Posted by: jjarmasz | August 1, 2011

Where did that street go?

Delaware Av. continues one block north

Delaware Av. continues one block north - huh?

While nominally laid out on a grid, the streets of Toronto have so many exceptions to this regular structure that it does injury to the concept of a grid. Just walk around any Toronto neighbourhood or look on Google maps and you’ll notice a ton of streets that:

  • Disappear, then magically reappear one, two (or more!) blocks later with the same name, more-or-less in the correct alignment. Delaware Ave in my neighbourhood is one example, but some of the more spectacular ones are Keele St. north of St. Clair, which vanishes then reappears close to Eglinton, and St. Clair East, which disappears between Mount Pleasant and Scarborough.
  • Streets whose different blocks are utterly misaligned but somehow keep the same name on both sides. Ones in my ‘hood are Delaware (again), and Brock & Margueretta Aves. when they all cross Bloor St.
  • Perfectly aligned street blocks that somehow don’t keep the same name — think of the north-south streets in the Annex that cross Bloor, such as Howland/Borden and Walmer/Robert.
  • And finally, there are the major roads that snake through the city, making an utter mockery at all the other streets trying to fall in line with the grid. The major examples are Dundas St. and Davenport, of course.

The last two examples have the readiest explanations: the curving streets are typically ancient Native trails that followed natural features, and the streets that change name across major city roads likely were streets in separate villages that predate Toronto and that kept their names (at least I am almost certain that’s what happened in the Annex, whose southern boundary was in fact Bloor, a fact we often forget today). The partial disappearance of major roads is probably not that strange either. The major streets that define our “city blocks” were drawn up as “concession roads,” i.e. the subdivision grid started by Lord Simcoe when he started whipping southern Ontario into shape. So it probably makes sense that they would keep their name across major interruptions like ravines and rail lines, as long as they line up with the lines of the notional concession roads surveyed long ago. But the smaller streets that disappear, reappear, and somehow get shifted sideways as they cross other roads? Beats me. Maybe I’m just an urban nerd who should have gone into Urban Studies, but I’d really like to know…

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