2022: A Year in Review

2022 marks ten years for Scenes From Toronto. This year, I committed to a goal of two articles a month when possible. Out of 24 possible articles in the month, I published 17. Although I did not match my goal, I am proud of that output.

2022 also followed the momentum of the previous year in creating original, research-based articles, drawing on primary and secondary sources, as well as the work of great historians and writers. I hope they have added to Toronto’s rich local heritage scene and telling the city’s lesser known (hi)stories.

The Stats

The Best of 2022

To mark the year, I have compiled my favourite ten articles.

1. “Old” Toronto Streets: An exploration of a peculiarity in Toronto’s geography and streets. This is a multi-parter.

2. A Quick Early History of Toronto’s First Traffic Signals and The ‘Right on Red’ Rule: Toronto’s early rules about automobile travel offer some interesting insights about why modern traffic laws are the way they are, including the origins of the allowance of a right turn against a red light.

3. “Know Agincourt, but Their Maps Ignore Toronto”: A Quick History of The Agincourt Magnetic Observatory: The story of a lost Scarborough landmark which brought on discovery and innovation at a global level.

4. A Quick History Of The Iconic Guild Inn in Scarborough: The Guild of All Arts is a famed landmark is the east end of Scarborough with an interesting evolution.

5. The ‘Commercial Slum’ That Once Stood Across Toronto City Hall: This is a layered story of the creative destruction and revitalization which marked an intriguing transitional period in Toronto. The first of two parts.

6. The Rise of The Hill District, Toronto: The origin of one of Toronto’s exclusive neighbourhoods is an interesting tale of the who’s who in Toronto history and a period in which Old Toronto’s street grid began to fill up.

7. Was this the first Chinese restaurant in Toronto’s Junction?: A century ago, there was a Chinese eatery in The Junction. The story explores some history of one of Toronto’s largest communities.

8. The Curious History of Riverdale Avenue, Toronto: The east ends street is a fine reminder of how old lot lines have impacted the look of the city.

9. A Quick History of Controversial Toronto Street Name Changes: In a topical subject, this explores some lesser known street name changes and some overall in themes in why streets are historically altered.

10. The Notorious Brooks’ Bush Gang: A feared group of trouble-makers terrorized 19th century Toronto. A second part to this story is coming.

Thanks to all that have read, engaged with, and supported Scenes From TO! Happy 2023!

The Curious Evolution of Riverdale Avenue, Toronto

Riverdale Avenue is located in the namesake neighbourhood of Riverdale, an area in the east end of the old city of Toronto. Found a short distance north of Gerrard Street East, the street runs about a kilometre between Broadview Avenue and Kiswick Street (between Pape Avenue and Jones Street). Riverdale Avenue is layered in its development with lost and gained extensions, buried waterways, and disappearing transit lines.

Riverdale Avenue, 2022.
Source: Google Maps.

Origins

Riverdale Avenue was historically located on lot 14, a 200-acre parcel granted by John Graves Simcoe to John Cox in 1796. It was situated roughly between Broadview Avenue to just west of Logan Avenue, south of Danforth Avenue to the lake.  The John Cox cottage, built before 1807 and currently the oldest home in Toronto still used as a residence, sits on the property.

1851 JO Browne Map of the Township of York
Source: Old Toronto Maps

By 1815, the lot passed on to William Smith, which was then subdivided to his heirs in 1839. The 1860 Tremaine’s Map shows the property attributed to Thomas S. Smith. By 1878, the Illustrated Atlas of York County shows the property was divided further: the bottom two-thirds went to B. Langley (possibly for the namesake street currently on the street) and a road with smaller lots. The atlas shows the community around the lots was Don Mount and a post office was located at today’s Queen and Broadview.

1860 Tremaine’s Map
Source: Old Toronto Maps

1878 Illustrated Atlas of York County
Source: Old Toronto Maps

In the 1884 Goad’s Map, the street in 1878 had a name: Smith. It is also labelled as Plan 373. The street stopped at the lot line, roughly two thirds to Logan Avenue.  Also in 1884, Don Mount, now going by Riverside, and the lands east to Greenwood Avenue were annexed by the City of Toronto.

1884 Goad’s Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

By the 1890s, Smith Street was extended into Lot 13. Between Logan Avenue and Carlaw Avenue, only the north side of the street was built as the south side constituted part of the William Harris Estate. The property also had a part of Holly Brook, also known as Heward Creek, running through it, which may or may not have impacted its later development.

1889 Plan of the City of Toronto, proposed intercepting sewers and outfall. Smith Street appears built east of Carlaw despite it not existing until the 1920s.
Source: Don River Historical Mapping Project

Smith was also interrupted at Carlaw by another section of the Harris Property. A house now with a street address of 450 Pape Avenue was built on the lot in 1902, now known as the William Harris/Cranfield House. On the other end of the property at Pape, Smith Street continued in a separate section until MacDonald Street, now Kiswick Street.

1890s Map of Toronto and Suburbs East of Don
Source: City of Toronto Archives

William Harris Home, 1973.
Source: Toronto Public Library

The Lost Riverdale Avenue

In August 1887, the Board of Works recommended the opening of new street, free of cost to the city opposite Smith Street on the other side of Broadview Avenue; this was the first Riverdale Avenue.

The new street was proposed to run “…from Broadview Avenue to a connection with a street leading westerly through Riverdale Park to a new 50 feet street on the east side of the new line of the Don River, giving a connection with Winchester street at the bridge…”. In September, the motion to open the street was passed. It was surveyed with lots and appeared on maps in the 1880s and 90s. The 1895 City of Toronto Directory shows “a lane”, possibly referring to Riverdale Avenue, listed under 380 Broadview Avenue. The address also hosted six residents, Riverside Park (seemingly used interchangibly with Riverdale Park), Isolation Hospital, and Vacant Lots.

1893 Goad’s Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

In 1903, a by-law was inexplicably passed to close the street. Interestingly, in April 1904, Riverdale residents complained “bitterly of the odors” in Riverdale Park from the burning of garbage in the park’s dump “on the extension of Smith Street”. It is unclear if this was Riverdale Avenue, but the street did not appear on maps for much longer after 1903. Riverdale Park was a garbage dump from around the turn on the century to the 1920s; green pipes found today on the property are exhaust tubes for methane.

1902 Sankey Map
Source: Old Toronto Maps

A New Riverdale Avenue

In the first decade of the 1900s, ‘Riverdale’ came into common use to refer to the neighbourhood. Riverdale Park itself was used since the late 1870s and the park was officially opened 1880, so the neighbourhood was seemingly named after the park, rather than the more obvious reverse. In 1905, Smith Street from Broadview Avenue to Carlaw Avenue was renamed to Riverdale Avenue, taking over the name of the closed street it was once connected to. East of Pape, the road was still Smith Street. A confused rider of the streetcar on Broadview wrote to The Star in 1906 asking about the renaming as some trolley drivers still referred to the street as Smith, while other drivers used the new name. The newspaper set the record straight: west of the intervening Harris property, the street was Riverdale; east of it was Smith Street.

1909 Map of Township of York and City of Toronto
Source: Toronto Public Library

By 1913, the south side of Riverdale between Logan and Pape, part of the Harris Estate, was subdivided under plan 445E. The move allowed for the extensions of Langley Avenue, Victor Avenue, and Simpson Avenue across to Carlaw. The circumstances surrounding this development are unclear, but the branch of Heward Creek/Holly Brook which ran diagonally through the lot stopped appearing on Toronto maps around this time according to Lost Rivers Toronto. Leslieville Creek, which ran through Smith Street, was also potentially buried in the 1910s.

