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Is Craven Road the weirdest street in Toronto?

Posted by Chris Bateman / February 19, 2014

toronto craven roadCraven Road in the east end of Toronto is weird. It runs from Queen Street in the south to the Danforth in the north, only briefly interrupted by the rail tracks and Monarch Park CI. On one side of the street is a long wooden fence, on the other side a parade of some of the smallest detached houses in the city.

Both features are remarkable: The barrier between the street and the backyards of Ashdale Avenue is the longest municipally maintained fence in the city. None of the homes, almost all of them under 46 square metres (that's pretty small,) are exactly alike.

The road was originally called Eerie Terrace and provided access to tiny backyard dwellings built behind the homes on Ashdale around 1900. Amber Daugherty at Spacing recalls how before Craven Road, the Ashdale homes had huge backyards that were more than 42 metres long, prompting owners to subdivide their lots.

After a dispute over who owned the property surrounding the homes, the city bought the land in question, put up the fence, and laid down the road, Daugherty writes.

In recent years, many of the original working class residents have yielded to newcomers with money, resulting in gentrification and the destruction of some of the original dwellings.

This gorgeous mini doc shot last summer by Made By Other People, a group of filmmakers, musicians, and artists, captures life on Craven through the eyes of Jonathan, a colourful long-time resident, and touches on some of the unique local history.

"How would you describe the street in one word?," asks the interviewer.

"Mellow," says Jonathan.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.



Danielle / February 19, 2014 at 04:18 pm
My dad lives on Craven, right by the north end. It's a neat little street with these really unique tiny homes.
Colin / February 19, 2014 at 07:33 pm
Hey thanks for the article. We're currently shooting a few more episodes of this little series: its all about the Coxwell/Gerrard area. There's a Facebook page people can join if they want: https://www.facebook.com/groups/702749939738437/
marcus / February 19, 2014 at 07:44 pm
Nice article but ... / February 19, 2014 at 08:19 pm
... " a parade of some of the smallest detached houses in the city"?

How can houses comprise a parade?
Jaime / February 19, 2014 at 10:24 pm
The street and houses are cute, but that ugly monstrosity at #5 is an eyesore. Why build something that stands out like that? It's terrible.
Patricia Stamp / February 19, 2014 at 11:42 pm
Chris Bateman, there's a recent great blog dedicated to Craven Road, by a long-time resident of the street, who has done a lot of in-depth research. I recommend you check it out and get in touch with her:

the lemur replying to a comment from Riff / February 20, 2014 at 12:11 am
In the UK, parade is also often used to refer to a row of stores and sometimes appears in the name of the street they are on. There are also tons of (residential) streets in Australia, among other places, named ___ Parade.

So it can consist of inanimate objects.
Maureen / February 20, 2014 at 07:27 am
"Erie Terrace" not EERIE.
McRib replying to a comment from Nice article but ... / February 20, 2014 at 08:15 am
maybe procession (or succession) would have been the better word, but parade works. As someone commented, its a UK colloquialism. "A parade of shops" for example.
Daniel / February 20, 2014 at 08:30 am
Add this to the weirdness: Average house price in Toronto is over $500,000, I could not find a house that sold on this street for more than $100,000! In fact the last sale was a vacant lot back in 2007 which sold for $90,000. If I am wrong, could someone correct me on this?

Daniel MacQuarrie
Keith / February 20, 2014 at 09:19 am
Daniel, you are very wrong. Checkout last year's (or maybe 2012) purchase of the most Southerly house on Craven.
Foo replying to a comment from Nice article but ... / February 20, 2014 at 09:51 am
"How can houses comprise a parade?"

Kate / February 20, 2014 at 10:37 am
One of the lasting remnants of Toronto area's Shacktowns that surrounded the city proper. Immigrants bought the lands and often built their own homes. Some homes in the Earlscourt area share the same beginnings as well as some pockets throughout the city.
Kate / February 20, 2014 at 10:52 am
there's an error - the lots at Craven Road were subdivided and built/sold before Ashdale Road was developed. The lots on Ashdale lost some space when the city widened Erie.

