Canada’s Premium Retail Streets Get Streetscaped!

Canada’s most prestigious shopping districts are embracing the power of building beautiful and Streetscaping!

Toronto’s Bloor and Yorkville Streets as well as Montreal’s Saint Catherine Street are being rebuilt, repurposed and reimagined into truly wonderful places where people can shop, dine, relax, work and live. 

Video of Yorkville by Bosley Real Estate published to YouTube July 15, 2013

The streetscaping of the Bloor-Yorkville shopping district began in the fall of 2007. City officials were undertaking watermain replacements along Bloor Street and the Bloor Yorkville Business Improvement Area Association proposed the idea of a streetscape transformation. The $20 million project got underway on July 9, 2008 and work spanned over 2.5 years. The Bloor Street section was completed in October of 2010.

“Fully funded by the Bloor Street BIA members, the $20 million project boasts 134 beautiful London Plane trees, planted in innovative and sustainable soil cell systems, to promote optimal growth, along with widened, pedestrian-friendly granite sidewalks and curbs, seasonal flowerbeds and attractive up-lighting for each tree. 80 bike rings and 27 granite benches have been installed, along with all the trees and plantings.”

bloor street plaque

Photo:  Bloor Street, June 2014, AJG

Video published on YouTube by Torontopia, July 16, 2015

The excellent website has documented this process in the following links:

urbantoronto bloor street

Image:  architectsAlliance

On Bloor Street the utility lines were already undergrounded during the construction of the Bloor Street Subway Project in 1966. This had also occurred on Yonge Street in 1954. Trees had been planted but not in sufficient numbers.  Also many of Toronto’s recently planted trees were not growing as well as hoped. Silva cell technology was introduced to provide better and larger root chambers. Today this system is also being implemented in Toronto’s spectacular new waterfront revitalization and streetscaping project at Queen’s Quay.

Video published to YouTube by August 16, 2012

Another way to bring the benefit and beauty of greenery into a streetscape is planting in pots, containers, raised beds and planters.  This lovely scene was observed along Bloor Street in 2014 in front of a retailer.

Bloor St Pots

Photo:  Collection of pots in front of Bloor St retailer, Toronto 2014, AJG

The finished streetscape is wonderful!

Bloor St ROM

Photo: New granite sidewalks, trees and planters Bloor St. 2014, AJG

New restaurants, bars and cafes line the streetscape.

Bloor St

Photo: Outdoor bar on Bloor St, 2014 AJG

The really wonderful thing for taxpayers is the Bloor-Yorkville business community paid for the streetscape upgrades like granite curbs and sidewalks, granite planters, benches, lamp posts, trees and plantings.  The fact that some rather savvy business people are prepared to make a $20 Million investment in the public realm speaks volumes regarding the incredible value of streetscaping and building beautifully.  They know that people want to spend time in beautiful places and as with time, they will also spend money!  What is it they say about time and money?

Streetscaping is one of the best public sector investments possible because it yields increased private sector investment and spending as well as all the tax revenues that come with it.  Streetscaping is the ultimate shovel ready, skill diverse, geographically dispersed infrastructure project putting people to work in the streets building their skills and pride as they build their communities.

The question is often cost.  Streetscaping does not have to be expensive.

In the Bloor-Yorkville application, as well as in the new Queen’s Quay application, very expensive materials and finishes are being used.  Granite curbs and sidewalks, for example, are more expensive than poured concrete.  Queen’s Quay’s new red and grey granite sidewalks, dry-laid in a maple leaf motif, certainly has taken streetscaping to a new level!  Many of the same benefits will still apply to less expensive applications as long as the two key streetscaping elements of tree planting and undergrounding of utility lines are implemented.  The decision for higher end materials is frankly a matter of market size and wealth.  Canada’s two largest cities can justify these increased investments.


Photo:  Dry-laying the two color granite maple leaf design, Queen’s Quay, June 2015, AJG

The additional expense for granite pavers etc. can certainly be justified by the size of the Toronto market.  More importantly, it can be justified not just by the quantity of private sector investment that it is creating, but by the quality of private sector investment.  Bloor-Yorkville is home to some of the most premium brands in the world.  One such brand is world famous Toronto-based Four Seasons Hotels.  Their new flagship hotel reflects the extraordinary quality-based revolution going on throughout Toronto as well as the excellence of their global brand.

