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History of Yonge and St. Clair

 

by Bronwyn Graves


From:                ONE12 St. Clair

                        112 St. Clair Avenue West

                        Toronto, ON M4V 1M2

 

Per:                  Lewis Carroll Communications

                        68 Scollard Street

                        Toronto, Ontario  M5R 1G2

 

Contacts:          Liz Hendriksen and Jane Holland

                        416.968.3845

 

Date:                March 2008

                                                                                                                                  

Story Suggestion                                                                               For immediate use

THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF ST. CLAIR by Mike Filey

Beginning its existence as nothing more than a line drawn on a surveyor's notebook, St. Clair Avenue, located in the heart of the city, is a major east-west thoroughfare and a colorful neighborhood often favored by Toronto's "rich and famousThe late Nathan Phillips, Toronto's mayor from 1955 to 1962, called this neighborhood home for many years while the former Mayor of North York, Mel Lastman has recently become a member of the community. Other noted residents are members of the Weston family and the late Glenn Gould, who made his mark as one of Canada's most brilliant (if somewhat eccentric) pianists.Furthermore, St. Clair Avenue has featured an interesting collection of community landmarks.  For a number of years the avenue housed the storied Primrose and Granite social clubs whileover on Yonge Street the Hollywood and Odeon Hyland theatres were two of the city's most popular movie houses for many years.
A local gem, the much loved Seniors Restaurant, continues to serve the community breakfasts, steaks and other hearty favorites. Another popular chain of Toronto restaurants, Fran's, opened its "flagship" restaurant in 1940 not far from the Yonge and St. Clair intersection.

St. Clair Avenue can attribute its humble beginnings to a pioneer surveyor who had been sent out into the wilderness by our province's first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe to establish a road between the little Town of York (that would become the City of Toronto in 1834) and the upper lakes. This road, that was to take the name of Simcoe's parliamentary colleague back in England, Sir George Yonge, would make it easier and quicker to get military aid from the British forts to the north to York when, as Simcoe was convinced, American forces invaded his new province. As that pioneer surveyor began tracing the proposed route of the new road in his notebook he followed the established tradition of making an allowance for what were called concession roads every 100 "Gunter's chains" (one Gunter's chain = 66 feet, 100 chains = 6,600 feet or 1.25 miles) along the way. Having first established a base line (today's Queen Street) the concession roads would be located every 100 "chains," that is at 1.25 mile intervals. Over time these concession roads would become modern-day Toronto's major east-west thoroughfares now identified as Bloor, St. Clair, Eglinton, Lawrence, York Mills/Wilson, Sheppard, Finch and Steeles.

Looking west down St. Clair, this image, taken in 1911, clearly depicts the humble beginnings of Yonge and St. Clair

 

As the years rolled by, small settlements began to take shape at these various crossroads with the one in and around the Yonge and Second Concession (Bloor Street) intersection eventually becoming what was first called the Village of Yorkville, then the Town of Yorkville before it was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1883. Further up Yonge Street communities took longer to get started, although archival records show that as early as the 1830s there was a feed store as well as a few market gardens in the Yonge and Third Concession (St. Clair) neighborhood. Not long after, industry first made an appearance when local entrepreneurs opened water-powered grist and sawmills and a small distillery in the ravine north and east of the slowly developing community.
Whiskey from the distillery soon became the area's first export with bottles being sold for eight cents a quart to the various hotels up and down Yonge St.. One of those hotels soon became the distillery's best customer. Located in an old wooden structure at the northeast corner of the intersection, the O'Halloran's Hotel was frequented by weary travelers making their way to and from Toronto on one of the horse-drawn stagecoaches that rumbled up and down Simcoe's pioneer highway. And while the Third Concession road was still nothing more than a narrow, dirt path heading off into the distance through virgin forest, Yonge St. had been made somewhat more passable following the County of York's decision to macadamize it for a grand total of 12 miles. It was about this time that the Third Concession gained a real name though the origin of that name, St. Clair, is clouded in the mists of time. One possibility would have us believe that a local resident named the dirt road (albeit spelled incorrectly) to honor Augustine St. Clare, a well-meaning though ill-fated character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin", the most popular book of the day. With the introduction of a few commercial enterprises, the remote community was starting to come to life.

A Toronto Civic Railway car makes its way to the neighbourhood of Yonge and St. Clair in 1922


However, it was the arrival of Mrs. Agnes Heath and her children in 1839 that signaled the birth of the residential community that we still know as Deer Park. Historically, that name resulted from Mrs. Heath's decision to call her 40-acre property (that was bounded in general terms by today's Yonge St., St Clair Avenue West, Oriole Road and Lonsdale Avenue) the Deer Park Farm, a name she selected because of the numerous deer that roamed the area. It was not long before others chose to build homes in the Deer Park neighborhood. However, it wasn't until 1890 when the big electric streetcars of the Metropolitan Railway began climbing the steep Yonge Street hill north of their terminus at the end of the city streetcar line, that the Deer Park really began to boom. And while there were still many large country estates scattered throughout the area, many of the side streets began to see sidewalks and smaller family-sized houses. And with the arrival of these families, new schools and churches like the beautiful Timothy Eaton Memorial Church were built to serve the growing Deer Park community. Then came the butcher shops, grocery stores, banks, doctors' offices and even silent movie houses. Before long, the once tranquil Yonge and St Clair intersection had become a busy shopping district. And a new phenomenon in the form of luxury apartment buildings began to spring up along St. Clair Avenue West.
One of these, the Park Lane Apartments at #110 would become the home of pianist Glenn Gould. At the same time sophisticated fashion designers, such as Ira Berg moved into the St. Clair area, as did four and five star restaurants such as Rhodes and Bemelmans. With the coming of the new Yonge Street subway in early 1954, the neighborhood soon underwent another metamorphosis as insurance companies and other commercial enterprises discovered the many amenities of the Yonge and St. Clair district.
Today, St. Clair is a rich neighborhood of chic boutiques, restaurants and luxury condominium homes like ONE12 St. Clair, and is enjoying its new incarnation as one of the city's most desirable communities in which to live, work and entertain.

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