False Guilt and Robert Street

Blog 51 Image 2Writing the first draft of False Guilt, I needed a street close to the downtown campus of the University of Toronto where five students shared a house in the early 1990s and hid secrets.

I chose Robert Street, partly because I remember student housing there, partly because my second son shares the first name and partly because I think it’s quite charming.

Robert Street is west of the downtown campus parallel to Spadina Avenue, running north from College Street to Bloor Street. The street was laid out in 1873 by Robert Baldwin.

Robert Baldwin’s great-grandfather, another Robert Baldwin, and grandfather, William Baldwin, came to Toronto from Ireland in 1798. William Baldwin became a prominent doctor, lawyer and politician supporting responsible government. He is the namesake for Baldwin Street in Toronto and laid out Spadina Avenue in 1836. William’s son, the father of the Robert Baldwin who laid out Robert Street, was also named Robert. He too was an important politician who made contributions to the development of democracy and responsible government in Canada. (All this courtesy of Toronto Street Names – An Illustrated Guide to their Origins by Leonard Wise and Allan Gould.)

The Harbord Village Residents’ Association is doing a lot of great work to preserve the history of Harbord Village, of which Robert Street forms part. From their website, I learned that Harbord Village was once considered a poor neighbourhood and that residents would typically only live there until they had saved enough money to move elsewhere. Anglo-centric in the 1920s, over the next decades, the area become home for various other communities. Houses were divided into multiple units until gentrification began reversing the trend in the 1980s.

In the late 1960s, Toronto held a huge debate about making Spadina Avenue and Road into an expressway to downtown. Linked to this were discussions about demolishing area houses, including on north Robert Street, for high-rises and parks. Today, it is hard to imagine the effect of the expressway and those planning changes on Harbord Village.

And I would have been looking for another street for False Guilt.

Copyright ©2015 Peter Fritze

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