Category Archives: Other Musings

Mentally Mapping Toronto: Part I

I started this blog with the goal of exploring Toronto. Within that, I wanted to also uncover more of the hazy, black fog that presides over parts of my mental map of Toronto (which actually reminds me of charting through new terrain in the old Command & Conquer games I used to play).

As an exercise, I decided to recreate the map of Toronto from memory – that is, its main road- and highways, railroads, waterways, and some parks. Gotta say: It was hard and certainly not pretty! This is how I did:

Mental Map Toronto

To create this, I drew – that is, recalled – from personal experience in physically being in these places as well as my interest in looking up the paths of railroads or ravines (although, even then it’s hard to recall where two rail lines meet or where a river branches off or curves; for this reason I didn’t bother at all with the smaller ravines like the Highland or Mimico). You can see my corrections as I remember ‘Hey, Dundas West meets Bloor near High Park, not in Etobicoke!’.

The eastern part of the city – my home base – looks pretty decent. South Scarborough is a bit fuzzy, though; it was challenging to remember how much and where Kingston Road curves – even almost forgetting that it meets highway 401 (and forgetting how much the 401 winds and dips too). If I were to draw the north-south throughways, I probably couldn’t remember all their southern termini. I believe everything east of Kennedy stops/starts at the Bluffs (because Kennedy itself stops/starts near Kingston and Danforth). And truthfully, in my mind, the southern end of the borough does feel another city despite existing within the same borders.

The west-er I go, the more empty the map gets. This was expected because, aside from Downsview in the northwestern reaches of North York (which I know from spending five years at York University), I haven’t spent much time in the west end. I couldn’t tell you what a Weston or a Thistletown or a Rexdale looks like or where their hearts are located. Part of it is I haven’t had a tangible reason to travel there: I don’t know what’s there and literally cannot visualize them. I know North Etobicoke, if it’s anything like North Scarborough, has likely a lot of apartment towers. Are there old bits too? Possibly, but I don’t know. The other part is it’s so far in both my mind’s eye and in the real world.

Still though, I should tread through those dark spots, no?

‘Millions Put in New Buildings: Toronto’s Growing Business Must be Accommodated’ – The Globe: March 19, 1907

While digging up some info on a separate topic (expectedly, a look into a former factory in Toronto’s east end), I came across an interesting article in the March 19, 1907 edition of The Globe. It speaks to the growth of Toronto’s built character in that year. It makes reference to many prominent buildings in the story of Toronto then under construction – some still with us, some not.



What fascinated me most is that the article speaks directly to the economic, industrial, and commercial expansion of Toronto in the early 20th century. It’s my theory that this period – that is, the Edwardian era through to the interwar years – was massively transformative on a number of levels – social, economic, and political –  and maybe the most crucial period in the city’s history.

Just off the top of my head, one sees the annexation of numerous communities into the grand City of Toronto, the introduction of the automobile, the emergence of Toronto Hydro, the prominence of neighbourhood theatres (and, with that, vaudeville theatre), and, through my own research into Toronto’s industrial history, the erection of countless manufacturing establishments. Such a topic – the expansion of Toronto from 19oo to 1930 (or, pushing it more, 1940) – I believe is deserving of a book or, at least, a scholarly paper. Perhaps I should take this up.

To get a better sense of the locations in the piece, I referred to the ever resourceful Toronto Historic Maps site.

Striking here is the author’s suggestion that the number of building projects underway is unprecedented – upwards of 3 million dollars. There was a push to rebuild Toronto after the Great Fire of 1904, but looks as though in 1907, the expansion was far more accelerated.

There’s, of course reference, to Eaton’s and Simpson’s, both manufacturing and commercial juggernauts in Toronto at one time. The former’s holdings at what is largely now the Eaton Centre has been completely wiped out, including the mentioned factory at Yonge and Albert. It’s an intersection that no longer exists either! For the expanding Robert Simpson Co., the writer talks about James Street upcoming extension to Richmond, which did indeed happen according to the 1913 Goad’s, but it’s now  back to its original terminus.


