Sunday 16 April 2017

Toronto's Boulevards of Broken Dreams

"If a 1929 plan had come to fruition, there'd be a lot more grandeur to downtown Toronto." 
(Kenneth Kidd)

It all started at Richmond Street and University Ave in Toronto back in 1929.  As part of the City Beautiful Movement, a plan was sketched out to make the intersection a roundabout, called Vimy Circle, with a towering memorial at the centre, a tribute to the Canadian heroes who took Vimy Ridge.  University Ave would have continued south to Front Street as Queen's Park Ave.  A new major street, Passchendaele Rd, named after another great Canadian victory, would head southwest from the circle to the existing Clarence Square at Spadina Ave near Front Street.  Another new street marking a World War I battle, Cambrai Ave, would have run north from Union Station exactly where the eastern addition to the Royal York sits.  Cambrai Ave would have cut through the present day Toronto Dominion Centre and Exchange Tower.  Halfway between King St. and Adelaide St., Cambrai Ave would have split into two, encircling an office tower and some greenery, until it joined together again south of Queen St.  It would have continued north to St. Julien Place, the battle where 18,000 Canadian soldiers first experienced poison gas.  It would be a magnificent park with statues and fountains and Osgoode Hall, the present day site of Nathan Phillips Square.  

Motivation was not so much to beautify the city of Toronto but to make it more accessible for the growing number of automobiles on the road.  The plan to make the Toronto;s downtown resemble the Champs Elysees in Paris, however, was interrupted by the Great Depression.  The only grand boulevard in the end would be University Ave.  The only monuments erected were the South African War Memorial, built already in 1909, and the Sir Adam Beck monument, created in 1934 on Queen St.  The only grand buildings would be Union Station, the Royal York Hotel and the Dominion Public Building.

Mathew Borrett's illustration of Vimy Circle, from Queen St. and University Ave. looking south, as it would look today.

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