Thursday 6 March 2014

Toronto Trivia - History Behind the Yellow & Blue Street Signs

Toronto celebrates its 180th Birthday and to commemorate it, I thought I'd share a piece of historical trivia.

Some Torontonians may recall seeing many street signs like the one pictured below. The history behind their design goes back to the early days of Toronto, before the invention of the automobile. 

From the very beginning when Toronto was still called 'York' the streets were in a grid running north/south and east/west. 

As anyone coming up from the subway can tell you, it's easy to get turned around at an intersection and it can take a few moments to figure out which direction you're facing. I remember when I first moved to Toronto how catching a glimpse of the CN Tower would tip me off to the fact that I was going the wrong way.

In the 1800s they didn't have the CN Tower (or any other tall buildings) as markers, so the people of Toronto came up with the idea of painting two different colours on their street signs:

Yellow signs:  For the streets running east / west. Yellow like the sun which travels east to west. 

Blue signs: For the streets running north / south.  Blue representing water, like the Toronto harbour where merchants and farmers went to do business.

Since 1967, the major intersections like Yonge/Bloor, Jarvis/King, Eglinton/Mt. Pleasant, etc, continued the colour scheme in illuminated signs that could be seen better on winter nights.

Unfortunately, LED lights didn't exist yet so incandescent bulbs were used. The bulbs had to be replaced often and were subject to short circuit with weather.  During the late 1990's, unaware of its historical significance, the City of Toronto began to phase out these illuminated signs. 

The only one left is the one pictured above at Bay & Queen. 

Alexander Galant is the author & historical researcher of Depth of Deception (A Titanic Murder Mystery)


  1. Born and raised in Toronto and that's the first time I've heard about the reasons behind the colors. Interesting, Thank you.....

  2. The ones in the photo were taken down in 2013/14. There is still one at Logan and Danforth. The signs were referred to as centennial signs for Canada's 100th, and many had the stylized centennial logo on the end side of the sign box.

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