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How Toronto neighbourhoods got their names

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 26, 2012

toronto neighbourhood namesToronto's reputation for being a city of neighbourhoods has deep roots. A hundred years ago, many of the city's best known areas - Parkdale, Leslieville, Rosedale, Yorkville, and others - were independent outlying towns with their own local government and distinctly separate identity.

The patchwork city of Toronto most likely takes its name from the Mohawk word tkaronto, meaning "where there are trees standing in the water." Originally applied to The Narrows at Lake Simcoe, the name gradually worked its way south to be applied to Fort Toronto and later the city of York. But what about the neighbourhoods - where did those names come from?

Rosedaletoronto rosedale sherbourneHow apt that Toronto's swankiest locale has a pretty name to match the sprawling homes, tree-lined streets and carefully manicured lawns. Interestingly, the flowery name predates the neighbourhood's reputation for old money.

Named by Mary Jarvis, the wife of William Botsford Jarvis, sheriff of the historic Home District and a founder of Yorkville, for the abundance of wild roses that grew nearby, the name "Rosedale" was first applied to the Jarvis' family estate but later grew to encompass the area north of Bloor and east of Yonge. The "dale" suffix, common to many Toronto neighbourhoods, means broad valley in Old English.

Rosedale was once home to the opulent Chorley Park residence, Ontario's fourth government house, which was torn down in a moment of utter insanity to create parkland.

Cabbagetown

Cabbagetown has perhaps the most unusual name in Toronto. After all, how does a neighbourhood get named for a hearty but hardly glamourous leafy, green vegetable?

Originally the village of Don Vale, the working class area developed around the old Winchester Street Bridge which, before the Prince Edward Viaduct, was a major crossing point over the Don river. The Cabbage name, used derisively by some snooty Torontonians, arrived with Irish immigrants who planted the vegetables, among others, in their front yards.

Liberty Village

Inmates released from Toronto Central Prison, once located near King and Strachan, got their first tastes of post-incarceration life on Liberty Street, named for its route to freedom. Though the brutal prison closed in 1915 amid changing attitudes to corrections, the name remained attached to the street.

The use of the Liberty Village name, derived from its central street, was intended to help separate the development from nearby Parkdale.

Leslievilletoronto neighbourhoods leslieville jones queen muralAnother part of Toronto that began life as an independent village, Leslieville was once home to a substantial community of brick factory and nursery workers. George Leslie, the owner of a large gardening business and major employer east of the city, gave his name to the area now south of the CN tracks, west of Coxwell.

Alexander Muir, the first principal of Leslieville Public School, is famous for penning the poem The Maple Leaf Forever, so the story goes, after a bright maple leaf fell from a nearby tree onto his jacket. The inspirational tree still stands on Memory Lane south of Queen Street East.

Summerhill

The pastoral sounding Summerhill has transit in its blood. The area is named for Summer Hill, the former home of Charles Thompson, a Canadian shipping magnate whose estate once encompassed the area subdivided to create the neighbourhood.

Thompson ran a successful stagecoach and steamer company but later used parts of his estate to build a popular amusement park overlooking the nearby ravine. Summerhill Avenue was once the grand entrance to Thompson's Summer Hill Spring Park and Pleasure Grounds. The area is also known for the North Toronto Railway Station and CN railway.

Davisville

Another neighbourhood named for its founder, Davisville was established in a similar way as Summerhill. In 1840, English immigrant John Davis purchased the plot of land and ran the area's first post office. A hard worker, Davis also operated a local pottery company - the biggest local employer.

The original plot was subdivided in the late 1800s and sold off for residential use. John Davis' grandson, Jack, ran the old post office at Yonge and Davisville, which is now a Starbucks.

Kensington

Kensington Market in Toronto most likely got its name from Kensington Avenue that runs through the once predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. Kensington Avenue itself was likely named for Kensington district in London, which is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "Kenesignetun" or "Kenesigne's land or meadows."

Though separated by an ocean, the Kensingtons share a common trait: London's Kensington also had a market, a hub for various sub-cultures in the 60s and 70s, which was contained inside a now-demolished building.

Leaside

Famous for its railway history, Leaside is named for John Lea, an English-born American immigrant, who purchased the plot of flat land near the Don River in 1820. Originally known as Lot 13, the Canadian Pacific Railway signed a whopping 999-year lease on the part of the land in 1884.

In 1914, two railway entrepreneurs, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, planned the upscale settlement of Leaside - marketed as the "new Rosedale" - between the railway, Eglinton, Bayview and Leslie. Unfortunately, thing's didn't quite work out. Financial difficulties meant many of the homes were never built and the areas around Laird Drive, Hanna Road and Wicksteed Avenue - named for railway employees - originally went undeveloped.

