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Woodbridge is a large suburban community (Estimated 2006 pop. 101,170) in the City of Vaughan, just north of Toronto in Southern Ontario. It was once an independent town before being amalgamated with nearby communities to form the city in 1971. Its traditional downtown core is the Woodbridge Ave. stretch between Islington Avenue and Kipling Avenue north of Highway 7. Woodbridge has a large Italian immigrant population but has been experiencing a growth of other cultures since 2000 with increased housing development.
Situated in hilly terrain of the Humber River Valley, Woodbridge rests at an average elevation of 200 metres between Highway 27 and Pine Valley Drive. The terrain can be described as a series of rolling hills and valleys requiring plenty of planning when road construction projects are initiated. There are numerous valley intersections that demonstrate the geography of the area, notably Highway 7 and Islington and Highway 27 and Rutherford.
The area was mainly farmland before the onset of suburbanization in the 1970s, but the residential communities are interspersed with forests along the Humber River and its eastern branch. Today, much of the area is residential with commercial and industrial properties to the south, close to the border with the City of Toronto and to the east near Pine Valley Drive.
Woodbridge has a humid continental climate (Koppen climate classification Dfa), with warm, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. Woodbridge winters feature cold snaps where maximum temperatures remain below -10 °C (14 °F), often made to feel colder by wind chill. Accumulating snow can fall anytime from November until mid-April. Summer in Woodbridge is characterized by long stretches of humid weather. Spring and Autumn are transitional seasons with generally mild or cool temperatures with alternating dry and wet periods. According to the USDA plant hardiness level Woodbridge is 5a.
A map of the Village of Woodbridge from 1878, prominently showing the Humber River. Also visible is the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway.
The community had its origins with the British Crown granting the west half of lots six and seven, concession 7 of Vaughan Township to Jacob Philips and Hugh Cameron in 1802. During the early half the 19th century, a school was built on Vaughan's eighth concession, a flour mill and store flourished at Pine Grove which is among the oldest areas of the city. A scattering of houses arose around Smith's mill (presently Hayhoe Mills on Pine Grove). Smith's mill later became known as Smithsville, but was eventually incorporated into the town of Woodbridge. A similar settlement, known as Brownsville, came into being around a mill run by John Brown on the Humber River on what is today Wallace Street in today's downtown Woodbridge business section. Woodbridge proper, however, did not begin to take the form of a settlement or village until the arrival of Rowland Burr in 1837. The town's name was changed to Woodbridge in 1855 because there was already a settlement named Burrwick. The name was taken from the wooden bridge that crossed the Humber River as an entry point into town. The historic bridge was located close to what is today Islington Avenue and Langstaff Road, on Langstaff looking north. A replica bridge circa 1930 made out of concrete remains close to the original bridge location and is accessible from Boyd Park and to a city maintenance facility. However, it has not been maintained for decades and is actually quite dangerous to stand on.
The Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway arrived from Weston in 1870. This line was constructed as a narrow gauge railway through Caledon and completed to Owen Sound in 1873. Owing to financial difficulty, it was operated by the Grand Trunk Railway until 1883, when it was leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway. Conversion to standard gauge required realigning some of the track curves, particularly around Woodbridge. In 1908 this line was linked to the transcontinental route through Sudbury, while the original route between Bolton and Orangeville, was abandoned in 1934.
Woodbridge was also served by a branch of the Toronto Suburban Railway until the 1930s. The Radial railway from Weston came in along the west side of the river, north of Humber Summit, after descending from its route along Albion Road and Kipling Avenue.
Construction of Highway 7 began in the 1920s, passing south of the business section and through an underpass of the Canadian Pacific. The original railway bridge spanned the valley of the Humber River, while construction of 407 ETR has undermined the banks of the river on both sides, requiring a third overpass for the railway. Hurricane Hazel in the 1950s ruined a bridge over Highway 7 and devastated much of the community. During much of this time, the land surrounding much of Woodbridge was used for farming. Slowly the area became populated with custom country houses.
