'It's very Canadian': The Bentway skating trail under Gardiner opens this weekend
Saturday opening includes music, surprise celebrity skaters and a breakdance troupe on blades
Torontonians will have a new spot in which to channel their inner Elizabeth Manley, as the first phase of The Bentway skating trail underneath the Gardiner Expressway is set to open Saturday morning.
For now, the trail is a 220 m "lazy figure 8" that loops between four "rooms" created by the big columns, or bents, that hold up the Gardiner near Fort York.
The trail opens at 11 a.m. Saturday, with opening day carrying on until 11 p.m. with music, meet-and-greets with surprise skating stars and a breakdance troupe that performs — you guessed it — on skates.
Mayor John Tory was at the trail earlier Friday and praised city staff and visionaries for making the project a reality.
"The fact that we are here, two years after this was talked about as a dream, is a testament to what can get done," he said.
Julian Sleath, CEO of The Bentway Conservancy, said the idea behind the city's newest public space is to give residents another way to celebrate winter.
"Well, it's very Canadian," Sleath, an Englishman who's lived in Canada for 17 years, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday.
"I think in the DNA of everybody is the desire to get out there in winter. And we thought, 'Well, here's another reason not to hibernate, not to stay indoors, but to come out and celebrate all the great winter stuff that happens here in Toronto."
Asked about transforming the space under the Gardiner into a place that people want to spend their time, Sleath called the west end of The Bentway "the most amazing cathedral," with 40- to 50-foot ceilings up to the deck of the Expressway.
"It's actually very light and airy and there's a great majesty to the concrete columns, or the bents, that support the deck," Sleath said.
The larger plan for The Bentway is to develop a full 1.7 km under the Gardiner. Next summer, an amphitheatre will open at the Strachan Avenue end that will host music and dance events, as well as film screenings.
"My crazy plan is to change how we think of all 18 km of the Gardiner Expressway," Sleath said. "That might take me a few years, but…I sincerely hope we will imagine the Gardiner in different parts in different ways."
Sleath recently met with nearly two-dozen different groups from cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh that are reimagining their major infrastructure as public space.
"I think there's a real enthusiasm for looking at this urban infrastructure and changing it," Sleath said.
"Everyone is looking at these big infrastructure projects and trying to change our interpretation of them. They are here to stay, so let's celebrate them. Let's enjoy them. And let's use them to connect ourselves across our cities."
While skaters are encouraged to bring their own blades, skate rentals are available. The trail is expected to remain open into March.