Long Since Burried : Garrison Creek

Garrison Creek West Bank


Toronto is located where it is primarily because there used to be a river that ran south and drained into Lake Ontario, just west of the city centre today. Because of the natural protection provided by the banks of this river, the first structures of city, at Fort York, were situated at its mouth. Then the rest of the city was built where it is because the fort was there.

But today there is no river flowing through the city, and unless you were particularly keen on history, you'd never know there had ever been one. That's because by the late 1800s it had become polluted and therefore a health risk, so it was buried. This was done by channeling the water into a massive sewer system which still courses under this residential neighbourhood today. The building of this sewer was the most advanced engineering feat of its kind at the time; as you can imagine burying a whole river back then was no small endeavour. From what I can glean in the historical write-ups, there were several collapses and the project encountered many problems. But it did happen, and now, unless you knew what to look for, you'd never know it had been there.

Today I have some pictures to show, that hint at this river's former existence.

[caption id="attachment_3226" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Looking Eastward / Looking Westward"]
Garrison Creek East and Wes1
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These were taken from within Trinity Bellwoods park, which is a beautiful, well-loved area stretching between Queen and Dundas Streets, a few blocks west of Bathurst. In this park you can clearly see the divot where the creek once flowed, and the western and eastern banks on either side. Nowadays the 'bowl' is used as a leash-off dog area, and every time I go in there I stop and watch all the dogs playing and running around. You get the best dog show going.

John Gibson House 1


This third photo is of a building that was built on the west bank in 1888, when the river was still flowing. It's now called The John Gibson House and is a residence for seniors. (You can see the top of it in the picture above too.) It was originally built to be the first female quarters for women attending university in the city. Then it was called St. Hilda's College and was part of Trinity College, which used to be located within the grounds of what is now the park, and which has since been torn down and merged with The University of Toronto.

garrison creek sewer cap


Garrison Creek Sign


Some more shots of the park, taken last Wednesday at about 4:30pm (before the daylight saving time change, the sun was already setting in the west).

trinity bellwoods park 2


trinity bellwoods park 3


Trinity Bellwoods Park 5


Trinity Bellwoods Park 7


Here's an old photo from the Toronto Archives that shows a bridge being built over the creek, before it was buried. It was located at the northern end of Trinity Bellwoods Park and apparently is still there, fully intact, underground.

historic photo bridge over garrison creek


Thank you for your visit. xo loulou
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4 Responses to Long Since Burried : Garrison Creek

  1. Jill says:

    What a beautiful part of the city! And an interesting history to go along with it! Thank you!

  2. Shakti Dove says:

    Oh my goodness. Who knew? I can’t even imagine the amount of work it would take to do something like that – especially without modern machinery! So how does it work? On one side of the city the river is channeled underground and then it pops up again on the other side?

    Shakti Dove

    • Loulou says:

      From what I understand, the river runs underground through a really big pipe that drains into Lake Ontario to the south, underwater, so you can’t see it happening from the shore. Another interesting point I didn’t mention was that there is a bridge right under our neighborhood that used to cross the river, and it was burried in tact … They didn’t even take the bridge down, they just covered it with dirt and rubble!

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