To the True End of Yonge Street V:


Bloor to Lawton


Yonge Street cleans itself up at Bloor Street. Stand at the intersection above the subway crossroads and look in four directions, and you can only see the earthy nature of the Yonge Street strip to the south. To the west, the uber-chic boutiques of Bloor Street press towards us. To the east, insurance towers and office buildings abound. To the north, Yonge looks positively open.

The Bloor-Yonge intersection is, in some ways, the true centre of the city. Yonge and Eglinton may supplant this intersection in the next decade, but it’s Yonge and Bloor that the suburban influence of Scarborough and Etobicoke filters into the heart of the city. The arterials south of Bloor, especially in the east end, are cut off by Lake Ontario. When the city sprawled, its sprawled north, and the first of that post-war traffic filed in along Bloor.

When the Toronto drew up plans for its first subways, the proposal called for an east-west line beneath Queen Street, through the heart of Toronto’s downtown, but the TTC noticed that the streetcars on Bloor were carrying an increasing number of commuters from Etobicoke and Scarborough. They defied city council and pushed for the subway to go beneath Bloor Street instead. Somehow they won the day, and Bloor Street ended up supplanting Queen as the premiere east-west street in Toronto.


CIBC Tower at 2 Bloor West.


The Bloor-Yonge intersection is anchored by two modern office towers — the Hudson Bay tower and the CIBC tower — that by rights should kill pedestrian life of the intersection. They are out of human scale, and feature a miniature underground city of shops and services connecting the street with the subway. But the Yonge/Bloor intersection is just too strong to be killed. It has the power of the strip combined with the chic style of Bloor Street; besides, the workers in the towers can’t stay indoors for ever. And if they can’t find sustenance on the Strip or at the nearby Harvey’s (where my parents and I shared many a special Friday night family dinner), then perhaps they can discover something in Roy Square.

Roy Square is a reverse-L-shaped alleyway that runs southeast of the Bloor-Yonge intersection. At any other place in the city, Roy Square would be just a shadowy laneway full of back entrances into buildings. With the foot traffic spilling off of Yonge and Bloor, and with the TTC opening an exit from the Bloor-Yonge station here, however, it’s a destination in its own right, with small boutiques and restaurants, a part of whose alure is obviously a location in a trendy, out-of-the-way place. Wall murals add to the colourful atmosphere of this back alley.


Toronto’s Masonic Temple, now a CTV studio (image courtesy Wikipedia.

North of Bloor Street, remnants of the Yonge Street strip can be seen in a line of stores between Cumberland and Yorkville, but the character of the street is changing, and not just because of the condominiums going up around Yorkville. After we pass the Toronto Central Reference Library, and its rich post-modern stylings, we are greeted with more studious office towers, and a renovated Canadian Tire store. At the corner of Yonge and Davenport you see the former Masonic Temple; a historic structure that, for years, had sat abandoned, until CTV saved it from demolition and renovated it into a television studio.

1000 Yonge Street, at the corner of Belmont and Yonge, marks a strong transition point between two phases of Yonge. Here, the urban fabric takes a break, until past Crescent Road as Ramsden Park and the Rosedale Ravine intervene. The Yonge subway emerges from underground near here and stops at Rosedale station — an incongruous pair of sleepy platforms open to the elements, just one stop north of the busiest station in the system. One could be hard pressed to think up a stronger boundary between what is essentially downtown Yonge and the northern parts of the city. Certainly one couldn’t think of something more pleasant.


Rosedale station, looking south. An oasis near skyscrapers.


This is the primary outlet for the neighbourhood of Rosedale — where the old, old rich of Toronto used to live. Many of Rosedale’s stately homes have been divided and subdivided into lower-cost apartments, but the neighbourhood retains its upper-crust feel, and that seems to rub off on this section of Yonge Street, especially north of Crescent Road. The TTC considered redeveloping its Rosedale station site, which would have continued the line of buildings up Yonge Street through this strip of park, but Rosedale residents intervened, going so far as to convince the city to declare Rosedale subway station, opened in 1954, a historic property. There is much to be said about developing high-density, transit-friendly developments around subway stations like Rosedale, but I think that if this occurred here, something special would be lost.

