Leslie Street Spit

The Leslie Street Spit, or officially the Outer Harbour East Headland, is a man-made headland
Headlands and bays
Headlands and bays are two related features of the coastal environment.- Geology and geography :Headlands and bays are often found on the same coastline. A bay is surrounded by land on three sides, whereas a headland is surrounded by water on three sides. Headlands are characterized by high,...

 in Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

, Ontario
Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

, extending from the city's east end in a roughly southwesterly direction into Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded on the north and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south by the American state of New York. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, was named for the lake. In the Wyandot language, ontarío means...

. It is about 5 km long.

Its common name is technically incorrect, since it is not truly a spit
Spit (landform)
A spit or sandspit is a deposition landform found off coasts. At one end, spits connect to land, and extend into the sea. A spit is a type of bar or beach that develops where a re-entrant occurs, such as at cove's headlands, by the process of longshore drift...

, but Torontonians almost never use the official name. The road running along the peninsula is a southern extension of Leslie Street, hence the popular nickname.

Construction and evolution

The former Toronto Harbour Commission
Toronto Harbour Commission
The Toronto Harbour Commission was a joint federal-municipal government agency based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The agency managed Toronto Harbour as well as being responsible for major works along the Toronto waterfront. It built the Toronto Island Airport in 1939...

 (THC)(known as the Toronto Port Authority
Toronto Port Authority
The Toronto Port Authority is a Canadian port authority responsible for management of the harbour of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, including the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport...

 since 1999) began construction of the peninsula in the late 1950s. Its originally foreseen purpose was to provide a breakwater
Breakwater (structure)
Breakwaters are structures constructed on coasts as part of coastal defence or to protect an anchorage from the effects of weather and longshore drift.-Purposes of breakwaters:...

 for Toronto's Outer Harbour, which itself was expected to be necessary to handle the increase in shipping on the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 after the Saint Lawrence Seaway
Saint Lawrence Seaway
The Saint Lawrence Seaway , , is the common name for a system of locks, canals and channels that permits ocean-going vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the North American Great Lakes, as far as Lake Superior. Legally it extends from Montreal to Lake Erie, including the Welland Canal...

 opened in 1959. However, owing to the containerization
Containerization is a system of freight transport based on a range of steel intermodal containers...

 revolution of the 1960s, the need for an outer harbour never arose, and all cargo ships calling at Toronto still use the Inner Harbour
Toronto Harbour
Toronto Harbour or Toronto Bay is a bay on the north shore of Lake Ontario, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is a natural harbour, protected from Lake Ontario waves by the Toronto Islands. It is a commercial port on the Great Lakes as well as a recreational harbour...

, while the Outer Harbour sees only pleasure boat
Boating is the leisurely activity of travelling by boat, or the recreational use of a boat whether powerboats, sailboats, or man-powered vessels , focused on the travel itself, as well as sports activities, such as fishing or water skiing...


The need for the headland, however, did not disappear. In the 1960s and 1970s, development in Toronto proceeded rapidly, and the Leslie Street Spit was a convenient place to dump the endless supply of rubble and earth generated by all the building projects in the city. Originally a long, slender finger of bare land stretching out into the lake, the headland eventually developed several lobes enclosing small bays, and was eventually colonized by a variety of plant life. Cottonwood and poplar
Populus is a genus of 25–35 species of deciduous flowering plants in the family Salicaceae, native to most of the Northern Hemisphere. English names variously applied to different species include poplar , aspen, and cottonwood....

 forests now cover much of the headland, and it has become a fine example of the development of pioneer plant communities and ecological succession
Ecological succession
Ecological succession, is the phenomenon or process by which a community progressively transforms itself until a stable community is formed. It is a fundamental concept in ecology, and refers to more or less predictable and orderly changes in the composition or structure of an ecological community...

. About 400 species of plants have been identified on the Leslie Street Spit.

The inner part of the spit consists of three embayments. These were designed to hold dredged material from the Inner Harbour and the Keating Channel
Keating Channel
The Keating Channel is a short waterway in the inner harbour of Toronto, Ontario on Lake Ontario. It connects the Don River into Toronto Harbour . The channel is named after Edward Henry Keating , a city engineer who proposed the creation of the channel in 1893...

. The first embayment has now been filled. It has been capped with clean fill and is being restored by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority or Office de protection de la nature de Toronto et de la région is one of 36 conservation authorities in Ontario, Canada...

 as a marsh
In geography, a marsh, or morass, is a type of wetland that is subject to frequent or continuous flood. Typically the water is shallow and features grasses, rushes, reeds, typhas, sedges, other herbaceous plants, and moss....

. The remaining two embayments have about 50 years' capacity remaining.

The Leslie Street Spit's evolution into an urban wilderness was never in the city's plans. Indeed, the spit's status as such was secured by a number of organizations, with the citizens' advocacy group known as Friends of the Spit at the forefront of advocacy to retain the spit in as natural a state as possible.

Several development plans have been put forward. One development plan involved an "aquatic park" which would have included a hotel, an amphitheatre, government docks, private yacht clubs, parking for 2,000 cars, a waterskiing school, and camping, among other facilities. In 1968, the Toronto Harbour Commission envisaged building yet another "spit" further west, and creating a huge residential area, complete with a new airport. These plans were debated at length, but as they were, the previously lifeless Leslie Street Spit was coming to life, and many Torontonians decided that they liked the idea of having a wilderness right in the city.

Currently, the northern half of the spit has been designated as Tommy Thompson
Tommy Thompson (Parks Commissioner)
Thomas William Thompson is most well known as Toronto's first Commissioner of Parks . He is known and recognized nationally and internationally for his work and his trademark sign "Please Walk on the Grass."...

