Bridging the Gap for Over 200 Years

As part of our ‘Riverside 40 Years, 40 Stories’ series, we’re sharing the story of the bridge over the Don at Queen Street East. While it was once a less remarkable but always important passage into Toronto’s east, it has become an iconic landmark of the city under the Riverside BIA’s watch. Read on for its story…

The most identifiable and striking landmark when you enter our great neighbourhood from the downtown core is the iconic Queen Street Viaduct, known locally and affectionately as the Riverside Bridge.  This historic century-old bridge – which is at least the third version of a structure over the Don River – has long been a main thoroughfare to and from Toronto east.

Time Lapse night photo of the Riverside Bridge (Photo Credit: Ford Thurston)

Over the years, the impact of Riverside on the city of Toronto has continued to evolve.  In the 1800s, the land in the ever-changing east was an area consisting of brick yards, slaughterhouses, glue factories and tanneries. At that time, the east could hardly be called a destination; Rather, it was considered to be a staging area for the more popular and much more cultivated west end.

Located where King and Queen streets meet in the east, the construction of the Queen Street Viaduct, sparked the redevelopment of Toronto east and helped to shape Riverside into the vibrant district it is today.

Queen Street bridge over the Don River circa 1803 (Photo Credit: Toronto Reference Library. Baldwin Collection. JRR 520 Cab.jpg)

The first bridge that was built to span the Don River at Queen Street was of wood construction and commissioned by the Scadding family in 1803.  Their home, known as the oldest surviving structure in Toronto was built just south of the bridge. The wooden bridge was then replaced by a low hanging bridge of steel warren truss construction.  As traffic steadily increased, there was concern that this second bridge would be unable to support the increasing weight of vehicles and traffic on its roadway surface.  The low hanging bridge also presented difficulties for river traffic and was prone to ice jams in the winter.

Queen Street Bridge, looking north-west, September 28, 1910 Fonds 1231, Item 1610 (Photo Credit: City of Toronto Archives Series 376, s0376_fl0002_it0040a)

By 1909, the City of Toronto, which then owned the bridge, authorized the construction of the third and current reincarnation of the Queen Street Viaduct.  The outgoing bridge was shifted to one side in order to maintain its usage while construction of the larger and more extensive structure progressed.  The contract to build the new bridge was awarded to Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company of Darlington, England. An interesting note was that the steel for this project was produced by six different steel manufacturers that were then imported to Toronto from England and Scotland.  When the project was complete, the bridge was opened for streetcar traffic on October 8, 1911 followed by passage for all other vehicles 5 days later.

Queen Street Bridge shifted during construction of new bridge, November 21, 1910 (Photo Credit: City of Toronto Archives Series 376, s0376_fl1231_it0023a)

Aerial view of the Don River from Dundas Street to Queen Street, 1948 via @torontolibrary

By 1996, the Riverside BIA and City of Toronto commissioned artwork for the bridge. The ‘Time: And A Clock” series by Eldon Garnet and others was displayed atop the bridge at its entrance to Riverside, as well as on the four corners of Queen and Broadview, and on poles near Jimmie Simpson Park. For the past 24 years, the bridge artwork reading “The River I Step In, Is Not The River I Stand In” has intrigued and attracted people to Toronto’s east.  The quote refers to Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ notion that you cannot step in the same river twice due to its ever changing nature.  This remarkable artwork not only made the bridge an iconic landmark in Toronto, but it also helped sparked revitalization in the neighbourhood.

Caption: photo taken at the unveiling of the lights of the Riverside Gateway Bridge Project in June 2015

In 2012, the Riverside BIA and City of Toronto embarked on the Riverside Gateway Bridge project to illuminate the bridge to highlight the truss style steel architecture of the bridge as well to prominently feature the existing artwork. The project, a dream of BIA Chair Mitch Korman’s for over 10 years at the time, was realized as a 3-year capital improvement project withe the support of many local sponsors. The project was officially launched to much fanfare in 2015 during the Pan Am games in Toronto.

As a result, this iconic and beloved Riverside landmark has come to represent Riverside’s past, present, and future.

The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.