The Bentway (formerly Project: Under Gardiner) is an initiative that has transformed more than four hectares (10 acres) of land beneath the elevated portion of Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway including on the lands of the Fort York National Historic Site, from just west of Strachan Avenue to Spadina Avenue, into a series of public spaces.
Thanks to the visionary philanthropic support of Judy and Wil Matthews, the City of Toronto has been able to engage Waterfront Toronto to oversee the implementation of the project, which includes a 1.75-kilometre multi-use trail and 500-metre connection to Exhibition GO Station. By reclaiming this forgotten space, The Bentway creates a series of rooms formed by the spaces between columns, reimagining the area beneath the expressway as a place for people.
The Bentway is based on a transformative framework design by urban designer Ken Greenberg, and Marc Ryan and Adam Nicklin of landscape architecture firm PUBLIC WORK. The vision for the project includes the continuous multi-use trail, a bridge over Fort York Boulevard for pedestrians and cyclists, a grand staircase at Strachan that doubles as seating for an urban theatre, and a series of flexible, year-round performance and programming spaces that can be used by the community.
The project will knit together seven downtown neighbourhoods – Exhibition Place, Liberty Village, Niagara, Fort York Neighbourhood, Bathurst Quay, Wellington Place and CityPlace –through the trail and network of public spaces. It will enhance connectivity to the city’s waterfront and a corridor of important attractions and destinations – from the Canadian National Exhibition to the Rogers Centre to the Air Canada Centre.
The Bentway is focused on helping Torontonians reclaim and transform this underused space for active community use, making it possible to host diverse events. From farmer’s markets to chamber concerts, dance competitions to experimental theatre, street art festivals to kids’ camps, the possibilities for this new space are endless.
Public input plays a key role in shaping what happens in this space. The final design has yet to be determined, however the design team has established a framework. Their starting point respects the existing structure of the Gardiner, treating the underside as a covered street in the heart of the city. The Gardiner’s columns and beams (also known as “bents”) could be used to hold rigging, lighting, and signage, and the partitions that they create establish outdoor rooms that will separate the various activities and atmospheres of the space. The spectacular height of the canopy at this location offers myriad possibilities for multi-level experiences.
Torontonians are invited to participate in creating this new public space through social media, the project website, public meetings and special events.
The focus in reclaiming these new spaces is to create highly-flexible, multi-purpose spaces that act as empty containers for Torontonians’ creativity. The question we are asking Torontonians to answer is: “What could only happen here?” Members of the public are being invited to help develop this vision alongside community groups and organizations representing sport, recreation, arts and culture, and entertainment.
reclaim the name
In an act of reclaiming what was once a forgotten space, we asked Torontonians to help name this new public space. Further details on this naming campaign are available on the project website or in our newsroom.
In February 2016, Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto initiated a Schedule ‘B’ Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (EA) to study the municipal infrastructure required, including a new pedestrian crossing at Fort York Boulevard. For more information, please read the Notice of Completion of Environmental Study Report.
The project is supported entirely by a $25-million donation from Judy and Wil Matthews to the City of Toronto. It was announced on November 17, 2015 and a first phase of construction was complete in late 2017 and opened to the public in January 2018.
Under the terms of the City of Toronto's donation policy, a report went to the City's Executive Committee on December 1, 2015, and then to Council at the December 9/10 meeting, to seek authority to accept this donation. The donation was transferred to Waterfront Toronto to execute the project.
about the donors
Judy and Wil Matthews have a history of volunteer leadership and philanthropic giving to a wide variety of the City of Toronto’s education and medical programs, arts and cultural organizations and city-building initiatives. Passionate Torontonians, they are deeply committed to enriching the City and the lives of its citizens. For more information about the donors, please visit - http://www.thebentway.ca/
about the partnership
This project establishes a new kind of philanthropic partnership – a collaborative model – that is brought to life through active public participation in designing and shaping a new public space. The Matthews offered a project to the City that was pre-conceptualized. Rather than just earmarking their donation for a particular kind of work. The donation is directed specifically for this project, and aims to establish a new model for programming, operating and maintaining high-quality public space.
The Matthews’ requested that the City of Toronto engage Waterfront Toronto to manage Project: Under Gardiner, including public consultation, because of the agency’s track record of managing complex projects. The project also falls within Waterfront Toronto’s geographic area and within its mandate to oversee, lead and implement waterfront renewal initiatives from Coxwell Avenue in the east to Dowling Avenue in the west.
Lake Shore Boulevard East – South Sidewalk Pilot Project
The first Quick Start implemented in 2020 involves a section of sidewalk along the south side of Lake Shore Boulevard from Sherbourne Common to 12 Bonnycastle Street. The project will test new permeable paving and subbase materials, planting and passive irrigation to advance Green Street standards in the city and inform the detailed design of the Lake Shore Public Realm. It will evaluate how innovative materials and passive irrigation design can achieve low-impact development (LID). That means implementing systems that use natural processes to capture stormwater and filter it through the landscape instead of letting it run off untreated into Lake Ontario and the Don River.
Construction began in August 2020 and was completed in September 2020. The existing concrete sidewalk has been reconstructed using porous pavers over a permeable sub-base instead of concrete, allowing stormwater to be retained on site and slowly filter through, thereby reducing the flow of water into storm sewers. This captured stormwater is used as a resource for passive irrigation of the adjacent planting area along the curb, improving plant health and reducing the need for manual watering. Plants selected are resilient hardy species resistant to shade, wind, and salt, while adding to the biodiversity of the corridor. The intersection corner at Bonnycastle St. was rebuilt in an enhanced concrete finish with exposed granite aggregate and a decorative sawcut pattern which is to highlight pedestrian areas at intersections across the Lake Shore Blvd. streetscape.
Video: Project Under Gardiner
about the design team
The design team is composed of writer, educator and urban designer Ken Greenberg and landscape architecture studio PUBLIC WORK. Greenberg is principal of Greenberg Consultants and the former Director of Urban Design and Architecture for the City of Toronto. PUBLIC WORK is focused on the intelligent evolution of the contemporary city. Before establishing the firm in 2012, principals Adam Nicklin and Marc Ryan played an integral role in the planning, design, and implementation of the West 8 + DTAH master plan for Toronto’s Central Waterfront.
The Bentway was launched in November 2015 with the aim of transforming an underutilized area under the Gardiner Expressway into a bold vision for a new public space in downtown Toronto.
In an unprecedented collaboration, The City of Toronto, Waterfront Toronto, the Judy and Wilmot Matthews Foundation, and a new nonprofit, The Bentway Conservancy, along with numerous other stakeholders have propelled the initiative forward.
Your support and feedback are invaluable to this project! Visit the project website to sign up for The Bentway newsletter, check out the project on Instagram, Facebook, and on Twitter. For general inquiries please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please email email@example.com with any construction-related inquiries.