1909 Topographical Map of the Toronto Region
Source: McMaster University

1912 Map of Toronto.
Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library

1913 Goad’s Toronto
Source: Goad’s Toronto

In 1922, Riverdale Avenue was finally extended into the remaining Harris Estate east of Carlaw. The property was subdivided into lots under Plan 587E; some of it became the yard for Pape Avenue School. It was also one of the few remaining tracts left in Riverdale as most of the district by then had been subdivided and redeveloped. Growth in North Riverdale was aided by the opening of The Prince Edward Viaduct in 1918.

1924 Goad’s Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

The extension was instrumental in Toronto’s transit expansion: it provided a key east-west link for a streetcar line on Pape and Carlaw in an growing, under-served part of the city. Langley Avenue was considered in the role in during World War I, but the idea was rejected by residents as it passed by the school; it even got as far as putting up trolley poles before the plan was nixed. The Globe reported in December 1922 that even with the line, development had yet to come to street. Even though water and sewer lines were passed on the street, there were no sidewalks and only pavement for the tracks. In effect, the corridor was a streetcar right of way. This sparse development would be rectified in short time as the 1924 Goad’s Map shows a very built-on Riverdale Avenue.

1922 Toronto Civic Car No. 78 on Pape Avenue at Bain Avenue
Source: City of Toronto Archives
1922 Pape Avenue at Riverdale widening
Source: City of Toronto Archives
1924 Toronto Transit Commission Map
Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library

1924 Goad’s Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

The tram line was eventually absorbed into the Harbord car and followed a winding route through Toronto’s west, central, and east areas. The line closed in 1966 and its tracks were removed. Finally, Riverdale Avenue was completed with the disconnected section of Smith Street from Pape to Kiswick being absorbed by and renamed to Riverdale around 1926. Ahead of its renaming, The Daily Star provided some funny commentary.

Toronto Daily Star, April 28, 1924. Source: Toronto Star Archives

1925 Lloyd’s map of Greater Toronto and suburbs
Source: York University Archives

The Three Riverdale Avenues

Today, Riverdale Avenue can be thought of in three sections based on their histories and geographies: Broadview-Carlaw, Carlaw-Pape, and Pape-Kiswick. Each have distinct visual differences and vibes which point to their layered development.

The western and oldest part of the street between Broadview and Carlaw is narrow, accommodating only eastbound, local traffic. Trees hang over the road in several spots making for a quaint stroll. It boasts houses mostly dating from the 1880s to the 1910s with oldest homes located on its north side near Broadview — the old Lot 14 — including two heritage homes: 1885 William Jefferies House and 1890-91 John Vick House. The south side between Logan and Carlaw as the ‘youngest’ with mostly 1910s constructions.

Riverdale Avenue, east of Broadview Avenue, 2021.
Source: Google Maps
William Jefferies House, 2019.
Source: Google Maps

Riverdale between Carlaw and Pape makes up the avenue’s ‘newest’ and busiest section. The houses lining the street are semi-detached bungalows built in the 1920s. Whereas Broadview-Carlaw is a local road, this central section is more of a through street with four lanes at its widest to accommodate parking, heavier traffic, and public transit, such as the Pape bus and its predecessor Harbord streetcar. Travellers coming from Broadview or Logan might note how Riverdale ‘opens up’ at Carlaw with its larger road surface and fewer trees. They would also see how this middle section is slightly misaligned with the rest of the avenue because of its width.

Riverdale Avenue, east of Carlaw Avenue, 2019.
Source: Google Maps

Finally, from Pape to Kiswick, the street mixes the qualities of the other two sections. It offers two-way traffic like the Carlaw-Pape section to the west, but is narrow like Broadview to Carlaw. The residences themselves are mostly Edwardian detached and semi-detached homes from the 1910s and 1920s, offering a middle ground in age in the three sections.

Riverdale Avenue, west of Pape Avenue, 2021.
Source: Google Maps

Works Consulted

“The Harbord Streetcar (Deceased)” Transit Toronto. https://transittoronto.ca/streetcar/4118.shtml.

Heritage Property Research and Evaluation Report – Toronto. https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-80237.pdf.

Leslieville Historical Society. “19th Century East End Villages: Donmount, Riverside, Leslieville, Norway.” Leslieville Historical Society, 13 Nov. 2017, https://leslievillehistory.com/2017/11/13/19th-century-east-end-villages-donmount-riverside-leslieville-norway/.

Lost Rivers of Toronto Map, https://www.lostrivers.ca/disappearing.html.

Marshall, Sean. “Hallam Street and the Harbord Streetcar.” Sean Marshall, 4 Feb. 2017, https://seanmarshall.ca/2017/02/03/hallam-street-and-the-harbord-streetcar/.

Muir, Elizabeth Gillan. Riverdale: East of the Don. Dundurn, 2014.

“Riverdale Heritage Conservation District Plan Phase 1.” Toronto. https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2008/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-14121.pdf.

ward14bikes. “Lost Rivers of East Toronto Mark Possible Canals on the Port Lands; Connect the City to the Lake.” Ward 14 Bikes, 8 Dec. 2019, https://ward14bikes.home.blog/2015/04/14/lost-rivers-of-east-toronto-mark-possible-canals-on-the-port-lands-connect-the-city-to-the-lake/.

Wilson, John. “The Lost Rivers Project: The Case of Holly Brook” Geohistory-Géohistoire Canada, 20 Mar. 2017, http://geohist.ca/2017/03/lost-rivers-holly-brook/.

More “Old” Streets of Toronto

In January, I looked at the origins of “Old” Streets of Toronto — that is, main Toronto roads that have the moniker “old” preceding their names. In many cases, these stories involved the re-routing of streets to create a more direct path for travellers. In doing so, the old paths were sometimes not eliminated.

Tremaine’s Map showing old courses of Toronto’s streets.
Source: Old Toronto Maps
Created by: Bob Georgiou


Here are six (and a half) more “Old” Streets of Toronto and their quick histories:

Old Dundas Street

Year rerouted: ~1929

Historically, the main crossing over the Humber River on Dundas Street was located about two hundred metres south of the current bridge. This section of Dundas made up the old community of Lambton Mills and served as a main entrance into Toronto from the west on the Dundas highway. There were several versions of Dundas Street bridges here over the years — some made of wood, some iron, but all narrow for traffic and susceptible to the flooding waters of the Humber.

1924 Goads Fire Insurance Map of old course of Dundas Street.
Source: Goad’s Toronto

In 1929, a new high-level bridge was completed over the Humber. This altered the main course of Dundas Street to the north. The old course became “Old Dundas Street”. For nearly thirty years, the two Dundas Street bridges existed alongside each other. In 1954, the devastating effects of Hurricane Hazel left the Old Dundas Street bridge in a dilapidated state; it was finally demolished several years later. Today, Old Dundas Street exists on both sides of the Humber River mostly as a quiet residential street. Lambton House, a historic inn turned museum, is a leftover of Old Dundas Street and Lambton Mills’ prominence.

“A New High-Level Bridge”, The Globe, January 16, 1929.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives.
1950 Aerial Image of Dundas Street and Old Dundas Street.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
Old Dundas Street, 2021.
Source: Google Maps


Old Weston Road

Year rerouted: ~1948

Weston Road takes an interesting route through northwest Toronto, running diagonally through its street grid from the historic town of Weston (makes sense, eh?) and creating some unconventional intersections. North of St. Clair Avenue, the route of Weston Road was historically located east of the present road on the other side of the train tracks. It made up the historic village of Carlton with St. Clair and Weston as its nexus. It is highlighted by the still standing, yet altered Heydon House Hotel, built 1890. Weston then ran south to join with Dundas Street.

1851 JO Browne Map of Toronto showing Weston Road and the village of Carlton.
Source: Old Toronto Map
1927 Heydon House.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Around the 1890s, another “branch” of the street was built north from Keele Street running parallel to the railway on its west side. This street took on the name “Weston Road South”. In the 1910s, the street was completed to join with the main Weston Road.

