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What Avenue Road used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / March 19, 2014

Avenue Road Toronto HistoryAvenue Road, Toronto's most redundantly named street, spans about nine kilometres from Bloor St. to just north of Highway 401. An extension of University Avenue, along with Queen's Park, it used to make up a sizeable chunk of what was once referred to as Highway 11A. Back in the 1930s, the idea was to divert traffic from Yonge Street (Highway 11) to improve access to downtown Toronto.

Looking at photos from the 1940s, one sees 11A split west from Yonge via the Hogg's Hollow bridge. That bridge is still in use to this day, though it has been designated as part of Highway 401 since the early '50s. Now Avenue Road terminates just north of the 401 at Bombay Avenue in Armour Heights. Believe it or not, the 11A highway designation stayed in place all the way until 1997 before it was ultimately abandoned. There are even a few markers left out there if you pay attention.

That's the route info, but what about the name? Well, aside from some ridiculous theory that a city planner (some peg John Graves Simcoe) once uttered "Let's 'av a new road" at the southern tip of the street, no one really knows the surefire etymology of the term. In all likelihood it has to do with British usage conflating avenue with tree-lined street, a description that matches the thoroughfare in its earliest iteration as an extension of University Avenue (check out the 1930 photo below, which also features the old gates at Avenue and Bloor).

In the late 1950s, Avenue Road was widened to accommodate growing vehicular traffic in Toronto. Widespread efforts to make the city more car-friendly had commenced in the early '40s, but it was still possible to add lanes here on account of the relatively low density north of Davenport Road. They made due to the south as well, but walk by the Church of Redeemer today and you'll notice just how close it gets to the roadway. There's no room to spare.

From the '60s onwards, the photos below tend to capture the general vibe of the street that remains to this day, even if the hodgepodge of retail shops has slowly given way to a more corporate makeup, particularly north of Lawrence. Oh, and should you be looking to get straight downtown from the 401, it's still a way faster option that Yonge St.

PHOTOS

2014319-bloor-avenue-1908.jpgBloor and Avenue Road street signs, 1908

2014319-bloor-ave-1924.jpgBloor and Avenue Road, 1924

2014319-ROM-1930.jpgThe ROM in 1930

2014319-ave-north-ed-1930.jpgAvenue Road aerial north of Eglinton, 1930

2014319-ave-brookdale-1961.jpgAvenue Road and Brookdale, 1961

2014319-ave-borth-elwood.jpgAvenue Road north of Elwood, 1961

2014319-ave-lowther-1933.jpgAvenue Road and Lowther, 1933

2014319-ave-south-st-clair-1937.jpgAvenue Road south to St. Clair, 1937

2014319-ave-north-yorkville.jpgAvenue Road north of Yorkville, 1938

2014319-ave-north-dav-1938.jpgAvenue Road looking north from Davenport, 1938

2012410-ave-wilson-1949.jpgAvenue and Wilson looking toward the Highway 11A Hogg's Hollow Bridge in 1949, eventually assumed by the 401

2014319-farnham-avenue-1952.jpgAvenue looking north towards Farnham, 1952

2014319-ave-widening-south-st-clair-1959.jpgAvenue Road widening south of St. Clair, 1959

2014319-ave-widening-north-poplar-plains-59.jpgNow looking north, 1959

2014319-ave-dupont-1959-north.jpgAvenue Road and Dupont looking north, 1959

2014319-ave-road-widened-de-le-salle-1960.jpgAvenue Road south of De La Salle College post-widening, 1960

2014319-ave-looking-north-dav-1960.jpgAvenue Road looking north of Davenport, 1960

2014319-ave-lawrence-1961.jpgAvenue Road and Lawrence, 1961

2014319-ave-fairlawn-1961.jpgAvenue Road and Fairlawn, 1961

2014319-avenue-south-roselawn-1961.jpgAvenue Road south of Roselawn, 1961

2014319-ave-north-lawrence-1961.jpgAvenue Road north of Lawrence, 1961

2014319-ave-dunblaine-1961.jpgAvenue Road and Dunblaine, 1961

2011318-Entrance-Museum-1963-s0648_fl0133_id0021-ed.jpgEntrance to Museum Station, 1963

