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/.

Was this the first Chinese restaurant in Toronto’s Junction?

On November 17, 1919, The Globe ran an odd article about a scuffle in a Junction restaurant. The event highlighted how a restaurant worker, potentially an owner, asked some patrons to stop smoking in his establishment. The customers disagreed and threw his own plates at the man before fleeing.

While the events are bizarre, the article features several notable details that, taken with other sources and context, paint an interesting picture of historic Toronto. First, it informs of one of the first Chinese-operated restaurants outside the central core of Toronto and perhaps the first restaurant in The Junction neighbourhood. It references the Chinese population and restaurants of the city in the early 20th century. Finally, it alludes to the general depiction and treatment of the Chinese community at the time.

“Chinaman is pelted with own crockery” The Globe, November 17, 1919.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives

The first significant detail in The Globe article is the “restaurant at 2,904 Dundas Street West”. The name of the cafe is not given, but the potential proprietor is listed as a “Ying Buck”, who is unfortunately described as a ‘Chinaman’ and ‘Celestial’ with ‘Manchurian blood’.

The name of the restaurant in 1919 is tricky to identify. The City of Toronto Directory for the year 1919 lists a “Chinese Restaurant” at 2904 Dundas Street West. In the year prior, the address previously hosted a “Gus Freeman, restaurant.” The early City Directories did not explicitly name Chinese entreprises or their proprietors, which makes their identification through this source challenging. Eateries were simply listed as “Chinese restaurant.”

1919 City of Toronto Directory showing 2904 Dundas Street West.
Source: Toronto Public Library

The actual name of the Chinese restaurant can be somewhat identified through other sources. The City of Toronto Archives displays a “Amo Cafe” in an image of Dundas Street West looking west of Mavety Street in 1923, which is consistent with the address 2904 Dundas West.

Dundas looking West at Mavety Amo Cafe, 1923.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

References to “The Amo Cafe” are scarce in other sources, but the next appearance of the restaurant were in October 1929. The Globe and Toronto Daily Star outlined another bizarre scenario in which the cafe’s owner, this time a Charlie Chong, was held up in front of patrons by two youths after midnight on October 28.

“Restaurant Robbed By Two Armed Youths” The Globe, October 28, 1929.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives.

Several wanted ads connected to 2904 Dundas Street West pointed to the address as a Chinese restaurant. In May 1919, a restaurant at 2904 Dundas published a wanted ad for an ‘experienced waitress’, possibly at a time when the restaurant was recently open or about to open. In 1925, a chef at 2904 Dundas placed an ad looking for work, seeming self-identifying as ‘Chinese’ and ‘experienced.’

By the 1930s, the restaurant at 2904 Dundas Street West was finally named in the directories. First, it appeared as “Ging Ing restaurant” in 1931. Then by the middle of the decade, “Amo Cafe” is named with proprietor “Bing Ing” (possibly the same individual as Ging Ing). It is not clear whether what the restaurant was called between 1919 and 1922, but it was almost certainly a Chinese restaurant. The Amo Cafe is listed in the City Directories until 1969, the last year of digitized directories in the Toronto Public Library’s collection. It may have been open longer. Unfortunately, there are not many other details identifiable about the cafe, such as the menu, employees, or what it looked liked beyond some descriptions of the kitchen being located in the rear.

The other addresses and names outlined in the article also tell us a bit more about the world around The Amo Cafe in the Junction. While Ying Buck, the owner of the Amo Cafe, does not appear in any other sources, C. Ham – or at least his address – shows up in the 1919 City Directory. At 21 Hook Avenue, a Mrs. Margaret Ham is listed, which may be a relative of Ham. The surname appears to be of Chinese origin.

1919 City of Toronto Directory showing 21 Hook Avenue.
Source: Toronto Public Library

Detective Hazelwood and Police Station No. 9 are also in the sources. Hazelwood is named in several crime-related news items. The police station was also known as Keele Street Station. Dundas Street West was complete with many everyday establishments: eateries, butchers, banks, candy shops, bicycle shops, grocers, and more. The restaurant, the police station, and Ham’s potential residence could all be found in a kilometre radius.

