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A guide to 10 private streets in Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / May 6, 2014

toronto private streetAccording to Joan Clos, the head of the United Nations' human settlements program, gated communities - private urban enclaves with security cameras and in some cases a guard at the entrance - are becoming more common in the U.S., South America, and South Africa, a trend which breeds hostility, he says. For the most part, Toronto hasn't bought into the twitchy habit of private living, but there are several subtle non-public enclaves within the city.

The vast majority of Toronto's "private" streets are access roads on private property. Hart House and King's College circles on the University of Toronto campus make the list, for example. Many others are part of condominium developments, like Annex Lane near Bloor and Spadina and Agnes Lane off Queen just before Greenwood.

There are a few surprises, however. Some of the streets that run through St. James Town are technically private, including portions of Ontario Street and St. James Avenue. Station Street between Simcoe and York streets in the downtown core is private property, too. In total, there are about 600 streets or access roads that are designated non-public by the City of Toronto.

Here are some of the more interesting ones.

(A note to would-be flâneurs: These streets are all on private property and access is entirely at the discretion of the landowner. Though some streets welcome visitors (or at least don't make a fuss when a reporter shows up with camera) others might not welcome the presence of outsiders. Proceed with caution.)

PERCY STREETtoronto private streetLittle Percy Street runs south off King, just east of Sumach, in a dog-legged kink that ends abruptly against the Richmond Street off-ramps from the Don Valley Parkway. The "Republic of Percy," as it's known by its residents, is not on a street that's owned by the city as and, as a result, residents pay for their own garbage pick-up, snow clearing, and sewer maintenance.

Percy Street was laid out by between 1885 and 1890 by property developer James Quinn, and its two-up-two-down mansard roof homes belonged to mainly to workers at the nearby distillery and breweries. Its history is full of stories of bootlegging and other shady activities. In 1988, workers renovating the home of former resident Cindy Wilkey found $50,000 in depression-era Bank of Canada bills behind a false ceiling. These days the street is much more down to earth.

BISLEY STREET

Disguised as an unpaved service road off Verral Avenue near Queen and Carlaw, Bisley St. is actually home to a secret little row of brick homes that date back to the 1880s, when it seems access was made directly from Queen. The homes do not have a back yard and share a rear wall with a cluster of houses that face Verral. The only thing that betrays the existence of this weird private strip is a recently installed blue-and-white street sign.

ALPHA AVENUEAlpha Avenue Toronto

Hidden away in north Cabbagetown, Alpha Ave. could be a cousin of Percy Street. Its rare collection of unadulterated 19th century cottages hark back to the neighbourhood's working class roots. As if to illustrate the upward trend in local housing prices, Nos. 1 and 3, which were knocked together to make one big house, were on the market for $985,000 in 2010.

The street was laid out some time between 1884 and 1890, but it's not clear where the unusual name comes from. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet but there is no Beta or Gamma or Delta avenues in the city. Similarly, just off Broadview, First Avenue exists without a Second Street (it was demolished along with the old YMCA.) Alpha Avenue, it seems, is one of one.

ELMSLEY PLACE

The mansions of Elmsley Place, a street on the University of Toronto campus named for a former Chief Justice of Upper Canada who owned the land and bothered his colleagues by quoting Latin, is probably close to what most people imagine a private street should look like: it has a gated entrance, a collection of massive red brick homes, and the distinct scent of old money, but Elmsley is actually entirely owned by the University of Toronto.

It was one of the city's first subdivisions in 1892, home to professional and managerial families, but in 1920, during the extension of Bay Street north to Davenport Road, the city ended up having to cede the street following a legal dispute with St. Michael's College. In 2007, the four homes on the west side of Elmsley - the Gilson, Maritain, McCorkell, and Sullivan houses - underwent a $4 million renovation.

MELBOURNE PLACEtoronto private streetMelbourne Place is tough to find if you're not looking for it. Accessed between two houses on Melbourne Street, southwest of Queen and Dufferin, the short dead-end street is lined with seven gorgeous English Mews-style Victorian terraced homes. Like Percy Street and Alpha Avenue, Melbourne Place is listed as private, meaning that it's technically off limits to the general public although there are no signs warning off potential visitors.

That said, the wrought iron gates at the main entrance are a not-so-subtle reminder that visitors are entering private property. The street was laid out as one of the city's first non-public enclaves around the turn of the century, but it seems the actual gates are a more recent addition. According to a recent property listing, some of the homes still have their original gas lamps.

