The high, low, and in-between of Toronto's elevations.
It was high time for a high-altitude hike.
We’re not talking the CN Tower EdgeWalk, either. We trekked to the city’s highest natural point of elevation and, in the name of urban exploration, hoisted the Torontoist flag.
Where exactly is Mount Toronto? Good question.
Unlike cities with conspicuously steep terrain, in many locations throughout Toronto and especially in the suburbs, when standing on terra firma, it’s difficult to locate higher ground.
High Park? The name conjures up lofty heights, but its lowly status disappoints. At 111.71 metres above sea level, High Park isn’t that high, after all.
How about Casa Loma, its name derived from the Spanish, a pretend castle high on a hill serving as a kitschy tourist destination with spectacular views? Or something close to that, anyway.
Downer alert: the towering landmark is a mere 150.32 metres above sea level.
If we were going to get really high in Toronto, accurate coordinates were needed. As any seasoned mountaineer would, we consulted the internet. Not surprising, there was a mountain of inaccurate data.
For the lowdown on Toronto’s altitude, we visited City of Toronto websites only to discover more conflicting data. Considering Nathan Phillips Square rises a scarce 89.59 metres above sea level, were we wrong to have had higher expectations?
Informed of the altitudinal discrepancies, officials said they would get to the bottom of it.
Now for a local geography lesson: like the rest of southern Ontario, Toronto is situated on a geological zone known as the St. Lawrence Platform. In simple terms, Toronto sits on the side of a hill rising gradually out of Lake Ontario, itself 75 metres above sea level.
Numerous ravines and valleys give the impression the city is quite hilly, and in some parts it is, but on a larger scale, positioned on a broad plateau as it is, Toronto is relatively flat.
History teaches that Sir Edmund Hillary could not reach the summit of Everest without the aid of a hardy Sherpa guide. Clearly, we were in need of a guide of our own.
This came in the form of Dan Lymer, manager of Data Integration Services, Survey and Utility Mapping with the City of Toronto.
Lymer reports that at its highest, Toronto is 211.5 metres above sea level. At this height, we see eye-to-eye with New Delhi, India, (210 metres), Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, (215 metres), and Niamey, Niger, (207 metres).
Proof that altitude isn’t all its cracked up to be: Toronto soars over some high and mighty metropolises, dwarfing Moscow (167m), London (48m), and New York City (96m).
When it comes to Toronto infrastructure, elevation amounts to more than just a hill of beans. Elevation impacts on the location of water reservoirs, sewage flow, the placement of telecommunication towers, and the efficiency of police, fire, and EMS radio communication.
Admittedly, Toronto’s no Goliath, but what exactly does 211.5 metres look like? If Toronto were a highrise, it would be 64 storeys tall, puny compared to Calgary. At a dizzying 1048 metres above sea level, Canada’s kilometre-high city soars 317 storeys into space.
Here’s something to consider the next time you’re high (elevation-wise) in Toronto. Divide the city’s elevation by the height of His Worship (1.78m) and Toronto is 119 Mayor Fords tall; Calgary, a colossal 582 Mayor Nenshis (1.80m) tall.
Where precisely is Toronto’s geographic zenith? Initially, Lymer’s answer was vague. He said somewhere in the vicinity of Keele Street and Steeles Avenue.
Because of the perilous nature of the journey, specific coordinates were requested. Lymer came back with an address: 4995 Keele Street. This is the location of the Keele Reservoir and Pumping Station.
Located in the extreme northwest corner of the city, this vast green space serves as a soccer and cricket pitch. On the day we visited, the plateau was populated by a flock of Canada geese, as well as a disturbingly large number of groundhogs.
Views were unspectacular. Talk about a higher education, though—west of here is York University’s sprawling Keele campus.
After hoisting the Torontoist flag, symptoms of altitude sickness set in. The remedy? Head south to the intersection of Yonge Street and Queens Quay.
According to Lymer, at 76.5 metres above sea level, the intersection marks Toronto’s lowest point of elevation.
Photos by Ed Brown/Torontoist.