St. James Town History

St. James Town began to grow in the 19th century when it became a semi-suburban area home to the city’s middle class. The area was rezoned in the 1950s, and the nineteenth century homes were levelled, and apartment towers — inspired by Le Corbusier’s Towers in the Park concept — were erected. Each tower accommodated thousands of residents surrounded by green space, but with few amenities. Each of the buildings is named after a major Canadian city.

St. James Town Condominiums

In the late 1960s, the developers attempted to acquire land south of Wellesley, as far as Carlton Street, to expand the St. James Town development. Many residents of the area resisted, with the support of civic activist and future Mayor of Toronto John Sewell. The St. James Town expansion was cancelled, and the homes that had been demolished were replaced with several housing cooperatives. Aerial Photograph of St. James Ward, 1942 St. James Town was originally designed to house young “swinging single” middle class residents, but the apartments lacked appeal; many prospective tenants instead moved to suburban houses in the developing areas of Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York. The area quickly became much poorer. Four buildings were later built by the province to provide public housing. Today, the towers are mostly home to newly arrived immigrant families. In 2001, the City of Toronto launched a major initiative to improve the area, including the construction of a new Toronto Public Library branch and community centre, which opened in 2004 at the corner of Sherbourne and Wellesley. On September 24, 2010, a fire broke out on the 24th floor of 200 Wellesley St East (the white building behind the library and community centre). Fourteen people were taken to hospital due to injuries, including three firefighters and two children; three of the injuries were classed as serious. The cause of the fire was determined to be a cigarette thrown from a balcony above. In 2013, St. James Town became the host of the World’s Tallest Mural, pending approval by Guinness.