From "Pigs, Flowers and Bricks: A History of Leslieville to 1920" by Joanne Doucette:

"Craven – originally Erie Terrace. This street was developed as a 'shacktown', outside of Toronto, in the 1890s. It has many tiny owner-built houses. Ashdale Avenue was not subdivided until later. No houses were built until later when its large lots were sold to more affluent buyers. This is why Craven Road only has houses on the east side. Ashdale Avenue's bigger homes were built with their backs turned on disreputable Erie Terrace. The rowdy poor of Erie Terrace were often accused of trespassing.

When the City of Toronto widened Erie Terrace, Ashdale's home owners had nothing to gain. They lost some of their property and taxes went up to pay for the wider street. A deal was made. The City of Toronto put up a tall wooden fence to keep the poor out of Ashdale yards.

In 1923 the name was changed to Craven Road to eliminate some of the stigma attached to living there."
Kire Paputts / February 20, 2014 at 01:20 pm
If you liked this video then check out the others...

Craven Rd

Lazy Daisy's

Care Bear

D'License To Grill

Ulster Arms

Jimmy's Place
Sarah B. Hood replying to a comment from Maureen / February 20, 2014 at 03:12 pm
Thanks for mentioning the typo, Maureen. (BTW, I love my non-eerie street!)
Phil replying to a comment from Daniel / February 20, 2014 at 05:01 pm
aren't you a real estate agent? not showing a lot of skill here.
On Craven Road replying to a comment from Patricia Stamp / February 20, 2014 at 05:52 pm
Thanks so much for bringing this sparky little documentary series to light! It's gone up on my blog On Craven Road, along with a bit of history to counter the urban legends about the origins of the street and its iconic fence.

The idea that Craven began as "tiny backyard dwellings built behind the homes on Ashdale" that gained their independence when, after "a dispute over who owned the property surrounding the homes, the city bought the land in question, put up the fence, and laid down the road" is a delightful bit of broken-telephone storytelling.

And I told the version about the City putting up that tall wooden fence "to keep the poor out of Ashdale yards" for years after I read Doucette's wonderful book.

But truth is stranger than fiction...

