The Birth of Regional Planning

Planning and the War

Regional planning first appeared in the Toronto metropolitan region during the Second World War, as a direct outcome of wartime attitudes and circumstances. That is not to say regional thinking began at this time. The City of Toronto’s many connections to its hinterland had been obvious for years. Even before the First World War, Toronto City Council had considered setting up a political structure that reflected these connections. In the 1920s the matter gained more attention, as the urbanization of land outside Toronto’s boundaries — and Toronto’s refusal to incorporate these areas into the city — was raising new problems and questions. Several times in the interwar years the provincial government explored the possibility of introducing some sort of metropolitan coordination or revenue-sharing to make the delivery of public services in the region fairer and more efficient, but for various reasons it never took action.4 The problem of metropolitan or regional governance, in other words, had been a concern for several decades.

But it was the war that brought planning — that hard-to-define, somewhat utopian, activity of devising government policies and regulations to shape the future for the betterment of all — to the fore in the Toronto metropolitan region. There appear to be two reasons for this, one specific to the Toronto area, and one more widely applicable.

First, the economic expansion brought on by the war made planning a necessity. By the early 1940s, large wartime industries had emerged throughout the metropolitan area. There was Canada Small Arms at Lakeview, Victory Aircraft at Malton, Research Enterprises in Leaside, General Engineering in Scarborough, as well as munitions and electronics factories downtown on the waterfront. All these facilities brought in raw materials and shipped out products, and most employed thousands of workers, many of whom wished to live near their place of employment. The need for some sort of metropolitan coordination of physical infrastructure, land use, and housing was more urgent than ever.

At the same time, the war was making Canadians more accepting of government. Government was everywhere during the war, setting prices, rationing and allotting resources, controlling labour markets — not to mention providing unemployment insurance (in 1940) and family allowances (in 1944) — and it was not doing such a bad job of it all. The success of this intervention brought on the well-known “left turn” in Canadian politics during the war and the sharp rise in the popularity of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). In Ontario, the CCF very nearly won the election of 1943, prompting Ontario Conservative premier George Drew to announce, in 1944, his government’s commitment to “planning” — an activity that, on the broad scale Drew was referring to, had been associated until then mostly with the radical left.

The 1943 Master Plan

It was at this time, 1943, that Toronto’s first regional plan appeared, the product of a group of consultants working under the auspices of the Toronto City Planning Board. The coincidence of this 1943 plan with the growing appeal of planning and the leftward drift in Ontario politics is, however, a bit misleading. The full impact of the new wartime circumstances was just starting to be felt in 1942, when the planning board was established and the plan commissioned.5 And although the plan has a metropolitan scope, its focus is clearly on the City of Toronto, which had its own problems to worry about, not all of which were directly connected to the war. Not until the end of the war, and even more in the immediate postwar years, did the new spirit of planning fully manifest itself.

Nevertheless, the 1943 “Master Plan for the City of Toronto and Environs” is a reasonable place to start. Quite apart from whether or not it was spawned by the war, nothing on such a metropolitan scale had ever been done in Toronto before. It was an impressive piece of work.6

The plan is generally understood to have been the work of Eugene Faludi, an Italian-trained architect who had arrived in Toronto just after the war broke out. Faludi had been working in the leading architectural circles of Europe in the 1930s, but as a Jew had been compelled to flee Italy in the years before the war, first to England and then Toronto. On the strength of his credentials and up-to-date knowledge, he was welcomed by the City’s architectural and planning community, and he was soon put in charge of the Planning Board’s program (though several other experienced planners and engineers were involved).

Much of the plan was concerned with improving the City itself — modernizing the downtown, adding parks and open space, and renewing the city’s declining areas — but it also touched on several important regional matters. It foresaw a substantial expansion of the suburban areas around the city and proposed to keep that growth within a contiguous, fairly compact area in which the new “neighbourhood” style of residential development, with curved streets and plentiful open space, would be employed. It called for a network of superhighways and rapid transit lines in both the existing city and the new suburbs. It also proposed inner and outer greenbelts — we now know the latter as the Oak Ridges Moraine.

