The Prince Edward Viaduct

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“The bridge goes up in a dream. It will link the east end with the centre of the city. It will carry traffic, water and electricity across the Don Valley. It will carry trains that have not even been invented yet.

Night and day. Fall light. Snow light. They are always working – horses and wagons and men arriving for work on the Danforth side at the far end of the valley.

There are over 4,000 photographs from various angles of the bridge in its time lapse evolution. The piers sink into the bedrock fifty feet below the surface through clay and shale and quicksand – 45,000 cubic yards are excavated. The network of scaffolding stretches up.

Men in a maze of scattered planks climb deep into the shattered light of blond wood. A man is an extension of hammer, drill, flame. Drill smoke in his hair. A cap falls into the valley, gloves are buried in stone dust.

The new men arrive, “the electricals,” laying grids of wire across the five arches, carrying the exotic three-bowl lights, and on October 18, 1918 it is completed. Lounging in mid-air.

The bridge. The bridge. Christened “Prince Edward.” The Bloor Street Viaduct.” — Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion

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Take a few steps backward on the Lower Don Trail and look up at the Prince Edward Viaduct. It’s a grey afternoon in late November with snow flurries and there are few sounds other than the rattle of subway trains passing under the bridge. The Bloor-Danforth subway line did not open until 1966 but the design for the bridge anticipated future trains. A bridge for both road traffic and a possible subway line drove up the cost to $2.5 million (35.5 million in 2015 Canadian dollars). Torontonians objected to this money being spent during wartime for a bridge to carry trains that had not yet been invented to the region east of the Don Valley where few people lived.

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The controversial bridge received a much needed royal seal of approval when it was named after Prince Edward, the future King Edward VIII. Edward is better known today for his abdication in 1936 to marry the twice divorced American Wallis Simpson but during the First World War, he was one of the most popular members of the royal family, admired in Canada for visiting Canadian troops on the Western front.

“This ideal, this mold for his outward man, was no one less than Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, the Prince of Wales. The papers were full of the Prince at that time. He was the great ambassador of the Commonwealth but he also had the common touch. . .” — Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

In 1919, Prince Edward visited Toronto as part of a two month cross country tour of Canada. There are many similarities between the 1919 tour and the 2011 Canadian visit by William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Like William and Kate, Edward was praised for modernizing the royal family and his fashions were widely imitated. (In True Style: The History and Principles of Classic Menswear, G. Bruce Boyer  credits the future Edward VIII with persuading a generation of young men to trade in their tailcoats for shorter dinner jackets). Edward made the cover of Vogue magazine and his tour was one of the first Canadian national events to be captured on film.

The Lower Don Trail continues north-east from the Viaduct. Across the Don Valley parkway, the chimney of the restored paper mill at Todmorden Mills (now a heritage site) is just visible, marking the border between the old city of Toronto and the former borough of East York. The Prince Edward Viaduct brought new residents to the east of the city, first working class English immigrants then a thriving Greektown along the Danforth. Residents living east of the Don Valley complained they were not receiving the same level of municipal services. In 1924, East York became a township then a borough in 1967 before amalgamating into the “megacity” of Toronto in 1998.

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Todmorden Mills and the former Don Valley Brickworks, visible across the river as we walk along the Lower Don Trail, were both owned by the Taylor family. We’ll visit the lands once owned by the Taylors, now Taylor Creek Park, in the next walk.

Getting there by public transit: Subway to Broadview 

Further Reading:

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

King Edward VIII by Philip Ziegler

Next: Taylor Creek Park

 

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