Friday, August 23, 2013

On the Fence

1915 map of Toronto's annexed districts with dates (detail – click here for full map)

The district of Midway became part of the City of Toronto in 1909. Not long afterward, narrow, unpaved Erie Terrace (as Craven Road was then called) became a headache for city politicians:

(Toronto Star, December 11, 1911, p7)


It was a stormy, roily meeting of the members of the Midway Ratepayers' Association... There were complaints to make against the sewers, the waterworks, the side-walks, the roadways, everything....

Ald[erman] Sam McBride... stated that the Midway should congratulate itself upon the city having taken it in, considering the condition they were in when annexation was broached....

To show that their wants were pretty well attended to within the past year, the alderman quoted a tabulated list of expenditures [on schools, streetcar tracks on Gerrard, roadways, sidewalks and sewers. The $90,000 spent on]... this latter item, he explained, represented nearly one-third of the total city's expenditure on sewers....

"You've had a total expenditure of $510,000 this year; I'd like to compare that with the taxes you pay. You came here because this land was cheap. If you expect the City Council to put in water, sewers, etc., and make your land valuable in a minute, you are mistaken, it can't be done. Erie Terrace wants the city to bear the expense of its widening. Other streets don't get such concessions, and as for your aldermen, we have far, far exceeded any promises we ever made to you."...

(Toronto Star, February 1, 1912)


The Works Department has a number of vexatious street problems on hand, and the committee made personal investigation into some of these yesterday. One is on Erie Terrace in the Midway. It runs north from Queen street to Danforth avenue, and the width varies from 15 to 22 feet. There are small frame houses along one side, and on the other are the backyards of houses which front on an adjoining street. It is proposed to add about ten feet to the width of Erie Terrace, taking the land from these yards.

But what then? Who will pay? The houses now built on the Terrace will have to pay their share, the city will have to pay its share, but what about the share which would ordinarily be paid by the properties on the opposite side of the street? The people whose back yards are taken get no benefit from the street improvement, for their residences front on another thoroughfare. Erie Terrace is their back lane, and they don't care whether it is ten feet wide or thirty-five. There is not enough room to build houses on both sides of the Terrace, and the city will have to find some way out of the difficulty.

(Toronto Star, September 25, 1912)

To Retrieve Erie Terrace

Mayor Geary suggested to the controllers to-day that Erie terrace should be cleaned up, even if the city had to buy the property there. A. Bonham complained that the terrace was badly lighted.

(Click image for full-size version)
Toronto Star, October 2, 1912, front page)


The City Fathers have decided to put Erie Terrace in better shape, but the problem which confronts them on that street is difficult of solution. It came into the city with the "Midway" district, and has puzzled municipal authorities ever since. Although it extends from Queen street to Danforth avenue, and is thickly built upon from Queen to Gerrard, it is only from 18 to 23 feet wide, and the houses, mostly wooden shacks, are built on only one side of it. On the other side are backyards of properties fronting on Ashdale avenue. A two-plank sidewalk was laid on Erie Terrace, but the road is so bad that wagons have been driven with two wheels on the walk, which has become badly smashed in consequence. There is no sewer. It is thought inadvisable to put a pavement on a street only 20 feet wide, yet if it were widened, the residents along the one side would have to pay for the widening and for the whole of the pavement. The other side cannot be built upon, as there are nothing but backyards on it, and 20 feet taken off these would not leave room for houses. What will the city do with Erie Terrace, which threatens to become a permanently undesirable street a mile and a half long?

(Toronto StarJanuary 15, 1913)

Cleaning Up Erie Terrace

Erie Terrace, with 6,000 feet of frontage exclusive of street intersections, is the biggest problem the city has to face in the shape of a narrow street. It was taken in with the Midway, and its present condition is no fault of Toronto's. At some places it is only 15 feet wide, at others it is 30. But there are houses on only one side of it, the other side being back yards of houses which front on Ashdale avenue.

What is the city to do with the place? No building permits have been issued there during the past two years, and city conveniences cannot be put in until the street is put in some kind of shape. City Hall officials groan whenever they hear the name.

Ald. Robbins has had the courage to undertake a solution. He wishes the city to buy 15 feet or thereabouts off the back yards in question, so that Erie terrace can be made 45[?] feet wide. It will be a street with houses on one side, and the owners of these will have to pay the share of local improvements which would be borne by neighbours across the street in ordinary cases. It is said, however, that they would rather do this than have the place remain as at present.

