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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part IV: Toronto: Her Highways, Institutions, and Industries


FROM an architectural point of view Toronto is in every way worthy of her position as capital of the leading Province of the Dominion. To Montreal only, of all the cities of the Dominion, does she yield the palm in this respect—and that too with a decided, though perhaps not decidedly expressed, opinion, that the day is not very far off which will see the Queen City of the West outstrip her Eastern sister in this as in her other claims to supremacy. Already she is treading hard on the heels of the latter in the race for the commercial leadership; and in point of population her progress has been so marked as to give well-grounded hopes that Toronto will, before many decades have rolled past, stand at the head of the list of Canadian cities in this as in all other respects.

To the stranger approaching the city, whether by land or by water, Toronto scarcely offers much promise of what she has to show. It is only when the visitor drives through her streets that he can form any adequate idea of her beauties. From an artistic point of view the site on which the city stands is an unfortunate one. The ground lies low, gradually rising as it leaves the lakeshore, until the upward slope terminates in the ridge which bounds the view on the north. And it is only from this ridge, crowned b\ the residences of some of the wealthier citizens, that anything like a comprehensive view of the city can be obtained. But this point of vantage is little known, even to many life-long residents, though the prospect from its summit is not unlike that to be obtained from the mountain that keeps guard over Montreal. It is true that it lacks the marked features of the latter, the broad St. Lawrence, spanned by the Victoria Bridge, and the deep blue hills of Vermont in the far distance. The out look from Toronto's little mountain covers an unbroken background of shining water, except on an exceptionally clear day, when the dim coastline on the other side of the lake is barely visible, and towards the right the "pillar of smoke" which overhangs Niagara Falls is most distinguishable. But it is the only spot from which a Bisgah-like view of the entire city can be obtained, and this being the case it is surprising that its advantages have not yet been utilized. Views of Toronto, so-called, have hitherto generally been taken either from some steeple or tower, from which only a limited portion of the city can be seen; or from the bay or island—the result ;n the latter case being merely a representation of the water front and the buildings in the immediate vicinity, backed by a sprinkling of spires and chimneys. Yet even viewed from the bay there are bits of perspective which are far from being unattractive, notably the glimpse afforded of Spadina Avenue, lined on either side by foliage and terminating in the buildings of Knox College. Simcoe Street, with Erskine Church in the distance, is another case in point.

Speaking of foliage it will scarcely do to leave .unnoticed one of the special beauties of the streets of Toronto—the trees. True we have no giant elms such as Oliver Wendell Holmes loves; nor any historic oaks to delight the antiquarian and move the poet's soul to song. But trees we have in plenty. It used to be said that there was not a spot in London from which a tree could not be seen. Surely there is scarcely a spot in Toronto's streets where trees in abundance do not meet the eye. The chestnut is by long odds the favourite, though the elm, the poplar, the oak, and Canada's own maple are by no means wanting. The more fashionable thoroughfares are lined with them, while the less pretentious by-ways, the home of the artisan and the mechanic, give goodly promise of refreshing greenery in the near future, even every bandbox of a cottage having before it its sapling or two and its bit of boulevard.

The artist and the aesthete would doubtless be no more inclined to go into raptures over the arrangement of the streets of Toronto than over the selection of its site. But the former, like the latter, is eminently convenient and practical, and admirably suited to the requirements of a city of commercial aspirations. As ,s the case with most modern cities, the streets of Toronto run north and south, or east and west—a main artery starting at the edge of the lake and extending due north for thirty miles, from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe. Crossing Yonge Street at its outset are the two great thoroughfares King and Queen Streets, and nearly a mile further north Bloor Street, formerly the dividing line between the city and the suburb of Yorkvnle, stretches away westward far beyond the city limits into the open country. For convenience of topographical description these tour streets may be accepted as dividing the city into five great divisions. The first of these is that lying to the south of King Street and extending as far as the waters of the bay. The second would consist of the long torpedo-shaped strip extending from the junction of King and Queen Streets at High Park, in the west, to the point where they again converge on the banks of the Don, in the east. The third would include the area east of Yonge, north of Queen and south of Bloor, but extending beyond the extremities of the two latter streets across the Don. The fourth would cover the corresponding district west of Yonge Street; and the fifth the quondam Village of Yorkville, now formig part and parcel of the city.

