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Yonge Street

Yonge Street
York Regional Road 1 (north of Steeles)
York Regional Road 1 / 51
Simcoe County Road 4 (north of Bradford)
Route information
Maintained by
City of Toronto (south of Steeles Avenue)
York Region(north of Steeles Avenue)
Simcoe County (north of Bradford)
City of Barrie
Length: 86 km[1] (53 mi)
Existed: 1794[2] – present
Major junctions
South end: Queens Quay
  Queen Street
Bloor Street
Dundas Street
Eglinton Avenue
 Highway 401
Steeles Avenue
 Highway 407
 Regional Road 31 (Davis Drive)
 Regional Road 83 (Holland Landing Road)
Simcoe County Road 88 (Holland Street West)
Simcoe County Road 89 (Shore Acres Drive)
Simcoe County Road 21 (Innisfil Beach Road)
To: Former Canadian National rail spur in Barrie (Continues as Burton Avenue)
Counties: York
Major cities: Toronto
Towns: Richmond Hill
East Gwillimbury
Bradford-West Gwillimbury
Highway system

Roads in Ontario

Nearby arterial roads
← Avenue Road Yonge Street Bayview Avenue →
Yonge Street at North York Centre

Yonge Street (pronounced "young street") is a major arterial route connecting the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto to Lake Simcoe, a gateway to the Upper Great Lakes. Until 1999, the Guinness Book of World Records repeated the popular misconception that it was 1,896 km (1,178 mi)[3] long, and thus the longest street in the world; this was due to a mistaken conflation of Yonge Street with the rest of Ontario's Highway 11. Yonge Street (including the Bradford-to-Barrie extension) is in actuality 86 kilometres long.[1] The construction of Yonge Street is designated an Event of National Historic Significance in Canada.[4] Yonge Street was fundamental in the original planning and settlement of western Upper Canada in the 1790s, informing the basis of the concession roads in Ontario today. Long the southernmost leg of Highway 11, linking the capital with northern Ontario, Yonge Street has been referred to as "Main Street Ontario".

The street was named by Ontario's first colonial administrator, Roman roads. Yonge Street is a commercial main thoroughfare rather than a ceremonial one, with landmarks such as the Eaton Centre, Yonge-Dundas Square and the Hockey Hall of Fame located along its length—and lends its name to the eponymous Downtown Yonge shopping and entertainment district.

In Toronto and York Region, Yonge Street is the north-south baseline from which street numbering is reckoned east and west. The eastern branch of Line 1 Yonge–University serves nearly the entire length of the street in Toronto and acts as the spine of the Toronto rapid transit system, linking to suburban commuter systems such as the Viva Blue BRT.


  • Route description 1
  • History 2
    • Establishment of the route 2.1
    • Construction of Yonge Street 2.2
    • Evolution of Yonge Street 2.3
    • Yonge Street as the "longest street in the world" 2.4
    • Cultural significance 2.5
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • References to old Toronto 5
  • External links 6

Route description

The Toronto Eaton Centre on Yonge Street south of Dundas Street

Yonge Street originates on the northern shore of Toronto Bay at Queens Quay, a four-lane arterial road (speed limit 50 km/h) proceeding north by north-west. Toronto's Harbourfront is built on landfill extended into the bay, with the former industrial area now converted from port, rail and industrial uses to a dense residential high-rise community. The street passes under the elevated Gardiner Expressway and the congested rail lines of the Toronto viaduct on their approach to Union Station. The road rises slightly near Front Street, marking the pre-landfill shoreline. Here, at the southern edge of the central business district, is the Dominion Public Building, the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts and the Hockey Hall of Fame, the latter housed in an imposing former Bank of Montreal office, once the largest bank branch in Canada. Beyond Front Street the road passes through the east side of the Financial District, within sight of many of Canada's tallest buildings, fronting an entrance to the Allen Lambert Galleria.

