The Big Bet: The Toronto Harbour Commission, the Leslie Street Spit Airport and the Birth of Toronto’s Urban Reform Movement

Toronto Harbour Commission drawing of Bold Concept 1 with the Toronto Island Airport expanded and moved south of the Toronto Islands. Harbour City is in yellow. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 291, Item 6.

Toronto Harbour Commission drawing of Bold Concept 1 with the Toronto Island Airport expanded and moved south of the Toronto Islands. Harbour City is in yellow. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 291, Item 6.

In 1968 the federally appointed Toronto Harbour Commission (THC), desperate to generate revenue after the dream of a burgeoning Port of Toronto caused by the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway had foundered, drafted a visionary master plan for the development of the Central Toronto Waterfront called “A Bold Concept.” Launched without public consultation, the scheme sought to create a modernist “Harbour City” on newly created and repurposed land in the western portion of Toronto harbour. A necessary element of the plan was to relocate the Toronto Island Airport to a spur of landfilled breakwater called the Leslie Street Spit and transform it into an airport capable of accepting large commercial jets.


The airport proposal sparked a furious reaction from the residents of Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood, adjacent to the proposed airport. The citizens, a new coalition of traditional left-wing activists and conservationists opposed to development and middle-class house owners who did not want their home life disrupted by airport noise, joined together as ForWard 9. Protest meetings of more than 500 citizens shocked city planners and the technocrats of the THC and became another spark in an Toronto urban protest movement that was to merge with activists citywide and result in the election of the city’s first reform council under Mayor David Crombie in 1972.


But what was the legacy of this little-known episode in Toronto’s civic history and to what extent did the controversy over the Leslie Street Spit airport, which sparked the protests and the political coalition that produced ForWard 9, act as a catalyst, along with the Stop Spadina movement occurring at the same time, for the city-wide urban reform movement that resulted in the election of a transformative Reform Council four years later?


Until ForWard, 9 a new generation of Toronto citizen activists fought controversial urban developments such as Trefann Court (1966), Don Vale (1967) and Stop Spadina (1968) using a tool-kit of raucous public meetings and spirited opposition in Toronto City Council by a rump of reformist city councillors. None of the battles benefited from citizen participation in the planning bodies that made the actual decisions on these projects. In the tumultuous month of May 1970, for the first time, ForWard 9 succeeded in placing a representative on the planning committee for the proposed airport. It was a move that set a precedent and would cement the integration of citizen participation in Toronto urban planning decisions for generations to come.


The reason the Toronto Harbour Commission placed so large a bet and fought so hard to establish an international airport on what was to become the Leslie Street Spit (The Spit) can be traced to the agency’s foundations. At the beginning of the twentieth century Toronto’s waterfront had been neglected and mismanaged. It was a health hazard, increasingly silted in and of declining use for shipping. Toronto citizens laid the blame for the waterfront’s sorry condition on the city government’s pervasive climate of cronyism. The Toronto Board of Trade, in league with the federal government, set up an arm’s-length agency, above politics, to manage the waterfront and gave the body extraordinary powers. “There is no doubt the establishment of the Toronto Harbour Commission was a defining moment in the history of Toronto’s waterfront. From its establishment in 1911 to its dissolution and restructuring in 1999, the commission created more than eight hundred hectares of new land spanning nearly twenty kilometers of shore line and, in the process, fundamentally reshaped both the terrestrial and jurisdictional terrain of Toronto’s waterfront.” [1]


But as Desfor et al. note, this power created “baked-in” problems of accountability and funding that were to dog the THC for a century. [2] By design the Commission was self-financing. Its revenues came from shipping service fees, development tariffs for building on newly dredged land and, in later years, user fees from the Toronto Island Airport built in 1937. “Although the commission was quite successful in producing industrial land, its track record in attracting firms to locate in the Port Industrial District was less impressive.”[3] By 1929 the THC had created about 182 hectares of land, but had leased only 29 per cent of it. In fact, “ the industrial wave of waterfront land development that had begun with the 1912 plan was largely spent by the end of the 1940s.”[4] The THC was struggling fiscally.


