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Goin’ Down the Gardiner Expressway

In light of the latest study on the Gardiner, a look at how the expressway developed.

Frederick G. Gardiner was proud of the expressway named in his honour. “You know,” he noted in a 1964 interview, “I used to lie in bed dreaming in Technicolor, thinking it was too big. Now I know it isn’t. Maybe in 20 years time, they’ll be cursing me for making it too small. But I won’t be around to worry then. Right now, I’ve come up smelling of Chanel No. 5.”

When Gardiner died in 1983, few liked the scent of his expressway. They cursed him for pushing a crumbling roadway increasingly seen as a barrier between downtown and the waterfront. This week’s report favouring demolition of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway joins a long line of studies recommending a teardown.

But there was a time when regional officials believed the Gardiner Expressway would solve bottlenecks plaguing a growing city in the early 1950s. Had it been built to its full extent via the Scarborough Expressway, drivers might have enjoyed views of Humber Bay, the downtown skyline, and the Scarborough Bluffs.

Step into our gallery to observe the development of the Gardiner Expressway.

Additional material from Regeneration: Toronto’s Waterfront and the Sustainable City (Toronto: Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront, 1992); Toronto ’59 (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1959); the May 4, 1954. May 17, 1956, March 23, 1957, July 30, 1957, August 8, 1958, August 11, 1958, December 3, 1959, February 6, 1962, and May 12, 1999 editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 14, 1949, July 8, 1953, January 2, 1954, May 3, 1954, July 2, 1957. May 18, 1999, and May 6, 2000 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 1993 edition of Toronto Life.

CORRECTION: February 9, 2014, 10:11 AM An image originally identified as the construction of the Gardiner Expressway over the Don River in 1964 actually depicts the building of the nearby Eastern Avenue flyover and the Richmond Street ramp from the Don Valley Parkway that same year. We regret the error.


  • William Paul

    well it’s not the Gardiner that is blocking access to the lake anymore…I can walk under the Gardiner but I cannot walk or even see past the 9 BILLION CONDOS that re sprouting up with more to come.Taking down, or fixing the Gardiner will not make any difference. CONDOS are blocking physical and visual access to our waterfront

    • citizenontherun

      Solution: buy a condo, live next to your waterfront.

    • Mark Joseph

      The Waterfront plan that is quickly becoming reality includes urban parks, a tree-lined traffic dampened street on Queen’s Quay and a continuous walkway along the waterfront for the whole distance. A short ferry-ride away is a huge park. What exactly did you want?

      • istoronto

        Exactly! I’ve always wondered why people who love all the amenities a big city has to offer, also want to feel as though they’re living a top of a hill in the countryside. The reality is that a 2 storey building blocks your view as much as a 50 storey one. Unless of course you’re 20 feet tall.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      I didn’t realize the city was replacing sidewalks on north-south streets with condo towers.

  • CaligulaJones

    Come out to the east end and see what tearing down the Gardiner means: you can now cross Lakeshore and get to the strip mall with the Boston Pizza…

    • HotDang

      Come out to the east end

      As if anyone would ever do that.

      • vampchick21

        There’s an east end now?

      • CaligulaJones

        Fine, keep to your western beaches in summer, then. Woodbine is closed for you. Maybe play in the sand at Sugar Beach. Oh, and stay off the Spit, away from the Bluffs, off the Danforth, out of Little India, not to mention out of the DVP.

  • bjhtn

    Photo 8 is Woodbine Avenue, but it shows the construction of the grade separation at the CNR tracks north of Gerrard, not the construction of the curve at the east end of the Lake Shore. Both projects are contained in that archives file and the order of photos in the file may be mixed up.

  • KeithB

    For those arguing for and against tearing down the Gardiner, let’s just close it for 1 week and see what happens. Won’t be hard to see its benefit after a week of traffic hell!
    And don’t kid yourself…we have already seen what a partial closure on weekends can do.
    I have yet to see a plan that could effectively deal with all that traffic diverted to grade.
    Should have built it underground like Montreal….like that will ever happen now!
    As for “dividing” the city from waterfront, seems to me from the aerial view that the rail lines do that very effectively!

    • Pink Floyd

      Amen. And they’ve done that for a century. You can only cross the viaduct at certain points. It certainly will be more difficult to get to the waterfront with an extra 110,000 cars per day driving along the at-grade Lake Shore Blvd.

      In fact, it will be the exact same result as what would have happened had the Spadina Expressway been built to Bloor. I can promise you that the same crowd that wants the Gardiner demolished in the east wanted the Spadina Expressway cancelled at Eglinton.