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Tag Archives: Harbord Street

The hidden history in Toronto’s back lanes

Toronto has about 3,000 laneways that now carry names, honouring a cornucopia of forgotten local heroes and artifacts important to the city’s story.

Zoe McKnight – Toronto Star

Louie Laki worked in a foundry and enjoyed a glass of homemade wine. He was kind, and had a motorcycle, and crushed his grapes in the backyard. He would cut your grass or fix your fence and invite you over to relax under the vines. He washed his wine casks in the lane.

Normally that’s the kind of anecdote told at weddings or a funeral, but in Toronto, Laki has a street sign with his name on it for posterity.

“He’s not someone with a big name in the city. But he made an impact in his community,” said his daughter, Rose Laki Rodrigues, who still lives in the house on Major St. her father bought in 1960. He fled the former Yugoslavia in 1955 and sent for his wife and young daughter two years later. He died of cancer in 2002.

A few years after, 133 of his neighbours got together and signed a letter asking the city to name an alley south of Harbord St. after him. At the unveiling in 2010, Rodrigues dug out a few bottles of her dad’s wine to share. It was still good.

It is a classic Toronto immigrant story, Rodrigues said.

“He was just someone who really worked hard. He came here with nothing,” she said.

Toronto laneway
It’s often said Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods. But running through them are the 3,000 laneways that intersect rows of houses and stretches of shops.

Once paths for coal delivery and cinder removal, these lanes now serve as shortcuts for motorists, pedestrians and skateboarding teens, as well as conduits for some of Toronto’s seldom-told history.

Comment: And the city needs to wake up and allow housing on these same laneways.

About 10% of the 3,000 lanes are named, mostly by residents who nominated a person — and in several cases, a horse — those who made a contribution to the city as it is known today.

In Cabbagetown, which was settled around 1840 as a suburb of the new city of Toronto, more than 50 laneways have been named.

Picking Coke Lane is dedicated to the locals who would tour back lanes, picking the valuable but often discarded fuel out of coal ash. There’s Redrocket Lane named for those venerable TTC cars, Woodward Evans Lane for a duo who patented the light bulb before selling it to Thomas Edison, Iroquois Lane for the land’s original inhabitants, and dozen of others.

“The project was about telling the story of Cabbagetown and Cabbagetowners,” said Ward 28 Councillor Pam McConnell, adding named lanes are better for emergency vehicles as well.

“It covers the whole spectrum of artists, early settlers, flowers, birds, and comes right up to current history of people who had lived in Cabbagetown in our own lifetime,” she said. For example, Magic Lane honours Emmy-winning magician Doug Henning, and Tony Brady Lane celebrates the founder of the neighbourhood’s Forsythia Festival.

Naming the streets should remain a localized initiative, McConnell said. Current city policy states formal naming is “often done to recognize community figures, events or traditions” and is approved at the community council level.

Comment: And it keeps the history in the hands of the neighbourhood. Which should hopefully help spread knowledge and interest in the origins of Toronto’s various neighborhoods. We need to remember heritage before it is gone…

The Seaton Village Residents Association undertook its own project. At a Toronto and East York Community Council meeting Tuesday, a series of motions to name lanes in various wards was adopted, including 10 in Seaton Village. Previously the lanes were numbered only.

In that neighbourhood, the first to be given a name was St. Peter’s Lane, for a nearby church built in 1872. It was granted years ago so a resident on Palmerston Square could get her pizza delivered with less confusion.

“It was a little pragmatic but certainly historically accurate,” said Ed Janiszewski, who was later inspired to run the most recent drive.

One of the newly named lanes will honour Col. David Shank, who lived in Toronto when John Graves Simcoe was still worrying about the Americans. When the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada established Fork York, he brought a couple of loyal Queen’s Rangers with him, including Shank, who had fought with the British in 1776. He moved to Canada in 1792, according to his obituary, and commanded the troops after Simcoe left Canada.

Comment: He does have Shank Street near Liberty Village already.

Shank was described as “a really obscure officer from the American Revolutionary War” by city historian Richard Gerrard.

But he is considered one of Toronto’s earliest settlers, who owned a Seaton Village lot later sold to create an estate from Lake Ontario to an area now considered the Annex. The driveway became part of Bathurst St.

Comment: Amazing how many of today’s streets are what used to be driveways!

In the future, Col. David Shank Lane is set to replace city lane #0701, which runs north between Dupont St. and Vermont Ave.

