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2005 04 02
imageSpadina’s name sets it apart from other Toronto streets. It suggests a different way of regarding the world. Spadina is a word in the Ojibway language. It’s practically the only street name in the city that recalls Toronto’s original inhabitants. Maybe that’s why wave after wave of immigrants have felt comfortable on Spadina.

When Dr. William Balwin arrived at the start of the nineteenth century, there was no Spadina – just a marked-off western boundary for the town site of York. The town, then as now, spread north from the Lake Ontario shore. Along the way the ground rose slightly, almost imperceptibly; today you only notice the grade if you are riding a bicycle. After several miles, far past the limits of settlement in those days and well into the bush, came a steep ascent just above the meandering line that is now Davenport Road. It marked the original shoreline of the lake before the glacier retreated. It’s called Laeke Iroquois in that incarnation. Here on Davenport Hill, Baldwin built a home and called it Ishtadinauh – “gradual rise of land.”

From his hill, Baldwin could look out on a fine vista all the way to the lake. Perhaps one day he pictured a road – no, a broad avenue lined with trees – leading right to his door. Between 1813 and 1818 he laid it out, 131 feet wide. It was later widened to 160. This made it over twice the width of streets like Yonge, Bloor, and Lot (later Queen). Who knows why Baldwin made his street so wide? Maybe as an early attempt to enhance property values; certainly during the nineteenth century many fine homes were constructed along Baldwin’s avenue. Perhaps it was just a quirk. At any rate, the results were profound.

R. Salutin, Introduction to Spadina Avenue by Rosemary Donegan, Douglas & McIntyre, 1985.
[email this story] Posted by Brad Golden / Lynne Eichenberg on 04/02 at 08:59 AM

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