Giving a lane a name

Near the intersection of Yonge and Wellesley streets in Toronto, lies a small oasis of green space. It may only be three feet wide, but the community garden runs the length of the YMCA building on Breadalbane Street.

The Bay Corridor Community Association (BCCA) placed it there as part of its effort to beautify the local environment. Kathryn Holden is the BCCA secretary.

“We won a Clean and Beautiful award from the City for that one,” she said.

But whenever Holden visits the garden, she must first enter a cartographical black hole. The garden lies on a lane that runs between Wellesley and College streets, just west of Yonge Street. A lane without a name.

A current map on the City of Toronto’s website gives it the descriptively-challenged moniker: “laneway,” while Google’s Internet map doesn’t even identify it. According to Desmond Christopher, from Toronto’s Mapping Services division, the lane is not alone.

“There are thousands of unnamed lanes in the city, especially in the downtown area,” he said.

If Holden and the BCCA have their way, the city will soon have at least one less. They want theirs named “St. Luke Lane” after St. Luke’s Church, a Bay Street landmark until its demolition in the 1930s.

Christopher said the City has seen an increase in requests in the last year.

“We have no intention of naming 10,000 lanes, so we’re not promoting it,” he said. “We vet the proposal to make sure it’s not a duplicate and it’s not offensive.”

St Luke Lane faced its latest hurdle at April’s Toronto and East York Community Council meeting at City Hall. Councillors voted to adopt a staff report recommending the new name. With a stroke of her pen, committee Chair Janet Davis signalled success.

“Motion carried,” she said.

The final stage will see residents and businesses on the street notified before the name goes to the full city council. Kim Devine co-owns Saved by Technology, a digital music retailer on the lane. Devine worries the proposal could cause her problems.

“All our listings would have to change,” she said. “That would be a lot of hassle.”

According to Christopher, the naming will make it easier for emergency services to locate the lane when they are called out, but Devine says it won’t help her new customers. Their location off Yonge Street tends to need a great deal of explanation.

“We’ve been there for 20 years and we’ve always had that problem,” she said. “I think we always will, unless they name the street after us.”

Holden says practical considerations are only one factor for naming a lane.

“It’s about reclaiming backlanes for everybody,” she said. “We want to make it more beautiful and make it part of our community.”