In the 20th century, industry arrived in the form of munitions factories and an air field during the first world war. Leaside was eventually annexed by East York in 1967 and absorbed in Toronto in 1998.

Junction Triangle

The triangular area between the CNR and CPR railway lines has only been the Junction Triangle since March 2010. Originally an industrial area without a definitive name, local residents held a vote two years ago to chose a suitable title. Losing suggestions included Perth Park, Black Oak Triangle, The Wedge, Railtown and Railpath.

Yorkville and The Annextoronto neighbourhoods annex bloor bmv booksLike Leslieville, Yorkville was once distinctly separate from the city of Toronto. Founded by William Botsford Jarvis and Joseph Bloore, a brewer, as a residential suburb named for the old city of York, the community was later officially incorporated as the Village of Yorkville. As the population grew and the village became unable to properly service its citizens, the government asked the city of Toronto to annex the area, which it did in 1883.

The Annex started life as a Yorkville subdivision created by developer Simeon Janes in 1886. Originally called the Toronto Annex, The Annex was annexed by Toronto in 1887, partly retaining its original name.

Parkdale

The historic village of Parkdale once gave Rosedale a run for its money in terms of glamour and exclusivity. A former independent outlying town of Toronto, Parkdale thrived on its lakefront location and proximity to the recently purchased High Park, from which its name is derived.

With the construction of the Gardiner Expressway and reworking of Lake Shore Boulevard, Parkdale lost its way and its major attraction, Sunnyside Amusement Park. A period of decline around the second world war led to many of the larger homes being sold and divided into rooming houses or demolished entirely for apartment buildings.

FURTHER READING:

Photos: "Parkdale" by Craz11, "Clothing Shop on Kensington" by jer1961 in the blogTO Flickr pool and the author.

Discussion

30 Comments

meg / August 26, 2012 at 01:29 pm
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beautiful, thanks for the history!
Brandon / August 26, 2012 at 01:42 pm
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I love these types of articles. Makes me seem cultured at parties! Keep them coming!!
bill / August 26, 2012 at 08:35 pm
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No mention of Weston Village?
St. Clair West Community / August 26, 2012 at 09:42 pm
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St. Clair Avenue (from Wiki)
St. Clair Avenue takes its name from Augustine St. Clare, a character from the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.[1] The Grainger family who rented a farm near the present-day intersection of Avenue Road and St. Clair. After viewing a stage production of Uncle Tom's Cabin, two members of the family, Albert and Edwin, adopted names of two characters as their middle names as each boy had no given middle name. Edwin added Norton to his name, and Albert chose St. Clare, although he used the incorrect spelling of St. Clair, as it was used in the theatre program.


St. Clair West Community
https://www.facebook.com/pages/St-Clair-West-Community/182855901816744

Beadle / August 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm
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You should also look up Brockton Triangle. It too has an interesting story. Great to find out a little about these other neighbourhoods. Very interesting!
P Rince / August 26, 2012 at 11:51 pm
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Roncesvalles Avenue,- Walter O'Hara (decorated General and land owner) - named it after the Battle of Roncesvalles which took place in the Roncesvalles gorge in Spain in 1813 in which he led a regiment that fought against the retreating army of Napoleon. - wikipedia.

All the streets surrounding were named for his family or personal history..

Particularly interesting that Roncesvalles has long been the centre for Toronto's Polish community, Poland SIDED with Napoleon!!

rudy / August 27, 2012 at 08:00 am
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The railway at the North Toronto Station on Yonge (Summerhill LCBO) is CP, not CN.

