Toronto street widen history

That time when Toronto widened the streets

It may seem strange to think it nowadays, but Toronto — or at least the older parts of the city — wasn't built for cars. Many streets throughout what we now call the core were narrow affairs better equipped to handle carriages and bicycles. Some of Toronto's widest avenues like University and Spadina were once lazy, two-laned paths that would struggle to accommodate a couple of modern-day buses passing one another.

These aren't political statements related to some putative war on the car, but basic facts about the history of this city. So when did things change? Perhaps not surprisingly, Toronto undertook a massive city-wide effort in the years following the second World War to expand the width of its streets to better serve the rising vehicular population. The Archives are littered with photos of formerly tree-lined boulevards that are hollowed out for the purposes of expansion. I used to think the most startling (and in some ways disappointing) instance of this took place on Jarvis Street, which at one time was as grand a street as Toronto had. But in this latest trip into the city's past, I'd now say that the changes in and around U of T are the most dramatic.

But the point of this isn't mourning. On the contrary, it's fascinating to see how the city was transformed to meet the needs of its growing population and the rise of automobile. Most of the photos below were taken around 1948 and feature before and after views of the streets in question. I've also added a contemporary Google Street View image for additional context. When no immediate "after" photo was available, the "before" photo is directly juxtaposed with the view today.

PHOTOS

Jarvis north of Carlton

201156-jarvis-north-carlton-jan-1947.jpg


201156-jarvis-north-carlton-nov-1947.jpg2011103-jarvis-today.jpg

St. George and College

2011103-college-stgeorge-widening-s0372_ss0058_it1781.jpg


2011103-stgeorge-widened-college-1949-s0372_ss0058_it2015.jpg2011103-college-stgeorge.jpg

Donlands and Danforth

Donlands


2011103-donlands-danforth-widened-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1858.jpg2011103-donlands-danforth.jpg

Parliament and Spruce

2011103-spruce-street-parliament-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1792.jpg


2011103-spruce-widened-1949-s0372_ss0058_it2022.jpg2011103-parliament-spruce.jpg

Spadina and St. Clair

2011103-spadina-north-stclair-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1796.jpg


2011103-spadian-post-widening-s0372_ss0058_it1850.jpg2011103-spadina-stclair-today.jpg

Spadina south of Bloor (looking north)

2011103-spadian-south-bloor-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1838.jpg


2011103-spadina-widen-washington-s0372_ss0058_it2032.jpg2011103-spadina-bloor-better.jpg

Sherbourne and Wellesley

2011103-wellesley-sherbourbne-parliament-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1767.jpg


2011103-wellesely-sherbourne-widened-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1862.jpg2011103-wellesley-sherbourne.jpg

Carlaw and Queen

2011103-carlaw-queen-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1776.jpg


2011103-carlaw-widened-queen-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1845.jpg2011103-queen-carlaw.jpg

The photos below are pairs rather than trios:

University south of College (original photo ca. 1910)

2011103-university-narrow-1900-ca-f1568_it0310.jpg


2011103-university-today.jpg

Spadina and Harbord

2011103-harbord-widening-spadina-1944-s0372_ss0058_it1658.jpg


2011103-harbord-spadina-better.jpg

St. George and Harbord (looking west)

2011103-harbord-widening-st-george-1944-s0372_ss0058_it1656.jpg2011103-harbord-stgeorge-today.jpg


St. George and Harbord (looking north)

2011103-stgeorge-harbord-widening-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1784.jpg


2011103-harbord-stgeorge-north-today.jpg

Spadina and Bloor

2011103-spadina-narrow-north-bloor-s0372_ss0058_it1890.jpg


2011103-bloor-spadina-today.jpg

All photos from the Toronto Archives, and screenshots from Google Maps


Join the conversation Load comments

Latest in City

A neighbourhood in Toronto is now filled with inflatable holiday llamas

New report shows Ontario's COVID response not actually led by chief health expert

Ontario releases official guidelines for celebrating holidays amid the pandemic

People in Toronto are demanding that the city allow tiny shelters this winter

Toronto taxi driver hailed as hero for rescuing pigeon from traffic

Here's what you need to know about the Toronto Zoo's new holiday drive-thru

Toronto neighbourhood uses For Lease signs to shed light on struggling small businesses

Here are the rules for mask usage during Toronto's lockdown