Every Saturday morning, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.
Crawford Street Bridge, West Side, November 16, 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1615
This Tuesday, May 13, Heritage Toronto will unveil the latest plaque celebrating Toronto’s history to commemorate the secret bridge buried beneath the north-west corner of Trinity Bellwoods Park. The unveiling will take place at 4 p.m. at the corner of Crawford and Dundas. The Crawford Street Bridge, an elegant triple-span structure, crossed the deep ravine cut by Garrison Creek where it entered the park. Garrison Creek’s rambling path from north of St. Clair to the lake near Fort York—its route now preserved as a Discovery Walk [PDF]—was an “inconvenience” of landscape to be overcome by the city’s orderly, militaristic street grid. Despite the polluted stream being systematically bricked up as a sewer and buried to hide the refuse and sewage of rapid and haphazard urban development, this part of the ravine remained a formidable obstacle until the Crawford Street Bridge. The bridge and ravine have both since become victims of a city pretending to be flat—but they aren’t the only treasures hidden beneath Trinity Bellwoods.
Bellwoods Park, Dundas and Crawford streets, August 5, 1914. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 667
At first the Garrison Creek ravine was overcome with a modest wooden bridge built in 1884. Then, Roland Caldwell Harris, the city’s Commissioner of Works, replaced it with the cement bridge in 1914-15. Its railing, lamps, and stately character reflected, as Sarah Meehan put it in Spacing, “Harris’s flair for dramatic public architecture.” (His style can still be seen with the Prince Edward Viaduct.)
The Crawford Street Bridge initially fit the character of the neighbourhood of dignified Victorian homes and nearby Trinity College. With time, however, the houses deteriorated as the neighbourhood became more working class. When the city needed a place to dispose of the rubble from the Bloor-Danforth subway excavation in the 1960s, city officials took advantage of the neighbourhood’s powerlessness; the north-west corner of the park became its dumping ground.
As the northern reaches of the park were flattened up to the level of Dundas Street, the modern-day bowl that is so popular for tobogganing and dog-walking became the only reminder of the ravine. The bridge was buried intact—minus the railings and lampposts—right up to its curbs. For years, its still-visible sidewalks bore the rusted scars of its previous life. Finally, in 2004, safety concerns over the deteriorating condition of the bridge forced the city to narrow the roadway and entirely rebuild the sidewalks, further obscuring this oddity of Toronto’s heritage. Another bridge nearby, overlooking Bickford Park from Harbord between Grace and Crawford, was buried in 1930. Although it has yet to receive a plaque, the Harbord Street Bridge’s crumbling balustrade is still visible on the north side of the street.
Trinity College, University of Toronto, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2
There are other remnants of Toronto’s past beneath Trinity Bellwoods, which was Trinity College’s original home. Seeking the establishment of an Anglican college, Bishop John Strachan purchased the land in 1851. With the support of the crown and funding from local Torontonians, the main building—designed by Kivas Tully—was soon constructed and students began attending in 1852. The symmetrical neo-Gothic building overlooked the rest of the park from atop a grassy mound, and was consciously intended to remind of the dreaming spires of Oxford and Cambridge. Upon its completion, Professor Goldwin Smith, a curmudgeon at the best of times, agreed that “no place in Canada so forcibly reminds me of Oxford as does Trinity.”
As enrollment grew and college finances stabilized, Trinity added a new convocation hall (c. 1877), and college chapel (1884), as well as an expansion on the new west wing (1889-90), and a new east wing (1894). The newer buildings were simpler and more restrained designs by Frank Darling, the college’s official architect. Darling’s stone gates, built in 1904-5 to mark the broad approach from Queen Street, are one of the only visible reminders that the college was ever here. St. Hilda’s College, the women’s residence at Trinity, is the other, and has since been turned into John Gibson House, a retirement residence.
With Trinity’s federation with the University of Toronto in the first decade of the twentieth century, it became inevitable that the college would relocate to the main campus. The City of Toronto bought the buildings and land in 1912 for $231,000, but allowed the college to remain until a new college building (an adapted copy of Tully’s original) was built on Hoskin Avenue in 1925. Then, as has often happened before and since, city officials didn’t know what to do next. According to historian William Dendy’s book Lost Toronto, the council originally planned to sell 8 acres of the site for the construction of a baseball stadium. This would’ve required the demolition of the main college buildings, and the plan prompted strong public outcry. The council quickly backtracked. Public calls to turn the campus into a museum or soldiers’s residence went unheeded. Its brief life as a Kiwanis-operated athletic club did not prevent further deterioration. The Trinity buildings needed new roofs, new heating, and new electrical. City officials, claiming the campus was beyond preservation, unceremoniously razed the site in 1956.
The buried foundations still lie just north of the Trinity Bellwood Park’s circular walk (and the chapels are buried near the tennis courts). Perhaps these hidden treasures of Trinity Bellwoods will receive a plaque just as the Crawford Street Bridge will next week.
Map of Trinity Collge Grounds, January 25, 1913 from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 57