Fifty years ago this month, a Toronto neighbourhood symbolically declared its independence from the city and Canada itself in protest of the then-imminent Spadina Expressway. It was in a spirit of civic disobedience that the Republic of Rathnelly was established in 1967.
That spirit will be on display in the small forested enclave placed in the shadow of Casa Loma, just west of Avenue Road and above the railway corridor adjacent to Dupont Road. After a year of consultations with the community and city, five local laneways are being officially renamed to enshrine the history of the neighbourhood.
With names like Rebellion and Stop Spadina lanes, there'll be no mistaking that you've entered the republic. Two of the laneways will be named for key players in the secession saga: Robin Fraser, an agitator and organizer who led the resistance against the (now defunct) Spadina Expressway plan and Aileen Robertson, a lifetime resident who was crowned Queen Aileen the First when the republic first split in 1967. The remaining laneway is named for world-renowned artist Michael Snow.
'The city thought that nobody really cared'.
That's exactly how this neighbourhood responded when the city approved plans for the Spadina Expressway. Meant to connect the downtown to burgeoning areas of north Toronto, the highway would have cut right through Rathnelly and likely led to the destruction of hundreds of homes. Part of the expressway was eventually built and was later named Allen Road. It still stands today.
In a grand gesture of defiance, the community decided to protest the proposed expressway by seceding. Under Queen Aileen the First, barricades went up at its border. A neighbourhood constitution was drafted. A new coat of arms was drawn. Passports were distributed. Bubbles, a black poodle, was elected head of state. The republic demanded Ottawa commit foreign aid for a new playground.
In the end, the "Republicans" won out and the plans to level homes and green space in Rathnelly was abandoned only years after it was first approved by the city.
Despite their victory, the neighbourhood has continued to mark its independence day with a summer celebration. While it may have been in good humour, the feeling of community that it seeded has never left the people that call Rathnelly home.