Celebrate 100 years of neighbourhood action for nature-filled slopes—come and make seed bombs to launch at the bald patch of the Christie Street retaining wall garden. historical interpretation: market square 8 to noon. seed bomb workshop: smART lab noon to 1 p.m.
Even today, on icy days Bathurst Hill’s steep slope is a test of steady nerves and good tires. Before it was graded in the winter and spring of 1914, it was a famously hard climb in all seasons. While the road re-design made it easier for traffic to go up the embankment, neighbourhood residents were distressed by the fact that the Works Department replaced the grass, trees and shrubs on the roadside with what appeared to be a cement canyon.
Pedestrians going down in the morning to the nearest streetcar line, before the St. Clair line opened in 1913, used the plank sidewalk to walk down
Perhaps the opportunity to discuss local issues while walking up and down the hill gave everyone a sense of shared purpose. From contemporary Toronto Daily Star reports what’s clear is that the Bathurst Hill Ratepayers Association members were stirred-up in the years just before the First World War and looking to influence City Hall on the small and large issues affecting their neighbourhood.
Goad’s Fire Map 1913 detail showing Bathurst and Christie street at the foot of the Davenport embankment
The ratepayers, after all, were only demanding their due since they had been paying city-level taxes since the area’s 1909 annexation. The group complained of delays in the completion of the Civic streetcar line along St. Clair. It lamented the incompetence of the engineers who had designed an earth-covered trestle bridge to span the Nordheimer Ravine which had promptly collapsed in a mud slide. It demanded that more lubricant be used on the new tracks so that when the streetcars turned onto Wychwood Avenue they would not make an ear-splitting screech. It resented that Hillcrest Public School had to accept out of district children and was now bursting at the seams.
Local home owners monitored the installation of electricity poles, sewer pipes and sidewalks and endured the upheavals that the work entailed. And, although they tired of the mud and disorder they realized that being in the path of major east-west and north-south major road construction projects brought benefits along with irritations.
One of these benefits was jobs. The record-breaking cold of the 1914 winter increased the misery of the numerous unemployed laborers of the north west suburbs. They joined others in a demonstration to pressure government to find work for them.
A hundred of the Bathurst Hill district’s men with dependent families were put to work dynamiting, digging and moving the frozen soil of Christie and Bathurst hills on an ambitious grading project that had been announced the previous year.
The hill was to be tamed as part of Bathurst’s new character as a north-south arterial road. This involved pushing back and securing its steep edges with a concrete retaining wall. One old landmark in the path of the widening was the remains of the foot of Yorkville and Vaughan plank road that wound up the Davenport embankment. It had become the narrow dirt track seen below serving as a platform for the workers during blasting. Vaughan Road would henceforth have its southernmost point at Bathurst one block south of St. Clair.
looking south from above Davenport
looking north from Davenport: blasting with dynamite
The Bathurst Hill Ratepayers lobbied City Hall so that the pockets and slivers of land expropriated for road widening would be developed as parks or landscaped to enhance the street.
It was pointed out that some time ago Mr. W.J. Gage, who owns the property on the west side of the Bathurst Street hill cutting had offered to terrace his property at his own expense if the city would have the property at the opposite side terraced at the expense of the city. Instead of this proposition being taken up, it was stated that it proposed to go ahead and erect very expensive and very ugly concrete retaining walls on the street. … Toronto Daily Star, Sept. 23, 1914 p.10
looking north from the west side of Bathurst Hill to Gage’s property
CUTTING DOWN THE STEEP BATHURST STREET HILL—AN EXTENSIVE UNDERTAKING A photograph, looking south, which shows the cut of Bathurst street hill practically complete. Torontoonians who have not seen this work will be surprised at the changed aspect of Bathurst street which has been cut down and of Davenport road which has been filled in. Toronto Daily Star, June 20, 1914 p. 7
While the association won its fight to have the land expropriated for the St. Clair bridge construction developed as Wells Hill Park, it was less successful in its efforts to substitute the Bathurst concrete retaining wall with tiered landscaping. By the fall of 1914 members had organized in strong opposition to the “Hill Wall’.
By the following winter the retaining wall was going up.
As if taunting them with an example of what could be done when one had deep pockets, several blocks east of Bathurst Hill Sir Henry Pellat had landscaped the approach to Casa Loma for motorists and pedestrians to take stock of the castle’s scenic embankment setting
Just north of Casa Loma, Melgund road homeowners the previous spring had opposed the creation of a cement retaining wall, in this case intended by the Works department to be part of a fill required for a road extension abutting the Nordheimer Ravine.
DESTROYING BEAUTY OF A WOODED RAVINE
… At present there is no road open between Melgund road and Walmer road. The Works Department proposes to make a huge fill at that part of the ravine, supporting it by a cement wall. The ravine at this point has a slope of about 60 degrees, so that the cost of building a retaining wall and filling in would be enormous. The ravine is, moreover, beautifully wooded. It is the destruction of this natural beauty that the residents chiefly resent. At present the ravine may be seen to advantage from the bridge on Spadina road, but the view is rapidly being marred by the ash and garbage dumped into it from the head of Walmer road.
The city will have to expropriate more property of Melgund road to carry out its proposed scheme, since the road now narrows to about twenty feet. The alternative scheme suggested by Mr. Campbell, is that Melgund should cut across the corner to connect with Walmer road. This would save the ravine and at the same time be much less expensive to the public finances. …
Christie Street Hill
On the west side of Bathurst, agents for the upscale Bracondale Hill and Braemore Garden embankment subdivisions were taking advantage of investors’ interest in the soon to be fully serviced area. Braemore Garden homeowners had responsibility for the gardens that descended to Christie the street retaining wall.
This continues to be the case with the exception of one patch recently brought under city control as a result of the homeowner’s losing struggle to take care of the plantings on the steep slope. The loss of trees and shrubs from storms increased soil erosion and loss of plant life. City-contracted specialists jerry-rigged a series of solutions to help trees take root with little success. Recently, Braemore Gardens resident Beverly Dywan took matters into her own hands with a guerrilla gardening assault on the slope, but more hands are needed. You and your kids can help re-naturalize a very visible part of the Christie streetscape. Drop in to the smART lab seed bomb workshop tomorrow Saturday 10th of May from 12 noon to 1 p.m. and help replenish plant life on this west-facing slope.