Fort York Neighbourhood: Fort York Library

t’s late Sunday morning. I’ve had my coffee and breakfast and am getting ready to head out on an adventure. I’ve got a plan: Ride my bike to a library branch a few kilometres away and choose some Hindi picture books to practice reading with. I particularly liked this one I got last time I was there and was going to get a copy. It’s about a postman who one day just decides he wants to go on a long bike trip and the adventures he has. How perfect is this? (I’m keeping an eye open for a copy of this next time I go to India – this is one I think I need to own)


I take my indoor training wheel off the bike and replace it with my outdoor wheel, grab a pannier and fill it with books to return. And then at the last minute I decide to make sure the library is open on Sundays since only a subset of libraries have Sunday hours. I open the website and look.


Those who know me well will likely predict what will happen. The whole day is now ruined. What a dumb idea I had and how could I have wasted all this time getting ready. It was going to be so fun and now what was the point. I might as well go watch TV or have a nap.

Sage brings out her logic, though, and I reluctantly listen. Why not see if I can find another library that’s open today and restructure my trip.  Nah, that’s not going to work. They’re probably all big libraries in the middle of busy suburban streets that aren’t pleasant to ride. Forget it, I’m not going. And a nap is beginning to sound good. I’ll go to sleep and poof – a few hours of this day will be passed. Next weekend will be better.

But then I get over myself and find another possibility. Surprisingly it’s a good long distance from where we live – about an hour by bike. But all but a few hundred metres of it are on dedicated car-free infrastructure. The day is looking much better now. I put my pannier on my bike, and head out. A couple of minutes later I leave the road and enter a ravine that goes next to the Don River. The transition is a bit startling. One minute I’m on a street with cars, trucks and buses surrounded by highrise apartments. A few minutes later I’m surrounded by nature.


The Don River is one of two major rivers that go through our city. For many years they had a number of houses and even factories alongside them. And then, in 1954, Hurricane Hazel hit. Generally speaking, we don’t get major hurricanes here. By the time they reach us they’re just a windy storm with miserable, often cold rain. But this one was different. It was still quite strong and it brought torrential rains. When that combined with the unusually rainy season they’d had so far, the floods in the Don River and the Humber river on the other side of the city were large and damaging. So damaging, in fact, that the city expropriated the land from its owners and turned the land around the rivers in to parks. Since then there has been a great deal of work to clean up the valley and the river and recently Atlantic salmon have started to spawn here again.

The route along the Don River is almost continuously off-road for the whole distance to the lake with a few exceptions where the trail has to cross a road. In many places they provide a means for doing it easily. Pottery Road, for example, has a protected two-stage crossing. Cross one direction of traffic and wait in the middle, protected by steel girders. Then cross the other side when there’s a gap.



A few kilometres later, I come to one of the newer features along the way: a sculpture garden.





As I get closer to the city proper, there are more highway overpasses. Underneath many of them you will find artwork.



I’ve been cycling in this city since about 2007 – over ten years. (I’m startled by that now that I think of it.) Ridership has noticeably improved. Check out the lineup of bicycles on both sides of Lakeshore Boulevard and even in the middle waiting to cross.


At this point I turn west and travel along the waterfront. It’s making a transition now from mostly industrial land to a mix of industrial, residential (condos), and some retail.

A couple of minutes after I cross the street above, a smell hits me. It smells a little like molasses and for some reason always makes me think of my grandmother. It’s the Redpath Sugar factory. Today a freighter is tied up there either bringing in raw materials or taking sugar out.

no smoking

Check out the giant “No Smoking” sign. I think this is the biggest “No Smoking” sign I have ever seen in my life. It’s there for good reason, though. If they’re transporting powder, smoking could be dangerous. If they’re filling sugar and a spark happens to contact the sugar and it will flash and possibly explode. Have you ever thrown sugar or flour in to a campfire? Now imagine doing it on a grand scale like this.torrent

I know it’s not everyone’s first thought to put a beach next to a factory like this but Sugar Beach is a surprisingly great spot. Though you can’t swim here, it makes for a great spot to sit and feel the breeze coming from Lake Ontario.




I’ve seen hand sanitizer dispensers all over the place over the past several years since SARS and later various flu epidemics hit. But this is the first time I’ve seen free sunscreen available on demand like this. Of course if you live in a place where your tax dollars pay for health care, a few bucks spent on sunscreen can save a bunch of money (and literal grief) later. It’s a great idea.


I continue west and traffic picks up. This street, Queens Quay, has received a huge upgrade in the past few years with a newly designed streetcar line, and dedicated bike lane next to a large sidewalk. It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride for some people. As a cyclist, I noticed large complaints from other cyclists about inattentive pedestrians walking in the bike lane and have seen some cyclists literally yell in to the ears of pedestrians walking like that. It is extremely rude. At the same time cyclists often feel the need to travel especially fast along the route. It’s very tempting with the smooth pavement and distance from cars. For me, I found the best thing to do was to override both my anger at pedestrians and my desire to go fast and just relax and ride at whatever pace feels comfortable and safe. When I see people in the way, a simple ding of my bell or an “excuse me” works great. If I want to go faster I can take different roads. This is a road for relaxing. And really, it’s only a few kilometres. Going less than 20 km/hr and occasionally stopping to let a pedestrian cross (or go around someone standing in the lane and talking on their phone) is no skin off my nose. I’ll get to where I’m going eventually.

