ARTIST PROJECT: Delinquent History

by Ryan Ferko*                                                 Fig. 1. Dumping at the Leslie Street Spit, Toronto, 1977. City of ………………………………………………………………..Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 148, Item 2.



Delinquent History (For the Leslie Street Spit)


I: Prehistory

The Outer Harbour East Headland is born 1959. Envisioned as a breakwater for Toronto’s newly constructed Outer Harbour, in its initial life it is a piece of infrastructure in support of the highly anticipated Saint Lawrence Seaway. The rise of containerization in the early 1960s renders this speculation on shipping void, and the Outer Harbour becomes irrelevant in the same moment as its birth.

Downtown, in 1966, a full city block is demolished to make way for Mies van der Rohe’s new Toronto-Dominion Bank towers. Some citizens protest the loss of the older buildings. The developer explains: “they do not fit in.” Eight years later, in 1975 the Ontario Heritage Act is passed allowing history to protect itself from not fitting: “No owner of property designated under section 29 shall demolish or remove a building or structure on the property.” In 2003, the City of Toronto designates “the property at 55 King Street West (Toronto-Dominion Centre) as being of cultural heritage value or interest.” Mies’s towers themselves are registered as heritage property while the buildings they displaced are continually covered over by new earth and rubble. As the city goes through a building boom, excavated earth and demolished histories are relocated to the Outer Harbour East Headland, which grows in tandem with the city. The rubble accumulates; it creates new land.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2. Toronto-Dominion Centre, under construction, January 1966. New York Times Canadian Photo Archive.

Waterfront - Leslie Spit. - [between 1977 and 1998]

Fig. 3. Leslie Street Spit, aerial view, Toronto, 1985. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 148, Item 5.

II: The Unexpected Discovery of The Outer Harbour East Headland

The city grows vertically at the same rate as the spit grows horizontally. Nature arrives in a site waiting: “the colonization and succession of various plant communities.” Unkempt. Between regular dumping of earth and rubble, unplanned and unexpected, nature preforms a redevelopment of the demolished past of the city. The grid becomes a peninsula: “an accidental wilderness.”

“Sedge, Sedge, Sedge, Sedge, Sedge, Sedge, Cocks-Comb.”

“Tobacco, Virginia Creeper, Timothy, Reed.”

The place is left uncontrolled. It is undefined. It is outside the narrative of the city – until the city notices. The land is studied: “On site. Drillers arrived at rig. Commenced drilling Borehole 10. Called K. Ridley with regards to progress. Back to rig. Stopped drilling, penetrated original lake bottom at 45 ft.” Reports are filed: “Dark green silty sand with brick and concrete debris, organics. Refusal.”

One half of the peninsula is conserved while the other half keeps accepting new rubble. The land starts to be referred to with an unofficial name, one that sounds less like a piece of infrastructure: The Outer Harbour East Headland becomes the Leslie Street Spit. Maps and charts are generated. But it still is in transition. Still uninhabited. Still without history. Speculation about its future soon follows.

Fig. 4. Leslie Street Spit map, Toronto, 1987. Final Report A: Quality of Fill Deposited at Leslie Street Spit 1963-1986, Trow Hydrology Consultants Ltd, 1987.

Fig. 4. Leslie Street Spit map, Toronto, 1987. Final Report A: Quality of Fill Deposited at Leslie Street Spit 1963-1986, Trow Hydrology Consultants Ltd, 1987.


III: A Site in Transition

An ambitious future is proposed: “Marineland, Hotel, Marina, Waterski Club, Amphitheatre, Hostel, Yacht Club, Sea Scouts, Camping, Government Services, Future Waterski Area.” A response limits the ambition: “May not be best area for future waterskiing.” Further recommendations are made: “Eliminate proposed Marineland and Hotel. A possible harbour police location. Amphitheatre at best a long-range prospect.”

Other plans are drawn up and proposed by Magna International Inc. Toronto Outer Harbour: The Unrealized Potential: “Toronto is a great city, but some parts of it make you sick to see them.” A remedy is clearly prescribed: “Magna’s top man hopes to work as big a miracle on Leslie St spit as he has in unique auto parts firm…Magna proposes to buy about 160 hectares (400 acres) along the waterfront between Cherry and Leslie Sts to develop factories with 4000 jobs, 3000 housing units, parks, recreation areas, schools and neighbourhood stores.”

“Sunwincor International and our partners are actively engaged in planning and developing an exciting and ecologically balanced wind farm. The Leslie Wind Farm will be located on the Outer Harbour East Headland at the base of Leslie Street adjacent to Toronto, Ontario.”

The King’s Harbour Marine Park: “A suggestion, by Metro Park Commissioner Bob Bundy, that the spit be developed as a major theme park modeled on a 19th-century seafaring village complete with restored sailing schooners, ships’ chandlers, restaurants and wharves.” “HMS Nancy played a key role in the defeat of the Americans in the War of 1812.” “The Nancy-Griffon Fund proposes rebuilding the HMS Nancy as a centerpiece for the Marine Theme Park.”

“Swimming and surfing enthusiasts have called for the construction of a ‘wave making pool’ on the spit – an oversize swimming pool that uses compressed air to create three-foot waves for body and board surfing.”

“I write to the City Executive Committee to support the construction of the Proposed Port Golf Academy that is located near the foot of Leslie Street…Golf is a very wholesome sport. It is played outdoors, requires discipline and good demeanor, and is not associated with the use of drugs or many of the other negative influences to which our children are exposed today. In addition, a facility such as this would be ideal for employing our youth during the summer months. Please give this exciting new project your most serious consideration. Sincerely, Ben Kern, Director of Golf.”

“I am faxing this note to indicate to the committee that I am strongly against any development on the spit or the base of the spit. There are acres of unused land nearby which has no special environmental use – LET THE SPIT BE!!”

“Proposed Toronto Outer Harbour Airport. Legend: Existing shoreline, proposed shoreline, airport lands, runway, taxiway, hangar, terminal, parking structure, floating boom.”

A master plan. Revised master plan. Hours of operation. Policies. Butterfly count (annual). Christmas bird count (annual). Caspian Tern nest counts (annual). Ring-billed Gull nest counts (every 5 years). “Visitor information: The park is not open during the week because it is an active construction site with a steady flow of trucks bringing in more fill.” “Notice to truckers: Effective September 2, 2011: concrete pipes, pillars, beams, light poles, and so on, are NO LONGER ACCEPTED.” “Unreinforced concrete, broken concrete, brick, ceramic tiles and clean porcelain materials ARE ACCEPTED.” “Notice to bird watchers: Do not linger around an owl for more than a few minutes. Do not follow an owl if it flies away. Do not report owl sightings on the internet.”

“Sweet Pea, Cut Grass, Wild Peppergrass.”

“Brick (red, cream) with concrete and silty sand, some organics, faint odour.”

“Butter-and-eggs, Tartarian Honeysuckle, Water Horehound.”

“Brick and concrete, gravel, asphalt, shale.”

Fig. 5. Leslie Street Spit, looking east, Toronto, 1985 (ca). City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 148, Item 7.

Fig. 5. Leslie Street Spit, looking east, Toronto, 1985 (ca). City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 148, Item 7.