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Downtown Yonge Street Needs An Overhaul To Be A Main Street


Photo by Alireza Khoddam on Unsplash

Every few years, right on cue, the city decides it must do something about Yonge Street. It’s not hard to understand why. For much of its length, it has become depressingly ordinary, a bit run down, vaguely tacky and, given expectations, hugely disappointing.

Like Toronto, Yonge isn’t what it used to be. Though routinely described as the city’s main drag and its most famous street, it’s neither – and hasn’t been for decades. The clichés that get dragged out every time it comes up in conversation reveal the extent to which some of us have lost touch with the reality of Toronto. Talk about Yonge Street’s “fabled” past, its “storied” history, its “lost glory” has never sounded more hollow.

The truth is that Yonge, or at least the part that runs through downtown, was a populist provincial high street that got left behind when Toronto graduated from colonial outpost to big city. The myth of the city’s distinguished past may be a comfort to many, but it’s largely an illusion. This was a community driven by religious, ethnic and class tensions, notorious for its conservatism. In a letter to a friend during his visit in 1842, Charles Dickens referred to “Toronto’s wild and rabid Toryism,” which, he said, was “appalling.” A century later, artist/writer Wyndam Lewis famously called Toronto a “suffocating, sanctimonious icebox.”

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