1908 Map of Toronto showing Weston Road.
Source: Old Toronto Maps
1909 Map of Toronto showing Weston Road.
Source: McMaster University
1910 Old Weston Road bridge over C.P.R.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Perhaps because Weston Road South offered a more direct route south into the city, it formally became the more prominent road in the 1940s. First, an “Old Weston Road” began to refer to the section of Weston Road between the railway and Hillary Avenue. This meant that at one time a person could stand at the intersection of Weston Road, Old Weston Road, and Weston Road South. In 1948, Weston Road South became just Weston Road. Also, the entirety of the older eastern section of Weston Road was renamed Old Weston Road, save for the section between the tracks and Hillary which was added to Rogers Road. As the tracks to the south grew, the section of Old Weston near Dundas became severed from the rest of the road. Today, Old Weston Road is a mostly residential street.

1945 Map of Toronto showing Weston Road.
Source: Old Toronto Maps
1948 Toronto Transit Commission Map showing Weston Road.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.
1951 Map of Toronto showing Weston Road.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.


Old Eglinton Avenue

Year rerouted: ~1957

For an east-west street that has become so vital to Toronto’s street grid and home to many neighbourhoods, it is difficult to imagine that Eglinton Avenue did not always exist in one harmonious stretch of road. However, it took some doing to make it into the street of today. Until the 1950s in the eastern half of Toronto, Eglinton Avenue terminated near Brentcliffe Road in Leaside and did not resume again until Victoria Park Avenue in Scarborough. The area in between them was about a five-kilometre stretch of farmland and two ravines — that is, both the east and west branches of the Don River. In the mid-1950s, a massive project was undertaken to join the two sections.

1950 Aerial Image of the future location of the Eglinton Avenue East extension.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
1953 Map of Metropolitan Toronto.
Source: York University Archives
1954 Aerial Image of the future location of the Eglinton Avenue East extension.
Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library

While an “Old Eglinton Avenue” seems to come out of the events of the 1950s, it seems a little unclear why. The street runs parallel to the “new” road for about half a kilometre west from Bermondsey Road. Like the surrounding area, it mostly houses industrial buildings. As Eglinton did not seem to exist between Leaside and Scarborough (at least not in any formal sense), the story of Old Eglinton is a bit of a mystery. Hiking The GTA has located an old roadbed for an “Old Eglinton Road“. This may have been a farm road or a line that divided farm lots. It is also notable how Old Eglinton Avenue aligns with a “pencilled in” Eglinton Avenue between Victoria Park and Leaside, so a theory may lay in that idea.

Extension of Eglinton Avenue east across the West Don River, 1955.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
Old Eglinton Avenue, 2020.
Source: Google Maps


Old York Mills Road

Year rerouted: ~1972

The valley near Hogg’s Hollow has proven to be an obstacle to road transportation several times in its history. As I previously noted, Yonge Street was realigned in 1835 after skirting east to better tackle the West Don ravine’s topography. Because of this same geography, Wilson Avenue terminated at Mason Boulevard, meaning there was no direct east-west crossing at Yonge Street as we know it today. In 1972, a project was undertaken to extend Wilson to meet with Yonge and York Mills Road.

1971 Aerial Image of York Mills Road and Wilson Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
“Extension of Wilson Avenue”, Toronto Star, May 28, 1972.
Source: Toronto Star Archives

To make this extension happen, a curved road was constructed from Wilson Avenue which then crossed Yonge Street and joined York Mills Road between Campbell Crescent and York Ridge Road. This meant the straight section of York Mills near Yonge Street was effectively separated from the main route, becoming “Old York Mills Road”. Today, Old York Mills houses a trailhead, a passenger pickup zone for York Mills Station, a condominium, and a church.

Old York Mills Road and Wilson Avenue Extension, 1973.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.


Old Kennedy Road

Year rerouted: ~1987

Kennedy Road just north of Toronto is a prime example of how of a noticeable curve in a street sometimes denotes a street was re-engineered. Kennedy existed in two separate sections north and south of Steeles Avenue, the Scarborough-Markham town line. The roads were about six hundred metres apart, meaning a northbound traveller from Scarborough had to jog east and then north again to continue into Markham. The area as a whole is and was known as Milliken, a historic community with the uncommon characteristic of existing within both municipalities.

1954 Aerial Image of Kennedy Road.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library

In 1987, the two sections of Kennedy Road were connected by a curving road running north from Steeles which veered east to meet the Markham section of Kennedy just north of the newly created Denison Street. The circumstances behind the re-alignment were unclear, but given Kennedy Road’s history as a ‘highway’ in Scarborough and the tendency in and around Toronto to harmonize streets within bordering jurisdictions, it is easily conceived why the jog was removed.

1987 Aerial Image of Kennedy Road.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The eastern section of Kennedy became “orphaned” and was renamed Old Kennedy. Old Kennedy stops at Denison and continues on as Fresno Court, which in turn ends at a cul de sac. A fence separates it and Kennedy Road. Old Kennedy Road is an interesting mix of industrial and residential, with several older-looking houses near Steeles, perhaps lending back to the days when it was a hub in the village of Milliken.

Fresno Court, 2020.
Source: Google Maps


Old Finch Avenue

Year rerouted: ~1993

Finch Avenue in Scarborough is relatively straight for much of its course from the North York town line to the Pickering town line — except in its most eastern part. Where Finch passed through Staines Road, the street at one time did a triangular job around the CPR tracks (the detour seems to have been created in the 20th century).

1916 Map of Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library
1954 Aerial Map Showing Finch Avenue.
Source: Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library

Further along, Finch did another jog up Sewell’s Road before meandering across the Rouge River and around its valley. It continued straight toward Kirkham’s Road (today’s Meadowvale Road). As there is today, there was an uncleared section of land across to Beare Road, thus one would have to jog up again to Plug Hat Road and back down to reach Finch again. The street resumed once more on its way to the Pickering Border. This stretch of Finch between Sewells and Kirkham’s made up the historic community of Hillside which had a church, school, and mill. The village made up much of the Rouge lands today from Sheppard Avenue/Twyn Rivers to Steeles Avenue.

1965 Aerial Image of Finch Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
1969 City of Toronto Directory showing Finch Avenue.
Source: Toronto Public Library

By the 1980s, changes came to Finch Avenue. Morningside Avenue curved from the south to meet Finch. Then, in or around 1993, the street was extended further north of Finch. This changed the alignment of the Finch/Staines intersection and effectively split Finch Avenue. Travellers moving east on Finch had to now follow the curving street north to Morningside Avenue and then curve back south via the same street. The east-west street on the other side was “Old Finch Avenue”, following the older, winding alignment. Because of this, the street bunks the trend of “old” streets which were leftover sections of the re-routed street; there is/was not ever a “newer” Finch Avenue that existed alongside the street. Old Finch terminates at Meadowvale Avenue; after Beare Road, it becomes Finch again and continues into Pickering for another eight kilometres.

“New Metropolitan Toronto Zoo Site”, Toronto Star, June 17, 1972.
Source: Toronto Star Archives
“Star Trek Run” Toronto Star, June 3, 1978.
Source: Toronto Star Archives
1983 Aerial Image of Finch Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Today, Old Finch is mostly known for its ‘haunted’ Bailey bridge and being the northern border of the Toronto Zoo, whose postal address is 361A Old Finch Avenue. The reconfiguration at Staines also facilitated the Morningside Heights neighbourhood.

“Grand Opening”, Globe and Mail, May 20, 1993.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
2022 Finch Avenue.
Source: Google Maps

The Older Finch Avenue

Year rerouted: 1977

Old Finch Avenue in the Rouge Valley was not the first Old Finch in the city. There was once a severed section of the street near Victoria Park in the old community of L’Amoreaux when the street was realigned directly across the Scarborough-North York border. This curved realignment eliminated a jog along the town line for east-west travellers. This Old Finch Avenue was closed in 1977; Pawnee Avenue roughly follows its old right of way.