Familiar to me are the Christie, Brown & Co. factory (now George Brown College) and the Queen City Vinegar Co. (now lofts). Both impressive structures. Also, Riverdale and Leslieville experienced quite a bit of growth in the early century, and that’s reflected here.


Aside from the Canada Foundry Co., located up at Lansdowne between Davenport and Dupont, many of these look to be in what is now the Entertainment District. I’m surprised there’s no reference to the Massey-Harris plants as they surely expanded in this period.


MillionsPutInNewBuildings52I don’t know if that 20-storey office was ever built. And where this Monarch Bank is/was. I do like the early adaptive re-use though, even if a store to a bank isn’t the hugest stretch!

MillionsPutInNewBuildings6A couple of E.J. Lennox properties appear in the King Edward Hotel and the Victoria Orange Hall at Queen and Bond, a grand building which stood as a testament to Protestant Toronto. Nearby, Mr. Shea’s theatre was the aptly named Shea at Victoria and Richmond, now lost. The new theatre on King Street West is undoubtedly the Royal Alexandra. The very final point refers to Lol Solman, the man behind Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park.

City building, expropriation, and lost histories

For all the houses, farmland, communities that been sold or expropriated to build infrastructure in and around Toronto – roads, highways, subway lines, airports, even our city hall – there isn’t a lot made of the losses that went into the gains. At least, I haven’t encountered a lot. Historian Jay Young explores the expropriation of homes to build Toronto’s underground transit network in his dissertation “Searching for a Better Way: Subway Life and Metropolitan Growth in Toronto, 1942-1978” . It is a fascinating read and I wonder if there’s more out there (Young does cites another article by Jason Gilliland about expropriation in Montreal). If history is about telling stories that haven’t been told yet and recounting perhaps lost perspectives, then I’d like to hear these stories and perspectives. Where are they and where did they go?

They are important ones and vital to how we see and experience the city today. When waiting for a plane at Pearson International’s Terminal 1 or for a bus at Pape Station’s loading bay, it isn’t obvious to think about the structures and the lives that pre-existed those grand transportation hubs. There’s no marker for their sacrifices. Urban landscapes shift and streetscapes change as the new replaces the old. And when the tangible goes, often so does the intangible. But they were here and I wonder what became of them. Progress shifted their life paths. How many of them expected to live in their settings for many years to come? There’s a segment of the population today that boast multi-generational ownership of their homes; perhaps that number could have been higher.

To be clear, I’m not lamenting the construction of the Yonge-University-Spadina line or YYZ or Highway 401. They move people around and are needed to accommodate a growing metropolis. I’m just left with the questions about the people that made it happen. How was the dialogue with the city to give up their homes? What was it like looking at their empty houses and properties for the last time? Where did they even go after? How did their lives differ? What was the good? What was the bad? Are there relatives today that claim those stories? I think those are stories worth hearing and remembering.

Future site of Pape Subway Station, 1927. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4828

Future site of Pape Subway Station, 1927. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4828

Future Site of Dupont Subway Station, 1954. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33b, Item 425

Future site of Dupont Subway Station, 1954. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33b, Item 425

For additional reading of a sad modern-day example, check out the expropriation of the Meyers farm to expand the CFB Trenton air force base.

A Grand Geographic Timeline of Toronto History?

This is just me trying to get down some ideas. It may be rough and unclear, but hopefully something to build on.

As a follower of Toronto’s history, I come across a lot of dates – when something was built, when a town is incorporated, when a park is founded etc.

What’s interesting, though, is I’ve started noticing how certain years come up in different stories across the city.

Take the year 1854 as an example. A storm splits Toronto Peninsula to create the Toronto Islands. 26 km to the northeast John Hill founds a post office in Agincourt which signals the start of that community.

It’s fun to think about what was happening in different parts of the city at the same time. You have communities with no formal connections to each other growing alongside each other. Communities that eventually form the modern City of Toronto.