The 999 year lease CP signed was not for Leaside, but only for the assets of the Ontario and Quebec railway (including the Don Branch abandoned line beside the Brick Works).
ESM / August 27, 2012 at 09:56 am
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The Junction Triangle has been known by that name since back in the 60's or before. I grew up close by in the 70's and I had a high school teacher who lived there years before. It was one of the toughest neighbourhoods back then.
Jason Bondy-Sawyer / August 27, 2012 at 03:54 pm
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Great post Chris. Nice concise breakdowns for each neighbourhood.
Donald Blair / August 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm
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This article would be considerably better if it read a history of community names that weren't just in the downtown core.
Nancy Dyment-Travers / August 31, 2012 at 02:36 pm
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I've been trying to track down family-history names by doing U.S.census for a long time...all I knew of my Davis g.Grandparents were they were from Davisville, NY. Would this Davisville have once been considered to be in U.S.? Family history has it that George Davis of Davisville's mother's name had been Caroline Jackson who married ? Davis...George Davis married an Adelaide Bero from around Watertown/Malone, NY...would these U.S. places be nearby? I have an old photo album of places and an old Inn and the Davis homestead in Davisville c. 1890....if I have finally found the right Davisville, is there anyway to contact anyone in the area who may have historical indfo. thanks
Chris / February 4, 2014 at 09:24 pm
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Everything I love about BlogTO... Great article! Thanks for the research :)
Pluckysod / February 4, 2014 at 09:25 pm
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Nice article Chris, but I have to correct you on one point. The silver maple that inspired The Maple Leaf Forever came down in a storm last July. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/07/19/tree_tied_to_canadian_history_tumbles_in_toronto.html
Kate / February 4, 2014 at 09:43 pm
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Where are Brockton, Weston, Carleton, Mount Dennis, Oakridge etc and so on? So many more 'hoods to look into.
chris / February 5, 2014 at 01:47 am
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Wasn't Kensington Avenue originally called Vanauley?
Anton Vassiliou / February 5, 2014 at 03:45 am
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Anyone surprised that not one neighborhood from that's not in the trendy centre gets the treatment? No mention of Swansea, Downsview, any Scarborough neighborhood...
Mark replying to a comment from Pluckysod / February 5, 2014 at 09:50 am
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No, he's right. Great track of how the myth of the laing St. tree was created, and wh, is here. http://mikewise.ca/2013/07/22/the-urban-myth-of-the-maple-leaf-forever-tree/
Suri replying to a comment from bill / February 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm
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My sentiments exactly Bill! Community was founded in 1796 and has had many illustrious residents and/or property owners including Lord Simcoe himself. I guess we just aren't hip or cool enough to be noticed.
llourdes castanheira / February 5, 2014 at 12:58 pm
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Thanks for taking the time it's nice to know about our city enjoyed reading it
dave / February 5, 2014 at 01:44 pm
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Guys,

Give it a rest. So he didn't do every neighbourhood. No one held a gun to his head and he chose neighbourhoods that people had heard of. What the hell is Swansea?
Jamie / February 6, 2014 at 02:42 pm
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What about Newtonbrook? Willowdale?
Bill Goodfellow / February 10, 2014 at 01:22 pm
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The Junction was the name always referred to when I came to Canada in 1957 to work for the Heintzman Piano Co. whose factory was at The Junction on Heintzman Street. The factory was demolished shortly after the company moved its operations to Hanover, Ont.
Jane Martin / February 10, 2014 at 02:25 pm
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As far as I know, The Junction has been called The Junction for over 100 years. A book about its' history full of pictures from the past is available at Toronto Public Library. The name was coined because of 3 rail lines coming together, as well as a number of streets intertwining. The book shows a horse-drawn funeral cortege from over 100 years ago, making its way up Heintzman Avenue past the piano factory.
Bob replying to a comment from bill / February 11, 2014 at 09:26 am
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Weston?? LOL......
Chris replying to a comment from Suri / February 12, 2014 at 04:00 pm
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In 1815 James Farr, a prominent local mill owner, named the growing settlement "Weston" after his birthplace, Weston, Hertfordshire. (from Wikipedia)
Not a very interesting story of how Weston got its name.....but now you know.
TJ / May 28, 2014 at 08:34 pm
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The Kensington Market in London was housed in a venue known in the 60's and early 70's as The Chelsea Drugstore. You can see it in A Clockwork Orange, as Alex wanders around in his velvet frock coat and picks up 2 swinging chicks at a record kiosk. (and yes, it's the same Chelsea Drugsotre from the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want"). It is long gone now, that's true.... it's now a McDonald's.
Andrew Madden / May 28, 2014 at 09:28 pm
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You forgot the Bridlepath, Toronto's most exclusive neighbourhood. The valley up Bayviiew was so steep that the carriage drivers had to get off and walk their horses up the hill holding on to the Bridle. Hence the Bridle Path.
Greg / May 29, 2014 at 12:47 am
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This article also failed to cover my neighbourhood, "Yonge and Eglinton". I've often wondered where such an unusual name came from.
PC / May 29, 2014 at 08:20 am
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There's no hard evidence to suggest Parkdale got its name from its proximity to High Park. Some suggest it was arbitrarily picked by clerks who sold land parcels in the small town before annexation to attract would-be Rosedale developers.
stopitman replying to a comment from Andrew Madden / May 29, 2014 at 07:07 pm
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A "bridle path" is an equestrian trail (it's a term mainly used in the UK) and doesn't necessarily mean that you have to dismount to ride it.

I believe Toronto's neighbourhood got the name because of the equestrian trails that were there originally (and have since been paved over).

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