The Bay Street of old has come a long way from the Bay Street Condo Corridor that we know today. With massive modern towers bordering the street, it’s hard to imagine the humble beginnings it had back in the early days of Toronto.
In fact, Bay Street was one of the more “original” streets in the Town of York (as it was known then) that was created in 1797, however, at that time it was known as Bear Street. And you would hardly believe why: Because of frequent sightings of bears on the street! It was a shorter street back then, with it running from Queen Street to the Toronto Harbour only, yet it later stretched north to Scollard Street in Yorkville when the city extended it in 1922. This explains why there is a unique and unnatural curve in the road just north of Queen street, since that was where it originally ended, but to join it north, the street had to curve around present-day Old City Hall (which at the time was simply called “City Hall”).
If you look north of Queen Street, you will find a collection of smaller streets that do not line up: Terauley Street, Vincent Street, Chapel Street, etc. These were the foundations of the Bay Street extension, but it goes to show you that it wasn’t easy to connect them all together to create a smooth line. Also, you will see that north of Bloor Street in Yorkville, Bay Street was carved into perpendicular streets, as there were no streets to logically join together the way there was south of Bloor Street. The below map is from 1916:
Getting down to the core of Bay Street, the most notable changes to the street scape were due to the great fire of 1904 that devastated major sections of Bay Street and turned the lower part of the street into ruins. Unfortunately, we lost much of our city’s architectural history in that fire, however, it seems that much of it would have been leveled anyway with the coming of the financial skyscrapers to the neighbourhood. All of the current businesses could never have expanded properly with such short buildings.
To find out more about the history of Toronto and its ever-changing streets, take a look at the full map here.