Toronto Central Waterfront

Toronto, Ontario

Photo Credit: West 8


Initial Research by: Desiree Theriault

Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2017



Project: Toronto Central Waterfront

Type of Urban StrategyWater 

Type of ProjectRiver Walk / Promenade Plaza 

LocationToronto, Ontario 

Date Designed/Planned: 2006

Construction Completed 2011

DesignerWest 8, DTAH


Toronto Central Waterfront began as a response to the complexities of past development on the waterfront edge. The rift between the water's edge and downtown Toronto continued to push the diverse neighbourhoods of Toronto away from one of its most majestic assets - Lake Ontario. 


The dramatic re-development of Toronto's Waterfront marks a pivotal point in Toronto's social, historical, cultural, and economic movements. The Central Waterfront project, funded in 2006 by Toronto Waterfront and the City of Toronto, provides the adhesive to create a visually cohesive, aesthetically pleasing and public-oriented downtown. This project not only activates the surrounding downtown landscape, but also the Lake of Ontario's water edge.


Toronto’s Central Waterfront is an environmentally conscious urban design process that aims to define an identity and vision for the City of Toronto’s downtown business district. Historically, the site’s proximity to desired equity has formed a substantial amount of urban growth creating decades of scattered planning and mix development. West 8 was invited to produce a plan and vision for the area that would take the disjointed site and create a coherent visual character that feels apart of the Greater Toronto Area.

The project features a 3.5 Km continuous water’s edge promenade, stretching along Lake Ontario, that invites connectivity between the metropolis and the waterfront. This creates a publicly accessible waterfront by using a simple typology to stitch together the business district to the rest of the surrounding downtown.

The project takes on a vital role in elegantly agglomerating the visual noise of the Greater Toronto region and creating a succinct plan and character for the area that stimulates growth, sustainability, community and captures the culture of the City.

(ArchDaily, 2011)


The funding for Toronto’s Waterfront central is provided by the Waterfront Revitalization Initiative’s 10-year capital funding. The project falls under the $1.5 billion allotted to the revitalization of Toronto’s Waterfront and utilized $36 million towards the reconstruction of Queens Quay and another $4.4 million towards the Toronto’s Waterfront Central walkways.

(Waterfront Toronto, n.d.)


Toronto’s Waterfront Central is bordered by Bathurst Street to Lower Jarvis Street, found south of Lake Shore Boulevard to Lake Ontario. It provides stunning views towards Lake Ontario and stimulates a strong visual edge for the Greater Toronto Area. The promenade features a 1.8km long by 12 m wide promenade along with an 8m wide boardwalk connected through five timber footbridges. Multiple trails such as the Martin Goodman Trail and the Pedestrian Promenade provides accessible connections points from Toronto’s diverse communities towards the waterfront.

(ArchDaily, 2011)


In the 1970s, the City of Toronto witnessed a boom in urban growth that shifted the comprehensive vision and character for the downtown area. The overall result created a patchwork quilt of development along the waterfront – which clouded one of Toronto’s major assets its business district. Throughout the years, many planners, researchers, and developers tasked themselves with addressing the multiplicity of the area publishing studies, proposing urban schemes, and creating hypothesises. However, with much of the efforts put towards understanding the agglomeration of Toronto’s Waterfront, little to no major redevelopment has taken place. It wasn’t until 2006, where Waterfront Toronto launched an innovative design competition to revitalize the waterfront of the city. West 8 submitted an extensive plan that would respond to the visual noise of the Business District and provide a sense of interconnectedness, continuity and identity.

West 8’s strategic master plan for the Toronto Waterfront looks at reconstructing the Queens Quay Boulevard to address the lack of pedestrian friendly public space; the integrating of a series of floating components to enhance connectivity between the public realm and the waterfront; wave decks at every pinch point of the water’s edge for a unique look and identity; and lastly looking at creating multiple connection nodes from Toronto’s diverse neighborhoods towards the Lake Ontario. In order to create a visually connected public realm for Toronto’s Waterfront, the project looks at utilizing simple materials such as timber and stone and neutral palettes that seamlessly blend the business district with the rest of Toronto’s Downtown.

