Toronto’s street grid is over 200 years old by colonial standards and even older with its Aboriginal trails. There have been additions and extensions, widenings and improvements. They have also been named to reflect the city’s past and present and it values (by those who do the naming, that is) – and to help the postal service.
The city is not a static object and neither are street names. Revisions and renamings have been an understated part of Toronto’s history. However, not all street renamings — proposed and actual — have gone over well. What is the mainly reason for this opposition? Simply put: History and Tradition. Whether successful or not, these episodes in Toronto’s history inform us how the city operated and why Toronto’s geography is as it is today.
Here are seven examples of controversial street name changes:
Old and New St. Patrick Street
In 1917, modern Dundas Street was created by amalgamating and connecting several smaller streets. One of these roads was St. Patrick Street, which ran between McCaul Street and Bathurst Street.
One group opposed to changing St. Patrick to Dundas was the St. Patrick’s Old Boys’ Association, which attended the old St. Patrick’s School on William Street. The group deputed to City Council, but was unsuccessful. The story was not all bad as William Street was later renamed to St. Patrick Street to keep the tradition.
In 1929, a dispute over the renaming of 54 Mimico streets spanned several council meetings. At issue, Toronto’s postal service requested the changes after Mimico and Long Branch were placed in the Toronto postal region. The difficulty was the added municipalities added duplicate street names to the region and potential confusion for postal workers. An ex-mayor attended a September 1929 council meeting arguing why the inclusion of ‘Mimico’ in the mailing addresses would not be sufficient enough for postal workers. Matters got heated in an October meeting when Mimico Mayor and Liberal candidate W.A. Edwards accused Minister of Health and Conservative candidate Dr. Godfrey of “insincerity” when Dr. Godfrey opposed the name changes when the mayor rejected Dr. Godfrey’s wish to have Stanley Avenue changed to Godfrey Crescent.
It is unclear whether the by-law change went through, but in the October council meeting, it was moved and seconded that a second reading for the proposed by-law change be conducted. The Mimico street grid remains generally intact since the 1920s, albeit with notable changes: Church Street is now Royal York Road, Salisbury Avenue is now Park Lawn Road, Brant Street is now Dalesford Avenue, and Winslow Avenue is now Douglas Avenue.
Long Branch Street Changes & Disappearances
In 1952, a ratepayers association in Etobicoke protested the changing of part of Lake Promenade Road to Island Road in Long Branch. Lake Promenade existed in two sections on either side of the main branch of Etobicoke Creek, running all the way to Applewood Creek. To eliminate confusion for postal workers, it was proposed for the western section of Lake Promenade be added to Island Rd, which it already connected to.
Residents of Island Road did not like the idea as a recent storm severely damaged and condemned several homes on Lake Promenade and the association with that event to their properties was unwanted. The change ultimately took place by 1955, although it ultimately did not matter as the fallout of Hurricane Hazel caused the expropriation of homes on Island and Lake Promenade near Lake Ontario and Etobicoke Creek, as well as the complete removal of Lake Promenade west of Forty Second Street, James Street west of Forty Second Street, all of Forty Third Street, and Island Road parellel to the lake. Today, much of the area is parkland.
The Pioneers of Scarborough
In 1957, Scarborough Council was tasked with submitting a list of alternate names for 210 streets duplicated elsewhere in the City. Metropolitan Toronto was standardizing operations and services across the city in the decade, including eliminating duplicates of street names.
Confusion over postal delivery was again at issue, but names on the list included Brumwell St, Cornell Avenue, Harris Avenue, Kennedy Road, Little’s Road, Lennox Avenue, Muir Drive, and Paterson Avenue — streets named for Scarborough pioneers. Most streets seem to exist today, save for Lennox Avenue and Agincourt’s Paterson Avenue, which became Reidmount Avenue.
The Many Orioles
In 1958, duplication was at issue again in midtown Toronto with a proposal to rename the similarly named Oriole Crescent, Oriole Gardens, and Oriole Road. The names were to become Holmfield Crescent, Lower Canada Gardens, and Campus College Road, respectively.
Fifteen “angry” women of the three streets united to protest the move, even going as far as saying they’d be willing to go to jail for taking down the new signs if they ever went up. They cited the beauty, history, and fame of the “Oriole” name and the inconvenience it’d cause for people living on those streets to having to change addresses on documents. Ultimately, the names remained as they were and as they are today.
A Mega-Maxome Avenue
In 1962, Willowdale residents protested the renaming and merger of Halstead and Maxome Avenue to Harkness Street. The three streets were disjointed and together would “form a mile long thoroughfare north of Finch Avenue.”
A resident of Maxome, representing 37 others on the street, argued the historical naming of the street, which was honouring a surveyor who laid out the original blocks of the area. Ultimately, the proposal did not go through. Curiously, Halstead and Harkness have disappeared from the map, having the name Maxome Avenue instead. Today, Maxome has a windy course, like it was strung together from a few different streets, creating a mega-street of sorts.
North York Pioneers
In 1979, Scrace Hill Drive in North York was renamed to Skymark Drive, prompting the opposition of the Scrace family. The Scarces had historical roots in the Finch Avenue and Leslie Street area formerly known as L’Amoreaux, donating land for a church and cemetery, still standing today as Zion Church.
The family wrote North York Council a letter, outlining the connection and how several Scraces were even on North York Council. The street was renamed to Skymark after the development on the street, as the old street had a confusing spelling and was not easy to find. North York Controller Esther Shiner said the new name was “such a pretty name” and she would find something else to name after the Scraces. Of irony, Esther Shiner would later become the subject of a street herself.
“Citizens Protest Against Change In Street Name.” The Globe, 9 Oct. 1952, p. 12.
“’Godfrey Crescent’ Causes Verbal Tilt At Mimico Council.” The Globe, 15 Oct. 1929, p. 16.
“Keep Traditions: Opposes Renaming Traditions.” The Globe, 6 Mar. 1957, p. 4.
“Petty Politics Involved In Changing Street Names.” The Toronto Daily Star, 15 Oct. 1929, p. 5.
“Sees Lakeshore Trustees ‘Trying to Hoodwink Us’.” The Toronto Daily Star, 9 Oct. 1952, p. 26.
“St. Patrick Old Boys Form Strong Body.” The Globe, 7 Apr. 1917, p. 21.
“Street Name Change Bruises Family Pride.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Dec. 1979, p. 4.
“Street Name Change Fought By Residents.” The Globe, 8 Feb. 1962, p. 4.
“Would Go To Jail: 15 Angry Women Save Their Street Names.” The Globe, 5 June 1958, p. 23.
2 thoughts on “A Quick History of Controversial Toronto Street Name Changes”
Of course there’s nothing wrong with highlighting the name changes you are interested in but there are a lot of recent controversies over the names of Toronto streets like Jarvis https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/jarvis-street-slavery-1.3564667 you might mention…
A fair point! It fell out of the scope of what I wished to accomplish here in choosing lesser known examples further back in Toronto’s history, but Jarvis Street and Dundas Street are certainly topical and controversial!
Incidentally, I have mentioned them in passing when writing about the time Bismarck Ave was renamed to Asquith Avenue: