to share.
Historic photos of Long Branch
Before the walk got under way from Marie Curtis Park, we showed some photos, mounted on foamcore, of aerial views of the park and other photos dating back from the years when Long Branch was a cottage community, and when many summer cottages and year-round residences were located on the flood plain at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek.
We spoke of the devastation and loss of life that occurred during Hurricane Hazel in 1954, which led to the removal of houses from the Etobicoke Creek flood plain and the creation of Marie Curtis Park on the land that the cottage community in the area had occupied.
Cannon on the beach
Before setting out on our walk from Etobicoke Creek to the Lakeshore Hospital Grounds, we stopped for a brief visit to the cannon located on the boardwalk of the beach between Forty Second Street and the current channelized version of Etobicoke Creek.
We also spoke of the plans to create a pebble beach (replacing the sand beach) between Etobicoke Creek and Applewood Creek, as well as the plan to introduce meadows and wetlands in that area. The plans are part of the Mississauga Waterfront Connection Environmental Assessment Project.
At the corner of Lake Promenade and Forty Second, a map was available – on a stand indicating the capital improvements currently under way in the park – where we could point where Lake Promenade used to extend far to the west.
The roadway, which now ends at Forty Second Street, used to extend to Applewood Creek close to the Mississauga-Toronto border.
Engineering alterations of Etobicoke Creek began in 1929
In the course of the morning’s discussions, we also noted that the flooding in the area became particularly serious in the decades after 1929, when work was done to build up the peninsula – through cribwork – that used to extend along the shoreline as far as Applewood Creek.
When the peninsula was built up to enable the building of a roadway, a previously available exit to Lake Ontario in the case of flooding was blocked off.
The fact that the forests in the area had been cleared away beginning after the arrival of Colonel Samuel Smith in the late 1790s also helped to set the stage for the later history of flooding in the area.
Western boundary of Toronto is much further west along the shoreline than might be imagined
Many walk attendees found it remarkable to realize that the western boundary between Mississauga and Toronto is not determined by the current location of Etobicoke Creek south of Lake Shore Blvd. West. The western border had been established many years ago taking into account where the western branch of Etobicoke Creek used to run.
Two branches of the creek used to run south of Lake Shore Blvd. West creating an island on which Island Road (which is still there) was located.
The current border also takes into account the fact that the southern course of the stream used to run westward, along a course where the bicycle path leading to Mississauga is now located. The creek emptied into Lake Ontario where Applewood Creek is now located.
On the shoreline of Lake Ontario, Applewood Creek is roughly where the Mississaga-Toronto border is located.
North of Lake Shore Blvd. West, Etobicoke Creek marks the border between Mississauga and Toronto. It’s easy to assume that the current version of Etobicoke Creek, south of Lake Shore Blvd., West, must mark the current boundary, but it doesn’t.
If we understand the previous configuration of Etobicoke Creek in this area, it will be clear why the border is much further to the west than what many of us would initially imagine.
I was surprised, during research for the May 6, 2012 South Long Branch Jane’s Walk, just where the border was indeed located.
Lake View at the foot of Forty First Street
Next we walked over to the Lake View, a small piece of public property, at the foot of Fortieth Street. We noted that our map, handed out to each walk attendee, of the historic subdivisions of Long Branch, indicates the location of each of the Lake Views in this area.
The Lake Views served as a source for water for fire trucks during the days when the Village of Long Branch was in existence. That’s something that I had learned from Mike James during the May 6, 2012 South Long Branch Jane’s Walk.
Street configurations between Lake Promenade and Lake Shore Blvd. West
We then walked north on Fortieth Street. We noted, again with reference to the subdivisions map, that Hilo Road, Garden Place, and James Street each displays a characteristic bend as you travel between Fortieth and Forty First Streets.
I have hypothesized that given that Lake Shore Blvd. West began as an aboriginal trail, it would have made sense for the trail to have changed direction between Forty First Street and Forty Second Street, so that a person walking along the trail would be able to keep the lake in view.
The shoreline makes a change in direction as you travel from around Thirty Eighth Street to Forty Second Street.
This change in direction would account for the fact that Forty First Street, Fortieth Street, and Lake Shore Blvd. West form a roughly triangular shape.
In the circumstances, as I note now that I’ve thought about it after the May 4 walk, maintaining perpendicular intersections at Forty First Street for James Street, Garden Place, and Hilo Road could only be achieved by causing the latter three streets to adopt their characteristic curves.
