Ravenshoe Road and Bradford
I admit, I was surprised that Yonge ended so soon north of the Queensville Sideroad. Looking at the map, I saw that the baseline had a few kilometers to go before it ran out of land at the shores of Lake Simcoe. Adding insult to injury, the next concession road two kilometres to the west, known as Bathurst Street, continued further north. The baseline almost certainly went further north than Yonge Street does. Is it possible that portions of the street reappear further north?
I look north and… sure enough, four kilometres away, an isolated section of Yonge Street materializes, running north for a few hundred metres before ending at a T-intersection not far from Cooks Bay. Was this a part of the original survey taken in the 1790s? Was it ever connected to the Yonge Street further south? I don't think I'll ever know, but it's still something I have to see.
I return to the Queenston Sideroad and follow it east to Leslie Street; there, I turn left and head north, six kilometres towards Keswick. I'm looking for Ravenshoe Road, the last concession road before Cooks Bay, and the boundary between the York Region townships of Georgina and East Gwillimbury. Even here, even though Yonge Street ends at a T-intersection with Ravenshoe, even though Ravenshoe continues less than a hundred meters to the west and ends rather than crossing the Holland River, Yonge Street's ability to divide east from west continues. That small section of Ravenshoe Road between Yonge Street and the Holland River is known as Ravenshoe Road… West.
I find Ravenshoe Road at the edge of Keswick. I turn left and head back towards Yonge Street. I am entering Holland Marsh, a massive former wetland that has been dyked and drained and is the Greater Toronto Area's breadbasket and, surprisingly, is named after British General R.S. Holland rather than the country that these dykes emulate.
(Above) Yonge Street, driving south from Ravenshoe Road. (Below) The southern end of this short section of Yonge Street. Marshland follows.
After the rolling hills of the Moraine, I am shocked to emerge on some of the flattest land I've seen outside of the prairies. But I can't pay too much attention to the scenery: I'm running out of road. The potholes are growing, and I still haven't reached Yonge Street. Signs are warning me that the road is closed, and being beaten to death with shovels, but I see a farm complex ahead. A tractor is raising dust. Then I hit Yonge Street's last intersection.
Yonge Street at Ravenshoe is a gravel road, bounded on both sides by deep ditches running with water. Green root crops stretch into the distance. I follow the gravel track south a few hundred meters and it comes to an end, abruptly, on a large patch of marshy ground. Wetland grasses wave in the breeze. A water pump sits on a path a few feet from the end of the road. I get out, and experience the one thing I never expected to find on Yonge Street: silence.
The farm complex is a few hundred meters to the north. I can hear no traffic. There is only the sound of insects, some bird calls, and the wind, and not much of that. My car is coated with dust. I snap a few pictures, and then I just stand and watch, savouring this rare moment.
(Above) The intersection of Yonge and Ravenshoe, looking northeast. (Below) Same intersection, looking southwest.
Finally, I get in the car and head north again, parking at Yonge's intersection with Ravenshoe. This section of Yonge Street has more symbolism. It ends here, but I'm surrounded by farm buildings, now, and there is more noise. The effect is lessened, but not enough that I don't appreciate the sight.
So this is how Yonge Street ends: from the heart of a major city to a gravel road petering out in a farmer's field. It's sad in its own way, but strangely appropriate for a venerable old road. The only thing more appropriate would be if it could have touched the water's edge of Lake Simcoe as well as Lake Ontario.
(Above) Yonge and Ravenshoe, looking northwest. (Below) At the true end of Yonge Street, looking north.
And yet, from the picture that started this whole series of blog posts, you can see a dirt track continuing north, following the baseline. You can see a line of telephone poles stretching into the distance. This is a scene that holds a lot of promise. Where does it go? Less than a kilometre ahead is the shore of Cook's Bay. There isn't another sideroad, or street of any kind for this path to drive to. Dare I take my car along this path? I decide against it. Whatever it was when the concession road was laid out, it's probably somebody's driveway, now.
But my will to explore is seriously stoked.
I return to the Queenston Sideroad the way I came, and push past the southern portion of Yonge Street, following signs that promise to take me to Highway 11. I come upon Bathurst Street (yes, that Bathurst Street), and head south to an intersection of Yonge Street (Torontonians will understand when I say that this is just *so* wrong). I'm back on the main road; the Holland bypass heading to Bradford. I don't have long to go.
I follow the current Yonge Street northwest. It's a four lane highway, here, with soft shoulders and a central turning lane. The signs tell us that we're leaving King Township and entering Bradford, I cross a bridge, and the address numbers suddenly drop. I'm on Bridge Street. Yonge Street is dead.
The road continues into Bradford, changing its name again to Holland Street. In the downtown, old Highway 11 takes a right turn at Barrie Street and heads north, resuming the Yonge Street name beyond the city limits. The road that the original Yonge Street has become, now old Highway 88, fades out as the 7th Line of New Tecumseth Township, ending at a T-intersection with the Adjala-Tecumseth townline, not far from Tottenham.
I started this journey at Queens Quay at around 11 a.m. It's now after six, and time for dinner. The last address on Yonge Street happens to be the Riverview Restaurant, officially located at 20,650 Highway 11, Bradford, 10,325 lots beyond 1 Yonge Street, and just steps from the bridge at the edge of Bradford. I step inside and eat an excellent club sandwich and fries for a reasonable price among of clean-but-dated fake wood verneer tables and diner-style chairs; the sort of decor that you'd expect from a family-owned diner that hadn't been redecorated for a while.
The waitress/owner chats with me, and I tell her that I've driven the length of Yonge Street.
(Above) The homey interior of the Riverview Restaurant, where you can get a great club sandwich. (Below) The road back to Newmarket.
"You've got a way to go," she says.
"Yeah, I know, but it's Highway 11 that goes all the way to Rainy River, not Yonge Street," I reply.
"But there's another section of Yonge north of the city. It goes all the way to Barrie," she tells me.
"I know. After a name change and a right turn at the intersection," I reply.
"Yeah," she says, with an irritated click of her tongue. "I don't know what they were thinking with the different names."
I don't know why she's holding on to the old myth of Yonge Street. Even if it ends here, it's a remarkable journey. And if it ends here, then Riverview Restaurant becomes the restaurant at the end of Yonge Street. And surely there's some cachet in that; you could have seafood for lunch at Captain John's Pier and a decent club for dinner. Either way, there's nothing like a place to sit, rest your feet, and fill your stomach at the end of a good journey.
But the Yonge Street myth may be impossible to kill. The cachet of being the longest street in the world, and the street's history and commercial significance to Toronto and York Region have fed off each other. From the art installations at Lake Ontario to the beating heart of Yonge-Dundas Square, the Strip and beyond, Yonge is the heart of Toronto, and Torontonians will never lose that. And maybe they shouldn't. Yonge Street makes Torontonians look north, connecting them, in however small a way, with the communities of Muskoka and northern Ontario. Yonge Street makes Torontonians look beyond their boundaries.
Some people have taken it upon themselves to drive the entire route of historic Highway 11, through central and northern Ontario, all the way to Rainy River. They cannot help but coming away improved from the experience, in my opinion. I myself have been spurred by the Yonge Street myth to look beyond my own borders, to one day go on a quest for what actually is the longest street in the world. Name me any other street that stokes the fires of exploration.
Outside, the cars bring their drivers home. The GO Train rumbles past on a parallel set of tracks, urging me onward.