2011222-NIGHT-Glendale_cinema.jpgGlendale Cinema (Avenue north of Lawrence), 1969

2014319-ave-south-to-bloor-1970.jpgAvenue Road looking south to Bloor, 1970

2014319-ave-near-cpr-crossing-1974.jpgNear Avenue Road and Dupont, 1974

2011426-Co-op-early-80s-f0124_fl0003_id0103-ed.jpgBloor and Avenue Road (Church of the Redeemer), 1980s

Discussion

23 Comments

U Haert / March 19, 2014 at 01:15 pm
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Enjoyed this, Derek! Nicely done. I think we can safely say however, that it did not get its name from "Let's 'av a new road". That is not a theory, but rather a bad joke. Simcoe was not Dick van Dyke butchering Cockney in Mary Poppins.
Todd Toronto / March 19, 2014 at 01:29 pm
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Wow. Incredible as always.

But does anyone know what used to be at Avenue and Eglinton (fourth photo)? It looks like a track of some sort. Did they use to run ponies up there?
Derek replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / March 19, 2014 at 02:00 pm
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As I was putting this together, I assumed that the complex was the old Canadian Forces base, but I'm not 100% certain.

http://www.militarybruce.com/history/base-history_13.html
Al replying to a comment from Derek / March 19, 2014 at 02:41 pm
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I think it's actually Lytton Park. There used to be a racetrack there.
Steve / March 19, 2014 at 02:46 pm
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I believe the horse track was part of the Eglinton Hunt Club, taken over for training soldiers and airmen during World War II.
iSkyscraper / March 19, 2014 at 03:00 pm
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Great post!

It's not the CF Base, it is the predecessor that the base took over from, the Eglinton Hunt Club. This stable is visible in the aerial and the track was for showing off horses:

http://eglintoncaledonhunt.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/IMG-20120522-00025.jpg

Here is the track and grandstand:

http://torontoplaques.com/Pages_DEF/Eglinton_Hunt_Club.html

Who knew? You certainly can't tell from aerials today.

Also, I always wondered how 11A made any sense given the lack of connection to 11. That Ave & Wilson photo is terrific and shows the thinking of the day, which I guess was to treat Avenue as some sort of light-traffic bypass to get you downtown, kind of like Kingston Road (Hwy 2A) splitting off of Hwy 2. Neat.

Same area today -- orient yourself by looking at Armour Blvd and Delhi St (the angled block of houses):

https://www.google.com/maps/@43.7414707,-79.4171536,930m/data=!3m1!1e3

The widening of Av clearly removed all the street trees, at great loss. Why does this city hate street trees so? Toronto has a very good tree canopy thanks to healthy residential side streets but the main arteries are as treeless and nasty as any I have ever seen.
iSkyscraper / March 19, 2014 at 03:17 pm
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It took me a while to get it and I had to stare hard at this:

http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-PICTURES-R-1923&;R=DC-PICTURES-R-1923

but I think I understand that 1930 aerial now. The aerial is facing north, with grandstand along a newly built Avenue Rd, and the stables faced onto Elwood. East of the Hunt Club was Oriole Parkway, and those houses are still there today.

But the growth between 1920, the TPL photo, and the 1930 aerial is mind-blowing. Whoa. Even the water tower got swanked up. It went from dirt and fields to housing and city overnight.
Ron / March 19, 2014 at 04:14 pm
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Excellent work.

In the shot "Avenue and Wilson looking toward the Highway 11A Hogg's Hollow Bridge in 1949" no matter how I look I can't get my bearings. What's the intersectin on the bottom right side of the picture, and what direction am I looking in?

Thanks again.
the lemur / March 19, 2014 at 04:29 pm
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Oh, FFS. Not this again.

Avenue Road is NOT 'redundantly named' if it draws on the original sense of 'avenue' meaning a tree-lined street, as you even point out. Not any more than The Esplanade is redundantly named for having once been an esplanade.
W. K. Lis / March 19, 2014 at 04:30 pm
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How did the Peter Witt streetcar and trailer trains do the Avenue Road hill during icy conditions? The buses have a hard time these days do the same hills during ice storms.
iSkyscraper / March 19, 2014 at 04:56 pm
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Ron, here is the same Birds Eye view today.

http://binged.it/1j4KwqQ

Armour Heights Public School is unchanged since 1949.