Wikipedia’s page on the History of Toronto has articles on History of Neighbourhoods, Historic places, Oldest buildings and structures, and Timeline of Toronto History. It would interesting to combine these into a giant timeline of events in Toronto’s history. More than that, because this relies on displaying information tied to places, I’d like to see the information displayed on a map (because really, who doesn’t like looking at maps?). I imagine being able to look at map of a given year and clicking on different nodes placed on that map. Then, being able to explore the map from the following year.

I imagine being able to draw observations about how the city developed, what was settled when, what areas were industrializing/de-industrializing, when and how natural landforms were shaped (think the burial of creeks) etc..

In all, it would be another way to capture the story of Toronto. Just an idea.

A View of York (Toronto) Upper Canada, 1820

Edmund Wyly Grier’s “A View of York (Toronto) Upper Canada, 1820”  Credit: Toronto Public Library

What’s In A Street Name?

A city’s streets can tell a lot about that city and its residents: who we are, where we came from, and who and what we value. In other words, names are a huge part of understanding our heritage. At least, that’s what I’ve discovered when looking at Toronto’s roads.

In general, Toronto streets fall into one of three  themes: (1) throwbacks to our British roots; (2) our city and community builders, and (3) literal descriptions (usually of the surrounding environment). If we really wanted to, we could also include a fourth category of streets that do not really have a rhyme or reason that we can tell, or their story has simply been lost.

First, some streets don their names after British royalty. Victoria Street and Queen Street are after Queen Victoria. The ‘King’ in King Street is King George (who might potentially also lend his name to George Street). Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany is honoured by, you guessed, Frederick and York Streets. These streets are the historical bigwigs across the pond.


In the second case, we have places like John and Simcoe Streets named after the city’s founder John Graves Simcoe, Cummer Avenue after Joseph Kummer of Willowdale, Leslie Street after arborist George Leslie of Leslieville, Bloor Street after brewer Joseph Bloore of Yorkville (and a seriously scary looking fellow), Denison Avenue after the George Denison the original owner of the land now known as Kensington Market (many other streets in area are named after his family as well), and Jarvis Street after the Jarvis family. Austin Terrace is named after the Austin Family who built and resided in the manor known today as Spadina House and Gardens Museum. At even a more local level, in early maps of Leslieville, we find streets that have now been redubbed, like Morley Avenue (now Woodfield), after men who were active in the community’s clay industry.


We don’t need to look any further than Old Toronto to see the last category play out. We find streets like The Esplanade. Sometimes near water, the esplanade (basically meaning road or waterway) nickname makes sense because at the time of its founding, the waterfront wasn’t as far out. Speaking of, Front Street was originally named because it followed the original coastline of Lake Ontario. Church Street one time housed many churches (leading to the Toronto ‘the Good’ moniker for the city) and at the foot of Parliament Street was Ontario’s first government buildings. River Street alludes to the adjacent Don River. Don Mills Road, which was once what we know today as Broadview Avenue (titled for the ‘broad view’ one sees of the city when passing over Riverdale Park East), refers to the early industrial mills situated on the Don River. Lot Street, a street we know today as Queen, referred to the parcels or ‘lots’ of land that ran to Bloor Street. Finally, Spruce, Elm, Oak are the names of roadways in the downtown area alone – presumably titled after the trees that lined them.

So what does this all say about us?

Our ancestors loved to pay tribute to the regime that founded the city as well as the Canadians that started the communities within the city’s confines…and that sometimes an unoriginal descriptor is perhaps the best name. This is all rightfully so. We should pay homage to our community founders and as much I support dumping the monarchy, they were instrumental in our history. And yes, it is fun and easy to be literalist.

What’s missing?

In Athens, I stayed on a street called 28 October Avenue – a date in which the Greek government said OXI in refusal to the Mussolini Fascists in 1940. Other cities employ the dates of revolutions from dictatorial or colonial rule (in the case of Latin countries, both). In other words, dates that resonate in the national and local consciousness of people. Do we have that in Canada and Toronto?

