In our two previous articles on the Port Lands, we explored the evolving Planning Framework that defines the future development of the district, and we took a closer look at Villiers Island, the mixed-use community that will be the first piece of the puzzle in the development of the Port Lands. Now, we zoom in even more by exploring the new relationship between land and water created by the infill of the lake around Essroc Quay, and by taking an in-depth look at the proposed design for Promontory Park, the signature public space anchoring the west end of Villiers Island.

Documents from a presentation to the Waterfront Toronto Review Panel back in March reveal a draft design of Promontory Park, including a comprehensive strategy for the new waterfront. It is important to note, however, that all details and images to follow are considered only a draft, and the design is still subject to change.

Aerial view of Villiers Island, image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

Under the planning name of the Cherry Street Lakefilling Project, Villiers Island will be created by infilling the harbour around the Essroc Quay, extending it westward into the lake, and marrying it to Cousins Quay to the south. A new, curving channel for the Don River will be dug, extending it south to empty into the harbour via the existing Polson Slip, and cutting off Villiers Island from the remainder of the Port Lands.

View of existing Essroc and Cousins Quays, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

For the man-made limits of the island, a variety of edge conditions are planned that will create several different relationships between land and water. A 'constructed edge' is the existing condition of the Quay, which is essentially a concrete wall raised above water level, which will be preserved in the Keating Channel and at the Western Docks of Cousins Quay. A 'natural edge' will, like its namesake, provide a natural transition between land and water typical of a lake shore. An 'amour stone edge' will provide a rocky shore, while a 'wave break' will protect the island and provide a bridge-like condition for pedestrians.

Illustrations of proposed edge conditions, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

These edge conditions appear in the preliminary design for the signature Promontory Park, which will occupy the western point of Villiers Island where it meets the inner harbour. The design of the park is being undertaken by American landscape architecture firm Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, (they were also designers of the much-loved Corktown Common), and is divided into two segments, North and South. Promontory Park North will be built entirely upon infill, while Promontory Park South will incorporate the existing Western Docks of Cousins Quay on its western edge, with a naturalized edge to the south along the Don River.

Schematic diagram of Promontory Park, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

Programmatically, the South park will house the catalytic use and a potential reuse of the existing Marine Terminal 35 Building, with public plazas and a waterfront esplanade complementing each of these features. As well, an active recreational use and public gardens will add to the wide variety of programming in the southern portion. The northern portion will feature an open event lawn and a pair of lookout points, while both wooded and aquatic habitats will be integrated throughout the park.

Programmatic diagram of Promontory Park, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

Taking a closer look at Promontory Park North, a variation in grade will be created with a Prospect Hill, a raised bank that provides a backdrop to an Event Lawn, dissociating it from the rest of the island. The circular Event Lawn will border directly onto the water, facing northwest with an unobstructed view toward the waterfront skyline, and will offer a flat open grassy field that can be programmed or left open for general use. The Keating Promenade will spill into the northeast corner of the park and link directly to a plaza in front of the catalytic use to the south, while a series of winding, sweeping paths curve along the waterfront and up to the top of Prospect Hill. A pair of coves frame the Event Lawn, while provisions have been included for a possible pedestrian bridge across the Keating Channel to the north.

Site plan of Promontory Park North, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

Zooming in even more, we see the variety of edge conditions mentioned earlier. The North Cove will feature both a natural and armour stone edge, allowing for a coastal forest habitat to flourish along the waterfront on its eastern edge, and providing a pedestrian path along the water on its western edge. The North Cove will also feature a kayak launch and a variety of aquatic habitats in the lake.

Plan of the North Cove, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

The West Cove will feature a wave break, armour stone, and natural edge with a steeper slope into the water than its northern counterpart. There will be no pedestrian path along the water; instead, stairs will lead down to a bridge across the wave break, bringing pedestrians closer to the lake shore on both sides. The wave break will also allow for a protected aquatic habitat to form on its inner face. The slope of the island into the water will form a natural transition to the lake.

Plan of the West Cove, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

The Prospect Hill allows for a Harbour Overlook at the top of the stairs which lead down to the bridge over to the wave break. A rendering gives us a closer look at these conditions around the West Cove. It is important to note that the water's edge will be constructed first, with the remainder of the park to follow once the infill is complete.

Rendering of the Harbour Overlook at the West Cove, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

Promontory Park South provides several intriguing aspects. First, the catalytic use that will brand the park as a city-wide destination will be located on the eastern edge. A steep hill will separate it from a plaza to the west, within which will potentially be a commercial use, while a wintertime ice ribbon will provide an active use circling through the park. The topography of the South park varies quite significantly, with several hills and a pedestrian bridge linking the plaza to Prospect Hill in the north. Along the waterfront, a promenade will stretch the length of the retained dock walls, while a portion of the structure of Marine Terminal 35 Building (MT-35) will be preserved, to be used as a frame for new public gardens. The south edge will be a natural or armour stone edge condition with a slope down from the park, while a series of winding paths will connect all of the elements throughout.

Site plan of Promontory Park South, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

The MT-35 Building is listed on the City's Heritage Register, and several options were explored for its treatment. Ultimately, the designers opted for the selective repurpose and outdoor programming option, where a portion of the building's walls and structural steel will be preserved as a faux-ruin, under which would be located the public gardens. The wall will frame the promenade along the waterfront and preserve the area's historic industrial character, while also providing a physical and visual barrier between programmatic elements.

Options for the MT-35 Building, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

Overall, the proposed design of Promontory Park presents some intriguing elements that promise an active park to appeal to people from across the city. The design aims to incorporate a variety of natural habitats, an undulating topography, and a range of programmed spaces that cater to a wide audience. Given Waterfront Toronto's history of building public spaces first before adding residences, it would be of no surprise if Promontory Park becomes the first aspect of Villiers Island to materialize, defining the future of the Port Lands for generations to come.

Bird's eye view of Promontory Park looking southeast, draft image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

Construction for the naturalization of the Don River is expected to get underway this year, provided that all approvals and funding are in place, but don't expect a quick completion: building the new Don mouth is expected to take 7 years to complete. It is possible that development of Villiers Island will begin before that date, but the transformation of Toronto's Port Lands is a long-term project to be built out over the next couple decades. However, the planning work being done now is perhaps the most important step, as it lays out the framework within which the Port Lands will develop, and makes clear the vision that the City has for this future precinct.

More information, renderings, and precedents of Promontory Park and the waterfront can be found in the full presentation, here.

This, for the time being, concludes our overview of the coming transformation of the Port Lands, but continue to check back here for updates on the various projects as they become available. In the meantime, you can get in on the conversation by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  LEA Consulting, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, urbanMetrics inc., Waterfront Toronto