Between Front Street and Queen Street, Yonge Street is bounded by historic and commercial buildings, many serving the large weekday workforce concentrated here. Yonge Street's entire west side, from Queen Street to Dundas Street, is occupied by the Eaton Centre, an indoor mall featuring shops along its Yonge Street frontage and a Sears anchor store at the corner of Dundas Street (currently under renovation because of Sears' recent downscaling). The east side has two historic performance venues, the Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly the Canon Theatre and before that, the Pantages) and the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres. In addition, Massey Hall is located just to the east on Shuter Street.

Opposite the Eaton Centre lies Yonge-Dundas Square. The area now comprising the square was cleared of several small commercial buildings and redeveloped in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with large video screens, retail shopping arcades, fountains and seating in a bid to become "Toronto's Times Square". It is used for numerous public events.

Another stretch of busy retail lines both sides of Yonge Street north of Dundas Street, including the Sam the Record Man flagship store until its closure on June 30, 2007. The density of businesses diminishes north of Gerrard Street; residential towers flank this section. The Art Deco College Park building, a former shopping complex of the T. Eaton Company, occupies most of the west side of Yonge Street from Gerrard Street north to College Street. It was converted into a residential and commercial complex after the building of the Eaton Centre.

College Park, located at Yonge and College

From College Street north to Bloor Street, Yonge Street serves smaller street-level retail, mostly in two- to three-storey buildings of a hundred years' vintage. The businesses here, unlike the large chains which dominate south of Gerrard Street, are mostly small independent shops and serve a dense residential community on either side of Yonge Street with amenities such as convenience stores.

The intersection of Yonge and Bloor Streets is a major crossroads of Toronto, informally considered the northern edge of the downtown core. Subway Line 2 Bloor–Danforth intersects the Yonge line here, with the resulting transfers between lines making Bloor-Yonge Station the busiest in the city. The Hudson's Bay Centre and Two Bloor West office towers dominate the corner, visible both from downtown and beyond, with the south-east corner earmarked for a major condominium development. The Mink Mile's borders extend from Yonge to Avenue Road along Bloor. The intersection of Yonge and Bloor Streets is itself a "scramble"-type intersection allowing pedestrians to cross from any corner to any other corner.

Immediately north of Bloor, the street is part of the old town of Yorkville, today a major shopping district extending west of Yonge Street along Cumberland and Bloor Streets. North of Yorkville, Yonge Street forms the main street of Summerhill, which together with Rosedale to the east is noted for its opulent residences. The area is marked by the historic North Toronto railway station, formerly served by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR route parallels the foot of the Iroquois shoreline escarpment, which Yonge Street ascends here toward Midtown.

Yonge Street in Toronto is served by the TTC bus route 97 during the day.

From approximately St. Clair Avenue to Yonge Boulevard, Yonge Street is central to the former suburb of North Toronto and features mixed low-scale residential, retail and commercial buildings. Major intersections in Midtown, served by some of the city's busiest TTC stations, dot the skyline with dense clusters of high-rises in an otherwise leafy residential setting. The intersection at Eglinton Avenue has become a focal point, serving as a high-density residential, commercial and transit hub. The site of Montgomery's Tavern is nearby,[2] scene of a significant clash in the Upper Canada Rebellion and a National Historic Site.

North of Yonge Boulevard, Yonge Street traverses the deep forested ravine of the West Don Valley at Hoggs Hollow, a formidable obstacle in pioneer days and the site of one of the last of the former toll gates. The lower-density residential community and park-like setting here represent an interlude between North Toronto and the newer high-rise district beyond, towering over the valley. Canada's busiest section of highway (Highway 401) spans the valley via the Hogg's Hollow Bridge (exit 369). Leaving the valley, densities, traffic and the speed limit all increase (the latter to 60 km/h) on entering the downtown core of the former suburban city of North York. The street widens to a six-lane urban arterial road through North York, passing inner-suburb transit hubs at Sheppard and Finch Avenues.

