If we had to pick any street to be considered the backbone of residential Leaside, McRae Drive would be it.
From the founding of Leaside, McRae has cut across the community from Bayview Avenue in the southwest corner to Eglinton Avenue East in the northeast corner. Since those early days, the north stretch has been clipped to end at Laird Drive, a couple blocks short of Eglinton where it now turns into Wicksteed Avenue heading east.
But throughout our history it has spanned the central community of Leaside, forming wavy X’s with our other curving residential streets like Bessborough Drive (Edith on old maps), Millwood Road and Sutherland Drive.
Since it crosses the community east-west, McRae is also one of our three most heavily travelled interior streets.
Leaside was first planned by the CNR as a residential area next to the railways shops it was planning to build in the open land north of Rosedale. The railroad hired Frederick Gage Todd to design the community. Todd created McRae and a couple of other streets as east-west arteries instead of Eglinton. The CNR plans were not adopted as proposed but much of Todd’s design came to fruition. You’ll note the number of our streets are named after CNR officials: Annesley, Hanna, Wicksteed — and McRae.
In Jane Pitfield’s book Leaside and some other accounts it is suggested that McRae was named for either prairies land tycoon Alexander D. McRae or for Leaside’s first mayor Randolph McRae (1913–1914). Given that Randolph McRae had been an official in the CNR land department, it seems more likely the street was named for him by Todd.
Also, you might note that “McRae Drive” appears on Todd’s map in 1912, the year before McRae became mayor, indicating it was his railroad connection rather than his political status than won him the honour.
(Incidentally, Randolph Road, which intersects with McRae, was also likely named for him. Which leads us to wonder if the first mayor ever thought of meeting at “the corner of me and me.”)
Traffic worries vary
Today, the traffic on McRae seems to vary as a problem to residents depending on which of the street’s three distinct sections they live on.
“Traffic is not really bad now,” says Jim Moncada, out working on his front lawn on the southern leg of the street. “But I’ve noticed it has got worse since the Eglinton LRT work began.”
McRae is one of the streets that commuting vehicles take to get through Leaside since Eglinton has become a driver’s nightmare.
Moncada’s part of McRae resembles quiet neighbouring streets like Bessborough and Hanna Road, with their big detached houses, deep yards and well-kept properties — a family area perfect for his own family, which includes two girls.
They’ve lived here seven years, since moving from Ajax. It’s a great area to live in, Moncada says, like being in a small town but with wonderful access to the greater city downtown, via Bayview just a few doors away.
But ask a resident on the busy part of McRae just north of Millwood about traffic and you might get a different answer.
“It’s horrible,” says a mother with her two young children near the intersection that features Trace Manes Park, a playground, tennis courts, the Leaside library branch and a church with a daycare program.
She points to a line of southbound cars at the lights on McRae, waiting to turn left or right onto Millwood. This is the infamous corner of course where 7-year-old Georgia Walsh was killed by such a vehicle three years ago.
Still she appreciates living in the area, she says, as it is close to the facilities at the heart of Leaside. “Everything is within walking distance.”
Then at the northwest end, on the last three blocks of McRae before Laird, the scene changes again. A garage, a fire station, a private school, several small businesses, low-rise condominium buildings line the roadway. At the corner are two pubs.
The traffic traversing the street turning onto or off Laird, which features several large and popular shopping centres, is relatively heavy. But it doesn’t seem to bother condo dweller Lisa Quinn.
“We knew this was in the thick of it when we bought here four years ago,” she says. “If we want to be near all the stores and still be able to get in and out ourselves quickly by car, well, we have to expect this.”
She’s looking forward to the nearby LRT station opening at Laird and Eglinton, so they can get around better by transit.
Then they’ll love the location even more, she says.