Soon, only a few minutes after I was in what felt like the middle of a forest next to a river, I am clearly in the middle of a big city. I’m now deep enough in to the city to see the iconic CN Tower.


Something about this photo really looks like the brochure for a condo showing what the neighbourhood will look like – once it’s finally built. Good on them for actually making it like that.


Now I’m well on the west end and learn that this part of town has a new name. I’m not a fan of the new condos or the newly designed neighbourhoods surrounding them, but if I were, the name would certainly draw me in.

library dental

Another nice feature of being downtown: you don’t even need to own a bike. Get a bike share membership (or a day pass) and grab your choice of bike. If you turn it in within 30 minutes (long enough to get most places downtown) you will only be charged your (annual or daily) membership fee. The stations are scattered throughout the city.


The bike share station is conveniently located right next to the library.

lib ext

At first it looks a little uninviting with all of the shades pulled. But it’s a warm day and they’re south facing, so they’re trying to save on air conditioning. The other sides of the library have their shades open and there is a ton of glass.


This is the opposite (North) side of the library and is a wall of glass. The first floor is almost entirely devoted to the Children’s section. It was pretty full of kids today so there are no photos.

The adult section is on the second floor and I head upstairs. I love the high wood sealings with big wooden beams.


I browse a bit and pick up a few books that I think might appeal to Sage and Daegan. Then I grab The Kindness Diaries for me. Friends have recommended the Netflix show and I’m curious. I see there are some mixed reviews so we’ll see how it goes – if I have time to read it before it is due back.

I take my books and find a comfy chair near the west window. Looking out I see the namesake of the library: Fort York – built in the late 1700’s by the British army to protect Canada from the United States.

fort york

The chairs themselves are comfortable and have stools to put your feet on that are equipped with charging plugs. This is most definitely not something the 1970’s version of me would have expected from a library in 2018.


While the chair is comfortable, the sun is very hot – especially for me who had biked an hour to get here. There was no sitting still for me. Time to get up and go.

On the way out I notice a few really great events coming up in this and other nearby libraries. How much do I love this city?

As I ride back I realize I’d like to spend a bit of time relaxing by the lake. When I get to a nice spot near a coffee shop, I go inside and get an iced latte and sit at the edge of the water and watch.


Here was a dock for “Tiki Taxi” – a water taxi service that operates between the island and the mainland. During the summer, the island is a very popular destination as it is a car free space with only a few homes on it. There are lots of parks, several beaches (including our city’s only “Clothing Optional” beach – let’s hope they have free sunscreen dispensers there, and even a small amusement park, “Centreville”. The city operates ferries to and from the lake but they can be very busy with long line ups. Those willing to pay a little more can get a direct ride. I consider taking one myself but change my mind when I remember I still have to cook dinner and have a Hindi lesson scheduled for the evening. I promise to take you there another time – though there’s no library there.  At the western edge is the Toronto Island Airport which has international flights to nearby US destinations as well as some Canadian ones as well.

You can see the island off in the distance.
Many of my favourite modes of transport in the same frame: Bike, bus (an airline shuttle bus to the airport), streetcar, bicycle, and people travelling on foot.

I spend several minutes watching the boats come and go and drinking my coffee. It’s times like this that I feel like I’m storing heat and memories for the winter. This is one of the most pleasant places in the city at this time of year and during the winter is one of the coldest, most blustery – with the wind whipping off of the icy lake.

Coffee finished, it’s time to go I head back the way I come. The bike traffic is a bit heavier but still pleasant.


Up the river I go again, stopping to take a picture of the Bloor Viaduct – a bridge I cross most often by subway. Every few minutes you can hear one clatter across the bridge before the valley goes quiet again.


A few kilometres from home I see a crossroads and realize I’ve never explored the western branch of this road at all. I turn over there and see what I’m missing. I’m excited to find a whole bunch of paths that are a part of Crothers Woods. I don’t have time to explore fully but intend to go back on both my bike and perhaps for running when my distances get a little higher.


I make it home and upload the data to Strava. I’m surprised to find that despite not really working that hard I’ve beaten six of my records on this trip including the big hill at the end. This is good news for me as we leave in a week for a 600 kilometre ride.

Imagine if I had followed through on my original instinct to just give up and have a nap?


This will likely be the last library visit / entry before going to Montreal – but there will still be other entries so stay tuned. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for locations mentioned or seen on this trip, have a look at the Google Map below.

If you’d like to read about more of Toronto’s awesome libraries and the neighbourhoods they’re in, visit the Toronto by Library page.

7 thoughts on “Fort York Neighbourhood: Fort York Library

    1. Thanks – we’re really lucky that our path led us here. There are many other places I love visiting in the world but Toronto will always feel like home to me – even more so than the place I grew up.

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