Sheppard West (formerly Downsview Station)

We started our exploration with the former Downsview Station for two reasons: the first being that it is in the process of becoming Sheppard West, no longer a terminal but simply a through-station for the (still un-opened) Spadina-York Extension. We thought it would be neat to capture the area before it changed.

The other reason was to use a technique called “swallowing the frog”: namely, if you have an unpleasant task to do, get it over with first, and the rest of the day won’t be so bad. There’s nothing around Downsview but fields and industrial strip-plazas; it’s bound to make other stations look better.

Starting out from our home in Parkdale, we decided the easiest route would be King St. West to St. Andrew Station, then north to the end of the line. For those of you who are non-local, let me use a quote from our friend Marc to illustrate the King Streetcar experience: “The three greatest things in life are to crush one’s enemies, see them driven before you, and manage to avoid taking the King car during rush hour”. Thanks to the Bombardier/TTC fiasco, King Street is underserved, overcrowded, and the streetcars are literally rusting away under our feet. Add to that basket of commuting joy an impatient driver who decided the best way to spend time in traffic snarls was by rocking the gas–causing the crowded, un-air-conditioned car to lurch forward sickeningly–made a nauseating start to our day (but even Conan would agree that it was better than taking the Queen car, or rather, the series of short-turns and buses that makes up the Queen St. W route at the moment).

We arrived at Downsview surprised to see that the signage already replaced by Sheppard West. Other than that, nothing had changed: the station is big, empty, and surrounded by fields. Pulling up Google Maps to see what the closest options for food were, we confirmed our suspicions that “close” is relative. The area is still mostly undeveloped, although that is changing, with rows of condos facing the station. But what dominates the area is the huge, fenced-off Downsview Park.

Since neither of us were particularly hungry, and Ean having never see the park before, we decided to do that first and then hunt for food after. We could have taken a bus, but it was less than 2km and a nice day and we wanted to walk.

The dandelions made the grassy embankment a cheerful quilt of green and yellow, and it was refreshing to be in the spring sunshine even if there was a busy four-lane street–namely Sheppard St W–right beside us. (Why did we decide to stroll somewhere so featureless? you might rightly ask. Well, it’s really no different than some of our adventures in Tokyo. When we went to Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture–mostly because it lay at the end of our local train line, much like Downsview–we discovered that the semi-famous mountain closed at 4.30 (not kidding) and so instead went on a 40 minute walk along a highway to the JAXA museum which was also mostly-closed-but-not-quite so we saw some neat life-sized models of satellites. Mind you, even along the highway in Tsukuba City were interesting vending machines, which adds a layer of civility to any stroll and kept us well hydrated + caffeinated.)

After about 20 minutes of walking we passed: the army base/airport (fenced off but with an interesting array of tanks and planes outside); the future site of a new subway station, Downsview Park; the old site of IDOMO which local kids from the 90s might remember as the weird guy with the beard selling furniture and desperately trying to compete with IKEA; but mostly featureless field behind chain-link fence and acres of strip-plazas. Determined to find the park’s entrance, we continued along its northern edge, only to discover the giant Downsview Merchants Market. I’d been a couple of times in my Seneca@York days but had long forgotten it was there; Ean had never heard of it, and oddly enough, it wasn’t marked on my phone’s Google Maps.

…Neither of us can resist a flea market, junk store, or recycle centre.

We walked around the aisles for a while–finding a great deal on a light-weight tripod, which made Ean happy–and were both very pleased to discover that the Merchants Market had a food court with an assortment of cheap and delicious-smelling food stalls.
For $8 we shared a meal of Fajita Fries plus two drinks from (More Than Just French) Fryz, which smelled amazing, like a chip truck fresh from heaven, and we can’t pass up a good chip truck even more than a flea market (our rural upbringings may be showing). After the fries, I bought a bag of nuclear-hot cinnamon-sugar churros for $6 while [Ean] explored the ancient, creaking arcade–including a Zeddy kiddie ride from the early 90s. Remember Zeddy, kids? No? Remember Zellers? No? Get off my lawn.

We decided to take the churros outside. Across the street a leafy-green parkette beckoned, but first we had to cross an immense lawn criss-crossed with tire ruts, clearly used as a spare parking lot. But we’re glad we did, because hidden in the grass were two lost bills, a $5 and $10, which meant that our fries and churros were retro-actively free. Hooray! Free is the best price.

The parkette was amazingly quiet considering it sits between two busy streets, Sheppard West and Keele. All we could hear were birds and the leaves rustling. A nice retreat after all the traffic and hurly-burly, and we ate our churros and licked our fingers and felt pretty darn pleased with ourselves, until we realized it was nearly 4pm and we still hadn’t seen Downsview Park itself.

So off we went, newly determined and spurred on by the signposts at the entrance the park announcing that there was both “Scotiabank Pond” and also Go-karts. Go-karts!!

However.

“Park” can mean many things, I realize that, but generally I consider it to mean: trees. Grass! Possibly a playground, maybe just benches. Downsview Park is an “industrial” park so it is a series of low buildings with vast parking lots and no sidewalks because it is not meant for pedestrians. Even “Scotiabank Pond” was misleading, as it is an arena with a hockey rink, which is the stretchiest use of the term “pond” I’ve ever heard. (We never did find the Go-karts. Boo.)

But the sun was out and it was mild, and while it threatened rain all afternoon, it didn’t even sprinkle on us. We left tired (we’d walked over 10km, mostly on pavement) but happy, as we’d had fun at the flea market and more importantly gotten Downsview over and done with. (I can’t imagine doing all that walking along asphalt in July. Ugh. No.)
Even the ride home was an improvement, as we managed to catch a 514 Cherry car, one of the few new LRT that run along King Street from Cherry in the east end to Dufferin in the west. It was clean, quiet, and most importantly didn’t lurch every few yards.

And as Conan and Marc noted earlier, avoiding taking the King car during rush hour is one of life-in-Toronto’s greatest joys. Especially when full of churros and fajita fries.