The History Of East York & Toronto Real Estate – Featuring Holborne Avenue!

Architecture, East York

Welcome to the Urbaneer blog on housing, culture, and design! I’m Steve Fudge and I’m celebrating my 31st year as a realtor and property consultant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

As an urban historian, I’m fascinated with the life cycle of housing and the evolution of neighbourhoods, particularly as they’re shaped by the fashions and forces of a free market and constrained by the materiality and utility of their built form. I recently wrote more about this in my post called, Gaudy Or Grand: Behind The Doors Of Multi-Million Dollar Mansions In Bridle Path & St Andrews-Windfields (Plus Lessons On The Lifecycles Of Neighbourhoods & Houses).

As a Toronto realtor celebrating 31 years in a dynamic occupation, I also revel in my front-row seat witnessing the City of Neighbourhoods transform from a provincial industrial port city in decline into a glittering post-modern metropolis expanding into its digital future. And given we’re in the early days of new economies, Toronto’s rebirth is in its infancy. Despite our current shifting real estate market, which I write about in Topsy Turvy: Insights From The Toronto Real Estate Trenches and in Is The Toronto Condo Market In A Precarious State?, the long-term forecast for Toronto is, in my opinion, up, up, and up.




The Evolving Neighbourhood

To illustrate this, we just listed a property for sale in East York where our Listing Title tells it all –> Refurbish A Quaint Cottage + Add A Garden Suite – Or – Build To Suit On A 30.8′ x  102.5′ Foot Lot In Danforth Village. In it, we share how the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario are responding to our housing crisis by introducing more initiatives to create housing alternatives. But in this post, I want to show how our housing stock has been changing since this charming residence was built 100 years ago.

This bungalow and Holborne Avenue – the street it’s located on near Coxwell & Mortimer – represent a microcosm of the evolution of shelter in East York and serve to demonstrate how the vernacular of our built environments have changed in size and appearance over the span of 100 years. Just walking down this one block shows how the typology of the freehold property market in this ‘early suburb’ of Toronto has adapted to the city’s expansion and growth. Today it’s considered a city neighbourhoood.




We Love The Bungalow – 1910s to 1950s –

Did you know bungalows first came onto the housing architecture scene in Bengal, India in the 19th century, when India was under British rule? These single-storey, small-footprint dwellings were initially built with the intention of becoming vacation homes; that is in part why the bungalow design often exudes a “cottage” feel. They were favoured largely because their small size and straightforward footprint could be built quickly and efficiently.

Over the years, this housing style gained popularity in the United Kingdom and then later in North America as an affordable, practical dwelling marketed primarily to the working class. In Toronto, although there are some striking examples of Victorian cottage-like bungalows in Cabbagetown and Corktown, as well as several working-class bungalows located downtown near Trinity Bellwoods Park and in Little Portugal, one is more likely to see this housing type in the early working-class suburbs of the 1920s and beyond. Areas such as Swansea, South Kingsway, and Mimico to the west – as well as neighbourhoods like East York, Leaside, and North Toronto – were filled with these economical modest homes. The building type really took off in popularity thanks in part to national housing programs which helped the post-war economic recovery and provided affordable housing for returning vets. Given the age of many of these homes, you will often find a number of character details from bungalows built during this heyday; those constructed in Toronto during the 1920s through 1940s will often have wood trim, built-in shelving, and leaded glass window details on opposite sides of their brick fireplaces. Incidentally, these details are very much present in our listing at 5 Holborne Avenue.

On the section of Holborne where our listing is located – which is between Binswood and Fairside Avenues -there are a total of 53 properties. Originally the mix of housing on this street was predominantly bungalows with a handful of 2-storey residences. Today, just 14 residences built between 1917 (No. 19) and 1924 appear similar to when they were constructed and 4 residences that were built between 1941 and 1953 follow the bungalow typology. According to Land Registry, a further 5 houses were constructed during this time period but they have since been substantially renovated and appear more contemporary.  All in all, one-third of the existing housing stock reflects their original housing typology (and 9% were subsequently substantially renovated at a later date not recorded on Land Registry). And 56% 0f the existing housing stock was constructed since the 1960s replacing older original dwellings.



The 1960s Through 1980s

Of the 53 residences spanning the block, 9 residences – or about 17% – were constructed during the thirty-year period spanning the 1960s through the 1980s. Three houses date from the 1960s, one of which is 33 Holborne – the only purpose-built multi-unit dwelling constructed on this section of the street – as well as the only pair of semis on the street (No. 45 & 47). Five houses, including the ‘four sisters’ in the photo above at Nos. 34, 36, 38 & 40 are the products of the 1970s. One handsome residence at No. 29 was newly constructed on its 40-foot lot in 1986. For those who know their architectural styles, I bet if you took a stroll you would be able to identify these properties by their decade.




