Home » History » North York Almost Switched Names to ‘Yonge’ in the 1960s

Then North York Mayor James Service examines a new building in his fast growing community. He advocated a name-change for North York. - Boris Spremo/Toronto Star file photo
Then North York Mayor James Service examines a new building in his fast growing community. He advocated a name-change for North York. - Boris Spremo/Toronto Star file photo

North York Almost Switched Names to ‘Yonge’ in the 1960s

‘A referendum was suggested but not held,’ writes Susan Goldenberg

In the late 1960s “Yonge” almost replaced North York as the community’s name and North York briefly had bilingual English/French stop signs.

As North York transitioned from rural to urban in the 1960s some people, including then mayor James Service, thought it should change its name so that it would no longer be seen as a northern outpost of Toronto. Service hired image consultant Chris Yaneff for $2,000 to come up with a suggestion.

Yaneff delivered his report in September 1968. He recommended that North York alter its name to Yonge for “self-identity” and also to provide a uniform postal address. North Yorkers had nine postal area addresses, none of them North York. Most residents gave their home addresses as Downsview, Willowdale or Don Mills.

A Globe and Mail article at the time included comments Yaneff made to a North York Board of Control meeting.

“North York does not exist in terms of international postal services, telephone and telegraph, shipping companies or people,” Yaneff was reported as saying in the Globe and Mail article. “The change of name with Yonge as a postal area with its own normal postal zones would put Yonge on the map in every way and into public awareness internationally. The new name, which offers great advantages, is so simple that I wonder why no one has apparently thought of it before.

“Yonge Street, going back to 1793 when it was started, bisects North York, which is only 46 years old. It is an easily remembered name. It is known from coast to coast. Nobody knows North York.”

Yaneff rejected any use of the word “York,” which he said was “already overworked” in the Metro area.

“Names associated with the Don River would have only local significance,” he further complained. So he ruled out hybrid names like Humberdon, Dontown, Donyork and Yongedon.

Some North York politicians cheered Yaneff’s suggestion. Others were strongly opposed. A referendum was suggested but not held. North York remained North York.

Service gained national attention when he had bilingual stop/arrêt signs installed even though most people in North York at the time only spoke English. Arrȇt was covered on one sign with red paint and on another with gold. Somebody even took a potshot at one. Service had the signs removed.

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on August 29, 2019, on toronto.com.