Hay Bailer rental, due to the cost of farm equip most of it was rented out by a single owner who employed a team of workers that would come and work the equipment for any clients
In the 1950s, Woodbridge experienced growth from suburban Toronto houses. The suburban expansion began east of the Humber and East Humber and to the northeast. Prior to the expansion, the urban area was up to Kipling Avenue and to the Humber. It later expanded in the west up to Martin Grove Road with a north to south width of about 800 m in the 1960s and to the north and portions of the northeast of Langstaff Road. It later expanded north in the 1970s and the 1980s. A drive-in theatre from the 60s-70s was situated at Highway 27 and Langstaff near Martin Grove Road for many years until it was torn down in the late 1990s for residential houses. The housing developments in the west expanded north to Langstaff and in the central part of Woodbridge including a part which transformed older stores into smaller units of housing in the early-1980s and west to Highway 27 in the late-1980s and in 1992. The houses expanded north to 400 m south of Rutherford Road in the 1980s and east up to Weston Road from Highway 7 to 400 m south of Rutherford Road and south to 200 m north of the present-day Highway 407. The Industrial areas began appearing first to the west and then to the southwest and to the east.
The housing developments in mid-1990s expanded Martin Grove Road northward. Woodbridge Highlands was formed in the northwest, east of Highway 27 in the 1990s. In 1994 housing developments reached to Rutherford and continued until 1996 except for the northeast and the southeastern part. The condominiums began construction and now appear between Woodbridge Avenue and the Humber. Sonoma Heights at Islington and Rutherford and the Vellore area at Weston and Rutherford have been developed. The Vellore area includes Vellore Village developed by builders such as Greenpark Homes, Aspen Ridge Homes and Remington Homes. The Vellore Woods area was developed by Arista Homes and Fieldgate Homes. Development in the west end of Woodbridge then followed with Weston Rd and Rutherford becoming a major focal point for the building of additional residential units stretching north to Major Mackenzie. Land on both sides of Weston Road to Major Mackenzie were completely filled in. As an example of the scope of the development process, as of 2009 the entire area between Pine Valley Drive and Jane Street from Rutherford to Teston Road will eventually become houses. Houses were also built inside the Islington, Hwy 27, Major Mackenzie, and Rutherford quadrant. In addition, Vaughan Mills and a newer business section occupy the lands east of the 400, south of Rutherford. It is estimated that over 15,000 homes were built in less than 12 years with continued growth expected. All of these areas were previously fields less than 10 years ago with Canada's Wonderland previously sitting adjacent to hectares of empty farm land.
Woodbridge Avenue between Islington Avenue and Kipling Avenue was once home to some of the historical buildings from the late 19th century in addition to newer 1920s-1960s buildings, but is rapidly being reconstructed. Two examples of a histoic buildings include a Tinsmith Shop and Masonic Lodge (circa 1850) and the Burwick family home (from 1844 on Pine Street) that were moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village. Market Lane remains the commercial hub of this area, with several other shops and stores lining Woodbridge Avenue. Since 2000, there has been an increase in condominiums and apartment buildings on the historic avenue. Much of the avenue will be dominated by condominiums in the future as previous landowners have sold to developers.
The population was 3,000 until the 1950s, it reached 10,000 in the 1960s, 20,000 in the 1980s, 40,000 in the mid-1980s, 50,000 in the early 1990s, 60,000 in 1997 or 1998, and 70,000 in the 2000s, in the late 2000s, it is slightly over 100,000.
On August 20, 2009, a Tornado struck certain streets of Woodbridge, ripping off roofs from houses and leaving other buildings severely damaged.
Community identity and boundaries
Woodbridge has no political boundaries, but is commonly viewed as lying between either Highway 50 or Highway 27 to the west, Steeles Avenue to the south, Highway 400 to the east, and Major Mackenzie Drive to the north. However, new housing subdivisions being built north of Major Mackenzie between Pine Valley and the 400, have been given names like "Woodbridge Retreat" by developers, and will most likely extend the popularly accepted northeast boundary northwards to Teston Road.
Although Woodbridge is home to a large Italian-Canadian population, the area has seen an increase in almost every population from nations worldwide. Woodbridge is also considered by many law enforcement agencies and the community alike to be a hub for street racing in the GTA. Documentaries have aired on A&E (Inside Story: Street Racing: The Need For Speed) about the magnitude and organization of the street racing issue in Woodbridge.