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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Bathurst Street Bridge


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Spacing Associate Editor Shawn Micallef has an essay about the Bathurst Street Bridge in today’s Toronto Star Ideas section:

The bridge is about as solid as anything in Toronto gets. Take a walk along it and hold onto the hand railing as a streetcar crosses the bridge. This is what Toronto feels like when the streetcars roll over its civic body: Hands vibrate from a direct connection to those heavy steel wheels, and when large trucks go by the bridge gently bounces and sways, making it seem awake, responsive, alive.

Structurally sound, the bridge suffers from lack of maintenance; up close the metal is rusty and the paint is flaking off in places. The iron hand railing is ornate and as solid as the rest of the bridge, but children would be wise not to run their hand along it, as they tend to do, lest they embed chunks of old Toronto in their soft hands.

The underside of a bridge is as important as what’s on top, and this bridge designed to get us over the railway land is the best place to see that Toronto is still a rail town. The main span of the truss floats over 10 sets of tracks, a disconcertingly empty view looking east toward downtown.

In the print edition there is also added historical material about this piece of Toronto infrastructure.

Photo by Rene Johnston & Toronto Star.



  1. Of ongoing (lack of) maintenance issues, the southern approach to the bridge north from Fort York Blvd has hardened concrete on 2/3 of the curb lane making that stretch an adventure for cyclists. The obvious solution (with the concrete) is for cyclists to ride in the left wheel track of motor vehicles along this stretch – which raises the ire of motorholics following (no matter how fast one is travelling I might add).

  2. Two things not discussed enough for their implications are:
    – we could build durable bridges that could be re-used and they likely would be less expensive to keep in the long term than all the concrete-enclosed stuff unless we like to grind up the escarpment and make lots of work for some people
    – there was a reference about digging a hole near Bathurst/Front and having it fill up with water very quickly so it’s a perfectly logical place to spend $60M to move the main Lakeshore West GO commuter rail lines and then dig a big tunnel for a road for single-user cars don’t you think?
    but maybe I’m obsessed eh? – what’s a few hundred million.

  3. Jibba jabba jibba jabba — what are you talking about wilson? seek medical help.

  4. Someone once told me that this bridge was built for another site. Something to do with the war…. I can’t remember, but that was the reason given for it being such a hardcore structure. It’s far bigger than the site needs.

  5. Fraser, in the article I do mention that bridge was originally located over the Humber River and was moved to Bathurst in 1916. In the pictures we found of Humber , the bridge looked smaller.

    The site needs a fairly big bridge though as Bathurst is 4 lanes. In fact, the bridge is too small for a proposed streetcar right-of-way down down there.

  6. do little

    the infrastructure deficit is related to how we build bridges – the concrete encased steel/iron doesn’t hold up well enough for our winters and summers so maybe we could re-think how we build our bridges and revert to the older styles like this bridge.
    And the references to the water filling in holes – you may be aware of something called the Front St. Extension that proposed to first move the rail tracks near this bridge and then dig a tunnel under them. If the water table is very high, then maybe this is NOT the place to build a tunnel or be prepared to add a further what $20 mill atop $255 mill for the FSE which is still a civic priority, and clouds our planning eg. in my view the WWLRT.
    So thanks for the concern about my well being – and yes, maybe I am a bit carazy with all this tilting at windshields…

  7. Darn it Hamish, you were doing so well with your explanation and then you lost me with the abbreviations! I figured out FSE (front street extension), but WWLRT (World Wrestling Light Rail Transit? that ought to wake a girl up in the morning on the way to work) and I’m still scratching my head over “tilting at windshields”…