Historicist: Extending Church Street
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Historicist: Extending Church Street

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

Lennox Hotel, No. 831 Yonge Street, September 18, 1930. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1109.

By October 1930, preparation began to demolish properties along both the extension and the simultaneous widening project along Davenport Road from Yonge Street to Dupont Street. Among the most notable buildings to disappear from the cityscape was the Lennox Hotel at 831 Yonge Street. Built in 1892 by Richard Lennox, it was considered a regular stop for businessmen, farmers, and stagecoach drivers during its early days. Owners who had their properties expropriated seem to have been paid well; a list published in the Star on January 31, 1931, articled 15 properties, mostly along Davenport, for which the owners received anywhere from $1,200 (for part of a township lot) to $10,000 (for 35-37 Davenport Road).

In a timeframe unheard of these days, the TTC quickly constructed a new streetcar loop at Church and Asquith Avenue during late March and early April 1931. According to the June 1931 issue of The Coupler, “it wasn’t a very promising looking site from a beauty viewpoint, and yet we had good hopes that when the loop was completed and the landscape work finished, the Commission would have no reason to be ashamed of its handiwork.” Two houses were demolished to make way for the loop, which allowed the TTC to extend its Church streetcar line (which ran down to Front Street) a few blocks north and not tie up loops elsewhere.

Asquith Loop, June 13, 1931. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 8630.

Passengers passing through the Asquith loop would have disembarked in a neighbourhood that remained primarily composed of family residences, thanks to a bylaw passed by city council on April 7, 1931, that forbade the construction of businesses and apartment houses along the Church Street extension. The bylaw may have been spurred by complaints from nearby institutions like Park Road Baptist Church, whose initial request to have the road be residential was turned down due to the financial opportunities for the City in selling off expropriated land that turned out to be surplus. Several councillors, including future mayor William Robbins, opposed the bylaw on the grounds that a widened street and public transit service made it ideal for apartments.

One of the storefronts that vanished when Church Street was connected to Davenport Road was Britnell's Art Galleries at 880 Yonge Street, which was owned by the same family as the Albert Britnell bookstore further south on Yonge. September 29, 1930. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 3, Item 941.

The extension was officially opened in a ceremony along Yonge Street on July 16, 1931. Red, white, and blue ribbons were strung across both Church and Davenport. Mayor William J. Stewart began the string of speeches from City officials by praising the extension as “an asset not only to the district immediately affected, but to the city at large and will be an aid to transportation and business.” He was followed by Controller J. George Ramsden (for whom Ramsden Park was named), who reminisced about the state of the neighbourhood when he lived there in the mid-1880s and boasted about his advocacy of the project. Both men were handed, in the words of the Globe, “a pair of gold-handled scissors taken from a blue case” and proceeded to cut the ribbons—Ramsden took care of Church Street, while the mayor freed up Davenport Road. Following an official motorcade, regular traffic began flowing down the new street.

Though Church Street has not been extended further north since that time, a plan presented to city council by works commissioner R.C. Harris in May 1930 proposed just that. Had that plan gone through, Church would have continued northwest along present-day Davenport Road to the Nordheimer Estate (which met the road at present-day Glen Edyth Drive), then followed the Nordheimer Ravine until the road ended at the intersection of St. Clair Avenue and Spadina Road. Like other ravine-based roadways proposed over time for that area, this plan never came to pass.

Additional material from the March 1931 and June 1931 editions of The Coupler; the April 17, 1930, and July 17, 1931, editions of the Globe and Mail; the July 17, 1931, edition of the Mail and Empire; the July 17, 1931, edition of the Telegram; and the October 8, 1929, February 15, 1930, March 29, 1930, April 24, 1930, May 15, 1930, October 10, 1930, January 31, 1931, February 12, 1931, and April 8, 1931, editions of the Toronto Star. In addition, an undated clipping from the Telegram (probably from October 1930) residing in the City of Toronto Archives was consulted. Portions of this post originally appeared on Heritage Toronto’s website.

Every Saturday, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.

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