Revitalizing The Port Lands On Toronto’s Waterfront

Design, Harbourfront, Leslieville/Riverside


I’m Steve Fudge and I’m celebrating my 30th year as a realtor and housing consultant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Welcome to my blog on housing, culture, and design.

If you’re new to the site, our blog content is a chocolate box mix of city destinations to explore and discover, the history or redevelopment of the city from an urban planning and design perspective, as well as real estate insights, tips and guidance. Some posts complement a property we’re actively promoting for sale or rent, because we believe a comprehensive marketing program should not be limited to promoting the dwelling itself (which we do a very good job at, btw), but also showcase popular neighbourhood amenities, the urban history or design of an area, in addition to the unique features of the dwelling that make it special. If you’re interested, here’s how our blog content serves our clients without being too overtly “salesy” –> How Urbaneer’s Toronto Real Estate Marketing Program Sold This Sun-Kissed Contemporary Loft In Riverdale’s Printers Row.



Today’s post continues showcasing how Toronto is undergoing a significant transformation from a former 19th- and 20th-century industrial port and rail centre to a global glittering metropolis centred around the contemporary economies of finance, information and technology.  A while back we posted a blog called Up-And-Coming Or Over-And-Out? Cadillac Fairview’s East Harbour Development In Toronto; it focuses on an obsolete industrial site that neighbours the Port lands. The East Harbour will soon see the first of 17 “placeless” mixed-use residential-commercial point towers being constructed. And by this I mean a collection of conventional towers crowded together that could be located anywhere in the world but will happen to be here. They’re so ubiquitous they’re forgetful. And I want more than this for Toronto.

Which very well may come with the transformation of The Port Lands on Toronto’s downtown east waterfront – a waning obsolete industrial and shipping area of nearly 1000 acres just east of the Queens Quay Harbourfront – basically spanning south of Lake Shore Boulevard East from Parliament Street east to Coxwell Avenue. Encompassing the former Don River delta and Ashbridge’s Bay, it’s a big bold project on a sad forlorn site that has the opportunity to be heralded a waterfront marvel – embracing innovation, technology, and a community-centric urban planning and design program.



Once Upon A Time

Originally an expansive freshwater wetland near the mouth of the Don River, at the turn of the last century it began evolving into an industrial port, expanding with a series of human-made interventions (basically a dumping ground for landfill) that trashed the ecosystem, fully obliterating it by the 1950s with the construction of the Hearn Generating Station, the Commissioners Incinerator and the elevated Gardiner Expressway. Environmentally we know better now, and perhaps we are even trying to make some climate crisis amends with this next iteration, but first and foremost it represents an area with great potential nestled in a city with a scarcity of land – and a pressing need for more housing supply and green spaces.

Perfect solution, right?

It’s not that simple, unfortunately. The Port Lands sits within the flood plain of the Don River, which Toronto also happened to straighten (literally) in the 1880s, allowing polluted water to flood into Lake Ontario. There are so many degrees of losing in our past. Sigh.



Don’t Forget! Climate Crisis!

With each passing year, because of climate change, the threat of flood becomes more pronounced. So in order to make this space viable, it needs to be bolstered and constructed to stand up to the elements, and be structurally sound.

The Port Lands Flood Protection Project is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Toronto’s history, with a plan to reconnect the Don River to Lake Ontario by creating a naturalized river mouth. The land, which represents one of the largest undeveloped stretches of land in North America, has been left idle because of flood risk and soil contamination from industrial use.

The large-scale, intricate operation will see the creation of a new river mouth, which will involve digging a kilometre-long valley. Also, the soil and land will be re-mediated and decontaminated, and roads, bridges, utilities and public trails will be built as well. The end result will offer 25 hectares of publicly accessible green space, waterways and parkland, in a prime waterfront location.

Shaping and stabilizing a new course for the Don river? Wow.

Listen to Herb Sweeney talk about the way the Don River wants to flow, their emergency plans in the case of a flood or storm event, how they are going to anchor the riverbank and prevent erosions, as well as the planned green space that will run along it and expand out from the river.



The Port Lands had housed fuel tankers and other hazardous materials for years, contaminating the soil. Now with the construction of this ecosystem, bags of charcoal are placed between the layers of soil to protect the new earth from being contaminated with any toxic residue.

This is a significant project for a number of reasons, including the creation of much-needed public outdoor space in the city, and the creation of protection for the waterfront against increased flooding because of climate change. It will contribute to biodiversity and the creation of jobs – as well as homes. Construction on this mega-project began in 2017 and is expected to be completed in late 2024.

Here’s the mayor and crew in 2018:



They are relying on some feats of engineering, but mostly on Mother Nature for construction, with lots of natural materials being used to structure and bolster the riverbeds, like logs, stone and soil to battle against erosion.

