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Parking It: Tommy Thompson Park

Aug 16, 2016

Minutes from the downtown area, the expansive Tommy Thompson Park peninsula stretches into Lake Ontario waters.

Minutes from the downtown area, the expansive Tommy Thompson Park peninsula stretches into Lake Ontario waters.       

Journey into the wild with us as we explore Tommy Thompson Park – Toronto’s sprawling Urban Wilderness

Parking It is a weekly series of blog posts – running all summer long – that will explore Toronto’s system of waterfront parks.

By Tennille Dowers 

Welcoming 100,000 visitors per year, Tommy Thompson Park is the 500-hectare (1,236-acre) popular destination headland extending five kilometres into Lake Ontario from the eastern edge of Toronto’s Port Lands. This man-made land mass begins at the junction of Leslie Street and Unwin Avenue, south of Lake Shore Boulevard. It’s affectionately called the Leslie Street Spit by locals. 

A waterfront view of the park’s lush foliage against the scenic Toronto skyline.

A waterfront view of the park’s lush foliage against the scenic Toronto skyline. 

Though Tommy Thompson Park is globally recognized as an “Important Bird Area” and “Environmentally Significant Area,” its development was actually incidental. 

The park’s foundation is made up of dredged materials from the Outer Harbour, millions of cubic metres of concrete and excess earth from various Toronto development sites. Since the late 1950s, the site has been and remains an active landfill where clean debris is dumped to continue expanding the headland. 

Left to develop relatively undisturbed over the decades, the site’s grounds and water bodies naturally transformed into wilderness. The land mass was initially created by the Toronto Port Authority in the 1970s, with an eye toward developing the location into a port facility. Over time, as nature began to creep in to the site, Tommy Thompson Park became an accidental urban wilderness. Today, the continued naturalization of the park is now managed by Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. It has become a well-loved public space with stunning waterfront views and a significant region for biodiversity in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Wetland and aquatic habitat flourish on Tommy Thompson Park’s boat-lined shores.

Wetland and aquatic habitat flourish on Tommy Thompson Park’s boat-lined shores. 

No need to save up for a trip. Make your way to Tommy Thompson Park to satisfy your craving for a wilderness adventure.  

Tommy Thompson Park hosts one of the largest biologically diverse spaces to naturally develop on the Toronto waterfront. Many different animal species inhabit the terrestrial, aquatic and wetland areas in and around the park. You’ll find cottonwood forests and wildflower meadows stretching through grassy and wooded fields and coastal marshes that sustain aquatic vegetation and microorganisms.  

And if you think botany is for the birds – head over to observe and learn about the more than 300 species of birds and over 55 species of butterflies that have been identified at Tommy Thompson Park. It is also home to many different of reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, small mammals, rodents and fish. 

A perched cormorant colony suns on sky-high tree branches.

A perched cormorant colony suns on sky-high tree branches. (Image by Toronto and Region Conservation Authority on Twitter

Come ready for an adventure but be sure to stay on the designated park trails and leave the pets at home. In order to avoid potential contact with wild-growing poisonous plants and vulnerable or predatory animals occupying the grounds, the entire park is off-limits to dogs and other domestic animals. 

Waterfront Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) collaborated on the construction of three small buildings that enhanced the Tommy Thompson Park visitor experience. The added Staff Booth, Environmental Shelter and Ecological Research Station are small non-invasive buildings that comply with City of Toronto bird-friendly guidelines and reflect the park’s earthy character without disturbing its natural environment. At the Staff Booth you are able to get park information and the Environmental Shelter is a covered outdoor amphitheatre space that functions as a classroom, rest spot and observatory. The Ecological Research station offers information on the park’s birds, research projects and educational programming opportunities.  

Tommy Thompson Park’s Environmental Shelter nearly disappears into its natural surroundings.

Tommy Thompson Park’s Environmental Shelter nearly disappears into its natural surroundings. (Image by Montgomery Sisam Architects Inc.)

Plan for weekend visits as the park is closed on weekdays (except holidays). The park remains an active landfill for clean debris throughout the week. Construction and improvement projects continue in order to restore, extend and further develop the park’s ecosystem. Trails, aquatic area, wetland and ground habitat are currently being restored and extended to further naturalize the park and the water’s edge. 

A tour group pauses for a moment of observation during their nature tour.

A tour group pauses for a moment of observation during their nature tour. (Image by TRCA on Twitter)    

Various nature trails branch off from the 7.6-metre multi-use trail that runs through Tommy Thompson Park. The main multi-use trail also connects to the Martin Goodman Trail. If you’re not sure where to begin, feel free to tag along on one of the free tours guided by the park's experienced naturalists. They offer scheduled introductions to birding, and general nature or family nature tours.

Tommy Thompson Park has great spaces for recreational activities. 

The park is a year-round recreation place. Cycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing and hiking are common Tommy Thompson Park activities. The park trails cut through grounds that vary from sand dunes to cobble beaches, wet marshland and lush grass fields.

Wildflower meadows help sustain the 55 species of butterflies that have been identified at Tommy Thompson Park. 

Wildflower meadows help sustain the 55 species of butterflies that have been identified at Tommy Thompson Park. 

Festivals and events regularly take place on the large park grounds. Many of these happenings are inspired by environmental phenomenon.  On Saturday, August 20, 2016, the park will be hosting the eighth annual Butterfly Festival in celebration of the yearly 3,500-kilometre journey that monarch butterflies make – from Toronto to Mexico – before winter arrives. 

An aerial perspective of the expansive Tommy Thompson Park peninsula.

An aerial perspective of the expansive Tommy Thompson Park peninsula. 

The entrance gates to Tommy Thompson Park are located on Leslie Street, south of Lake Shore Boulevard and Commissioners Street. The 83 Jones South bus or the 501 Queen Street’s streetcar are the TTC routes that run closest to the park. As the transit stops are still a good distance away, it is a good idea to explore your travel options in advance. Limited parking is available and motorized vehicles are prohibited on park grounds. Cyclists are able to gain park access from the foot of Leslie Street or along the Martin Goodman Trail. 

Quick Tommy Thompson Park Facts:

•    500 hectares (1,236 acres) 
•    Nature watching areas
•    Guided tours 
•    Educational programming available
•    Barrier-free main-trail access and amenities including:

o    Sand dunes
o    Hiking 
o    Cobble beaches 
o    Fishing
o    Snowshoeing 
o    Cross-country skiing 
o    Washrooms 
o    Ecological Research Centre 
o    Sheltered outdoor observation area

•    Motorized vehicles are prohibited  
•    Aquatic Park Sailing Club
•    No pets allowed

Check out our revitalization vision for Toronto’s parks and public spaces.

post contributor

  • Tennille Dowers

    Tennille Dowers was a social media and online content intern at Waterfront Toronto in 2016.