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Waterfront: West Don Lands (DTAH)

Well, that's T. Corcoran for you. Throw out a few windbag lines and maybe a fact will emerge here and there.
Globe: It's Just a Hole in the Ground... (West Donlands)

From the Globe Toronto Section:

It's just a hole in the ground . . . for now
But with a little civil engineering, the West Don Lands will be a place of sylvan beauty
Special to The Globe and Mail

On a sunny morning this week, Julie Beddoes stood on the rooftop terrace of her Distillery District condo and marvelled at what might look, to an untrained eye, like nothing more than a vast, sullen construction site and a massive heap of rubble.

She knows better. Until recently, Ms. Beddoes says she'd often "come up here and peer" at the fascinating scene unfolding just east of the Gooderham and Worts complex, where she has lived since 2000.

After years of planning, the West Don Lands -- a brownfield site that would fit between University and Yonge, and Dundas and Queen -- will begin to take shape this year, the first precinct to be built out as part of the $1.5-billion waterfront revitalization strategy. Construction of a mixed-income housing development with green building design is set to break ground in the fall, followed by a major park next spring.

The Toronto City Summit Alliance conference being held this week will include a progress report on a range of waterfront projects in the West Don Lands, the East Bayfront and the Portlands.

While few Torontonians have tuned into what's going on behind the hoardings near the Distillery District, Ms. Beddoes, a neighbourhood activist, feels the work taking place there is nothing short of historic. "I don't think the city's tried anything on this scale since the R.C. Harris water filtration plant," she says. "I get quite romantic about it."

The development challenges facing the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. (TWRC) involve contaminated soil, flood protection, aging sewer mains and railway bridges -- all tough civil engineering projects that have had to be sorted out before urban planners can get on with the sexy business of building housing and public spaces. "The level of complexity is staggering," says Cindy Wilkey, a local lawyer who chairs the West Don Lands community liaison group.

The transformation began in earnest last year as excavation crews began digging up old factory foundations, cleaning contaminated soil and crushing concrete rubble, which is to be reused on site rather than hauled away in trucks.

The next step, which begins this spring, is the construction of a four-metre-high berm that is to extend in a shallow arc along the western bank of the Don River and north towards the Queen Street bridge.

Ms. Wilkey says most Torontonians don't realize that the entire financial district sits in the Don River's flood plain, vulnerable to a Hurricane Hazel-magnitude storm. Such a deluge, estimated to occur once every 350 years, could conceivably submerge Bay Street beneath a metre of water and inundate the subway tunnels.

Early in the planning, TWRC officials realized that no development could take place on the West Don Lands until they built a dike-like bank capable of withstanding such a flood. Constructed from the concrete rubble, excavated landfill and a cap of clean soil, this berm will become a major new park. The volume of the soil required -- 300,000 to 400,000 cubic metres -- is equivalent to a 30-storey high-rise.

The immense weight of the mound makes the project formidably difficult.

TWRC engineers discovered ancient riverbeds sitting deep beneath the site, composed of loose, water-locked sedimentary material, says Ralph Davidson, an engineer with CH2M Hill, which is overseeing the berm construction. To ensure the berm doesn't sink over time, the TWRC this spring will begin leaching out that groundwater by piling on heavy fill to compact the soil beneath the berm's base.

Then they'll spend about $2 million to reconstruct a 200-metre stretch of a century-old sewer main that runs beneath the berm's foundation. Mr. Davidson says this repair job is meant to prevent the aging concrete pipe, 1.5 metres in diameter, from being crushed, thereby spewing sewage into the Don.

Meanwhile, construction crews have begun lengthening a CN bridge over the mouth of the Don by adding a span and an extra footing. (If the berm prevents flood waters from washing over the West Don Lands, the river bed must be widened to handle additional flow from a major flood.) That project, now under way, involves routing trains onto one set of tracks while the span is being constructed under the other set.

When the bridge work wraps up this spring, the area beneath it will be excavated and lined with granite boulders before the river is allowed to flow into the enlarged channel.

Once the berm is capped with clean soil later this year, it will be landscaped with native species such as Canadian wild rye, golden rod and black-eyed Susans, says John Wilson, chair of the Bring Back the Don Task Force and a member of the West Don Lands advisory group. But there will be no trees: If a major storm knocks over a tree with a deep root system, TWRC officials say, the resulting hole could lead to a breach in the berm. Mr. Wilson expects planting to begin spring 2008.

The berm's completion also paves the way for the commencement next fall of the TWRC's first housing development -- a 210- to 230-unit Toronto Community Housing Corporation project built at the northeast corner of the West Don Lands, near the junction of Queen and King streets. Ready for occupancy in 2009, it will have a mix of market-priced and affordable apartments and townhouses, with plenty of family-sized units, says Mark Guslits, the housing corporation's chief development officer.

The TWRC began negotiating the deal with the housing corporation as part of a goal to ensure that a fifth of all new housing on waterfront lands will be affordable. It will be designed by Baird Sampson Neuert, an architecture firm that was short-listed this week for the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization competition. Principal Jon Neuert says the complex's eight-storey apartment building will have sustainable green building design features, such as vertical gardens for natural ventilation, energy efficient windows and heat recovery systems.