The 1st of July would be the most obvious choice. If anything most Canadians identify most with at least that day. I’d throw out a couple of other possibilities of a more local affiliation: 6 March Avenue and 27 April Street. The former reflects the day in 1834 when the Town of York was incorporated as the City of Toronto while the latter is in reference to the Battle of York in 1813 which marks the little known (and only) occasion when The Town of York was occupied by opposing American military forces.

Would these work in Toronto? Likely not. Although I sense that there is a growing connection between the population and its history, I somehow doubt most people could list off Toronto’s birthday or that a battle once took place on its land. Plus, not to discount their places in this city’s story, they do not have the “draw” that a revolution does. But it would be interesting to have anyways.

The other notable omissions are cultural icons within our streets. I can think of three: Mike Myers Drive in the Kennedy and Lawrence area, named after the famed Scarborough-born actor and comedian; Ed Mirvish Way, located beside the Royal Alexandra Theatre, is an homage to the great performing arts promoter; and the Martin Goodman Trail after the Toronto Star Editor-in-Chief. While the last of these is not a motor vehicle way, it is still a method people get around in the city and thus I have included it. I’d like to see more though. How about a Michael Snow Way? A Neil Young Boulevard? An E.J. Lennox Street? All three have made grand contributions to Toronto’s visual arts scene, music scene, and streetscapes respectively.

Lastly, I wonder about homages to the Aboriginal presence in the Toronto area. Yonge Street and Davenport Road were both originally Native trails, although their names do little to alert of that (although there is plenty of work done that tell those stories). Spadina comes from ishpadinaa meaning “be a high hill or sudden rise in the land” in Ojibwe.  The High Park neighbourhood features several ‘Aboriginal’ and non-PC-named streets including Indian Trail, Indian Road Crescent, and Indian Road. The latter intersects with Algonquin Avenue, one of the Native groups of Ontario. In the Weston Road and Rogers Road area one can find Seneca and Cayuga Avenues. These are of course two tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Iroquois connections continue with Hiawatha Road in Leslieville, as Hiawatha is the legendary leader who united the groups.

SenecaCayuga    AlgonquinIndianRoad

I quite honestly expected a lot less representation than I discovered. This is of course only a start, however. Aside from Spadina, which is actually situated on a hill near Casa Loma, their situations within the city are questionable. Do the ‘Indian’ streets follow a historical Aboriginal trial? Cayuga, Seneca, and Hiawatha are all in historical working class, industrial areas, ironically near brick yards. I wonder if there were any reason for the selection of those names in those areas.

How do we name streets anyways?

Not surprising, the way we get our streets names goes through Toronto City Council. According to the City’s Honourific and Street Naming Policy, names should reflect the culture and heritage of the community they are located, have the support of that community, be positive, and not be made into any inappropriate nicknames or abbreviation. In terms of content, the document outlines more guidelines:


Streets should generally be named after people, places, events and things relatedto the City and citizens of Toronto. Proposed names should meet one of the following criteria:

1. to honour and commemorate noteworthy persons associated with the City of  Toronto;

2. to commemorate local history, places, events or culture;

3. to strengthen neighbourhood identity; or

4. to recognize native wildlife, flora, fauna or natural features related to the community and the City of Toronto.

In other words, these are the same categories I have identified through my own observations while examining maps of the city. A proposal can be put forth by a councillor or members of the community at large. These proposals eventually reach a Community Council (consisting of the four former municipalities of Metro Toronto; Toronto and East York consisting of one). They might also reach City Council at large for a final say.

There are several things to note in terms of the points I raised already. First, the policy goes on to say in redubbed streets, names of living persons should be avoided. This makes my Neil Young suggestion perhaps a bit difficult, even though a commemoration of Mike Myers seemed to get through. Second, there is no explicit mention of the use of dates, but looking at section 6.1.2 (b), the argument could be made. Again, I do not think there will ever be a 6 March Boulevard. The connection to the city’s heritage does not seem to exist in that form.