From Finch Avenue to Stouffville Road (acquiring the York Regional Road 1 designation north of the Toronto city limits at Steeles Avenue in York Region), Yonge Street is a suburban commercial strip, passing Highway 407 (exit 77) two kilometres north of Steeles. This 16.5 km (10.3 mi) segment is a busy suburban arterial, interrupted by the original town centres of suburban communities such as Thornhill (where the route crosses the East Don Valley in the upper part of its watershed) and Richmond Hill. Between Richmond Hill and Aurora, Yonge Street is in a semi-rural setting, passing a number of kettle lakes and traversing the crest of the Oak Ridges Moraine, thence leaving the Lake Ontario basin. Toward the regional seat of Newmarket, Yonge Street again serves as a main suburban artery, passing through low-density residential and still-undeveloped areas.

Regional Road 1 deviates from the original baseline 56 km (35 mi) north of Lake Ontario, bypassing the centre of Holland Landing with a north-west heading and thereby circumnavigating Cook's Bay and the lower Holland Marsh. The bypass was constructed in 1959. Regional Road 51, (the original route of Yonge Street) branches off Regional Road 1 at the foot of the bypass to continue north through Holland Landing. This short section, known locally as the Yonge Street Extension, is co-routed with Regional Road 13. To the west of Holland Landing the main route crosses the Holland River and its polders in the town of Bradford, where the name changes to Bridge Street and again to Holland Street. Resuming its northward heading with a right turn at an intersection in the centre of Bradford, where the road briefly becomes Barrie Street before the name Yonge resumes; Yonge Street roughly parallels Lake Simcoe's western shore, traversing the rolling hills of southeast Simcoe County, and is signed Simcoe Road 4. The street officially ends in Barrie at a rail spur, where its name changes to Burton Avenue, which itself ends less than a kilometre from Kempenfelt Bay, at a T-intersection with Essa Road.

Yonge-Dundas Square glows for Christmas


Establishment of the route

A notice to settlers of Yonge Street from 1798, indicating their duties once they settled land granted to them

With the outbreak of hostilities between France and Great Britain in 1793, part of the War of the First Coalition, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada (now Ontario), John Graves Simcoe, was concerned about the possibility of the United States entering British North America in support of their French allies. In particular, the location of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), the first and former capital of Upper Canada, was in danger of being attacked by the Americans from the nearby border. Additionally, US forces could easily sever British access to the upper lakes at Lake St. Clair or the Detroit River, cutting the colony off from the important trading post at Michilimackinac.

Simcoe planned to move the capital to a better-protected location and build overland routes to the upper lakes as soon as possible. Simcoe established Penetanguishene Road.

Before the construction of Yonge Street, a Penetanguishene as the location for a new naval base and port.

On his return, he met with an Ojibway named 'Old Sail' and was shown a new route along another arm of the trail, this one starting on the eastern branch of the Holland River and thereby avoiding the marshes of the western branch (today's Holland Marsh). They left Pine Fort on October 11 and reached York on the 15th. Simcoe selected this eastern route for his new road, moving the southern end from the Rouge River to the western outskirts of the settled area in York, and the northern end to a proposed new town on the Holland River, St. Albans.[5]

Bears were known to wander onto Yonge Street in the early days of Toronto. In 1809 Lieutenant Fawcett, of the 100th Regiment, came across a large bear on Yonge Street and cut its head open with his sword.[6]

The road was actually called 'Concession 1'at first with Concessions 2 etc. on either side. For instance Concession 1 Whitchurch Township faces Yonge St. and goes east to Concession 2 which starts at Bayview Ave. Concession 1 King Township faces Yonge St. and goes west to Concession 2which starts at Bathurst St. There are 10 concessions in York County going east and west from Concession 1,Yonge St. The east side ending at then Ontario County, now Durham Ragion, and the west side ending at Peel County (now Peel Region).

Construction of Yonge Street

The following spring, Simcoe instructed Deputy Surveyor General Augustus Jones to blaze a small trail marking the route.[7] Simcoe initiated construction of the road by granting land to settlers, who in exchange were required to clear 33 feet of frontage on the road passing their lot. Certain seasons saw the muddy sidewalks of York in deplorable condition, and Yonge Street was renowned as being particularly bad, making it difficult to transport loads along it. The first Toronto resident known to have introduced sidewalks was Jesse Ketchum, who used tanned bark.[8]

In the summer of 1794, William Berczy was the first to take up the offer, leading a group of 64 families north-east of Toronto to found the town of German Mills, in modern Markham. By the end of 1794, Berczy's settlers had cleared the route around Thornhill. However, the settlement was hit by a series of setbacks and road construction stalled.

