The West Don Lands was supposed to be a neighbourhood by now. It was something like one, once: From the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, the area just west of the mouth of the Don River was home to pork packers, soap manufacturers, leather tanneries, cement firms, lumber yards, and distilleries, along with, for a while, the ramshackle cabins that housed workers and their families. What little the place had going for it had all but vanished by 1989, though, when the provincial and municipal governments announced a project called Ataratiri. The plan was to transform what had become largely derelict land into housing for more than 10,000 people, three-fifths of whom would pay cheaper-than-market rates. Soon, the project came to include a 2,500-bed media village, as part of Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
But by 1992, $280 million had been spent on the area with nothing to show for it—less than nothing, actually, since most of that cash had gone to paying the few remaining businesses to leave. After projections showed that the plan would be $893 million over budget by 2001, Ataratiri was summarily cancelled. “There are times when you cut your losses,” said the provincial treasurer at the time, Floyd Laughren. “There was no sense prolonging the agony.” The rest of the ’90s came and went, punctuated by one plan for a 5,500-seat, mile-long horse-racing track, and another media-village pitch, this time accompanying the failed bid for the 2008 Olympics.
“A long, checkered history, right?” jokes John Campbell, the president and CEO of Waterfront Toronto, before he even hears the word Ataratiri. He can afford to laugh: For the past seven years, construction at the West Don Lands has followed Waterfront Toronto’s master plan, one that calls for a mixed-use neighbourhood full of not just condos—though there will be plenty of those—but also parks, community housing, a student residence, and a YMCA, all at a public cost of $818 million. There’s been just one minor addition. Come 2015, the area will also house the athletes competing at the Pan American Games (in July) and Parapan American Games (in August), a hard-won perk that Campbell is nevertheless quick to play down. “Even though the Games acted as a great catalyst to move things forward,” he says, “what they’re moving forward is exactly the plan that we had already produced with the community.” Here’s some of it.
WEST DON LAND STATS
Total size of the West Don Lands—six
times that of the neighbouring Distillery District.
Number of people living there in 2006, according to
that year’s census. All five had packed up and gone by 2011.
Number of people who will live there by 2020,
according to a Waterfront Toronto estimate.
Total residential units planned to be built by 2020.
Total number of those units that will be affordable housing.