The Yonge Street Story, 1793-1860


192 pages
Contains Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-896219-13-6
DDC 971.3'54102





Reviewed by Chris Raible

Chris Raible is the author of Muddy York Mud: Scandal and Scurrility in
Upper Canada.


The Yonge Street story, as these two books so marvelously testify, is
almost totally a Toronto story, or rather, myriad stories. As Route 11,
Yonge Street may extend a thousand miles to Rainy River, but only its
first few miles are the focus of these works. Penetanguishene and
Richmond Hill are more than mentioned, but almost all the action takes
place south of Sheppard Avenue—indeed, most of it south of Bloor

Originally cut as a military road to connect Lake Ontario with Lake
Simcoe and the upper Great Lakes, Yonge Street soon became the aorta of
central Ontario, from the heart of Toronto to the great body of
farmlands to the north. But to city folk, almost from the beginning,
Yonge Street was not so much a passage as a series of destinations.
Along the street sprang up banks, shops, theatres, churches,
taverns—all places to stop for, to go into. Occasional dramas—the
1837 Rebellion, the 1881 snow battle between streetcar drivers and
shopkeepers, Orange Lodge parades—were played out on the street, but
the ongoing important activities were along the street.

Both of these volumes are essentially social chronicles, detailing
particular people and events rather than analyzing statistics or tracing
economic or cultural developments. The Yonge Street Story is primarily
political, covering the eras of settlement, war, and rebellion.
Opportunity Road is more of a commercial history; much of its focus is
on retail merchants, local transportation, and places of entertainment.
Both books draw upon secondary sources—journal articles, local
histories, Toronto books—as well as newspapers and primary documents.
Sources are fully documented in footnotes and bibliographies, although
citations rarely appear for literary allusions. Both books are
adequately indexed. The first volume is a reprinting of the 1977
edition; the second is a new book, but it draws on none of the city and
central-Ontario research published later than 1980.

Generally illustrated with Berchem’s own drawings and maps (all of
which based on actual pictures and historical documents), both of these
titles demonstrate that an amateur historian can produce work that is
both lively and reliable.


Berchem, F.R., “The Yonge Street Story, 1793-1860,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,