Some people on Ashdale avenue are said to be willing to sell the piece off their back yards for $3 per running foot. In that event, the city could get rid of the problem for about $18,000. It remains to be seen what the Council will do with Ald. Robbins' proposal. Certainly a solution along some line or other should be forthcoming, and that without delay.

(Toronto Star, October 11, 1912, p9)

[Municipal Melting Pot]

The act passed last year restricting the narrowness of streets within five miles of cities was enacted with a view to protecting the cities against conditions which encourage slums when additional territory is annexed. Thus, if streets 33 feet wide are permitted in the county, they become eyesores when the district in which they exist is taken into the city and becomes more thickly populated. Toronto has already problems of this type on hand. When the city annexed the Midway district, Erie Terrace was brought within the limits. And Erie terrace is in places only 18 feet wide. It has houses on one side and back yards on the other – back yards too shallow to permit the widening of the street and construction of houses. The plan now approved by Chairman Leitch will create another such place. [The rest of the article deals with a situation in Mimico.]

(Toronto Star, January 21, 1913, p5)

The Erie Terrace Menace

Force was added to Ald. Robbins' plea for cleaning up Erie terrace by a fire which took place last night. The terrace is only 18 feet wide in some places, has houses on only one side of it, and the road is in wretched condition, as no sewers and pavements can be laid until it is widened. Last night, the fire reels had to go up a neighboring street and come back on the terrace in order to reach a fire with anything like expedition. The terrace roadway proved to be in almost impassable condition. Something must be done at once to widen and improve the street.

(Toronto Star, February 11, 1913, p2)

The Erie Terrace Problem

The cleaning up of Erie terrace, which Ald. Robbins has been urging for some time, is to come before the Works Committee shortly. The present situation, in brief, is this: When the city annexed the Midway, it fell heir to a street, unpaved and unsewered, only 18 feet wide in some places, and 24 feet wide in others. This street, Erie Terrace, extends from Queen to Danforth. It is partially built up on one side, but no buildings have recently been erected there because the street is narrower than the law allows. Yet this land upon which it is impossible to build at present, has been selling for $20 per foot. On the west side of the street it is impossible to build at all, for the back yards of shallow lots fronting on Ashdale avenue abut there.

What is to be done? Whatever plan is adopted, the burden on Erie Terrace residents will be heavy. The proposal likely to be favored is the widening of the Terrace to a uniform width of thirty-three feet by expropriating from nine to fourteen feet off the rear of Ashdale avenue lots. This will be done partially as a local improvement, and even if the city bears over 25 per cent. of the cost, the burden upon Erie Terrace properties will be $5 per foot frontage. The Terrace will always remain a one-sided street, as the city will impose a restriction preventing the erection of buildings within, say, fifteen feet of the street line on the unbuilt side. This will prevent the erection of practically back-yardless houses on the rear of Ashdale avenue lots.

The cost per foot frontage to Erie Terrace property now valued at $20 per foot will be something like this:
  • Share of street widening: $5.00
  • Whole cost 18 ft pavement: 12.00
  • Sidewalk about: 1.00
  • Sewer about: $1.50
  • [Total:] $19.50
That will mean about $2 per foot per year for a term of ten years – a heavy tax on land worth only $20 per foot. But there seems no other way out of the difficulty.

(Toronto World, May 13, 1913)

Local Improvement Notice
Erie Terrace Widening 

Take notice that the Council of the Municipal Corporation of the City of Toronto intends to widen Erie Terrace, from Queen Street to the Grand Trunk Railway right-of-way, to a width of 33 feet, by taking the necessary land off the rear of the lots on Ashdale Avenue, on the west side of Erie Terrace, and intends to specially assess a part of the cost upon the land abutting directly on the said work, and upon certain other lands hereinafter mentioned, which will be immediately benefited by such widening.

The estimated cost of the work is $35,000, of which 40 per cent., or $14,000, is to be paid by the Corporation. The remaining $21,000 is to be assessed against the property fronting or abutting on the following named streets in the following proportion, viz.:

Section No. 1
[properties on the corners of Queen Street and Gerrard Street where they meet Erie Terrace]... The total assessable frontage in Section No. 1 is 120 feet, to bear $1,200, or 3 43-100 per cent. of the estimated cost.

Section No. 2
Erie Terrace, east side, from Queen Street to the Grand Trunk right-of-way.... The total assessable frontage in Section No. 2 is 4,082 feet, to bear $19,800, or 56 57-100 per cent. of the estimated cost. 

The rate per foot in Section No. 1 is $10, or if spread over a period of ten years a rate per foot frontage per annum of $1.27 23-100.

