toronto city hall

Where is the centre of Toronto?

There is a sign at the side of the 401 just after the cars merge from the on ramp at Brighton, Ont., heading west. It lists the distances to nearby towns and cities, including Colbourne, Cobourg, Oshawa and Toronto. According to the sign, it's 151 kms to Ontario's capital from that exact spot at the edge of a camp ground.

What exactly constitutes "Toronto" isn't immediately clear. One imagines it could be the nearest city limit, which, heading west on the 401, would be the Rouge River. Or it could be 33 Wanless Crescent, a residential address near Bayview and Lawrence that is the geographic centre of the city, according to Torontoist.

But it's neither of those things. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation measures the distances printed on its road signs to the seat of local government - City Hall in Toronto - or, in the absence of such a building or institution, the literal geographic centre of the community. So, if Toronto lacked a council building, the signs would be measured from a quiet front yard in North York.

The distances are not necessarily indicative of the route one's vehicle would logically take. The number indicates the distance a vehicle would need to travel using the shortest possible route to reach the centre of municipal government by highway, and then city street.

That means, in the case of a city as big as Toronto, the distance indicated on the sign may be quite different from what a driver will actually travel. Heading west from Brighton, Ont. to somewhere in south Etobicoke is a journey about 17 kms (10 minutes) longer by highway than it is to City Hall, according to Google Maps.

In essence, the province is in the habit of directing drivers not to the heart of a city, but to its brain.

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

Image: Erik Mauer/blogTO Flickr pool.


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