For years, I (Heather) have been hearing about cycling the Leslie Street Spit (simply called “The Spit” by most locals), but I’d never been. Pier grew up here in Toronto and has a fuzzy memory of his dad bringing him and his new BMX bike to The Spit sometime in the 1980s, but that’s the one and only time he’d ever gone. All either of us really knew about The Spit is that it’s a man-made landmass of dumped construction material.
But that’s not the whole story. If you’re a fellow infrastructure nerd, you may be interested in the details on the Tommy Thompson Park website. I certainly was! Especially the photos that show how the area has changed over the years. For for those of you who just want the Coles Notes, I listed them below. If you care not about the history, click here to skip ahead to the cool video Pier made of our ride! There are also Tips for Cycling The Spit at the end of this post.
Coles Notes: History of the Leslie Street Spit & Tommy Thompson Park
- In 1959, construction of the Leslie Street Spit began. It was to be a breakwater for Toronto’s outer harbour, and expand the capacity of the harbour for an expected increase of shipping on the Great Lakes.
- The Spit is made of sand and silt dredged from the outer harbour, and brick and concrete rubble from demolition and construction sites across Toronto.
- By the 1970s, it was clear that The Spit wouldn’t be needed for expanded port activities. Plus, nature (plant and animal alike) had started to reclaim the land, so the government gets the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to develop a plan for a public park on The Spit.
- In 1976, the first plan was made public – and it was basically a water leisure park (marinas, water ski area, hotel, amphitheatre) with a pittance of the land designated for wildlife. It was rejected. In 1985, the TRCA designated the northern half of the spit “an environmentally sensitive area” and began creating a new plan that would protect the wildlife that had made The Spit its home.
- Finally, in 2013 (yes, that recently!) lakefilling is complete and the TRCA has implemented Phase 1, which includes habitat creation and enhancement projects, public trails and buildings.
- The northern half of The Spit has been designated Tommy Thompson Park and is managed by the TRCA. The southern half is still an active dumping zone managed by PortsToronto. Eventually the entire spit will become parkland.
Cool Video of our Bike Ride on The Spit
As you can see from the video, the best thing about The Spit is that there’s NO MOTOR VEHICLES ALLOWED! Everyone must either walk, rent a Toronto Bike Share bike from the station in the parking lot, or bring your own people-powered wheels. The lack of cars makes Tommy Thompson Park feel like you are hundreds of miles away in the middle of nowhere. If you want nature but don’t want to drive three hours out of the city, just come here.
There are two ways to approach the Leslie Street Spit from downtown Toronto: 1) from Leslie Street, or 2) from the Martin Goodman Trail past Cherry Beach. We decided to enter via Leslie Street, so we took the Lower Don Trail along Lake Shore East, then turned south onto Leslie Street. The Martin Goodman Trail runs parallel with Leslie St right into Tommy Thompson Park at Unwin Ave.
After a couple minutes of cycling, you’ll come across a little building in the middle of the road that makes so much sense now that I know this is an active dumping site! Obviously this is where the dump trucks check in before entering. And on one of the barriers is Toronto’s now infamous pandemic raccoon reminding us all to keep our distance.
Bikes are to stick to the main road and not go on the walking trails. This rule isn’t always followed. However, further into the park we noticed a lack of “No Bikes” signs, so we slowly and carefully cycled some dirt trails, mindful that if we came across any hikers they would have the right of way.
The official start of Tommy Thompson Park is where the road forks. The fork to the left is called the “Unassumed Road”.
What is an unassumed road? I found this definition: “…a public road built and/or maintained by a private individual, organization or company.” So I guess this road is operated by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, not the city.
We followed it left (along the west side of The Spit), then cut towards the water on a dirt trail to find another brick beach (this is what I dubbed the beaches made of dumped construction materials).
We tried to keep following the trail, but the debris in the ground was bumpy and threatened to flatten our tires, so we turned back and rejoined the Unassumed Road until we got to the very end of The Spit.
From here we took the main road back.
And soon we came upon the most photographed part of Tommy Thompson Park – the red floating bridge.
It is less red than it used to be (the photos online show it with far more paint than is left), but still a beautiful spot from which to view the Toronto skyline.
Then we explored down the little dirt road to the Aquatic Sailing Club and saw some sailboats and a lily pond.
Finally, we left The Spit by turning left right after the dump truck check-in shack and connecting with the new section of the Martin Goodman Trail that leads to Cherry Beach.
Tips for Cycling The Spit & Tommy Thompson Park
- HOURS: The Spit is open to the public from 5:30am to 9pm on weekends and holidays, and 4pm to 9pm on weekdays.
- It’s a quick 15 minute cycle from downtown Toronto!
- There are no facilities – yet. A building that will presumably include washrooms and water fountains is currently being built at the Leslie Street entrance. Until it’s complete, there are only porta-potties in the park.
- If you don’t have your own bike, there is a Bike Share Toronto station at the Leslie Street entrance, but I imagine you need to get here early if you want to get one of the bikes.
- Park speed limit of 20km/hr is strictly enforced by massive speed bumps! If you’re training for a race, this isn’t the place to do it.