 Park, named after a former Toronto Parks Commissioner, and managed by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. The southern half is still an active dumping zone, managed by the Toronto Port Authority. Eventually the entire spit will become parkland.

Friends of the Spit was founded in 1977. Its original members included people as varied as birdwatchers, naturalists, and cyclists. The Friends' goals, quite simply, are to keep the Leslie Street Spit open to the public (The THC had not allowed public access until 1973; the Spit is now open to the public from 9:00 am. to 6:00 p.m. on weekends and statutory holidays in the summer, and from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends and statutory holidays in the winter. It is closed weekdays owing to the ongoing construction of the spit, conducted by the Toronto Port Authority), and to keep it in its natural — or, perhaps more accurately, naturalized state. Thus far, all development plans have come to naught, and the spit is still open to the public.

The Leslie Street Spit is a car-free area when the park is open, with strictly controlled vehicle access to the mooring area when the park is closed. The spit's outermost end is known as Vicki Keith
Vicki Keith
Vicki Keith, CM, O.Ont is a retired Canadian marathon swimmer.She currently holds 16 world records and has received over 41 honours and awards, having crossed many of the world's most challenging bodies of water. To date, she has raised over $1 million CAD to help children with physical disabilities...

 Point, after a famous Canadian swimmer. There has been an automated lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

 there since 1974.

Shuttle service

The park provides free shuttle service from May to Thanksgiving weekend (October) from 9am to 5:30pm. The shuttle van stops at the front entrance, at the Aquatic Park Sailing Club (APSC), and at the footbridge. Riders can get on or off anywhere along the bus route.

The Aquatic Park Sailing Club (a 100-mooring sailing club founded in 1976) pays for, in part, the van and the habitat creation on the Spit.

Important Bird Area

Quite a number of bird species are also to be found on the Leslie Street Spit. More than 300 species of birds are to be found, 45 of which actually breed on the headland. Among the birds that may be observed on the headland are the ring-billed gull
Ring-billed Gull
The Ring-billed Gull is a medium-sized gull.Adults are length and with a wingspan. The head, neck and underparts are white; the relatively short bill is yellow with a dark ring; the back and wings are silver gray; and the legs are yellow. The eyes are yellow with red rims...

, the black-crowned night-heron, the double-crested cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
The Double-crested Cormorant is a member of the cormorant family of seabirds. It occurs along inland waterways as well as in coastal areas, and is widely distributed across North America, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down to Florida and Mexico...

, the common tern
Common Tern
The Common Tern is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. This bird has a circumpolar distribution, breeding in temperate and sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia and east and central North America. It is strongly migratory, wintering in coastal tropical and subtropical regions. It is sometimes...

, the Caspian tern
Caspian Tern
The Caspian Tern is a species of tern, with a subcosmopolitan but scattered distribution. Despite its extensive range, it is monotypic of its genus, and has no subspecies accepted either...

, and the herring gull
American Herring Gull
The American Herring Gull or Smithsonian Gull is a large gull which breeds in North America. It is often treated as a subspecies of the European Herring Gull but is now regarded as a separate species by some authorities.Adults are white with gray back and wings, black wingtips with white spots,...


Owing to the Leslie Street Spit's importance to so many bird species, it has been designated an Important Bird Area
Important Bird Area
An Important Bird Area is an area recognized as being globally important habitat for the conservation of bird populations. Currently there are about 10,000 IBAs worldwide. The program was developed and sites are identified by BirdLife International...

 (IBA) by Nature Canada
Nature Canada
Nature Canada is a member-based non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to protect nature and the processes that sustain it. Based in Ottawa, Nature Canada's supporters include more than 40,000 individuals and over 350 affiliated organizations, including local and provincial...

 and Bird Studies Canada
Bird Studies Canada
Bird Studies Canada is Canada's national bird conservation organization.-Summary:The organization began as the Long Point Bird Observatory in 1960, changing its name in 1998 to reflect the growing national scope of its research programs...

 which are the Canadian partners of BirdLife International
BirdLife International
BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources...

. Peninsula D has also become the site of a comprehensive bird research station, run by the TRCA. The Tommy Thompson
Tommy Thompson (Parks Commissioner)
Thomas William Thompson is most well known as Toronto's first Commissioner of Parks . He is known and recognized nationally and internationally for his work and his trademark sign "Please Walk on the Grass."...

 Park Bird Research Station operates 7 days a week during spring and fall migration, and runs other projects within the Greater Toronto Area throughout the rest of the year. Visitors to the station are welcome on weekends when the park is open.

See also

  • Toronto waterfront
    Toronto waterfront
    The Toronto waterfront is the lakeshore of Lake Ontario in the City of Toronto, Ontario in Canada. It spans 46 kilometres between the mouth of Etobicoke Creek in the west, and the Rouge River in the East. The entire lakeshore has been significantly altered from its natural glaciated state prior to...

  • Toronto Port Authority
    Toronto Port Authority
    The Toronto Port Authority is a Canadian port authority responsible for management of the harbour of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, including the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport...

  • Toronto Islands
    Toronto Islands
    The Toronto Islands are a chain of small islands in the city of Toronto, Ontario. Comprising the only group of islands in the western part of Lake Ontario, the Toronto Islands are located just offshore from the city centre, and provide shelter for Toronto Harbour...

  • Leslie Spit Treeo
    Leslie Spit Treeo
    Leslie Spit Treeo were a Canadian folk-rock band in the 1980s and 1990s. The band took its name from the Leslie Street Spit area of Toronto Harbour.-History:...

     - Local band named after the area
  • Toronto Harbour Light
    Toronto Harbour Light
    The Toronto Harbour Light is an automated lighthouse at Vicki Keith Point on the Leslie Street Spit in Toronto, Ontario. It is one of three lighthouses in Toronto and the only active one in the city.-Construction:...

External links

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