In the 18th century, Yonge Street was the main route connecting York (now Toronto) to Lake Simcoe. The street was named by the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada (Ontario), John Graves Simcoe, for his friend Sir George Yonge, who was an expert on ancient Roman Roads.
Sheppard Avenue is named for Joseph Sheppard I, who acquired 400 acres of land at the northwest corner of Sheppard and Yonge, where his son operated a general store. The site was taken over in 1860 by the Dempsey Hardware Store, which was later moved to Beecroft Avenue and turned into a museum.
In its early days, North York was known for its agriculture, but the area boomed with housing development following the Second World War, and in the 1950s and ’60s, it started to become a suburban centre.
The Township of North York was originally formed in 1922 and it became the Borough of North York in 1967. Then, on Valentine’s Day in 1979, it became a city, commemorating the special day with the corporate slogan “The City with Heart.” North York became a part of amalgamated Toronto in 1998.
From Sheppard north to Steeles Avenue, Yonge is now a commercial strip and a busy arterial road. This corridor grew extensively after the opening of the North York Centre subway station. In the past decade, over 25,000 units of new housing have been built or are under construction along the strip. The area, which goes east to Don Mills Road and west to Bathurst Street, has become a vibrant part of Toronto due to population growth and the many commercial, retail and entertainment venues that have opened.
While the area is still mostly suburban in nature, the highrise intensification began when the Yonge subway line extended to Finch Avenue in 1974. (Finch is the sixth busiest subway station, serving over 100,000 people each day). Most of the office, commercial and residential density has been built along Yonge Street from Sheppard Avenue to Finch Avenue and — with the opening of the North York Centre subway stop in 1987 — intensification around the former North York City Hall (now North York City Centre) increased.
When the Sheppard subway line travelling east to Don Mills Road opened in 2002, it created another opportunity for intensification, especially at Bayview Avenue and around Fairview Mall.
To see a list of the current developments underway, go to CondoLifeMag.com.
The Toronto Centre for the Arts is located on Yonge Street at the North York Centre subway station. It has three theatres and regularly stages classical and jazz performances, as well as plays. The North York Central Library, the largest full-service public library in Toronto (second to the Toronto Reference Library in square footage), is part of a larger facility including a swimming pool, veterans’ centre and large hotel. The YMCA, located at Sheppard and Bayview, is the largest recreational facility in the neighbourhood.
Parks & Rec
Although there is little green space in the core of North York, there are many wonderful parks and gardens just a short drive or TTC jaunt away. The most amazing of these is probably Sunnybrook Park, which features cricket, soccer and rugby pitches, bike trails, cross-country ski trails, hiking trails, dog parks and a horse riding stable. Edwards Gardens, with it’s manicured gardens, is a must-see.
Earl Bales Park is at Bathurst and Sheppard and offers many recreational facilities, including a ski and snowboarding hill, cross-country ski trails, a community centre, an amphitheatre and dog parks. The East Don Park is part of a chain of parks that follow the East Don River from Sheppard and Leslie Street north to Steeles. The park has a train of trails that snake through the ravines and green spaces, and in the fall you can find salmon swimming upstream to spawn.
The area is full of small shops and cafés, but one of the highest-end malls in the city — Bayview Village — resides at Bayview and Sheppard. There you will find fashionable boutiques and cafés, a Restoration Hardware store, O&B Café and Grill and a Pusateri’s Find Food outlet. For those with less cash in their wallet, Fairview Mall is the place to head with over 170 stores and services and direct subway access. Empress Walk, also with direct access to the subway, has a multi-screen Cineplex with an Imax theatre.
The area is served well by the TTC, with seven subway stations and a wide range of bus routes taking commuters from North York to downtown in short order. GO Transit has a busy depot at Finch, as does York Region’s Viva service, allowing commuters to move quickly just about anywhere in the GTA. Highway 401 runs through this part of North York, the busiest stretch of the highway with more than 400,000 vehicles using it each day.
Eat Your Heart Out
The area is chock-a-block full of restaurants of all varieties and prices. There are two great French eateries in the neighbourhood, Auberge du Pommier by Oliver & Bonacini and Chez Laurent. The Miller Tavern offers up scrumptious fare and an Oyster Lounge.