Now and Then explores the stories behind Toronto’s historical plaques and monuments.
There are a few natural go-to locations for Torontonians to explore in the summer. Toronto’s most famous buried river, Garrison Creek, used to run roughly along Shaw and emptied into the lake near Fort York, and is now perfect for a stroll southern stroll in the city. The Don and Humber valleys, meanwhile, are lush and green and well-loved by passersby.
But not every creek or valley needs to be enjoyed while the sun is shining—like the Taddle Creek ravine, passed through year-round. Taddle Creek is another buried river, but the path it cut through the land is partly preserved in the University of Toronto’s Philosopher’s Walk, which runs between the ROM and the Royal Conservatory of Music on Bloor down to Hoskin Avenue.
These days, the ravine is full of students, not fish, streaming to school. As they walk along the leafy path, they pass wide stone steps up the grassy side of the ravine. A plaque will tell them it’s the Philosopher’s Walk Amphitheatre, but despite its grandiose name, it’s very small. It’s rarely used for outdoor performances, although U of T’s Canopy Theatre Group used to do an annual Shakespeare show outside of it.
The amphitheatre was built at the same time as the Alexandra Gates on the Bloor side were fixed up, around 2010. The Bennett Gates, at the south end, were installed at that location in 2006 in honour of Avie Bennett, who owned the publishing firm McClelland & Stewart and donated 75 per cent of his shares to U of T.
The Alexandra Gates were built in the early 1900s and stood at Bloor Street and Queen’s Park to commemorate a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. The gates moved to their current location on Bloor between the ROM and the Royal Conservatory in early 1960s. Around this time, landscape architect William Hough redesigned the path to integrate with the natural ravine. According to his 2013 obituary in the Globe and Mail, Hough “spent his career in pursuit of this ideal—the integration of cities with natural systems.” Hough also helped to design Don Mills, the master plan for what is now the Brick Works, and he founded U of T’s Landscape Architecture program.
The stone amphitheatre was built only about six years ago but, as the U of T plaque there points out, the natural ravine has been used as a gathering place for hundreds of years for the Anishinaabe people. The amphitheatre was designed with the idea to serve as both a meeting place and for “learning experiences outside the classroom.”
The Philosopher’s Walk is a quiet reprieve from busy downtown Toronto, a leafy and green winding path that mirrors the route Taddle Creek would have followed to the lake. The amphitheatre provides a spot for reflection and appreciation of the natural ravine that people have been using for generations to gather, work, and think.
June 5 to 11 is Canadian Environment Week. June is National Aboriginal History Month.
Did you like Torontoist‘s local history coverage? Support articles like this by becoming a Torontoist patron, with every dollar funding additional articles. Get great perks and fund local journalism that makes a difference—join Raccoon Nation now.