Cabbagetown cultivates lanes
Lane-naming a tribute to ‘hidden gems’, noteworthy Torontonians
Laura Blenkinsop, National Post
City works crews arrived last week amid the Victorian row houses and cottages of Cabbagetown, halting their trucks at eight narrow laneways. Residents watched as they erected street signs with names like Woodward Evans Lane, after the two Torontonians who first invented the light bulb and then sold the patent to Thomas Edison; Drovers Lane, after the occupation of some early City of Toronto residents who drove herds of livestock to market; and Hagan Lane after award-winning artist Frederick Hagan, known for setting up his easel to paint in Cabbagetown’s laneways.
It is the first lane-naming project of this scale in Toronto; before they are done, 44 more lanes will get names.
They are a tribute to the persistence of Douglas Mc-Taggart, who has spent three years pushing to name all the back alleys in Cabbagetown.
“There’s a beauty to the laneways now, and I think it’s really trying to accentuate the positives,” said Mr. McTaggart, chairman of the Cabbagetown Preservation Association Laneway Naming and Signing Initiative.
“They’re part of the Victorian plan so they are historic. I think there is so much potential for them.”
Cabbagetown, named for the flood of impoverished Irish immigrants who used their front lawns for vegetable gardens filled with cabbages, is shedding its slum past, although not quickly enough for some residents.
The signs erected this week are all in the neighbourhood’s more troubled western edge.
Mr. McTaggart’s inspiration to name lanes came as a way to deal with the problems he faced in the alley behind the Seaton Street home he moved into in January, 2002.
A Toronto Community Housing Corporation building is across the alley from his home and with all the residents, he said over time garbage was piled five to six feet high and 20-feet long. He found used syringes and broken glass when children in their bare feet were playing nearby.
After a drug deal gone wrong, a person was thrown to their death off a balcony into the alley, he said.
“I believe it’s a liability to have an unnamed thoroughfare in Toronto in this day and age,” said Mr. McTaggart. “It’s really life and property that are at risk.”
His complaints to the city proved fruitless, he said, so in 2004 he decided to submit an application to get the troubled lane a name.
In December, 2005, his back alley was officially named Oskenonton Lane, after a First Nations entertainer from the early 1900s.
Since the lane’s naming, Mr. McTaggart said he’s noticed a reduction in crime.
The TCHC building’s garbage is collected three times instead of once each week and new lighting has been installed.
“It really was a tangle of issues of urban decay,” Mr. McTaggart said. “Naming and signing the lane was a step that really vaulted us forward.”
He decided nearby lanes should also be named so they could be cleaned up, to speed up emergency response times and increase traffic safety.
So the human resources consultant and historical preservation enthusiast bought property data maps and spent three winter weeks canvassing the area and noting down the locations, problems and historical icons of every lane.
He also created the laneways initiative, which submitted the application to name 52 lanes on March 22, 2006. Desmond Christopher, the city’s supervisor for Street and Parcel Mapping, said that is a lot of lanes.
“Normally we don’t name lanes unless we are required for emergency purposes,” he said.
The city also names lanes if a new building’s front entrance looks onto an alley instead of a street, or if city councillors and residents want to honour someone who has died.
For the signage for the first eight lanes, the city has spent about $2,500 in labour and materials.
Mr. McTaggart intends to continue his activism for the laneways, pushing for road surface, sewage and greening improvements until Cabbagetown’s lanes are “hidden gems.”
He said he’s been humbled by thank you e-mails he’s received from neighbours for the signs that have already been installed.
“I don’t think anybody should undervalue the signage that’s in place,” he said. “Signage brings great benefits.”
Incoming search terms