Fire Hall, Toronto, Keele St., west side south of Dundas St. West, 1953.
Source: Toronto Public Library
1924 Goads Fire Insurance Map showing Amo Cafe, Police Station No. 9, and 21 Hook Avenue.
Source: Goad’s Toronto

The existence of the Amo Cafe within this Junction neighbourhood is particularly curious as it was not an obvious location for Chinese restaurants for the time. The 1919 City Directory had a subsection for Chinese establishments under its category of restaurants. In this subsection, 2904 Dundas West is the only restaurant listed on its street, and the only one listed outside of the core of Toronto. The majority of restaurants were listed under Queen Street, Yonge Street, and York Street. The early Chinese community settled in Toronto in The Ward on Elizabeth Street near Queen Street. It is not clear if there was a notable Chinese population in the Junction in the 1920s and beyond.

1919 City of Toronto Directory showing Chinese Restaurants.
Source: Toronto Public Library
Elizabeth Street and Louisa Street, looking north on Elizabeth Street, Toronto, Ontario. Young Sai Tong and Co., teas, is shown on Elizabeth Street, northeast corner of Louisa Street, 1925.
Source: Toronto Public Library
Restaurant staff and customers gather at soda fountain and in booths, ca 1937. The window displays ‘restaurant’. The business is unknown.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The diction and content of The Globe article is also worth mentioning, because it is unfortunately representative of media characterizations of the Chinese community of Toronto at the time. ‘Chinaman’ and ‘Celestial’, now racial slurs, were common descriptors. For example, there are 3,639 results for searches of ‘Chinaman’ in the The Globe’s newspaper archive for 1900 to 1929. Ying Buck’s “Manchurian blood”, although perhaps not a common racist phrase, is also a questionable choice of words as Manchuria is a region within China, but there are not enough details to know if The Globe knew of the man’s origin.

News articles about Chinese restaurants in Toronto in the early 20th century also seemed to lean towards unfortunate events, like the 1919 scuffle and 1929 robberies of The Amo Cafe. Even the headline “Chinaman Pelted With His Crockery” highlights a level of violence and sensationalism. Robberies, gambling and drug raids, mobs, fines, and explosions make up some of the topics of newsworthy events. There also seems to be a general sentiment of distrust of and mystery about Chinese establishments and the Chinese quarter.

“Dozen Clubs of Toronto’s Chinatown near Queen and York”, Toronto Daily Star, January 31, 1914.
Source: Toronto Star Archives

Today, there are plethora of Chinese restaurants in Toronto. Its community is large and vibrant. Gains have been imperfect and disgusting societal biases still remain, but one can hope the world of today is a step up from the attitudes of the time of the Amo Cafe. In an interesting turn of events, 2904 Dundas Street West is a Chinese restaurant in 2022, resuming a century-old legacy for the historic property.

2904 Dundas Street West in 2021
Source: Google Maps

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 geographic history of a North York neighbourhood

Note: This article is written without any prior affiliation to or contextual knowledge of the history of the Highland Memory Gardens or the family farms of North York. Their inclusion is as a reference tool to show change.

This is Highland Memory Gardens. It is located near the intersection of Don Mills and Steeles Avenues, in Toronto’s north end. The development of this cemetery and its surrounding area is an interesting look into the creation and evolution of this inner suburbs.

This is the area around Highland Memory Gardens in 1860. Historically, the area consisted of lot 21 (at today’s Finch Avenue) to lot 25 (at Steeles Avenue) of the Third Concession East of Yonge Street (Leslie Street), which were generally 200-acre lots extending to the Fourth Concession East (Woodbine Avenue/Highway 404). Notably absent is a middle road (now Don Mills Road) between the two concession roads. The cemetery itself is located along the east side of the top half lot 23 and the bottom half of lot 24.

1860 Tremaine’s Map of York Country.
Source: Old Toronto Maps

As seen this 1878 map, the area was part of the larger community of L’Amoreaux (also spelled L’Amaroux). The village crossed both sides of the North York-Scaborough townline, with its spine running along Finch Avenue and lots extending to Steeles and Sheppard Avenue.

The L’Amoreaux Post Office stood just west of Victoria Park Avenue on the south side of a lost section of Finch Avenue (it would be re-aligned through the townline in the 1970s). Further west, a Methodist Church and cemetery, a Temperance Hall, and School House stood near Leslie Street.

1878 Illustrated Atlas of York Country.
Source: Old Toronto Maps
Looking west across Finch Avenue, 1955. The road jogs at Woodbine Avenue. In the distance, York School Section 12 (now Zion Schoolhouse) stands on the left of the street and Zion Primitive Methodist Church (now Zion Church Cultural Centre) stands on the right.

