The Bloor Street Viaduct.
If it’s possible for a Toronto bridge to suffer from an inferiority complex, the Bloor Street Viaduct would be a primary candidate. Besides being immortalized in Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, the iconic seventeen-hundred-foot bridge has appeared in film and in popular music. The defining Toronto landmark has the weighty responsibility of providing safe passage, by automobile and subway, to tens of thousands of commuters daily. If that weren’t enough, the viaduct is a crucial cog in the city’s infrastructure. The underside of the bridge is laden with kilometres of vital water and hydroelectric conduit.
Imagine, all these demands, and if asked to identify the bridge by its ordained name, the Prince Edward Viaduct, a goodly number of citizens would be stumped. Such a slight has got to weigh heavily on a bridge.
As to the origins of the viaduct’s inferiority complex, there are a few explanations. First, years before construction commenced in 1915, a majority of folks living on the western side of the span didn’t even want the bridge built. When construction was completed in 1918, the future king and viaduct’s namesake, Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, along with several other dignitaries of note, was a no-show for the official opening. Compounding the viaduct’s festering complex, city fathers couldn’t actually settle on its name. Eleven months after the bridge’s opening, they settled on the Prince Edward Viaduct, then henceforth reverting to calling it the Bloor Street Viaduct.
Nine decades is a long time for people to get your name wrong. The Prince Edward Viaduct shouldn’t take it personally. It isn’t the only bridge misidentified in Toronto. In fact, the viaduct should consider itself fortunate; many bridges in the city aren’t identified at all. Just try telling that to the viaduct, though, it’s like talking to a wall.
Considering Toronto sits on a total of six watersheds, it is no surprise that the city’s Transportation Services website states there are 442 bridges spanning Toronto. Alas, the bridges we transverse daily, bridges vital for the (relatively) uninterrupted traffic and pedestrian flow are underappreciated. Why? Human nature, mostly. Except in its absence, infrastructure is boring. Few gave electricity a second thought until the huge blackout in August 2003. After that, for a while, anyway, it was, “electricity, we love you, don’t ever leave us again.”
Bridges suffer a similar plight. Here’s a possible solution: They may be taken less for granted if we knew their proper names. Owing to the fact that the specific city department responsible for bridges, Technical Services; Structures and Expressways, didn’t respond to telephone inquiries, it is still possible to divide the current state of Toronto bridge names (or lack thereof) into three distinct categories. The first are ones with ordained names (think Prince Edward Viaduct). Next, the bridges known simply by the arterial route that straddles them or the immediate community they serve. Lastly, and these are in the majority, name-deprived bridges.
Examples of the first are the Charles H. Hiscott Bridge and the Morley Callaghan Bridge. Where the heck is the Charles H. Hiscott Bridge? It’s the nearly eight-hundred-foot east–west viaduct striding Overlea Boulevard. Since 1960, it has been the exclusive link between Thorncliffe Park and its easterly neighbour, Flemingdon Park. You might know the Morley Callaghan Bridge incorrectly as the Glen Road Bridge. Sure, it’s a pedestrian bridge, severed long ago to vehicular traffic, but it continues to connect St. James Town with its affluent cousin, Rosedale.
The Leaside Bridge, the Hogg’s Hollow Bridge, and the Woodbine Bridge are examples of the second category, each located exactly where you think it is.
Of the three categories, the final one is most pathetic: The nameless bridges. Examples are numerous. To name three: the bridge above Rosedale Valley Road at Mount Pleasant, the colossal bridge spanning Highland Creek on Lawrence Avenue east of Orton Park Road, and the four-hundred-foot expanse above the west Don River at Bayview Avenue. The list continues.
In a city where every postage-size parcel of land becomes a parkette named in honour of a local individual, you would think the City would at last get around to naming the bridges that are vital to its survival, but when inquiries were made, no one at City Hall seemed to know exactly the process in achieving this objective. One thing is for certain: naming the many anonymous bridges would go a long way to boast civic pride, not to mention aiding that distinguished old man of them all, the Prince Edward Viaduct, in shaking off its undeserved inferiority complex.
Photos by Eugen Sakhnenko/Torontoist.