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Lost Road and Bridge: Lawrence Avenue

Lone Primate

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Aug 16, 2007
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Don Mills Willowdale Park Forest something I dunno
Not all that long ago, mighty Lawrence Avenue was just a little country road. Even today, it's humbled and fractured at Bayview; but even at the beginning of the space age 50 years ago, it was little more than a narrow track across the fading farmland of northern Metro.

But things were about to change. Don Mills was under construction; a node that would ensure the harmonics of urbanization would vibrate out along that narrow string that was Lawrence Avenue. And so they did. Almost overnight, Lawrence went from a skinny, crooked-toothed awkward kid to the broad-shouldered, streamlined athlete it is today, vaulting fearlessly in a single bound the Don River it once approached timorously, creeping up and sneaking across on a narrow one-lane bridge a few dozen feet across as if for fear of rousing the river's anger.

Ooookay, are you all poemed out? :) I'll get on with my research here and show my work.


In 1957, this is what Don Mills, and Lawrence Avenue trickling out of it to the east, looked like from above. You can see that Don Mills is nearly completed, but not quite. By and large, though, it's recognizable. But look at Lawrence Avenue. As soon as it leaves Don Mills, it reverts to this messy little string that stumbles into the valley over the railroad tracks, wanders along the next rise, and then eases down the hill to the tiny bridge across the river, before meandering back up the other side to finally head off straight and true at the lip of the valley on the other side. It's hard to tell what's road and what's river here!


Here's the difference in six years. By 1963, Lawrence Avenue was the multi-laned, ruler-straight road we know today. You can still see the part of the rather scrotum-like shape of the old road, and even the bridge itself is still in evidence, but wouldn't exist much longer. Part of the old track of Lawrence, as you can see, was adopted to serve as an access ramp between the northbound lanes of the DVP (under construction in the lower image) and Lawrence Avenue. Now you may notice that Lawrence's modern track is a bit south of its old track on the east side, and you'd be right. Today, what was Lawrence Avenue between the Don and Victoria Park is now (at least in part) Roanoke Road.

More modern views of the valley follow...


This is where Old Lawrence Avenue, out of sight behind me on my right, meets the current course of Lawrence Avenue. This view looks more or less northeast, off in the direction of Victoria Park Avenue and away from the DVP. The gap between the apartment buildings at the extreme left is where Lawrence Avenue once crested the east side of the Don Valley and resumed its straight course, which runs between the apartment buildings. This is a view from March, 2003.


Turning around, with modern Lawrence to my back, this is the view down Old Lawrence, which today is an access road to a park in the valley. Once, this was part of your way across the Don here, though it was probably a little more modest than it looks now.


Part way down Old Lawrence, I pause and turn to look back at the place I was standing to take the two previous shots.


At the bottom of the valley by the side of Old Lawrence is this, the Milne house. It's not in very good shape, as you can see, but it still exists in the latest Google Map images. According to the city, its address is 1185 Lawrence Ave. East, and it dates to circa 1865, so it's been there since around Confederation. It housed the Civic Garden Centre from 1959 to 1962 when a fire caused the organization to seek new premises.


Above is a beautiful watercolour representation of the Milne House, as it once would have looked, by artist David Ouellette.


Along the east side of Milne Hollow was, till the early 1970s, the Don Valley Ski Resort. Wouldn't exactly have been Banff, but I guess it was at least something. Here you can see one of the ski lift towers, still in place on the hillside in March, 2002. Nice and warm, too, huh, for March? :)


In the middle of this shot is where the Lawrence Avenue bridge once crossed the Don. Beyond it, you can see one of the road signs of the Don Valley Parkway. At the middle left is the east abutment, still standing in the water of the Don (the west abutment is landlocked).



A couple of shots of the east abutment from March, 2002.


A slightly more head-on view of the east abutment, from the following March, in 2003.


The view from the other side. This is the platform of the west abutment, in March, 2003. What would once have been a 15-second trot across the bridge is now a 10-minute walk up to modern Lawrence, across its bridge, and down the northbound offramp to this spot.