As I’ve worked on this blog post, I’ve realized that Fortieth Street and Fortieth Street have their particular configuration because of a desire, on the part of planners, to ensure that the intersections at Lake Shore Blvd. West are perpendicular (at right angles).
The origin of this chain of decisions would have been the response of aboriginal walkers, walking through the forest while seeking to keep the shore of Lake Ontario in view.
When we walked north on Fortieth Street, we pointed out a couple of houses on large lots where the owners had chosen to build large houses while retaining large open spaces.
This approach stands in contrast to the approach whereby a sizeable – or in some cases not so sizeable – lot if severed and a large house is built upon each of the severed lots.
We walked east along James Street, stopping to note some recent severed-lot developments.
Mike James noted that the circumstances which lead to lot severances are understandable from the viewpoint of economics and other variables.
He noted, in this context, that the previous history of the communities of Long Branch, New Toronto, and Mimico includes many features of change which may have met with opposition at the time.
We also noted how the width of sidewalks changed as we walked through 1919 and 1920 Eastwood Park developments, as indicated on our subdivisions map. The changes are roughly but not exactly at the subdivision boundaries indicated in the map.
Long Branch Hotel
We then proceeded east to Dominion Road and from there south on Thirty Fifth Street to where the Long Branch Resort and the Long Branch Hotel used to be located.
With help from a great hand-drawn map created by Bill Rawson, whom we were introduced to at the end of the May 6, 2012 Long Branch walk, we were able to point out where the Long Branch Hotel had been located before it was destroyed in a fire.
Bill Rawson has a great used furniture store on the south side of Lake Shore Blvd. West across from the Long Branch Public Library.
After a fire in an adjoining building, the furniture store is currently undergoing renovation. The furniture from the store is now in storage but the store will be reopening when the renovations are completed.
Bill Rawson’s store is a great gathering spot for long-time local residents. During my research for the May 4 walk, Bill Rawson and I visited the Long Branch Hotel area and he pointed out a tremendous number of things that have added immeasurably to my understanding of the area.
Area south of the Long Branch Hotel area was filled in later
On our May 4 walk we were also able to locate where the shoreline was located in the past, east of Long Branch Avenue.
We noted that Lake Promenade, as another map that we distributed indicated, used to be non-existent in a stretch of land extending from Long Branch Avenue in front of the Long Branch Hotel area.
We also pointed out, with help from Bill Rawson’s map, where the dance hall was located where soldiers on leave during the Second World War found entertainment in the evenings.
The dance hall burned down at one point. It was rebuilt, but after that it wash’t quite as impressive a structure as it had been earlier.
Hotel fire in 1958
The hotel burned down in 1958. The fire occurred during a cold snap. An attempt had been made to unthaw a frozen water pipe underneath the building. That attempt led to the fire, as Bill Rawson has described.
As well, we noted that when the area south to the south of the Long Branch Hotel area was filled in, a developer had attempted to build on the land. However, the local government of the time ensured that the filled-in land would remain as public property. This information was met with applause from the walk attendees.
Lakeshore Hospital Grounds
From there we walked east, stopping at another Lake View location, before heading toward the Lakeshore Hospital Grounds. People enjoyed the tour of the Colonel Samuel Smith Ice Trail.
It was noted that the original plan for the Ice Trail would have had a stronger impact on the surrounding natural habitat, but in response to community input the plans were modified. The ice trail provides an ice skating experience that has been highly enjoyable for local residents and visitors from elsewhere in Toronto.
Among other things, the trail enables residents to enjoy ice skating in the evenings, which I imagine would have been an experienced that many teens and other age groups would have experienced in outdoor settings as a matter of course in previous generations.
We also spoke of the history of the Lakeshore Hospital Grounds, and described the burial grounds near Evans Avenue where a clean-up day will be held on May 11, 2013.
It was noted that attitudes have changed with regard to mental illness and that there is less stigmatization of persons with mental illness than used to be the case in the past. We noted the excellent work that the CAMH – Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – in service of those who live with mental illness.
Part of the history is that after the psychiatric hospital was closed down, after some years a decision was reached to ensure that the land remains in public hands. It now houses Humber College classrooms, offices, and facilities in repurposed historical buildings on the site.
The walk ended at the Assembly Hall, which we described as an inspiring repurposing of a historic building to make it a great space for community events and activities.
This report gives a brief overview of the walk.
More details will follow and we’ll also add maps, photos, and additional comments and insights from walk participants, to round out the discussion.