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A Yonge Street sign in the Downtown Yonge design
Yonge Street (pronounced "young") is a major arterial street in Torontomarker, Ontariomarker, Canadamarker, and its northern suburbs. It was formerly listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest street in the world at , and is a national historic site.

Yonge Street is fundamental in the planning and layout of Toronto and Ontario, forming the basis of the concession roads in Ontario. It was also the site of Canada's first subway line. It serves as the dividing line between the east and west parts of east–west roads in Toronto and York Regionmarker.

Yonge Street is home or close to many attractions in Toronto, including street and theatre performances, the Eaton Centremarker, Yonge-Dundas Squaremarker, the Hockey Hall of Famemarker and–at the very start of the road–'One Yonge Streetmarker', the offices of the Toronto Star newspaper. The Yonge Line of the Toronto subway runs under and in open cuts beside Yonge Street from south of King Street to Finch Avenue. The Viva Blue BRT line continues along Yonge from Finchmarker to Newmarket Bus Terminalmarker.

History and significance

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

With the outbreak of war between Francemarker and Great Britainmarker 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 Statesmarker entering British North America in support of their French allies. In particular, the location of the capital of Upper Canada, Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lakemarker), was easily attackable across the nearby border. Additionally, US forces could easily cut access to the northern Great Lakesmarker at Lake St. Clairmarker on the Detroit River, cutting off 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 selected the protected natural harbour at Toronto Bay as the location for the new capital, and formed the town of York there that year. He then turned to his road building campaign in May 1793, and later wrote that the roads would greatly improve trade in the area as well, stating "There is little doubt but the produce of the Lands on this Communication will in no distant period be sufficient to supply the North West Trade with such provisions as it may, and which the Merchants concerned in that Trade constantly represent as the principal Utility."

Prior to the construction of Yonge Street, a portage route, the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail, had already linked the lakes. On September 25, 1793 Simcoe and a small party of soldiers and native guides started out along the Trail towards Lake aux Claies, establishing the Pine Fort on the western branch of the Holland Rivermarker, near the location of Bradfordmarker today. Stopping only to rename the lake to Lake Simcoemarker in memory of his father, the party continued north to Lake Couchichingmarker, and then along the Severn River to Georgian Baymarker on Lake Huronmarker. 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.

Work on the road began in 1795 when the Queen's Rangers lead by Deputy Surveyor General Augustus Jones started blazing a small trail marking the route. They began their work at Eglinton Avenuemarker and proceeded north. The new road, named in honour of Sir George Yonge, the Britishmarker Secretary at War, ran perfectly straight towards the site of St. Albans, which it reached on 16 February, 1796. Expansion of the trail into a road was the task of local farmers, who were ordered to spend 12 days a year to clear the road of logs, which were 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.

The road was extended south to Bloor Street in 1796 by William Berczy, who needed a route into his settlement north of the city. The area south of Bloor Street proved too swampy for a major road. A path did exist running from Queen Street up to Bloor, but this stretch was known as the "road to Yonge Street" rather than considered part of the street itself. Over time the creeks were rerouted and the swamps drained. In 1812 the route was extended from Queen to the harbour, and in 1828 the entire southern portion was solidified with gravel.

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

The road almost served its original military purpose during the War of 1812, when a new fleet of first-rate ships started construction on the Lakes, requiring a large anchor to be shipped from Englandmarker for use on a frigate that was 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 2008.
In 1824, work began to extend Yonge Street to Kempenfelt Baymarker near Barriemarker. A northwestern extension was branched off the original Yonge Street in Holland Landing and ran into the new settlement of Bradfordmarker before turning north towards Barrie. Work was completed by 1827, making connections with a road previously built from Kempenfelt Bay to Penetanguishenemarker on the shores of Georgian Baymarker, serving a naval base. This section of road was referred to not as Yonge Street but Penetanguishene Road.

The decision was made to withdraw the military garrison in Penetanguishene in 1852. A year later, the Northern Railway of Canada was built along this established route, between Toronto and Kempenfelt Bay and extended to Collingwoodmarker by 1855. Settlement along the Penetanguishene Road predated the road itself. A network of roads built in the 1830s (some with military strategy in mind) pushed settlement northeast along the shores of Lake Simcoe and north towards the shores of Georgian Bay. By 1860 the Muskoka Road penetrated the Canadian Shield advancing towards Lake Nipissingmarker.

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 from sea to sea. 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 Cochranemarker. 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 Bridgemarker 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 Rivermarker, on the border between Ontario and Minnesotamarker.

During the late 1800s, the Toronto and York Radial Railway used the Yonge Street right-of-way, originally to North Toronto (then a separate town) but expanding over the years to Sutton, northeast of Holland Landing. The Radial Railway ran along the eastern side of the Street, allowing the prevailing winds from the west to blow snow off the slightly raised rails. The arrival of the Canadian Northern Railway in 1906 led to less 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 of Toronto ran on March 16, 1930, but the line north of the city was purchased by the local townships and re-incorporated as North Yonge Railways, who continued to run service for another eighteen years before it finally closed, along with numerous other portions of the Radial lines, in 1948. The space it formerly occupied was re-used to expand Yonge Street between Aurora and Newmarket.

Yonge Street today

Today, Yonge Street exists in name as two segments and a branch. The current road runs from Lake Ontario through Toronto and York Regionmarker to the north of Newmarketmarker before breaking from the baseline and heading northwest along the Holland Landingmarker bypass, constructed in 1959, into Bradfordmarker. At the Holland River, the former Highway 11 route changes its name to Bridge Street 56 km north of Lake Ontario, and then changes its name to Holland Street a few blocks later.

