The West Don Lands are the site of a planned neighbourhood under construction in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The area is bordered by the Don River, King Street, Parliament Street and the rail line adjacent to the Gardiner Expressway.
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The region was originally a large city park in the old city of York. It was sold off to private developers in the 1830s to finance the construction of a new city hospital. By the late nineteenth century it was part of the Corktown community which was home to working class Irish immigrants. Most of the land was industrial or owned by the railways, and it became the site of an array of factories and warehouses, including one of the largest pork processing facilities in the world.
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DE-industrialization of the 1970s saw most of the land abandoned. In 1987 the area was expropriated by the provincial government at the urging of Toronto mayor Art Eggleton. The city proposed creating a new community of 14,000 called Ataratiri to solve Toronto’s pressing subsidized housing crisis. The Ataratiri project was to have consisted of a mix of subsidized and market priced housing, similar to the development of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood further west. The name for the project was taken from the Huron word for “supported by clay” in reference to the clay soil of the area. After investing a considerable amount of money purchasing and clearing the site, the project eventually failed to attract private investors. The industrial history meant the soil was highly polluted and needed expensive cleanup before any residents could live there. The risk of flooding from the Don River also required a flood barrier to be erected. By 1992 the city and province had already invested some $350 million, and new estimates put the final cost at more than a billion more. The real estate market had also collapsed, making any private investment unlikely. The new provincial government of Bob Rae thus decided to cancel the project in 1992. Since then the land has sat deserted.
A number of plans were advanced for the land. For a time the provincial government considered selling it to a developer who wanted to build aharness racing facility, but local opposition put a halt to it. The lands were also have been a central part of Toronto’s bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics. In 2001, Mike Harris pushed for a complete redevelopment of Toronto’s waterfront, but mayor Mel Lastman objected to the idea of removing parts of the Gardiner Expressway. During Lastman’s six years in office no progress was made on redeveloping the site.
His successor David Miller made waterfront redevelopment a priority. In 2006 a new plan was announced to create a residential community on the abandoned area. According to Waterfront Toronto, plans for the area include nearly 6,000 new residential spaces with twenty percent being allocated as ‘affordable’ or ‘subsidized’ housing. Redevelopment plans include extensive integration with Toronto transit routes and 23 acres of public green-space. The new Don River Park is likely to be the recreational core of the West Don Lands, linking the Don Valley Discovery Walk to a new Toronto waterfront. The location is crucial to providing improved non-vehicular access throughout the city to hundreds of thousands of pedestrians, cyclists, inline skaters and mobility scooter users. In 2009 it was announced that the West Don Lands would be the home of the athlete’s village for the 2015 Pan American Games.
In August 2012, Mayor Ford officially opened Underpass Park, a new public space in the West Don Lands – Waterfront Community district.