What the Leslie Street Spit used to look like in Toronto
I've been spending some time on the Leslie Street Spit this summer, riding along its wind-swept road out into the lake where it always feels a few degrees cooler than on what you might call the mainland. It's a remarkable place, and one that I had somehow almost forgotten about in summer's past, opting instead for the Islands or the eastern beaches. Those places are also wonderful assets that Toronto possesses, but the Spit is special — particularly because it's essentially a watery dump that's blossomed into one of the most beautiful places in the city.
Prior to the late 1950s, the foot of Leslie Street was one of Toronto's nicer beaches. That all changed with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. It was expected that Toronto would witness an influx of shipping at the time, but it never happened thanks to the rise of coastal ports and the use of shipping containers, which ultimately led to the increased use of inter-continental railways in favour of boat-based deliveries. Nevertheless, the Spit was added to over the years thanks to development in Toronto's core, which provided a regular supply of infill for the burgeoning peninsula.
Back in the early 1980s, when the Spit reached out to its current length, it was a less serene place. The refuse on which what is now Tommy Thompson Park was built was far more obvious back then (case in point: the lead photo). Roughly five kilometres long, the narrow strip of land eventually grew into an urban park that's home to 300 different species of birds. It's been called an "accidental wilderness," a moniker which is pretty much perfect.
Believe it or not, the Leslie Street Spit is still actively being built upon, though the rate of infill has slowed dramatically. That's why it's only open on weekends and holidays — even if it's the easiest place to access during off-hours. Below is a gallery of photos from the early 1980s that shows, amongst other things, just how much the place has changed over the last 30 years. Although there's been occasional talk of developing the Spit, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the Spit, it's remained a natural area with public access.
If you haven't been, you should go.
THE SPIT IN THE 1980s
Photos from the Toronto Archives, with the exception of the last, which is from the Friends of the Spit