The History of College Street and University Avenue

University Avenue and College Street have obvious scholarly connotations. Although the main landmark where these two streets intersect is a political institution, what once stood at the site gives us a fascinating insight into their history, including the lost streets within them.

Aerial of University Avenue and College Street, 2020. Credit: Google Maps.

A New University

In 1827, John Strachan, the archdeacon of the Town of York, was looking for a university for the new colonial settlement. After visiting England, he received a charter for a new school, naming it King’s College, in honour of the monarch of the time. About 150 acres of land was acquired, consisting of park lots 13, 12, and 11 of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s land division system.

1827 Chewett Plan of the Town of York. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The assembled land came via three prominent men of early colonial Toronto — D’arcy Boulton (lot 13), Justice William Dummer Powell (lot 12), and John Elmsley (lot 11) — and roughly stretched from today’s Beverley Street to Bay Street and College Street to Bloor Street.

York commercial directory, street guide, and register, 1833-4 : with almanack and calendar for 1834. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1834 Chewett City of Toronto and Liberties. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The College Avenue

Along with that 150 acres, two private paths were also laid out: one extending from the property to Lot Street (later Queen Street) — known as The Queen Street Avenue in news articles and maps — and the other to Yonge Street — known as The Yonge Street Avenue. Collectively, these were known as The College Avenue.

City of Toronto in 1834 by E.G.A. Foster ca. 1934. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Famed architect John Howard was charged with the designing the campus for the new King’s College. The palatial-like structure was intended to evoke grandure. Although his design was ultimately not used, Howard contributed to the would-be campus in 1832 with entrance gates and lodges at Queen Street, controlling access to the university property. Gates were also installed at Yonge Street in 1842 but a gatehouse did not go up until 1852. It is unclear if there were barriers on the western end of the Yonge Street Avenue near modern-day Beverley Street.

King’s College (Proposed), 1835. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, University Ave., n. side of Queen St. W., 1870. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, University Ave., n. side, Queen St. W.; lodge, n.w. corner Queen St. & University Ave., 1885. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, College St., w. side of Yonge St., 1875. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The End of King’s College & the new University of Toronto

King’s College finally opened in 1843, although Thomas Young rather than John Howard was responsible for the final design. This was the eastern wing of what was intended to be a larger structure. The building was used as a residence with classes being held on Front Street. Much debate plagued the university specifically on whether it should be religiously affiliated.

King’s College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings., circa 1850s. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The only-five-year-old structure shut its doors in 1848. The following year, King’s College was no more, becoming the University of Toronto on January 1st, 1850. In the following decade, the unused residence became a Lunatic Asylum for Women. In a search for a site for the national government, a plan fell through in the 1850s to use the Queen’s Park grounds for Parliament Building and Government House. The King’s College building was not part of the plans.

Plan of part of the city of Toronto shewing the town lots on Bellevue for sale by the trustees for the Denison Estate March 1854. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The University of Toronto established University College in 1853, opening just west of the King’s College site along with a Medical School and Observatory. In 1859, the University of Toronto leased the land around the building to the City of Toronto for 999 years for a public park. This became University Park — or Queen’s Park — as opened by the Prince of Wales in the following year. A provision allowed for a potential future site for the Ontario Parliament, which at the time met at Front Street and Simcoe Street.

Campus Map of area bounded by College, St. George, Bloor and Surrey Place [Plan of the University Park], c. 1859. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto

Kings College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings., 1859. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

A Long, Tree-Lined Avenue

The original laying out College Avenue in 1832 consisted of trees and shrubs were mingled together as a sort of wildwood. Famed American landscape gardener André Parmentier designed the road and grounds. Beginning in the 1840s, maps depict trees lining both College Avenues, creating a grand yet exclusive path to the university. Newspaper publisher John Ross Robertson wrote that a Mark Fitzpatrick, the gatekeeper of the College Avenue gatehouse, was responsible for planting the chestnut trees, which had to be brought in from the United States of America. On his visit to Canada in 1842, author Charles Dickens wrote positively on College Avenue: “a long avenue, which is already planted and made available as a public walk.”

Topographical Plan of the City and Liberties of Toronto, In the Province of Canada, Surveyed Drawn and Published by James Cane Tophl Engr, 1842. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The Toronto directory and street guide, for 1843-4. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Rowsell’s city of Toronto and county of York directory for 1850-1. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Provincial Exhibition (1852), University Ave., west side, between (approx.) Elm & Orde Sts. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Park Lane, University Street, and Avenue Street

In 1842, Park Lane (named after the scenic London street of the same name) was laid out adjacent to College Avenue on its east side from Queen Street to King’s College. Unlike College Avenue, this parallel road was public and largely residential. Park Lane seems to have also had a small right of way running eastward to opposite Surrey Place. It is renamed at some point to Avenue Street.