(Waterfront Toronto, n.d.)


One of the main problems outlined in Toronto Waterfront was to address the connectivity issues along downtown Toronto’s waterfront and the rest of the downtown neighbourhood. The project would need to enhance the public realm at the water’s edge and supply a renewed sense of identity and character to the area.

Toronto’s Waterfront Central responds to these issues by creating a new public gateway to the waterfront, utilizing a simple material palette to tie together the rest of the downtown and providing a distinguished and uniformed identity of public open space for Torontonians to explore.

(ArchDaily, 2011)


The major goal of the project was to create a ‘world-class’ identity for the central waterfront of Toronto by creating a public axis towards Lake Ontario. This creates a space that becomes both a sustainable journey towards Lake Ontario and an ultimate definer for Canadian lakefront experience.

(ArchDaily, 2011)


In order to be successful in its transformation, the Toronto Central Waterfront was developed with a number of site planning principles to activate the edges of the waterfront and create a strong character and identity to the downtown business area. The proposal was split into two phases to accommodate the growth of the waterfront area.

During the summer of 2006, West 8 was able to make preliminary design propositions for Queens Quay Boulevard to analyze the benefits and successes of the potential proposal. The prelude to the first phase of implementation included testing of the closure of the south side of the street and its impact on the rest of Toronto, the creation of bicycle lanes, picnic lawn, and a long promenade. The success of the preliminary prelude provided the means to continue the phases of the project.

Phase one carried out in 2010 with the demolition of Ireland Park’s germination and kiln buildings onsite.

Phase two of the project brought in a 9.7-meter-wide granite promenade that stretched along 130 meters of the Portland Slip and Lake Ontario, along with the planting of 25 lined mature maple trees to emphasize the Canadian-identity of the space.

Today, Toronto’s beautiful waterfront transformation is an ‘engine for economic growth’. It boasts the creation of more than 40,000 new residents and more than 40,000 new jobs. It has provided a new sense of place to Toronto’s waterfront.

(ArchDaily, 2011)


The role of the designers was to create a masterplan that would respond to the challenges put forth by the competition brief. This would mean creating a new public realm for Toronto’s waterfront.

(ArchDaily, 2011)


Toronto Central Waterfront began essentially as a response to the complexities of past development on the waterfront edge. The rift between water’s edge and downtown Toronto continued to push the diverse neighbourhoods of Toronto away from one of its most majestic assets – Lake Ontario.

The dramatic re-development of Toronto’s Waterfront marks a pivotal point in Toronto’s social, historical, cultural and economic movements. The Central Waterfront project, funded in 2006 by Toronto Waterfront and the City of Toronto, provides the adhesive to create a visually cohesive, aesthetically pleasing and public oriented downtown that not only activates the surrounding downtown landscape, but also Lake of Ontario’s water edge.


Kelly Minner. "Toronto Central Waterfront / West 8 and DTAH" 15 Feb 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 10 May 2017. N.a. "Benefits of Toronto Waterfront Renewal - Overview - Waterfront Renewal | City of Toronto." n.d. Web. 10 May 2017. Waterfront Toronto. "history & heritage." n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.


Building a new Queens Quay - the completed revitalization has turned Queens Quay West into a waterfront boulevard with space for everyone, including a generous tree-lined promenade, and cycling connections that transform the area into a vibrant people place

Creating a continuous water’s edge promenade and boardwalk connected by dramatic timber footbridges

Encouraging lively marine activity with the installation of a series of finger piers; and

Connecting the entire waterfront using a consistent palette of trees, furnishings and materials such as granite paving surfaces, cedar wood decking and benches, brushed stainless steel railings and timber and aluminium light poles.

(ArchDaily, 2011)


The comprehensive vision of Toronto’s Waterfront Central produces a cohesive and strategic plan that not only interconnects the surrounding communities – but also provides a new-found identity to the area. West 8 has managed to pull in the surrounding metropolis context while maintaining a simple material palette that prevails over the visual noise of Toronto’s Waterfront.

The Toronto Waterfront Central has provided the City of Toronto with a unique ability to pull in the downtown core towards the water, re-imagining the urban fabric of the city itself.

(ArchDaily, 2011)