St. Clair Avenue History

What St. Clair Avenue used to look like in Toronto

At the outset of the 20th century, St. Clair Avenue was a narrow stretch of road, bordered by stretches of farmland and broken by a series of ravines to the east of Yonge Street. Thanks to various annexation efforts, the majority of the street fell within the city of the Toronto by 1911, at which point the construction of streetcar track ushered in a development boom that would rapidly change the character of the street. Hey, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Prior to this boom, development was concentrated in two main areas: Yonge St. and then all the way over at Weston Rd. Photos of the street in the late 1920s, when the tracks were re-laid, show remarkable change from the sleepy road of prior decades. Perched atop the old Lake Iroquois shoreline, St. Clair was growing up — and the city along with it.

This was the period when the sweeping Stockyards came to the Keele area. Along with the Canada Packers Plant, a smattering of abattoirs could also be found in the area. Some evidence of this past industry can still be spotted along Gunns Road, though the massive retail development (incidentally named after the Stockyards) on the old Bunge property will likely push out the remaining meat packers in the years to come.

To the east, between (Old) Weston Road and Bathurst, the street developed as a retail drag servicing the residential areas to the immediate north and south. With the exception of the Loblaws complex, the stretch of St. Clair between Bathurst and Avenue road, is mostly retail free, marked by the reservoir at Spadina and Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, which was built in 1914. The other side of Yonge is also primarily residential until the street temporarily terminates at the Moore Park Ravine. While it resumes to the east of the Don Valley, the Toronto Archives has curiously few photos of this section of the street.

If there's one thing the photos below show, is just how closely linked St. Clair's history is linked the presence of streetcars. From the old car barns at Wychwood to the passenger safety zones of the the 1920s, to the still-remaining loop at St. Clair Station, the streetcar has been a ubiquitous presence on the west side of the street for just over a century. Also worthy of note are the various ravines that the St. Clair traverses, geographical features that posed significant engineering challenges when laying out the street and its tracks in the first place.

One final note about St. Clair's name. According to Allan Gould in his Toronto Street Names, it derives from a sort of double mistake. Albert Grainger, who lived on a farm near Avenue Rd., marked what was then the Second Concession with a sign that read "St. Clair," in tribute to the hero from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. It should have read "St. Clare," but the theory goes that Grainger adopted the misspelling he had seen in a program from a travelling performance of the narrative. When surveyors spotted his misspelt sign years later, they adopted the name.


St Clair Avenue Toronto

Hunting group on Bathurst north of St. Clair, 1900s

St Clair Avenue Toronto

Southwest corner of Yonge & St. Clair, 1911

St Clair Avenue

Northwest corner of St. Clair & Dufferin, 1911


Southwest corner St. Clair & Dufferin, 1911


Northeast corner Spadina & St. Clair


St. Clair and Caledonia, 1911


Looking west on St. Clair towards Bathurst, 1911


Looking east along St. Clair at Vaughan, 1912


TTC Car Barns (now Wychwood Barns), 1915


Mt. Pleasant & St. Clair, 1922


Southwest corner of Yonge & St. Clair, 1923


Looking east on St. Clair at Mulock, 1923


St. Clair Bridge under construction, 1924


Oops at St. Clair & Rushton, 1926


Looking east on St. Clair at Oakwood, 1927


Looking east on St. Clair at Rushton, 1928


Looking east on St. Clair at Christie, 1928


Looking east on St. Clair at Wychwood, 1928


Avenue Rd. & St. Clair, 1928


Looking east on St. Clair at Vaughan, 1928


Looking west to Bathurst on St. Clair, 1928


Abattoirs in the distance near Weston Road, 1930


Private property on St. Clair west of Keele, 1933


St. Clair Resevoir, 1934


Canada Packers stockyards, 1940


Granite Club, west of Yonge on St. Clair 1947


Brand new St. Clair Station, 1954


St. Clair Station streetcar entrance, late 1950s


990 St. Clair West, 1957


Spadina & St. Clair, 1958


Stockyards near Keele, 1959


Loblaws property on St. Clair east of Bathurst, 1974


Alternate angle


Yonge & St. Clair, 1980s

Photos from the Toronto Archives

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