EDYTH COURT

Hidden in south Etobicoke, just off Lake Shore Boulevard. near Royal York Road, Edyth Court is an unpaved, boomeranged-shaped road that provides access to a small collection of waterfront bungalows. Two of the homes have backyard lake access and it seems like a pretty nice place in the summer.

BENLAMOND DRIVE

toronto private streetBenlamond Drive is so private that it doesn't show up on Google Maps or Street View (so no virtual nosing around.) Accessed via an elbow in the road off Glen Oak Dr. near Main Street and Gerrard, this private street provides access to two gigantic homes, one of which is the William Stewart Darling House, named for the rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

The large brick home was built in 1873 and was likely designed by architect Frank Darling who, with various partners, designed Convocation Hall and the Bank of Montreal branch that's now home to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The house has expansive views over the Benlamond Ravine all the way to the lake and was later owned by William Davies, the meat packing tycoon, partly responsible for earning Toronto the nickname Hogtown.

ROCKAWAY CRESCENT

Sadly, this street doesn't share much with its New York City namesake. In fact, it could be an east end cousin to Etobicoke's Edyth Court. Located at the eastern terminus of Queen Street, where the road curves north to become Fallingbrook Road, the diminutive Rockaway Cres. sports a forbidding "No Exit" sign at its entrance but does not otherwise appear to be marked. Judging from an aerial view, it looks like there are at least two homes on the unpaved track that have almost exclusive use of a sandy beach.

EDGEWOOD AVENUE

The little northern extension of Edgewood Avenue north of Eastwood Road has all the classic hallmarks of a private street: decorative stone gateposts that form a psychological barrier from the public portion of the road, fancy paving stones, and, of course, a sign that says "Private Road."

Once inside, the messages get a little more threatening: "Private property. No trespassing. Trespassers will be prosecuted," one reads. "Private property. Visitor parking only. Unauthorized vehicles will be tagged and or towed at owner's expense," says another. This, I remind you, is a quiet residential street, yet its residents have felt the need to put up spiky iron fences and little lawn signs carrying the names of a home alarm systems. It's all a bit weird. Even the fire hydrants are angry red.

WYCHWOOD PARK

toronto private streetNo list of private streets in Toronto would be complete without Wychwood Park, the most famous of them all. At Davenport Road and Bathurst Street, the bucolic enclave that shields the source of Toronto's historic Taddle Creek and once housed media theorist Marshall McLuhan, established in the 1870s as a community for artists.

The rules have changed over the decades, and the 60 homes of Wychwood Park are now managed a bit like Percy Street, where residents pay into a fund that ensures the roads are maintained, the gates are kept standing, and the central pond is free of silt.

The idyllic surroundings haven't always translated to neighbourly harmony. A number of disputes were covered by local press in recent years and, in 2008, 70-year-old Wychwood activist Albert Fulton killed himself after being charged in connection with slashing his neighbours' car tires. Unlike other private communities, Wychwood doesn't discourage visitors, it just asks that they pick up after their dogs.

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

Images: Chris Bateman, Derek Flack/blogTO

Discussion

26 Comments

Todd Toronto / May 6, 2014 at 03:42 pm
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Great article. Does Toronto have any US style gated communities? I can think of at least one (sort-of, in that anyone can walk in or out) near Yonge and Finch.
mike in parkdale / May 6, 2014 at 03:53 pm
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I love walking though Melbourne Pl in Parkdale. The gas lamp is a wonderful touch, and it really looks like a strongly bonded community. And if you know where you're going, it's not exactly a dead end.
Aaron / May 6, 2014 at 03:54 pm
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Hope not. Toronto doesn't need US-style gated communities. A nice gate on a property looks noce, but an entire neighbourhood? No.

It was designed in the states of fear of the outside world.
Gate / May 6, 2014 at 03:58 pm
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Here are some gated communities in and around the GTA

Peel Village, Brampton
Watercolors, Mississauga
Wingfield North, Markham
Adena Meadows, Aurora
Hamilton Gables Hamilton
The Parkside Toronto, North York
jen / May 6, 2014 at 04:05 pm
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Clarendon Crescent, west off of Poplar Plains Road as you go north up to St. Clair, is another gated off street that isn't on Google street view. Bikes can get through easily, though! You can also get in there off of Clarendon Avenue.
Mark / May 6, 2014 at 04:27 pm
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Lots of info/photos on Rockaway
http://www.beachesliving.ca/pages/index.php?act=landmark&;id=81
Chris Bateman replying to a comment from Mark / May 6, 2014 at 04:43 pm
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Hi Mark, do you have a more precise link for the Rockaway info?

