Friday, November 18, 2005

Keating Channel

This is part of an occasional series on interesting places along the Don River.

The Keating Channel is a rather dreary place but it is significant for the Don because this is where the river ends up. Located in the northeast corner of Toronto harbour, it still retains part of its industrial heritage.

It was built in the early part of the century as part of the project to fill in a lakeside marsh that stretched from Cherry St to Leslie St. It runs east from the harbour for about 800m before it ends at a sharp turn north where the Don River begins. It used to extend eastward all the way to Leslie St. but this eastward extension was filled in during the 1930's.

Today it is flanked by the elevated Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Blvd. East on the north side. The south side is shared by a city harbour works yard and the Keating Channel Pub. At the west end Cherry St. crosses the channel over a little used lift bridge.

The Keating Channel, looking east. In the foreground is an old Task Force planting site. The Gardiner Expressway is on the left. The dredger and the works yard are on the right. The smokestack in the distance belongs to the inactive city recycling incinerator.

It's impact on the Don is varied. Both sides of the channel are lined with concrete dock wall which creates a forbidding barrier and provides little habitat for fish and other water dwelling creatures. The Don is home to about 21 species (pg. 19) of fish. Only about four or five species can be found near the mouth. This is partly due to poor water quality but also due to lack of habitat. The dock wall continues, mostly unbroken all the way to the Riverdale Park section. In contrast the Humber River which does have a natural mouth is home to about 44 species.

Once water from the river flows into the channel it is basically in the lake because it is level with the harbour. Due to the low flow situation all the silt carried by the river is deposited in the channel. This makes it convenient for the conservation authority (TRCA) to dredge the silt. Currently they dredge about 35,000 cubic metres of sediment from the channel every year. The dredgeate material is barged out the Leslie Street spit where it is dumped in a containment area specially built for this purpose. The spit containment area has the capacity to take 50 years of Don River dredgeate.

Dredger at work. When the barge is full it will be towed to the Leslie Street Spit where its load will be dumped.

Another problem affecting the channel is floating debris that is washed down the Don. Mostly logs and dead wood, there is also an assortment of garbage that collects in the channel. The TRCA corrals this stuff with a boom across the channel. There can be quite a bit of flotsam especially after a big storm.

Debris leftover from the Aug. 2005 storm. A boom keeps the debris from entering the harbour.

Not all of the channel is in bad shape. On the north side of the channel a slight bend in Lakeshore Drive created an open space. The Task Force (and partners) decided to plant this area in the late 1990's. That was one of the first plantings I did in 1998. I still remember what terrible conditions it was for digging. Just below the sod was a mass of ash and brick with very little soil. We planted Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides) and Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). Only a few of the dogwood and willow still survive but the hardy sumac has thrived. These days it looks like a long narrow glade of small trees and shrubs, a small oasis amongst the blight of concrete and asphalt.

It is difficult to say what future there is for the Keating Channel. The channel as well as adjacent properties are the subject of an environmental assessment (EA) which aims to naturalize the mouth of the Don. It could remain the way it is now, it could be filled in or it could become part of a network of canals throughout the portlands. All of these are options being studied in the EA process.

Regardless of its ultimate fate, the channel remains a small but important part of Toronto's history.


Anonymous said...

Hi Donwatcher. The willows at the Keating Channel planting are Sandbar Willow, Salix exigua.

Donwatcher said...

Thanks for clarifying that. I wasn't sure which species it was... Peachleaf is the species the city usually plants, I thought it might have been that one. Unfortunately there is not much left. I'll go back in the spring to take another look.