What’s the most colonial representation of colonial Toronto in Toronto? It might be a street marker built into the corner of a George Brown College buiding at Frederick Street and Adelaide Street East.
But the marker itself doesn’t read Frederick and Adelaide; rather, it reads Frederick and Duke. Frederick is still Frederick, but Duke doesn’t exist anyore.
The laughable part of this intersection is it was at one point named entirely for the same guy: Prince Frederick, The Duke of York of Great Britain.
At the time Duke and Frederick were named, the settlement containing them was also named for Duke Frederick: The Town of York. The Duke never visited the town named for him or likely had any direct role in its formation or growth. The British locales contained in his title also got a street name further west of the town – York Street. The Duke was also the son of KingGeorge, the reigning monarch at the time of the town’s founding, who had at least two other street names – King and George – named directly and indirectly for him.
And even more, nearly every street in early York was named by another Brit in charge of this colony: John Graves Simcoe, who didn’t like the indigenous name for the region — Tkaronto. Instead, when setting up his new town and the first few streets in it, he felt it more worthy honouring a man from his home country who scored a victory in his own continent as well as after other members of the British nobility and royalty.
The Town of York would revert to its indigenous name, albeit with an English spelling – Toronto. Duke Street would merge with and take on the name of the nearby rerouted Adelaide Street, named for another royal who likely didn’t have any contributions to the city either.
As a layered bonus, this wasn’t even the first time Duke Street was involved in a name change. The original Duke Street was today’s King Street. The original King Street was Palace Street, today’s Front Street. The Duke Street before this northern re-shifting was Duchess Street, named for the Duke’s royal counterpart. Duchess would move up a street too. It also merged with and took on the name of nearby Richmond Street. The streets of the original blocks of Toronto clearly had a colonial theme.
But today, the marker at Frederick and Adelaide Street still reads Frederick and Duke, still honouring the same guy.
In the early 1900s, St. John’s Ward or familiarly just ‘The Ward’ was a dense, immigrant enclave in the central core of the City of Toronto. The neighbourhood was roughly bound by Queen Street, College Street, Yonge Street, and University Avenue, and housed some of the city’s first Black, Jewish, Chinese, Irish, and Italian colonies. Two early 20th-century rooftop photos provide interesting overhead views of the physical makeup of the district.
The first rooftop view was taken in 1920 by iconic Toronto photographer William James from the top of the Alexandra Palace Apartments, formerly located at 184 University Avenue opposite the terminus of Gerrard Street West on the edge of The Ward.
There was another photograph also taken by James from the Alexandra Apartments, this one dated to “circa 1920”. Although generally quite similar, noticeable differences exist between this and the 1920 photo, most visibly that the latter is a much broader view of the same general area of The Ward.
While the date of the zoomed-in image is approximate, it almost certainly precedes 1920. The main differences between this and the 1920 photo is the lack of the Prest-O-Lite Factory (built 1917) and the northernmost Eaton’s factories (also built 1917). The most important detail, however, is the Eaton’s Annex building, which appears under construction. The store opened in 1913, which likely dates the image to 1912 or 1913.
The Alexandra Palace Apartments (also simply called the ‘Alexandra Apartments’, ‘The Alexandra Palace’, or ‘The Palace’) was a 7-storey, luxury apartment building constructed in 1904 during Toronto’s first apartment building boom, meaning it was one of the first of its kind in the city. The architect was the prolific George W. Gouinlock, who also designed the Temple Building. Famous residents included tycoon E.P. Taylor and Ontario Hydro founder Sir Adam Beck (the old Ontario Hydro Headquarters was directly north of the apartment). It is said that residents moved into the Palace to retire.
In the 1920s, the Palace went from apartment house to apartment hotel with a dining room already in its offerings. In the 1940s, the building was slated to become a nurses’ residence for Sick Children’s Hospital. By the 1950s, the building ceased to be a residence and was heavily remodelled to be a modern office building, losing much of its original exterior features. In 1968, the Alexandra Apartments building was demolished.
The second rooftop photograph comes from the top of an Eaton’s factory tower once located adjacent to the Church of the Holy Trinity. Like the Alexandra Apartments picture, it was taken by William James. It is dated “circa 1910.”
The view is looking northwesterly over The Ward and has several common landmarks with the 1920 Alexandra Apartments image, such as Toronto House of Industry, the Hester How School, and the Grace Church. In the foreground along Bay Street (at the time called Terauley Street) and Dundas Street (Agnes Street) are the Terauley Street Synagogue, the Lyric Yiddish Theatre, and Police Station #2 (which appears to have officers in its yard). As with The Palace image, there are also the tightly packed streets of tiny residences, many undoubtedly housing men and women who were employed by Eaton’s. Finally, the distinctive rooflines of Queen’s Park and Toronto General Hospital loom far in the distance (with the Alexandra Apartments somewhere nearby).
The Eaton’s factory itself where James captured the image was a 12-storey structure located adjacent to the Church of The Holy Trinity. It was built around 1910 in a period when the Eaton’s footprint in the area expanded from a single store at 190 Yonge Street in 1883 to encompass at least half the block between Yonge, Bay, Queen and Dundas Streets by 1920. The factory was demolished in the 1970s when other Eaton’s factories and warehouses were razed in part to make way for the Eaton Centre (The Eaton’s Annex store referenced earlier was destroyed by fire in 1977).