From the 1990s To 2010

Starting in the 1990s small-scale developers started purchasing the aging single-family residences on the premium lots with 40 and 50-foot frontages and, after navigating the City’s urban planning and permit process successfully, were granted approvals to sever each property into two parcels of land from which the original aging and obsolete dwelling was demolished and two new larger detached houses were constructed in its place. This process gained traction because there were pre-existing examples of single-family residences on 20-foot-wide lots across the central core of the City that set precedence, plus the City recognized that newly constructed larger residences generated a revenue stream of permit fees and higher taxes. As a result, dwellings that had originally been limited to being no larger than 60% of the total square footage of the lot could get approvals to be as large as the total square footage of the lot (known as 1 times coverage), providing the envelope of the dwelling complied with the setback and height criteria mandated in each specific location. In other words, as long as the ‘minor variances’ requested by the developer or property owner were deemed reasonable, approvals would be granted. For the past 30 years, small-scale developers still follow this process and protocol of bureaucracy to acquire approvals for this ‘highest and best use’.

To date, 9 properties on this section of Holborne Avenue have been severed to create 18 new homes with lot frontages ranging from 20 to 25 feet wide, and a further 4 new houses have been constructed on existing single-family lots. Seven of these – all located on the south side of the avenue – went up in the 1990s. These are identifiable because they have facades of stucco or pink brick, and sloping driveways that lead to a garage below grade. Nine were created in the decade of the 00s which can be a little more tricky to identify, in part because the City of Toronto banned reverse-sloping driveways in the mid-2000s so one pair completed in 2003 (No 2 & 2A Holborne) have sloping driveways, while the remaining do not. They either have front pad parking pads or drive-in garages at grade. However, all of them have more architectural embellishment than the dwellings built in the 1990s (which was a period of economic austerity) including stone fronts or stone detailing like quoins surrounding the fenestration on the front facade.




A Fresh New Look For Domesticity

In 2017, three newly constructed 2-storey + lower level houses at 6, 8 & 12 Holborne Avenue reflected a growing trend in domestic architecture in Toronto that I -as a realtor representing real estate developers – had been promoting as ‘New Modern Masterpieces‘. Custom-built to exacting specifications using luxury materials, the developers of this new breed of domestic bliss rejected architectural tradition and replaced it with contemporary cubes comprised of clean lines, expansive walls of glass, soaring ceilings, and indulgent materials. Catering to the executive class who value quality and attention to detail, these residences offer architecturally elevated living in a city that has historically been very conservative in its housing.

Since then, three more residences – 1B & 1C + 15 Holborne – have been completed in this section of Holborne Avenue since January 2022. 1B & 1C Holborne Avenue sold for an average price of $2,320,000 a year ago. 15 Holborne is not currently on the market, but what’s interesting to me is that this is the first 3-storey + lower level dwelling to be constructed on this portion of the street. To accomplish this the owner elected to forgo a built-in garage and instead have surface parking. This may not appeal to a person who owns a Tesla, but with the futures forecast calling for driverless cars in less than 2 decades, it certainly is forward-thinking.

With 41% of the dwellings on this section of Holborne Avenue being constructed since the 1990s, and over a quarter of those being built in the past 6 years, it stands to reason that the future of this property includes the construction of a new dwelling. But we want to point out that, depending on a prospective purchaser’s particular needs, there are a number of interesting options available, some of which are only recently possible due to the City of Toronto’s own recent initiatives to create housing alternatives. These include retaining or replacing the existing bungalow and adding a Garden Suite as-of-right so two friends or family members can age-in-place; or going to the Committee of Adjustment to get approvals to construct a multi-generational family home, an income property, or a small condominium having as many as 4 units. How amazing is that?

At Urbaneer, we favour research, patience, and data when on a dwell hunt. We are here to advise you on the best property purchase for your needs today and in the context of the future as well. We’re here to help!

May my team and I be your realtors of choice?



Did you enjoy this?

Here are some other posts you may find interesting:

–> Dear Urbaneer: What Do I Do With My Dated Bungalow? (Plus A Brief History On This Housing Type)

–> Dear Urbaneer: Does Canada Have A History Of Building Affordable Economical Housing?

–> How Urbaneer’s Toronto Real Estate Marketing Program Sold This 1930’s Swansea Bungalow

–> Gentrification, Densification, And The History Of Toronto Real Estate

–> A Brief History On The Intensification Of The Danforth In Toronto

–> Why More Condominiums On The Danforth Is Good



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Thanks for reading!


-The Urbaneer Team

Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-800


– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –

Celebrating Thirty-One Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor


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