by Chris Cameron
Published at 2016-04-20
Every city has its own peculiarities of spelling and pronunciation. Some things you just have to know – such as the fact that the first syllable of Houston Street in Manhattan is pronounced like "house." If you say "Houston" as it is pronounced in Texas, New Yorkers will know you are not one of them.
Toronto has its share of places and street names that are commonly mispronounced or misspelled by both residents as well as visitors. To start with, does anyone who lives here actually articulate the second "t" in Toronto? The name probably came from an Iroquois phrase indicating a place where the trees meet the water, and I'm sure they knew how to say it properly. But if you say "Toe-RON-toe" you are labelling yourself as a non-Torontonian. Let's hope the "t" doesn't eventually disappear from the official spelling.
And what about Etobicoke? Do you pronounce the "k" or not? Not, apparently. The name is originally from an Ojibway word and was transliterated – correctly or not – with a "k" in the spelling. No one seems to know why the consonant was eventually dropped in modern pronunciation. It could be pure laziness, although it's also possible that people simply thought that the no-k version sounded classier – like "pinot noir." And Etobicoians are nothing if not classy.
Speaking of classy, far out in the west end of the city is the quaintly named Baby Point Road. But don't ever pronounce it "bay-bee point." Long ago the locals gentrified it to the point where only "bah-bee" is considered correct, dahling.
Pronunciation-wise, it seems that the names that come to us from the UK give us the most challenges. And frankly, some do invite mispronunciations and misspellings.
Here at The Editing Company we have an easy address: Carlton Street. But just around the corner from us is a small side street that might make you pause before asking for directions: Grosvenor Street, presumably after the same place in London, England.
Decades ago, legendary CBC radio performer Max Ferguson and his sidekick Alan McFee used to ride on the Yonge (pronounced "young") streetcar, loudly wondering to each other when they were going to get to Gross-Venner Street. None of their fellow passengers, buttoned-up, taciturn Toronto businessmen all, could bring themselves to tell the two sham out-of-towners that Grosvenor was pronounced Grove-ner.
If you follow Avenue Road north past Lascelles (la-SELLS), you will come to Eglinton. Have you heard people pronounce it "Eglington"? It's a little easier to say that way isn’t it? Just remember not to put in the second "g" when you're writing it, because there isn't one.
We who live here know that the street running east from the Bloor Viaduct is called "the Danforth." Not Danforth. The "the" is what makes it ours – never mind that it makes the street sound like a seedy pub. In fact, a few years ago, John Stewart wondered aloud on The Daily Show what shenanigans our late mayor was getting up to "down at the Danforth."
Just south of Davisville Avenue, you will find Balliol Street. It is named after the college at Oxford, which in turn was named for John de Balliol, a thirteenth century Scots nobleman. Sir John would roll in his grave to hear his namesake street pronounced Buh-loil, as many Torontonians do. It is properly "Bay-lee-ole." This should be a no-brainer, but a surprising number of citizens transpose the letters every day.
A Google search will turn up plenty of references to the "Princess Gates" down at the CNE. There is no such structure. In 1927, the Prince of Wales, Edward (soon to be Edward VIII) and his brother, Prince George (soon to be George VI) visited Toronto to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. The ceremonial entrance gates on Strachan ("Strawn") Avenue were named in honour of them. Two princes. Their gates. The Princes' Gates. We editors would tell you that this is the plural possessive case of prince.
I'm sure there are dozens of others. What Toronto names can you think of that are mispronounced, misspelled, or otherwise mistreated by newcomers; even by people who have lived here all their lives?