As travelers on Highway 401 approach Yonge Street, a soaring skyline appears on the North side that rivals that of many major Canadian cities. Shiny glass office towers and sleek rows of condominium balconies explode from the ground out of what otherwise looks like a sleepy suburban residential community. It is the heart of North York; a study in contrasts between big and small, old and new, busy and quiet.
The area known as Yonge and Sheppard begins North of Highway 401 and stretches up to Finch Ave. It is emerging as Toronto’s second downtown, and its surrounding areas include most of Willowdale stretching from Bathurst St. in the West to Bayview Ave. in the East.
Though the area sits just six kilometres North of Toronto’s central business district, it began life as a group of villages based mainly on agriculture. To look at the Southwest corner of Yonge and Sheppard now it seems hard to believe that in the same place a century ago the Golden Lion Hotel, a Victorian country inn set on a large open lot, hosted guests who would spend evenings on the porch dressed in top hats and overcoats. A boom following World War II began the area’s transformation into suburbia, and more recently while Mel Lastman was mayor of North York and Toronto it began its current
transition into an urban area.
The most pronounced evidence of the area’s urban growth is the condominium construction taking place along Yonge Street and quickly spreading out to the East and West. This year nearly three-quarters of all the home sales in the Yonge-Sheppard corridor have been condominiums. There are plenty of reasons for the flow of people to continue, but access to key transportation routes is surely one of the most important ones. The area sits on the Yonge subway line and travellers can be downtown in minutes. The 401 is very close by to take people East and West, while Yonge Street provides access to some of the city’s most popular areas and acts as a gateway to the northern suburbs. Within a few kilometres of the intersection of Yonge and Sheppard are four major shopping centres, several large hospitals and the vast West Don Parkland system that snakes through the Southwest corner of the area.
Scattered along the wide Yonge Street landscape is an interesting mix of eating and drinking establishments which include trendy chains as well as independent eateries offering a variety of international fare. Korean and Chinese signage dots the landscape hinting at the area’s multicultural makeup. Major cinema complexes and large stores bring pedestrian traffic to the streets, though potential for redevelopment appears high for some older strips of one- and two-storey retail space that exist nearby. The Toronto Centre for the Arts sits in the heart of the action on the West side of Yonge amongst large public spaces including Mel Lastman Square. The Centre presents world-class concerts and stage shows from around the globe.
Nestled behind the major thoroughfares, detached houses sit amongst mature trees on rows of quiet streets. Simple 1940s- and 1950s style bungalows perch next to newly renovated dream homes with large second storey additions; a spin-off of vibrant urban streetscapes forming nearby. While in the past year overall housing prices in the area have increased by seven per cent to $308,580, detached homes have increased by 15 per cent to $579,038.
As the area continues to boom and neighbourhood amenities diversify, the appeal of Toronto’s Downtown North will have nowhere to go but up. It is the heart of North York; a study in contrasts between big and small, old and new, busy and quiet.
Source: Fall 2005 FOCUS FOCUS O 7