Brown’s Toronto city and Home District directory 1846-7. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1858 WS Boulton: Atlas of the City of Toronto and Vicinity. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Caverhill’s Toronto city directory for 1859-60. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

By 1861, Park Lane was renamed to University Street. Avenue Street kept its name, however.

Brown’s Toronto General Directory 1861. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1862 HJ Browne Plan of the City of Toronto. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

In 1873, the Canadian Journal of Science, Literature, and History lamented the change in name from Park Lane to University Street. The journal wrote that the street was originally named ‘Park Lane’ by the donor of the land to make the street and was analogous to the London street of the same name. The street would have invoked thoughts of ‘noble and interesting part’ of Toronto. The naming to University was uncalled for and unfitting, especially as there was a much wider, adjacent street with almost the same name.

1872 Wadsworth & Unwin Map of the City of Toronto – Tax Exemptions. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Credit: 1873 Canadian Journal of Science Literature and History

1872 Wadsworth & Unwin Map of the City of Toronto – Tax Exemptions. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

1874 Hart & Rawlinson City of Toronto with Fire Limits. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

1876 PA Gross Bird’s Eye View of Toronto. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The 1880s

In 1881, at least one reader in The Globe was unhappy with the shabby state of the chestnut trees along College Avenue. He also angrily lamented over Toronto Council’s decision to replace the gate between College Avenue and University Street with post and bars.

“The College Avenues” The Globe July 7, 1881. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

Gates, University Ave., north side of Queen St. West, looking north. Toronto, Ont., 1880. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In the same decade, the Ontario government proposed a new site for the Legislative Buildings on Queen’s Park. A map from 1880 labels the former Lunatic Asylum and King’s College building as an “old building to be demolished”. It was indeed razed in 1886 and the current Ontario Legislature were opened on the site in 1892.

King’s College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings, 1886. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Site of the proposed parliament buildings, Ontario. Queen’s Park, 1880. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Construction of Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park, 1891. Credit: Archives of Ontario.

In the same year of King’s College’s destruction, property owners with land abutting onto the Yonge Street Avenue complained of the gate separating their property from the street.

1884 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

“The Property Committee: An Effort to be Made to Settle the College Avenue Matters” The Globe, Aug 31, 1886. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

A New University Avenue and College Street

In 1896, the College Avenue was renamed and separated into two differently named streets. The Queen Street Avenue became University Avenue, merging the wider College Avenue and the narrower University Street. A row of trees separated the two former roads.

“Brand New Names” The Globe June 12, 1896. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

The Yonge Street Avenue became part of an existing College Street which existed to its west.

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

There was also a proposal in the 1890s to run electrified streetcar lines up University Avenue, replacing horse-drawn cars on parallel McCaul Street. The scheme did not go through, although rapid transit would come to the street some sixty years later.

Looking s. from Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park., 1893. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“To Electricity” The Globe, July 27, 1894. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Ave., looking s. from College St., 1898. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Looking s. from Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park., 1900. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Improvements, Loss, and Renewal in the 20th Century

By the first decades of the 20th century, College Street and University Avenue maintain some of their chestnut trees planted many decades ago. The fences that separated the old University Street and College Avenue, along with the barrier blocking properties on the old Yonge Street Avenues, are removed. The gatehouse at Yonge Street disappeared on maps in the 1890s and the gatehouse at Queen Street are removed by 1910. College Street ran a horse-drawn streetcar since 1887, which was electrified in the following decade under a Carlton streetcar route.

College St., s. side, betw. University Ave. & Elizabeth St., 1907. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1910 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

Toronto General Hospital, looking east along College Street from University Avenue, 1912. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

College Street, looking west from Yonge Street, 1916. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Victoria, Birthday, 1923, looking n. on University Ave. from Queen St. W.. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1930, changes came to both College Street and University Avenue. In the former, College Street from Yonge Street to Queen’s Park was widened to match with the section further west. University Avenue was also extended south of Queen Street to Front Street in that same year.

University Avenue extension, 1929-30. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Aerial view of downtown from the northwest, 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Canada Life Building, University Avenue from 16th floor, horizontal, 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Northeast corner University Avenue and College Street — College Street Widening, 1930.

In an early attempt of commemoration, The Globe remembered Toronto’s past in 1934 by displaying the history of College Street and the gates leading into King’s College.

“King’s College and Its Massive Gates at College and Yonge Streets” The Globe, April 25, 1934. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Avenue itself was also widened in 1948, particularly the old University Street. Traffic was separated in north-south directions on either side of the median with the old College Avenue taking southbound vehicles and the old University Street taking northbound vehicles. By this point, most of the original trees from the prior century were gone.

