Monday, June 8, 2015

The Canadian Stop On The London Underground

A version of this post was original published on March 19, 2014. Now that I've visited Canada Water as part of the Toronto Dream's Project UK Tour, I've updated the post with my own photos and impressions.

This is Canada Water Station. It's a stop on the London Underground. It's right near the Thames, in the middle of the city, just a couple of stops east of London Bridge. And it has a particularly interesting connection to the history of Toronto.

The subway station is pretty new: it opened in 1999. But this exact spot has been a transportation hub for centuries. For about 300 years, it was home to the Surrey Docks: some of the busiest docks in London. As the British Empire boomed, ships from all over the world came here to unload their cargo. The first docks were built on this spot in the 1600s, long before the British ruled Canada and founded Toronto. It all started with whalers — at what they called Greenland Dock. Then, there was timber from Scandinavia and the Baltics — so they built Russia Dock and Norway Dock and Finland Quay and Swedish Quay.

But by the end of the 1800s, trade with Canada was booming too. We were sending a HUGE number of goods across the Atlantic into the heart of London — including, for a while, enormous old white pines from the Rouge Valley. They were needed as masts for British ships (which I wrote about in my post "How Napoleon Bonaparte Is Indirectly Responsible For One Of The Best Walking Trails In Toronto"). In the 1870s, they built Canada Dock. There was a Quebec Pond, too.

So that's how Canada Water Station got its name: it was built on the exact same spot where the northern end of Canada Dock used to be. Where our ships unloaded our goods to be sold to the English.

And that's not all. Today, the site of the old docks is being developed. If you head upstairs from the subway station, you'll find an entire new neighbourhood called Canada Water. There's an ornamental lake where Canada Dock used to be; it's called Canada Water. A crazy new modernist library is called the Canada Water Library. Canada Street is right nearby. And there's the Maple Quays condo development, including Vancouver House, Victoria House, Montreal House, Ontario Point and, of course, Toronto House.

I pay the neighbourhood a visit during the Dreams Project's UK Tour last summer. It mad for a lovely, calm oasis in the middle of the city as Londoners headed home after work on a blistering hot Friday afternoon. It was a relatively quiet place, with swans floating through the lake, while ducks and other waterfowl make their homes in the nearby Albion Channel.

The Canada Water lake

Canada Water Library

Remnants of the old dock

Toronto House balconies look out over the lake

Toronto House

The Albion Channel connects Canada Water to Surrey Water, and from there, the Thames

Toronto House and the Albion Channel, home to a variety of waterfowl

Canada Water, with the Shard in the background

A German bomber flies above the Surrey Docks during WWII; it's the peninsula in the upper-left/west of the photo


Read more posts about The Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour and the connections between the history of Toronto and the United Kingdom here

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