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Tag Archives: preservation association

Tired of living where lanes have no name

Downtown neighbourhood residents say naming laneways will speed up emergency response times

Tamara Baluja – Toronto Star

They often start suddenly and stop abruptly. They twist and turn. They come to a dead end. And most of the city’s 3,600 laneways don’t have names. Not even Google can find them.

Should they be named?

“It’s a question of public safety,” said Rory Sinclair, former chair of a local residents’ association that hopes to name 46 neighbourhood laneways in Harbord Village, in the College St.-Spadina Ave. area.

Naming laneways means faster response times in emergencies, he says.

Area resident Jeannie Hastie’s Victorian house burned to the ground in 2005 in a massive blaze that destroyed five other homes. Firefighters battled that fire from the main road and the laneway behind her house.

“In that 2005 fire, the flames were shooting high above the roof line, so the firefighters knew where to go,” Hastie said. “But if it’s not visible and if laneways don’t have names or numbers, how are you supposed to tell anyone where to find it on a map?”

But firefighters and police aren’t entirely convinced naming laneways will speed up response times.

“I don’t know if naming them will be all that helpful, but numbering certainly would,” said Police Supt. Ruth White.

Police often can’t locate houses on lanes because people tend not to post house numbers there, she said.

“All our officers have to memorize the names and locations of all the streets. Giving them more names to learn will just make that process harder. Plus, the residents know how to tell us where to go,” White said.

Laneways are found primarily in the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto, said Brigitte Shim, a professor of architecture at the University of Toronto.

Originally used in Victorian times as passages to deliver coal and groceries, they continued to be built into the 1930s.

So far, the city has named only 194 back lanes, and only when houses have front entrances on a laneway, or by special request.

One such request came from Cabbagetown resident Douglas McTaggart, who wanted the laneway behind his home named Oskenonton Lane, after a First Nations entertainer from the early 1900s.

Since it was named, McTaggart said, garbage in the laneway has been cleared more regularly and it has become a safer place.

He disagreed with the assessment of police and fire officials.

“I have seen at least three separate cases where emergency services have used the name of the laneway,” he said.

Chair of the Cabbagetown Preservation Association Laneway Naming and Signing Initiative, McTaggart has led a project to name 55 laneways.

Desmond Christopher, the city’s supervisor for survey and mapping services, said he’s praying this isn’t indicative of a city-wide desire to name all 3,400 such lanes.

It costs $300 to put a single sign on a pre-existing pole; $400 if a pole is needed, he said.

Naming every laneway could cost $1 million to $1.3 million, the city estimates.

“Can you imagine the time and money it would take all to name all those laneways?” he said.

“We would have to come up with 3,400 new names for each of the laneways, because obviously you can’t have repetition, and the names need to fit with the character of the neighbourhood.”

Sinclair said that his neighbourhood residents’ association will conduct community surveys to come up with names for its 46 laneways.


Contact the Jeffrey Team for more information¬† –¬† 416-388-1960