Please find below links to the reports at regarding the new Four Seasons Hotel, as well as a link to visionary landscape architect and urban designer Claude Cormier’s web page regarding his wonderful landscape design and garden.


Photo: Claude Cormier + Associés

Finally official Toronto is stepping up to the plate by providing the basics of good streetscaping, undergrounding utility lines and planting trees.  Surely the additional property taxes going to the City of Toronto from such world class private sector developments like those in Bloor-Yorkville can pay for some “extras”.  Certainly private sector investors are doing their part.

The real winners are the people who come and enjoy these extraordinary places.

Congratulations Toronto and Bloor-Yorkville BIA for your outstanding beautiful streetscapes!  You will reap the rewards from this investment for decades to come!

Montreal’s Sainte Catherine Street is Canada’s second premium shopping district.



Photos: Rue Ste. Catherine Street, Ville de Montreal

Montreal is Canada’s leading streetscape city. Unlike many other Canadian cities, Montreal embraced the two key elements of streetscaping, undergrounding utility lines and planting trees, many decades ago.  Indeed, Montreal was Canada’s first great metropolis and had always been influenced by leading international design movements.  In the late nineteenth century leading Montreal businessmen like Sir William Van Horne, President of CP Rail and President of the Montreal Plan Commission, understood the importance of building beautiful.  He was influenced by the tree lined boulevards of Paris, the fact that New York had undergrounded its utility lines in 1888 due to the Great Blizzard of 1888 which brought down its utility lines and disrupted business, and by Chicago’s City Beautiful Movement in 1893.  Tree lined streets with buried “overhead wires” were central to these visions.  Van Horne commissioned a City Beautiful Plan from its founder architect Daniel Burnham in 1902.  Burnham, however, was unable to provide this plan as he was too busy with American Cities.  It seems Montreal and its business leaders still got the message.

“A city is now held most progressive when it shows the fewest wires, not when it presents their greatest network”

Improvement of Towns and Cities, Charles Mulford Robinson, 1901

William Van Horne’s vision of beauty as a wise investment was manifest in his magnificent collection of railway hotels which grace Canadian cities and parks from coast to coast.  Today they are entrusted to Fairmont Hotels and are iconic international symbols of Canada’s beauty and identity.

Visionary builders know that “doing things right” and building beautifully yield far better returns than mediocre “do it on the cheap” short sighted building.

undergroud conduit_universite_et_sainte_catherine_tgp

Photo:  Undergrounding utilities circa 1930, Archives de Montreal

Today Montreal is once again embracing this visionary principle along its premier shopping district Saint Catherine Street. 

St Catherine Street

St Catherine winter

Images: Daoust Lestage

Video of St. Catherine St. published to YouTube May 19, 2015

Video: Avenue 8 Images: Daoust Lestage

The following link is to the official website by Ville de Montreal.

“We have chosen audacity, innovation and flexibility to offer Montrealers a new development of quality, a brightened Ste-Catherine that will be more attractive and dynamic,” Mayor Denis Coderre

The new Saint Catherine Street will widen its sidewalks to 6.5m allowing for café or other flexible seating.  Many new trees will be planted in Silva Cells.  Low profile curbing and “shared street” principles will apply.  But most interestingly seasonal flexibility will be implemented so the street configuration can be changed.  On-street parking can be provided at certain times, full pedestrianization can occur during festivals as well as a multitude of different uses accommodated.

Smart-City and Smart-Street components like free Wi-Fi access, electric vehicle charging stations, energy-efficient lighting, and applications for smart parking will lay the foundations for future growth.

Another extremely important innovation will be heated sidewalks.  Several European and American cities have had great success with this.  Imagine the end of slush, ice, salt, sand and mess!

Heated Sidwalk

The following link documents some of these changes along St. Catherine in an article at the Montreal Gazette by Eva Friede.

