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5 blueprints and maps of unbuilt projects in Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / April 1, 2014

plan of torontoThe version of Toronto we see around us, the streets, parks, transit system, and its neighbourhoods at large, are all just a version of the city that could have been. Unlike cities in other parts of the world that evolved semi-organically over centuries, Toronto is the result of years of planning and controlled expansion. A road here, a public space there, (usually) for a reason.

But not all the plans made for Toronto reached fruition. The archives are chock full of plans, maps, diagrams, and blueprints that, in an alternate reality, could have been built. Here are six plans for Toronto that for better or worse didn't quite work out as intended.


A year after the Toronto Purchase, the deal that traded 2,000 gun flints, 24 brass kettles, 10 dozen mirrors, 2 dozen laced hats, a bale of flowered flannel, and 96 gallons of rum with the Mississauga First Nation for 101,528 hectares of land, a large portion of which is now occupied by the City of Toronto, Captain Gother Mann of the Royal Engineers prepared his plan for a new city on the "Torento Harbour" (pictured above.)

Rigidly symmetrical except for an unusual additional block tacked onto the southeast corner, the plan showed a complete disregard for any features of the natural landscape, including the waterfront and various creeks and rivers. There central core, surrounded by a public common, would have fit between King, Harbord, Bathurst, and Bay, according to Mark Osbaldeston in Unbuilt Toronto.

Mann's ideas were ditched in favour of the smaller, simpler plan by Alexander Aitken that formed the nucleus of this Toronto.


toronto walks and gardensSadly, the story of the Toronto waterfront is one where the might of industrial development won out over plans to protect the shoreline for public use. The Walks and Gardens (to use just one of its various names,) which still rears its head in land deals today, sought to turn all the land south of Front to the water for a linear park connecting the Garrison Reserve with the Don River park.

The idea was first acted on in earnest in the mid 1800s, though it had been around since the very first days of the city.

The park got remarkably far - at one point the city owned the land it needed - and was partially built in the form of Fair Green between Berkeley and Princess in 1841. Instead of a waterfront park, the city got a bustling port and the Union Station rail corridor. On the plus side, the conditions of the sale of the park land required the city to invest in new green spaces like Riverdale Park and High Park.


toronto ashbridge improvementThere can be no part of Toronto that has been so thoroughly manhandled as Ashbridge's Bay and the lower Don River. In its natural state, the natural mouth of the Don was a reedy marsh with scattered deep ponds and creeks. A sandbar connected the Toronto Island to the foot of Woodbine.

Around 1900, the city, faced with a lack of shipping berths for large vessels in the Toronto Bay, believed reclaiming the heavily polluted Ashbridge's Bay would deliver an economic lift. The area had become a soiled and noxious quagmire after years of uncontrolled industry on the waterfront, which included the vast stockyards of William Davies Company, the company that helped give Toronto the nickname Hogtown.

In January 1911, a public referendum created the Toronto Harbour Commission and several plans were produced for the 5.2 square kilometre site. The version above, created by engineering firm Beavis and Browne several decades before the Port Lands were created, called for public parks, a hotel, and lighthouse to the east of factories, grain elevators, flour mills, and ice houses.

The plan that was adopted by the city in 1912 called for the marsh dredged to a depth of 7.3 metres and a massive ship channel and turning basin. The blueprint also included a winding boulevard that would have linked the foot of Bathurst with Woodbine via the Toronto Island but the road was abandoned along with the parkland component when the federal government failed to commit funds for the necessary bridges during the first world war.


toronto public art roadImagine Toronto with diagonal avenues radiating from Queen Sand University to the Humber River and Queen and Church to Taylor Creek Park near Woodbine and O'Connor. Scattered in between are parks with tantalizing names like Sugar Loaf Hill and Dufferin Ridge.

This was the 1908 plan of the Guild of Civic Art, a group of artists and architects formed with the goal of beautifying the city with European-style radial roads and public spaces. The map above illustrates the raft ideas the group pitched (somewhat successfully) to the city that year. The red lines show new diagonal thoroughfares. The light green patches are proposed parks and playgrounds (the image above was cropped to allow more detail at this small size.)

Some of the guild's basic ideas came to pass in slightly altered forms: Dundas was extended east from Ossington and Bay was punched north from Queen up beyond Bloor on the advice of Toronto's Civic Improvement Committee. Several of the guild's suggested parks were adopted, too.


toronto subway mapSixty years before Lieutenant-Governor Ray Lawson sunk the ceremonial first soldier beam into Yonge in advance of the coming subway, a plan prepared by New York engineering firm Jacobs and Davies called for a winding east-west subway from Broadview and Danforth via Front, Spadina, College, Dovercourt, Bloor, and Dundas West.

It was pie in the sky, really. A 1915 report by the city's famed commissioner of works R.C. Harris, the driving force behind civic improvements like the Prince Edward Viaduct and the water treatment plant that bears his name, said Toronto couldn't afford or support a subway network at this stage of its growth and should focus instead on semi-rapid transit.

The first subway plan was shelved but it's worth nothing how over a century ago transportation experts were calling for an east-west line through downtown.



toronto highway map 1949If there's one thing Toronto's transportation planners loved drawing on maps as much as subways in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, it was expressways, or "superhighways." This plan, produced as part of the Toronto Metropolitan Area Master Plan in 1943, imagined high-speed roadways just about everywhere: up Ossington, parallel to Bloor and Eglinton, down the Don Valley, and along Coxwell with a flagrant disregard for the housing and neighbourhoods they would obliterate.

