When we visit some of the most iconic places in Toronto — Bloor Street, Bay Street, Christie Pits Park — the experience could be enhanced by knowing more about their names.
Not knowing about the spaces that surround us is “part of the general vagueness most of us are guilty of,” says Allan Gould, co-author of the book Toronto Street Names.
Even though every name isn’t the gateway to a romance or mystery, “it’s hard seeing some of these names without wondering what the story is behind (them),” Gould says.
With that in mind, the Toronto Star takes you on a tour of some of the most well-known place names in Toronto — a city whose name, as it turns out, has more to do with fish than pigs. Read on — you’ll be the hit of your next dinner party.
Bay Street: The more unusual thing about Bay Street’s name is what it morphed from. It was originally called Bear St. because, according to Dr. Henry Scadding, who is quoted in Gould’s book, a bear ran out of the nearby woods and to escape its chasers “made for the water along this route.” The name was later changed around 1800. The current name was coined for the small stretch that connected Queen St. to a bay in Toronto Harbour. Today’s more superstitious Bay Street financiers are surely happy the original moniker didn’t stick.
Christie Pits Park: Perhaps it should have been named Mr. Christie’s Park. Yes, the famous downtown green space honours the iconic Canadian baker and entrepreneur William Mellis Christie, a.k.a., Mr. Christie, according to city archives. He moved to Canada from Scotland in 1848. Not long after his massive biscuit-making operation took up much of the area where George Brown College now sits. Mr. Christie College doesn’t quite work.
Bloor Street: If you have ever enjoyed a beer on Bloor, the man it was named for may have been looking down with a smile. Joseph Bloore was one of the city’s earliest brewers. He built his brewery in 1830 and when he sold it in 1843 bought land in what would become Yorkville. City historians are not sure why the ‘e’ was dropped when Tollgate Road was renamed Bloor Street in 1855.
Avenue Road: When you think about it, there’s not much sense in naming a road “Avenue.” But according to staff at City Hall’s Survey and Utility Mapping department, an old legend suggests the name has nothing to do with the two obvious synonyms. As the story goes, an early team of surveyors was working its way along what’s now Bloor Street. When the team of Scottish men got to where the road is located today, the leader said: “Let’s ‘ave a new road here.”
Toronto: There’s actually some controversy behind the origin of the city’s name. Though many historians say Toronto comes from the Huron toronton, “place of meetings,” according to Natural Resources Canada, that’s not where Toronto gets its name. It comes from the Mohawk, tkaronto, which means, “where there are trees standing in the water” and describes the large stakes used about 4,000 years ago to catch fish in weirs around Lake Simcoe, some 130 kilometres north of Toronto. Even if the name was meant for somewhere else, it sure beats Hogtown.