Crazy, right?
Ron / March 19, 2014 at 04:59 pm
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Perfect. Thank you iSky!
John Leeson / March 19, 2014 at 05:00 pm
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Avenue Rd/Wilson: I think that's looking east along Wilson. Avenue Road curved north-east at that time to the Hoggs Hollow bridge and Yonge Street.

As for the name, the story I used to hear in Toronto history books was it was based on the Road to the Avenue: College Avenue, later named University.

I enjoyed this as I spent my first 5 years living on Avenue Rd, & it was where my father had an animal hospital (now replaced by Pusateri's).
cathie replying to a comment from Ron / March 19, 2014 at 05:01 pm
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hi Ron: the intersection at the lower left (with the large white square thingy) is the southeast corner of Avenue Road and Wilson, where the Harvey Kalles Real Estate office is now. The large building on the other side of the road and down a bit is the public school that is across the street from the Cricket Club. So the direction you are facing, is east, towards Yonge Street. Avenue Road curves into the 401 on the left side of the picture. Along Avenue Road now, just before you go on the 401, are several low-rise apartment buildings (on the north side of Wilson).
Christopher King / March 19, 2014 at 05:11 pm
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I think the photo listed as "Avenue Road looking north of Davenport, 1960" is incorrectly labelled. I can't get my bearings at all, there's no hill climbing up in the distance, and no evidence of the church that was bought over by the Hare Krishnas with St Andrew's Anglican just across from it
Derek replying to a comment from Christopher King / March 19, 2014 at 05:45 pm
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Yes, you're right. That photo is taken just north of Bloor looking toward Davenport and beyond. If you squint, you can see the rail overpass near Dupont and the hill in the far distance. I'll update the caption.
Adam Sobolak / March 19, 2014 at 06:42 pm
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Re "Why does this city hate street trees so?"--remember. That wasn't now. That was 1960. And back then, in the name of modern traffic engineering, rare was the N American city that so-called "loved" street trees.
Derek / March 19, 2014 at 07:11 pm
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For those struggling to gain their bearings with the Avenue & Wilson photo in 1949, here's a shot from 1969 that's mirrors the perspective, but now features the 401 and some obvious development of the area.

http://www.blogto.com/upload/2012/04/2012410-ave-wilson-20years.jpg
Mike Brooker / March 19, 2014 at 08:34 pm
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"Avenue Road and Fairlawn, 1961" dates from 1963 or later. That's a 1963 Chevy Impala stopped at the light.
Rich / March 20, 2014 at 11:53 am
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Something to note about Avenue Rd is the necessity of deviating around Upper Canada College via Oriole Parkway! I'm surprised the road wasn't built in a way that integrated Avenue Rd and Oriole Pkwy into a seamless drive as opposed to having to temporarily hop into neighbourood/residential traffic. Many times I accidentally continued up Oriole Pkwy to Eglinton...
Howard / March 23, 2014 at 10:42 am
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Great vintage photos of Avenue Rd., I have never seen before.
I know this street very well, especially over the past 40yrs., even remember the gas station that was there before the McDonald's, but I can't get my bearings or location of the photo " Avenue Road north of Lawrence, 1961" It also looks a little too wide as well. Do you know how far north of Lawrence this is?
Iris Tupholme / March 25, 2014 at 10:12 pm
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Hello,
I am looking for a photo that shows the east side of Avenue Road, north of Yorkville, in the 1930s onwards.
The publishing house, William Collins Canada, was located at 53 Avenue Road, next to what is now Hazelton Lanes.
It seems likely that 53 was a row house but there are larger houses south on the corner of Avenue Road and Bloor so I imagine that is possible, too.
Any advice about where I might look for such a photo would be greatly appreciated.
Iris
steven chelsky / June 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm
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If anyone has any pictures with Careful Hand Laundry and Dry Cleaners in the picture (they were located at 152 Avenue Road from around 1929-1990) can you please email them to me at schelsky@gmail.com

Careful belonged to my grandfather and my father.

Thank you
Steven Chelsky

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