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Think big around The Bentway

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? Two good reasons to get out of the house: an urban market filled with stacked containers + Toronto's best public place nestled under a highway.

(To get the book, click here)

The recent reopening allows us to appreciate once again the perks of living in Canada's largest city. Here's a 3.7 km walk that will give you a taste of what happens when urban projects think big!

If you're coming by streetcar, get off Bathurst Street and walk south. If driving in, you might find a spot on the small side streets. There is also a large parking lot at the end of Fort York Boulevard.

Note that the city is very beautiful at night, when buildings and public art are nicely lit. If you visit after 6pm, you'll want to take advantage of the $6 spots in Green P 96, at the corner of Front Street and Portland.

Off to a great start!

You can start with a coffee at Thor Espresso Bar (35 Bathurst St., open 8 am-3 pm on weekdays and 8 am-6 pm on weekends), and choose to stop for a bite by Stackt on the way back. It was lunch time so we went there before our walk.

It's hard to get more urban than Stackt Market (28 Bathurst Street). Those who know a little bit about New York will find it has a High Line feel to it. The site’s outdoor spaces are arranged in various eclectic patios, with the skyscrapers of the CityPlace neighborhood as a backdrop.

A hundred plus stacked shipping containers give a really cool industrial vibe. Those at ground level house small businesses open from noon to 7 pm. (the site itself is open from 11 am to 11 pm). We have to pass through a visitors kiosk before taking a seat on the patios (summer hours are from noon to 11 pm), where you can scan a QR code to access the menus.

We opted for Momofuku's rustic patio near the entrance and devoured their version of "war fries” topped with a delicious happy mix of condiments. The menu at Belgian Moon Brewery in the back of Stackt is also quite tempting.

To the Bentway

The Bentway is an 8-minute walk from Stackt. Take Bathurst over the railroad tracks and go down the stairs to your right, near Fort York Boulevard.

Phase 1 of The Bentway took shape in 2018 under the Gardiner Expressway. The arrival of the new Fort York Visitor Centre finally gave this neglected space a chance to reveal its potential.

Constantly evolving, this new approach to public space development has continued to delight us, adding new traditions each year, such as the winter skating trail and year-round visual art events. During the pandemic, the organization's one-time activities extended to The Beach neighbourhood.

Torontonians are increasingly embracing this unique space. Nestled under the pillars of the Gardiner, The Bentway allows us to walk west, sheltered from the rain, up to Strachan Avenue. Beautiful panels by artist Alex McLeod end this section of the site, and serve as a backdrop for a stylized stage from which to admire the architectural texture of the line-up of pillars stretching to the east. A few splashes of yellow and blue add a cheerful note.

Playing in Public, this summer

Going east from Bathurst, we were quickly seduced by the bring-your-own-ball basketball court, where a few players were having a hilarious photo op in front of ridiculously large baskets. Around them, newbies on retro roller skates were staggering around the paved path. The Playing in Public summer event was in full swing and the pleasant atmosphere was infectious. It will run until September 26.

Visitors can bring their own skates or rent them at the Retro Rolla Pop-Up not far from the Fort York Visitor Centre (reservations are required online, until September 20, $18/hour + $3 for the helmet).

Further on, I had a great time with the Walk Walk Dance by Daily Tous les jours, where you create music by stepping on lines on the ground. Note that this addictive attraction is only there until July 24. In the western limit of The Bentway, near Strachan, dance enthusiasts were following an instructor in a lively choreography.

On the way back, we noticed more work under the Gardiner, east fo Bathurst. I was surprised to discover that it had been there since 2014! The artist, Adad Hannah, has attached the moldings of sections of the Fort York buildings in his large rock sculptures.

Further along, we saw a new LCBO branch embedded under the Gardiner, a unique vantage point reminiscent of Singapore. Beautiful giant filigree lotuses adorn the ceiling of the nearby parking lot, an intricate creation by the Amsterdam-based Verhoeven Twins.

We continued under the highway to Dan Leckie Way. Years ago, artist Pierre Poussin had created beautiful blue metal structures there that light up from within at night. For Playing in Public, he added his installation Jax, representing a giant multicoloured version of jacks, the oldest game in the world.

Moving on…

We can take a small dirt path at the corner of Dan Leckie Way and Lake Shore to go up to Canoe Landing Park, where awaits a huge red canoe overhanging the Gardiner. Further on, stairs lead down to giant fishing floats. These are the works of Douglas Coupland, the artist/author who coined the term "Generation X".

The Bentway’s headquarters are now in the new Canoe Landing Campus complex, firmly planted in the vertical community of the CityPlace neighbourhood. Eventual expansion of Bentway's facilities and activities can be expected under the Gardiner.

For the way back, take Capreol Crescent, the first street north of Fort York Boulevard, past the park. Look up for the bear on a pedestal. Then turn left onto Iceboat Terrace to cross Chilean Francisco Gazitua's Puente de Luz.

Then, I suggest you cross the underground parking lot on Front Street, just past Portland. It leads to an interesting enclave, surrounded by townhouses and open to Niagara Street, in front of Victoria Memorial Square. In this park are the remains of headstones from the first European cemetery in Toronto established in 1793 by Governor Simcoe, whose first burial was that of his daughter...

Thor Café is located at the corner of Niagara and Bathurst Streets and Stackt is one block south.

Nathalie Prézeau is the author of the 262-page walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls, You can get it online on Amazon, Indigo, in Toronto bookstores or directly from the publisher. The author delivers in Toronto and Canada Post takes care of the other destinations. You can also contact the author directly for pick up arrangements (with a discount) at 299 Booth Avenue (Leslieville) Toronto. Contact:


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