The low-income families who move in will become the first residents of Toronto's long-term waterfront revitalization campaign -- a point not lost on local activists like Ms. Beddoes. "It's really important symbolically that the first building will be sustainable, affordable and architecturally beautiful."

With these projects now under way, the TWRC and area residents have turned their attention to fine-tuning the more familiar urban design aspects, such as the configuration of a planned streetcar line along Cherry Street, discussed at a design charrette last week.

By stark contrast to the tense planning battles that erupt throughout the city, the residents who've been engaged in the drawn-out and dauntingly technical West Don Lands revitalization have nothing but praise for the way the TWRC is managing the resurrection of the industrial brownfield in their backyards. "It's a bit of a parallel universe," Ms. Wilkey says.

It sounds great, but they're planting golden rod? What about all the people who are allergic to it?
From Wikipedia:

"Probably due to their bright, golden yellow flower heads blooming in late summer, the goldenrod is often unfairly blamed for causing hay fever in humans. The pollen causing these allergy problems is mainly produced by Ragweed (Ambrosia sp.), blooming at the same time as the goldenrods. Actually, goldenrod pollen is too heavy and sticky to be blown far from the flowers. Furthermore, goldenrods are pollinated mainly by insects."
"The pollen causing these allergy problems is mainly produced by Ragweed"

Ragweed always gets blamed for everything, but I know I'm allergic to dozens of other types of plants, weeds, trees, etc.
It'll look lovely in the fall. Now how about lupins for the spring?
Star: Landmark Diner Closes Doors (Canary)

From the Star:
(feel free to move to Out and About if appropriate - can't decide where to put this one)

Landmark diner closes doors
Closing of Bayview extension south of Queen St. dealt the death blow to once-thriving eatery, owners say
Apr 02, 2007 04:30 AM
Debra Black
Staff Reporter

It was eggs over easy with a side of bacon, home fries and a few tears yesterday morning at the Canary Restaurant as the owners of the landmark diner announced they were closing.

The decision – made just this past Friday – was triggered by the year-long closing of the Bayview extension south of Queen St. that has resulted in a staggering loss of business, said Nick Vlahos, one of three siblings who ran the restaurant along with their mother Rita.

The Canary, with its 1960s diner atmosphere and Maple Leafs paraphernalia plastered on the walls, has been a Toronto favourite for a cheap and cheerful breakfast or lunch, drawing everybody from truck drivers to hockey players.

It has been in operation on Cherry St. at Front St. E. since the mid-1960s – first run by Vlahos's great uncle, who originally ran a restaurant named the Canary at the corner of Dundas St. W. and University.

But the land was expropriated in 1965 and he moved to the historic building at the corner of Cherry and Front.

The restaurant was located in what was once the Palace Street School and Cherry St. Hotel, which dates back to 1859.

In the mid-1960s, the area was an industrial hub, said Vlahos, and business was booming. In 1986, his father Steve and mother Rita took over the operation of the restaurant. After Steve died in 1992, Rita and her children continued to run the diner.

Over the past 20 years, the area was targeted for a number of downtown waterfront development projects, often putting the future of the Canary into jeopardy.

But none of the projects ever came into being.

Now, however, the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. plans to reclaim the area where the Canary is located, part of its 25-year plan to build new neighbourhoods.

Construction in the area is to begin soon and many businesses have been expropriated already.

Despite the writing on the wall, the restaurant continued to operate on a month-to-month lease and had been holding its own. But then came construction and the closing of the Bayview extension. That was the kiss of death.

"People used to drive down the extension, stop here for breakfast and then head off to work," explained Ana Wovanovski, who helped run the restaurant with her brothers Nick and Tom.

Loyal customers continued to come on weekends, but the weekdays were just dead, Vlahos said. "For the past six months, we're just tried to hang on," he said as he closed the restaurant for the last time, placing chairs on the tabletops.

But the family was just losing too much money. So yesterday at breakfast, they told their customers that this was their last day of operation.

"It became like a Cheers hangout," Vlahos said. "People spilling their problems over coffee. Now, we'll be doing the same at some other joint."

"We've been here so long, it became a part of our lives," added Wovanovski. "It will be a huge change in our lives to wake up in the morning and not come to the Canary."

Thats pretty sad. The whole revitalization of this area would have been so good for them. I just hope they find another great use for that building.
What I am concerned about is someone coming up with yet another facadectomy proposal for the building.

... though it might make a good site for our very first Facade District. Move all the other old reject buildings in around it and see if we can make a go of it.
I was expecting this to happen, but not yet. I doubt the revitalized neighbourhood of condos would have had much use for a somewhat sketchy bacon and eggs diner-type place. The whole neighbourhood plan is designed around that building and restaurant, so I'm wondering how the TWRC is going to handle it.
Somebody should take lots of pics, inside and out, and preserve them for the new Toronto history museum. If nothing else it might make it a little easier to say good-bye.