Below: York School Section 12 and Zion Primitive Methodist Church, 1957.

Source: Toronto Public Library.

Cutting diagonally through the large block was a creek, now named Duncan Creek. It ran from near Leslie and Steeles (where its namesake’s farming lots stood) to its terminus near Victoria Park and Finch. It does not to seem to have been a major source of industry, compared to the adjacent Don River which hosted a number of mills. In the 1916 map below, the creek slinks its away across lots, although its course is a bit off compared to the earlier maps and later aerial photographs.

1916 Map of Toronto, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

This 1954 aerial photograph is a visual of the area and tells us that even by this decade, the area still maintained its largely rural character. A more precise view of the creek is visible along with the greenery running along its course.

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

For the area plot that would become the Highland Memory Gardens, 1953 was last year it existed as farm fields. A key reference point is the small roadway leading from Woodbine Avenue to a farm near the banks of Duncan Creek. This roadway was the divisor between lots 23 and 24.

1953 Aerial Image.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The cemetery found a home to the west of Woodbine Avenue, with an entrance leading off the street. The initial layout of the cemetery is a circular path. Some “offshooting” paths seem to laid out as well.

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

By 1956, an “arm” shoots off the southern half of the main circle, looping west to connect to the main roadway.

1956 Aerial Image.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

By the close of the decade, the layout of the cemetery increased more with off shoots on the north of the main circle.

1959 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

In 1962, more acreage is added westward and a pond on the north east corner of the plot seems to be more completed. The lawns of the ground look to be landscaped. A tiny building, potentially the administrative centre, appears at the top of the lot.

1962 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The midpoint of the decade saw few geographic changes, but the notable start of residential development to the west of the creek.

1965 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

By 1968, the cemetery expands again to the west. It would be its last major territorial expansion. The subdivision to the west of the creek appears complete, clearly stopping at the property line midway between Woodbine and Leslie.

1968 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

By the start of the 1970s, development starts to grow to the south of the cemetery, replacing the longtime farm buildings. An early Don Mills Road begins to curl in from the the south as well as an early McNiccol Avenue slinks from west to east.

1970 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

By 1973, the farm buildings near the creek are razed as the land is about to be filled in by housing. The creek itself disappears under the subdivision to the south of the cemetery. The land north of the cemetery also sees new subdivisions.

1973 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

By 1976, Don Mills Road is completed, seemingly bending through the area to provide a second access point to the cemetery. Townhouses are built between the creek and Don Mills Road.

1976 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

By the 1980s, Highland Memory Gardens took on the form seen today. Highway 404 was completed in the late 1970s replacing the former Woodbine Avenue right of way. With that, the main entrance to the cemetery shifted to Don Mills Road with the old entrance off Woodbine being built over. Several other buildings would later fill the northeast corner.

1981 Aerial Image
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Today, Highland Memory Gardens is part of the Hillcrest Village neighbourhood of Toronto, an area roughly encompassed by Steeles Avenue, Finch Avenue, Leslie Street, and Victoria Park Avenue.

The Zion Church and Schoolhouse still stand today as 19th century reminders, but references to the area as L’Amoreaux are non-existent today. The post office and its street are gone, with the Old Finch Avenue closed in 1977 and Pawnee Avenue roughly replacing it as the two Finches were connected. (The L’Amoreaux name does live on in Scarborough, of course.)

“Borough of North York Notice of Road Closing”, The Globe and Mail, September 9, 1977.
Source: The Globe and Mail Archives

There is a trail and parkland which follows Duncan Creek; the Seneca Newnham Campus, founded in the late 1960s, now runs over a buried portion of the creek. The property lines of the 40-acre Highland Memory Gardens reference the old concession lots, offering a forgotten link to the past.

1975 Aerial Image of Victoria Park and Finch Avenue
Source: City of Toronto Archives

“Know Agincourt, but Their Maps Ignore Toronto”: A Quick History of The Agincourt Magnetic Observatory

When one thinks of the history of Scarborough, the intersection of Midland Avenue and the 401 might not be the first thought. However, a site that once stood there for more the half the 20th century literally put the local community on the international scientific map. This was the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory.