Adam Sobolak / February 20, 2014 at 07:29 pm
Let's also consider the most important work of architecture on Craven
Paula D. / February 20, 2014 at 09:22 pm
I performed a wedding in one of those little houses. It didn't look like much from the outside but when you walked in, WOW, it was all renovated and open concept. Very contemporary and well laid out. Craven seems to be quite an interesting zone.
Jennifer / February 20, 2014 at 09:59 pm
Craven Road is an eclectic one-way street for sure! The 500's are seeing a few renos at the moment which is understandable given the fantastic location relative to Gerrard St and getting downtown. With all the newer shops that have come in like The Lazy Daisy and Furballs, the value for those already living in the area is priceless.
Marilyn Wilcoxen / February 20, 2014 at 10:41 pm
Craven Rd and the surronding streets north of Gerrard had significant impact on the current governence laws for cities in the province of ontario. Housing for poor working class families was in short supply just before and after WWI. The working class areas of "the Ward" where city hall exists to day and the Regent Park areas were deplorable slums of primarily private landlord rentals. The city of Toronto experimented in two forms of proto type social housing. One was the creation of the unique garden apartments that make up the current Bain Ave and Spruce Street Co-ops. They were rentals for the more genteel employees of Eaton's and other white collar downtown workers. The projects were managed by the city but the investment money came from the Eatons and other wealthy Torontonians and paid them the handsome sum of 6% interest. The Craven Road area experiment was to sell plots of land to labourers who bought them for $100.00 and were expected to build as they could. Most started with building and living in the basement until they could afford to build the upper home. This fit the ideology that if people owned their own home they would take better care of it than if they were renters. But the city neglected to put in sewer and water lines into these neighbourhoods and a serious diptheria epidemic ensued. The city retfitted the sewer and water system in the 1920's but the cost put the city into debt and bankrupcy at the beginning of the Great Depression. The city was forced to sell off the Bain Ave. and Spruce Court projects at a loss of money to private landlords and the Province enacted the current laws that forbid cities to go into unsecured debt.This of course limits Toronto's ability to float bonds to finance transit or other infrastructure needs. In the end the rich got richer, white collar workers could affect a genteel lifestyle but were not paid enough to obtain home equity, and the labouring class had early deaths.
Joanne / February 21, 2014 at 09:47 pm
I was born and raised and got married on Craven Rd
my grandparents lived in 605 Craven rd and my grandfather my uncles and I helped dig the bottom part of the house out it now is a beautiful home but has since been sold I loved Craven Rd as a kid because every spring there would be the smell of Lilacs all over I now live on Coxwell not far from where I was raised
I don't recognize any of the names but my parents still live o0n Ashdale
J / February 23, 2014 at 06:02 pm
jada replying to a comment from Daniel / February 24, 2014 at 11:48 pm
yes you are wrong - the average price of a Craven Rd house is around $400,000 for a bungalow and more for a two-storey in 2014. I paid $140,000 in 2005 but that was the lowest price on the street by about $40,000 at that time.
James king / May 20, 2014 at 07:02 pm
I love this area. Went to school not too far from here at Corpus Christi and St. Patrick, I lived above a store on Gerrard, I bowled in a league at Shamrock and spent way too much money playing video games at a store at upper Gerrard. Craven however has bad association. When my dad left us, he lived on the street and an abusive scout leader lived there as well. I do love all he new modern looking houses in the area too. Keep up the amazing work, Kire.
Franc / September 24, 2014 at 10:38 pm
Jersey Ave here in the West End (Harbord near Clinton) is very similar and interesting. Check it out when you have a chance.
Sean / September 25, 2014 at 10:30 am
That was almost interesting.
Can't we do better? / September 28, 2014 at 09:36 am
Interesting, and always great to get a bit of history (thank you Marilyn W). But boy, oh, boy are most homes in Toronto ugly. Just an eye sore for the most part - no architectural beauty, no just really nothing to write home about. If only we at least did a better job of "greening" it up - more oxygen, less ugly architecture to stare at. Montreal has some pretty poor areas too, but somehow their architectural style works better...
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Joanne Doucette / April 8, 2015 at 01:29 pm
The fence was put up in early 1916 by the City of Toronto after the City expropriated 14 feet off the backyards on Ashdale Avenue to widen Erie Terrace, now Craven Road. There is documentation available in the City of Toronto Archives supporting this, but a simple check of the Toronto Star article "Erie Terrace Case Up Again" March 23 1916 will confirm this. (The Toronto Star is available on line free of charge to those with a Toronto Public Library card." There are a huge number of articles in various dailies of the time about "the Erie Terrace problem". Around 1918 and later in 1944 there were plans to run major transportation corridors down Erie Terrace/Craven Road. Never happened. Next year is the centennial anniversary of the fence? Any parties planned?
Claudia / October 4, 2015 at 05:23 pm
I live on the north end of Craven.... my neighbor just sold her house and an "investor" who wants to "improve the neighborhood" is going to build a second story and enlarge the size out back of the small single house beside me.... Since money making builders rule, I guess there is no chance of me making a case that all my views will be void of sky and trees (kitchen and dining room window as with upstairs bathroom). Plus, our shared drive is very tiny...parking in the garden???? is an eyesore.... The north end of Craven is a community in and of itself.. a lazy, quiet street where kids can play road hockey and people chat while walking their dogs. We know each other's cats and stop to pet them, we swap stories and how to fix cracks and leaks in our tiny, old homes.... As a community, nobody is asking us what we want. Sure, my house values will go up (again!) but is that all that matters? I am not going to sell any time soon. I live here. I raise my kid. I don't want a monster home beside me.. with no parking and the noise of a contractor who lives far away and doesn't really care about us, is just making his $200,000 profit.... pushing prices up even more... thoughts?!
Ian / December 4, 2015 at 07:07 pm
I see that Jersey Ave was mentioned in this post. I am trying to find out the history of the name Jersey Ave (near Harbord and Clinton) and if there is any connection to cows - can anyone help out on this?
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