The Evolution of Queens Quay
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The Evolution of Queens Quay

Streetcar track construction on Queens Quay, looking west to York Street, May 31, 1927. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4932.

When the first set of streetcar tracks was laid on Queens Quay in 1927, we suspect aesthetic concerns about the surroundings were low on the priority list. Apart from the ferry dock, the spartan industrial landscape didn’t scream for amenities like trees and cobbled sidewalks. While Queens Quay’s industrial beginnings are still visible on the eastern end of the street, the section through the central waterfront has gone from being a hub of shipping and warehousing activity to an area meant for relaxing in on a sunny afternoon.
Last month, tensions between the City and Waterfront Toronto flared up, as the TTC informed Waterfront Toronto that plans for revitalizing this central portion of Queens Quay might need to be revised due to a financing delay. (Ironically, that delay is due to the City, which has not authorized a reallocation of funds from other waterfront projects to this one.) Regardless of how the simmering battle between Waterfront Toronto and the TTC turns out, the street will see changes over the coming years—another stage of the evolution of Queens Quay.

Queens Quay East, looking east, from west of Bonnycastle Street, early 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5657.

One potential side effect of the funding delay, due to a long string of technicalities, is that Queens Quay may turn into a one-way street. This has happened before: during the early 1960s, the road served as an eastbound-only route for Highway 2 while construction of the Gardiner Expressway crept toward downtown and the Don River (westbound traffic used Lake Shore Boulevard).
The archival notes indicate that this picture was one of a series taken following a bicycle accident. Cyclists would have to wait a quarter of a century before the Martin Goodman Trail took them off portions of Queens Quay, and still take their lives into their hands on barely separated sections of the street.

Lake Street, circa 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 236A.

Queens Quay sits atop infill that was started in the mid-19th century, stretching the city south for industrial development. One of the first roads built on the new land was Lake Street, which ran from Yonge Street to a bridge that stretched down from Front and John Streets. Infill along the central waterfront sped up after the formation of the Toronto Harbour Commission in 1911, which caused Lake Street to lose its shipping facilities. The street was closed to traffic in 1953—the intersection depicted above lies in the vicinity of Bay Street and the Gardiner Expressway.

Waterfront at foot of York Street from Royal York Hotel, circa 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1439.

Dotted lines on city maps published in the mid-1920s heralded the arrival of Queens Quay. By the end of the decade, industrial properties such as the Toronto Terminal Warehouse (shown above) settled in.

A crowd at the ferry docks on July 1, 1931. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 8667.

Among the non-industrial landmarks of the new roadway was the new ferry dock, which was serviced by an extension of the Bay streetcar line (and later the Dupont streetcar) until 1963. This Depression-era picture demonstrates that July 1 has always been a profitable day for ferry operators.

The original Captain John’s, circa 1970. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 287, Item 1.

As the 1960s ended, Queens Quay felt like a tired industrial road. The occasional new business dotted the landscape, such as the original incarnation of Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant. The Normac served diners and tourists until it sank after a city ferry rammed into it in 1981.

Proposed modes of transportation for a revitalized waterfront, circa 1970. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 288, Item 59.

We’ve lost count of the many waterfront development schemes presented to the public since mankind arrived on the shore of Lake Ontario. We’re still waiting for the cable car service from Ward’s Island to the gate of Tommy Thompson Park promised in this 1970 transportation proposal.

York Quay Centre, between 1977 and 1998. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 144, Item 13.

Following the formation of the Harbourfront Corporation by the federal government in 1972, industrial complexes along the water gave way to artistic and recreational facilities such as York Quay Centre. By the 1980s, the City and Harbourfront were locked in bitter disputes over development issues such as condo tower heights and parkland.

Canada Malting Company, Bathurst Street Quay, circa 1988. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 159, Item 7.

The extension of Queens Quay from Rees Street to Stadium Road also got caught up in the disputes. The road sat finished but unopened for six months, until the city took down the barriers on May 9, 1986. The past quarter-century has seen many changes along the road, from the return of streetcars to signs promising daycare centres and other developments. We’ll see if long-promised redevelopment of the Canada Malting silos beyond some demolition on the property ever comes to fruition.

Harbourfront, 1970s. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 8, Item 297.

While Waterfront Toronto and the TTC prepare to battle over the future of Queens Quay, we’ll leap on the Harbourfront trampoline while waiting for the first shovel to go into the ground.