May 18th, 2022
Beaches Living Guide - Fall & Winter 2016-2017

Toronto's First Commuter Railway: Today's Recreation Beltline

Toronto has endless trails and paths through ravines and parks or along the lake. One in particular stands out, not only because of its natural beauty and setting, but also because of its deep roots in the city's history. Any season of the year, the Kay Gardner Beltline Park is one of the most beautiful trails in the city. It winds its way through midtown Toronto between Mt. Pleasant to the south end of Allen Road. It gives us the sense that you are in rural Ontario. Only when you catch a glimpse of a modern building in the distance or perhaps a major roadway through the trees do you realize that you are steps from the city core.

Te Kay Gardner Beltline Park is a reminder of a creative dream in Toronto's railway history. With all the enthusiasm around railways and how they could transport people and goods in and out of Toronto, some forward-thinking entrepreneurs began to think of ways of using railways to transport people within the city. Tis kind of thinking led to the Belt Line Corporation, which would link new housing developments in places like Moore Park and Rosedale to downtown Toronto via a railway that encircled the city.

Te Beltline Trail is a 9 km cycling and walking rail trail in Toronto, Ontario. It consists of three sections, the York Beltline Trail west of Allen Road, the Kay Gardner Beltline Park from the Allen to Mount Pleasant Road, and the Ravine Beltline Trail south of Mount Pleasant Cemetery through the Moore Park Ravine. Built on the former right–ofway of the Toronto Belt Line Railway, the linear park passes through the neighbourhoods of Rosedale, Moore Park, Forest Hill, Chaplin Estates, and Fairbank.

Moore Park Station (Toronto Belt Line Railway), 1912 – Toronto Public Library

Beautiful Moore Park Station

As communities were planned along the way, such as Moore Park and Forest Hill, 44 stops were established to service them. Many of these stations were small, that is, no more than a wooden shelter. But one in particular was a masterpiece. Te Moore Park station was intended to serve the richest community on the line. Te station occupied about one third an acre in the area that lies at the end of Welland Avenue just west of Moore Avenue. It was named for Tomas Moore, who was part of the group that built the Belt Line. It is the only station to be photographed, so at least we have a memory of what it looked like.

It faced the track with a large wooden platform and four towers (turrets) surmounted with conical roofs, often called "witches hats". Te station was demolished after World War I and nothing was ever built in its place.

The Belt Line Retired After 28 Months, Toronto Moving Onto A New Path

As expected, a lot of money was raised and the line was opened in 1892. At frst, steam trains were running around each loop six times a day, charging fve cents per station to a maximum of 25 cents. Te line was particularly popular for Torontonians who had the time to take a Sunday–afternoon trip along the Belt Line for a taste of the dramatic countryside. Real estate brokers were also frequent riders. Tey invited land speculators to come and see the striking landscape surrounding the city for possible development projects.

But passenger service soon dropped. Overspending, a drop in land values, and the new Toronto electric street railway system soon caused the Belt Line's demise. Within 28 months, service ended.

Te original railway consisted of two separate loops, both starting from Union Station. Te eastern loop circled around the north end of the city via the Don Valley, Mount Pleasant Cemetery and the Grand Trunk Railway tracks in the west, while the western loop passed through Swansea, Lambton and West Toronto Junction, returning to Union Station via Parkdale.

Te Belt Line was truly Toronto's frst commuter railway, perhaps thinking too ahead of its time. All the tracks and buildings have since been removed, and today it turned into a park and recreational path. You can walk, bike or stroll on the beautiful Kay Gardner Beltline Park or on the Don Valley section of the eastern loop.

Other parks originally along the line wind through the city, such as the east-west line running north of St. Clair West along the western loop, including Gaffney Park and the St. Clair Gardens. Te entire loop consists of the York Beltline Trail west of Allen Road, the Kay Gardner Beltline Park from Allen to Mount Pleasant Road, and the Ravine Beltline Trail south of Mount Pleasant Cemetery through the Moore Park Ravine.

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