The Case of the Missing L
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The Case of the Missing L

The street signs at the corner of Tyrrel Avenue and Christie Street. Photos courtesy of Herrie ten Cate.

No, Sesame Street hasn’t produced another episode of Law and Order: Special Letters Unit—rather, this mystery involves Tyrrel Avenue, a street just south of Christie Street and St. Clair Avenue West. For the last few decades—ever since the City installed its classic black-and-white street signs—Tyrrel has been in the throes of a minor existential crisis. At the moment, there are two street signs at Christie Street and Tyrrel Avenue with different spellings: a newer black-and-white sign that spells Tyrrel with one L (the street’s official spelling) and an older sign that spells it with two.
Enter Herrie ten Cate, a resident of Tyrrel Avenue and the man looking to solve this mystery. ten Cate believes that the avenue might be named after William Tyrrell, Weston’s first elected reeve, which would mean that the older sign is correct and that the official spelling is wrong.

“We have two street signs at the corner of Christie and Tyrrel, one with two Ls and one with one L,” ten Cate told Torontoist. “Before the City puts up new signs, and possibly compounds their mistake, we should establish once and for all whether this is named after the Squire of Weston, and if it is, it should have two Ls.”
So far, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests that ten Cate’s hunch is correct. According to Jane Beecroft, president of the Community History Project, William’s son, James William Tyrrell, surveyed the street and named it after his father. A gentleman who lived on the street in the 1940s also confirmed that the official spelling used to have two Ls. Finally, Mary E. Robson, in her book, The Origin of Toronto Street Names Ward 5, suggests that the street was named after another member of the Tyrrell family, William’s other son, Joseph Burr Tyrrell, the famous geologist who discovered dinosaur bones in Alberta’s badlands. Unfortunately, ten Cate has yet to come across any hard evidence to back up these claims, and so far the only City records available support the spelling of Tyrrel with just one L.
Once upon a time, Tyrrel Avenue was known as Victoria Street. But in 1909, when Bracondale Hill, the neighbourhood that Tyrrel Avenue runs though, was annexed by the old City of Toronto, the street was renamed (probably to avoid confusion with the Victoria Street located downtown). According to By-law 5335, passed June 28, 1909, the official spelling has just one L—though if the oral evidence ten Cate’s discovered is correct, that could be the clerical error that’s led to this mess.
We contacted the City’s Survey and Mapping Department and asked about this issue, and they told us that even if ten Cate can prove that the City has made a mistake, he’ll have to go through the City’s official renaming policy if he wants to see the error corrected.
“Yes, it is possible that the By-law 5335 is in error,” Wally Kowalenko, city surveyor and director of the Survey and Mapping Department, told us, “however, in my view there is no significant evidence to suggest that this is the case. Rather than debating how the street name should be spelled, it would be much simpler to have the street name changed by by-law to reflect what the majority of residents on the street would prefer.”
Unfortunately, the City’s street renaming policy is anything but simple. In most cases, that’s probably a good thing, as it dissuades residents from constantly trying to change street names. In this case, however, if the City’s the one at fault, then going through the full process seems overly time-consuming and expensive.
To change a street name in Toronto, a majority of the residents on a given street must sign a petition calling for a name change. The petition then goes to the Survey and Mapping department, which forwards a report to different affected agencies, including councillors, heritage groups, and local associations. If those parties agree to the change, then the request is sent to the appropriate community council to approve. Once approved, a changeover date is set, and affected residents and services are informed of the impending change. Applicants might also have to foot the bill for any “costs incurred as a result of their request.”
“It’s just a question of getting it right or wrong,” ten Cate explained to us. “If the new street signs are going to go up, then at least let’s get it right. In the big picture, it’s a very minor little thing, but let’s just fix it and move on to more important subjects.”