To the True End of Yonge Street


The photographs of this article were snapped on my Nokia 6682.

One of my greater disappointments came when I learned that Yonge Street wasn’t the longest street in the world.

It was a tourist touchstone for Toronto that its main commercial strip, running up the centre of the city from Lake Ontario to the northern boundary and beyond, was the longest street in the world. The world record entry stood alongside the CN Tower’s title as the world’s tallest freestanding structure, and most people never questioned it. Yonge Street, we claimed, ran all the way into Northern Ontario before curving west to Thunder Bay and Kenora, before ending (1896 kilometres later) at the Minnesota border near Rainy River.

As a child, I often thought about staring up Yonge Street and imagining some kid in Thunder Bay, about my age, standing on the same street, staring back. But when I finally looked at a map of Thunder Bay, I found Highway 11 — the provincial designation of Yonge Street in Toronto — travelling along an imposter: May Street North. Worse, it came to an intersection, and Highway 11 turned right, onto a new street called Arthur.

Further investigation showed that Yonge Street as a name ended in the south end of Barrie, several hundred kilometres to the south and east of Thunder Bay. And this version of Yonge Street wasn’t even the same road that ran out of Toronto. The first iteration of Yonge Street starts at Lake Ontario and runs 45 kilometres north, into Newmarket. North of Newmarket, Yonge Street splits, with the original road following the concession line running through the sleepy village of Holland Landing and petering out on the way to Cooks Bay on Lake Simcoe while a bypass heads north and west, changing its name to Bridge Street as it enters Bradford. In Bradford, Highway 11 takes a right turn onto Barrie Street and it is this street, which resumes the Yonge name leaving Bradford, that ends at a T-intersection in the south end of Barrie.

So when people say that Yonge Street is 1896 kilometres long, what they are actually measuring is the length of Ontario Kings Highway 11, upon which Yonge Street happens to piggyback.

That’s cheating, says I. And also inaccurate since, in 1997, Mike Harris downloaded the southern portion of Highway 11 onto the area’s municipalities. Provincial Highway 11 now ends north of Barrie, a few miles north of the Yonge Street name.

I have no problem celebrating Highway 11 and its impressive length. I’ll even follow the highway through its old route to Lake Ontario, since people still travel historic Route 66 in the United States. But that’s a highway, and not a street. To me, a street cannot take a right-hand turn at an intersection and still be called the same street. A street cannot break and resume several miles to the west.

Somewhere out there, there has to be a road where, if you start at one end and drive to the other, passing countless intersections without turning left or right, you come to the other having driven the world’s longest street. The Guinness Book of World Records now lists the Pan-American Highway as the world’s longest motorable road, but that’s another highway designation, not a true single road or street. As a result, it became a life’s goal to find the world’s longest street/country road and drive along it.

However, since Yonge Street was a lot shorter than originally advertised, I realized that it was possible to drive its length in a few hours. While not the longest street in the world, Yonge Street runs unbroken for at least 56 kilometres. Driving its length would still be an achievement.

So why not follow Yonge Street, from its beginning to its first end? Why not take a camera and photograph the interesting things along the way? Why not watch as the landscape changes from urban to suburban, from suburban to rural? And why not write about it? I could establish a baseline: the longest single street that I had travelled. So that when I found longer drives, I could say that I’d driven roads that were longer than Yonge Street.

And that is what I did…


Next: I Begin at the Beginning.

Further Reading

Road Criteria

I’ve been in conversation with Cameron Bevers of the excellent website The History of Ontario’s King’s Highways (which is, at present, unfortunately under heavy reconstruction), and he agrees with me that Yonge Street and Highway 11 are not synonymous. When I told him about my project, he said:

If you are looking for a road that is more or less uninterrupted for nearly 800 km, you could try the following route:

Black Creek Drive becomes Hwy 400, which becomes Hwy 11 (at Barrie) which becomes Hwy 17 (at North Bay), which becomes Hwy 144 (via Kingsway, Lloyd, and Elm Streets in Sudbury), which ends at Hwy 101 just east of Timmins.

That is a long continuous drive, but I wouldn’t call that a long, uninterrupted street. One of my criteria is that the street, or country road, be livable throughout. In other words, while people may or may not be able to live on it, it should still be possible for one to locate a sidewalk or a driveway along its length. Otherwise, you have an expressway, and if we’re going to talk about expressways, then we might as well measure the Interstates. You have to leave the Interstates in order to eat and sleep. On my favoured roads, the possibilities exist to find a restaurant or a hotel enroute.

It’s going to be hard to find a really lengthy road that fits all of my criteria. It might help if I specify the criteria. The way I see it: the long roads probably fit into the following categories:

  1. The Perfect Road: A continuous length of street or country road that bears the same name throughout its length. The only acceptable breaks are short jogs at concession roads, where the road maintains the same basic alignment — although, the fewer such breaks, the better. As a perfect road, Yonge Street runs roughly 56 kilometres, without break or even concession jog, from Queen’s Quay to the outskirts of Bradford, until its name changes to Bridge Street at the Holland River.
  2. The Multi-Named Road: A perfect road whose name changes enroute. For example, Scarlett Road/Dixon Road/Airport Road/Highway 26/Lakeshore Road/Hume Street runs between Toronto and Collingwood, as an uninterrupted drive of over 126 kilometers.
  3. The Broken Road: An incomplete roadway which, while portions may be missing, one segment is clearly the resumption of the other, by following the same concession alignment and/or taking up the name. For instance, Hurontario Street in Mississauga breaks at Orangeville, as Highway 10 moves to a conession line further west. The name continues as segments along the original concession line (along with the name Centre Road), until ending at the shores of Georgian Bay in Collingwood.
  4. The Historic Road or The Named Road: A lengthy roadway that doesn’t fit the criteria for a Perfect Road. It may twist and turn at intersections, but it’s measured on the basis of its designation, either current or historical. Old Highway 11 would be an example, or Historic Route 66.

There you have it! Now on with my journey…

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