1975 Aerial Image of Victoria Park and Finch Avenue
Source: City of Toronto Archives
“Borough of North York Notice of Road Closing”, The Globe and Mail, September 9, 1977.
Source: The Globe and Mail Archives

For a Google map of “Old” Toronto Streets, click here.

Map of “Old” Toronto Streets.
Source: Google Maps
Created by: Bob Georgiou


If you have any information to add or have any stories from any of these locations, leave a comment below or email bob@scenesto.com!

A Quick History of Controversial Toronto Street Name Changes

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.

St. Patrick Street looking west to Spadina Avenue, circa 1911.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
1913 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map.
Source: Goad’s Toronto

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.

Dundas Street, looking east towards McCaul Street (home of St. Patrick’s Church with the new St. Patrick’s Street behind it), 2021.
Source: Google Maps

Mimico Mixups

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.

1924 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

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.

Mimico, 2021.
Source: Google Maps

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.

1953 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

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.

2022 Aerial Image.
Source: Google Maps

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.

1957 Map of Metropolitan Toronto
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library

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.

Kennedy Road, looking south to Reidmount Avenue (which amalgamated with the former Paterson Avenue), 2021.
Source: Google Map

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.

1957 Map of Metropolitan Toronto.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library

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.

Looking east down Oriole Gardens at Oriole Road, 2021.
Source: Google Maps.

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.”

1955 Map of Metropolitan Toronto.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Date Library

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.

Maxome Avenue, 2021.
Source: Google Maps.

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.

1916 Map of The Townships, York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library

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.

Skymark Drive, 2021. The Skymark Towers are behind the shot. Zion Methodist Church is on the left.
Source: Google Maps.

Sources Cited

“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.

A Quick Early History of Toronto’s First Traffic Signals and The ‘Right on Red’ Rule

In the first half of the twentieth century, automobiles had quite an impact on the streets of Toronto. In 1913, there were 17,000 cars in Toronto; by 1923, the number grew to about 50,000 cars. New rules and technologies were adopted to better manage and regulate how motorists behaved, especially concerning the other users of the road and their safety.

Traffic conditions, Adelaide and Bay, 12:10, (Executive Department), 1927.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Traffic Lights: A Most Beneficial System

On August 8, 1925, Torontonians were introduced to their first set of automated traffic signals. The new ‘semaphores’ were set up at the busy intersection of Yonge Street and Bloor Street on a trial basis and changed the history of Toronto’s streets forever. It was at least three years in the making, with Toronto Chief of Police Samuel J. Dickson advocating for and finally receiving the system in that time.

“Traffic Control by Lighting System” The Toronto Daily Star, August 8, 1925.
Source: Toronto Star Archives
“Traffic Control by Lighting System” The Toronto Daily Star, August 8, 1925.
Source: Toronto Star Archives

Before traffic lights, intersections were regulated by traffic policemen. In the 1910s, this was done largely through hand signals, whistles, and yelling. In 1920, a new ‘semaphore’ was piloted (again at Yonge and Bloor) which consisted of the officer controlling a staffed sign with the words “STOP” and “GO” written on them. The officer rotated the sign to control the flow of traffic. If one peruses archival photos of highly trafficked Toronto intersections, it is common to see a police officer amid the action.

Southwest corner of Yonge and Bloor streets, 1923.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Semaphore on Trial”, The Toronto Daily Star, June 6, 1920.
Source: Toronto Star Archives.

The new traffic lights were an overall success. Automated signals were installed on major junctions along Yonge Street, Bloor Street, and Danforth Avenue, and in suburbs such as East York within the next few years after their introduction. As an example of the new semaphores’ impact, The Globe reported in December 1929, the intersection of Bloor Street and Keele Street had an average of 4 or 5 accidents a day before automated signals were installed there in 1927; there were no accidents after that point.

Police Chief Dickson even dreamed of a master tower at Yonge and Queen to control all the lights in the city. The idea became a reality at the end of 1926. There was even synchronicity within the lights: a motorist travelling straight on Danforth Avenue between Main Street and Broadview Avenue in 1928 was able to meet all green lights if he travelled at 19 or 20 miles per hour; any slower or faster, the driver would hit a red light (the speed was 18 miles per hour downtown).

Automatic traffic signal, King and Yonge, 1927. Traffic Lights were switched to a vertical orientation and a yellow/amber ‘warning’ light was formalized several years after 1925.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Of course, several early reports indicated that the new lights were not all good. Even the Mayor weighed in, saying to the Police Chief in October 1925 that officers were still stationed at the Yonge and Bloor ‘experiment’, seemingly defeating the Chief’s goal of having the technology free up more policemen from traffic duty. Sometimes they did not function properly or at all, as The Globe reported in July 1928 of the new, often “stuck” Dundas Street East signals. But despite these complaints, the lights were there to stay; 96 signals were installed in Toronto by the end of the 1920s.

Queen and Yonge, looking west, traffic, noon – 1 p.m., (Executive Department), 1929. Despite the functioning green light, an officer monitors the traffic.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
Bloor and Yonge streets, southwest corner, 1928. One compare the crossing to the earlier 1923 image.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The ‘Right on Red’ Rule

One of the most interesting impacts of the rise and success of traffic lights was a ‘new’ law that permitted a motorist to make a right-hand turn against a signal that would otherwise make him wait at the intersection. This is the ‘right on red’ rule. On March 22, 1927, Police Chief Dickson announced the reinstatement of the permission, indicating that it was actually in effect “some time ago” and the success of the new lights could now allow for it once more. It is unclear what period the rule was previously in place or why it disappeared, although reckless driving at unmanned intersections is a theory for its removal.

Corner of King and Yonge streets, 1910. Note the right-turning vehicle.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The ‘right on red’ permission was not without controversy, even with the police itself. The organization vowed to watch right-turning drivers and warned them to prioritize the safety of pedestrians who had the right of way to cross the street.

In July 1928, new Police Chief D.C. Draper reiterated motorists were allowed to turn right at a “hostile” light, having “regard” of other cars and pedestrians who have the right of way. However, in March 1929, Draper advocated against the rule. In a report by the Traffic Committee, which monitored Toronto streets for more than a month for traffic improvements, the Chief suggested, among other items, the discontinuance of “the present practice of motorists making a right-hand turn against the red light” or “otherwise give them a warning that the pedestrians have the right of way, and that right-hand turns against a red signal are only allowed when care is exercised”. The Board of Control ultimately went against the Chief and retained the rule while reiterated motorists were responsible for pedestrian safety.

King and Yonge streets, northwest corner, looking west, 1912.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Interestingly, in Hamilton, which was the setting of Canada’s first traffic lights just two months before Toronto’s semaphores were installed, the Traffic Committee wanted to abolish the rule which allowed right-hand turns on red lights in 1933. Oddly, it was met with disapproval from the Ontario Department of Highways. The by-law ultimately remained.

Despite many calls in Toronto in the decades since to remove the permission for good, the Highway Traffic Act currently upholds it in Ontario:

s. 144 (19) Despite subsection (18) and subject to subsection (14) [Green Arrows], a driver, after stopping his or her vehicle and yielding the right of way to traffic lawfully approaching so closely that to proceed would constitute an immediate hazard, may,

(a) turn to the right; or

(b) turn to the left from a one-way street into a one-way street,

without a green indication being shown.

Traffic conditions, Adelaide and Bay, 1210, (Executive Department), 1927. Note the traffic light and police officer on horseback.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

To Stop or Not?

Another interesting question arose on the requirement to stop before turning right. In November 1927, a person writing into The Toronto Daily Star‘s “Voice of The People” section was puzzled by the different standards of when there was a stop sign at an intersection (which he interpreted as ‘stop means stop’) and when there was a policeman with a semaphore (which he interpreted as ‘stop means stop sometimes‘). The editor replied that when an officer was holding the semaphore, he supervises traffic and allows right turns without stopping. When there is no officer, all cars must stop.

