Yonge Street originates on the northern shore of Toronto Bay at Queen's Quay, a four-lane arterial road (speed limit 50 km/h) proceeding north by north-west. Toronto's Harbourfront is built on landfill extended into the bay, with the former industrial area now converted from port, rail and industrial uses to a dense residential high-rise community. The street passes under the elevated Gardiner Expressway and the congested rail lines of the Toronto viaduct on their approach to Union Station. The road rises slightly near Front Street, marking the pre-landfill shoreline. Here, at the southern edge of the central business district, is the Dominion Public Building, the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts and the Hockey Hall of Fame, the latter housed in an imposing former Bank of Montreal office, once the largest bank branch in Canada. Beyond Front Street the road passes through the east side of the Financial District, within sight of many of Canada's tallest buildings, fronting an entrance to the Allen Lambert Galleria.
Between Front Street and Queen Street, Yonge Street is bounded by historic and commercial buildings, many serving the large weekday workforce concentrated here. Yonge Street's entire west side, from Queen Street to Dundas Street, is occupied by the Eaton Centre, an indoor mall featuring shops along its Yonge Street frontage and a Sears anchor store at the corner of Dundas Street. The east side boasts two historic performance venues, the Canon Theatre and the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres. In addition, Massey Hall is located just to the east on Shuter Street.
Opposite the Eaton Centre lies Yonge-Dundas Square. The area now comprising the square was cleared of several small commercial buildings and redeveloped in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with large video screens, retail shopping arcades, fountains and seating in a bid to become "Toronto's Times Square". It is used for numerous public events.
Another stretch of busy retail lines both sides of Yonge Street north of Dundas Street, including the Sam the Record Man flagship store until its closure on June 30 2007. The density of businesses diminishes north of Gerrard Street; residential towers flank this section. The Art Deco College Park building, a former shopping complex of the T. Eaton Company, occupies most of the west side of Yonge Street from Gerrard Street north to College Street. It was converted into a residential and commercial complex after the building of the Eaton Centre.
From College Street north to Bloor Street, Yonge Street serves smaller street-level retail, mostly in two- to three-storey buildings of a hundred years' vintage. The businesses here, unlike the large chains which dominate south of Gerrard Street, are mostly small independent shops and serve a dense residential community on either side of Yonge Street with amenities such as convenience stores.
The intersection of Yonge and Bloor Streets is a major crossroads of Toronto, informally considered the northern edge of the downtown core. The Bloor–Danforth line subway line intersects the Yonge line here, with the resulting transfers between lines making Bloor-Yonge Station the busiest in the city. The Hudson's Bay Centre and Two Bloor West office towers dominate the corner, visible both from downtown and beyond, with the south-east corner earmarked for a major condominium development. The intersection of Yonge and Bloor Streets is itself a "scramble"-type intersection allowing pedestrians to cross from any corner to any other corner.
Immediately north of Bloor, the street is part of the old town of Yorkville, today a major shopping district extending west of Yonge Street along Cumberland and Bloor Streets. North of Yorkville, Yonge Street forms the main street of Summerhill, which together with Rosedale to the east is noted for its opulent residences. The area is marked by the historic North Toronto railway station, formerly served by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR route parallels the foot of the Iroquois shoreline escarpment, which Yonge Street ascends here toward Midtown.
From approximately St. Clair Avenue to Yonge Boulevard, Yonge Street is central to the former suburb of North Toronto and features mixed low-scale residential, retail and commercial buildings. Major intersections in Midtown, served by some of the city's busiest TTC stations, dot the skyline with dense clusters of high-rises in an otherwise leafy residential setting. The intersection at Eglinton Avenue has become a focal point, serving as a high-density residential, commercial and transit hub. The site of Montgomery's Tavern is nearby, scene of a significant clash in the Upper Canada Rebellion and a National Historic Site.
North of Yonge Boulevard, Yonge Street traverses the deep forested ravine of the West Don Valley at Hoggs Hollow, a formidable obstacle in pioneer days and the site of one of the last of the former toll gates. The lower-density residential community and park-like setting here represent an interlude between North Toronto and the newer high-rise district beyond, towering over the valley. Canada's busiest section of highway (Highway 401) spans the valley via the Hogg's Hollow Bridge (exit 369). Leaving the valley, densities, traffic and the speed limit all increase (the latter to 60 km/h) on entering the downtown core of the former suburban city of North York. The street widens to a six-lane urban arterial road through North York, passing inner-suburb transit hubs at Sheppard and Finch Avenues.
From Finch Avenue to the boundary of Toronto and Highway 407 (exit 77) in York Region, Yonge Street is a suburban commercial strip, signed as York Regional Road 1. This 39 km (24 mi) segment is a busy suburban arterial, interrupted by the original town centres of exurban communities such as Thornhill, where the route crosses the East Don Valley in the upper part of its watershed. At increasingly higher elevations, the road traverses Richmond Hill, where the dome of the David Dunlap Observatory was a visible landmark on the route, and the town of Aurora. Between Richmond Hill and Aurora, Yonge Street is in a near-rural setting, passing a number of kettle lakes and traversing the crest of the Oak Ridges Moraine, thence leaving the Lake Ontario basin. Toward the regional seat of Newmarket, Yonge Street again serves as a main suburban artery, passing through low-density residential and still-undeveloped areas.
Regional Road 1 deviates from the original baseline 56 km (35 mi) north of Lake Ontario, bypassing the centre of Holland Landing with a north-west heading and thereby circumnavigating Cook's Bay and the lower Holland Marsh. The bypass was constructed in 1959. Regional Road 51, also named Yonge Street, branches off Regional Road 1 at the foot of the bypass to continue north through Holland Landing. This short section, known locally as the Yonge Street Extension, is co-routed with Regional Road 13. To the west of Holland Landing the main route crosses the Holland River and its polders near the town of Bradford. Resuming its original north by north-west heading with a 90-degree turn in the centre of Bradford, Yonge Street roughly parallels Lake Simcoe's western shore, traversing the rolling hills of southeast Simcoe County, and is signed Simcoe Road 4. The route ends in Barrie, less than a kilometre from Kempenfelt Bay, at a T-intersection with Essa Road.
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