With construction at the Canary District condos site well underway in Toronto's West Don Lands, UrbanToronto had the opportunity on September 6th to witness all of the activity on a hard hat tour of the emerging neighbourhood. Representatives from Waterfront Toronto and Dundee Kilmer were on hand to lead the tour of projects just underway and of those nearly complete. At the height of construction they expect to have over 700 construction workers on site, and to have the district substantially complete by January of 2015, leaving TO2015 another 4-5 months to put the finishing touches on their facilities and ready to welcome athletes in for the Pam Am Games in July of 2015. 

Site tour Canary District TorontoJason Lester of Dundee Kilmer leads the site tour of the Canary District condos project. Image by Craig White.

Our tour began on the southwest side of Cherry and Front streets where construction on the new road and streetcar right of way is well underway. The renewed Cherry Street is expected to be open to the public by the summer of 2013, with all transit infrastructure in place. Streetcars on this branch line, however, are not expected to begin revenue service until 2016. 

Across the street we got a clear view of the heritage structure that was once a schoolhouse, then was converted into a hotel for a time, and which eventually became the Canary Restaurant in more recent times. The structure is being fixed up and preserved as-is, but decisions have not yet been made on whether or not it will be used during the games themselves. Post-games, the stucture will become a commercial/retail establishment anchoring the gateway into the new community. 

Site tour Canary District TorontoOld school house and former Canary Restaurant, sitting at the corner of Cherry and Front. Image by Craig White.

Moving right along to the recently extended Mill Street just east of Cherry, we stand on the site of the future Canary District Condos. Preliminary work has begun with caison drilling underway now, and with shoring and excavation to follow shortly after. In the distance we see two sites actively under construction. The two cranes on the left are on the site of the YMCA and George Brown Residence buildings, while the two cranes on the right are building the two affordable housing buildings. The YMCA/George Brown site is progressing slightly faster than the other, while both are effectively at ground level. On the affordable housing site, one of the buildings will contain approximately 100 units, while the other about 150. The building closest to the YMCA site will also have an underground pasageway with direct access to YMCA. This particular YMCA is also slated to be one of their largest in Toronto at 80,000 square feet; among its many facilities will be a 25-metre pool. 

Site tour Canary District TorontoConstruction cranes on the sites of the future George Brown residences, YMCA, and affordable housing. Image by Craig White.

Site tour Canary District TorontoCloseup at the YMCA structure, already at ground level. Image by Craig White.

Moving further east into the district we arrive on the newly extended Bayview Avenue, just north of where it will intersect with the future extension of Front Street. Before us we find the future site of the second market condominium building which will be built before the Pan Am games begin. Excavation has started, even before the building has been brought to the market. It will go to market late in the 2012 or early next year. 

Site tour Canary District TorontoExcavation on Block 4, site of future market condominium housing. Image by Craig White.

The residential units in all of these buildings will be used to house the roughly 10,000 athletes who will descend on Toronto in the summer of 2015. To be able to accommodate such a large number of people the future condo units themsleves will not be finished prior to the games. For example, a typical 1 bedroom unit is expected to house 5 athletes in bunk beds. Three will be bunked in the bedroom itself. A temporary privacy partition will be built in the living room space of the unit, while the kitchens of all units will not be installed, leaving them open as the living space for the athletes while they occupy the unit. Dining for all the athletes will take place in a temporary tent structure which will be put up on the block behind the heritage building at the south east corner or Cherry and Front. 

Post-games, the temporary flooring of the units will be removed and final flooring installed. Temporary partitions will also be removed and kitchens will be put in. Occupancy for the ultimate purchasers of the suites will then occur between April and July of 2016. 

Maryann Thompson Architects' pavilion, at Don River Park, TorontoMaryann Thompson Architects' pavilion is the highlight at Don River Park. Image by Craig White

Our last stop on the tour was the Don River Park, designed by by Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates of New York. The park's main feature is a pavilion designed by Maryann Thompson Architects of Cambridge, Massachusetts, which sits atop a beautifully landscaped hill. The hill is actually a berm, or a flood protection measure meant to prevent a potentially storm-swollen Don River from ever innundating the new neighbouhood.

Finishing touches are being put on the pavilion building itself, which features an outdoor BBQ pit, as well as an outdoor fireplace wall under the pavilion rooftop which can be partly closed off to the elements with a series of three sliding partition walls. The park will eventually be handed over by Waterfront Toronto to the Toronto parks department, who will have a small office inside the pavilion from which will administer and program the various spaces. The pavilion itself is completely off-grid, obtaining its power needs from overhead solar panels. 

Site tour Canary District TorontoPutting the finishing touches on the pavilion at Don River Park. Image by Craig White.

Site tour Canary District TorontoPavilion area that can be temporarily sheltered from the elements with sliding wall panels. Image by Craig White.

The park itself has ample play areas for kids, including two slides, rubberized bouncy turf, and a junior soccer field. The site behind the soccer field is slated to become a future elementary school, which will have access to the park facilities. 

Site tour Canary District TorontoPavilion and play area at Don River Park. Image by Craig White.

Site tour Canary District TorontoPlay area at the Don River Park. Image by Craig White.

At the farthest end of the park, construction continues on the 'wet side' of the flood protection berm. The berm is designed to hold back the water of the Don River in the event of another 100 year storm on par with Hurricane Hazel. The wet side of the landform is intended to channel the water away from the West Don Lands. Armour stone which prevents scouring will soon be layed down, and the entire area will then be seeded for a prairie look. 

Site tour Canary District TorontoWaterfront Toronto's Meg Davis leading the site tour of the Don River Park. Image by Craig White.

Walking north through the park, we encounter the naturalized portions which include a small nature trail and numerous marshy ponds, which are already seeing the return of wildlife such as frogs. The expectation is that more wildlife will take hold in the area as it matures. The park itself is slated to open to the public in the spring of 2013, and will temporarily close during the Pan Am Games as it will be inside the security zone. 

Site tour Canary District TorontoNature trail and view of River City Condos from Don River park. Image by Craig White.

Site tour Canary District TorontoRenaturalization of the Don River Park includes multiple landscaped ponds. Image by Craig White.

Site tour Canary District TorontoSkyline view from Don River Park. Image by Craig White.

In the year since construction commenced last September, a lot has happened in the district, but the bulk of its transformation is yet to come. Stay tuned as buildings begin to rise, streetscapes take shape, and the burgeoning community is stitched back into the city as a whole.

In the meantime, you can access renderings and more information about what you have read about here in the relevant UT dataBase entries, linked below. Please also feel free to leave a comment here, or join in with any of the discussions taking place in our associated UT Forum threads, also found below.