Similarly, hoped-for new revenues from the St. Lawrence Seaway, opened in 1959, failed to materialize. As Reeves notes, “as early as 1966, the THC’s Seaway-related work was being viewed with scepticism. Containerization, rail and truck completion, federal transport policies and the behaviour of various shipping conferences inspired a downward spiral for the port. Toronto’s total and coastwise general cargo tonnages peaked in 1969, overseas tonnages reached their zenith in 1972.”[5]


Even THC plans for The Spit, which was to be the breakwater for a vast new Outer Harbour to replace and supplement Toronto’s old Inner Harbour, were appearing unrealistic. “While plans had been formalized to create an outer harbour in 1967, it was clear by then that additional capacity was not needed.“ [6] By the 1960s the fiscal strains on the THC and its ability to fix them via new revenues from new land development fees were further compromised by the agency’s lack of accountability, which had been “baked in” from its foundation. According to Desfor et al., “The development powers of the new commission were clear. But, accountability of [the THC] to Torontonians, the City and the national government…is a complicated matter.” [7] One of the complications was that “…in some important ways commissions are not intended to be accountable.” [8] They were “blue ribbon panels” and the ideology current among civic reform movements of the early twentieth century “advocated establishing semi-independent agencies composed of the city’s best and brightest citizens, who would direct municipal government.” [9] This was in reaction to the corruption and self-dealing prevalent in North American “clientalist” civic governments of that era, including Toronto’s.


Gene Desfor et. al. conclude that the flaws in the THC mandate represented a sort of original sin that created “…nearly a century of antagonism, most particularly between the City of Toronto and the commission, but also among other organizations with competing waterfront mandates.” [10]


Into this fraught situation, by the mid-1960s, the Commissioners knew they needed to produce a major financial breakthrough. They thought they had it when as part of the THC contribution to Metropolitan Toronto’s 1967 “The Waterfront Plan for the Metropolitan Planning Area” they were asked to produce a complementary report on the future of the central waterfront and in particular THC’s money-losing Toronto Island Airport.


In January, 1968 the THC released “A Bold Concept: A Conceptual Plan for the development of the city of Toronto Waterfront,” described as “A bold new concept …it is Tomorrow’s Waterfront Today…It is living; it is commerce; it is fun; it is beauty; it is coordinated and balanced.”[11] The most radical part of the proposal was Harbour City. Extending from the foot of Yonge Street to Bathurst Quay and onto Toronto Island, it was to offer “a form of urban living virtually unique on the continent, housing 50,000 people on a 400-acre site…linked by internal waterways, pedestrian pathways and automobile routes.”[12]


The first iteration, Bold Concept I, proposed moving Toronto Island Airport to a new larger site built on landfill off Gibraltar Point south of the existing islands. The plan called for the construction of “A 7000-foot length of runway… adequate to accommodate 90-passenger inter-city jet aircraft of the DC-9 type…A second 4000-foot runway is planned for the convenience of light aircraft.”[13]


For the Commissioners it made perfect sense. They would relocate the deficit-strapped Island Airport, whose revenues were restricted by the fact that the THC could not build a road to the airport from downtown, to The Spit which would be accessible by road and large enough to attract commercial jets and the lucrative landing right contracts they would generate. Meanwhile the freed-up airport lands could become Harbour City and be subject to lucrative new development fees.


When federal officials argued that flight paths of jets landing at the Gibraltar Point airport would conflict with planes landing at Malton Airport in Toronto’s northwest, the THC issued Bold Concept II, which proposed moving the new airport to The Spit off of Toronto’s eastern beaches.

Bold Concept II moved the airport to the Leslie Street Spit, south of Toronto's Eastern Beaches. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 291, Item 14.

Bold Concept II moved the airport to the Leslie Street Spit, south of Toronto’s Eastern Beaches. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 291, Item 14.