Aerial image of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, 1957.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The story of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory begins not in Scarborough, but on the grounds of King’s College in downtown Toronto in 1840. The school became the University of Toronto in 1850. Contrary to the dense district of today, the university was then sparsely populated – in other words, perfect conditions to minimize interference. The University granted 2.5 acres for a site that was located on the southwest side of today’s King’s College Circle.

“The Old Toronto Observatory” painted by William Armstrong, 1852.
Source: University of Toronto Archives
Boulton Atlas, 1858.
Source: Goad’s Toronto

The Globe described the laboratory:

“The first observatory was of logs, rough cast on the outside and plastered on the inside; it was completed during the summer of 1840 and observations were begun in September.”

The Globe, October 1, 1898
University of Toronto Campus Map, 1859.
Source: University of Toronto Archives

The second observatory was built in the autumn of 1853, replacing the wooden observatory on the same site. It was built of stone and the nails and fastenings were of copper and zinc.

The Toronto Observatory as seen looking south from University College, 1857.
Source: Toronto Public Library.
Dominion of Canada Observatory, 1880s.
Source: University of Toronto Archives

In 1892, Toronto’s growing infrastructure began to spell the beginning of the end for the observatory. To be sure, as early as 1876, new structures on the university grounds began to impact the observatory, but it was nothing like the electric railway to come. Streetcars were electrified, first beginning with the Church Street line opened on August 17, 1892, and then the College Street line only steps from the building. Instead of recording magnetic changes, the observatory recorded the starting and stoppings of the trolleys. In 1896, Sir Frederick Stupart, the director at the observatory, took up the issue with the government. There would be no action until a report was received from a committee of meteorologists visiting from England that year. This report recommended the centre be moved far away — to Scarborough.

Goad’s Fire Insurance Map, 1889.
Source: Goad’s Toronto.

The observatory was relocated just south of the Agincourt Village centre at the current intersection of Midland Avenue and Sheppard Avenue where a Presbyterian Church and nearby Canadian National and Canadian Pacific stations stood. It was perfect in that no electric railway lines existed – at least not in seven miles and there was little prospect of any lines for many years (the railway did not interfere either). The observatory stood in a 4-acre field at the north end of the southern half of lot 16 (Midland Avenue) and Concession II (Ellesmere Avenue), belonging to the Forfar family. It was constructed over the summer of 1898 and opened in September. The first observations were made on September 10 and by the end of the month, all instruments had been moved from Toronto to the new site.

Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library
Aerial image of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, 1947.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

This Observatory was described in The Globe:

“…[It] consists of two parts, a circular stone collar nineteen feet in diameter, the walls two feet in thickness, the floor concrete and the roof covered with felt and gravel, in which on stone piers sunk in concrete to a depth of six feet below the floor are place the self-recording photographic instruments, namely, the declinometer for recording changes in the direction of the magnetic needle and the bifilar and vertical force instrument, for registering respectively changes in the horizontal and vertical components of the earth’s magnetism: above ground and connected with the cellar by a flight of steps is an erection which divided into two portions, in the larger of which absolute magnetic determinations will be made, piers being provided on which to place the necessary instruments, and an adjustable opening on the roof for transit work – and the smaller, an office, which will be heated by a copper stove.”

The Globe, October 1, 1898
The Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, The Globe and Mail, November 26, 1952.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives
Basement of Magnetic Building, Agincourt, early 20th Century.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The old Toronto Observatory continued to serve as the central office of the Dominion Meteorological Service. All photographic records from Agincourt were sent there for development. It also conducted astronomical studies. In 1908, the observatory was dismantled to accommodate an extension to King’s College Circle and possibly a new physics building. It was reconstructed brick by brick near Hart House, where it stands today as a students’ union. Some installations stand near its former location between Convocation Hall and the Sandford Fleming Building.

Convocation Hall – East side and Old Observatory, 1907.
Source: University of Toronto Archives
Goad’s Fire Insurance Map, 1930.
Source: University of Toronto Archives
Louis B. Stewart Observatory (UTSU), 12 Hart House Circle, 1980s or 1990s.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

In 1899, severe earthquakes in Alaska were recorded at the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory. In 1903, the observatory recorded the largest magnetic storm on October 30 and 31, which Director Stupart “intimately” connected sunspots and magnetic disturbances on earth. The centre recorded more such magnetic storms attributed to sun sports on Aug 8, 1917. The Agincourt labs were useful in World War II against Germany for “calibration of master compasses and other apparatuses”.

