Living in Toronto, our largest natural feature is Lake Ontario which wraps along the southern coast. One of our favourite spots to explore juts out into the lake in Toronto’s East end. Tommy Thompson Park — more commonly known locally as the Leslie Spit — is a purely urban unique wild space.
This long man-made peninsula sprang into existence in the late 1950’s. The lake-filled landmass is composed of decades of infrastructural waste: concrete, utility poles, uprooted trees, ceramic tiles, and more. The spit’s original purpose was as a breakwater for when Toronto used to harbour extensive shipping traffic. By the 1970’s, facing varied development plans, an ad hoc group was formed to protect the burgeoning wilderness that had taken hold on the new land. The Friends of the Spit are still active today in protecting and fostering public use of the land.
A testament to Natural resilience, The Spit is currently a vibrant ecosystem with to a multitude of native plants, hundreds of bird species, teaming with insect life, and home to mammals rare to urban life such as coyote and fox.
Visiting The Spit is always an adventure. We have walked and biked down the 5 kilometre main road and along its pathways, side trails, fields, and woods to always observe something new. Hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants nest on the Spit along with Tern, Egret, Heron, Gulls, and more. You can often see vast flocks of the black Cormorants flying overhead.
The other thrill of the Leslie Spit is it very active status as a dump site. Yes, the Spit is still growing! You would expect that wilderness and concrete-laden trucks could not co-exist but somehow the clash makes visiting more captivating. The expanding Eastern shorelines are a tumble of jutting rebar, mutli-coloured tiles worn round by the lapping of the lake, and broken red brick. In the midst of this is a rusted empty Quonset hut and a managed wetland filled with darting Purple Martin and drifting water fowl.
It’s the sort of place where you indulge your childhood drive to find a snakeskin and collect pocket-fulls of the best beach glass. Occasionally you glance up at the full Toronto skyline in view to the West and marvel at where you are. It is truly wild and truly urban.