As was standard practice the THC circulated the plans, including the airport relocation, to a tight circle of technocrats and planners in the four levels of government effected (federal, provincial, Metro Toronto and City of Toronto), but not to the public. This was not surprising. Top-down civic planning was the order of the day, especially for the THC. Aside from the lack of accountability written into its mandate, the THC had become gun shy of public scrutiny. The reason dates to 1922 when the so-called Denton inquiry, a royal commission into allegations of political favouritism, construction incompetence and corruption focused on the THC for two years. “Although no criminal charges were laid, the Harbour Commission became defensive, and ‘retreated into their board rooms’ with little concern for providing public accountability.” [14]


Until the late 1960s however, the top-down system had worked well. But things were changing around the world and particularly in Toronto. “…Toronto in the late 1960s was immersed in acrimonious debates about its future, as citizen groups rose up to oppose the demolition and rebuilding of old neighbourhoods.”[15]


The new civic oppositional alliances were an uneasy coalition of two groups, according to Richard White, “New Left political radicals who had it in for capitalist ‘developers’ and who strove to empower local communities in their struggle against the technocratic state, and middle-class homeowners…who wanted to enjoy their comfortable urban homes and protect their urban property values.”[16]


Citizens reacted against what James C. Scott has called a high modernist urban vision among city planners and applied to urban developments, a doctrine of authoritarian high modernism aimed at harnessing the benefits of technical and scientific progress. In this view, “scientific knowledge constituted a supreme authority, and politics were consequently downplayed or excluded altogether. There was a single, best solution to any problem – usually a large-scale project that required a public authority to fund and orchestrate the plan.” [17]


Civic activists rejected this approach and “challenged authorities with an alternative vision for cities that prioritized safeguarding the urban environment by preserving communities, preventing environmental degradation, and promoting public transit.” [18]


According to John Sewell, former Toronto mayor (1979-1980) and leading 1960s civic activist, “Growing numbers of people [in Toronto] questioned their political representatives and no longer accepted city planners as impartial experts. These emerging citizen activists were typically upper-middle-class white-collar workers, often intellectuals, who possessed the necessary political and media savvy to advocate effectively.” [19]


Still, as Kevin Brushett cautions, urban activism was not entirely new in Toronto in the 1960s. Civic action against “top-down” urban renewal planning was evident in the late 1940s, but most efforts at collective action and change were ineffective, crippled by a civic climate of anti-Communism.[20]


The relative success of Toronto’s new civic activism was due in part to the building of strong coalitions but also a new atmosphere of societal change seen in events like Expo 67, the election of Pierre Trudeau in 1968 and the evolution of counter-culture elements in centers like Toronto’s Yorkville. And change was not just occurring in large centers like Toronto.


Describing a citizen’s movement to manage and slow development in the late 1960s in the Toronto-area village of Bronte, Steve Penfold details the conflict: “Residents pressed their claims on the municipal government, adopting much the same rhetoric as the citizen participation movement sweeping through municipalities across Canada. By the late 1960s, diverse constellations of community organizers, political radicals, ratepayers associations, historical preservations, anti-highway activists and not-in-my-backyard homeowners pressed municipal governments on a number of common issues.”[21]


Sewell notes that in 1969 Toronto was poised for change. “The city had grown and changed since the end of the Second World War, but its decision makers at city hall seemed musty, unimaginative and out of touch. They believed in clearing the past out of the way to welcome in the future…. They didn’t listen to what people in the neighbourhoods had to say.”[22]


Writing in 1971, at the height of the citizen insurrections in Toronto, activist and University of Toronto professor Alan Powell described the underlying contextual problem in Toronto in the late 1960s, arguing the system of metropolitan government in Toronto laboured under “the myth that ‘old is bad,’” and that the political and planning establishment operated under a set of assumptions that “was predicated on the continual growth of suburbs and the death of the working class residential core [of Toronto.]” [23]


The new citizen activists mistrusted the assumptions of planners and viewed comprehensive urban plans they generated with distain. Urban planning critic Jane Jacobs, who lived the later part of her life in Toronto, dismissively referred to them as “Master plans (both the name and the concept reeking of hubris) accompanied by rules regulations, standards and subsidies…”[24]


Ken Greenberg, a Toronto planning consultant, who as a young student lived in Toronto’s Beaches and fought both the Spit Airport and later plans for a Scarborough Expressway, recalls that there was a feeling of optimism in the air. “It wasn’t a dichotomy between left and right as we have now. It was a battle between the old guard and reformers who were talking about doing things in a new way. It was about a different kind of city, a different kind of community life. The THC was very much the old boys club, the old ways of doing business. They showed a kind of disregard for that new and emerging set of values.” [25]


Many of the older technocrats and planners on the receiving end of these disruptive actions and attitudes were mystified by the cultural changes that made them the targets of the new activists .


