The beauty of the expressway and Toronto’s accidental gateway

IMG_8568-001Highway 427 looking south from Burnhamthorpe Road

On a recent walk with a group of friends and acquaintances, I had the opportunity to explore a bit of Etobicoke. We walked from Kipling Station to a pub near the West Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road, passing by an abandoned dead mall, cutting through another mall, Cloverdale, with its sad, emptying Target that was just a few weeks before closing (along with the rest of Target’s ill-fated Canadian stores).

Honeydale was built in the early 1970s, a rather small mall anchored by a Woolco and a grocery store. The grocery store became a No Frills, while Woolco was acquired by Wal-Mart in 1994. Most Woolco stores were converted to Wal-Marts, but the US-based giant soon expanded or built replacement stores to its own specifications, leaving behind many vacancies in older malls and plazas. With the loss of Wal-Mart, the mall survived only because the only entrance to the busy No Frills store was within the mall. Once No Frills closed, Honeydale lost its purpose and shut down. Like the Canadian Tire property down the street (the oddly named Kip District development), I expect that the mall, Toronto’s only bona-fide dead mall, will soon be razed and that condos will eventually take its place.

Unlike Honeydale, Cloverdale, a somewhat larger mall that boasts few vacancies, will most likely survive Target’s retreat from Canada.

Honeydale Mall
The vacant Honeydale Mall

But the most interesting takeaway, in my opinion, is reflected in a photograph I took on the Burnhamthorpe Road bridge over Highway 427, the first photo in this post.

There is a complicated beauty to freeways; corridors that we usually experience either at speeds of over 100 kilometres an hour, or stuck behind other cars and trucks in frustrating traffic jams. But from a perch over top, such as on an overpass, one can appreciate the landscape. And see the gateway to Toronto, guarded by tall towers on either side.

Sheraz Khan wrote about this “accidental city gate” in Spacing Toronto in November 2013. He wrote that “…the road to Toronto tells a story about our city. Through the concrete, the wires, the bricks and tangled roads, gleams our new gate. It is a structure that begins to (perhaps accidentally) emphasize Toronto’s wishes of grandeur.”

Coming from the airport down Highway 427, arriving in Toronto for the first (or the 500th) time, by car or by bus, one can experience this unplanned, and apt, entry to the city. A city of concrete, glass and steel, a city that is continually growing to accommodate its many newcomers. A city as defined by its suburbs as its downtown.

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