Though this 1943 Master Plan nicely illustrates the arrival in Toronto of certain international planning ideas, such as the modern “neighbourhood unit” and the expressway network, and for this reason deserves a place in the region’s planning history, its direct effect on the region’s development was not as great as one might think. The Toronto City Planning Board was a citizen planning board, not a government body, and it did not have either the authority or the budget to put its recommendations in place. Only the municipal council could do that, and Toronto City Council was decidedly cool towards this plan. In fact, the Council soon put city staff on the job of making another, more practical, plan. 

The Board continued working for a few more years, but Council paid less and less attention to it. Some of the plan’s ideas did find their way into later plans, a point that confirms its longer-term significance, but the Master Plan itself quietly disappeared. This episode was the last gasp of the regime in which plans were developed in civil society, under the auspices of citizen-business groups, rather than by the state.

Map from the 1943 “Master Plan for the City of Toronto and Environs”, as reproduced in the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Journal, June 1944. The numbers in the yellow areas are residential population projections.

Provincial Actions

The more direct roots of Toronto’s regional planning lie elsewhere, with provincial initiatives, rather than with the City of Toronto which, it is probably fair to say, has seldom had a productive relationship with its surrounding jurisdictions when it comes to regional planning or cooperating on the establishment of regional services.

In 1946, the Province of Ontario enacted a new Planning Act, which gave municipalities the power to create formal, binding official plans for their jurisdictions.7 This provincial Act — as clear a manifestation of the postwar planning spirit as one will find — is perhaps the most important single event in the region’s planning history. Several municipalities in the Toronto metropolitan area (including Toronto itself) immediately drew up and passed official plans. The most fully developed of them was a plan for the Township of Etobicoke, west of Toronto — drawn up in 1946 by none other than Eugene Faludi, who was by this time working as a private planning consultant.8

The Planning Act also allowed for the creation of joint planning boards involving more than one municipal jurisdiction. Under this provision, only a few months after the provincial act was passed, a group of professionals and concerned citizens, most of them from Toronto, created a Toronto and Suburban Planning Board (renamed Toronto and York the following year), with planning responsibility for the City of Toronto and 12 surrounding towns, villages, and townships.9

Population distribution in the Toronto Metropolitan Area, 1948, from the report of the Toronto and York Planning Board. Most of the population was still within municipal boundaries, but the three surrounding rural townships were all expecting and preparing for rapid urban growth.

The First Regional Plans

The Toronto and York Planning Board is not well known, even by those who concern themselves with such things, mostly because after a few years it was superseded by the more effectual Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board, and because it did not accomplish much that anyone now can see. It did not devise a regional plan, implement any land use restrictions, or carry out any infrastructure investments. But it was important nonetheless. 

For one thing, it was unmistakably a regional planning body, not a city planning body looking somewhat proprietarily at how growth might be managed in its hinterland. In this respect, it stands as clear evidence that municipalities in the Toronto metropolitan area and — perhaps more importantly — the Province of Ontario had awoken to the need to plan regionally for urban growth.

It also commissioned several studies that would end up shaping future plans and investments in the region. Probably the best known is the 1949 metropolitan water and sewer study by the engineering firm Gore & Storrie, which laid the foundation for Metropolitan Toronto’s massive piped infrastructure expansion in the 1950s. Also important were engineer Norman D. Wilson’s sweeping 1948 transportation plan, as well as some smaller studies on population distribution and projected growth.

Notes
4. These initiatives are well summarized in Wayne C. Reeves, Visions for the Metropolitan Toronto Waterfront II: Forging a Regional Identity (Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, 1993), 2-9.
5. By-Law No. 15761 (1 June 1942), Toronto City Council Minutes, 1942, Appendix B, 115-16.
6. Most accessible is the small pamphlet, Planning Board of Toronto, “The Master Plan for the City of Toronto and Environs,” December 31, 1943; much more complete is the Board’s “Second Annual Report of the City Planning Board” December 31, 1943, on which the pamphlet is based. The Board’s “Third Annual Report” from 1944 includes even more about their plans.
7. An Act Respecting Planning and Development, 1946, S.O. c. 71, s. 25.
8. The Etobicoke Planning Board, “A Plan for Etobicoke,” 1946.
9. “Report of the Toronto and Suburban Planning Board,” December 16, 1947.