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Yonge-Dundas Square.

Yonge-Dundas Square is a public square in Torontomarker at the intersection of Yonge Street and Dundas Streetmarker, one of the busiest intersections in Toronto. Constructed as a downtown 'revitalization' project, the square was created from the demolition of a block of commercial buildings and opened as a public square to the public in November 2002. A "grand opening" concert was held on May 30, 2003. The square is used for music concerts, film screenings and other public events. The square has been controversial for its design, its private board of management of a publicly-owned site and the overwhelming amount of commercial signage on the square.


The site is bordered on the north by Dundas Street, on the east by Victoria Street and Yonge Street on the west. A former street, named Dundas Square and previously Wilton Street forms the southern boundary. Dundas Street, an east-west street through downtown Toronto was constructed by interconnecting pre-existing streets. From the west, Agnes Street intersected at Yonge Street at the present Dundas Street intersection, but did not continue east. From the east, Wilton Street connected to Yonge Street approximately 100 metres to the south. In the 20th century, Dundas Street was extended east from the Agnes Street intersection to meet with Wilton Street at Victoria Street, by building a curved road east then south-east to intersect Wilton. Wilton was renamed Dundas Street East, and the section of Wilton west of Victoria Street was renamed Dundas Square. Stores south of the new Dundas intersection, not in the way of the roadway remained.

In 1998, as part of its Yonge Street Regeneration Project, Toronto City Council approved the expropriation and demolition of the buildings on the site, and the construction of Yonge-Dundas Square. The Square is a joint project of the city, residents, The McGill Granby Associstion, Downtown Yonge Business and Resident Association and the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, an association of local businesses. This effort was spearheaded by Councillor Kyle Rae, Robert Sniderman of the Senator Restaurant and Arron Barberian of Barberian's Steak House. In late 2007, the Toronto Life Squaremarker entertainment complex opened across the street from the square.

Designed by Brown + Storey Architects, the square was intended as a new public space in Toronto, somewhat akin to Nathan Phillips Squaremarker, designed by Viljo Revell for New City Hallmarker. Unlike Nathan Phillips Square, however, Yonge-Dundas Square is operated as a commercial venture, with a separate Board of Management. The site is owned by the City and administered by a Board of Management. The board of management for Yonge-Dundas Square was established in 2001, and is the first public-private partnership in Canada to operate a public square.

The intersection is claimed by some to be the busiest intersection in Canada, with over 56 million people each year passing through this intersection. It is sometimes nicknamed as Toronto's Times Square, as development is cited as modelling New York's Times Square, Tokyo's Shibuya district and London's Piccadilly Circusmarker. To ease traffic, a pedestrian scramble has been installed.

Design features

Yonge-Dundas Square L.E.D. pixelboard showing "The Heart of the City" on Dundas Square logo.
The square is actually on a slight incline, which architects Brown and Storey have said was intended to evoke a theatrical stage. It is made with modular raised square textured granite slabs (each slab costing approx. $1500: $1,000 materials plus $500 labour), features a diagonally running zinc canopy along the northern hypotenuse of the "square", a movable plinth which serves as a stage for concerts and other performances, a row of lighted fountains set directly into the pavement, a row of small trees along the southern edge, a transparent canopy over the plinth, and a new entrance to Dundas subway stationmarker below. A series of low, circular stone planters was added to the western side of the square in summer 2005.

Because Dundas Street bends at the square, a triangular portion is chopped off one side, so the shape of the square is actually like a square with a triangle taken out of one side. This northern side of the square that runs at an angle is known as the hypotenuse, which features a structure supported by 11 concrete pillars of the type used to make overpasses on highways. This creates an industrial urban aesthetic, which, being to the north, casts no shadows on the rest of the space. The other three sides are square (i.e., at right angles to one another and to Yonge Street and Dundas Street West). As well, there is a road which traverses the square known as Dundas Square. This is a small street leading from Yonge St. to Dundas St.

