Yonge Street "Fun Street"

Street performer on Yonge Street

When the Eaton Center was built during the late 70's, many critics feared that the massive complex would draw so many shoppers from Yonge Street that the stores on Yonge would not survive. And to a great extent, the critics were right. For years, the stores on Yonge languished, and many became seedy discount shops.

Hot dog vendor

The turning point came with the development of the Pantages Theater (which hosted "The Phantom of the Opera" for many years). That brought more people out onto the street. More recently, incentives have led to the cleaning and redevelopment of many buildings across from the Eaton Center. And now, the outside wall of the Eaton Center facing Yonge Street is also being redeveloped. This will result in more shops facing the street.

The Pantages Theater is now known as the Canon Theater. Initially built in the early part of the 20th Century, the theater became a cimena with the decline of vaudeville shows. Later, the theater was home to a six screen cinema. But things changed in the mid 1980's. When the owners of the cinema dragged their heals when the lease was up for renewal, cinema magnate Garth Drabinsky bought half of the cinema. After lengthy negotiations, Drabinsky bought the remainder of the cinema provided that he would not use the building as a cinema. Instead, he restored the building as a theater.

In 1998, Drabinsky's theater empire crashed and burned as financial irregularities were uncovered in his LiveEnt organization's accounts. Several big shows were immediately closed. But the Pantages lives on, and other big shows still go on at other theaters, like the Princess of Wales and the Royal Alexandra.

Yonge Street vendors
Vendors on Yonge Street. Sadly, such carts are now rare in Toronto.

Yonge Street - The Longest Street in the World?

Supposedly, Yonge Street is recognized as the longest street in the world, with a length of 1900km. Let's take a drive along Yonge Street to check out that claim.

Our drive begins at the Toronto harbor. One Yonge Street is the Toronto Star building. Going north, we go past the Eaton Center, and through the Yonge Street strip. Then north of Bloor, we drive past Rosedale and Mount Pleasant Cemetary. Still in the city, we reach Hogg's Hollow and Mel Lastman square in the former city of North York. After 18km, we leave the city of Toronto.

Yonge Street now goes through communities of the Regional Municipality of York. First, Richmond Hill, then past Bond Lake and through Oak Ridges and Aurora. Through Newmarket, we pass house numbers in the 17000's and 18000's.

Past Newmarket, after 50km, the road bears to the left and descends into the Holland Marsh and we find houses numbered in the 20000's. Crossing a bridge into Bradford, we find house numbers in the 200's and descending.

Huh?!? We've only travelled 56km, and now we're no longer on Yonge Street! We're on Bridge Street instead. A little further, and we're on Holland Street, and there's no more sign of Yonge Street.

Let's look at our map book again. North of Newmarket, rather than following the main road, turn right on Holland Landing Road, then immediately right again onto an unmarked dirt road. Although one store in Holland Landing calls it "Old Yonge Street", the street signs call it just "Yonge Street". After a short jog to the left at Queensville Sideroad, Yonge Street proceeds north again, but then ends at a dead end a couple of kilometers later. House numbers here are in the 21000 range. Again, we're still no further than 56km from 1 Yonge Street.

End of Yonge Street
End of the road.

Clearly, this is no 1900km long street. At 56km, it is certainly a long street, but is that length deserving of a world record? Surely, there must be some other street longer than 56km.

So where did this fiction come from? At one time, Yonge Street was also Ontario provincial Highway 11, which did indeed stretch for 1900km all the way from Lake Ontario in Toronto north past North Bay to Cochrane, west through Kapuskasing and Thunder Bay, and ending at Rainy River on the border with Minnesota.

But, in the late 1990's, the provincial government downloaded responsibility for many provincial highways to the local municipalities in an effort to reduce the size of the provincial budget. Today, Highway 11 starts north of Barrie, 44km north of where Yonge Street ends.

The street that was 1900km long was Highway 11, not Yonge Street. And so even before provincial downloading, the claim was questionable. Strangely enough, even though the claim is so easily tested, many today still enjoy spreading the .lie.