Philosopher’s Walk – A Hidden Downtown Retreat on Toronto’s Lost Creek

2020 - The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher's Walk between the Royal Ontario Museum and The Royal Conservatory of Music, looking south
2020 – The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher’s Walk between the Royal Ontario Museum and The Royal Conservatory of Music, looking south

Philosopher’s Walk is located downtown on the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto. The picturesque, hilly footpath runs north-south from Bloor St W to Hoskin Ave. It’s bound by the Royal Ontario Museum, the University of Toronto’s Edward Johnson Building and Faculty of Law, Trinity College and The Royal Conservatory of Music.

A Gathering Place for Indigenous Peoples

Before Toronto was settled, the land was filled with forests, marshes and waterways. It remains the traditional territories of Indigenous Nations which include the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. The area provided an abundance of vital food for the Indigenous peoples. That included wild rice, roots, beans, squash, corn and berries from the land along with trout and salmon from the rivers. One of those waterways was Taddle Creek.

The History of the Once Noble Taddle Creek

1880 - McCaul's Pond fed by Taddle Creek
1880 – McCaul’s Pond fed by Taddle Creek (University of Toronto Archives, 2009-55-1MS)

The 6 km river began at what we know today as the Wychwood Park neighbourhood. It bisected present-day Toronto, winding its way through to eventually drain into Lake Ontario at The Esplanade and Parliament Square Park – where the shoreline once was.

In the 1860s, the portion of Taddle Creek that flowed south through the University of Toronto grounds was dammed to create McCaul’s Pond. It was a popular spot for students for fishing, skating and socializing. Each fall, floundering freshmen were tossed into its waters during initiations.

Unfortunately, the creek was being used as a receptacle to dump industrial and residential waste. Through the development of Toronto, much of the river had been pushed into man-made caverns and sewers, diverting into the depths of Lake Ontario.

While McCaul’s Pond was a pastoral place, damming the creek to create the pond also made it a place where pollution was collected. Not only was it a public health hazard but there was also a very strong odour. In 1884, this section of the creek that swept through the University’s grounds was one of the last pieces to be covered.

The Creation of Philosopher’s Walk

Once buried, the gentle hills created by the Taddle Creek and its ravine became Philosopher’s Walk. For more than a century, University students and professors, as well as locals and visitors, have strolled through the scenic hollow for quiet contemplation.

The Alexandra Gates

1901- The Alexandra Gates in their original location on Queen's Park, just south of Bloor St W - created by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire to commemorate the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York
1901- The Alexandra Gates in their original location on Queen’s Park, just south of Bloor St W – created by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire to commemorate the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 180)

The northern entrance on Bloor St W is called The Alexandra Gates. Located just west of the Royal Ontario Museum, the gates were built in 1901. They were originally positioned at the northern entrance of Queen’s Park, just south of Bloor St W.

Also known as the Queen Alexandra Gateway, they were created by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, a women’s charitable organization, to commemorate a British royalty visit of the then Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. The gate is named after Alexandra who was the reigning Queen at that time. The structure was designed by the architect partnership of Chadwick & Beckett.  In 1906, the association formally gave the gateway to the City. It was moved twice to make way for road widening and the subway and in 1960, they were moved to their current location.

In 2009, the Alexandra Gates’ majestic stone pillars, ornate wrought ironwork and serpent-headed lamps were fully restored.

The Bennett Gates

2020 - The Bennett Gates on Hoskin Ave, at the south end of Philosopher's Walk
2020 – The Bennett Gates on Hoskin Ave, at the south end of Philosopher’s Walk

The southern entrance on Hoskin Ave is called the Bennett Gates. They’re located between Queens Park Cres W and Devonshire Place. Named after Avie Bennett, they were built in 2006 to commemorate the commitment and donations he made to the University. A Torontonian, Mr Bennett was a philanthropist, businessman and publisher.

Did You Know?

  • The name Taddle Creek is thought to be formed by mistake from the family name Tattle. In the 1840’s, the Tattle family homestead was located near St Clair Ave and Bathurst St. The waterway flowed through their farm and was the approximate source of Taddle Creek.
  • McCaul’s Pond was named after The Reverend John McCaul, the second president of the University of Toronto.
  • City planning documents called Philosopher’s Walk “a relic ravine topography and unique linear park.”
  • In 1995, the University of Toronto completed the extension southward to Hoskin Ave during a restoration of the walkway.
  • Midway through the footpath is a 20 to 30 seat amphitheatre made from Wiarton limestone. Built in 2010, it has been specially designed to be an acoustically energetic setting for casual lectures, live performances and other learning experiences.
  • Philosopher’s Walk is 375 m or 1,230 ft in length. It’s a nice spot to have some lunch and enjoy nature.
  • Even though the Taddle has been long banished below Toronto, it has been known to spring-up from time-to-time. A few notable occasions include at the Hart House Theatre (1930), the cellar of the University’s library stacks (1948) and when they were building Metropolitan Toronto Police Headquarters at College and Bay Sts (1985).
  • The last remains of Taddle Creek that are above ground can be see in the pond in the Wychwood Park area, north of Davenport Rd, between Bathurst and Christie Sts.