Before entering upon any detailed description of these arbitrary districts, it will be well to take a cursory glance at the mam thoroughfares which form their boundaries, leaving fuller accounts of their principal architectural features to be dealt with later.

To King Street be given the/>as. It is more aristocratic, more frequented and more business-like— in so far, at feast, as its central portion is concerned—than any of its sisters. It can also lay claim to greater antiquity, having been the first thoroughfare of the future city —the village street of Muddy little York. King Street extends almost the entire length of the city, from High Park to the Don, where it joins Queen Street and, after crossing the bridge over the river, becomes the Kingston Road. It is on King Street, from York Street to Church, that the fashionable stores are situated; and here that, of a fine afternoon from three till six, the fashionables and would-be fashionables of the city most do congregate to display their charms and then attire, affecting especially for that purpose the south, or "dollar" side. It is in this portion of the street that are situated the Rossiu House, for many years one of the leading hotels, and the principal dry-goods, millinery and jewellery stores, on the south side; while on the north side are the offices of the Canadian Pacific, Railway Company, in the building erected and formerly occupied by the ill fated United Empire Club; the stately building of the Mail Printing Company, which suffered to a considerable extent by fire on the 24th of May last; the less pretentious and older Globe office, the scene of the shooting of the Hon. George Brown ; besides restaurants and stores, the latter of a more staid appearance than the fashionable shops across the way, and devoted to the sale of the necessaries rather than of the luxuries of life. On the north-east corner of King and Church Streets stands the Anglican Cathedral of St. James, and a little further eastward, on the south side, the St. Lawrence Hall and Market. This part of the street is almost entirely given up to the farmers and those who supply their wants; here the jewellery and millinery stores give place to emporiums for the sale' of substantial clothing, seeds and agricultural implements, and to hotels of the class chiefly frequented by the farming community. Beyond the St. Lawrence Hall King Street East -s utterly commonplace. Probably the malaria which is known to infest this portion of the city is an obstacle to its progress and prosperity. West of York-Street, as far as Spadina Avenue, King Street still presents noteworthy features, more especially St. Andrew's Church, Upper Canada College and Government House. Beyond the avenue this end of the street is as dead, as deserted and as colourless as the opposite extremity.

Yonge Street ranks next to King in importance as a business thoroughfare, stretching from end to end of the city- and even far beyond as a country road—and, forming the dividing line between East and West Toronto, it might be compared to the backbone of the city, while the lesser thoroughfares that intersect it form the r bs. From the Esplanade to King Street it is lined by handsome buildings, chiefly occupied as banks, insurance offices and wholesale business houses, one of its most prominent features being the Custom House on the the corner of Front. Above King Yonge Street is not rich m architectural specimens, though here and there a lofty building of recent construction towers above its neighbours. Until, say within the last ten years, the structures lining this portion of the-thoroughfare were of the plainest description—mainly two-story buildings of the ordinary brick-and-mortar or rough-cast type. But of late several handsome stores have been erected, notably the Arcade, just finished, a row of retail stores just above Queen Street on the west side, and another row on the opposite side just below Wilton Avenue. Unpretentious as its buildings are, however, Yonge Street is no whit behind King Street as to the amount of business transacted—if it does not even surpass its more fashionable sister m this respect. Along its whole length as far as Bloor Street, and for several hundred yards beyond this point, it presents an almost unbroken succession of stores, taverns and restaurants.

()iieen Street, another important retail business thoroughfare, presents a sing ilar combination of splendour and squalor, which cannot fail to strike the observant peripatetic. It presents, side by side, some of the finest buildings and some of the most wretched hovels in the city. Osgoode Hall, one of the noblest architectural monuments to be found m Toronto, is jostled by the miserable slums of St. John's Ward and the low dives of York Street. Shaftesbury Hall, another imposing structure, is surrounded by contemptible shanties and vis-a-vis'd by the tumble-down rookeries of Jew dealers in second-hand furniture and cast-off clothing. "Trinity College and the Lunatic Asylum are more fortunately situated, though the contrast they


ST. ANDREWS' CHURCH.

offer with the structures in their immediate vicinity is sufficiently striking. By far the larger portion of the business of Queen Street is transacted west of Yonge, the dead-alive condition of the eastern section being the very antithesis of the bustling, business-like air that pervades the section between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street. Still further westward Queen Street runs through the suburb of Parkdale, which has hitherto persistently resisted all attempts to induce it to follow the example of its sister suburbs and takes its fortunes with those of the city. A feature worth noticing at this end of Queen Street is the subway—now nearly completed— that goes beneath the railway tracks at what used to be an exceedingly dangerous crossing.

