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Yonge Street: the history of the street

Author: 27.11.2017 | Canada, history of the street
People who for the first time arrive in Toronto have every likelihood to face the local surprises. For example, you may be offered to reach your destination across Yonge Street. When you agree to have this affair, you will be asked once again: ‘Are you going to cross the whole street?' Being astonished you will try to look at the details only to find out that the length of this mysterious street is 1896 kilometers. Then, if you express a bit more curiosity and decide to read the history of the longest street in the world, the adventurous travel in the world in Indians, Europeans occupiers and encountering of the cultures are waiting for you. So, let’s start…

From Indian fairy-tales to fabulous John Simcoe

Being combined with Highway 11, for a long time this street had been carrying the title of the longest ones on the Earth. However, with the appearance of Pan American highway in a length of 48 thousand kilometers the superiority of Yonge Street is in doubt.

There are legends claiming that in the old times Yonge Street was Indian way and within this territory the North American aboriginal citizens were walking. When the lands that now belong to Canada saw the first traces of European colonizers, they found out that redskin Indians are ready to resist. Several military fights happened at Yonge Street that is why in these areas many people got the combat debut. Unfortunately, there are no written sources embedding the history of Indians lives till European colonization. Thus, all the evidence on the role of Yonge Street remained in the legends on the fights for the sacred land.

The years were passing and the whole centuries were flowing. At the end of XVIII century the ancestor of the modern Toronto, York city, saw the light. The founder of York John Graves Simcoe was the first governor of the city, the person who had been serving for five years solved all the legislative questions and introduced British model of politic authority. Verily John Simcoe converted the dusty crowded way into the modern view that is typical for Yonge Street nowadays. The founder of York called the street in honor of his friend George Yonge. It was the name of the famous British personality, the member of English parliament and secretary for war. By the way, this year George Yonge would be 285 years old.

Yonge had never walked along the famous street. Generally, he never attended Canada. However, sometimes he claimed to be keen on the strict linear features of Roman roads which a bit resembled Yonge Street.

Don’t just walk past!

The longest street in the world was planned to be the strategically important object from the military point of view. It seemed, the road tended to keep under control all the untraveled roads and, destroying everything on its way, in 1796 it came closer to Lake Simcoe. John Graves Simcoe was afraid of the American intervention that is why he was hoping a lot for the power of Yonge Street. The road had to become the reliable way for British army that had to move from the north to the south of the country.


Continuing to travel along the history milestones, we will change the direction and imagine being one and a half century ahead. The first Canadian subway is also connected with Yonge Street. After the underground system was opened in 1954, the trains moved along the line Yonge from Junion to Eglinton. In 1963 the subway included the branch Junion-Saint George while in three years the first passengers started going from Bloor Street to Danfort Avenue. Ten years had passed, and there was Spadina line as the lines of subway tried to steal initiative from the car traffic, however, they hardly fulfilled their cunning intention. No wonder, since the moment of foundation Yonge Street has been considered as the traffic way of the city.

Dark times

The road Yonge Street that used to gain popularity beforehand, at the end of 1970s got unsavory reputation. In its surroundings there were where men came in a search of cheap entertainment and same-sex affairs, strip-clubs, and bars that had doubtful reputation. In a line ‘sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll’ they found out the fourth element, ‘crime’.


There was a dark period in the history of Yonge Street, the clouds were piling up, and suddenly there was a crack of thunder. The cruel murder of a young person who worked as the shoeshine boy shocked society. It was going like that. A guy named Emanuel Jaques day by day cleaned the shoes of rich clients spending days on Yonge Street. However, in that unfortunate day of the 28-th of July 1977 he got proposal to work as the loader and move photo equipment getting 35 dollars for labor. Hoping for soft money, Emanuel Jaques stepped across the threshold… Everything what happened next reminded a nightmare. The young person endured numerous tortures , then he was suffocated and afterwards his body was left at the kitchen sink. Even though criminals were found and arrested, this terrible story showed once again that since then, the city was in a danger. As a result, the authorities dealt with the moral guise of the street and demolished all the tenderloin places.

Some pleasant surprises

The citizens of Canada compare Yonge Street with Main, Robson, Burrard, and Grenville Street rolled into one. There is financial district of Toronto as well as Eaton Center, one of the biggest shopping centers of Canada that includes more than 230 stores and restaurants. By the way, the number of visitors reaches nearly one million people a week. There are, as well, two squares, particularly, Yonge and Dundas which invite everybody who wants to visit the free-of-charge concerts and movie-premiers.


At the same place there is the first pedestrian walkway that could be crossed diagonally. In Canada such a kind of roads is called pedestrian scramble. Despite some skepticism from the side of foreigners and some misunderstanding how it is working, the local passers-by do not feel hardship while crossing the street. By the way, the verily word ‘scramble’ implies that this crosswalk is created for everybody who is always late and leads a hurried life.

For a long time Yonge Street was considered as the longest in the world, in the meantime, this fact was approved by the Guinness Record Book. But in 1999 the famous street of Toronto lost its title. Anyway, it will never lose its inimitable spirit full of ancient stories and penetration of the events happened there.

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