Toronto Daily Star writer William Bragg asked pro-Spadina Expressway Metro Commissioner of Roads and Traffic Sam Cass about this cultural change in January 1970. His response was, “The only answer that I can give – and I don’t think it’s a satisfactory answer – is that in very recent years we have seen a tremendous change in the attitude of some people generally which has resulted in protests by primarily youth, but not necessarily, against almost every social and physical institution that has been accepted in the past.”[26]


By 1968 in Toronto, civic group opposition to top-down urban renewal schemes in Trefann Court, Don Vale and the proposed building of the Spadina Expressway through residential areas of downtown Toronto had roiled the political waters. Into this simmering brew the THC introduced the Bold Concept and its plan for a commercial jet airport off the Eastern Beaches. Residents of Toronto’s Ward 9, the Beaches, learned of the scheme via a three-page story in the Port of Toronto News in September 1969.[27] There was an uproar among residents, who feared noisy, smelly jets would be thundering over their quiet streets day and night if the THC plan succeeded.


According to Ken Greenberg, in 1968 the Beaches was also in transition. Until the late 1960s it had been an Anglo-Saxon, working-class neighbourhood, heavily Orange Protestant. “Into the mix came a whole bunch of new people like myself, young professionals and people from all over the world. The opposition [to the Spit Airport] was a really interesting coalition of young renters with new-left sensibilities and old small-c conservative neighbourhood people who owned their houses. It gave the Beaches an almost ornery sensibility about itself.” The newcomers “brought energy and gumption in terms of challenging authority. The old-timers had strong values about protecting neighbourhoods and communities. That combination became the formula for all these movements that formed to defend the city and elect the reform council [in 1972].” [28]


The two opponents–old-style technocrats and politicians with a tradition of top-down planning and the new citizen activists–clashed over the Spit Airport. Controversy started early. On October 21, 1969 Toronto City Clerk Edgar Jones sent a warning letter to THC General Manager E.B. Griffiths telling him that an east-end alderman had said that, “a great deal of concern has been shown by residents in the east end of the city over the effect that this [Spit airport] project will have on their area.” He also complained that “the City of Toronto Planning Board has been unable to obtain precise information as to the exact location of the proposed airport and has not been invited to take part in any of the preliminary discussions.” [29]


Six days later J. Douglas McNish, then THC Board Chairman, sent a defensive letter to the Mayor and the Board of Control complaining, “I resent the implication that the Harbour Commissioners were guilty of withholding information regarding the proposed airport and were dealing with this matter in some hole-in-the-corner manner. The reverse, of course, is true.” He argued that “only a concept has been put forward to date” and that until it is decided “we should not be raising needless doubts and fears in a large segment of the city.” [30]


Richard White evinces some sympathy for the THC’s claims that they did consult and did consider the effect of their projects on the city’s residents. “Postwar modernist urbanism tends to be thought of as a unitary thing, a particular mindset, but top-down Toronto urban renewal projects conceived in 1955 were strikingly different from those conceived in 1965, suggesting a responsiveness to the world around them that urban renewal advocates are not supposed to have had.”[31]Moreover, White argues, not all urban planning technocrats were “of one mind – they clearly disagreed among one another – nor of a fixed mindset – their thinking evolved over time, suggesting that the high modernist technocrat actually may have possessed a little humanity.”[32]


In fact THC archives contain many letters and memos among THC, Metro and city officials discussing engineering and legal considerations of building an airport on the Spit. The THC alerted city officials as early as December 23, 1968 that the “East Headland” that was to become the Leslie Street Spit was under consideration for a major airport.[33] But none were copied to residents or their representatives.