The surface of Yonge-Dundas Square is not level, because it is sloped upward as the surface goes away from Yonge Street. This is to allow sufficient height to provide clearance for the Toronto Parking Authority garage entrance. The architects planned the surface's slope to make it interesting and to accommodate the necessary clearances for what lies under the Square. Additionally, level P1 houses the washrooms/changerooms, green room (for stage performers), and various utilities rooms, custodial and supply closets, as well as the water treatment plant and pump rooms for the fountains.

The centrepiece of the square is the array of fountains designed by Dan Euser of Waterarchitecture. Two rows of ten fountains are spread out across the main walkway of the square, so that visitors have the opportunity to walk through or around the fountains. Unlike many other city fountains, the Dundas Square fountains were meant for waterplay, and include a sophisticated filtration system that, according to both of the architects, the water is kept at or above "pool quality" water. According to Euser, the water is treated to maintain health standards for waterplay. According to facility administrator Christine MacLean, the slate that was chosen for the entire space has nonslip properties for the safety of persons running through or playing in the fountains. Each of the ten water fountains consists of a stainless steel grille with 30 ground nozzles (arranged in three rows of ten) under it.

The entire rock surface is of a very dark (almost black) colour, and effectively absorbs sunlight, thus creating a warm surface to rest on. The water runs under the dark rock slabs, and is thus heated by them, so that the fountain water is solar heated. Three curved lighting masts along the south edge of the urbeach, made of hollow structural steel have a high gloss white finish that contrasts with the rough nonslip texture of the black granite, and each support six mercury vapour arc lamps that create evening light that comes from approximately the same directions as natural sunlight does during the day (i.e. from various southerly directions).

Surrounding buildings

View of Canada's largest media tower, located at the northwest corner of Yonge and Dundas.

Yonge-Dundas Square is located within the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area (BIA). City of Toronto councillor Kyle Rae has pointed to Times Square in New York Citymarker as a model to emulate, with its canyon of billboards and animated advertising screens.

Other projects in the immediate area include the redevelopment of the Eaton Centremarker, the construction of a new retail and cinema complex to the north, called Toronto Life Squaremarker (and formerly known as "Metropolis"), and the construction of 33 Dundas Street Eastmarker to the south-east (on the corner of Victoria and Dundas), formerly the home of Olympic Spirit Torontomarker. On October 22, 2007, Rogers Media announced that it will buy this building as a new home for its Citytv and Omni Television stations.

A "media tower" - essentially a scaffold for billboards, operated by Clear Channel Communications - has been constructed on the north-west corner of Yonge and Dundas. It is considered to be the tallest media tower in the world. Another large media tower complete with video screen is a major feature of the building on the south-east corner of Dundas Squaremarker. And the building which is home to the Hard Rock Cafe on the south-west corner of the square also features a series of billboards and a large video screen. The introduction of these imposing media towers and their brightly illuminated advertising billboards has been too great a sacrifice for some area residents, who feel a loss of the neighbourhood's identity and character (see 'Controversy' below).

The redevelopment of the Eaton Centre and the building at Victoria and Dundas were both completed in 2004. Toronto Life Squaremarker (formerly known as the Metropolis development), began in January 1999 after the City of Toronto expropriated a number of properties, and a phased opening began in 2007.


A jogger cools off in the "urban beach" that forms the main central part of Dundas Square (multiple exposure picture).
Children often play in, and drink from, the splash fountains.
Joggers often drink to their heart's content, while splashing into the water to cool off.
Some people fill up their drinking bottles from this water.

The fountains comprise a dynamic art installation and water sculpture in which the 600 water jets are programmed to vary, dynamically, over time. The fountains generally run 24 hours a day. Other than the aquatic play area out in front of the Ontario Science Centremarker (the centrepiece of Teluscape), Dundas Square is Toronto's only other 24-hour waterplay area, open at all times of the day or night except during special events, maintenance, or other exceptions. The fountains usually run from around mid April to the end of October, making this also one of the two aquatic play areas in Toronto that opens very early in the season and closes very late in the season.

