Nostalgia Tripping: Toronto's streetcar suburbs
Having lived and worked in several former streetcar suburbs of Toronto, I often wondered whether there was a connection between the architectural styles of the commercial blocks on both sides of Lake Shore Boulevard, Bloor Street West or St. Clair Avenue, and whether the growth in the formerly suburban districts had anything to do with the fact streetcar routes operated along their major roads.
It turns out that the arrival of a streetcar also signaled development on the then urban fringe (e.g. Bloor West Village) or it accelerated growth in areas that had already started to develop (e.g. New Toronto or Earlscourt). Proponents argue that streetcar routes helped to establish and sustain centralized, compact communities, with a main commercial street along the route and easy access to transit, which allowed for a convenient commute into the inner city. Others, like Lawrence Solomon, the author of Toronto Sprawls: A History, see these streetcar-centred communities as the first step in the spread of uncontrollable suburban expansion.
Until the construction of the subway in 1954, Toronto had a much more extensive network than today. While today the majority of the routes operate downtown and south of Bloor, streetcars also regularly picked up riders on such streets as Dupont and Coxwell, among others.
New Toronto, Mimico and Long Branch in south Etobicoke near the shore of Lake Ontario were one of the many suburban communities, which directly benefited from the introduction of so-called radial railways - named after the fact that they "radiated" out of the city and beyond its limits. The first significant settlements west of the Humber River occurred in 1890s. According to the New Toronto Historical Society, the Toronto and Mimico Electric Railway and Light Company was incorporated on November 14, 1890. Construction on a streetcar line to Mimico started in August 1891 from the intersection of Queen Street West and Roncesvalles and a year later it was completed to the Humber River, and after some financial difficulties and help from William Mackenzie, the route was finally extended to Kipling Avenue and finally to Long Branch.
The name of the area eventually known as New Toronto stemmed from the Globe's report on the industrial growth of the area in 1890s, and it predicted that it would be equal or even surpass "old" Toronto as an industrial centre. In 1913, it was incorporated as a village and ten years later as a town, and the population went up from 500 to 5,000 during this decade, and continued to grow steadily, with a growing infrastructure, owing this in part to the availability of transit in the area.
Even though many former streetcar suburbs no longer have streetcars servicing them, the nature and growth of these communities owes much to these original transit lines.