WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? Two good reasons to get out of the house: the hidden creek in Upper Beaches + a scrumptious treat from a cute bakery on Gerrard East. (Note: This courtesy self-guided tour is not included in the 26 urban strolls and 52 mini-walks in the author's Toronto guide.)
A few weeks ago, while searching for fairy houses (yes, I’m addicted to kitsch), I discovered a hidden ravine in East Danforth, where Small's Creek runs before flowing under the railroad tracks.
I later checked on Google to see if this stream disappeared downstream and found that it runs through Williamson Park on the south side of the railroad (down to Gerrard Street). And this side of the track is even more spectacular! A real oasis in Upper Beaches.
About Small's Creek
Small's Creek stretches for 700 metres on either side of the railroad. It is the only visible remnant of a natural system that fed Small's Pond, a large pond dammed by gentleman farmer Coxwell Small, who operated a sawmill at the top of Queen East and Kingston Road. The pond was filled in in 1935.
When you look at a historical map, you can see that the pond was located where Orchard Park is now.
The 5-minute clip Small's Creek: A brief history is an interesting resource to learn more about this almost buried watercourse, turned into a sewage system over the years. It gives us a greater appreciation of the treasure currently hidden in Williamson Park Ravine.
Williamson Park Ravine
There are three accesses to Williamson Park. For my 2.4 km walk, I recommend accessing it from the northwest entrance, at the end of Gainsborough Road. You can park on the street and take the grand staircase, to immediately immerse yourself into the forest.
I am always impressed to discover these large staircases in the middle of nature! During my visit, a woman was going up and down them without interruption. No need for a gym!
Around the small bridge that straddles the creek, I explored the dirt path that went towards the railroad tracks. You soon come to the Metrolinx fences that now prevent walkers from crossing to the other side of the tracks.
You will notice coloured ribbons on several trees, drawing our attention to the fact that this part of the ravine is to be very soon threatened by the Lakeshore East corridor transformation project. A petition continues to circulate requesting that Metrolinx facilitates the greatest preservation of this natural jewel.
Back at the small bridge, I saw an opening to the trail that runs west along Small's Creek for 400 metres. At first we see the back of the houses at the top of the ravine, then we are swallowed up by a beautiful bucolic forest crisscrossed with live water. It is easy to forget that we are in the middle of an urban area.
Local residents have added small makeshift bridges to get over muddier sections. Here and there, the stream sings, under the sun that pierces the canopy. Beautiful!
The trail leads up a staircase to Gerrard East, the southern access between Wembley Drive and Hollywood Crescent. Turn left, east, to continue the loop.
Turn north on Woodbine Avenue to view the murals under the overpass. Then, retrace your steps up the stairs to Wildwood Crescent. Less than 10 minutes from Woodbine, you'll pass the northeast entrance to Williamson Park on this lovely residential street. From there, you can walk down into the ravine and up the stairs back to Gainsborough Street. Note that you can also easily park on Wildwood Crescent for this loop.
Want more? Add 3.1 km to this walk by combining it (from Woodbine) with my exploration of the small enchanting corners of East Danforth, which includes the northern portion of Small's Creek.
While you are there
East of the park's south entrance, a short 5-min walk away, you’ll come across the friendly Bodega Henriette (1801 Gerrard St. E, open Saturday 9 am-10 pm, Sunday 9 am-4:30 pm, Monday and Tuesday 8:30 am-4:30 pm, and Wednesday through Friday 8:30 am-10 pm).
They have a small dapper terrace near the entrance and a nice lighted terrace behind, as well as two small bistro tables on the side. You can buy good croissants, scones and cinnamon buns. Their coffee is excellent. It’s better to make a reservation to enjoy their brunch menu (weekends from 10am), breakfast/lunch (weekdays from 10am to 4pm) and dinner (Wednesday to Saturday from 5pm to 9pm).
Further down the street, I noticed several cool businesses: artist Gwynne Gilles' Beach Studio storefront, the promising Petit Paris Boulangerie (not yet open), Afro-centric bookstore Nile Valley Books (1921 Gerrard St. E.), and its neighbour, The Make Station (specializing in art kits).
Along the way, there is a lovely mural behind the unisex hair salon The Corner Spot (1917 E Gerrard St.).
Beyond Woodbine, I admired the retro storefront of Confectionary Variety Goods, actually a place that gives guitar lessons, Toronto Guitar Lessons (1999 Gerrard E). Not far from Woodbine is the Morning Parade Coffee Bar (1952 Gerrard E, open Monday-Tuesday 8am-3pm, Wednesday-Friday 8am-4pm, Saturday 9am-4pm and Sunday 9am-3pm). The breakfast sandwich at this charming café delighted me on my first visit to the area. This time, I was able to appreciate the back terrace.
Nathalie Prézeau is the author of the walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls, which you can get on amazon.ca
or by contacting the author directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can pick up the book at 299 Booth Avenue, the author delivers in Toronto and Canada Post takes care of the other destinations.