Archives for posts with tag: Spacing Toronto

This post first appeared on Spacing Toronto, and was originally titled #FrenchTO

Last week I was driving along College enjoying a jazzy groove on 90.3 FM Espace Musique. When the song ended and the hosts returned to their banter, I found it strange to hear familiar Toronto neighbourhoods, streets, and venues spoken about in French.

This experience is definitely not restricted to the airwaves. I regularly overhear groups of people speaking French on the street or subway, talking about Toronto. It’s about the hundredth time hear College Street pronounced as “Rue de Collège” that I recognize Toronto as a thoroughly French city.

When you look into Toronto’s history, it makes sense that people would speak of Rue de Collège today. In fact, Toronto’s history is steeped in French. As plaques along the Humber River will remind you, the first Europeans here were French, and the maps they left of the GTA show familiar places covered in French names.

FrenchTO Map 3

FrenchTO Map 1

FrenchTO Map 2

The above maps are from the Historical Atlas of Toronto, by Derek Hayes, a necessary book for the Toronto-curious

Thinking about these old French maps of Toronto, it becomes less surprising to hear about Rue de Collège, or people calling Toronto’s Subway system the Métro, the way they refer to the systems in Paris and Montreal. I actually prefer the French term. Calling it a subway is misleading, as much of the tracks are actually above-ground. You need look no further than LRTs and streetcars to realize that confusing terminology can derail a reasonable conversation about rapid transit.

Recognizing all this Torontonian French history and hearing French heard on the streets and Metro makes me appreciate the significant French contingent in this city. Though Toronto is still reeling from its solid British colonial roots,the latest census lists  1.1.% of the city with French as their mother tongue (compared to 3% Italian, and 2% Portuguese). With roughly 50,000 French speakers in total, an informal survey on Toronto’s streets reveals that all dialects of French spoken worldwide — Quebecois, European French, Francontarian, Acadian, Manitoba-French, African French, Caribbean French, Middle Eastern French — are spoken in Toronto. Where else, other than maybe Paris, Marseille or Montreal, could you find this many ways of speaking la belle langue?

Though the dialects of French in Toronto come from far and wide, they do coalesce in a few places. There’s the Alliance Française, an organization that promotes the use of French language and culture, and Labo, a French arts organization. Toronto’s weekly L’Express newspaper, “le journal français du Grand Toronto” is a venue for the city’s Francophones of all origins.

In the pages of L’Express, Toronto is often called La Ville Reine — the Queen City. Though generally defunct, the nickname keeps our city bonded to its colonial British and puritan roots, and in a tongue and cheek way reminds us of historical rivalries between Toronto and Quebec, back when Montreal was sparkling city number one, and down the 401, Toronto the Good was simmering on dull.

Maybe it’s these past rivalries, and their continued manifestations today, that keep Toronto from fully embracing its French soul.


For one thing, our streets aren’t lined with Deppaneurs (Quebec’s version of the convenience store), where you can buy your groceries, cleaning products, wine and beer all in the same place. For now, Toronto only has oneDeppanuer — on Rue de Collège. While not quite the same (it’s a restaurant), this Deppaneur certainly carries the spirit of Quebec into Toronto.

The pilot program to put LCBO kiosks in 10 grocery stores is a good start, but here’s hoping that Toronto will take the cues from its thoroughly French past and present, and at some point, let its convenience stores sell beer.



Image: George Kelly of Toronto Life

Toronto Life picked up on a Spacing Toronto post I did about TTC’s 192 Airport Rocket, an express bus service to Pearson Airport that leaves from Kipling Station.

I am happy that Toronto Life agreed with me: this bus is not promoted well by the TTC, and is not widely known as a viable transportation option to the Airport.

Kipling planeA simple change to the subway map would make all the difference…

Thanks to Toronto Life’s megaphone, the idea has generated many comments, on Toronto Life’s website and its Facebook page. The general consensus seems to be that this service should be better promoted.

Screen shot 2014-02-21 at 9.17.14 AM

Many commenters, however, are offended by the notion that this bus would be called “secret”.

When you’re in a group, I understand that it’s hard to appreciate that there are others with different experiences and knowledge bases. Those that commented “this was a secret?” form a portion of Toronto’s populace — the Insiders — who are tech savvy enough to find the bus on google maps, not to mention participate in online debates!

In any case, the word is out. And that’s great, because more people using the bus means more pressure for better transit.

This post first appeared on Spacing Toronto

Landfill Island

I took this photo of Gibraltar Point Beach on a long walk around Toronto Islands during the city’s most recent cold snap. Because parts of the Island are exceedingly untamed, especially in the isolated winter, I was surprised to see Leslie Street Spit-style slabs of concrete and twisted rebar landfill breaking the otherwise undomesticated landscape of the Island’s south-west beach.

As past posts have explored, the Toronto Islands were formed when land from the dramatic erosion of the Scarborough Bluffs dropped into Lake Ontario and was pushed by the lake’s current to form a peninsular sand bar. Though always referred to as “The Islands”, a powerful storm in 1858 pierced its thin connection to mainland Toronto, rendering them islands in the true sense.

Looking at a few historical Toronto maps (courtesy of the fantastic Historical Maps of Toronto blog), the shape of the sand bar changes dramatically. For its first hundreds of years, the form of the Toronto Islands changed every year and after every storm.


Toronto Island, 1818

Toronto Island, 1834

Toronto Island, 1834

Toronto Island, 1860

Toronto Island, 1860

When the Leslie Street Spit peninsula made its final extension into the lake in the 1970s, the flow of sand from the Scarborough Bluffs was effectively blocked. Consequently, the Islands have been eroding, their sand pushed away by the lapping waves of Lake Ontario without the replenishing effect of the Bluffs’ accumulative currents of land.

The city’s response has been to dump landfill along the Island’s south shore to curb erosion. In fact, the City has been doing this for more than a hundred years. In 1885, with the vision of Central Park style forests, lawns and meadows, the City decided to “parkify” the Islands and began dumping soil and infill to landscape and tame the wild, constantly changing landform (picture the French-style geometric gardens that lead from Centre Island to the pier, and the constantly mown fields just to their west). More recently, the City has embraced Michael Hough style “natural processes”, and native plants are reclaiming their habitats.

In both cases — the historical parkification, and the current attempts to curb erosion — I can vividly see how this wild place is slowly being taken over by the deep urbanity across the Bay. As the Toronto Islands remain untamed in many senses, I hope that a delicate balance is maintained between the urbanity and wildness that characterizes Toronto’s frontier shoreline as we continue to negotiate the Island’s role in our cityscape.

Daniel Rotsztain is the Urban Geographer. After six years of formal and informal education in Montreal, Halifax and Amsterdam, he is happily back in his home-city of Toronto and ready to respond to it with words and art. Check out his website, or say hello on Twitter!


Exciting news, readers.

With experience writing for its counterpart blogs in Montreal and Halifax, it was inevitable. Your Urban Geographer has begun contributing to Spacing Toronto!

Spacing Toronto is the original Spacing blog and most closely associated with the fantastic work of the writers, artists and editors of the quarterly Spacing Magazine.

As you probably know by now, I grew up in Toronto, and feel a deep connection with this city, its history and geography. I look forward to sharing my observations, comments and responses to Toronto’s endlessly fantastic cityscape with Spacing Toronto’s wide readership.

Look out for my first post on the Spacing Toronto blog tomorrow!