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The problem of Erie Terrace (and why Craven Road has one really long fence)

On the east side of Toronto is a north-south street called Craven Road. It runs from Queen Street in the south to Danforth Avenue in the north. It’s an odd street in that there are only homes on one side of it — the east side. The west side is fenced off. No garages. No laneway suites. Just one long fence separating Craven Road from the backyards belonging to the homes on neighboring Ashdale Avenue. Given that Craven Road is a real city street with things like services and a name, you might be wondering, as I did, why this condition exits. Surely the people on Ashdale Avenue would be better off if they took proper advantage of their “through lots.”

What gives?

Turns out there is a reason for this and it dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Before 1923, Craven Road was actually called Erie Terrace. It began its life as a smaller laneway outside of the city and was initially home to a “shacktown.” The street was a kind of linear slum, housing new immigrants and providing a place for people to cheaply throw up whatever they could afford to build.

For a variety of reasons, Erie Terrace eventually became a problem and the City decided that it would be best to widen the street from its varying 18 foot width to the then standard 33 feet. The widening work was authorized in 1911. But as is always the case, there were a few problems. Who would pay for it? The City would pay for a bit of it, but the expectation was that the residents along Erie Terrace would also chip in. And since Erie Terrace was technically a one-sided street, they were in effect being asked to pay double what was typical at the time. Usually the burden would get split across both sides of the street.

There was also a socioeconomic question. The residents on Ashdale Avenue were thought to be wealthier than those on Erie Terrace and so they supposedly wanted the squalor out of their backyards. The City also had concerns that residents along Ashdale would use this double frontage to do wild and crazy things, such as build garages, sheds, and backyard cottages. Clearly there would be no room for such oddities after the widening.

I’m not sure which problem proved to be the thorniest, but ultimately a solution was found. Erie Terrace would be widened, but the City would retain a small sliver of land on the west side of it and erect a wooden fence in perpetuity. This would keep both groups separate and ensure that the folks on Ashdale — who had contributed some of their land, but not any money — didn’t get use of the road. And it has remained this way for over a century.

If you ask me, it seems silly to keep this fence up. This is an ideal street to infill with laneway suites and other missing middle-type housing. But I’m sure I’m not the first person to stumble upon this east end anachronism. For a more detailed history lesson on the Craven Road fence, click here.

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