UNIVERSITY AVE., looking s. from Ontario Hydro Building, University Ave., s.w. corner Orde St.; showing Elm St. in right foreground., 1944. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“University Avenue Widening Costing $900,000 Hastened.” The Globe and Mail, March 20, 1947. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Avenue East side left south – widening, 1948. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

University Avenue looking north from Queen Street, 1950. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1960s, University Avenue was unfortunately reduced to a shabby state. A firm re-landscaped the central median of the boulevard with internal gardens and planters. In 1963, the University Subway line opened under the avenue.

University Avenue, looking north, from south of College Street, 1960s. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

University & College Today

Today, the view up University Avenue from Queen Street presents a great lead-up to the majestic Queen’s Park. In this way, it invokes its past as a grand corridor. Although times have understandably changed, lost are the gatehouses, fences, and trees that marked the 19th century. The busy intersection of College Street at Yonge Street contains fewer signs of its past as a gateway to King’s College.

Queen Street and University Avenue, 2018. Credit: Google Maps.

College Street and Yonge Street, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

University Avenue and College Street, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

Sources

Arthur, Eric. 2017. Toronto, No Mean City. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bozikovic, Alex. 2017. “Hidden Landmarks: Why Toronto Is at the Forefront of the Landscape Architecture Movement.” The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/hidden-landmarks-why-toronto-is-at-the-forefront-of-the-landscape-architecture-movement/article24228077/

“Brand New Names” The Globe, June 12, 1896.

Brown’s Toronto city and Home District directory 1846-7.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856.

Brown’s Toronto General Directory, 1861.

Bunch, Adam. 2014. “The Long-Lost Chestnut Trees of University Avenue.” Spacing Toronto. http://spacing.ca/toronto/2014/04/15/long-lost-chestnut-trees-university-avenue/.

Canadian Journal of Science, Literature and History. 1873. “XXXVI – Queen Street – York Street” 13.

Caverhill’s Toronto city directory for 1859-60.

Filey, Mike. 2012. Toronto Sketches 11: “The Way We Were”. Dundurn.

Filey, Mike. 2016. “University Ave. – Toronto’s Other Controversial Thoroughfare.” Toronto Sun. https://torontosun.com/2016/12/01/university-ave—-torontos-other-controversial-thoroughfare/wcm/11a3c2a9-43d5-47f1-8be4-aefb5423c499.

“Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era.” 2020. Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era. Accessed March 26. http://goadstoronto.blogspot.com/.

“Heritage U of T.” 2020. U Of T Chronology | Heritage U of T. Accessed March 26. https://heritage.utoronto.ca/exhibits/chronology.

“Historical Maps of Toronto.” 2020. Historical Maps of Toronto. Accessed March 26. http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.com/.

“Home.” 2020. Toronto Public Library. Accessed March 26. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/.

HONSBERGER, JOHN. 2004 . OSGOODE HALL: an Illustrated History. Dundurn.

Marshall, Sean. 2017. “Mapping Toronto’s Streetcar Network: The Age of Electric – 1891 to 1921.” Marshall’s Musings. https://seanmarshall.ca/2016/12/15/mapping-torontos-streetcar-network-the-age-of-electric-1891-to-1921/.

McClelland, Michael and Steward, Brendan. 2014. “ERA Architects.” University Ave.: A Heritage Landscape of Value? | ERA Architects. http://www.eraarch.ca/2014/university-ave-a-heritage-landscape-of-value/.

“King’s College and Its Massive Gates at College and Yonge Streets” The Globe, April 25, 1934.

“King’s College University.” 2020. Simcoes Gentry Torontos Park Lots RSS. Accessed March 26. https://torontofamilyhistory.org/simcoesgentry/11/kings-college.

Robertson, John Ross. 1894. Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1.

Rowsell’s city of Toronto and county of York directory for 1850-1.
“There’s Something Creepy about the Ontario Legislature Building at Queen’s Park.” Toronto Life. https://torontolife.com/food/urban-decoder-history-5/.

“To Electricity” The Globe, July 27, 1894.

The Toronto directory and street guide, for 1843-4.

“Transit Toronto.” Route 506 – The Carlton Streetcar – Transit Toronto – Content. Accessed March 26. https://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4105.shtml.

“University Avenue Widening Costing $900,000 Hastened.” The Globe and Mail, March 20, 1947.

University College. Accessed March 26 2020. http://www.lostrivers.ca/content/points/UC.html.

Welcome to the Archives of Ontario. Accessed March 26 2020. http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/index.aspx.

“Welcome to Queen’s Park.” 2020. Welcome to Queen’s Park Historical Plaque. Accessed March 26. http://torontoplaques.com/Pages/Welcome_to_Queens_Park.html.

York commercial directory, street guide, and register, 1833-4 : with almanack and calendar for 1834.

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