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Architourist

Roads to nowhere, paths of discovery Add to ...

daveleblanc@globeandmail.com

One day, it was as if a faucet were closed tight for residents of North York's Lochinvar Crescent and Fenelon Drive. Where there had been the incessant whooshing of traffic just a few feet from backyard fences, there was suddenly blessed silence. Today, the little curved stretch of dead road is a place to let dogs run or wrap up an evening walk.

As Val Dodge and I discover, it's also a good place to ponder imaginative books such as Alan Weisman's The World Without Us - which explores in sinister detail how quickly nature would reclaim the planet if the human race disappeared - since on this abandoned ramp of the Don Valley Parkway's York Mills cloverleaf, there is already an army of chest-high weeds busting through asphalt fissures, lime stains on the once-black road and an abundance of snail shells.

"I'm still surprised they haven't fenced it in," muses Mr. Dodge.

While he isn't certain why the city decided to relocate parkway access to the southwest corner about four years ago, he does know why finding abandoned roads is such a fascinating pastime: "We think of the city as being modern and every inch of it is filled and there's nothing new to find any more [but]the more I do it, the more I realize there are many more of these." To that end, the avid cyclist has been documenting his curious finds - asphalt and otherwise - at Torontoist.com and his own blog, valdodge.com.

Earlier, we walked the city's best-known ghost road, the piece of Pottery Road that was killed off when Bayview Avenue was extended in the late 1950s. We find it easily enough; down the current Pottery Road from Broadview, we cross the little concrete bowstring bridge over the Don River and park in the muddy lot on the right. We walk to Bayview, then look back at the little bridge and draw an imaginary straight line from it (rather than following the hard left the road now takes) to locate the entrance to a wide clearing in the woods. That clearing, which runs for a while beside Cudmore Creek, is the old road, which ran northwest all the way to Moore Avenue. As we walk, we discover asphalt chunks still embedded in dirt.

After easily picking out the old road for a while, it becomes more difficult on the other side of train tracks due to much thicker brush. It's crystal clear again when it transforms into a portion of the living, breathing True Davidson Drive just before T-boning at Nesbitt Drive. Due to the danger of crossing another, much wider set of train tracks, we walk along Nesbitt to Bayview and use the railway underpass. A hundred metres north, a little staircase deposits us right back on top of the old road, now a long, paved section parallel to Bayview that neighbourhood kids are using as a bicycle stunt track. At the north end of this piece, a mystery is solved: Why does a laneway wedged between a grocery-store parking lot and a strip-mall parking lot deserve to be called Pottery Road? Because that little piece, which connects Bayview to Moore, is the final, still-in-use section, an orphan that lines up perfectly with the abandoned section upon which we're standing.

Of course, these connections make more sense when viewed from above using Google's satellite maps, which is one way Mr. Dodge checks his hunches. After cycling by a clearing in the woods that's devoid of old-growth trees and just a little too straight to be accidental, he'll check for alignment patterns on Google when he gets home. "From there, it's a matter of usually visiting the [Toronto]archives to see if my guess is correct," he explains. Sometimes, he posts the fruits of this archive labour on his blog, as he did with aerial photos of Pottery Road circa 1953 and 1947 (the 1947 photo shows an even older alignment that's now mostly overgrown).

A lifelong east-end resident who has "always lived within a 10-minute walk of the Don Valley," the youthful-looking 39-year-old nevertheless logs thousands of kilometres atop his bicycle each year searching for urban flotsam. He's poked into the northeastern corner of Scarborough to find lost Passmore Avenue and, in the northwest, the abandoned Indian Line, which once separated Etobicoke from Peel Region.

His "holy grail," however, is a rock: Famed conservationist and author Charles Sauriol wrote about encountering a large boulder in his beloved Don Valley and posited that it might be where another legendary figure, Ernest Thompson Seton, sat and wrote his book about growing up in Toronto's ravines, Two Little Savages. "If I ever find a rock that says 'E.T. was here ...'" says Mr. Dodge, laughing.

We finish our tour on the Bailey bridge (a military bridge erected quickly without specialized tools) that spans the railway tracks beside Don Mills Road below Overlea Boulevard. This bridge, and the concrete one closer to the DVP (near Noel Harding's Elevated Wetlands sculptures, which remind me of dinosaur legs), once carried Don Mills Road before it, too, was realigned, explains Mr. Dodge.

We cross the bridge and head north for proof - another orphaned piece of asphalt terminating at the front lawn of a 1960s apartment building. "In the short time I've been walking along here," finishes Mr. Dodge, "you can see how every season [that passes]everything encroaches on the road a little bit more."

Time to lace up the hiking boots and have a look before Mother Nature finishes her work.

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