Toronto is in a rush. Over 2,750,000 people live in a 630 square kilometre area, and many thousands more want to move here every year. With less than 4,400 people per square kilometre we are still spread thinly compared to European standards (London has over three times the population in a similar area), and not all of our new housing stock can or should be built in our central area. The City is looking for ways to grow that makes sense for the future: we want to reinvigorate our aging suburban areas, we want to live more efficiently with less of a carbon footprint, we want access to culture, services, shopping, and recreation.
Our main streets—served by transit routes that feed the subway—are obvious places for new growth, and if you've got an underused property across from one of Toronto's largest parks—a park that's just coming into its own now—there's even more reason to revitalize the site with new investment, and new people. TAS has just such a site on Keele Street near Sheppard, and located where the massive Downsview Park meets the Downsview Dells. For anyone looking to live right where the city meets nature to get the best of both, The Keeley is might be the answer.
The Keeley is a 12-storey condominium that will replace a single-storey former Shriners facility at the corner with Maryport Avenue. Across Keele Street to the east is Downsview Park, 291 acres in size, part of a former Canadian Forces Base that is rapidly becoming one of the most appealing parks in town. More on that later. Immediately to the south of The Keeley will be a new strip of parkland that joins up the extensive ravine parklands of the Downsview Dells along the Black Creek to Downsview Park, completing a connection that will create a huge area with nearly unlimited possibilities for recreation. For anyone who wants to cycle or jog right outside their door, they will have an impressive number of options open to them.
We have looked at The Keeley several times before—earlier stories covering such things as suites and amenities are linked near the bottom of the page—but this time we want to dive more deeply into the huge new park just outside the door that few Torontonians have explored yet. Downsview Park was first announced by the federal government in 1999 as 'Canada's first urban national park', and while many of the buildings on the forces base have since been converted to private facilities, especially for sports, it has taken a while for the park's landscaping to come together. While some features are still coming together—the Sesquicentennial Trail which honours the site's aviation history is not quite ready—there is now a lot to explore.
The grandest feature of the park is its new pond, facing Keele Street right across from The Keeley. Not just a pretty face for the park, the pond is also an engineering triumph and a nature magnet. Dug out of the rolling downs of the park, the pond is at its lowest point. Excess earth left over from digging out the pond's basin was used to augment hills on the site, and shape the park's topography so that all runoff in the park is directed into the pond. Held back by a dam near Keele Street, the water in the settles long enough that it is purified by both equipment and plant life, and aerated by fountains. Clean water released from the park via the pond travels through a stream to the south of The Keeley and into the Downsview Dells ravine park system and Black Creek.
The pond is drawing enough diversity of wildlife that during our visit we saw several species of bird that are becoming rare in the area, including both a Blue Heron and a Great Egret. Turtles and other reptiles, amphibians, and fish are also establishing themselves here. Another local species that gravitates to major Toronto Parks—wedding parties—were also on full display when we were there.
The park has several varied landscapes, of which a few are represented in the photos in this article. To the south of the pond, one row of trees left over from the days when farmers' lanes crossed the landscape is now being used for the shade it provides to make a comfortable spot for picnickers. Small boulders from the park have been arranged here to create a sculptural stone wall defining adjacent parkland settings, while another low wall of cut stone, in the background above, define the edge of an orchard planted wth several hundred new apple trees of several varieties.
The apples won't simply fall here to rot on the ground: the trees are part of a for-in-the-park plan that is growing. With partners Fresh City Farms and the Toronto Beekeeper Collective having a number of years of successful harvests now—native wildflowers that are being nurtured in the park are making for great tasting honey—a permanent plan for agriculture closer to the orchard is being formulated.
Long looping paths—some paved, some chipped—are found throughout the park now for those who want long, car-free spaces to run or bike through… or simply walk. The paths connect all of the various landscapes and increasing number of features, with popular spots like the playground above east accessible on one of the edges of the park and close to a parking lot, while other rewards like the long-distance viewpoints you'll find on top of the hills will await those willing to explore deeper into the park.
Forest areas here also provide a draw to those really want to escape from the city—even if they are within walking distance of a subway station. The park provides a surprising number of places and ways to get closer to nature, and will no doubt become far more familiar to Torontonians over the coming years. The park should make the area a big draw in the coming years, and The Keeley can be considered a pioneer of a coming wave of new housing in Downsview.
On October 3 from 6 to 9 PM, the Urban Land Institute will be hosting Accidental Parkland: Rethinking the Role of Nature in our Mega-Cosmopolitan City. Moderated by Jane Farrow, panelists Christopher Glaisek of Waterfront Toronto, Chandra Sharma of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and Mazyar Mortazavi of TAS will discus how can nature can be 'married' with density by incorporating Toronto's natural green spaces in our ongoing city building. Dan Berman's film Accidental Parkland—a documentary that showcases the many beautiful landscapes of Toronto and looks at the successes and shortcomings of how we engage and use the city's urban waterways, parks and ravine systems—will screen at 7 PM, followed by the panel discussion and refreshments. Admission and parking is free, but you should RSVP here.
In the meantime, we have a database file, linked below, with many more renderings of and information about The Keeley. If you would like to get in on the conversation, chose one of the associated Forum links, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.
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