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Yonge Street's History
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Globe and Mail Update
Saturday, August 4, 2001

1796 John Graves Simcoe, founder of Toronto and provincial governor of Upper Canada, has the initial portion of Yonge Street built in anticipation of an American invasion. Simcoe says the road will assure military access to the northern Great Lakes. The street is named in honour of Sir George Yonge, the British Secretary of War. Lacking a "highway department," Simcoe forces settlers to spend 12 days a year to clear the road of logs, and as part of their sentence, convicted drunks remove the stumps.

1800s Yonge Street reaches the edge of Lake Ontario and becomes the main thoroughfare for traders, farmers, militia and stage coach passengers entering and leaving the city.

1816 The route is finally passable to Lake Simcoe, and soon extends to Georgian Bay as a military trail.

1850 Yonge reaches Muskoka as a colonization road. Eighty-one-hectare land grants mean the street is lined mostly by forests.

1869 Timothy Eaton revolutionizes Canadian shopping with his large department store at 178 Yonge. By the early 1900s this area becomes Toronto's premiere shopping district.

1927 The route reaches Cochrane, Ont. as the Ferguson Highway. Conservative Premier G. Howard Ferguson promises the new road will link the northern railway town with the south, bringing industry and tourism. (Today, the road exists as a much straighter Highway 11, the northern Trans-Canada route. The old highways twists and turns as dead end side roads or overgrown trails in the forest.)

1950s As part of the Trans Canada Highway, Yonge is opened to Nipigon. (Today, a picturesque wooden church marks the site of an early fur trading post and mission.)

1965 Rainy River, Ont., bordering Manitoba and the U.S., hears the hums of traffic on Yonge for the first time. The town loses its passenger rail service when the road opens. The sign at kilometre 1,896 says simply 'Rainy River'.

1996 Ontarians celebrate Yonge Street's 200th anniversary.


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