Draper Street is notable for its collection of 28 19th Century Second Empire-styled row cottages. The houses were designated by the City of Toronto in the 1990s to have heritage status. The entire street is designated as a Heritage Conservation District as a way to preserve its heritage for posterity.
The street is named after William Henry Draper, a lawyer, judge, and politician in Upper Canada later Canada West. The street was laid out in an 1856 plan of subdivision by J. Stoughton Dennis of lands that were part of the 1794 Garrison Reserve.
The Street was annexed to the city in the 1830s. It appears on the city’s maps in the year 1857, though the exact year it was cut through the woods is unknown. In the 1880s, when houses were constructed, it became a working man’s community, unlike Wellington Place at its north end.
In 1997, the residents of Draper Street requested the Board of Heritage Toronto to designate the properties under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Draper’s most notable resident was Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first Black member of Parliament, who was born on Draper Street in 1922. His parents were immigrants from the West Indies and his mother worked as a maid and his father was a railway porter.
Not only was he Canada’s first Black MP, elected in 1968, he later became Canada’s first Black cabinet minister, serving as minister for labour. He served as the lieutenant-governor of Ontario from 1985 to 1991 (he was also the first Black person to hold that position). He was named the chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in 2012.
Residents in the shiny new condo buildings nearby may not know their neighbours. But on Draper, they celebrate the summer solstice together, meet for drinks in the shared garden they created on a vacant lot and babysit each other’s pets. They meet for movie nights and card games, and trade tips on how to keep their front gardens blooming.
When Mary Kohut turned 90 recently, the whole street came to celebrate. It was a fitting tribute for Draper’s oldest and longest resident, who moved in at the age of 9 when there was no traffic and the milkman and breadman came to the door. “My neighbours made me a beautiful party — cake and everything,” says Kohut, who still has all the birthday cards. Her family came to Toronto during the Depression from their Manitoba farm and lived in several Draper houses, including her current one, where she and her late husband Bill raised their son and her grandchildren regularly visit. One of seven children, Kohut remembers swarms of boys playing road hockey, girls skipping, everyone walking to school. No cars. Ukrainian treats from stores on Queen St. The biggest change? “All those buildings.” But some things are the same. “I love my neighbours. Anything I need, they come and help me.”
Draper's appeal comes from a combination of unique architecture, mature trees and friendly inhabitants, like Dizzy (the cat), our Vice Chair of the official Draper Welcoming Committee.
Taking a 'Draper Walk' is popular among history enthusiasts, tourists and site seers alike.