Spadina Avenue runs south from Bloor Street to the Gardiner Expressway, just north of Lake Ontario. Lower Spadina Avenue continues the last block to the lake after the expressway. Another street named Spadina Road continues north from Bloor, but with new street address numbering starting over at zero. For much of its extent, Spadina Road is a less busy residential road (especially north of Dupont Street and the railway track underpass).
Spadina Avenue is commonly pronounced with the i as /aɪ/ as in mine; the Spadina House museum on Spadina Road is always pronounced with the i as in /iː/ as in ski. Historically, the latter pronunciation was used, with the former a colloquialism that has developed over the years.
The name originates from the Ojibwa word ishpadinaa, meaning "high place/ridge" or "sudden rise in the land." The Ishpatina Ridge, in Northern Ontario, which is the highest point of land in the province of Ontario, and the city of Ishpeming, in the state of Michigan's Upper Peninsula in Marquette County both derive their name from the same word.
Spadina was the original name of the street from Bloor Street to Queen Street West, built by Dr. William Baldwin beginning in 1815. The southern portion was named Brock Street and remained so until 1884. Baldwin designed the street, choosing its extra large width and placing the circle that is today 1 Spadina Crescent. He named the connecting Baldwin Street after himself, and Phoebe Street to the south was named after his wife Phoebe Baldwin.
For a number of decades, Spadina Avenue and nearby Kensington Market were the centre of Jewish life in Toronto with the area around Spadina being the home of the garment district—where many Jews worked—as well as numerous Jewish delis, tailors, bookstores, cinemas, Yiddish theatres, synagogues and other political, social and cultural institutions. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Jewish community moved north along Bathurst Street, but signs of Spadina's Jewish history can still be found in many locations. The city's Chinatown moved west along Dundas onto Spadina when much of the original Chinatown was expropriated to build Toronto's new City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square.
Most of the section known as Spadina Avenue is a six-lane urban arterial, with a speed limit of 50 km/h (30 mph), although it is unposted. The section known as Spadina Road is a two- to four-lane collector road with speed limits alternating between 40–50 km/h (25–30 mph).
The 77 Spadina bus route inspired a song, "Spadina Bus", which became a surprise Top 40 hit in Canada for the jazz fusion band The Shuffle Demons in 1986. In the 1990s, however, the TTC rebuilt and reinstated the 510 Spadina streetcar line, which runs largely in a dedicated right-of-way in the middle of the street since its opening in 1997. Prior to the construction of the Spadina LRT, streetcars ran down the street until it was replaced by the 77 Spadina bus. Bricked road bed was used along the streetcar route. Small sections of the brick road bed remained until the LRT was constructed.
In the 1960s, city hall was planning to tear up Spadina and most of the buildings on either side to construct the Spadina Expressway, a proposed highway that would have run straight into downtown. After a long public battle, with the opposition to the project led by Toronto urban writer Jane Jacobs and former Toronto mayor John Sewell, the plans were halted in 1971.
The Forest Hill Jewish Centre has announced plans to rebuild the façade of the Great Synagogue of Jasło, Poland, which was destroyed by the German Army in World War II, as the façade of its new building on Spadina Road.
- Lake Shore to Queen Street
The southern section of Spadina was the heart of Toronto's industrial area for most of the 20th century, but in the 1970s, most of the factories left. Most of the land south of Front Street is infill on Lake Ontario. The Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome) was opened just east of Spadina in 1989. This area was previously the site of the CNR Spadina Roundhouse. Some land along this portion of Spadina has also been redeveloped into the condominium tower complex of CityPlace. The road once cross the railway lands with a pony truss bridge built in 1926 and replaced with the current bridge in the 1990s.
- Queen Street to College Street
The intersection of Dundas Street West and Spadina is the centre of Toronto's second-oldest Chinatown (the oldest was located at Dundas and Elizabeth Streets), with many restaurants and shops catering to the Chinese community. The Chinese Spadina began in the 1970s after the departure of Jewish Toronto (1920s to 1960s) from the area. It supplanted an older Chinatown centred on Dundas Street West and Elizabeth Street, which was disrupted when New City Hall was constructed in the early 1960s.
Just west of the avenue in this area is the famed Kensington Market. The famous Shopsy's Deli was located on Spadina north of Dundas Street, but it later moved and burned down in the 1980s.
The intersection of Spadina Avenue and College Street is known as an inexpensive place to buy electronics, with a number of independent stores in the area. It is also the location of the El Mocambo, where the Rolling Stones performed one night to a small audience that included the soon-to-be ex-wife of Prime Minister Trudeau.
- College Street to Bloor Street
North of College Street, the avenue forms the western border of the University of Toronto and is home to several businesses catering to students, as well as university facilities such as the Athletic Centre and a number of student residences. Just north of College Street, the roadway splits into a traffic circle, called Spadina Crescent. The building in the middle of the circle was built as Knox College, but now houses University of Toronto offices.
- Spadina Road
North of Bloor Street, Spadina Avenue gives way to Spadina Road. Here the street passes through the upper-middle-class neighbourhood known as The Annex. For this stretch of the road the Yonge–University–Spadina subway passes underneath. Two stations, Spadina and Dupont, are under it.
Spadina Road is interrupted just north of Dupont Street by an escarpment, Davenport Hill. The two sections require traffic to divert via Davenport Road, Walmer Road and Austin Terrace. There is a flight of stairs and walkway in Spadina Park between the two sections of Spadina Road. Spadina Road continues atop this escarpment in front of Spadina House, one of Toronto's largest mansions. Casa Loma is also nearby. The house and the street are named after the escarpment, the word ishapadenah meaning "hill" or "rise" in the Ojibwe language. Spadina Road continues north through the wealthy neighbourhood of Forest Hill. Starting north of St. Clair Avenue and continuing a few blocks further north is lower Forest Hill Village, which forms the main street of a small commercial area, the historical downtown of Forest Hill before Toronto grew around the town. Forest Hill continues to just north of Eglinton Avenue. The street continues north through this green, rolling residential neighbourhood. This stretch is served by the 33 Forest Hill bus route.
North of Eglinton Avenue, Spadina Road is again interrupted, here by the trenched right-of-way for the defunct Belt Line Railway, now a popular walking trail. It briefly resumes north of Eglinton, and ends at New Haven Drive (1100 Spadina Road - Northern Preparatory Junior Public School - Toronto District School Board). To access the section north of Eglinton traffic diverts via Eglinton Avenue and Chaplin Crescent. The road ends at New Haven Drive next to Northern Preparatory Jr Public School.
- Spadina Road, Richmond Hill
A separate, unrelated Spadina Road exists in Richmond Hill, Ontario, in a suburban development that takes many of its names from roads in Forest Hill. This suburban road runs from 16th Avenue north to Major Mackenzie Drive.
- 1 Spadina Crescent — Knox College (1875–1914)
- El Mocambo
- The Globe and Mail
- Hotel Waverly
- Knox Presbyterian Church
- The Scott Mission
- Standard Theatre — later as the Victory Burlesque, Golden Harvest and lastly Mandarin; it is now a dollar store (stair portion only) and RBC branch (main level)
- University of Toronto Athletic Centre
- Donegan, Rosemary. Spadina Avenue. Douglas & McIntyre, 1985
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