Philosopher’s Walk Photos

1901- The Alexandra Gates in their original location on Queen's Park, just south of Bloor St W - created by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire to commemorate the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York
1901- The Alexandra Gates in their original location on Queen’s Park, just south of Bloor St W – created by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire to commemorate the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 180)
2020 - The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher's Walk between the Royal Ontario Museum and The Royal Conservatory of Music, looking south
2020 – The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher’s Walk between the Royal Ontario Museum and The Royal Conservatory of Music, looking south
2020 - The former Taddle Creek created the gentle hills of Philosopher's Walk
2020 – The former Taddle Creek created the gentle hills of Philosopher’s Walk
2021 - The Bennett Gates at the south end of Philosopher's Walk, looking north
2021 – The Bennett Gates at the south end of Philosopher’s Walk, looking north
1868 - Taddle ravine and McCaul's Pond with University College in the background, looking southwest
1868 – Taddle ravine and McCaul’s Pond with University College in the background, looking southwest (Toronto Public Library r-3163)
1876 - Taddle Creek and McCaul's Pond with University College in the background, looking southwest
1876 – Taddle Creek and McCaul’s Pond with University College in the background, looking southwest (1876 watercolour by Lucius O’Brien – University of Toronto Archives, 2003-19-1MS)
1884 - Goads Map showing the location of Taddle Creek, McCaul's Pond and present-day Philosopher's Walk
1884 – Goads Map showing the location of Taddle Creek, McCaul’s Pond and present-day Philosopher’s Walk (Toronto Public Library)
1930 - The Alexandra Gates and Royal Ontario Museum, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Queens Park
1930 – The Alexandra Gates and Royal Ontario Museum, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Queens Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1140)
2020 - The wrought ironwork of the serpent-headed lamps on The Alexandra Gates, at the north end of Philosopher's Walk
2020 – The wrought ironwork of the serpent-headed lamps on The Alexandra Gates, at the north end of Philosopher’s Walk
2020 - Commemoration plaque on the Alexandra Gates at Philosopher's Walk
2020 – Commemoration plaque on the Alexandra Gates at Philosopher’s Walk
2020 - The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher's Walk, on the west side of the Royal Ontario Museum
2020 – The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher’s Walk, on the west side of the Royal Ontario Museum
1912 - Firefighters at Bloor St W and Queen's Park, looking southeast towards the east pillar of The Alexandra Gates in its original location, and the Department of Household Science Building
1912 – Firefighters at Bloor St W and Queen’s Park, looking southeast towards the east pillar of The Alexandra Gates in its original location, and the Department of Household Science Building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1382)
1920 - Queen's Park at Bloor St W, looking southeast towards the west pillar of The Alexandra Gates in its original location, and the Department of Household Science Building
1920 – Queen’s Park at Bloor St W, looking southeast towards the west pillar of The Alexandra Gates in its original location, and the Department of Household Science Building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7163)
1932 - The Alexandra Gates in their original location on Queen's Park, on the south side of Bloor St W - the Church of the Redeemer is on the northeast corner
1932 – The Alexandra Gates in their original location on Queen’s Park, on the south side of Bloor St W – the Church of the Redeemer is on the northeast corner (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 1, Item 1087)
2021 - The former location of The Alexandra Gates at Queen's Park and Bloor St W - the Church of the Redeemer is on the northeast corner
2021 – The former location of The Alexandra Gates at Queen’s Park and Bloor St W – the Church of the Redeemer is on the northeast corner
1993 - The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher's Walk, looking southeast to the Royal Ontario Museum
1993 – The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher’s Walk, looking southeast to the Royal Ontario Museum (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 179, ID 90)
2021 - The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher's Walk on Bloor St W, looking southwest towards The Royal Conservatory of Music
2021 – The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher’s Walk on Bloor St W, looking southwest towards The Royal Conservatory of Music
2021 - The north end of Philosopher's Walk at The Alexandra Gates entrance on Bloor St W, looking southwest towards The Royal Conservatory of Music
2021 – The north end of Philosopher’s Walk at The Alexandra Gates entrance on Bloor St W, looking southwest towards The Royal Conservatory of Music
2020 - The Amphiteatre at Philosopher's Walk
2020 – The Amphiteatre at Philosopher’s Walk
2020 - The Bennett Gates on Hoskin Ave, at the south end of Philosopher's Walk
2020 – The Bennett Gates on Hoskin Ave, at the south end of Philosopher’s Walk
1880 - McCaul's Pond fed by Taddle Creek
1880 – McCaul’s Pond fed by Taddle Creek (University of Toronto Archives, 2009-55-1MS)
2021 - Taddle Creek plaque located on the east side of Queen's Park, just south of Bloor St W
2021 – Taddle Creek plaque located on the east side of Queen’s Park, just south of Bloor St W
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