Toronto's newest neighbourhood is almost ready for its closeup as finishing touches are completed on the Canary District and Pan Am Village just east of Downtown. The West Don Lands neighbourhood will play host to 10,000 athletes during the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, which will take place across the Greater Golden Horseshoe from July 10-26 and August 7-15. The transformation from abandoned and contaminated wasteland to vibrant athletes' village and finally, to a mixed-use neighbourhood continues to unfold under the watchful eyes of Waterfront Toronto and the Ontario government. To check in on the progress of the near games-ready lands, UrbanToronto joined Kilmer Group Vice Chairman Kenneth Tanenbaum and Dundee Kilmer President Jason Lester on a comprehensive site tour.
The West Don Lands has had a storied history. Starting out as a dense forest, the area was converted into parkland and then became a residential community. As industry began occupying valued waterfront space, the area became inundated with rail, factories and warehouses, including one of the largest pork processing plants in the world. The lands were subsequently abandoned and expropriated by the provincial government in 1987. Plans to build housing on the lands were withdrawn and the site sat derelict for many years, until the area became part of Waterfront Toronto's redevelopment portfolio. A precinct plan for the lands was developed and the successful bid for the Pan Am Games kickstarted the revitalization process.
The 35-acre site, developed by Dundee Kilmer, contains a wide range of uses to keep athletes busy during the games. Athletes will be housed within several buildings which will be converted into a variety of housing types post games, including student residences for George Brown College, condominiums and affordable rental housing.
The buildings are designed to meet LEED Gold standards and include environmentally-friendly features such as green roofs, low-flow washroom fixtures, energy-efficient appliances, bicycle parking, car-share and electric recharging stations. Canary District is also technologically-friendly. It is Canada's first ultra-high-speed broadband neighbourhood and will soon be providing fast, unlimited internet service to thousands of people.
"Some of the key attributes of the neighbourhood are the park, the YMCA and its relationship to the Distillery District, Corktown and St. Lawrence," said Lester. "This is going to be a complete community." Lester mentioned that one of the key factors in attracting buyers to the property was to ensure the neighbourhood was not a copy of the Distillery, but a community that had its own identity. As a result, the Canary District is focused more on health and wellness rather than the emphasis on arts and culture that the Distillery holds. "Waterfront Toronto deserves a tremendous amount of credit for creating the canvas on which we were able to send our team to paint our vision of the neighbourhood," said Tanenbaum.
Streetcar service will be provided to the area as the King route diverts south to Cherry Street. Traditionally, streetcars in Toronto travel through the middle of the road. In this case, the streetcar will be curb-loading, ensuring nasty encounters between vehicles and pedestrians are minimized. The community is due to be served by two stops after the games' completion.
The 'gateway' to the site at Front Street and Cherry Street is bookended by two heritage buildings, providing a stark contrast to the modern glass towers in behind. On the north side of Front Street, the Canary District sales centre is housed within the former CN Railway Police Building and is set to become retail space following the games.
The former Canary Restaurant, which was originally a school and then a hotel, marks the south end of the intersection, the lands around which will be occupied by a temporary dining tent for the athletes and games officials.
George Brown College continues to expand its waterfront presence with a 500-bed architectsAlliance-designed student residence surrounding the heritage warehouse, as depicted in the image below.
At the base of this modern addition, the 82,000 square foot Cooper Koo Family YMCA, designed by MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects, is now fitted with pools, a gymnasium, recreational exercise areas and an accessible green roof.
One of the pool's floors is adjustable, allowing use by people of all ages and skill levels. The space will be utilized by athletes with the YMCA opening shortly after the games' completion. Upon opening, it will be one of the largest YMCAs in the country.
Moving further east into the site, the relationship between KPMB Architects' Canary District Condominiums and the Daoust Lestage Inc.-designed affordable rental buildings becomes clearer. Post games, 810 market units plus 253 affordable housing units will be provided. This array of housing and amenities, including approximately 40,000 square feet of retail on Front Street, will soon attract thousands of residents to the area.
The generously wide promenade on the north side of Front Street is accented by an eye-catching public art installation by Tadashi Kawamata. The piece, dubbed 'Lamppost', is meant to evoke the variety of streetlight designs that have flanked Toronto roads over the years. The artwork is one of many on the site that will be viewed by thousands when the games officially begin.
The tour continues into KPMB's Canary Park Condominiums, which lies directly across the street from Corktown Common on Bayview Avenue. The building's 441 suites are about 50% sold and start at the mid $200,000s. Occupancy is expected in April 2016.
The suites are currently fitted with temporary walls and floors that will be removed after the games. Kitchens will then be added to the space to complete the condominium.
Even on snowy days, the wide balconies on Canary Park provide residents with a spectacular panoramic view of the city. In the image below, Canary District Condominiums stands out from the crowd as a Union Pearson Express train sits on the railway.
The picture to the west provides the observer with an overview of the Canary District, including the two affordable rental buildings on the north side of Front and the George Brown residence beyond them.
Panning slightly to the north, the extent of the downtown skyline becomes apparent even through the fog.
Units also provide residents with an opportunity to monitor the transformative ongoing changes at Regent Park. Demolition of the second last Peter Dickinson-designed apartment tower is well underway. The meticulous take-down, allowing onlookers to peek inside the colourful rental units, has become a hot shooting subject for many photographers.
Panning over to the southeast, First Gulf's 21 Don Roadway comes into view as it hovers above the 18-acre Corktown Common park. The park contains a connection via the Bala Underpass to the Lower Don River Trail, a passageway that provides easy access to the Martin Goodman Trail and the Evergreen Brickworks.
In terms of athletes, the Pan Am Games will be the largest multi-sport event ever to be held in Canada. The reinvention of the West Don Lands is not yet complete, with three additional blocks still to be developed, yet the neighbourhood has already connected downtown and the Distillery District to an area of the city that was once forgotten, soon be explored by Torontonians, tourists and athletes in just a few short months.
The video below takes you through a tour of the Canary District:
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