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Gardiner Expressway Has Been Mired In Controversy For Decades

Most of us take the Gardiner Expressway for granted. And while it almost seems like it’s always been there, the elevated highway with the endless rush hour traffic jams has only been fully opened since 1966. Construction began eleven years before that and it was gradually put up in sections.

It cost taxpayers about $110 million – or around $700 million in today’s currency. And it’s an irony lost on few that refurbishing it will cost almost as much and tearing it down will set everyone back even more.

But did you know that the first battle to get it built involved a fight over a fort? The original plans for the Gardiner called for the demolition of Fort York. That idea raised the ire of those who supported the historic site, and proved that in those days at least, you could fight City Hall.

Proponents battled and won, with the fort surviving and the Gardiner taking an alternate route that’s eventually led us to a new moment of decision.

But another historic part of the city paid the price.

The Gardiner’s construction forced the dismantling of the famous Sunnyside Amusement Park which had stood as a Toronto landmark since 1925. Only the famous pool and the Palais Royale remain as evidence of what  was once there, an area fondly recalled by those still around to remember it.

The Gardiner’s construction involved a huge expansion of the Lakeshore to six lanes and officials decided to raise a large section of it in order to keep traffic noise levels from reaching the ground.

But the move came with a compromise – obscuring the view of the waterfront and leaving many to call the increasingly high maintenance roadway an eyesore.

If Toronto does decide to take down the Gardiner, it won’t be the first major metropolitan city to erode a raised road.

Similar moves have been taken in Boston, Milwaukee and New York. In many cases, property values soared when the highways were taken away and what had been a polluting eyesore was replaced with major revitalization. But there was always the problem of what to do with all that traffic.

In San Francisco, it wasn’t public opinion that brought down their great raised expressway – it was Mother Nature. An earthquake in 1989 coincided with a groundswell of public opinion that eventually led to the destruction of the Embarcadero Freeway.

Other cities stopped the construction of major highways before they even began because of opposition from neighbourhood groups. Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Washington, Memphis and Hartford are just a few of the  places where the roads were stopped by protest.

And you don’t even want to mention the Spadina Expressway.

So while the Gardiner argument is new to Toronto, it’s a classic case of history repeating itself elsewhere. It’s just that our history doesn’t yet have a specific ending.

How The Gardiner Was Put Together

1958: Humber to Jameson Ave.
1962: Jameson to York St.
1964: York to D.V.P.
1966: D.V.P. to Leslie (since torn down)