by Cameron Kroetsch
Alleyways are an important part of our city’s urban infrastructure and make up a network of green space that helps to keep our neighbourhoods vibrant. They serve a purpose by connecting our streets, roads, and neighbourhoods to one another.
Most alleys are categorized into 2 groups by the City, assumed and unassumed.
Assumed alleys include those that are currently being maintained in one way or another and unassumed are those that are hanging in a sort of limbo state, often public but not looked after officially.
It’s these assumed spaces that communities often come together to maintain and clean up.
For me, those clean ups are a regular part of living in the lower city, an annual ritual of getting out to the tracks, alleys, trails, and parks to pick up what the winter snow kept hidden.
This year, because of the pandemic, that just wasn’t possible and I know that many are thinking about how we might all be able to do some of this much-needed work in the coming cooler months now that getting together at a distance outdoors might be safer.
While cleanups along the rail corridor or in parks are a feature of spring in the North End, alleyway cleanups haven’t really taken up as much real estate of late. In fact, in the North End, according to the City’s maps, there are only a handful of public alleyways left (public are blue, private are yellow).
If you’re looking to get a sense of what’s out in the North End, I’d recommend a short walk down Simcoe Street from Wellington to James starting at Jackie Washington Park. There are public alleys just before Mary Street and just before James Street that connect Simcoe Street to Strachan and are definitely worth a few minutes exploring.
Even if there are only a handful of alleyways left in the North End, they still shine with that quintessential North End pride. Down one Simcoe Street alley folks have displayed their North End pride by installing a stained-glass panel to brighten things up.
A trek down an alleyway isn’t usually a long enchanting walk but a short verdant hop through what’s left of a vital network of local pathways that continue to be used and preserved throughout the city.
Nowhere is that more evident that at the border of Ward 2 and Ward 3 at Wellington Street where a gridlike network of alleys still exists to provide alternative transportation routes for residents in the lower city.
The pictures I’ve included with this article were taken recently and are a mix of private and public alleys along Simcoe Street. They should give you a sense of the kind of space that alleyways create and why they’re important. Most alleys are overflowing with greenery, tiny oases of respite from the heat and humidity.
Trees, shrubs, and plants are allowed to take over to provide a sort of temporary urban getaway—shade and plant life keep them cool. Alleys have seen less foot traffic this year because of the pandemic and, from what I could tell when I was out, they’re flourishing.
If you’re looking to preserve your North End alleyways, want to organize a physically distant outdoor cleanup, or just have ideas about what to do with this vital public space please reach out to Beautiful Alleys at email@example.com.