Southeast corner of Bloor and Yonge streets (Imperial Bank of Canada), 1924.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Within Toronto City Hall, the issue of drivers legally passing through a red light to turn right was debated for several years. In July 1929, Toronto’s Traffic Committee suggested an amendment of certain by-laws to protect pedestrians, including motorists were to come to a stop before making a right-hand turn against the red light. It did not seem to have made an impact. In December 1933, the idea was raised again, this time proving more successful. The Board of Control favoured a change to the by-law so that every driver must come to a full stop before making a right turn at an intersection controlled by automatic traffic signals. The change seemed to be spurred by complaints that motorists were not heeding the way to pedestrians and “showing no consideration for the pedestrian”. City Council adopted the change on December 12th of the year, subject to approval by the Department of Highways.

“City of Toronto Traffice By-Laws”, The Toronto Daily Star, March 2, 1933.
Source: Toronto Star Archives

Inexplicably, the rule was changed back only four months later. In April 1934, the by-law requiring motorists to make a complete stop before a right turn at a red light was rescinded. The Board of Police Commissioners instructed police officers to safeguard the rights of pedestrians once more.

It is unclear when exactly the law reverted once again, but it seems the matter was not closed. The idea seemed to be backed in other circles, too. In a February 1934 meeting of the Ontario Motor League, a suggestion was advanced that those turning right in the province should come to a full stop at both a red land green light. In 1938, a reader of The Globe and Mail expressed his displeasure in the lack of pedestrian rights in motorists not having to stop before right turns. A decade later, in July 1948, the same newspaper rode along with Toronto Traffic Safety Council Inspector Vernon H. Page in a motor car as he pointed out traffic infractions, including those failing to come to a full stop before a right turn, meaning by this point the law was reinstated.

“Camera Catches Motorists, Pedestrians Breaking Rules”, The Globe and Mail, July 20, 1948.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives

Today, of course, a red light does indeed mean ‘stop’ in all contexts, as the Highway Traffic Act so states:

s. 144 (18) Every driver approaching a traffic control signal showing a circular red indication and facing the indication shall stop his or her vehicle and shall not proceed until a green indication is shown. 

Yonge Street and Queen Street, southeast corner, 1915.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Works Referenced

“24-Hour Operation Of Traffic Signals Proves Successful.” The Globe, 28 July 1928, p. 13.

“24-Hour Police Service, East York, Authorized; Other Changes Urged.” The Globe, 18 Jan. 1929, p. 13.

“Allow Right Turn Against Red Light.” The Toronto Daily Star, 22 Mar. 1927, p. 3.

“Automatic Control Of Central Traffic Assured InToronto.” The Globe, 20 Mar. 1926, p. 14.

“Automatic Control Of Toronto Traffic To Be Inaugurated.” The Globe, 5 Nov. 1926, p. 11.

“Automatic Signals To Be Installed At Fifty-Five More Intersections Controlling All Main Street Traffic.” The Globe, 10 Mar. 1928, p. 8.

“Automatic Signals Will Operate Today At Bloor And Yonge.” The Globe, 8 Aug. 1925, p. 13.

Bateman, Chris. “A Brief History of the First Traffic Lights in Toronto.” BlogTO, BlogTO, 3 Aug. 2013, https://www.blogto.com/city/2013/08/a_brief_history_of_the_first_traffic_lights_in_toronto/.

“Canada’s First Traffic Lights at Hamilton’s Delta.” Thespec.com, 8 May 2021, https://www.thespec.com/life/local-history/spec175/2021/05/08/canadas-frist-traffic-lights-at-hamiltons-delta.html#:~:text=On%20June%2011%2C%201925%2C%20the,lights%20was%20meant%20for%20them.

“Car May Turn Right Against Red Signal.” The Globe, 20 May 1933, p. 2.

“Cars In Toronto Now Number 50,000.” The Globe, 1923 Sept. 1AD, p. 8.

“Chief Draper Asks Co-Operation of Pedestrian And Motorist Of Solving Local Traffic Problem.” The Globe, 10 May 1929, p. 15.

“Chief’s Suggestions In Tabloid Form.” The Globe, 5 Mar. 1929, p. 15.

“City of Toronto Traffic By-Law.” The Toronto Daily Star, 2 Mar. 1933, p. 12.

“Civic Police Force To Be Augmented With Hundred Men.” The Globe, 9 Feb. 1928, p. 13.

“Flashing Lights Operate Traffic Bloor And Yonge.” The Toronto Daily Star, 8 Aug. 1925, p. 1.

Guillet, Edwin C. “Teeth in Traffic Laws.” The Globe and Mail, 13 Oct. 1938, p. 6.

“Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8.” Ontario.ca, 19 Nov. 2018, https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90h08.

“More Semaphores Soon.” The Toronto Daily Star, 14 July 1920, p. 19.

“More Traffic Signals.” The Globe, 8 June 1928, p. 17.

“Needs Larger Force, Says Chief of Police.” The Globe, 5 Nov. 1925, p. 12.

“New Traffic Signals Are Very Effective.” The Globe, 5 June 1920, p. 16.

“Of Interest to Motorists.” The Globe, 24 Oct. 1925, p. 9.

“Operate Semaphores.” The Toronto Daily Star, 31 May 1920, p. 2.

“Over 100,000 Ontario Cars.” The Globe, 22 July 1919, p. 9.

“Planning Scheme Will Be Discussed By Central Body.” The Globe, 5 Dec. 1929, p. 15.

“Police Chief Wants Automatic Control In Downtown Areas.” The Globe, 24 June 1925, p. 13.

“Police to Safeguard Against Right Turns.” The Globe, 26 Apr. 1934, p. 4.

“Police Traffic Squad Readjust Signal Systems.” The Globe, 10 Aug. 1928, p. 13.

“Remembering Toronto’s First Automated Traffic Lights: August 8: Snapshots in History.” Local History & Genealogy, https://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/local-history-genealogy/2019/08/remembering-torontos-first-automated-traffic-lights-august-8-snapshots-in-history.html.

“Return To Old Rule Of Right-Hand Turn.” The Globe, 22 Mar. 1927, p. 11.

“Says Light System As Traffic Signal Is Toronto’s Need.” The Globe, 10 July 1925, p. 9.

Schrag, Lex. “Camera Catches Motorists, Pedestrians Breaking Rules.” The Globe and Mail, 20 July 1948, p. 13.

“Semaphore On Trial.” The Toronto Daily Star, 1 June 1920, p. 1.

“Signal Set Against Police Chief By Board Of Control.” The Globe, 16 Mar. 1929, p. 18.

“Speed Limit Stays Unchanged At Present.” The Globe, 27 Feb. 1934, p. 4.

“Stop Before Right Turn.” The Toronto Daily Star, 12 Dec. 1933, p. 5.

“Stop Before Turn Against Red Light Urged In Report.” The Globe, 29 July 1929, p. 16.

“Stop Recommended Before Right Turn.” The Globe, 7 Dec. 1933, p. 11.

“Traffic Report By Chief Draper Goes To Control Board.” The Globe, 5 Mar. 1929, p. 15.

“Traffic Signal Urged For Danforth And Victoria Park.” The Globe, 16 Oct. 1928, p. 13.

“Traffic Signals Called Obsolete.” The Globe, 15 Feb. 1935, p. 11.

“Voice Of The People.” The Toronto Daily Star, 29 Nov. 1927, p. 6.

“When Lights Get Stuck.” The Globe, 7 July 1928, p. 6.

“Old” Streets of Toronto

Across the map of Toronto, there are several “Old” versions of major streets: Old Yonge Street, Old Leslie Street, et cetera. These are smaller and certainly older streets that predate yet still exist alongside their longer, newer counterparts.

