toronto street name meanings

5 fascinating stories about Toronto street names

Toronto street names tell both quirky and intriguing stories about the city as it once was. We've already traced the origins of many main thoroughfares in Toronto, but there are countless more tales to be told about the names that stare us in the face on a daily basis. From failed utopias to unfortunate spelling mistakes, our street names are fascinating capsules of local lore.

Here are stories about Toronto street names you probably haven't heard before.

Liberty Street
Liberty St. and the neighbourhood after which it's named is derived from the presence of two major prisons in the area: the Central Prison (of which the chapel still remains) and the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women. Given that "Incarceration St." didn't have a particularly nice ring to it, the idea is that upon serving their time, prisoners would be released onto Liberty St.

St. Clair Avenue
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 Grainger adopted the misspelling he had seen in a program from a travelling performanc. When surveyors spotted his misspelt sign years later, they adopted the name.

Laird Drive
Laird Drive seems tricky from an etymological standpoint, especially if you put too much faith in Wikipedia. Contrary to its claim that the street is named after Canadian Prime Minister Robert Laird Borden, the origins lie elsewhere. Although Laird is a designation of estate ownership in Scottish, this particular street is named for Alexander Laird, a banker who helped finance Leaside's development.

Davenport Road/Dupont Street
These two streets share a familial connection insofar as Joseph Wells lived at the Davenport Estate as of 1821. The house had already been named by soldier John McGill, but Wells' son, Joseph Dupont Wells, would lend his name to the street immediately to the south in addition to the smaller street in the Annex.

Bellamy Road
Named after American writer Edward Bellamy, who penned the science fiction novel Looking Backwards: 2000-1887 in 1888, the idea was to create a utopian society here in the 1960s, but Scarborough Township ultimately denied requests for a parcel of land where such a social experiment could take place. The name, however, stuck.

Know of an interesting Toronto street name? Share the story in the comments.

Photo by Ben Roffelsen in the blogTO Flickr pool.

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