Another view of the west abutment platform, this one showing the east abutment quite visibly.


Here's the same view in May, 2006.


Till the early 1960s, this was the track of Lawrence Avenue. You're seeing it in March, 2003, at the position, more or less, where the winding road coming up out of the valley crested and resumed a straight course. This is now Roanoke Road. It still maintains about 2/3 of the old Lawrence course to Victoria Park Avenue, until modern subdivisions force it to turn aside. This shot looks east, and was taken between the brown and white apartment buildings in the first contemporary shot shown in this series. Behind me is the Don Valley and the expressway that takes its name.


And just for the hell of it, an HDR (high dynamic range) infrared image of the Don Valley Parkway as seen from the Lawrence Avenue bridge, May, 2006. The expressway was closed for maintenance the Saturday I was there (same time as the green leafy shot of the west abutment above). :)
Got any old photos of the Don Mills and Eglinton area?

A few aerial shots, mostly centred around Leslie and Eglinton. I was fascinated to discover that there had once been a large gap in Eglinton Avenue between Victoria Park Avenue in the east and roughly Laird in the west. I saw of picture of Fred Gardiner helping with the sod breaking, in the 1950s, of what was then referred to as the "Eglinton Avenue Extension". I'll see if I can find them.
Someone posted ground-level shots of the Golden Mile area a year or two ago in a "guess the intersection" game. Eglinton East used to be fed by O'Connor and Dawes Road (which was the name of Victoria Park north of where Dawes splits south-west).

In the lower Don, there were a number of roads that made crossings and ran along the river. Winchester used to go into the valley as well. The DVP put an end to that nonsense.
Note, also, that the Eglinton ROW from the east used to, like Lawrence (or Ellesmere/York Mills, or Sheppard, or Finch), jog northward--the stub of which still exists (paradoxically, *south* of the present Eg) as "Old Eglinton" off Bermondsey.

From the W, I believe it stopped around Brentcliffe or so--the old Philips plant marking the "end of the road". (I miss the Philips sign that once overlooked Eg + Leslie.)

In effect, the Leaside/O'Connor viaduct combo was, for a good generation or so, an E-W proxy for Eglinton...
Note, also, that the Eglinton ROW from the east used to, like Lawrence (or Ellesmere/York Mills, or Sheppard, or Finch), jog northward--the stub of which still exists (paradoxically, *south* of the present Eg) as "Old Eglinton" off Bermondsey.

Bathurst and Steeles being another example.
There was never any such connection, or at least never any such "old route"--that funny street underneath the Sheppard bridge was always a cul-de-sac.

Also note re these jogs: I know they all exist, but I was specifically referring to the ones along Victoria Park...
Is there an official reason why concessions don't line up between Scarborough and not-Scarborough? Passmore is a full concession north of Finch east of VP, not Steeles...why do they shift? Then there's all the jogs on N/S roads at Finch.
Scarberian: Each township was surveyed differently, and even within townships, there are errors. So if each township was surveyed differently (though each time, land parcels were exact and consistant), the roads at the township borders (in this case Vic Park) don't quite meet.

Usually, surveying would start from a Base Line (the name still exists in many parts of Ontario). Eglinton was a base line through Mississauga and Halton, so you'll see that the concession roads in Mississauga don't line up (Kennedy is a concession north of Eglinton, Mavis south, but Hurontario was laid out first, so it doesn't jog). Eglinton must have been a base line in Toronto as well. Note that Keele, Bathurst, Dufferin all jog.

Within townships, there's jogs as well due to error. This is likely what explains the jogs at Finch. In Peel County, which used a "double-front" survey (resulting in EHS and WHS lines), the jogs are between the line roads in the concessions (look at Old School Road in Caledon)

Steeles is another township line, so few roads except Yonge and Hurontario, meets perfectly.
So pure errors caused Scarborough's concessions to be hundreds of metres off? And they managed to repeat the same error 7 times in a row at Finch?