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Downtown Skate Path Opens Under Gardiner

Bentway Gardiner Expressway skating park Fort York Toronto
Skaters travel between the Gardiner Expressway pillars at the opening of the Bentway, a new downtown park project.

Toronto residents braved record-setting low temperatures on the weekend to inaugurate a new 220-metre skate path underneath a downtown stretch of the Gardiner Expressway.

With a choir singing and temperatures hovering around -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), skaters negotiated between the large, inverted W-shaped highway pillars of the figure eight rink. The path is the first stage of an ambitious plan to turn a 1.1-kilometre space below the highway into a year-round park dubbed The Bentway. 

Near the gates of Fort York, that finished project will eventually stretch between Strachan and Bathurst.

Long seen as an eyesore, the space below the Gardiner has been a point of public debate for much of its six-decade life. The Bentway is intended to knit together adjacent neighbourhoods and become a gateway to the waterfront and important attractions and destinations like Fort York, Ontario Place and Exhibition Place.

The Bentway Fort York Gardiner Experssway skate rink
Opening day skaters negotiate the Bentway skating path downtown below the Gardiner Expressway.

The rest of the park — the brainchild of urban designer Ken Greenberg and made possible by a $25M donation from private citizens Judy and Wilmot Matthews — is set to open in stages between now and July. 

It will eventually include an amphitheatre, gardens, picnic areas and a boardwalk. Further plans for once funding becomes available call for extending the park to Spadina. 

The Bentway is not to be confused with that other downtown park project: the Rail Deck Park. The ambitious 8.5-hectare (21 acre) elevated green space would be built above the downtown railway tracks from Bathurst to Blue Jay Way. That project — with  a cost estimated at $1.7B — is still in the planning stage.