10 Underrated Toronto Landmarks

Ten Toronto landmarks that deserve more attention.

Guildwood Park

Guildwood Park

The historic neighbourhood of Guildwood, along the edge of the bluffs in Scarborough, might be a bit of a trek to get to, but it’s worth it for the park’s eclectic set of sculptures and its spectacular view overlooking the lake. Its history dates back to 1795, when the cabin that still stands there was first built. The park was purchased in 1932 by Spencer and Rosa Clark, who opened a rent-free artist colony on the grounds and collected an impressive amount of monuments and sculptures, many of which are still on display within the park. [Map]

CAMH Heritage Walls

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These old brick walls have surrounded the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) since 1852 and were built in part by patients of the original facility. Throughout the years, various parts of the walls have been removed until the current configuration was reached sometime in the 1970s. The remaining walls have been designated as heritage properties by the City of Toronto since 1997. CAMH has been making a great effort to redefine what these walls mean to the centre. While still maintaining the iconic walls, they have broken barriers by making the grounds more accessible to the public, as well as creating a smoother transition for patients re-entering society. [Map]

For a more in-depth look at the CAMH Heritage Walls and mental health, check out the documentary “If These Walls Could Talk”:

Toronto band The Wooden Sky took their Travelling Adventure Show all through the CAMH grounds last summer. Check out our video coverage of it!

 

The Leslie Street Spit

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More officially known as Tommy Thompson Park, this 5 km long man-made peninsula offers up some of the largest natural habitat on the city’s waterfront. Creation of the Spit began in the late 1950’s, a time when Toronto’s construction was beginning to increase rapidly, and the area became a convenient spot to dump the excavated earth that resulted from the many new building projects across the city.

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Over time the spit grew, and eventually plants and animals found their way in. In 1990, one arm of the park began to be inhabited by a growing number of cormorants. They have since grown to be the largest colony of its kind on the Great Lakes, completely decimating the forest in that area. It’s an eerie sight to see, the trees have since died, and only their leafless branches remain. At the right time of year, you can see over 30,000 of the birds making the spit their home. [Map]

 

Graffiti Alley(s)

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You might recognize Toronto’s Graffiti Alley as the backdrop for Rick Mercer’s famous rants. The alley runs south of Queen between Spadina and Portland streets and features an ever-changing gallery of some of the city’s best street art. There’s also the Ossington Laneway, organized by the Well and Good arts collective and local property owners, running just west of Ossington between Queen and Humbert. Additionally “The Reclamation Project” near Queen W. and Dufferin Streets. in West Queen West, along a GO rail corridor, offers up the largest graffiti wall in Canada.

Strange Houses

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Toronto is home to some pretty weird abodes, one of the smallest being 128 Day Avenue near Dufferin and Rogers Rd. Smaller still is the “Tiny House” at 36 Hanson Street, which at only 189 square feet somehow still has a kitchen, living room and one bedroom, and was up for sale for $229,000 last summer. The colourful house at 157 Coxwell Avenue is reminiscent of Lego, eco-friendly, stands on 4 stilts, and is connected to the street by a 35-foot long bridge. At 473 Clinton Street you’ll find the woodwork decorated home of artist Albino Carreira, whose figurine covered van you may have spotted nearby. In Leslieville, there’s the doll house at 44 Bertmount, decorated by hundreds of dolls of varying creepiness. Finally, John Cox Cottage at 469 Broadview Avenue is the oldest house in the city still used as a residence. It was originally built in 1807 out of square cut logs, and pre-dates Fort York and the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.

 

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

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You may have noticed this old lighthouse while visiting the island for one of Toronto’s many music festivals. Built in 1808, the Gibraltar Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes and one of the oldest landmarks in Toronto. Its first keeper, John Muller, was murdered at the lighthouse, dismembered and buried nearby, supposedly by two Fort York soldiers looking for bootlegged liquor. It’s said that Muller still haunts the surrounding grounds, and reports of moaning and ghostly apparitions have been reported in the area. [Map]

 

That Knife Sharpening Truck Guy

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Way back in the day, these guys would cart around homemade peddler wagons on foot offering their services (shown on the left in the photo above.) The knife sharpening truck was the result of the growth of the suburbs, when there was simply too much ground to cover on foot. During the summer, you might get a chance to see one of the few remaining mobile landmarks; a strange lingering relic, frozen in time, that can eerily seem out of place in the present-day city. They drive around mysteriously, like something out of a Tim Burton film, disappointing children hoping for an ice cream truck. There’s just something very cool about an old school guy managing to just keep it real and do his thing in these modern times.

 

Garrison Creek

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This is a tricky one because technically, this is a landmark you can’t even see. But you can see evidence of it. Garrison Creek was a 7.7 km long stream that flowed southeast into the west side of Toronto harbour, near Fort York (hence the name.) It has been almost entirely buried underneath the city, but in many areas you can find geological and structural traces of where the creek once was.

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Two good examples (shown above) are the sinking houses on Shaw Street, which were built directly above the buried creek, and the remaining parapet of a now buried bridge on Harbord Street.

 

Mount Pleasant Cemetary

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This area was originally a farm on the outskirts of the city, with the cemetery opening in 1876. In those days Toronto only had two official cemeteries, and they only catered to members of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. Mount Pleasant was conceived and built to be available to all citizens. A cemetery might not be the first thing that comes to mind when looking for a nice spot to go for a run or a bike ride, but Mount Pleasant is covered with different paths, fountains, sculptures, beautiful architecture, gardens and rare trees, and even connects to several other paths including the Moore Park Ravine Beltline Trail and the Kay Gardner Beltline Trail. The cemetery was even designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2000. Its many notable interments include co-discoverers of insulin Sir Frederick Banting & Charles Best, pianist and composer Glenn Gould, former Maple Leafs general manager and hall-of-famer Punch Imlach, and former Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King. [Map]

 

Don Valley Brick Works

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The Don Valley Brick Works is a former quarry and industrial site built in the Don River valley in 1889. For almost 100 years, the facility provided bricks used to build some of Toronto’s most famous buildings including Massey Hall, Casa Loma, and the Ontario Legislature. The plant has a long legacy in this city. During the Great Depression, the area to the south of the Brick Works became inhabited by the very poor from across Canada, living in shacks and sleeping inside the factory kilns during winter. During the Second World War, the plant used German prisoners of war who were being held at Todmorden Mills. Since the closure of the plant, the grounds and quarry area have become a large park, and the buildings have been brought back to life as an environmentally-focused community centre by Evergreen. [Map]

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One of the most unique landmarks within the Brick Works area is the quarry’s north wall, which offers a very rare window into roughly the last million years of Toronto’s geological history. The wall tells the story of two major ice ages, and within the layers of earth all kinds of fossils of ancient animal and plant life have been discovered, including the extinct giant beaver. Check out Lost Rivers for a great article on the importance of the Brick Works North Wall.