Historicist: Extending Church Street
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Historicist: Extending Church Street

How a traffic-relief plan for a growing city became reality.

Source: the Mail and Empire, July 17, 1931.

As Toronto grew in the 1920s and its population pushed northward, traffic pressures on the few downtown arteries that ran north of Bloor Street intensified. During that decade, city planners devised several street extensions to relieve increased traffic on Avenue Road and Yonge Street. Of extensions proposed for routes like Bay, Jarvis, and Sherbourne, the lengthening of Church Street from Bloor Street to Davenport Road at Yonge Street was the first built.

The pre–Church Street extension street grid. Goad's Fire Insurance Plan, 1924.

The extension received its initial approval during a fiery meeting of the City’s works committee on October 7, 1929, where the $1.1-million plan passed by a 14-13 vote. Alderman Andrew Carrick walked out of the meeting when Mayor Samuel McBride moved to take the vote without any discussion of the issue—newspapers reported that negative comments he made on his way out of the chamber were drowned out by remarks from other aldermen. Fellow alderman John R. Beamish was one of the loudest opponents of the plan; he believed that other extension projects like the connection of Sherbourne Street to St. Clair Avenue (a plan that eventually evolved into the Mount Pleasant Road extension) were worthier of funding. “This Church Street extension would be a waste of money as at best it would provide merely a temporary relief of traffic,” he told his colleagues. The pro-extension side was best summed up by Controller A.E. Hacker, who noted “there is a lot of traffic congestion east of Yonge Street, and if any improvement is made it has to be started soon. Traffic in this city has got to move regardless of expense.”

The next obstacle was funding. The City assessed property owners along Church from King to Bloor and those 600 feet of either side of that stretch to pay for 75 per cent of the project (the City would fund the remainder). Reaction was mixed among the affected landlords: some at the south end of the street felt the new flow of traffic would make their stretch more attractive and raise property values, while others saw no benefit and wondered why landowners south of King didn’t have to contribute. Among those in favour of the assessments was H.B. MacDonald, who owned 120 Church Street. “Any through street is a help,” he told the Star in February 1930. “It is a benefit to the street and to Toronto. Give a street access to the outlying parts and it will be livened up. From Yonge Street to the Don below Bloor is dead now and I think that this will improve it.”

40-42 Collier Street, one of the properties in the way of the Church Street Extension, September 18, 1930. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 3, Item 896.

The project was jeopardized when a petition presented to City Hall at the end of March 1930 showed that 692 out of the 1,081 affected property owners were against the extension due to the funding scheme. The extension was declared dead for a few weeks until it was revived by a Board of Control vote on April 16, 1930, to reverse the funding formula to 75 per cent city, 25 per cent property assessments. Disgruntled property owners remained, such as one who submitted a letter to the Star under the nom de plume of 14th-century English revolt leader Wat Tyler:

The proposed “so-called” Church St. Extension which was petitioned against by a large majority of taxpayers in vicinity is not a real extension, and is not wanted by them. The plan of the route is a miserable one; the cost enormous; the policy destructive, taking into consideration the good houses to be destroyed, the creation of islands of some properties and depreciation of adjacent properties. Church St. owners should not be compelled to finance a motor or transportation road for the benefit of the whole city.

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