The Eaton’s image is dated “circa 1910”, which is likely accurate as it is very comparable to the “circa 1920, but likely 1912-3” Alexandra Apartments photo. The Prest-O-Lite factory does not appear in the image, thus 1910-1917 is a fair timeframe.
Today, if the two William James rooftop photos were recreated, they would be taken from Mount Sanai Hospital and the Bell Trinity Square office building, respectively. Ironically, the Alexandra Apartments and the Eaton’s factory were both constructed and demolished in similar periods: the 1900s to 1910s and 1960s to 1970s. The dwellings, houses of worship, and businesses of The Ward also largely disappeared by the 1950s as lands were expropriated for various projects. The district continued to change since then until the present-day, making these century-old views a far cry to today’s world.
I begin at St. Lawrence Hall, the famed 1850s building that impressively mans the corner of King and Jarvis. It’s become a habit to stop and look up at things I pass, including the archways above doors. Much of the story, allure, and yes, even seduction lies in them. As a civic building, it appropriate contains Toronto’s former coat of arms, which deciphered alludes to the city’s colonial and aboriginal foundations. Above that is the stern visage of an Olympian-like caricature. Glory, mystique, and fear. That’s how I feel.
Shallow puddles provide distorted reflections of the towers above. It’s a drizzly one in Toronto, but that’s OK. Hopefully the falling rain will help eliminate the black half snow, half ice banks for good. I turn onto Market Lane heading to Front Street. With the exception of a portion of the Hall, the buildings lining the way are relatively new. But I’m reminded from a past heritage walk that the lane itself isn’t. A sign of that is the watering station – explained to me as a gas station of yore for horse-drawn travellers. There’s a fountain for people and one for non-human beings below it.
Across Front, the lane continues on as Market Street, recently made to be exclusive to pedestrian traffic. Beside that of course is St. Lawrence Market, itself a former city hall. Beyond the great assortment of tasty foods, it is also a house of culture. The Market Gallery on the upper floors stands where the old council chamber was located. Without a dedicated Toronto museum, the Market Gallery is a favourite place to indulge in the city’s past. Right now the space houses a Toronto Black History exhibition which I admittedly have not seen yet. The previous one, however, on Art Deco in Toronto was masterful.
The south side of Front is lined with a row of heritage buildings, all now food franchises. “New ideas meet old buildings”, to put a spin on Jane Jacobs. The street leads up to the most photographed landmark in the city, the Flat Iron Building. I have to think of an old photo of the intersection featuring the Coffin Block, the building’s predecessor. It’s a reminder how layered the city is – that even some of the oldest structures in the city were not the first on their respective sites. The quirkiness of the Front-Church-Wellington intersection which allows such a quirky building disspells the dominant fantasy that Toronto is a perfect grid.
The ‘nose’ of the Gooderham Building is the entrance to a Firkin pub chain, but the entrance to the structure itself is on the south side. Like the St. Lawrence Hall it is marked with a great arch and decorative ornaments. I wonder if it’s all original, but it nonetheless looks really well done.
Passing Pravda, next I come to Leader Lane. Although the naming of lanes is a curiosity, I don’t follow the lane (get it?). It’s a shame because through further research it is part of a relatively hidden network of narrow streets.
Outside the Vagabondo restaurant (great name) I see a sculpture featuring a bowl-like platform and a spherical thing. Although I have not idea what UV Ceti is or represents, the ball look like a celestial body of some sort. Turns out I was on the right track. A UV Ceti variable, also known as a flare star, is a dwarf star whose temperature and brightness drastically in a span of minutes. Pretty cool, eh? A thank you to Mr. Andrew Posa for his creation!
Over my time of studying streetscapes I’ve developed a theory: the greatest structures in terms of grandeur are, in order, churches, government buildings (city halls, parliaments etc), banks, and post offices. Considered under its original incarnation, the Irish Embassy Pub falls into the third category. With its arched windows and doorways and mansard roof, the design is spectacular. There is even ornamental faces – this time of lions! Looking up though, it’s apparent the wears of history and the elements have left their marks.
I cross Yonge and then Wellington to head southbound towards Front. Along the way I pass beautifully restored and coloured historic facades. My destination and terminus on this walk is a new building, Brookfield Place. The centre has been on my list of places to visit, so this was a treat. I enter into Sam Pollock Square, named for arguably the smartest man in hockey (at least, according to Don Cherry in an interview with Nardwuar the Human Serviette). The famed roofed is the main attraction with arches and criss-crossing wires.
I move into The Allen Lambert Galleria and am greeted by a photo exhibition: George Steinmetz’s Desert Air. It’s a fabulous little showing of unique natural landscapes running until April 17. No pictures from me, but it’s worth a look. Beside them is a restored heritage facade to a bank building. The appeal here is obvious – old with the new.
The main attraction, though, is the atrium. The tall atrium. Someone once described to me as a forest – a tall, symmetrical, sterile forest. I personally would not have seen it if not pointed to me, but I see where the comparison comes in. Steel trucks row by row, branches high above with little peeks of the sky between them. Just as I began the walk, I end by sticking around a while to just look up. Yes, definitely a habit.
Satisfied, I am tempted to take a tour through the Hockey Hall of Fame – it would be my first in 15 years. Alas, I nix the idea, reasoning it would be better under more social circumstances. I do hit the store briefly for some browsing. No whim purchases though – everything is nearly above what I’m willing to shell out. After that, I exit and walk up Yonge Street for lunch and coffee, courtesy of Dineen Coffee.