Beause of to cost limitations, only the middle channel (i.e., middle ten nozzles of each fountain) can be animated, but the outside two channels can still be globally controlled. The outside two channels are often used to set a background (pedestal) level, while the middle channel animates, typically with a period of 8 seconds. The directionality imposed by the middle channel's sequencer encourages bathers to run west rather than east. Moreover, the sequencer makes the bathing experience optimal for joggers who run west at exactly 20 km/h.

Architects Brown and Storey, the creator of the fountains (Dan Euser), the firm that initiated the bidding, Councillor Kyle Rae, and the management of Dundas Square have all confirmed that waterplay was one of the intended uses of the space. The fountains are intended to appeal to children and adults alike, and there is evidence that this intention has been realized.

At the Southeast and Southwest corners of Yonge-Dundas Square there are drinking water fountains. The water fountain on the Southwest corner (nearest to Yonge Street) is known for its large, cool stream of water that flows down the fountain to drains in the ground. The stream produced by the other fountain is warmer and flows less copiously. On the other hand, the fountain nearest Yonge street is also near a protrusion in the ground that people like to sit on.

Because many people drink from the ground spray nozzles (some people even fill up water bottles from the ground sprays), and since waterplay is one of the intended uses, the water is tested every morning, between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., by the health department. The water is treated with bromine, which many bathers prefer to chlorine. There are three separate water treatment facilities, one for each group of ten westmost nozzles in each grille (200 nozzles total), another for the middle row of ten in each grille, and a third for all of the eastmost nozzles. The water that runs into the grilles travels west, under the raised floor of the Dundas Square slabs, to the treatment facility under the west end of the waterplay area.


Yonge-Dundas Square is controversial in some circles. Criticism ranges from suggestions that the city has missed an opportunity for more green space within the downtown core (or that they have missed an opportunity for what some critics consider more interesting architectural elements) to questions of what the true intent behind the ostensibly public square is. The Toronto Public Space Committee and organizers of Toronto iterations of the Reclaim The Streets phenomenon often point to the square as an example of what they consider a negative trend in urban planning.

The square is surrounded on all sides by gigantic commercial billboards; with city funds going towards what appears to be a large re-development experiment , many have pointed to the square as a prime example of the creeping privatization of public space. Those making this point have been bolstered by the fact that the square's board is populated by both local businesses and residents. The Board of Management for the Square is an ABC organization of the City of Toronto. While there are permit fees for commercial events, community groups can use the Square for free under the Square's Community Use Policy. All events are charged back for staffing and equipment use.

On an aesthetic note, some detractors have said that when the fountains are not running (e.g., to mask out the sounds of traffic), the square feels like a GO transit commuter bus station or an abandoned parking lot. Some suggest it should have monuments or other items (such as greenery) to break up the open space. However, the main problem is often said to be the simple lack of people. This has been improving with the addition of regular special events including lunchtime jazz concerts and outdoor film screenings. When events are not taking place, the Square is set with cafe tables, chairs and umbrellas.


  • 1999 Canadian Architect magazine, Award of Excellence for significant building in the design stage: recognized as an outstanding example of contemporary architecture.
  • 2000 Architecture magazine, Progressive Architecture citation: commended as a new form of urban space with great presence... pushes the limits of invention and originality.
  • 2006 Best Wi-Fi spot: the hotspot set up by Wireless Toronto is voted the best wi-fi spot in Toronto

See also


  1. Downtown Yonge
  3. Hall Monitor: A new way to cross the street – diagonally - National Post
  4. Pedestrians first at Yonge and Dundas
  5. "CITY-TV gets a new Toronto home", by Matt Hartley, "The Globe and Mail", October 23, 2007
  6. [1]
  7. "Best of Toronto: Tech", 2006

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