What’s in a Name?

by Markus O’Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

“Where do you live?”

How many times have you been asked that question? Whether you choose to answer with the name of a city, a neighbourhood, or even a street corner, the answer becomes part of our personal identity and often connects us more deeply with our neighbours.

We were very surprised last week to learn that the City of Toronto was changing neighbourhood names as part of a reorganization of local data collection. How could such changes be made without any kind of local discussion?

It turns out, the City is going through this process is so that it can more accurately group and analyse census data, and allow other community agencies to do the same. This is a good thing. With the next Canadian Census coming this spring, changes will allow for better-targeted programs to assist neighbourhoods in need.

The City previously recognized 140 neighbourhoods which had remained the same going back to amalgamation in the late 1990s. Many of these neighbourhoods have grown significantly over the past 20 years, including many in Willowdale. Splitting some, and increasing the number to 158 will allow a better comparison of the needs of individual neighbourhoods.

The impact to Willowdale is in the neighbourhood formerly titled “Willowdale East.” This area is now reflected on the City’s map as “Empress” for the condos between Yonge and Doris Avenue from Sheppard to Finch, “Avondale” for the community southeast of Yonge and Sheppard, and “Dunforest-Hollywood” for the remainder.

Has anyone out there ever said “I live in Dunforest-Hollywood,” as a way to explain their location?

Though these are only administrative titles used in data analysis, there is still deep symbolism in the change. This is the only list of neighbourhood names kept by the City, and seen by many to be “official.”

Losing the “Willowdale” name doesn’t sit well for some. The name is part of their community identity and firmly rooted in civic pride. When we talk about “East Willowdale,” it’s a location that others can immediately place.

Our neighbourhood names including Willowdale, Lansing, and Newtonbrook have a great deal of history behind them. The name Willowdale dates back to 1855 when David Gibson successfully had a post office opened on the corner of Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue. It eventually became the name used to define the surrounding area.

John will be preparing a motion to Council asking staff to return the newly dubbed “Dunforest-Hollywood” to its prior “East Willowdale” title. If you have thoughts on this, or on any of the other new neighbourhood titles, we’d love to hear from you.

For more information on the history of Willowdale, a great resource is Scott Kennedy’s Willowdale: Yesterday’s Farms, Today’s Legacy, available through the Toronto Public Library here.