In the district south of King Street almost the entire wholesale trade of Toronto is concentrated, as well as the greater part of its heavier manufacturing industries—the former grouped especially in the immediate vicinity of Yonge Street, the latter scattered over the outlying districts. Crossing Yonge Street at right angles are, in order from the Bay upwards, Front, Wellington and Colborne Streets, the two first-named lined with imposing structures erected by private enterprise, the last narrow, dirty and gloom\, but all three "full of business," as will' be seen when we come to speak of Toronto's financial and mercantile institutions. In the eastern half of this division are the City Hall, the St. Lawrence Hall and Market, the Northern Railway Station, the Drill Shed, the Gas Works, a great distillery, a brewery or two, and several factories. The extreme end of this eastern section is a dreary wilderness, into which no man ever seems to venture except the aborigines, and in which all the refuse of the city seems to accumulate. It has already been hinted that the unsavoury reputation it bears from a sanitary point of view is probably at the bottom of its want of prosperity. Certain it is that if the curious pedestrian wishes to see the abomination of desolation standing at his very gates he need only take a stroll through this unsavoury region of a Sunday morning. West of Yonge Street, and running parallel to it, Bay and York Streets are almost entirely given up to business, the succeeding streets being as exclusively reserved for private dwellings. At the foot of York Street stands the Union Station—the centre of nearly all the railways of the Province—surrounded by hotels, both great and small. West of the Union Station are the freight sheds, and from this point westward a large slice of this section is monopolized by railway tracks, cattle sheds, round houses, immigrant sheds, etc. To the north of the freight sheds are the Parliament Buildings, and still further north Government House. At the extreme western end of this division are the Central Prison, the Exhibition Buildings, and the Old and New Forts. The Esplanade, with its numerous tracks, forms the southern boundary of the division, and is fringed with elevators, wharves, coal-yards, and boat-houses.

Between King and Queen Streets lies one of the most important sections ot the city. Not only does it embrace a large portion of the retail trade of the better class, but being the habitat of the minor courts of law, it is much affected by lawyers, whose offices cluster thickly about Adelaide, Church, and Toronto Streets. The latter thoroughfare—a somewhat ambitious title for a street not much over fifty yards long—is perhaps the busiest in the city; it certainly is so for its size. It is the immediate approach to the Post-office from the south, which perhaps accounts for a portion of the activity manifested; but apart from this it is, from end to end, emphatically a business street, lined with large and costly buildings, which are chiefly occupied by lawyers, financial and insurance companies and brokers. On the south side of Adelaide Street, to the west of Toronto Street, stands the Court-house and County building, of which the less said the better: and further on, on the north-east corner of Adelaide and Church, the Public Library, formerly the Mechanics' Institute. On Couit Street, an alley leading from Toronto to Church, stands the Police Court building, a wretchedly inadequate structure, which also contains a police station and fire hall. From Church Street eastwards there is little to interest the, stranger; the streets, which higher up become broad and beautiful thoroughfares, being, below Queen Street, squalid and unpicturesque. To the west of Yonge, on Adelaide Street, is the Grand Opera House, and just beyond this, running parallel with Yonge, Bay Street, formerly Bear, near the north-west corner of which stands a portion of Duel's brewery, in which the reformers of 1837 used to hold their meetings previous to the outbreak of that year. The next street to Bay is York, which in this portion bears perhaps a worse reputation than any other street in the city. Its low dives life the resort of all the worst characters of both sexes, and it is in this vicinity that illegal liquor-selling and midnight brawling have their fullest swill. The street itself has possibilities in the way of making a handsome thoroughfare, but its broken sidewalks, tumble-down shanties, and frowsy second-hand stores give it at present an appearance as unenviable as its reputation. Nothing less than a clean sweep of the ricketty tenements that cover it would be necessary to prepare the way for its regeneration and purification. For some distance beyond York Street this section is characterless —colourlessly respectable; but proceeding eastwards, and more especially on the further side of Spadina Avenue, the evidences of comfort decrease, the dwellings are of a more humble class, and we are once more among the homes of the less fortunate citizens.