As a result, citizens in the Beaches felt blindsided by the plan revealed to them in the THC newsletter. NDP politician and would-be aldermanic candidate in Ward 9, the Beaches, Reid Scott organized the first protest meeting on November 13, 1969. He drew 500 people. According to newspaper reports, Scott said that the “airport would make the east end one of the more uncomfortable places to live in Metro because of noise and air pollution from jets using the airport.” He called for a “non-partisan” committee of residents and elected officials to “study the plan in detail. To keep the public fully informed and to seek its views to prepare briefs and make representations to different levels of government.”[34]


The initial protests resulted in two things. In November 1969 the city formed a Joint Airport Technical Committee (JATC) to study the matter. The committee comprised officials from the City’s Planning Board, Development Department and Public Works Department, the Metro Toronto Planning Board and the Toronto Harbour Commission. Significantly there was no citizen representation on the JATC. [35] And in February 1970 Beaches citizens formed a new citizen’s action group called ForWard 9 to voice their views [36]


Unrest at the proposed airport continued to build through the spring of 1970. It reached a boiling point in the series of events concentrated in May. “May 1970 was a zenith of sorts for “people power” in the fight against the waterfront airport.” [37]


On May 6, 500 people crowded into St. Lawrence Hall to protest airport plans in a meeting organized by ForWard 9. The crowd grilled representatives of the City Planning Board about the need for a waterfront airport. Planners acknowledged the plan needed more study. “This public confrontation…ended without resolution of the issue but it marked a victory for ForWard 9 in elevating the waterfront airport issue to general public scrutiny from just being an ‘east-end issue.’” [38]


The THC did not react well to the rising anti-Leslie-Street-airport clamour. J.D. McNish, THC Chairman, complained to the meeting, “I resent the implication that the Commission is withholding information. We’re on trial here and we haven’t committed an offence.” [39]


The THC provided an inviting target for the young activists. According to Phil Carter a Toronto architect and former Chairman of ForWard 9, “They just operated their little fiefdom down there at the Toronto Harbour Commission. They had no accountability to anyone. …The Harbour Commissioner had his own yacht. He would take people out in his fancy boat. It’s like they had their own kingdom down there.” [40]


The newspapers began to weigh in. On May 8 the Toronto Star editorialized: “Building an airport out in the lake doesn’t show much imagination. The trick is to find a site that wouldn’t spoil the lifestyle of a pleasant part of the city.” [41]


A week later ForWard 9’s Airport Task Force called another meeting at a local church. 500 attended. They chose Dr. Gerald Hodge, Associate Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Toronto, as their prospective representative to the city committee on airports.[42] City Council took notice. On May 15, 1970 Council, after much debate and opposition from conservative aldermen, voted to appoint Hodge to the JATC committee. It was an historic move in Toronto’s citizen protest movement. [43]


Reporting on Hodge’s appointment, the Toronto Star’s William Cameron noted that Hodge would be the first private citizen in Canada appointed to such a committee.”That doesn’t sound very revolutionary. It is, in fact, a radical change in the way municipal politicians and planners deal with citizen’s groups. For the first time, a group representative is going to be allowed to participate in the planning sessions of a crucial public facility.” Cameron quotes new Ward 9 alderman Reid Scott, who moved that Toronto City Council approve Hodge and was elated after his motion passed with the surprise backing of old-guard Mayor William Dennison. “I don’t know if they realize what it is that they’ve just done. This sets a precedent certainly. It gives citizen’s groups the right to be consulted in the planning, pre-political stages of a project that concerns them…If they’d had this kind of thing on the Spadina Expressway, that whole tragedy would never have arisen…This could be the answer.” [44]


The federal government quickly threw in the towel. Shortly after the May 14 church rally, federal Transportation Minister Don Jamieson wrote to ForWard 9 organizers saying the federal government had no intention of constructing an airport for jet aircraft on the Toronto waterfront, but he did not rule out an airport that accommodated Short Take-off and Landing (STOL) propeller-driven planes. [45] As Hodge noted, “Jamieson was throwing the ball back to the local technocrats.” [46]