The foot of Yonge Street at Toronto Bay, Lake Ontario, which is under the metal grating

Work on the road started again in 1795 when the Queen's Rangers took over. They began their work at Eglinton Avenue and proceeded north, reaching the site of St. Albans on 16 February 1796. Expansion of the trail into a road was a condition of settlement for farmers along the route, who were required to spend 12 days a year to clear the road of logs, subsequently removed by convicted drunks as part of their sentence. The southern end of the road was in use in the first decade of the 19th century, and became passable all the way to the northern end in 1816.[9]

The road was extended south from Eglinton to Bloor Street in 1796 by Berczy, who needed a route to his warehouse on the Toronto lakeshore. The area south of Bloor Street proved too swampy for a major road. A path did exist between Queen and Bloor Streets, but was called the "road to Yonge Street", rather than being considered part of the street itself due to its poor condition. Over time the creeks were rerouted and the swamps drained. In 1812 the route was extended from Queen Street to the harbour, and in 1828 the entire southern portion was solidified with gravel.[10]

St. Albans never developed as Simcoe had hoped, but the town of Holland Landing eventually grew up on the site, a somewhat more descriptive name. Holland Landing was settled by Quakers who moved into the area after having left the United States in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The settlers were branching out from their initial town of "Upper Yonge Street", which later became Newmarket.

The road almost served its original military purpose during the War of 1812, when construction of a new fleet of first-rate ships began on the Lakes, necessitating the shipment of a large anchor from England for use on a frigate under construction on Lake Huron. The war ended while the anchor was still being moved, and now lies just outside Holland Landing in a park named in its honour.

Evolution of Yonge Street

Looking north from Temperance Street in 1903, showing the Confederation Life Building
Looking north from Temperance Street in 2008

In 1824, work began to extend Yonge Street to Kempenfelt Bay near Barrie. A north-western extension was branched off the original Yonge Street in Holland Landing and ran into the new settlement of Bradford before turning north towards Barrie. Work was completed by 1827, making connections with the Penetanguishene Road.

The decision was made to withdraw the military garrison in Penetanguishene in 1852. A year later, the Muskoka Road penetrated the southern skirts of the Canadian Shield, advancing towards Lake Nipissing. A horse-drawn streetcar line was completed on Yonge Street in Toronto in September 1861 and operated by the Toronto Street Railway.[11] The line went from Scollard Street to King Street.[12] Streetcar service would be electrified in Toronto by 1892.

Confederation and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway further diminished the importance of Yonge Street, as the new Dominion of Canada heralded the construction of east-west trade routes spanning the continent. By the 1870s, Dr. Scadding, historian of Toronto of Old, declared that Penetanguishene did not have the importance to need an approach such as the "extension of the Yonge Street Road".

Northwest corner of Yonge and Dundas, 1926
Northwest corner of Yonge and Dundas, 2008

By 1919, a number of roads led from Barrie to Orillia, but not one primary route. In that year, Premier Ernest C. Drury created the Ontario Department of Public Highways, with Frank Campbell Biggs, as minister. Drury left the choice of route (Middle Crossroad) for the eventual Highway 11 to Biggs, thus avoiding a conflict of interest over a heated debate, as Drury lived on the farm on which he had grown up, on the Penetanguishene Road, a kilometre north of the present Crown Hill interchange.

In the 1920s, looking to support the rapidly developing mining and agricultural communities in northern Ontario, the government of Ontario sought to connect these communities to the south by commissioning a highway between North Bay and Cochrane. After construction crews pushed through the dense Temagami forest, the road was officially opened on July 2, 1927, and named the Ferguson Highway after the Hon. G. Howard Ferguson, the premier of Ontario (Drury's Successor) and longtime supporter of northern development. The Ferguson Highway, built north from Severn Bridge also replaced several sections of the original Muskoka Road and was incorporated into Highway 11 in the 1930s. The northern stretch of Highway 11 became part of the Trans Canada Highway and, by 1965, Highway 11 extended from the foot of Yonge Street on the shores of Lake Ontario to Rainy River, on the border between Ontario and Minnesota.