How old are these “old” streets anyways? Why were they built as they were in the first place? Why were they replaced?

Tremaine’s Map showing old courses of Toronto’s streets.
Source: Old Toronto Maps

Here are five examples of “Old” Toronto Streets and their histories:


1. Old Yonge Street

Year rerouted: 1835

When Yonge Street was laid out in the 1790s, it was not the continuous straight path we think of today. The sheer length of the street almost welcomed obstacles. At York Mills, the challenging topography around the West Don River caused it to divert east just south of York Mills Road. It curved north and back west to join the original course. In 1835, the street was realigned and straightened. It seems in the 1920s, Yonge Street was re-routed again slightly to the west to allow for better automobile navigation.

1851 JO Browne Map of the Township of York.
Source: Old Toronto Maps
1950 Aerial showing Old Yonge Street and “new” Yonge Street.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Yonge Street, at York Mills, Again Takes Altered Course” The Globe, February 26, 1921.
Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

Today, the old, “orphaned” course remains as part of Mill Street and Old Yonge Street. Old Yonge’s narrow, curvy course in parts maintains a rural quality. While at one time Yonge and Old Yonge once connected at its north end, this connection is now a roundabout. Finally, because of its length in the province, there are other Old Yonge Streets in Thornhill and Aurora.

Old Yonge Street, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Yonge Street, 2021.
Source: Google Maps.
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou


2. Old Sheppard Avenue

Year rerouted: ~1934

Sheppard Avenue once existed in two separate sections on either side of the Scarborough-North York border. A traveller wishing to travel east or west through the two streets had to jog about 300 metres on Victoria Park to reach the other section. In 1934, the two roads were joined through a curving road running from just past Woodbine Avenue to the lower street in Scarborough. The move was the idea of Ontario Premier George S. Henry whose estate stood where the new Sheppard Avenue connection ran.

1965 Aerial showing Old Sheppard Avenue and “new” Sheppard Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Today, the orphaned North York section of the old road now exists as residential Old Sheppard, albeit with small parts removed around Highway 404.

Old Sheppard Avenue, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Sheppard Avenue, 2021.
Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

More reading: Scenes From O’Sullivan’s Corners & Muirhead’s Corners


3. Old Lawrence Avenue

Year rerouted: ~1961

Lawrence Avenue is and was one of many streets which was impact by Toronto’s ravines. West of Victoria Park Avenue, Lawrence once took an interesting route across the East Don River Valley. Like Sheppard Avenue, there were two sections of the street: the Scarborough section which exists today and a North York section. The North York section jogged up Victoria Park over the Canadian Pacific Railway, ran briefly next to the track, and continued west for 1.5 kilometres. From here, it took a rather curvy route south down the East Don Valley, crossed the Don River via a bridge, and curved back north and west before continuing towards Don Mills Road. Presumably, this was easiest way in the 19th century to navigate the valley.

1860 Tremaine’s Map showing Old Lawrence Avenue
Source: Old Toronto Maps
Looking southwest at intersection of Victoria Park Avenue and Old Lawrence Avenue exit, 1958.
Source: Toronto Public Library
1959 Aerial showing Old Lawrence Avenue
Source: City of Toronto Archives
Lawrence Avenue E., bridge over East Don River, looking northwest,1955.
Source: Toronto Public Library

In 1961, Lawrence Avenue was straightened with a road directly connecting Victoria Park and Woodcliff Place, curling northwest from Scarborough with several new bridges to accommodate the Don River and CPR.

1960 Aerial showing Old Lawrence Avenue and “new” Lawrence Avenue under construction.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Lawrence Avenue East and CPR bridge under construction, circa 1960.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Today, the orphaned old road exists as roughly as part of Roanoke Road and, more famously, a short access road to the East Don Trail named Old Lawrence. The remaining section west of the river along with the old bridge itself have been lost.

Old Lawrence Avenue, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Lawrence Avenue, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

More reading: Scenes From East Don Trail


4. Old Leslie Street

Year rerouted: ~1968

Like Lawrence Avenue, Leslie Street’s course at one time also had to divert around the East Don River. Also of 19th-century origin, a traveller going north on Leslie had to turn west for a short distance and then northwest for about 500 metres to meet with Sheppard Avenue. There was then a jog east on Sheppard, which included a bridge over the river and finally a left turn to travel north again.

1860 Tremaine’s Map showing Old Leslie Street.
Source: Old Toronto Maps
1953 Aerial showing course of Old Leslie Street.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
Sheppard Ave. East bridge near Leslie Street, 1964.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

In the 1950s, with the construction of Highway 401, Leslie Street was altered to curve through the highway, but the course has otherwise remained the same. In 1968, the street was reconfigured again to join with Sheppard more directly. The Don River was also straightened and a new bridge was constructed which spanned the entirety of the new four-way intersection.

1967 Aerial of “new” Leslie Street under construction.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Today, the old course remains as Old Leslie Street, albeit a shorter version of the original route is available today to the public. It joins the new Leslie Street via Esther Shiner Drive. South of that street, there are City facilities. North of Esther Shiner, Old Leslie serves the Leslie Street TTC Station before it crosses over Sheppard via an overpass. It then curls back down to join the street (there is also a parking lot with an entrance to the East Don Parkland trail).

Old Leslie Street, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Leslie Street, 2020.
Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

More reading: Scenes From East Don Parkland


5. Cummer Avenue

Year rerouted: ~1969

The original course of Cummer Avenue west of Leslie Street was an 1819 construction. The street was laid out as a side road from Yonge Street by the Cummer family to access their holdings (a mill and camp) near the East Don River. When it approached the valley, it curved down to roughly follow the river’s course. It crossed the river via a bridge and eventually the railway tracks at a level crossing. Finally, it terminated at Leslie Street.

1860 Tremaine’s Map showing Old Cummer Avenue
Source: Old Toronto Maps
1968 Aerial showing course of Old Cummer Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

By 1969, the street was rerouted to curve north away from the river (which looks to have been straightened around this time as well). The street passed through a new wider bridge over the Don River and then under a railway overpass before eventually becoming McNiccol Avenue at Leslie Street.

1969 Aerial showing “new” Cummer Avenue under construction and Old Cummer Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The old, orphaned course still exists in parts. The curved section lives on as part of the East Don Parkland trail, although not all of it follows the old path. The old bridge is in situ as well. The trail travels east through the hydro corridor where it terminates at the railway tracks. On the other side, Old Cummer Go Station and a hundred-metre long Old Cummer Avenue hold the old name.

Old Cummer Avenue, 2020
Source: Google Maps
Cummer Avenue, 2020.
Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

More reading: Scenes From East Don Parkland

Click here for the map below of “Old” Streets.

Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

For more “Old” Streets, I created a sequel here.

Toronto’s Lost Streets: Tate & Water Streets

In the compelling theme of ‘Lost Toronto’, the area bordered by Eastern Avenue, Cherry Street, the Don River, and Mill Street in the West Don Lands has had a transformative history. Two intersecting streets, Tate Street and Water Street, were at the figurative and geographic centre of this intriguing district.

Aerial, 2020.
Source: Google Maps.

In his Landmarks, John Ross Robertson wrote Water Street was named after the Don River, which the street once ran along. Before 1876, Water Street was East Street after its location in the city of Toronto. In its longest version, Water Street ran from Eastern Avenue to the railway tracks. The street looks to date from the 1830s when the marshy area of the east end of Toronto was added to the street grid.

1833 Bonnycastle: No.1 Plan of the Town and Harbour of York Upper Canada. South is at the top of the map.
Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Robertson wrote Tate Street was named after Mr Tate, the contractor for the Grand Trunk Railway (the right of way ran south of the street). In its longest version, Tate Street ran from Cherry Street to the Don River. Don Loucks and Leslie Valpy wrote in their Modest Hopes: Homes and Stories of Toronto’s Workers from the 1820s to 1920s that Tate Street first appeared on maps in the 1850s.