Through the fall and winter of 1970, ForWard 9 struggled to prepare a technical brief to JATC that would argue against the need for an airport. But “when they requested information from government sources, they were told everything was confidential…One important study was finally obtained through the fortuitous seating arrangement of a ForWard 9 member on an Ottawa plane next to the technocrat who had written the study.” [47]


ForWard 9 kept up the pressure. Writing in the Toronto Star, Dorothy Thomas, a ForWard 9 member who was two years later to become a Ward 9 Alderman, warned that although many in the Beaches had breathed a sigh of relief when Jamieson announced there would be no jet aircraft on the waterfront, there was much ambiguity in the statement and that even a STOL airport at the foot of Leslie would amount to “a scheme to rape yet another of Toronto’s few remaining natural resources for the convenience of some mythical ‘busy executives’…according to [Toronto] mayor William Dennison. “ [48]

Drawing of proposed airport on the Leslie Street Spit. City of Toronto Archives , Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 291, Item 6.

Drawing of proposed airport on the Leslie Street Spit. City of Toronto Archives , Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 291, Item 6.

Meanwhile, Jack Jones THC Chief Engineer, author of the Bold Concept and old- school planning technocrat, had lost all patience with this new process of consultation, complaining to General Manager E.B. Griffiths in a confidential memo that the JATC “includes people definitely opposed to a waterfront airport” and that the committee is just “a means by which those opposed to a new waterfront airport could block the resolution of the airport issue.” He notes that a final report from the JATC is still two or three years away and recommends that the THC, as true stewards of the waterfront, should go over the heads of the Committee. “The THC [is] in effect the waterfront aviation authority and in my opinion should report directly to their principals on the City of Toronto Executive Committee.” [49] In the event, Griffiths did not follow Jones’s advice and the work of the JATC ground on.


In the interim the THC was being bled dry by mounting deficits from the Toronto Island airport, which General Manager Griffiths totalled at $1,926,000 from 1962 to 1972. [50] Meanwhile Jack Jones continued to stir the pot, telling the Royal Canadian Institute in February 1972 that the THC still believed the Spit was the best place for a new airport, generating a thunderous letter from ForWard 9 spokesman and York University professor Roy Merrens to the THC’s new Chair J.H. Addison demanding a clarification. [51]


But Jones was too late. A month later, on March 14, 1972, the federal government dropped a bombshell on the JATC. G.E. McDowell, Toronto Area Airport Projects, Department of Transport rose to address the committee. He reminded them that two weeks earlier, on March 2, 1972 the federal government announced its intention to build a second Toronto international airport north of Pickering. He went on to tell the committee that the provincial government had indicated that all plans for Harbour City were terminated and that any studies on the suitability of a STOL airport for Toronto would now be confined to the existing (Island) airport only. And that their duties would be wound down.[52]


The Spit Airport saga was effectively over. ForWard 9 had won.


Over time, the loss of the THC’s Bold Concept bet led to deep changes in the agency. By January 1974 Roy Merrens had been named a Harbour Commissioner. By 1976 the THC had a Director of Public Information and Community Relations, and by 1994, reflecting recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront, THC’s role was restricted to management of port facilities and the Island Airport. The development of surplus port lands, once the purview of the THC, passed to the city.[53] In 1999 the name of the diminished agency was changed to the Toronto Port Authority.


For its part, ForWard 9, which was spawned in opposition to the Spit Airport, “moved fairly quickly from defensive issues [such as opposing the proposed Scarborough Expressway] to going on the offensive.” [54] The group used Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation funding to found a housing coop, Forward 9 Homes, which bought and renovated homes in the ward and offered them as co op housing units, of which 70 continue to operate. [55] In 1972 ForWard 9 member Dorothy Thomas was elected to Toronto City Council, joining other civic activists in a cohort often called the Reform Council, led by mayor David Crombie.