Chris
Joe / May 6, 2014 at 04:58 pm
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There's another tiny little gem in Parkdale - Trenton Terrace. Looks like a row of cottages, just off Cowan Ave by Springhurst.
Christina / May 6, 2014 at 05:11 pm
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I think you have the information about First Ave incorrect. It was originally called Lerfroy but was later changed. Second Street is in Etobicoke and on Ward's Island. I am not aware of there ever being a YMCA in Riverdale.
The Shakes / May 6, 2014 at 05:42 pm
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Drumsbnab Rd and Hawthorne Gardens in Rosedale also come to mind.
Olivier replying to a comment from Chris Bateman / May 6, 2014 at 06:52 pm
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Interesting article about Rockaway Cres.

http://www.beachesliving.ca/pages/index.php?act=landmark&;id=81
Ed / May 6, 2014 at 07:42 pm
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Alderwood has Beta, Gamma, and Delta Streets.

But I guess it's technically true that the city doesn't have Beta, Gamma, or Delta Avenues.
Holy Thundering Jesus / May 6, 2014 at 10:02 pm
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there is also one in the junction
W. K. Lis / May 6, 2014 at 10:24 pm
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Condominiums and apartments could be considered "gated". Non-residents have to "check" in through security or a keypad. I'm sure "undesirables" could still get past by joining a group of people going through.
R. Johannesson replying to a comment from Joe / May 7, 2014 at 01:05 am
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Trenton Terrace is a magical and wonderful place . . . I'm about to list my beloved "cottage" for sale but know that someone new is about to fall in love with the Terrace!
John McKee / May 7, 2014 at 02:35 am
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My first apt in downtown Toronto was in Melbourne Place. At the time didn't realize how lucky I was to live there...
Gsol / May 7, 2014 at 09:17 am
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Glen Baillie place in china town spadina just north of Dundas there is a alley that leads to a nice little community.
Liam / May 7, 2014 at 10:05 am
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Yachters Lane in Etobicoke near Park Lawn is also private.
local replying to a comment from Aaron / May 7, 2014 at 11:09 am
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Yes, and as proven by the locations given in Gate's list below, they're pretty much always a tacky suburban affectation for the nouveau riche.
Julia / May 7, 2014 at 03:29 pm
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I live on a private street. It's actually a small community made up of two small streets near Weston. For us, it's not really a big deal that we notice much, except for when we have to pay for our own snow clearing. My husband and I don't mind when people in nearby areas are on our streets, but some other residents do.
Ana replying to a comment from Gate / May 7, 2014 at 05:41 pm
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I live in Peel Village in Brampton and it's not private :) its like double the size of a regular neighbourhood and only 1/4th is private.. just an FYI! :)
ginnee / May 13, 2014 at 07:40 am
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Another in Rosedale - Corrigan Close, running NE from South Drive near Park Rd.
Kate / May 13, 2014 at 09:51 am
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Your assumption of Edgewood is rather alarming to a 10 year resident of Edgewood Mews.
We are a private Enclave of 13 freehold homes and the road is Private. We have private parking signs and a speed limit of 10km for those that are unfamiliar with the dead end. We have many kids playing regularly on our road and feel this is a safety measure. Anyone living in Toronto knows parking is an issue across the city, the signs are directions for any visitors to our neighbourhood and also meant to discourage anyone from just parking there anytime (since you do not need a permit). I would be interested if Mr. Bateman you had an opportunity to speak to any home owners before you made your assumptions about Edgewood Mews? Happy hour is a regularity in our enclave, stop in have a glass of wine if you dare enter within the spiky iron fences:)
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Krista / August 24, 2014 at 06:46 pm
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As a homeowner on Trenton Terrace, I can tell you that is not a private street but rather a city street. That doesn't mean we get city snow or ice removal and they do not come down the street to collect recycling or garbage... despite the fact they technically should. However, it is a very unique pedestrian street and a hidden treasure.

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