1858 WS Boulton: Atlas of the City of Toronto and Vicinity.
Source: Old Toronto Maps.

Several details are available about life on Tate and Water Streets. Loucks and Valpy describe the area around and including the streets as a “bustling neighbourhood, with rows and rows of workers’ cottages as well as large and small factories”. The detailed Fire Insurance Map of 1889 tells us these were mostly tiny, one-storey, wooden structures, some of which (mostly on Water Street) had rough cast or plastered finishes. It also shows a relatively populous district with several pockets of empty lots, notably on Water Street north of Front Street and the south side of Tate Street near Cherry Street.

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto.
Source: Goads Toronto

The Toronto Directory for 1880 offers a snapshot into the working-class identity of Tate and Water Streets. Professions are listed as mostly labourers. This is not surprising considering the proximity of industries: Gooderham and Worts distillery to the west, the Toronto Rolling Mills (until 1914) and Grand Trunk Railroad to the south, and the William Davies Co. giant meatpacking operation to the east.

Toronto Rolling Mills, Mill St., south side, between Cherry St. and Overend St. (at southwest corner of former Water St.); Interior, 1864.
Source: Toronto Public Library
Front St. east of Overend St., 1925. Source: City of Toronto Archives. The William Davies Co. is on the right; a sign adorns the top.

At the close of the 19th century, several developments altered the course of history for Tate and Water. By the early 1890s, the Canadian Pacific Railway opened a branch through the east end of Toronto and up through the Don Valley. The track ran south of the western side of Tate Street, crossed Water Street at a level crossing, and then curved northeast adjacent to the Don.

1893 Barclay, Clark & Co. Bird’s Eye View.
Source: Old Toronto Maps

In 1900, the William Davies Co. successfully applied for some changes to the street grid to accommodate an expansion:

  • The closure of Beachall Street from Front to Mill;
  • The closure of Tate Street from the west limit of Beachall Street to the east limit of Vine Street
  • The southern extension of Vine from Front to Mill

The eastern closure of Tate Street from the new Vine Street (which was later renamed to Overend) razed structures across nearly thirty lots on and around Tate.

1903 Toronto Fire Insurance Map.
Source: Goads Toronto

In 1905, the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway acquired the lands east of Cherry Street between Eastern Avenue and Front Street. The company built freight yards on the property, which would later serve the Canadian National Railway from the 1910s onwards. Water Street lost about eighteen residences north of Front Street.

1913 Toronto Fire Insurance Map.
Source: Goads Toronto

Archival images of the area are limited, but two images in 1907 offer a good insight into the physical look of the area. The photos look up and down Water Street from north and south of the CPR crossing and Tate Street. Most notable are the wet, muddy, wagon-tracked streets. Tate and Water, along with Mill, Cherry, and Overend Streets were not paved.

Water St., looking n. from s. of Tate St., across C.P.R. tracks & Tate St. to Eastern Ave. at head of street., 1907.
Source: Toronto Public Library
1907 Water St., looking south from Tate St., across C.P.R. tracks to Mill St.
Source: Toronto Public Library

The foot of Water Street had a row of houses (numbered 2 to 14) on the west side. The corner property was a grocery run by the McSherrys. The archives label these homes as “old”. While not condemned like others that are photographed, the age and condition of the structures likely made the area more primed for redevelopment.

Cherry St., looking s. from Tate St., across C.P.R. tracks towards Mill St., 1907.
Source: Toronto Public Library

A few newspaper articles may have further pointed to the shabby nature of the residences. In 1904, a Mrs O’Brien was severely burned by an exploding lamp in her home at 12 Tate Street. In an odd tale from 1908, an 18-year old girl was turned away by her step-father and mother at 22 Tate Street after giving birth. The girl was taken in by a George Davis at 44 Tate Street where she slept downstairs in a low, mouldy room where water had been creeping in. Davis had four rooms in the house and he sublet two rooms to another family. While these events may have been one-offs or coincidental, they do fit the narrative of what was about to happen.

In 1911, The Canadian Pacific Railway expanded again. In April, the company served notice to all “tenants of the district bounded by Cherry, Water, Overend, Tate, and Front Streets to vacate their premises by the end of the month”. Freight yards and sheds were to go in their place. The Globe noted the properties occupying the area were “shacks” and would be torn down. Tenders to tear down or remove sixty houses were awarded by the company at the end of the month, although residents stayed until June.

“TENDERS ARE IN FOR CLEARING YARDS”, The Globe, April 29, 1911. Source: Globe & Mail Archives
“Fires From Crackers” Toronto Daily Star, May 25, 1911.
Source: Toronto Star Archives

In May, the City granted permission to the CPR to close Tate and Water. The company had already acquired 90% of the property in the area. In June, there seemed to have been an impasse with Thomas O’Connor’s property. The CPR needed the property to build a railway viaduct. The company stated they would expropriate if no price was agreed and they differed on price. Loucks and Valpy wrote William O’Connor was a champion oarsman whose family moved to Tate Street in the 1860s; it is unclear if Thomas O’Connor was related, as the authors wrote the O’Connors left Tate Street in 1891. The final house on Tate Street was demolished in 1913. The streets continued to exist in the city directories and real-life, albeit as shortened versions of their former selves without anything except CPR and CNR structures built upon them.

1924 Toronto Fire Insurance Map.
Source: Goads Toronto
Aerial, 1965.
Source: Toronto Public Library.

Industry in the West Don Lands area continued for the next seventy years. In the 1990s, the former William Davies Co buildings along with the CPR and CNR tracks were gradually removed. A failed project in the 1990s entitled ‘Ataratiri’ aimed to redevelop the land for residential use, a goal which was eventually fulfilled by the Corktown Commons parkland and the rebranded Canary District in the 2010s.

Aerial, 1992.
Source: Toronto Public Library
Ataratiri site plan, 1990. Source: City of Toronto Archives

Although Mill Street, Front Street, Cherry Street, and Eastern Avenue remain today and there is a new Rolling Mills Road, traces of Water Street and Tate Street and the bustling residential district once contained within them are essentially non-existent. Tannery Street roughly lays where Water Street once stood.

Tannery Road, 2020.
Source: Google Maps.

When Toronto renamed a street – twice

As Toronto City Council looks at renaming Dundas Street over its namesake’s support of slavery within the British empire, it is a reminder that it is not the first time the city has grappled with such an exercise.

Asquith Avenue runs about 350 metres east from Yonge Street just north of Bloor Street in Yorkville. Today, it is most known for being the home of the Toronto Reference Library. Hidden within its history is Asquith is not its original name; in fact, it was renamed twice before.

Asquith Avenue in 2021. Source: Google Maps.

Annexation & Duplication

The origins of Asquith Avenue lay in the 1830s with the independent village of Yorkville. The street was originally known as Jarvis Street, named after one of the village’s builders Sheriff William Botsford Jarvis.

Map of The Incorporated Village of Yorkville in the County of York and Province of Canada, 1852. Source: Historic Maps of Toronto.

When Yorkville was absorbed into the larger City of Toronto in 1883, the annexation created duplication in some street names between the two entities. There was already a Jarvis Street in Toronto (ironically, it is a candidate for renaming today for its own slave-owning connections). Named for Samuel P. Jarvis, it ran from the lake to its head at Bloor Street – and was only short distance away from the Jarvis Street in Yorkville. To avoid confusion, the smaller street was renamed.