Villiers Island will be created at the end of the project, and it will be Canada’s first climate-positive community, which means that it is designed to eliminate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions it creates to below zero with methods that are economically viable, like clean technology, design, sustainable construction and energy systems.

This project was documented in a fascinating way. It ran as part of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival as an exhibition entitled How to Build a River by Vid Ingelevics and Ryan Walker. The series of photographs displayed on wood structures at the entrance to Villiers Island chronicles the progression of this ambitious project, exploring the intricacies of restoring brownfield property in creation of a natural reserve. It’s the third installment of the series on the revitalization of the Portlands. The first exhibition focused on the demolition of buildings to prepare the site; the second on the vast movement of soil and the third- and current one on the activities of re-construction.


*Image courtesy of Oliver & Heritage, with thanks.


There are innovative bioengineering techniques in use to create a new ecosystem, including, for example, a new riparian habitat with trees planted with the purpose of decomposition to create a new home for fish. This is documented in the series.

* At one point construction was halted, and when they returned, they found a strain of bullrush sprouting that hasn’t been seen in over a century; evidently, it had lain dormant beneath the brownfield. It was removed and taken offsite to be nurtured to grow. *

I love hearing how precise they’ve been in constructing the river’s edge to attract wildlife. Check out this quotation from a Bloomberg article, entitled, “Is This The Future Of Urban Resilience?“:

“Project planners are designing the environment carefully to attract nonhuman residents, including dragonflies, turtles, foxes and great blue herons. To maximize aquatic life, the new riverbed is lined almost entirely with dead trees, and varying water depths and even pebble sizes were chosen by ecologists to create micro-environments for different species. Five thousand trees, 77,000 shrubs and 2 million herbaceous plants deemed resilient to global warming will also be planted.”



It’s fascinating! They are, essentially, building nature; it’s the creation of a wild environment – but contrived. Which, I think begs the question – can we actually call something that is not wholly natural… nature? (We have always defined natural as those things NOT produced by humans, and artificial as those that are produced by humans.) So – is it more that the Port Lands Project is integrating a multitude of vegetation, waterways, and green space, which will expertly mimic the natural environmental and topographical elements of the world? Hmmm… I smell a blog!

It’s almost counter-intuitive, but it goes to show the kind of technology and ingenuity that can evolve in pursuit of re-integrating pieces of the natural world into an urban setting.

For further background on the Project and the How to Build A River Exhibition, read this Toronto Life article: ‘”Here’s What A $1.25-billion Urban Regeneration Project Looks Like”. Also, check out the WaterfrontToronto website to read, “Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection”.

The video above – Naturalizing the Mouth of the Don River: Challenges and Opportunities in the Port Lands – gives a good overview of the project.


* Thanks to WATERFRONToronto for the use of the title image and the first rendering. Similarly, the remaining images were courtesy of, we hold no rights to these images.



How lovely would it be to live near this growing haven of outdoor recreation and respite, where you can benefit from access to water and leisure activities just a short walk from your front door? Soon to be completed in late 2024, the Portlands project would be less than a 10-minute stroll away if you lived at this recently sold listing! We called it: Living Well & In Wonder In Leslieville, now SOLD!

This semi-detached brick and frame dwelling, constructed in 1928, has a classic unassuming Edwardian facade that belies its modern interior reinvention that makes contemporary life more convenient and effortless. With significant capital improvements and upgrades since 2014, one might say this makes it a study in contrasts and comfort!




Here’s a Portlands-adjacent home we sold! We called it: Live Bold & Beautiful At The Broadview Lofts In Riverside!

Surrounded by eclectic trending neighbourhoods, quick access to downtown by car, bike, or transit, and in proximity to the trails of the Don Valley and the shores of Lake Ontario, Loft 404 is prized for its industrial aesthetic, airy & expansive dimensions, and twinkling city vistas! The raw and authentic brick-and-beam backdrop is enhanced by modern upgrades and a functional space plan with delineated zones for lounging, dining, culinary excellence, and respite.




Did you enjoy this? You may like our other recent posts on emerging locations including:

Up-And-Coming Or Over-And-Out? Cadillac Fairview’s East Harbour Development In Toronto

Why Toronto’s East Side Real Estate Has Historically Been Cheaper

Why More Condominiums On The Danforth Is Good

How Toronto Real Estate Near Queen Street – East & West – Is Climbing In Value

A Brief History On The Old & The Emerging New Dupont

Are You An Architectural History Buff? We Adore The Dazzling Distillery District!

A Short History Of Toronto’s Fashion District And Art Deco Architecture

Gentrification, Densification, And The History Of Toronto Real Estate


Thanks for reading!



~ Steven

Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000

– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –

Celebrating Thirty Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor


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