To follow the old Highway 11 one must turn right onto Barrie Street and drive out of Bradford where the Yonge Street name is picked up again. The name disappears in south Barrie just over 100 km north of Lake Ontario, changing to Burton Avenue at a mid-block location, and the road itself ends a few blocks later at a T-intersection with Essa Road.

The original baseline road, which also retains the Yonge Street name, continues through Holland Landing and ends roughly 56 km north of Lake Ontario at the municipal boundary of East Gwillimburymarker and Georginamarker.

Penetanguishene Road continues to exist. It was incorporated into the King's Highway network as Highway 93. The modern Penetanguishene Road deviates from the original alignment somewhat and is not as straight, but the original can still be seen in some places, labelled as "Old Penetanguishene Road".

In York Region, the 39 km segment of the road is known as York Regional Road 1 for planning purposes, but Yonge Street conversationally. From Steeles Avenue in the south, it passes northward through Markham at its municipal boundary with Vaughan, then Richmond Hill, Aurora, and Newmarket. Development along its adjacent lands has been consistent and continuous, and is primarily residential and commercial. However, this development is more intense and concetrated in the south, and makes way to farmland in the north.

At Holland Landingmarker in East Gwillimburymarker, the 3 km segment of the street from Bradford Street and Queensville Sideroad is known as York Regional Road 51 or the Yonge Street Extension. The section of Yonge between Mount Albert Road and Bradford Street is known as York Regional Road 13. Anchor Park is located just east of Yonge at Doane Road. The forest park features a 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) anchor—a remnant from the War of 1812—and some basic recreational amenities. Yonge becomes increasingly rural north of Doane Road, surrounded by the Holland Rivermarker on the west and forests to the east.

Yonge Street loses its official designation as a Regional Road at Queensville Sideroad. However, Yonge Street resumes around 50 meters to the west and extends north for about 2 km. Yonge Street ends as a gravel track at the foot of vast marshland.

Yonge Street as the "Longest Street in the World"

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-Minnesotamarker border at Rainy Rivermarker, together they were over 1,896 kilometres 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 Landingmarker. This alignment was extended over the years, and today ends just south of Lake Simcoemarker. The original extension running from Holland Landing from Bradfordmarker 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. Lengthy portions of this alignment have been referred to as Yonge Street with the arrival of Highway 11. No segment of the highway anywhere north of Barrie ever actually bore the Yonge Street name. However, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized this claim as late as 1998.

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 Hillmarker just outside of Barriemarker, several kilometres north of where the name "Yonge Street" ends. The Guinness Book of World Records no longer lists Yonge 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 Dundasmarker streets.


South of the former Toronto – North York city limit at Yonge Boulevard, Yonge Street is a four-lane historic urban arterial with heavy pedestrian traffic, passing through commercial and residential areas. Between Yonge Boulevard and Highway 401 (exit 369), Yonge opens up somewhat into parkland of the West Don Valley (Hoggs Hollow) and lower-density residential areas. Between Highways 401 and 407 (exit 77), densities and traffic increase as Yonge becomes a six-lane principal urban arterial road through North York Civic Centre and an older section of Thornhillmarker. Beyond Highway 407 (remaining a principal arterial road), Yonge is a suburban commercial strip (with several exceptions in historic areas), with sections of residential and still-undeveloped land through Newmarketmarker.

Dundas Square glows at Yonge & Dundas for Christmas.
The speed limits are generally 50 km/h (30 mph) in most of the city of Toronto and through Thornhill, 60 km/h (35 mph) on a short section through the West Don Valley and again in most of the suburban sections north of the 407 (dropping back to 50 at times in some historic areas), and 70-80 km/h (45-50 mph) in undeveloped or lightly developed areas in the northern sections.

North of Steeles, Yonge Street is signed as York Regional Road 1 in York Region (except in Holland Landingmarker, where it is York Regional Road 51); and Simcoe County Road 4 in Simcoe County.

Cultural significance

Christmas lights span Yonge near Gerrard Street, Toronto.
Yonge Street is frequently considered to be Toronto's main street, because of its position dividing the city east and west, and the presence of the Yonge subway line. As a result, it is the traditional gathering place for public celebrations.

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 the intersection of Yonge and Dundasmarker, and for many blocks north and south. A similar gathering occurred in 2002, when the Canadian men's hockey team defeated the United States for the Olympic gold medal.

During lesser celebrations, like Stanley Cup playoff victories by the Toronto Maple Leafs, motorists drive up and down the street honking their horns and flying flags.

Illuminated median at College Park, Toronto.
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. The intersection of Yonge and Dundas, centred on the plaza at Dundas Squaremarker, has been closed on occasion to host free concerts, including performances by R.E.M. on May 17, 2001, by Beyoncé on September 15, 2006 and by John Mayer on September 16 of the same year.

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

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

Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has a song about Yonge Street, titled "On Yonge Street", on his album A Painter Passing Through.

Attractions and points of interest

Listed from south to north:

Historical places

  • Five pin bowling was invented and first played at the Toronto Bowling Club at Yonge and Temperance Street

See also

Major highways in Greater Toronto with an interchange at Yonge:


  1. What is the longest street?
  2. Simcoe to Henry Dundas, September 20, 1793, in Cruikshank, Simcoe Correspondence,vol. 2,p. 62.
  3. The Road through Richmond Hill, Governor Simcoe Plans the Road
  4. The Road through Richmond Hill
  5. Yonge Street's History
  6. McHugh, Patricia. Toronto Architecture. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989 pg. 60
  7. The Road through Richmond Hill, The Radial Railway Arrives
  8. Ricky Martin mania shuts down T.O.
  9. 186th Year for Orange Parade
  • The Yonge Street Story (1793-1860), by F. R. Berchem, Natural Heritage Books, Toronto, 1977

External links

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