“The names of the following streets in St. Paul’s Ward, which conflicted with the names of other streets in Toronto were changed: – William-street to Hawthorn-avenue, Jarvis-street to Bismarck-avenue, Sydenham-street to Cumberland-street, York-street to McMurrich-street, Beverley-street to Boswell-street, Grange-street to Baker-street, Emma-street to Baxter-street, John-street to Roden-place, Balwin-street to Crown-street, Dufferin-street to Bernard-avenue, Victoria-avenue to Dobson-avenue, and Chestnut-avenue to Turner-avenue. The accounts were passed, and the meeting adjourned.”

“Civic Committees”, The Globe, March 7, 1883, pg. 3
Plan of the city of Toronto, 1882: Source: Historic Maps of Toronto

The new name chosen for the former Jarvis Street was Bismarck Avenue. It was named for Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman and later German chancellor who was best known for unifying Germany in the 1870s. The change was proposed by German-born Alderman Newman Leopold Steiner, Toronto’s first Jewish Alderman. In May 1883, Steiner read a communication from Prince Bismarck thanking Council for the naming honour.

Source: Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, 1894
22-24 Bismarck (Asquith) Avenue, 1890. Source: Toronto Public Library.
16-20 Bismarck (Asquith) Avenue, Parker’s Dye Works, side entrance, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library.

“Lose all traces of Prussian Plutocracy”

Bismarck Avenue remained for another thirty years until World War I. Canada joined Great Britain in the Great War against Germany. As result, in 1915, the street name’s relevance came into question.

Alderman J. George Ramsden — the local representative of St. Paul’s Ward where Bismarck Avenue was located and the individual for which Ramsden Park is named for today — was an adamant champion for the street’s renaming. In May 1915, Ramsden presented a petition of 400 signatures of local residents around Bismarck and moved to approve the change. Among the signatories was the Central Methodist Church on Bloor Street, which backed onto Bismarck. According to the Toronto Daily Star, the site of the church was given by the grandfather of one of the victims of the sinking of the Lusitania – an event that stirred great resentment against Germany and its people, even at home. The council meeting went as follows:

“For that reason it was the desire of the petitioners that Bismarck avenue should lose all trace of the German Chancellor and of Prussian plutocracy. (Applause).”

“Refuse to appoint Smith as Head of Fire Department”, Toronto Daily Star, May 18, 1915, pg. 2

The Toronto Daily Star noted the Street Naming Committee normally only met in the fall, but given the circumstances, greater haste was needed. North Toronto previously had a street named for Kaiser Wilhelm, which was renamed by the the committee. Among the new possibilities for Bismarck were “Asquith”, “Kitchener”, and WWI battles in which Canadians prevailed such as “Ypres” and “Neuve Chapelle” (although newspaper also noted Torontonians may have trouble with their pronunciations).

Toronto City Council in its inaugural meeting of 1915. Alderman Ramsden is numbered 14. Source: Toronto Public Library.
Controller Ramsden in 1934. He retired from politics a few years later. Source: Toronto Archives.

At risk of change was more than just Bismarck Avenue, however. “If we change one or two German names, we might as well change all of them,” Alderman Ramsden commented. There were 16 “Teuton” names across the city of Toronto and the goal was to erase any reference to Germany in the city.

An interesting exchange during a Board of Works meeting. “Strachan Ave. Bridge is all a Bungle”, The Globe, July 31, 1915. Source: Globe & Mail Archives

Finally, in August 1915, along with a collection of German-origin names, Bismarck Avenue was formally changed to Asquith Avenue. The Globe explained the move in strong terms:

“No longer will the memory of Bismarck be perpepuated by the nameplate of a Toronto thoroughfare. The memory of the man of iron will be replaced by that of Great Britain’s incomparable statesman, Premier Asquith.”

“Bismarck gives way to British Premier,” The Globe, August 11, 1915, pg. 7
Asquith Avenue’s two former names are noted in the Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto, 1924. Source: Goad’s Toronto.

The Power of Names

The history of Asquith Avenue is a great summary of how and why streets are named and/or renamed. In many cases, it is out of necessity to avoid duplication and confusion, often following municipal consolidation. In other situations, they are motivated by the idea of elimination an undesired connotation surrounding that street – that is, either as a re-branding or as a politically-motivated exercise.

In the 1880s, the idea of honouring a German statesman may have made sense. Toronto had a historic community of German settlers and at least one decision-maker of German descent. During World War I, with Toronto and Canada in a conflict with universal ramifications, honouring German ties was perhaps not as obvious. Strengthening the British character of the city — as Toronto often did in other ways, sometimes to very racist outcomes — became a priority. It turned into a deliberate attempt to “erase” all German connections in the city (at least, on the surface).

Names, statues, and monuments reflect the dominant values of the society and people who at the time have the power — both socially and politically — to make those commemorations. The kinds of places that are marked change or should change as that society evolves – or, at least, be afforded the opportunity to hold fair and serious discourse on the possibility of doing so.

Names do not necessarily create, ‘erase’, or ‘sterilize‘ history. They do, however, emphasize and prioritize the types of stories that are told or not told. The history of the naming of Asquith Avenue certainly shows that.

Asquith Avenue in 2019. Source: Google Maps.

Further Reading

“Bismarck Avenue Entrance of Parker’s Dye Works. 791 Yonge Street, Toronto.” Toronto Public Library. Accessed July 12, 2021. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-PCR-2140&R=DC-PCR-2140

“Bismarck Gives Way To British Premier.” The Globe, August 11, 1915.

“City Council.” The Globe, May 22, 1883.

“City Fathers Favor Fire Commissioner.” The Globe, May 18, 1915.

“Civic Committees.” The Globe, March 7, 1883.

“German Names for 16 Toronto Streets.” The Toronto Daily Star, May 19, 1915.

Lorinc, | By John. “LORINC: What’s in a Street Name? Dundas and Other Uncomfortable Truths about Our City.” Spacing Toronto, June 12, 2020. http://spacing.ca/toronto/2020/06/12/lorinc-whats-in-a-street-name-dundas-and-other-uncomfortable-truths-about-our-city/

“Refuse to Appoint Smith Head of Fire Department.” The Toronto Daily Star, May 18, 1915.

“Strachan Ave. Bridge Is Still A Bungle.” The Globe, July 31, 1915.

“Toronto Reference Library at 40: The Evolution of Its Site. Part 1. Site and Street Name Changes.” Toronto Reference Library Blog. Accessed July 12, 2021. https://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/trl/2017/10/toronto-reference-library-at-40-the-evolution-of-its-site-part-1-site-and-street-name-changes.html

A Toronto ghost sign explained (with a side of tartar sauce)

Recently, the redevelopment of a lot on the northwest corner of Pape and Gamble Avenues revealed an interesting bit of local Toronto history. The result of the removal of a billboard, an intriguing image on the north wall of 1042 Pape Avenue in East York was uncovered, revealing an intriguing tale of a small business and a city’s fascination with a popular dish: fish and chips.

Bunt’s Fish & Chips ghost sign, October 2020. For a detailed image, click here. Credit: Google Maps.

Signs of the past

Ghost signs are or were hand-painted advertisements located on the sides of buildings, which promoted businesses and products. A key to their placement is often the enterprises and subjects contained in the advertisements were situated or available nearby.

A ghost sign promoting Quaker Oats and others was revealed in the Honest Ed’s redevelopment in May 2018. Credit: Bob Georgiou.

This particular ghost sign at 1042 Pape Avenue is curious in that it promotes multiple elements. The top portion displays a slightly faint but distinct Coca-Cola logo. The bottom half is less familiar and carries much of the mystery. It reads:

BUNT’S FISH & CHIPS
WE DELIVER * GE 5213
POST OFFICE AT 1038

1038-1042 Pape Avenue in 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

It is a bit of cruel irony that a billboard covered the ghost sign for many years, as billboards replaced ghost signs as a mass marketing technique. With the big banner taken down, however, it allows us to dive deeper into the sign’s past and answer some important questions:

  • When was this sign painted?
  • Where was Bunt’s Fish & Chips?
  • When did it exist?
  • What about the post office?