During the late 1800s, the Toronto and York Radial Railway used the Yonge Street right-of-way, originally to the town of North Toronto, but expanding over the years all the way to Sutton, on southern Lake Simcoe.[13] The Radial Railway ran along the eastern side of the street, allowing the prevailing westerly winds to remove snow from the slightly raised rails. The arrival of the Canadian Northern Railway in 1906 lessened traffic on the Radial, but it was not until Yonge became a major route for automobiles that the Radial truly fell into disuse. The last TYRR train north from Toronto ran on March 16, 1930. The line was then purchased by the townships north of the city and re-incorporated as North Yonge Railways, running service for another eighteen years before operations ended, along with service on numerous other portions of the Radial lines, in 1948. The space it formerly occupied was used to expand the road between Aurora and Newmarket.

Road history plaque in Richmond Hill

Yonge Street as the "longest street in the world"

Inscription at Yonge-Dundas Square.
Looking south along Yonge Street, near the intersection with Gerrard Street

Yonge Street was formerly a part of Highway 11, which led to claims that Yonge Street was the longest street in the world. Running from the shores of Lake Ontario, through central and northern Ontario to the Ontario-Minnesota border at Rainy River, together they were over 1,896 kilometres (1,178 mi) long. But Yonge Street could only be called the longest street in the world if "Highway 11" and "Yonge Street" were synonymous, which is not the case.

The original Yonge Street continues along its original alignment, ending in Holland Landing. This alignment was extended over the years, and today ends just south of Lake Simcoe. The original extension running from Holland Landing from Bradford was named for the towns, known as Bradford Street in Holland Landing, and Holland Landing Road in Bradford. The latter was later extended as a bypass was added, curving off the original alignment. A second bypass was later constructed, bypassing the entirety of Holland Landing Road and joining Bradford at Bridge Street. Likewise, the road between Bradford and Barrie is known as Barrie Street in Bradford and Bradford Street in Barrie. The entire route of Highway 11 has incorrectly become synonymous with Yonge Street. No segment of the highway anywhere north of Barrie ever actually bore the name. However, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized this claim as late as 1999.

Changes in provincial responsibility separated the now locally funded and controlled Yonge Street from Highway 11 during the 1990s. As a result, Highway 11 does not start until Crown Hill just outside of Barrie, several kilometres north of where the name "Yonge Street" ends. The Guinness Book of World Records no longer lists Yonge Street as the longest street in the world, citing instead the Pan-American Highway as the world's longest "motorable road".

Although current tourist campaigns do not make much of Yonge Street's length, its status as an urban myth is bolstered by an art installation at the foot of Yonge Street and a map of its length laid out into the sidewalk in bronze at the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets.

Cultural significance

Christmas lights span Yonge Street near Gerrard Street, Toronto
A historical plaque commemorating the Joseph Shepard House at Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue

Yonge is Toronto's main street, hosting parades, street performances and demonstrations.

When the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993 it was estimated that 1,000,000 people gathered in the vicinity of Yonge and Dundas Streets. Similar gatherings occurred during the Winter Olympics in 2002 and 2010, when the Canadian men's hockey team defeated the United States for the gold medal. During lesser celebrations motorists drive up and down the street honking their horns and flying flags.

Sections of the street are often closed for other events, such as an annual street festival. In 1999 Ricky Martin held an autograph session at Sunrise Records and had a large section of Yonge Street closed for the day.[14] The intersection of Yonge and Dundas Streets, centred on the plaza at Yonge-Dundas Square, has been closed on occasion to host free concerts, including performances by R.E.M. on 17 May 2001, by Beyoncé on 15 September 2006 and by John Mayer on 16 September of the same year.

