The Leslie Street Spit, formally known as Tommy Thompson Park, has received an $8 million upgrade.
The sustainable infrastructure improvements, which include enhancements to the park’s natural areas, infrastructure and trails, were made possible through a partnership between Waterfront Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
The upgrades began in 2006 and were completed this summer.
Specifically, they include three new structures inside Tommy Thompson Park.
At the entrance, there’s a new parking lot and an interpretive area/staff booth where people can get information about the park and where visitors can get picked up or dropped off by a shuttle.
This building, which will be ready for staff to move in to this spring, features an amphitheatre area at the back.
About halfway in, there’s a new adaptable environmental shelter and washroom facility at a land-locked body of water called Cell 1, which was previously used as a confined disposal facility for materials dredged from the Keating Channel and the Lower Don River. Filled to capacity in 1985 and capped with a thick layer of clay that locks in the dredged materials, this pond is now a new natural wetland for a range of plant and animal species.
This unique building is completely sunk into the ground in order to focus on the park’s urban wilderness.
“It’s an outdoor classroom for groups. There’s locked storage space for their bags and belongings and two washrooms,” said Andrea Chreston, an environmental technologist with the TRCA, during a recent tour of Tommy Thompson Park.
Thirdly, the park is home to a new ecological research station/interpretative area – a loft-like structure where bird banding and research takes place.
Previously, this type of work was done in a “glorified” garden shed, Chreston said.
“There’s now enough space for four bird banders at any given time,” she said, noting the space is four times as large as it used to be.
All buildings are made of durable COR-TEN steel, which isn’t easily vandalized or destroyed by fire, and feature an industrial esthetic that blends well with the site, Chreston said.
Aside from the new structures, the $8 million investment also included habitat restoration including new and enhanced shorelines and improved costal wetland communities where fish, birds and amphibians can thrive.
The TRCA also did several tree plantings throughout the site as well as meadow enhancements, which included planting native grasses and wildflowers to enhance the habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
These new ecosystems on the site are now developing and evolve on their own naturally, she explained, adding the overall aim of the upgrades are to make Tommy Thompson Park look more like a natural green space and less like a construction zone.
A grand opening event for the upgraded park is set to take place early next year.
A unique man-made peninsula at the foot of Leslie Street in the port lands, the Spit is a stopover point for more than 315 species of migrating birds and more than 55 butterfly species.
The unique five-kilometre long urban wilderness park was created by the dumping of clean construction fill from some of Toronto’s most notable buildings.
Initiated by the Toronto Harbour Commission (now known as the Toronto Port Authority) in 1959, the Leslie Street Spit was created in anticipation of an increase in shipping activity in Toronto as a result of the newly opened St. Lawrence Seaway.
However, things didn’t go exactly as planned with the advent of increased ground transportation and by the early 1970, the Toronto Port Authority was forced to consider Plan B for the site.
At that time, the provincial government invited the TRCA to come up with a master plan for a public park for the lands, which are partially owned by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and leased to the Toronto Port Authority for lake-filling operations.
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, with the support of the Friends of the Spit stewardship group, has managed the urban wilderness park since the mid-1970s. Both groups work together to keep the site open to the public, free of vehicles and for passive recreational uses.
Tommy Thompson Park has now reached its final size and shape and any crews dumping construction materials there on weekdays do so for erosion protection.
Currently, the TRCA owns about half of the site – the completed parkland portion.
“Eventually this whole site is to be a public park,” said Chreston, explaining it would be owned by the TRCA and managed/operated in partnership with the City of Toronto’s parks department.
One of the largest green spaces in the city, more than 250,000 people visit the Leslie Street Spit annually – and that’s just on the weekends and statutory holidays.
Visit www.tommythompsonpark.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416-661-6600, ext. 5770 for more information about Tommy Thompson Park.