Keating Channel

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The Keating Channel is a 1000 meter long waterway in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[1] It connects the Don River to inner Toronto Harbour (Toronto Bay) on Lake Ontario. The channel is named after Edward Henry Keating (1844-1912), a city engineer (1892-1898) who proposed the creation of the channel in 1893.[2] The channel was originally built to connect Ashbridge's Bay to the harbour; later, the Don was diverted into the channel, and its river mouth filled in.


In the late 19th century, a public works program was started to straighten the lower part of the Don River south of the Winchester Street Bridge. The project was called the Don Improvement Project. The goal of the project was to alleviate floods on the lower Don that were periodically washing out bridges. It was also done to create additional wharf space for the Toronto harbour. When it was completed, the river was directed south into Ashbridge's Bay.

At the time Ashbridge's Bay was still a lacustrine marsh. It was heavily polluted by local industry. The water from the river was diverted into the bay with the hope that it would flush the bay of the poor water. However the flow of water introduced raw sewage in the river into the bay. The bay water remained stagnant and was increasingly becoming a serious health risk. The Keating Channel was proposed as a method of directing the dirty river water into the harbour thus dispersing it more rapidly.

Initially the channel was planned to go from the northeast corner of the inner harbour east towards Leslie Street and join up with the Coatsworth Cut. However, the portion east of the Don River was never completed and it was closed in 1916. The channel was completed in 1922 after 8 years of construction. The completed channel now runs from the harbour east to the mouth of the river, a distance of about 800 metres.

The original mouth of the Don is now buried under infill near where the Gardiner Expressway meets Cherry Street. The original course from the mouth upstream now lies underneath railway tracks used by GO Transit for storage.

Today it is flanked on the north by the elevated Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard East. The south side is occupied by a city works yard and the Keating Channel Pub. At the west end Cherry Street crosses the channel over a single sided drawbridge rarely used by ships. At the east end is the start of the Don Valley Parkway.

In the 1940s the watershed further up the Don River became more urbanized. This caused an increasing amount of silt to flow down the river. The silt ends up collecting in the channel where there is very little water flow. Since that time, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has been dredging the channel. The dredgeate material is barged out to the Leslie Street Spit where it is dumped in a containment area specially built for this purpose. In 2005, the annual amount of silt dredged was about 35,000 cubic metres. The containment area has the capacity to take 50 years of Don River dredgeate [1].

In 1980 Ontario's Minister of the Environment was asked, during question period, about an exemption from environmental regulations, granted to those who dredged the channel.[3] Member of Provincial Parliament Bryden was quoting Donald Chant's recommendation concerning the Keating Channel, and why the recommendation had been ignored, when she was interrupted by the Minister. Chant was then the "chairman of the Premier's steering committee on environmental assessment". According to the MPP Chant's recommendations had questioned whether dredging the channel was worthwhile:

"That the issue of the need for dredging Keating Channel remains unresolved and that a hearing on this specific issue should be held as soon as possible and before any irrevocable approvals are given.

Current issues

File:Debris after August 05 storm.JPG
Debris collected at mouth of the Keating Channel after a storm in August 2005

The channel's impact on the Don River is varied. Both sides of the channel are lined with concrete dock wall which creates a barrier and provides little habitat for fish and other water dwelling creatures. The Don is home to about 21 species of fish. Only about four or five species can be found near the mouth. This is partly due to poor water quality but also due to lack of habitat. The dock wall continues, mostly unbroken north to Riverdale Park. In contrast the Humber River which has a natural mouth is home to about 44 species.

Another problem affecting the channel is floating debris that is washed down the Don. Mostly logs and dead wood, there is also an assortment of garbage that collects in the channel. The TRCA corrals this material with a boom across the channel. There can be quite a bit of flotsam especially after a big storm.

Restoration initiatives

On the north side of the channel a slight bend in Lake Shore Boulevard has created a narrow open space. The Task Force to Bring Back the Don decided to plant this area in 1998. They planted Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), Sandbar Willow (Salix exigua), and Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). Despite poor soil conditions, the willow and the hardy sumac have thrived. These days it looks like a long narrow glade of small trees and shrubs, a small oasis amongst the blight of concrete and asphalt.

Another small green space at the eastern end was also planned for restoration but the project was abandoned after one planting. There was also a proposal to remove part of the dock wall to improve fish habitat. Both of these projects were suspended when it became apparent that a larger project would be starting soon.

In 1999, the three levels of government announced a large project to revitalize Toronto's waterfront. Among the four initial projects was a plan to restore the mouth of the Don to a more natural outlet.

In 2005, an environmental assessment was initiated to investigate options to restore the original mouth of the Don. Some of the options being considered would fill in the Keating Channel and direct the Don River through a new channel just north of Lakeshore Boulevard or straight south to link up or cut the inner basin shipping channel to the south of the Keating Channel. The environmental assessment process is ongoing.

Proponents of restoring the mouth of the Don to a more natural state have argued that this restoration would ameliorate the damage expected from a rare flood with water-flow equal to or greater than that from 1954's Hurricane Hazel.[4]

See also


External links