City won't fix laneway because it's owned by a man who's been dead for 118 years

The city has told residents that it can't fix an often-flooded, pothole-riddled laneway in Kensington Market because it's private property. But CBC Toronto has learned the owner has been dead for 118 years.

'Every single day is an axle-busting adventure,' say a resident with a garage on the laneway

Kensington resident Adam Wynne showed CBC Toronto one of the deep puddles that form in the lane, thanks to a clogged storm sewer drain. (Lisa Xing/CBC News)

An often-flooded, pothole-riddled laneway in Kensington Market has left some nearby residents feeling as though they've fallen through the cracks.

The city won't maintain the busy lane, because staff says it's actually private property. But the last known owner of the strip of land behind Bellevue Avenue died 118 years ago.

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The laneway runs south of College Street near Borden Avenue. The Kensington Community School sits on one side and the garages of local residents line the other.

Schoolchildren, cyclists, joggers and others use the laneway routinely, even though it's pocked with deep potholes, and frequently used as a dumping ground for garbage, locals say.

Christine Nielsen uses the laneway to get in and out of her garage. 'Every single day is an axle-busting adventure,' she says. (Lisa Xing/CBC News)

"It is disastrous," said Adam Wynne, a local resident who has been trying unsuccessfully to persuade the city to fix the laneway.

"You have flooding issues, erosion issues ... You also have massive, massive dumping issues, where people are dumping old furniture, hazardous waste, sometimes roadkill carcasses."

As well, Bellevue homeowners rely on the lane to enter and exit their garages. They too say they're frustrated at its dilapidated state.

"The only way we can get here is down this alley," Christine Nielsen told CBC Toronto. "Every single day is an axle-busting adventure."

After every rainstorm, the lane becomes a pond, locals say, because the storm drain is clogged. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

She says when she and her husband asked the city to fix the laneway, they were told it's not the city's problem.

"The lane is not public. It is private," a letter in her possession from city staff reads.

"According to Land Registry Office records, it has been owned by R.B. Denison since 1861."

Because it's unregulated, some people dump garbage in the orphan lane. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

Denison family records indicate that Robert Brittain Denison, the last known owner of the land, died in 1900.

Although he had 12 children, he outlived almost all of them, and a family spokesperson says he has no knowledge of the orphan laneway.

In an email to CBC Toronto, city staff said "there is no record of the laneway having ever been assessed and therefore there is no tax bill issued/generated for the laneway."

"Hundreds of people a day use this as a footpath," Wynne told CBC Toronto.  "For all intents and purposes it's a thoroughfare; it just doesn't exist on paper in the city records."

Part of a larger problem

Coun. Joe Cressy, who represents Kensington, says he'll look into having the city expropriate the land, after which the city can begin maintaining it.

But he says the lane is part of much larger problem.

"As the city evolved, we had hundreds of laneways that are privately owned that are now used as community laneways but not maintained as public streets."

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at


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