Work will begin in the spring of 2017.  Congratulations Montreal on these wonderful streetscape plans!

In both the Toronto and Montreal streetscapes very premium and expensive materials and designs are being used.  The power of streetscaping and building beautiful, however, does not require premium materials nor cost, and will still apply to much smaller markets and populations.

The historic city of Saint John New Brunswick has also been a Canadian streetscape leader.  Saint John, and indeed all of New Brunswick has been struggling with a stagnant economy for some time.  Interestingly, in 2015 almost all the private sector investment in Saint John has been happening along streetscaped streets.

The historic Prince William Street was streetscaped in 2014 and 2015.  Already new private sector investment lines the street.  In the following photos wonderful historic buildings are being restored and converted to lofts, condos, retail or professional offices.

Pr William Condo Dev Photo: Prince William Condo 2014, AJG

Pr. William 2

Photo:  Prince William after streetscaping 2015, AJG

Pr William Princess

Photo: Prince William restorations 2014, AJG

Pr William

Photo:  Private sector renovations after streetscaping 2015, AJG

In the Prince William Street application, antiquated utility lines were buried, poured-concrete and brick sidewalks laid, many new trees planted and granite curbs installed.  The granite curbs were an additional expense justified by City Council as Prince William Street is also Canada’s first designated historic streetscape and integral to the wonderful Trinity Royal Historic Preservation Area.

Another significant private sector investment is happening along Canterbury Street.  This historic street was streetscaped in the 1990s.  In this application concrete curbs and brick sidewalks were sufficient.  In 2015 local developer Historica is restoring and reimagining a historic car and carriage building and converting the space to street-level retail and new lofts.

Canterbury Street

Canterbury Street 2

Photos: Canterbury Street, Saint John 2015, AJG

See attached link to their website:

Below is a link to a YouTube video of Keith Brideau, President of Historica sharing some news regarding the restoriation and redevelopment on Canterbury Street.

Video:  Published to YouTube May 23, 2015 by Keith Brideau and Historica Developments

Below is a link to a Globe and Mail article on Historica regarding its success in restoring historic properties along restored streetscapes in Saint John.

Streetscaping in Saint John is not limited to the historic downtown.  In the beautiful and growing retail development at East Point, poured-concrete sidewalks, concrete curbs as well as substantial numbers of trees and planters are being used along the streets and in parking spaces.  A new flagship Sobeys and a new Liquor store are the latest additions to this wonderful retail development.

East Point 2

East Point 3

East Point 1

Photos: East Point, Saint John, NB August 2015, AJG

Please see attached link to East Point.

Even in smaller cities and markets like Saint John, the power of streetscaping and building beautiful is fostering significant new private sector investment,  jobs, tax revenue and economic growth.

There are only 5 Elements to Streetscaping and they are not necessarily expensive:

1.  TREES AND PLANTINGS include considerations for plant species, spacing, canopy, color, root chambers, fixed or movable planters, as well as green storm water management plans.

2.  UNDERGROUND UTILITY LINES include considerations for joint trench design, at-grade or below grade equipment, Smart meters and fault detection, lamp posts, WI-FI, fibre capacity, Smart sensors etc.

3.  STREET DIMENSIONS AND PAVING include considerations for “Complete Street” designs for pedestrians and cyclists with widened sidewalks, cycle lanes, accessibility, traffic volumes and patterns, traffic calming measures, medians. parking requirements, transit requirements and surface materials and design.

4.  CURBS AND SIDEWALKS include considerations for sidewalk widths, cafe seating, bulb outs, dedicated or integrated cycle lanes, sidewalk materials, accessible curbing, storm drainage choices especially green storm water management utilizing planting swales, rain gardens and permeable surfaces.

5.  FIXTURES AND FURNISHINGS include considerations for LED lighting, Wi-Fi, Smart Sensors, flexible seating, waste receptacles, water fountains, movable planters, way-finding and signage.

Congratulations Toronto, Montreal and Saint John and all your business leaders who are embracing the power of building beautifully and streetscaping!

Build beautiful Canada!  Build beautiful!

Author:  AJ Good, Streetscape Canada

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