Though several of the highways came to pass, namely the Gardiner, Don Valley Parkway, Queen Elizabeth Way, and, partly, the Spadina Expressway (now Allen Road,) many of the most intrusive routes were abandoned in the face of significant public opposition. The Bloor superhighway became the Bloor-Danforth subway.

SEE ALSO: The top 5 unbuilt mega projects in Toronto

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

Images (in order): "Plan of Torento Harbour with the proposed Town and part of the Settlement," Gother Mann Captain of Command, Royal Engineers, 1788, Library and Archives Canada, NMC4434/5; "Sketch of a design for laying out the North Shore of the Toronto Harbour in pleasure drives, walks and shrubbery for the recreation of the Citizens" (portion,) John Howard, 1852, Library and Archives Canada, N0011447K_a1; "The Guild of Civic Art plan for Toronto" (portion,) 1908, Toronto Public Library, T1908/4Msm; "Jacobs and Davies Toronto Subway Plan," 1910, City of Toronto Archives, Series 60, Item 22; "Plan of that portion of the Marsh and Water Frontage, situate south of lots no5 to 15 inclusive in the broken front Con. in the Township of York showing the development of the property in accordance with the application of Beavis and Browne to the Municipal Council of the City of Toronto. 25th Sept. 1889," 1889, Toronto Public Library, T1889/4Msm; "Toronto Metropolitan Area Master Plan 1943," Toronto Planning Board, 1943, Toronto Public Library, 917.13/T592



DL / April 1, 2014 at 08:20 am
Not building the Spadina and Scarborough Expwy's paralysed traffic in this city. Bravo.
iSkyscraper / April 1, 2014 at 09:07 am
Not building the Spadina and Scarborough Expwy's kept the city from turning into Cleveland or Detroit. (Much bigger cities than Toronto in 1950, much smaller now.) Bravo.

When will the uneducated realize that traffic is elastic?
Materloo replying to a comment from DL / April 1, 2014 at 09:20 am
Thank goodness we didn't ring our city in expressways. Imagine how many neighbourhoods we would have lost. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be to walk, or cycle around downtown. Toronto is already very grey, and full of concrete- this 1949 plan would have made the situation so much worse.
toronto dude / April 1, 2014 at 09:46 am
and if they had been built, there'd be no city to go to. it would have turned dt into 1970s Detroit...who'd want to live beside, near or under 4 or 5 Gardner type structures?
Danny replying to a comment from DL / April 1, 2014 at 10:45 am
hahaha hyperbole. "Paralyzed," hahaha...bravo.
QED replying to a comment from Danny / April 1, 2014 at 11:01 am
Paralysed is the common form outside North America -- DL may be showing his european roots.

Which is surprising for a guy who wants to turn the city into Atlanta.
McRib replying to a comment from DL / April 1, 2014 at 11:13 am
Macadam replying to a comment from McRib / April 1, 2014 at 11:39 am
DL replying to a comment from Materloo / April 1, 2014 at 11:47 am
Scarborough Expwy would've been constructed along the hydro corridor that already exists and has a lonely bike path cutting through it that I never see anybody on. Minimal impact on neighbourhoods, large impact on the number of cars using the DVP to get into/out of Downtown.

Spadina would've traversed mostly through ravine and could've been tunnelled under the lower portion.
DL replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / April 1, 2014 at 11:49 am
Cleveland was never bigger than Toronto, Detroit barely was. They both shrunk because of white flight, not because their roads were ugly. LA's roads are ugly and it's the third biggest city on the continent.
DL replying to a comment from Materloo / April 1, 2014 at 11:52 am
Hate to break it to ya, but the city is, in fact, "ringed" by expressways. Those two roadways would've eased pressure on the ones that ring it today, as well as get cars off of city streets allowing better mobility for public transit and pedestrians/cyclists.

But yeah, out-of-sight out-of-mind high speed roads within the city would make it a terrible place.
asas / April 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm
glad dl came in here to set the facts straight
Jacob replying to a comment from DL / April 1, 2014 at 03:56 pm
Ya, that expressway through the hydro corridor in Scarborough? I live right next to that corridor. Let's just say that plan would turn marginally walkable neighbourhoods into depressing, isolated pits.

I used to live in Oakville, and the QEW basically delineates two separate "towns" that have little to do with each other.
Frankly / April 1, 2014 at 05:24 pm
Had this city been built with the waterfront all parks and walkways instead of a rail line and a harbour we would still be a sleepy little Great Lakes village. Pretty, perhaps, but the railway and the harbour built this city.
Rust replying to a comment from toronto dude / April 1, 2014 at 05:25 pm
Are you somehow trying to suggest the demise of a city is related to it's overhead expressways? What is wrong with you people?
Brian / April 1, 2014 at 08:17 pm
If you liked this article you'll probably like 'Unbuilt Toronto' 1 and 2, "A History of the City that Might Have Been" by Mark Osbaldeston
YYZ / March 20, 2016 at 11:55 pm
No, the Scarborough Expressway called mostly on following the Kingston road corridor from about Danforth to Highway 2A, now just the Kingston Road 401 exit. This would've plowed through a very pivotal part of Scarborough's growth, harmed tourist attractions such as the Scarborough Bluffs, and carelessly blasted through hundreds of homes, probably including mine.
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