In the bustling metropolis of Toronto, where every corner seems to have a story to tell, there’s a hidden world that even many locals might not be aware of – private streets. These elusive lanes are like the VIP sections of Toronto’s urban landscape for a select few.
While the city’s main streets are busy playing host to a perpetual parade of pedestrians, cyclists, and the occasional raccoon on a mission, private streets are like the members-only clubs of the concrete jungle. Imagine if Toronto’s roads had a secret handshake – these streets would be in on it.
For the most part, Toronto has shied away from the trend of fully-gated communities, but there are areas within the city that embrace the concept of private living. This can be seen in the various private streets that are found across the city.
These private streets, which number in the hundreds, unlike their public counterparts, provide their residents the opportunity to manage certain services themselves rather than relying on the city. That means that the community members are responsible for securing services like garbage collection, snow removal, leaf blowing, and sewer maintenance. Another perk of being on a private street is that if any resident wants to throw a last-minute street party, they can without having to apply for permission from the city.
Generally, these services are paid through a fee imposed on those living on the street, with the amount each household contributes determined by the property’s size and its frontage along the road.
And while a majority of these private roads are just access roads on private property, such as Hart House and King’s College circles on the University of Toronto campus, many are much more notable beacons of history that have been paved into the city – pun intended.
Percy Street, for example, is located just east of Sumach and is affectionately known as the “Republic of Percy.” Its origins can be traced back to the late 19th century when property developer James Quinn laid out the street between 1885 and 1890. This charming street boasts two-up-two-down mansard roof homes that were predominantly occupied by workers from nearby distilleries and breweries.
What sets Percy Street apart is its rich and colorful history. In a surprising turn of events in 1988, while renovating one of the homes, workers stumbled upon a hidden treasure—a stash of $50,000 in depression-era Bank of Canada bills concealed behind a false ceiling.
Then there’s Benlamond Drive. Nestled in the Main Street and Gerrard neighborhood, this private street is home to two impressive residences, one of which is the William Stewart Darling House. Built in 1873, this historic gem is closely linked to Toronto’s meatpacking industry. It was once owned by William Davies, a prominent figure responsible for earning the city its “Hogtown” nickname.
Similarly, Melbourne Street which is located in the southwest vicinity of Queen and Dufferin, is a short dead-end street graced with seven exquisite Victorian terraced homes in the English Mews architectural style. This charming street was originally planned as one of the city’s early non-public enclaves around the turn of the century. And while there may not be any explicit signs discouraging visitors, the wrought iron gates at the main entrance serve as a reminder that it is private property.
And of course, there’s the famous Wychwood Park, which compared to other private streets, is open for public access and one of the city’s best known private thoroughfares.
Located at the intersection of Davenport Road and Bathurst Street, this iconic private street holds a significant place in Toronto’s history. Established in the 1870s, it was originally designed as a haven for artists. It has been home to several notable figures, including Marshall McLuhan, George Agnew Reid Sir William, and Anatol Rapoport. And, thanks to its rich history, in 1985 when Wychwood Park earned the distinction of being the first residential zone in Ontario to receive heritage status. The community has evolved over the years, and today it consists of 60 homes, managed by an executive council.
However, despite the allure and history of some of these private streets of Toronto, not all residents are fans of the concept. While these streets offer a number of advantages for the residents who live on them, they have also stirred up some controversy over the years surrounding access disputes and concerns about exclusivity.
In previous years, Wychwood has been mired in its fair share of controversy.
And, most recently, residents put up a padlocked gateway on Clarendon Crescent, stopping many who don’t live on the street from accessing the road. It’s currently sparking a debate amongst nearby residents, with many arguing that this denies them access to a cherished walking and jogging route.
As we conclude our journey, the private streets of Toronto serve as witnesses to a quieter, more secluded chapter in the city’s ever-evolving story for better and sometimes for worse.