Prior to the placement of ForWard 9 member Gerald Hodge on the JATC, technocrats talking only to one another was the accepted way project planning was conducted in Toronto. After Hodge’s appointment citizen inclusion in planning became the norm. Citizens in east-end Toronto were emboldened. “ForWard 9 members felt like we had made a difference,” recalled Ken Greenberg, “We felt like we now had capacity.” [56]


Greenberg draws a direct line from the legacy of ForWard 9 to a recent set of citizen groups that have successfully defended the Toronto waterfront against what they saw as exploitive development, citing Code Blue which rallied citizens from across Toronto to derail plans for a ferris wheel and casino development in Toronto’s Port Lands, No Casinos Toronto which fought to keep a planned casino out of Ontario Place and No Jets which continues to lobby to prevent jet aircraft from gaining landing rights to Toronto Island Airport.[57]


The battle over the Leslie Street Spit Airport had a clear winner and a clear loser. The Toronto Harbour Commission (renamed Ports Toronto in 2015) was ultimately unable to overcome its twin historical burdens of a precarious self-financing fiscal model and its structural lack of accountability, which led to a certain tone-deafness to the cultural and political changes occurring in Toronto in the late 1960s. Both deficits led to the defeat of the Bold Concept and the agency’s steady decline in influence over larger issues of Toronto waterfront development after the 1970s.


For its part, ForWard 9 capitalized on Toronto’s civic reformist wave of the late 1960s and the earlier organizational example of citizen protests in Trefann Court, Don Vale and especially the Stop Spadina movement. It’s lasting contribution to the growth of neighbourhood agency in Toronto, however, was to place a citizen on a major planning body for the first time. This became a model and allowed citizens direct influence on policy creation and the ability to “outlast” bureaucratic inertia and achieve their desired community outcome. It was to be an enduring legacy.


[1] Gene Desfor, Lucian Vesalon, Jennefer Laidley, “Establishing the Toronto Harbour Commission,” 49-74, in Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront, Gene Desfor and Jennifer Laidley, University of Toronto Press, 2011, 72.

[2] Ibid., 73.

[3] Ibid., 67.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wayne C. Reeves, Visions for the Metropolitan Toronto Waterfront: Forging a Regional Identity, 1913-68. Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, April 1993, 120.

[6] Tenley Conway, “The Lower Don River and Ashbridge’s Bay,” 151-174, in Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront, 169.

[7] Desfor et al., “Establishing the Toronto Harbour Commission,” 68.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 73.

[11]  A Bold Concept: A Conceptual Plan for the development of the city of Toronto Waterfront, Toronto Harbour Commission, January 1968, Archives of Toronto (AOT), Fond 265, Series 1270, Subseries 2, File 7.

[12] Reeves, Visions for the Metropolitan Toronto Waterfront: Forging a Regional Identity, 1913-68, 89.

[13] A Bold Concept, 31.

[14] Desfor et al., “Establishing the Toronto Harbour Commission,” 70.

[15] Richard White, “St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, What It Is and Why,” in Urban Explorations, L. Anders Sandberg et al., (eds.), L. R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History, McMaster University, Hamilton, 2013, 41-58, 43.

[16] Ibid., 44.

[17] Danielle Robinson, “Modernism at a Crossroad: The Spadina Expressway Controversy in Toronto, Ontario ca. 1960–1971,” Canadian Historical Review, Vol.92, No. 2, 2011, 295-322, 296.

[18] Ibid., 297.

[19] John Sewell, The Shape of the City: Toronto Struggles with Modern Planning, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1993, 299-300.

[20] Kevin Brushett ,”People and Government Travelling Together: Community Organization, Urban Planning and the Politics of Post-War Reconstruction in Toronto 1943-1953,” Urban History Review,Vol. 27, No. 2, March 1999, 44-58, 55.

[21] Steve Penfold, “Are we to go literally to the hot dogs? Parking Lots, Drive-ins, and the Critique of Progress in Toronto’s Suburbs, 1965–1975,”
Urban History Review, Vol. 33, No. 1, 2004, p. 8-23, 13.

[22] John Sewell, How We Changed Toronto, James Lorimer & Company, Toronto, 2015, 29.

