We learned earlier this week that even London’s Daily Telegraph has some opinions about where to eat and party in Toronto. Okay, that’s great. Every city is measured by those things, to a certain extent. Thanks, London.
But what about the inverse? A city’s downtown core can’t be all amenities, good times, and gastro pubs. It needs a few blasted, desolate places out on its margins to toughen it up—or else it’s just a ferris wheel away from being a theme park. No offense, London.
Toronto needs a monumental symbol of bleakness and solitude to balance out the slight carnival aspect of the CN Tower. The precise nature and location of this anti-landmark is something that will probably one day need to be put to a vote. In the meantime, Torontoist has a nominee: the auxiliary parking lot at the foot of Yonge Street.
The auxiliary lot isn’t very visible from the street. There’s a pay-to-park lot just in front of it, so the only way to get to it without having to spend any money is to go on foot or by bike. Ride or walk past the barrier, then go beyond the pavement, and you’ll find it. What appears at first to be a gravel surface is actually an expanse of ruined asphalt, some of which is still intact. One small area has been torn up with heavy machinery, leaving a pile of huge concrete chunks run through with rusty spears of rebar.
The lot itself is used mostly as a place for GO Buses to idle between runs to and from the nearby Union Station Terminal. Drivers park there for thirty or forty minutes at a stretch and sit mostly inert behind their respective wheels. Some of them occasionally step out for smokes.
To the east is the Redpath Sugar plant, whose sinister, industrial catwalk-and-silo facade completely belies the innocuous, sugary goings-on within. Minus the familiar Redpath logo it would look like some kind of chemical weapons factory—the perfect place for Nicolas Cage to settle some scores with a few dozen ambiguously Slavic evildoers. (Only Reel Toronto could say whether or not this has ever actually come to pass.)
To the west is Captain John’s Harbour Boat Restaurant, which, aside from lending the lakefront property a certain appearance of nautical authenticity, also, at certain times of the day, provides the entire area with its characteristic smell. It’s an odor of old fishsticks and deep-fry exhaust. Pleasantness-wise, it sits somewhere near the exact midpoint on the continuum between appetizing and nauseating. Oh, Redpath, if only you also manufactured tartar sauce.
To the north is the Toronto Star building at One Yonge Street. It’s an oddly pretty sight against the sky, despite being a structure of no particular architectural distinction.
To the south, there is only Lake Ontario. The auxiliary lot has no guard rails or wood-plank pedestrian promenades. Walk up to the brink and all you’ll find is a ledge spattered with seagull droppings. Dangle your feet over it and it’s almost as though you’re perched on the tattered edge of the city, just inches from falling off the bottom of Toronto. Between that and the fish-fry smell, you’ll have no appetite left for restaurant fare. It’s a different kind of downtown experience.
It seems somewhat doubtful that this place will ever get a mention in any Toronto visitor’s guides. Which is probably for the best.
Photos by Steve Kupferman/Torontoist.