Toronto's Historical Plaques
Discover Toronto's history as told through its plaques
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Plan of Toronto Bay
Photos by Alan L Brown - Posted June, 2011
At the east end of the Toronto Music Garden, at the southwest corner of Spadina Avenue and Queens Quay West, can be found a set of two plaques that tell us about Toronto Bay. Here's what they say:
Coordinates: 43.63713 -79.39206
Plan of Toronto Bay
Toronto Bay at one time contained a rich diversity of fish and wildlife habitats. Historically these included the shallow nearshore zone along the north shore, the many lagoons and bays of Toronto Islands and the large Ashbridge's Marsh east of the mouth of the Don River.
Salmon, pike and pickerel were among the many fish species to be found in its clear waters. Grey wolves, black bears, red and black foxes were abundant, as were golden eagles and various species of falcon and owls. These inhabited the ravines of the rivers and streams and the shores of the bay.
The Toronto Islands at the time were long spits of sand and trees, connected by a long peninsula to the shoreline. The 1793 illustration indicates the many streams that fed the bay, such as Garrison Creek (so named owing to neighbouring Fort York), Russell Creek and Taddle Creek, whose bend was the site of the original Town of York.
Europeans and First Nations peoples alike both relied on the fresh, clear waters for sustenance: in the bay fish would be speared in summer and winter; the streams and wells were used for drinking water and for brewing.
Today, Toronto Bay consists of a highly urbanized north shoreline and the extensive parklands of the Toronto Islands.
The original shoreline disappeared over a long period of landfill (approximately from the 1850's to the 1930's), effectively pushing the north shore southwards to where we stand today. This was in order to accommodate the arrival of the railways during the 1850's and the establishment of the Toronto Bay as a major commercial and transportation centre for Upper Canada.
In addition, many of the surface streams that fed Toronto Bay have been buried and channelized as part of the city's sewer system.
The north shore now is characterized by a series of landfill embayments bordered by vertical dockwalls and a deep water nearshore zone. The existing conditions along the north shore have not been conductive to fish and wildlife habitat. However, with regeneration and the ongoing efforts to clean the bay's waters there are considerable benefits, most notable is the return of one of the most productive and biologically diverse areas in the lake system.
Historic Toronto Bay
If you were to look diagonally north and west of this location, beyond the Gardiner Expressway and to the former railway lands east of Bathurst St. and south of Front St. you would encounter the original shoreline of Lake Ontario, as depicted here.
The image to the right is an interpretive rendering of what the shoreline conditions of Toronto were like prior to European settlement. Toronto Bay was bordered by tall stands of an oak forest stretching from where Fort York was to be established, eastward towards the mouth of the Don River. The dense forest is here interrupted by the mouth of Garrison Creek.
Sailing along the Bay 200 years ago, one would have encountered not only salmon in Garrison Creek, but also loons in the bay. Rushes and reeds bordered the sandy shoreline.
Governor John Graves Simcoe and his wife arrived on the shores of Toronto Bay on July 30th, 1793. Mrs. Simcoe observed the following,
"We went in a boat two miles [eastward] to the bottom of the bay and walked through a grove of fine Oaks where the town [of York] is intended to be built. A low spit of land covered with wood forms the bay and breaks the horizon of the lake which greatly improves the view which indeed is very pleasing. The water in the bay is beautifully clear and transparent."
They settled near Fort York. The 'creek' Mrs. Simcoe refers to below is Garrison Creek, and the 'clearing' took place near the extreme left of this rendering.
"The Queen's Rangers are encamped opposite to the ship. After dinner we went on shore to fix on a spot whereon to place the canvas houses and we chose a rising ground divided by a creek from the camp which is ordered to be cleared immediately. The soldiers have cut down a great deal of wood to enable them to pitch their tents."
The illustration at the far left indicates the original military encampment (Fort York) ten years after Lady Simcoe's journal entry. The great oak trees were cut down, leaving large stumps. The mouth of Garrison Creek was deepened and a wharf added.
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