[23] Alan Powell, “Neighbourhoods and Participation,” 73-79, in The City, Attacking Modern Myths, Alan Powell, (ed.), McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1972, 78.

[24] : Jane Jacobs, Forward, in The Shape of the City, Toronto Struggles with Modern Planning, John Sewell, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1993, ix.

[25] Ken Greenberg, interview by author, March 4, 2016.

[26] William Bragg, “The Unflappable Official at the Centre of the Spadina Expressway Row,” Toronto Daily Star, January 17, 1970.

[27] : “Airborne in 7 Minutes: Waterfront Location Under Study,” Port of Toronto News, Vol.16, No. 2, 1969, 1-3.

[28] Greenberg, interview by author, March 4, 2016.

[29] Ports Toronto Archive ( hereafter PTA), RG3/3, Box 75, Folder 9, “Letter from Toronto City Clerk Edgar Jones to THC General Manager E.B. Griffiths,” October 21, 1969.

[30] PTA, RG3/3, Box 75, Folder 9, “Letter from THC Board Chairman J. Douglas McNish to Toronto Mayor William Dennison and the Toronto Board of Control,” October 27, 1969.

[31] Richard White, “Urban Renewal Revisited: Toronto, 1950 to 1970,” The Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 97, No. 1, March 2016, 4.

[32] Ibid., 33.

[33] PTA, RG3/3, Box 75, Folder 8, “Memo from Chief Engineer Jack Jones to Airport Manager I.H. McCuaig,” December 23, 1968.

[34] “East End residents organize to oppose waterfront airport,” The Globe and Mail, November 14, 1969, 5.

[35] : Gerald Hodge, “The Care and Feeding of an Airport, or, The Technocrat as Midwife,” 210-219, in Alan Powell, The City, Attacking Modern Myths, Alan Powell, (ed.), McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1972, 213.

[36] James Lorimer, “Will people in the East End trust the planners?”, The Globe and Mail, February 23, 1970, 7.

[37] Hodge, “The Care and Feeding of an Airport, or, The Technocrat as Midwife,” 214.

[38] Ibid., 215.

[39] Claire Hoy, “Questions, but no answers at waterfront meeting,” The Toronto Evening Telegram, May 7, 1970, 5.

[40] Phil Carter interview by author, March 3, 2016.

[41]”Hold the airport,” The Toronto Daily Star, May 8, 1970, 25.

[42] “Ward 9 airport fight”, The Toronto Evening Telegram, May 14, 1970, 37.

[43]  Hodge, “The Care and Feeding of an Airport, or, The Technocrat as Midwife,” 215.

[44] William Cameron, “Metro has first citizen’s nominee on crucial planning agency,” The Toronto Daily Star, May 16, 1970, 21.

[45] PTA, RG 313, Box 76, Folder 1, “Press Release from ForWard 9 Chairman Fred Watt,” May 21, 1970.

[46] Hodge, “The Care and Feeding of an Airport, or, The Technocrat as Midwife, 215.

[47] Ibid., 216-217.

[48] Dorothy Thomas, “That waterfront airport still threatens the beaches,” letter to The Toronto Daily Star, May 29, 1970, 7.

[49] PTA, RG 313, Box 76, Folder 1, “Memo from Chief Engineer Jack Jones to THC General Manager E.B. Griffiths,” August 16, 1971.

[50] PTA, RG 313, Box 76, Folder 2, “Letter to Clerk of City of Toronto from THC General Manger E.B. Griffiths,” December 21, 1973.

[51] PTA, RG 313, Box 76, Folder 2, “Letter from ForWard 9’s Roy Merrens to THA Chairman J.H. Addison,” February 19, 1972.

[52] PTA, RG 313, Box 76, Folder 2, “Memo from Airport Manager I.H. McCuaig to THC Chairman J.H. Addison,” March 23, 1972.

[53] Ted Wickson, Reflections of Toronto Harbour, Toronto Port Authority, Toronto, 2002, 106.

[54] Greenberg, interview by author, March 4, 2016.

[55] Carter, interview by author, March 3, 2016.

[56] Greenberg, interview by author, March 4, 2016.

[57] Ibid.


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