Urban Exploration: The Toronto Zoo’s Lost Monorail

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I’ve been going to the Toronto Zoo regularly for 7 or 8 years now -basically once or twice a year since my daughter was born.  I went a few times as a kid as well, but there’s a period of probably around 15 or 20 years where I never got around to visiting.  That period coincides with the time that the zoo installed its biggest ride*.  The Canadian Domain Ride was a monorail running on a 5.6 km long concrete guideway, connecting a number of the zoo’s domains (in comparison, the monorail track in Disneyland, California is 4km in length).  The Canadian Domain Ride was in operation from 1976 through 1994, but suffered several serious accidents (one in 1991 that injured 9 people and a second in 1994 that injured several dozen passengers resulting in broken bones for some); the second accident led to the ride being permanently shut down.

Even though the Toronto Zoo closed the monorail and dismantled the electrical components, the concrete guideway and passenger stations have remained largely intact.  I’m not sure why the zoo management chose not to tear down the abandoned rail system, although some of the stations were re-purposed as washrooms and refreshment stands.  Every year, as we wander the zoo grounds, I am fascinated by that crumbling infrastructure.  It’s a little surreal, seeing the remnants, but having no memory of the actual machinery in operation.  The concrete gets a little more pitted and stained and more overgrown with vegetation each year, but life continues on around it as though it’s just part of the natural scenery.  It’s a little spooky, frankly, and looking at the abandoned stations as the encroaching vines and trees slowly reclaim their territory reminds me a little of the eerie photos published of Chernobyl twenty years after the nuclear power plant disaster.  A much smaller and less tragic scale, obviously, but watching how quickly nature can overwhelm the concrete constructs of civilization is humbling.  The evidence of the system’s existence is harder to see every year and I suspect that half the people milling about the zoo on any given day don’t even know that there was once a monorail zipping through the grounds.  I’m half expecting and kind of rooting for the possibility that the whole thing eventually disappears behind the trees before anyone finally gets around to demolishing it, leaving a fine mystery for someone to rediscover, decades from now.

I’d love to climb up there and take a hike along the track, but I don’t think the zoo officials would be so keen on that idea- besides, I think it ran through one side of the African Savanna and I’d rate my chances with lions -even relatively "tame" and well fed zoo lions- to be not so good.

*Because someone is bound to ask, no word on whether Lyle Lanley was involved in the sale of this system or if zoo management visited North Haverbrook to view their monorail before opting to purchase.

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An abandoned monorail station at the zoo

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One of the few vantage points where the concrete guideway is still obvious

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