In 2008, Toronto's first pedestrian scramble was opened at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas Streets.

Five-pin bowling was invented and first played at the Toronto Bowling Club at Yonge and Temperance Streets.

Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner are credited with introducing ultimate and other disc sports (Frisbee) to Canada. They did nightly Frisbee shows on the Yonge Street Mall between Gerrard and Dundas 1971-1974.[15][16]

Toronto's annual Gay Pride, Orange Order,[17] and Santa Claus parades also use Yonge Street for a significant portion of their routes.

The early works of Canadian singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot were featured at the Yonge Street location of Sam the Record Man, just north of Dundas Street, at a time when records by native musicians were not widely available. Lightfoot has a song about Yonge Street, titled "On Yonge Street", on his album A Painter Passing Through.

The Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn makes this reference in his song "Coldest Night of the Year," from his album Inner City Front: "I took in Yonge Street at a glance / Heard the punkers playing / Watched the bikers dance / Everybody wishing they could go to the south of France / And you're not here / On the coldest night of the year."

Singer and rapper K-os also references the street in the lyrics to his 2004 single "Crabbuckit": "Walking down Yonge Street on a Friday / Can't follow them, gotta do it my way / No fast lane, still on a highway".

See also

A "downtown Yonge" pylon near the intersection with College and Carlton Streets
The now-defunct and demolished Sam the Record Man, formerly located at Yonge and Gould Streets


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ the Historical Committee (1984). "Main Street, Ontario". From Footpaths to Freeways. Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Communications. p. 23.  
  3. ^ Young, Mark C. (1999). Guinness Book of World Records. Bantam.  
  4. ^ Construction of Yonge Street National Historic Event - Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada
  5. ^ The Road through Richmond Hill, Governor Simcoe Plans the Road
  6. ^ Peppiatt, Liam. "Chapter 19: A Sketch of the Grange". Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto Revisited. 
  7. ^ The Road through Richmond Hill
  8. ^ Peppiatt, Liam. "Chapter 16: The Children's Friend". Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto Revisited. 
  9. ^ Yonge Street's History
  10. ^ McHugh, Patricia. Toronto Architecture. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989 pg. 60
  11. ^ Filey, Mike (2001). A Toronto Album: Glimpses of the City that Was. Toronto: Anthony Hawke (The Dundurn Group). p. 9. Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  12. ^ "Toronto History FAQs". City of Toronto Archives. Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  13. ^ The Road through Richmond Hill, The Radial Railway Arrives
  14. ^ Ricky Martin mania shuts down T.O.
  15. ^ "History of the TUC". Retrieved June 11, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Ken Westerfield Frisbee Pioneer". Retrieved June 11, 2015. 
  17. ^ 186th Year for Orange Parade
  • Berchem, F. R. (1977). The Yonge Street Story (1793–1860). Toronto, ON: Natural Heritage Books. 
  • Magel, Ralph (1998). 200 years Yonge; a history. Toronto, ON: Natural Heritage Books. 

References to old Toronto

(a) Berczy's Draft letter in the Public Archives of Canada. Among the William Berczy Papers (M.G.23, H ii, Vol.2, p. 419 and Vol. 3, p. 527)As well as agreement of the German Company reproduced in The Simcoe correspondence, I, p. 191, 192 (b) Baby collection, University of Montreal. Salso Berczy Papers National Archive. (c) John Andre the Berczy Study Infant Toronto as Simcoe's Folly p. 137. Also see Table II that shows comparison by yearly averaged growth from 1802 to 1825 p. 138 (d) Firth, p. 10 p. 10 P.Russell to Elizabeth Russell, Sep. 1, 1793 Also in Eric ArthurToronto No Mean City" Toronto, 1964 p. 138

External links

  • A page which argues against Yonge Street's claim as the world's longest street
  • Portrait of Sir George Yonge
  • A Yahoo! page that explains why Yonge Street is the longest street in the world
  • Blog series on the southern section of Yonge Street
  • Google Maps of Yonge Street
  • Ontario Highway 11 Homepage - A blog detailing every community along Yonge Street from Rainy River to Toronto
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