Port Lands businesses welcome development to ‘underused’ Toronto waterfront

When it comes to Sidewalk Lab’s contentious plans to develop Toronto’s Port Lands, Trevor Welsh has no axe to grind. But he does have one to throw.

The 40-year-old general manager of BATL Toronto — an axe throwing facility on Villiers St. — says improving the Port Lands with public transit, businesses, neighbourhoods and attractions will boost reasons for people to visit the area.

Reasons that might include, oh, say, hurling a hatchet at a wooden bull’s-eye.

“The more, the merrier,” said Welsh, as about 100 throwers and fans cheered each time a tossed axe hit targets dead-centre during a Canada-U.S. friendly competition Saturday.

“There’s not really a lot down here right now in terms of business (and) it’s a big pain to get here by public transit, especially for my staff,” he continued.

Welsh said he didn’t know much about the Port Lands until five years ago when BATL Toronto expanded to its second location at 33 Villiers St., near Cherry and Commissioners Sts. He said he was shocked how few businesses existed in the enormous area.

“I’m like, ‘Where am I?, ” he laughed, recalling his first impression of the Port Lands as a “ghost town.”

However, he said the axe throwing crowd soon got to know a few great neighbours; the Keating Channel Pub and Grill around the corner and the Cherry Street BBQ.

Lawrence LaPianta owns the Cherry Street BBQ. He says plans to develop the Port Lands, regardless of how that revitalization occurs or who gets to engineer it, should not be feared.

“I think it’s been underused, underappreciated land in Toronto for a very long time,” said LaPianta. “It’s prime real estate right next to the water. It’s kind of unfortunate that we don’t have anything to show for it in this area.”

Compared to other parts of the city, the land does seem underused — especially at this time of year when huge lake freighters cannot nose into busy ports to deliver cargo. But there are full-time operations, big and small, government and private, running 12 months of the year.

Commissioners St., for instance, is home to Toronto Hydro headquarters, the 12-stage Pinewood Studios and a FedEx office. Cement trucks are frequent Commissioners St. travellers, loading and unloading at aggregate depots and cement companies. Waste management sites sit on Unwin Ave.’s north side.

Summer brings more people to the area, cramming Cherry Beach with swimmers, picnickers, dog walkers, cyclists and stroller pushers.

The Cherry Beach outdoor sports fields, closed for the winter, are usually busy with soccer, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee teams beginning in spring. That’s also when sailors start cleaning and launching their crafts from the water’s edge.

Rebel Night Club on Polson St. attracts crowds locally and from across the border.

Mary Ormsby is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Reach her via email: mormsby@thestar.ca

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