The West Toronto Railpath is a project that’s almost as old as the High Line. In 2001 a group of residents, cyclists, politicians, activists and environmentalists got together to discuss how they could help the City of Toronto create a multi-purpose linear park that would provide a transportation link — by foot, blade, and bicycle — to downtown Toronto. In October 2009 the first section opened; it includes some landscaping and a hard-surface path extending from Cariboo Avenue to Dundas Street West. Phase two will extend the Railpath south and east towards downtown.
Scott Torrance, the landscape architect, led a tour along the 2.1 km trail, and the three videos posted on the official website give a great sense of what this project looks and feels like. The tour was conducted in February so the plants are hibernating and the landscape lacks the bright colors of summer, but the graffiti makes up for it, particularly a few large, quite handsome murals that local artists have created. The Railpath designers used steel — now elegantly rusted — for the signage, and it works: it makes a fine connection to the industrial past that this park evokes, passing as it does by old factories (chocolate, flags, paint…), foundries and mills. Torrance does a excellent job explaining what the site was like before work on the Railpath began, describing both the massive industrial pollution and detritus that had to be cleared away and also the native grasses, plants and trees that had established themselves in the very dry conditions that existed alone the rail corridor: bluestem, rudbeckia, milkweed, asters, Manitoba maple, hornbeam, and Ailanthus altissima, or “Tree of Heaven.” Many of these volunteers were also found on the abandoned High Line, and the landscapers retained a few of them throughout the park.
Torrance also talks about how the designers worked to retain the “rough character” and sense of wildness that existed here after the railroads stopped running. “It may look kind of messy,” he observes at one point, “but I think it’s kind of honest.”