Above Queen Street—with the exception of Yonge, Church, Parliament, Spadina Avenue, and other thoroughfares of a similar type—the business character of. the city disappears. Private houses are now the rule, and shops—barring the ubiquitous corner grocery and the tavern— the exception. In the section lying east of Yonge Street are some of the finest residences ir the city. In this particular, Jarvis Street, with its costly mansions, carefully tended grounds, and luxuriant shade-trees, stands pre-eminent. Sherbourne Street and some of the cross-streets— notably Carlton and Wellesley—are not far behind; while nearly the whole section, and notably that portion lying north of Wilton Avenue, is neatly laid out in blocks of private houses of a superior class. The streets are well paved and broad, the situation elevated, the air pure, and these many advantages have caused this portion of the city to be regarded as one of the most desirable positions for private residences. In fact, the whole district has within the last ten years been built over with amazing rapidity, so that it is fortunate that two breathing-spaces, the Horticultural Gardens and Riverside Park, have been secured to the residents. In this section, towards its north-east corner, are the General Hospital, the Medical Schools, St. James' Cemetery and the Necropolis. Among its public buildings it also numbers the Normal School, Boys' Home, Gals' Home, and Collegiate Institute, besides a number of handsome schools, and, across the Don, the Jail. Its eastern boundary is Greenwood's side-line, running north from the Kingston Road just below Leslieville. The other section of this division. —that to the west of Yonge Street, extending to the western boundary of the former suburb of Brockton—presents a fantastic melange of poverty and wealth, of ramshackle shanties and princely residences, of gross ignorance and high culture. Immediately adjoining Yonge Street, and extending to the Queen Street Avenue, is the notorious St. John's Ward, at once the negro quarter, the Five Points, and the St. Giles' of Toronto. This description at least applies to its southerly half; its northern portion contains many elegant residences and handsome streets. But below the Yonge Street Avenue, Chestnut, Centre, and Elizabeth Streets bear a reputation that is only excelled in unsavouriness by that of York Street, and equalled by that of William Street to the west. In the "Noble" Ward—so called presumably on the Incus a non lucendo pr nciple—are Osgoode Hall, the House of Industry, the Hospital for Sick Children, and Shaftesbury Hall, lo the north-west of it lie the Queen's Park and Provincial University, with the spacious grounds surrounding the latter stretching northwards to Bloor Street and westwards to St. George. In the immediate vicinity of the University, and lying to the south, are the. School of Practical Science,

Meteorological Observatory, and Wycliffe Hall, the latter a Church of England Divinity School of the Evangelical type. To the east of the Park, on St. Joseph Street, it St. Michael's (R.C.) College, and north of the University, on Bloor Street, McMaster Hall, the Baptist Theological College. All the above mentioned institutions are either connected with or affiliated to the University. Crossing the Queen Street Avenue, a noble drive shaded by chestnut trees, another region of respectability is reached. That portion of this district which lies between Queen Street and College Street is well built up with a substantial and in many cases superior class of residences. Above College Street the land is more open, but building operations are in constant progress. Knox College, the Presbyterian Theological Hall, stands at the head of Spadina Avenue, which is probably the widest, and might be one of the finest thoroughfares in the city. Architectural! speaking, however, it is beneath contempt, if we except one or two recent additions. From Spadina Avenue to Pellwoods Avenue all is dead commonplace. In this vicinity is Claremont Street, that has of late acquired an unenviable reputation in connection with a settlement of recently mported Irish paupers who achieved some notoriety during the latter portion of 1883. Then come the Bickford grounds and those of Trinity College, spreading north as far as Arthur Street, above which the land is entirely open. From Trinity College to the western limits the ground has of late years been rapidly broken, and a class of private houses erected very similar to those that cover the north-eastern portion of the city.

North of Bloor Street lies the beautiful suburb of Rosedale and the former suburb of Yorkville, the latter now forming a part of the city and known as St. Paul's Ward. Its western section is laid out in well kept avenues, in which not a few residences of the better class have been erected. Bloor Street, on both sides, is also well endowed in this respect. To the north of Yorkville lie Mount Pleasant and St Michael's cemeteries and the waterworks basin. The only features in this section specially deserving of mention are the former town hall and the Magdalen Asylum.


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