In the early days of North York Township, transportation options were limited. Yonge Street was the main thoroughfare through the township. The radial railway ran on Yonge Street, providing service to the various villages dotted along the route. Other communities in North York, such as Downsview, Oriole, and Fairbank, were served by either dirt or gravel roads.

Things began to change in the 1950s with the construction of arterial roads. Highway 400 opened in December 1951, and from 1952 to 1956, the 401 was completed from Weston Road to Bayview Avenue in stages. The Don Valley Parkway opened in segments from 1961 to 1966. Highway 404, the northern extension of the DVP, opened in 1977. These arterial roads, in conjunction with various railways traversing North York, made the township very attractive to industrial and commercial enterprises looking for space and accessibility.


Map of the City of North York showing major streets and city boundaries.
City of North York map
[ca. 1980]
Series 2563, File 33, Item 1


Colour view of highway 401 on ramp with three curving lanes, white car in the middle lane.
Highway 401
[ca. 1967]
Series 249, File 118, Item 1
Black and white overhead view of multilane highway intersection with parking lot and large commercial building in bottom right corner of image.
Highway 401 and the Allen Road, with the Yorkdale Shopping Centre parking lot in the foreground
[ca. 1969]
Series 1745, File 14, Item 40

The Spadina Expressway was another highway proposed in the 1950s to link downtown Toronto with the northwest part of North York. Part of the route was built, between Lawrence and Wilson avenues, but massive protest against the further southward continuation of the highway resulted in the cancellation of the project by Premier Bill Davis in June 1971. This did not sit well with Esther Shiner, who ran for election to the North York borough council in 1972 on a platform to complete the construction of the Spadina Expressway. Shiner’s election campaign was successful, and as an alderman, she was able to claim some victory when the road was extended south to Eglinton Avenue in 1975. The portion of the expressway that did get built was renamed the William R. Allen Expressway in 1969, and the name was further revised to the William R. Allen Road in 1980.


Black and white view of around 25 people holding signs along side of a road with cars on it. Police officer standing on the road directing people.
Go Spadina Expressway rally
June 1974
Series 2686, File 14, Item 2
Black and white photo of billboard mounted on a pole over a road busy with cars says Traffic jam... courtesy Bill Davis. Go Spadina with Esther Shiner.
Billboard expressing support for the Spadina Expressway
September 25, 1974
Series 2686, File 14, Item 1
Black and white view of two men in TTC caps pulling down on metal lever.
North York Mayor Lastman and Toronto Mayor Crombie throwing the switch on the North Yonge subway
March 1973
Series 1745, File 6, Item 6


Automobiles and transport trucks benefitted greatly from new road construction, but public transit made significant gains in North York as well. By March 1973, the Yonge subway line had been extended northwards from Eglinton to York Mills Station. The work was completed in March 1974 with the opening of Sheppard and Finch stations. In the west, the Spadina subway between St. George and Wilson stations opened in January 1978, while in the east the Sheppard subway, between Sheppard-Yonge and Don Mills station was completed in 2002. Finally the Spadina line was extended beyond the Downsview station (opened in March 1996), all the way to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre in December 2017.


Black and white view of subway train breaking through a painted paper sign that reads Get Ready North York Here Comes the Subway
Opening day for the extension of the Yonge Subway to York Mills station
March 1973
Series 1745, File 6, Item 9