North of Crescent Road, the pedestrian traffic thins out, but the street’s stores are all in business and they seem to cater to a higher class of customer. There’s a statuary store near Price Street, full of dry fountains and bathing nude stone nymphs. There are boutiques and coffee shops. The buildings, two-and-three storey brownstones, seem to be better kept up than those of the strip. The newer developments, especially those around Summerhill and Shaftsbury, scream money, though it didn’t used to be this way.


North Toronto station and clocktower. Upper photo by Daniel Garcia, courtesy Transit Toronto. Below, the same tower just a few years later. The clock has been restored.


As we approach Shaftsbury, Yonge Street passes beneath a railroad underpass. This is Canadian Pacific’s mainline through the city, and it rumbles with freights. The sidewalks beneath the bridge used to be rather dank places to be, full of pigeon poop. This is also the site of North Toronto Station, an impressive second Toronto train station, built by Canadian Pacific in 1916, only to close it in 1930 after Union Station opened.

Despite taking a visit from the King of England in 1935, North Toronto Station ceased to be a railway property and, by the 1980s, was in use as a liquor store. Its clocktower was an empty shell (though the clockfaces were stored for eventual restoration), and individuals climbing up the tower had to be clad in biohazard suits, and risked being buried by years of accumulated pigeon droppings.

This area has since been spruced up, extending the rich influence of Rosedale almost all the way up to St. Clair. Marathon Realty (the property management arm of CP Rail) restored the building, and set up a condominium development nearby. The clocktower is back in use. The eastern wall of the underpass beneath the rails now houses a coffee shop and a store. The dinginess of the area is a long-forgotten memory.

You’ll have to puff heading north from the railroad underpass. At Summerhill Avenue, Yonge Street is on a 4% grade, as the city rises above the old shoreline of glacial Lake Iroquois. This area of Yonge Street boasts new townhouses and condominiums, rich antique stores, but also its share of small-scale convenience stores. The prices may be a bit out of your league, but you are not unwelcome. It was here that I had my first taste of Sprite Ice.


CHUM AM Building. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

At the top of the hill is the former headquarters of the CHUM radio station, whose fifties era neon sign is a landmark. The station pioneered rock-and-roll in Toronto by establishing a Top-40 format in 1957 and is fortunately still active — albeit as a talk/adult contemporary station.

The history of this area has been thoroughly bulldozed. Toronto’s 19th century northern boundary used to be just north of Bloor, and you are travelling through the old villages of Yorkville and Deer Park. Find some of the remaining historic buildings can be a delightful easter egg hunt, but much more is gone forever.

Finally, near Pleasant Boulevard, the incline levels off, and the character of Yonge Street changes again. There are more office towers here, some with a fifties flare to them. This is Midtown Toronto, a miniature downtown separate from the Yonge/Eglinton intersection that I always called Uptown. We have Rosedale far behind, but another rich neighbourhood is exerting its influence. Forest Hill, full of mansions built by families who earned their money a couple of generations after the Rosedale crew, features residents who do some of their shopping between St. Clair and Lawton.

But just a few blocks after St. Clair, the buildings abruptly stop. On the left, the TTC’s Davisville subway yards lurk behind a chain link fence. On the right, trees and gravestones stretch off into Mount Pleasant Cemetary. A new section of Yonge beckons to the north.


Next: Eglinton, York Mills and the Suburban Gateway.

Photo Gallery


Yonge Street at Bloor, looking south towards the Strip.


Bloor Street, at Yonge, looking west.


Yonge Street at Bloor, looking north.


The southwest corner of Bloor and Yonge. The building dates from the 1940s.


This picture, courtesy the Toronto Archives, shows Bloor Street, looking west towards Yonge. Note the building on the left that still exists today. Everything else has changed dramatically.


The Toronto Central Reference Library, one block north of Bloor. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.


The view of Yonge Street from Rosedale station.


The view south from Shaftsbury. We’re near the start of the long hill marking the old Lake Iroquois shoreline.


Construction going on near Pleasant Boulevard, south of St. Clair.


Modern office tower rubs shoulders next to older three storey building at the Yonge-St. Clair intersection.


St. Clair Avenue, looking west from Yonge. Only the age of the buildings makes this location any different from areas of Toronto’s downtown.

Further Reading

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