The Toronto Daily Star, September 12, 1917
Source: Toronto Star Archives.

The Globe and Mail, November 26, 1952.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives

The significance of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory and its activities were very well documented and even world-renowned. In 1919, the Observatory was threatened by a proposed Toronto to Port Perry Hydro Radial, which had officials looking for a new site where electricity would not penetrate that observatory’s environment. It was of significant alarm as the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory was one of two of its kind in Canada and by far the more important of the pair. In 1957, a contagion of scientists from around the world visited Agincourt as a part of some sessions by the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics held at the University of Toronto. They asserted that they knew Agincourt better than Toronto as the village appeared in “thousands of International Geophysical maps” around the world.

Despite its importance, city growth once again spelled the end for the site. Meeting a similar fate to the Toronto Observatory seventy years before, the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory closed in March 1969. In the 1950s, Highway 401 was constructed next to the laboratory. Farms adjacent to the observatory began to turn into housing. Factories were built on either side of the property in the 1960s. On July 1, 1968, a new observatory opened in Ottawa. By 1971, the Agincourt structures were gone completely. Today, government offices stand in its place, hiding the great landmark once housed there.

Aerial image of recently demolished Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, 1971.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Site of Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, 2022.
Source: Google Maps

Works Referenced

“Astronomical Conversation.” The Globe, 21 Jan. 1903, p. 12.

“Chilly Weather.” The Globe, 14 Dec. 1898, p. 2.

Dobson, Jack. “Magnetic Observatory One of Canada’s First.” The Globe and Mail, 26 Nov. 1952, p. 3.

Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada. “Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada.” Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Hazards Information Service, Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada, 1 Mar. 2019, https://www.geomag.nrcan.gc.ca/obs/ott-en.php.

“Heritage of 315 Bloor Street West.” Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, 28 June 2018, https://munkschool.utoronto.ca/at-the-observatory/.

“Know Agincourt But Their Maps Ignore Toronto.” The Globe and Mail, 12 Sept. 1957, p. 7.

“The Mounted Police.” The Globe, 7 Mar. 1900, p. 9.

“The New Observatory at Agincourt.” The Globe, 12 Dec. 1898, p. 2.

“The New Observatory.” The Globe, 1 Oct. 1898, p. 5.

“New Radial Line Will Compel Removal of Observatory.” The Globe, 2 Apr. 1919, p. 9.

“Safe From Wires.” The Evening Star, 27 Sept. 1898, p. 1.

“The Spots on the Sun.” The Globe, 6 Nov. 1903, p. 7.

“Studying Magnetic Storms By Diagram.” The Toronto Daily Star, 12 Sept. 1917, p. 2.

“To Remove Observatory.” The Globe, 1 May 1906, p. 14.

“Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Oct. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Magnetic_and_Meteorological_Observatory.

Torontoist. “Historicist: The Toronto Magnetic Observatory.” Torontoist, 13 Oct. 2012, https://torontoist.com/2012/10/historicist-the-toronto-magnetic-observatory/.

“University of Toronto.” Google Books, Google, https://books.google.ca/books?id=kZ61LfzVhJkC&pg=PA353&lpg=PA353&dq=Agincourt%2BMagnetic%2BObservatory%2Bdemolished&source=bl&ots=J5xhggL2Kp&sig=ACfU3U3shyLGTOksTCogpU3LkY1g-zYbSA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjL3KiDx_31AhVZkYkEHcsiDGIQ6AF6BAgPEAM#v=onepage&q=Agincourt%20Magnetic%20Observatory%20demolished&f=false.

“University of Toronto: An Architectural Tour (the Campus Guide) 2nd Edition.” Google Books, Google, https://books.google.ca/books?id=ZTKODwAAQBAJ&pg=PA66&lpg=PA66&dq=toronto%2Bmagnetic%2Bobservatory%2Bking%27s%2Bcollege%2Bcircle&source=bl&ots=T4jfUxams4&sig=ACfU3U0gAQKK9gQj9HbunIK0Z4YFwkdfpQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi3iI682_31AhWEk4kEHXmTBDEQ6AF6BAhOEAM#v=onepage&q=toronto%20magnetic%20observatory%20king’s%20college%20circle&f=false.

“World Weather.” The Globe and Mail, 26 Nov. 1952, p. 3.

“A World-Shaking Earthquake.” The Globe, 27 Sept. 1899, p. 8.


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