The CBC's cruel cancellation of evening Coronation Street has resulted in my reluctant acquaintance with Sunday mornings, starting at 7:30 am. This week I ventured still further into the foreign zone of family fun day.
I swing onto the Martin Goodman Trail. Multiple incompatible uses of this stretch of pavement make it a very dangerous place. Rollerbladers swing their legs over both lanes. Joggers speed toward baby strollers, and dogs on long leashes erect sudden barriers that force cyclists to hit the brakes.
East of Harbourfront, an area slated for major development now lies comfortingly neglected. Ghosts of Tent City hover over the lot where it was razed. Around the corner on Cherry Street, bells are ringing. The bascule bridge is rising to allow passage of a small cruise boat called the Island Princess.
The bridge operator's aerial booth is about my favourite Toronto building. Built in 1966, it's a little gem of engineering brilliance.
The Island Princess ties up next to the bridge at the Keating Channel Pub. For some reason the sound of rock music blasting from the pub onto the empty patio appeals to me. It makes me think of hosers and hangovers and a zest for unhealthy living.
I wait until Stairway To Heaven ends before I head down the road to check in for the Keating tour on the Princess.
When I was a kid and saw the channel on a rare trip in a car, I imagined that Holland must look like that. I wanted to live on the blue dredger with all the windows that is moored there still.
When I grew up, I even went down to Villiers Street to pursue the fantasy of living in my made-up Netherlands.
In the park at the corner of the Don Roadway, the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation is holding its little PR fest. Australian wine is being served in cups manufactured from corn. Those taking the 1 o'clock tour are instructed to get on shuttle buses to travel the 600 metres to the pub.
The captain and owner of the Island Princess, Bob Muran is a jovial man, originally from Poland. His announcement that smoking is allowed on the outside lower deck, you can get a gin and tonic at the bar, and a joke about continuing to drink in the life raft would seem to indicate that the Princess is a bit of a party girl.
It's three days before the TWRC announces that Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. of New York and Massachusetts has been awarded a contract that will alter the Lower Don and create a boardwalk beside the Keating along with streets, shops and cafés and 10,000 residential units. All of which may or may not be as incompatible with eco-aspirations as the multiple users are to one another on the Goodman Trail.
Today the Keating message is all about the past. According to our guide, York University archivist Michael Moir, the Don River used to flow into a wetland that was drained because the backup of fetid matter, including effluent from the Gooderham and Worts cow barns, caused outbreaks of cholera and typhoid. The mouth of the Don was later directed into the channel named after 1890s city engineer E.H. Keating. "Engineers love right angles," says Moir.
To avoid that unnatural sharp turn, Keating and the Harbour Commission wanted more land, but it was owned by the British American Oil refinery. The channel is a sediment trap from which 30,000 cubic metres of sand must be dredged every year.
In the 1970s, the channel filled up and an island formed. The sediment used to be dumped out in the lake. Now it goes to the Leslie Spit.
Native people hunted and fished the marshy bay long before an 1858 storm created the Eastern Gap that turned a series of continuously moving sandbars into the Islands. The white man used the land around the Don for ironworks, coal storage, oil refineries and tank farms. Moir points to huge piles of road salt to illustrate his point that the area is still "the city's backyard, where we pile up things we don't want people to see."
Shipping on the greatly anticipated St. Lawrence Seaway of the 1950s was supplanted by trains and now trucks that move containers from ocean ports. Old residential plans for the area were nixed due to industrial coal smoke.
Happy canoeists and kayakers have completed the 14th annual Paddle The Don. This year they stopped at the Keating Channel.
In a few years, who knows where the river will lead?