The rate per foot in Section No. 2 is $4.85 5-100, or if spread over a period of ten years a rate per foot frontage per annum of 61 71-100 cents. 

The special assessments are to be paid in 10 annual instalments.
A petition against the said proposed work will not avail to prevent its construction. 

W.A. LITTLEJOHN. City Clerk. City Clerk's Office. Toronto. May 10th. 1913.

(Toronto WorldMay 18, 1913)


Erie Terrace, a blot reformers have taken much notice of, and a detestation of the neighborhood, is to be expurgated by the widening process urged for many months by east end residents. The city council yesterday decided that from Queen street to the Grand Trunk tracks the street would be given a decent width, thus doing away with the unsightly and unhealthy buildings that rested almost on the front doorsteps of Erie Terrace houses, and would be paved and sewered also.

(Toronto StarOctober 7, 1913)

New Phase of Much Discussed Civic Puzzle Now Arises

Residents on Ashdale avenue are asking for a right-of-way on to Erie terrace, but the residents of Erie terrace have strong objections to their neighbors deriving benefit from the widening of their street, an improvement they have to pay for. In the widening of Erie terrace there was a foot reserved strip left between the rear of the Ashdale avenue lots and the new roadway on Erie terrace. This strip was reserved to prevent the property owners on Ashdale avenue building on the street line on Erie terrace.

Ald. Walton has interested himself in the request of the residents of Ashdale avenue, and has expressed his opposition to the right-of-way being granted. He holds the opinion that the property owners on Erie terrace should be protected in their rights.

(Toronto World, October 23, 1914)


Ald. Walton stated yesterday that he has strong hopes of the Erie terrace widening being an accomplished fact within a short time. The street runs parallel between Ashdale and Rhodes avenues from Queen street to the G.T.R. tracks. The delay, he said, was owing to there having been a sort of family quarrel between some of the residents of Ashdale avenue and Erie terrace. The assessment department had used diligence to effect the purchase of the necessary rear portion of the Ashdale lots to effect the widening. Most of the owners had accepted the appraisment of values made by the department. The cases where owners were holding out might have to go thru the usual course of arbitration proceedings, but the end of the expropriation proceedings was now in sight.

(Toronto Globe, August 28, 1915, p18) 

More Complaints

Mr. Frank Magauran appeared before the committee and vigorously protested against being charged $20.92 for the installation of a drain at his house on Erie Terrace. The actual cost of the work was $11.89, but the city charges all the applicants $18, with an additional $2 for the connection, and 92 cents for overhead charges. Mr. Magauran claimed that under the present system he was helping to pay for somebody else's drain.

(Toronto Star, October 23, 1915, p13)

To Grade Erie Terrace

The grading of Erie Terrace has been recommended by Works Commissioner [R.C.] Harris and Assessment Commisioner [James] Forman at a cost of $9,300. The city will pay $4,800 and the property owners the balance.

(Toronto Star, March 25, 1916, p5)

H.M. East Presses for Damages from the City

Argument was heard to-day by Mr. P.H. Drayton, R.C., official arbitrator on the claim of H.M. East against the city of Toronto for the value of land taken for the widening of Erie terrace an damage to the remainder. Mr. East owned a lot fronting on Ashdale avenue about 134 feet deep. The city expropriated the rear 14 feet or thereabouts. Subsequently Mr. East sold the front 90 feet, leaving himself with some inaccessible rear land, because in widening Erie terrace the city is erecting a high fence to prevent the residents of Ashdale avenue obtaining access thereto. Consequently Mr. East can only obtain access to his property from Ashdale avenue over the land sold by him.

Rural areas and cities including Winnipeg and Sudbury still use frontage taxes, but in an era when Torontonians pay tax based solely on the value of their property, and the funds go into a city-wide revenue pool, it's odd to think of paying directly for things like roads and sewers with a special levy based on how many feet of road your home fronts.

So the most surprising revelation in these articles is that the original, official purpose of the mile-and-a-half-long wooden fence on the west side of the road was not (as suggested in this post) to keep Erie Terrace residents out of the backyards of their wealthier neighbours, but rather to keep Ashdale owners from accessing their property via a street that had been "paid for" by people on the next block!

Read the next post, "Craven Road in Archive Photos", to view the street just before the Ashdale expropriations began.

5 May 2016 UPDATE: 

Thanks to Joanne Doucette for digging up this article from 1984. "The origins of the fence... are shrouded in mystery." Not anymore!

Toronto Star, 12 September 1984, pA6