Pandemic walk: the Bentway and Garrison Common

Former wasted space under the Gardiner Expressway provides an ideal spot for a unique half-hour stroll


The days are getting shorter, so don’t let summer pass by without enjoying the nice weather. A walk or hike will clear your head, provide exercise and boost your spirits during this difficult time. In this series, I explore some of the city’s parks and streets. This week: the Bentway, the very cool 1.75 km space under the Gardiner that provides an ideal spot for a walk, physically distanced meal or skateboarding session.

Start: Wednesday, 6:10 pm, entrance near Bathurst and Fort York Blvd

Like a couple of previous walks, I had no idea this place existed. I’m a big fan of the Fort York Toronto Public Library branch, but didn’t realize this was only a few minutes away. I knew the Bentway launched in 2018 as a skate trail, but didn’t consider what it would be during the warmer months. What a nice surprise.

Accessibility

Main access points are on Fort York Blvd just west of Bathurst, or off Strachan just beneath the Gardiner Expressway. The entire Bentway is wheelchair accessible. By TTC, the Bathurst 511 or Harbourfront 509 streetcar gets you there, or you can try the Fort York-Esplanade 121 bus. There’s an onsite washroom.

What you can see, who’s there

The former wasted space has been transformed into a cool corridor that feels airy, welcome and accessible, even though hundreds of cars are whizzing by overhead. The Bentway gets its name from the columns, or “bents,” that hold up the Gardiner.

The width, height and the mix of gravel and concrete are ideal for multipurpose activities. It’s easy to take a physically distanced walk, even with the occasional cyclist or jogger passing by. There’s free WiFi (for an hour), and I even saw someone recharging a phone from an electrical outlet in one of the concrete columns. I noticed some lights strung up between columns; it must be gorgeous at night.

In the 15-20 minutes it took me to walk the Bentway, I saw skateboarders, yoga enthusiasts, leashed dogs and their owners (most heading to the Garrison Common), and pedestrians like me. There are plenty of seating areas too, from little blocks and benches to a row of what look like wooden reclining patio chairs.

Glenn Sumi

A skateboarder practices before an imaginary audience.

There’s also a grouping of three rows of plastic yellow seats – perfect to see, say, a modest performance. And right before you get to Strachan there’s an outdoor theatre section where you can eat or watch a show (when shows return).

The space also acts as a public art venue. I can’t wait to see Esmaa Mohamoud’s Double Dribble, which will transform the Bentway into a basketball-inspired playground. And during the summer there are events like communal picnics. Yum.

What’s so exciting is that almost all the areas were being used when I walked by, but the place never once felt crowded.

What’s nearby

From the westernmost part of the Bentway you can see the Princess Princes’ Gates of the CNE. So you’re not far from the Ex and Ontario Place. But why bother? Instead, head a few steps north to the Garrison Common, a serious patch of green that’s big enough for you to picnic, read or contemplate life in relative privacy. (When I went, Fort York was closed.)

Glenn Sumi

The Garrison Crossing Bridge is a few minutes from the Bentway.

There’s also the newly built Garrison Crossing Bridge over the train tracks, one of two bridges whose arches intentionally look like they’re teetering over. These bridges get you to Ordnance Park, from which you can eventually find your way to King West.

End: 7 pm, back at Bathurst and Fort York Blvd

I’m definitely going back, especially if I have to head to the CNE or Ontario Place. What’s nice is that the area around it is notoriously pedestrian-unfriendly, especially the hazardous intersection at Bathurst and Lake Shore Blvd, so this little car-free zone is oddly relaxing. True, it’s not the longest walk, but there’s nothing else like it in the city. If you pair the Bentway with a walk around Garrison Common or the Martin Goodman Trail, it could add up to some decent exercise.

See more Pandemic Walks here and here.

@glennsumi

Comments (1)

  • Catherine McLean August 17, 2020 08:20 PM

    Thanks for the piece. Just a minor error: the gates to the CNE referred to are the Princes’ gates, named after two princes, not a princess.

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