Back in the 70s Yonge and Eglinton (or “Yonge and Eligible” as it was called then) featured a mix of older walk-up apartments and new apartment towers, headquarters of major companies like Canadian Tire, TVO and RioCan, and cultural facilities like the Capitol Theatre, and a plaza on the northwest corner that was a gathering place for community BBQs and a farmers’ market.
Since then, Y-E has undergone dramatic growth, with many new residential buildings including replacement of smaller apartments with condo towers. Meanwhile some amenities such as the Capitol Theatre declined, and eventually closed, and the plaza on the NW corner was reduced to a coffee shop patio. In a move that at the time (2010) was opposed by many residents, local councillor Karen Stintz supported a plan that replaced an open plaza with three storeys of retail, and added three storeys to each of two office towers.
Fast forward to today and Y-E’s growth has been (after downtown) the City’s most successful Urban Growth Centre. Population targets have been exceeded by a large margin: in the Y-E Urban Growth Centre (2016 census), they’re expected to more than double to in excess of 70,000 residents (in one square km) based on currently known development proposals, with many more applications expected. The area lags badly in community services, schools, parks and open spaces, and has lost a significant amount of employment.
The southwest quadrant (an area of nine-plus acres) is now the focus. Midtown has come out in massive support for a town centre at Canada Square, the one remaining quadrant at Y-E still with development potential. This quadrant is owned by the City but leased to Oxford Properties on long term lease. Oxford came in with a major development proposal in 2020 which mostly doubled down on residential development rather than employment or other uses. Council passed a motion by Councillor Matlow, in whose ward the property lies, supported by Councillors Robinson and Colle, whose wards also include lands at Y-E, to have City Planning provide a Special Study Area Report for the redevelopment of the site, and the establishment of a Working Group, with the participation of City staff, midtown residents, businesses, and service providers.
The Midtown Town Centre vision described in the Midtown Working Group’s June report “Imagining a New Town Centre for Midtown Toronto,” was based on the view that Canada Square must not be developed as another huge residential complex. The immediate neighbourhood is fully developed, yet lacks essential community services such as sufficient public school and childcare capacity. Yonge and Eglinton, the crossroads of two major transit lines (Line 1 – Yonge and Line 5 – Eglinton Crosstown LRT), is about to become the city’s second major transit hub. The Midtown Town Centre vision suggests such uses as missing community services and educational facilities, innovative employment opportunities, cultural amenities, retail and entertainment uses, as well as a park, and a town square. Canada Square, a City-owned site, is the only remaining Y-E quadrant where this can happen.
The residents’ associations adjacent to and some farther away, such as the Leaside Residents Association (of which I am co-president), were united in supporting this vision:
“City Council needs to act decisively. We ask for your leadership to develop and adopt creative, innovative solutions that will turn the Canada Square site into the Midtown Town Centre for local residents, the broader Midtown community, as well as for workers and visitors from across the City. This critical City building opportunity cannot be lost.” (Federation of North Toronto Residents Associations [FoNTRA, of which I am co-chair] submission to City Council).
What has this got to do with Leaside? While Leaside does not have the growth trajectory of Y-E, we do have major growth happening now, with more coming. The lesson of Y-E is the need for “complete communities.” Remember that the Town of Leaside was planned and developed as a complete community. We can learn from the lessons of Y-E and push for employment, community facilities, and green space, and not just residential development. Frankly, we have been doing this, for example with the RioCan development at Eglinton and Laird, where we pushed for, and achieved an “open plaza” at the corner. And if Y-E can once again become a “cultural destination” for Leaside, that would also be an advantage.