Thursday, May 7, 2009

HisT.O.ry #1: Old Otter Loop

Every once in a while, between the past and future, Acts of Minor Treason takes time to look backward at some of Toronto's history - preferably the parts of it that haven't been bulldozed already.

The buses don't loop at Otter Loop anymore, and you've probably never heard of it. Once a northern linchpin of Metro Toronto's surface transit network, the evolution of the city through the 20th century transformed it from a suburban gateway to a mere redundancy. It's no longer even TTC property - the City of Toronto owns it now, and since 2006 there's been a slowly simmering plan to transform it into a park. Whatever its future might be, for now Otter Loop remains.

Otter Loop, at the foot of Kimbark Boulevard and Otter Crescent in the elder, affluent suburbs of Lytton Park, was served by the TTC as early as November 14, 1936, when the Eglinton/North Toronto bus route was redrawn to terminate there. This service continued until March 1954, when that route was replaced by the 61 Nortown electric trolleybus - the pole at the center of the loop once held up the trolleybus wires. Otter Loop then became the northern terminus of a rush-hour route that ran between it and Eglinton station, the true suburban gateway of the 1950s, which lasted until the TTC put its trolleybuses to pasture in 1992. That route became the 61 Avenue Road North, which still runs along Avenue Road today. As I said, though, it doesn't loop at Otter Loop anymore.

Part of this owes to its surroundings. It sits in what the City of Toronto recognizes as Bedford Park-Nortown, a neighborhood where, as of the 2001 census, 62% of households were single-family, with nearly sixty percent of those occupying individual houses, and wealth is the word - more than 35% of its households and over half of its 5,495 families pulled down in excess of $100,000 a year in 2001, with another 20% or so falling between $60,000 and $99,999 per annum. Rich neighborhoods, in my experience, don't tend to have much truck with transit; it's the reason the 162 Lawrence-Donway is the only bus route that cuts through the Bridle Path, and probably why there are no stations on the University-Spadina line between St. Clair West and Eglinton West - Forest Hill is between the two.

When the City bought the loop for a dollar, as the TTC no longer had a use for it, the plan was apparently to convert it into a heart-shaped urban park with the oh-so-creative name "Heart Park." Considering that all the details I can find of this initiative date from 2006 and that Otter Loop is still intact, it's fair to say this project hasn't really got off the ground. Otter Loop is, however, going into the ground. No one appears to be maintaining the structure. Some of the brickwork has crumbled and one of the signs identifying itself as "MUNICIPAL PROPERTY OF THE TORONTO TRANSIT COMMISSION" has been left to weather and its paint allowed to run.

Still, the transit shelter is intact, spacious, roomy, and would be a comfortable place to wait for the bus. Time was that shelters like Otter Loop's dotted Toronto, only to be torn apart by the rising tide of modernization that saw so many other pieces of city history ground to pieces. As far as I know and have read, the transit shelter at Otter Loop is the only one of its kind still in existence. That's enough reason, I think, to preserve it. History is history, no matter if it's a skyscraper or a bus shelter.

I'd rather have more spaces like Otter Loop than those damn new Astral shelters, anyway. They're all metal and glass and plastic - no character to them at all. Here - take a tour.

LOCATION: 1400 Avenue Road, south of Lawrence Avenue West, North York.

HOW TO GET THERE: The 61 Avenue Road North bus goes directly past Otter Loop, and is probably the most direct way to get there. Going north from Eglinton station, the cloest stop is at the far side of Glenview Avenue, and is practically just across the road. From the south, you'll find that though the buses no longer loop at Otter Loop, they do still stop there if the cable's pulled at the right time.

Otherwise, it's a brisk ten-minute-or-so walk from Lawrence station on the Yonge subway line. 52 Lawrence West buses run regularly and stop at Avenue Road, only a couple of minutes' walk north of the loop.

See it for yourself, I say. There aren't very many pieces of ordinary history left standing.

POSTSCRIPT - APRIL 14, 2011: This really is history now. Otter Loop was demolished in late 2010 to make way for the Heart Park project. Bit by bit, the past disappears.

No comments:

Post a Comment