Celebrities, gun duels, & secret societies: the history of Yonge & College

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When you think of Yonge & College, what comes to mind? A subway stop, College Park, Maple Leaf Gardens maybe? Well we’re here to tell you that Yonge & College has quite the past. Here are five cool facts about the neighbourhood that you probably didn’t know, and that might make you think about this famous intersection a little differently.

Fact 1: It’s all in the name

Ever wondered how College Street got its name? It’s pretty obvious: the street took its name from the University of Toronto, which was originally called King’s College. College Street marked the southern boundary of the original 1827 land grant for the college.

Yonge Street was named by Ontario’s first colonial administrator John Graves Simcoe after his friend Sir George Yonge, an expert on ancient Roman roads. The street stretches all the way from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe and a large part of the route follows an ancient Aboriginal trail that linked the Lake Ontario waterfront to northern parts of the region. It was formerly listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest street in the world at 1,896 kilometers. This record was eventually taken away because Highway 11, which was responsible for most of its length, is no longer considered part of Yonge Street.

Fact 2: A storied past

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It’s hard to imagine Yonge and Dundas without the Eaton Centre, but between 1930 and 1977, Eaton’s department store was located at College Park. In his original plans, Timothy Eaton wanted the store to be the largest retail and office complex in the world, but his hopes were dashed by the Great Depression.

In spite of this, the Eatons wouldn’t settle for less when it came to the design of the store. The family imported marble from Europe for the interior columns and colonnade and Lady Eaton even had two entire rooms removed from two manor houses in England and reassembled in the furniture department of the store. The end result was an opulent store where the who’s who of the day did their shopping. The auditorium even played host to the likes of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra. Although the store’s heyday is over, the building still looks just as grand today as it did back then thanks to the extensive restoration efforts by the current owners.

Fact 3: Random landmarks

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Have you ever noticed that random clock tower just by Yonge Street and Grosvenor street? The tower was built in 1872 as part of Toronto Fire hall No. 3 and was used to store and dry fire hoses. It’s one of three fire hall towers that still remains in the city, the other two being Yorkville Hall and Balmoral Hall on Hendrick Avenue. The fire hall was closed in 1929, but the tower remained. Over the years the hall has been occupied by furniture stores, restaurants, car dealers, and a bar.

Another random landmark in the area is the Gothic stone archway on Yonge just south of College. The plaque on the arch states that it was once a part of the former St. Andrew’s United Church, which was built in 1923 at Bloor Street East at Park Road. When the church was demolished the arch was moved to its present location and it’s now used as a pedestrian gateway.

Fact 4: Shoot-’em-up gun duels

Here’s something to ponder about while you’re sipping your latte in the Starbucks at Yonge and College: a historic bloody duel took place in 1817 just across the street on the southeast corner of Yonge and College. This is where William Jarvis shot and killed John Ridout over a financial dispute.

Fact 5: Secret societies

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If you thought the idea of a gun duel going down on the corner of Yonge and College was absurd, then what about the fact that a secret society used to meet in the same building that now houses Starbucks. Oddfellows Hall at 2 College Street was built in 1892 and served as the meeting location for the Independent Order of the Oddfellows, a secret society only open to men. Imagine all the grand schemes that were hatched in that building.

International celebrities, gun duels, random landmarks and secret societies. Suddenly Yonge and College is way cooler than you thought, right?

 

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