Thanks to the 2015 Pan American Games the curse on Toronto’s waterfront has been lifted. For years now, West Don Lands (area just east of the Distillery District) has been somewhat of a question mark and a big bone of contention among idealistic architects and urbanists, social activists and politicians who in the late 80’s proposed a large network of affordable homes, schools, offices and community centres for the site. But by the time the project was cancelled and wound down in 1992, the group had consumed some $350-million in public money – produced not a single house.
In the early 2000s, a public development corporation, now known as Waterfront Toronto, became the landlord of the site, designated it the West Don Lands, and announced the intention to transform it from a wasteland into a flourishing community. It is not surprising that some Torontonians have not been very optimistic and saw this as another scheme that would wither away. Well Toronto, our luck has changed! For one, the management team is impressively strong and experienced. It is led by Dundee Kilmer Development Ltd., a partnership of Dundee Realty Corporation, and working with Dundee are Toronto-based firms: architectsAlliance, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB), MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects, as well as Montreal’s studio of Daoust Lestage Inc.
Originally, the area was planned to be built out over 10 to 12 years, but the development is being accelerated to be completed by June 2015, as it is the site of the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games Athletes’ Village. The task was to fashion places where 10,000 athletes and coaches could bunk comfortably for the duration of the games.
After the games, when The Pan Am village becomes the Canary District (after the Canary Restaurant, a popular nearby greasy spoon put out of business in 2007 by Waterfront Toronto) the same places will be converted into 787 market-rate condominiums, 28 townhouses, 253 affordable units and so on.
The Canary District has definite up-and-coming potential. With the Pan Am Games set to arrive in 2015, the overhaul is already underway and it is well on it’s way to being transformed into a sustainable, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly, riverside community. The 32 hectare (80 acre) area will feature 6,000 new residential units, ample space for employment and commercial uses, at least one elementary school, and two child-care centres, with construction of the 18 acre Don River Park, a massive new YMCA facility, and a new George Brown student residence.
It won’t be long before shops and cafes will start to gravitate toward the area with the influx of activity, and developers have already confirmed the revitalization of the beloved Canary Restaurant. The condos will also be a short walk from the Distillery District, but far enough away from the more hectic downtown buzz.
I know, it all sounds magical, but reality is, it’s not exactly easily accessible at the moment. Although TTC access has been promised and a shiny new streetcar line and construction is already underway, words like “insufficient funds” can easily derail the project, and if you want to snap up a one-bedroom (primarily those under 500 sf) at a preview price of under $300k, you’ll have to act before you know whether the tracks will be ready for use. Seeing as the majority of Canary District Condos dwellers will be reliant on the TTC (especially with parking spots at 35K a pop and limited to 2 Bedroom and 1 Bedroom + Den suites), this one really boils down to the Cherry Street streetcar.
Expected occupancy is March 2016, and over all the project looks promising. The video on the Canary District website watch it here is promising for this to be a family-oriented, happy, cheery, everyday-is-a-sunny-day kind of community. Although I have to wonder, how many of those cheery, happy families are cheering about moving-in in 4 years, or the potential profit on fliping their investment before occupancy. Either way, Canary – I’m rooting for you!