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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Canadian stop on the London Underground

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This is Canada Water Station. It’s a stop on the London Underground. It’s right near the River Thames, in the middle of the city, just a couple of stops east of London Bridge. And it has a particularly interesting connection to the history of Toronto.

The subway station is pretty new: it opened in 1999. But this exact spot has been a transportation hub for centuries. For about 300 years, it was home to the Surrey Docks: some of the busiest docks in London. As the British Empire boomed, ships from all over the world came here to unload their cargo. The first docks were built on this spot in the 1600s, long before the British ruled Canada and founded the city of Toronto. It all started with whalers — at what they called Greenland Dock. Then, there was timber from Scandinavia and the Baltics — so they built Russia Dock and Norway Dock and Finland Quay and Swedish Quay.

But by the end of the 1800s, trade with Canada was booming too. We were sending a huge number of goods across the Atlantic into the heart of London — including, for a while, enormous old white pines from the Rouge Valley. They were needed as masts for British ships. So, in the 1870s, they built Canada Dock. There was a Quebec Pond, too.

So that’s how Canada Water Station got its name: it was built on the exact same spot where the northern end of Canada Dock used to be. Where our ships unloaded our goods to be sold to the English.

Today, the site of the old docks is home to a brand new development. If you head upstairs from the subway station, you’ll find an entire new neighbourhood called Canada Water. There’s an ornamental lake where Canada Dock used to be; it’s called Canada Water. There’s a crazy new modernist library called the Canada Water Library. Canada Street is right nearby. And there’s the Maple Quays condo development, including Vancouver House, Victoria House, Montreal House, Ontario Point and, of course, Toronto House.


The Canada Water lake
The Canada Water lake
Canada Water Library
Canada Water Library
Remnants of the old dock 
Toronto House balconies look out over the lake
Toronto House
Toronto House
The Albion Channel connects Canada Water to Surrey Water, and from there, the Thames.
The Albion Channel connects Canada Water to Surrey Water, and from there, the Thames
Toronto House and the Albion Channel, home to a variety of waterfowl.
Toronto House and the Albion Channel, home to a variety of waterfowl
Canada Water, with the Shard in the background
The Surrey Docks during WWII it's the peninsula on the left/west of the photo.
A German bomber flies above the Surrey Docks during WWII; it’s the peninsula in the upper-left/west of the photo


All photos by Adam Bunch, except the aerial image (via Wikipedia).

A version of this post originally appeared on the The Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog as part of the Dreams Project’s tour tracing the history of Toronto in the UK.