Tax alternatives have taken their toll

This archival photo shows some of the tolls charged on Toronto’s roads before toll gates were eliminated in the city.  Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1279
This archival photo shows some of the tolls charged on Toronto’s roads before toll gates were eliminated in the city.
Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1279

In the news the last while, our elected officials have been looking at some new ways of filling their coffers. Taxation? Well, yes, but how about something else? Some minds of the brain trust have come up with an idea: how about toll roads in the city?

The province allowed a company from outside the country to run the 407 – it’s making millions of dollars for this foreign company. The province set up a lucrative toll road on the Burlington Skyway bridge, which covered construction costs for this gigantic project.

If these roads can be so successful, why can’t we do the same to our entrances to the city? Let’s put toll gates on the western approaches on the Gardiner expressway. Why don’t we put tolls on the DVP? We could put toll gates on the east and west ends of the city and make millions.

There is only one concern. Over 150 years ago there were toll gates, and the main ones were near here, in our own East End.

The government of the day tried to get farmers, city folk and everyone to pay for the privilege of using highways. Over the years, different types of road construction were tried. Trees had to be cut down, land cleared, swamps and ponds drained and bridges built.

This was quite a formidable task. Winter would bring ice, sleet and snow, spring and summer would bring rain and mud, and in most cases, the roads were impassable.

What about roads built of logs, the famous corduroy roads? What about roads of crushed rock and stone called macadamized roads?

Many construction types were tried, some good, some bad.

Private enterprise was willing to take over, and the roads went out to tender. Of course several consortiums were willing to take the enormous projects on, thinking that they would make a profit – that’s what capitalism is all about.

There were a few main roads with toll gates every few miles. Yonge Street, Kingston Road, Dundas Street and several smaller highways had tolls. In many cases, these roads were indispensable to commerce and the military. The army had to be able to move in case of rebellion or war.

In the case of commerce, the main market was St. Lawrence in Toronto. The only way farmers’ wagons could reach the market was by Yonge Street in the north, or Kingston Road in the east.

Here in the Beach, we had several toll gates over the years on different parts of Kingston Road. One was at the current intersection of Kingston and Victoria Park, and the other was at Woodbine and Kingston.

The toll gates were good business for small hamlets such as Norway, because when the farmers became tired or hungry they could stop in the different inns that had sprung up along the way. There were several, such as The Blacksmith, Norway House, Small Bros., Ontario House, O’Sullivan’s Tavern and the Painted Post.

Tolls would be set at, say, 7 cents for a wagon full of hay or 5 cents for a leisure vehicle, but the price wasn’t always the same at the different toll gates. Sometimes some tried to make a little extra profit on the side.

Some farmers might try to get to market by other roads, but often they would become stuck in mud or snow, and would end up having to use the toll roads.

Most toll gates were operated by families, and often someone would be on watch 24 hours a day. Other times some wouldn’t be open on Sundays or holidays.

Woodbine and Kingston was one of the busiest, as Dawes Road also led to Kingston Road, and some days hundreds of vehicles would be on the road to the city.

Eventually, with the building of the railroads, the era of toll gates came to an end.

Let’s take a look at the Painted Post toll gate, which stood at the junction of Kingston and Victoria Park (then called the Town Line, at the border between the townships of Scarborough and York). The road didn’t go far north of Kingston Road until well into the 20th century. The painted post itself was said to be a first nations symbol, though others say it was connected to the French.

Whatever the reason for the painted post, it was the reason for the name of the Painted Post toll gate. At this corner was an inn catering to farmers and other travellers. Many rested there before heading on to the St. Lawrence Market. Though there are a few taverns with old fashioned names now  – such as the Green Dragon – the Painted Post is now only memories.

One enterprising family living in the former village of East Toronto set up its own toll gate at Beech and Kingston, though it was shut down by the village. The toll gate in Norway, at Kingston and Woodbine, was another family affair, which lasted 50 or 60 years.

Here and now, why don’t we set up a toll gate again at Victoria Park and Kingston, call it the Painted Post, and extract a fee from these ‘foreign devils’ coming through our beloved Beach? Then let us set up another at Queen and Woodbine and call it the Firehall toll gate. Then another at Woodbine and Kingston, called the Norway toll gate. This way we might keep ourselves free from all these would-bes and wannabe Beachers.

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