Let’s begin at the start of Yonge Street, on the shores of Toronto Bay, Lake Ontario. A cool breeze is blowing across the water but otherwise, it’s unseasonably bright and sunny. The kind of weather that makes starting an urban hiking blog in the middle of November seem like a perfectly reasonable idea. The monument at the water’s edge repeats the legend that Yonge Street is the longest street in the world, beginning in downtown Toronto and continuing 1896 km to Rainy River, near the Ontario-Minnesota border.The distances to other cities on or near Yonge St. and Highway 11 are listed in brass letters on the pavement.
The street’s namesake, Sir George Yonge (1731-1812), might have been fascinated by the current debate over whether Yonge Street and Highway 11 should be considered one long roadway since he was an expert on Roman roads and thoroughfares in Britain in addition being Britain’s Secretary at War (1782–1783 and 1783–1794). Yonge never visited his street but he was a close friend of John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 to 1796 and so his name was added to the map of Toronto without him ever crossing the Atlantic.
Unlike Sir George Yonge, I have lived in Toronto for most of my life. I grew up in Etobicoke and now live in Midtown and work at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. I never stood at the start of Yonge Street, however, until the fall of 2015 when I presented my 1st book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, at the International Festival of Authors. The festival was at the Harbourfront Centre and Fort York and I spent more time exploring Toronto’s waterfront that week than in all my other years in Toronto combined. It’s time to spend some more quality time with the city I call home.
The start of Yonge Street intersects with Toronto’s Martin Goodman waterfront trail (named for a late President and Editor and Chief of the Toronto Star newspaper), part of the Trans-Canada trail. Yonge Street and Highway 11 combined are short compared to the expanding Trans Canada Trail. When the trail is completed in time for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, it will be more than 23,000 kilometres long, stretching from the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, the longest system of recreational trails in the world. From these bronze letters at the beginning of Yonge Street, I am going to walk a small portion of the trail in segments, wandering off the trail to explore interesting places along the way. I’ll be hiking and commuting rather than hiking and camping. I enjoy the outdoors but I am not outdoorsy. That is an important distinction. Also, it will soon be winter. In Canada.
My photos and thoughts on local history and travel will be posted here. An interactive map of the entire trans-Canada trail is available here.
The final destination of my travels on the trail is unknown but it will be sometime after I hear the words “That is a long walk from Toronto.”
Getting there on public transit: Subway to Union, Streetcar to Queen’s Quay, walk east
Further Reading: 200 Years Yonge: A History by Ralph Magel
Next: The St. Lawrence Market