Others recently approved:
* Perly Family Lane: Named for the family that mapped out Toronto — literally. Allan M. Perly, with his wife, Belle, started Perly’s Maps in the 1940s.
* John McIntosh Lane: Bonnie Gibbons lives on Barton St. and is the ancestor of John McIntosh, who “discovered” the McIntosh apple in 1796. Now there are 300,000 trees around the world. The family has resided in Toronto for three generations.
* Belmira Fumo Lane: The matriarch of a Portuguese family who lived at 42 Follis Ave. “exemplifies the working class character of Seaton Village residents,” according to a city staff report recommending the lane name.
* Tandy Murch Lane: Louise Tandy Murch was a popular singing teacher and mother of artist Walter Tandy Murch, who studied at the Ontario College of Art in the 1920s.

1920s Toronto
The 1920s were a strange time in Toronto as Prohibition halted the alcohol production that was booming in the Distillery District. Gooderham & Worts was once the largest alcohol manufacturer in Canada but stood still until the ban was repealed in 1927.

Many lanes commemorate that time: Mickey Wilson Lane was named for a rum-runner who dared to smuggle contraband across Lake Ontario, and Worts Lane honours the co-founder of the spirits company. There’s also Prohibition Lane to remember the temperance movement itself.

On Queen St. W., an area now known for its string of bars, graffiti murals cover Rush Lane. The vibrant spray paint scribbles form the backdrop for comedian Rick Mercer’s weekly televised rants on the CBC.

Many assume the lane was named for Canadian prog-rock heroes Rush, but it was named for Mark MacKenzie’s great-great-grandfather Frank, who “came over from Ireland with nothing and ended up owning a lot of the stores right on Queen St. He was a contemporary of (retail magnate Timothy) Eaton, basically,” MacKenzie said.

Rush’s string of shops received deliveries from the lane behind Queen St., which runs between Portland St. and Augusta Ave. MacKenzie recalls a taxi driver taking him there in the 1970s, before a signpost was ever installed. Everyone knew Rush Lane, he said.

Frank and Mary Rush are listed in the 1881 Census for St. Andrew’s Ward as Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland with five children: Mary, Mary Ann, Ellen, Teresa and Margret. Eldest son Edward, the great-grandfather of MacKenzie, had already grown up and left home by then. He eventually worked for the City of Toronto and had a hand in naming Rush Lane, MacKenzie said.

“It took the Eatons five or six generations to blow their money. Apparently it only took the Rushes a couple generations. None of that money worked its way down,” said MacKenzie, now an Ottawa-area entrepreneur. In an unlikely twist, Mercer attended the wedding of MacKenzie’s sister, who married a producer at the CBC.

The lanes provide a guided tour of Toronto’s arts scene as well. When Yorkville was teeming with hippies in the 1960s, the late poet Barrie Phillip Nichol was writing avant-garde concrete poems such as a lake/a lane/a line/a lone, which is now carved into the sidewalk on bpNichol Lane outside the Coach House Press headquarters.

Nichol’s nine-volume opus Martyrology name-checks many of Toronto’s streets, said Stan Bevington, who founded the publishing house and was instrumental in getting the lane named for the writer.

The lane sign is stolen several times a year, Bevington said.

And though fellow poet and Order of Canada recipient Al Purdy wrote mostly from his beloved Ameliasburgh A-frame cottage, he has a lane near Sackville St., where he grew up.

Not far away are Frances Loring Lane and Florence Wyle Lane, which run parallel. The women were lovers, collaborators and sculptors who both died in 1968. Together they created the lion monument on the Queen Elizabeth Way which was dedicated to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their 1939 visit.

Lion monument QEW
Not long after, war broke out. More than 80,000 Canadians enlisted, including six friends who lived on Major St. Only two came home and one, Joe Greenberg, lived long enough to see the Boys of Major Lane dedicated in 2013.

Military buffs can wander to Meadowvale and Lawson roads, where Old Sweats Lane recognizes the veterans of Royal Canadian Legion No. 258. “Old sweat” is slang for an old soldier, especially one who has fought in a world war, said Cassandra Stuckless, who was working in the legion one evening this week. An annual old sweats dinner sells out every April, though it’s now called the veterans’ dinner.

Ainsworth Dyer Lane, near River St., was named in 2013 for a young soldier. Cpl. Dyer, 24, along with three others, was killed in Afghanistan in 2002 by friendly fire from an American fighter jet. Dyer grew up in Regent Park and later, Edmonton, where a bridge is named after him.

The lanes reflect Toronto’s past, but according to Nick Potovszky, an architect who has spent hours documenting the hidden pathways with his camera, they could be the city’s future as well. He thinks there could be a demand for laneway housing, an idea picking up steam as a way to increase density.

“There are lots of people who want to spend their time in laneways. To walk their dogs or play with their kids or throw a ball around, take photos or paint,” he said. “So it’s not really a stretch to suggest some people might want to live in them.”

Comment: It is not often that I learn something new about Toronto history, but literally every bit of this piece is new to me. Wow!

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.