TTC work crews laying new tracks on Dundas Street Diversion east of Yonge Street in 1923, linking former Agnes and Wilton Streets, and in the process, creating the triangular parcel that later became Dundas Square. Image: Toronto Archives Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2190.
Dundas Street is one of Toronto’s most fascinating roadways. While it runs uninterrupted for 23 kilometres between the Mississauga border at Etobicoke Creek and Kingston Road towards Scarborough, it meanders, crossing Bloor Street twice. Even in the downtown area, it makes subtle jogs near major intersections. As mentioned earlier, Dundas was built as a military road, Dundas Street kept a fair distance from the lake to be an effective alternative route in the case of war.
Dundas is not a solid commercial throughfare, despite the traffic and frequent streetcar service, unlike parallel streets such as Bloor, Queen, College, Danforth, and Gerrard East. Except in Chinatown, the only major strips of retail are west of Ossington in neighbourhoods such as Brockton, the Junction and Islington Village. East of Broadview, Dundas Street appears somewhat run-down and lifeless.
The Town of York was founded in 1793 with a perfect grid of rectangular streets. Yonge Street — with only a slight corrective angle north of St. Clair — is the origin of Toronto’s rectangular concession system and runs in a straight line from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe. Queen Street, originally named Lot Street, also runs in a perfect line between Humber Bay and the RC Harris Filtration Plant, forming the base line for the east-west side roads.
As the town expanded, the grid of streets was extended outwards, particularly to the west (the swampy mouth of the Don River precluded development to the east), and as the old Park Lots — the large parcels of land north of Lot Street were developed — long north-south roads, instead of the east-west street orientation to the south, were laid out parcel-by-parcel as they were sold off or developed by the lots’ owners, generally gentry and clergy. Today, the old Park Lot system has left its legacy in the jogs of Dundas Street, which has incorporated more vanished streets than any other in Toronto.
Dundas Street was originally built to connect Lake Ontario with Governor John Graves Simcoe’s planned townsite at present-day London. The road was soon extended east to Toronto, connecting to Lot Street (now Queen Street) at today’s Ossington Avenue, well to the west of old York’s townsite. A common misconception (one that I previously made as well) is that Dundas Street was named because it went to the town of Dundas. In fact, the town was actually named after the road.
Until nearly a century ago, Dundas Street still terminated at Queen Street while Ossington ran north from the Dundas/Ossington/Arthur intersection. Arthur Street ran east from there to Bathurst Street and terminated at a T-intersection. St. Patrick Street ran between Bathurst (at another T-intersection south of the corner of Bathurst and Arthur) to McCaul, where Anderson Street continued east to University Avenue. With another jog to the south, Agnes Street continued to Yonge.
East of Yonge, Wilton Avenue (originally named Crookshank Street) ran east to Jarvis, where it made a slight curve as Wilton Crescent to Sherbourne (near the present site of Filmore’s Hotel). In the 1910s, Wilton was extended across a new bridge, and incorporated Elliot Street on the east side of the Don. This 1916 map from the University of Toronto’s collection helps illustrate these former streets.
After the First World War, these various minor streets were connected to provide a new east-west throughfare across the city, from Toronto Junction and across the Don to Broadview. Jog-removal projects were completed at University and Yonge Streets, though the jog between former Arthur and St. Patrick Streets at Bathurst was not completed until after the Second World War. Not only did the project benefit automobiles, but streetcars benefited from faster, through routing. Indeed, the Toronto Transportation Commission built new track along Dundas and rerouted its services to take advantage of the new links by 1923.
Some of the old names that disappeared by the through Dundas designations were recycled: Wilton later reappeared as Wilton Street in the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood. William Street, which ran north-south west of University Avenue, was later renamed St. Patrick.
Interestingly, the remaining piece of Wilton Avenue left by the new Dundas Street Diversion between Yonge and Victoria Streets was originally named Wilton Square. It was later renamed Dundas Square, lending its name to the new public square created by urban redevelopment a decade ago.
Dundas looking east to Broadview in 1954, just before widening as new traffic artery. Toronto Archives Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 2612
But Dundas Street was still yet to be extended farther east. In the early 1950s, the City of Toronto began a new road project to extend Dundas eastwards from Broadview to Kingston Road to serve as a new four-lane traffic arterial, intended as an alternative to Gerrard and Queen. From west to east, Whitby Street, Dickens, Dagmar, Doel, Applegrove and Ashbridge Avenues as well as Maughan Crescent and Hemlock Avenue were all cleared and widened for this purpose. In some cases, alleyways were used to connect these nine separate streets, and this is clearly visible as garages and backyards continue to front on to Dundas near Jones Avenue.
Garages back onto Dundas Street East, west of Jones.
The increasing popularity of the automobile, as well as increasing pressures on the streetcar network in the 1910s and 1920s resulted in a number of similar rationalizations. Carlton Street was bent at Yonge to connect directly with College in 1931, though this was made possible and encouraged by the Eaton’s Empire who accumulated numerous land holdings in the area. Bay Street was directly extended north from Queen, incorporating Terauley Street (hence the curve at Old City Hall). North of College, the extended Bay Street jogged slightly again to connect with now-disappeared St. Vincent, Chapel and North Streets to reach Bloor; tracks built in 1923 on this new section of Bay relieved streetcar congestion on Yonge Street. Dupont Street was formed as a minor east-west arterial by combining it with Royce and Van Horne Streets (and entirely new sections of roadway), also in the 1920s and 30s.
The Metropolitan Toronto government, formed in 1954, did its part, extending Eglinton Avenue across the city, incorporating the previously disconnected Golden Mile in Scarborough and Richview Sideroad in Etobicoke. Lawrence, Sheppard and Finch Avenues received similar treatment. In the early 1960s, Duke and Duchess Streets, two of the original Town of York streets, disappeared as Adelaide and Richmond Streets respectively were extended east of Jarvis as one-way arterials to feed traffic to and from the new Don Valley Parkway.
Dundas Street certainly isn’t the only road to be rationalized by the city to facilitate smoother transportation, there are over a dozen more instances. But Dundas is the most remarkable in terms of its length and effort to link 15 streets together over four decades.