More than half a million people walked along Yonge Street in downtown Toronto this Thanksgiving weekend, marking a return to pre-pandemic pedestrian levels along the busy corridor.

The numbers are included in an analysis conducted by the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area (DYBIA), which was released on Monday. The BIA says that the pedestrian volumes captured in the analysis are an increase compared to the same weekend in 2021, 2020 and even pre-pandemic in 2019.

“People are back on our streets in big numbers – a sign, hopefully, that the economic recovery is continuing to gain momentum,” Pauline Larsen, interim Executive Director of the DYBIA, told

The DYBIA’s analysis showed more than 525,000 pedestrians on Yonge St. from College/Carlton Street to Queen Street during the October long weekend, compared to about 449,000 in 2019, and fewer than 221,000 during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

“In 2020, at its worst, the [pedestrian] traffic counts went down about 87 per cent a year. It was a very, very dramatic decrease in activity down here. And of course, events also stopped and a lot of stores were closed. So in many ways, it was a very quiet, unusually still neighborhood, which is not what downtown Yonge typically is at all,” Larsen said.

Larsen said the spring and early summer of 2022 saw new businesses open in the area and her BIA has seen a fairly steady increase in pedestrians since then.

“There was a signal of hopefulness, of business, pedestrians and shoppers coming back and then this latest data for the Thanksgiving weekend is the first time that we've seen a long weekend have higher foot counts than in 2019.”

Larsen says the BIA is in the process of examining retail sales data from the long weekend and is hopeful they’ll see an increase compared to last year.

The increase in pedestrian traffic in the area goes hand-in-hand with increased office occupancy levels over the past few months, even though they remain less than half of what they were pre-pandemic.

The Strategic Regional Research Alliance (SRRA) releases a monthly occupancy index that tracks average weekly office attendance in downtown Toronto, calculated as a percentage of pre-pandemic occupancy.

As of Oct. 15, it was at 35 per cent, up from 20 per cent in April and less than 10 per cent in February.

“Although the index isn’t as high as expected by mid October, more and more employees are returning [to work] at least once a week. Interviews with human resource professionals suggest that this will continue until a balanced competition for good jobs returns,” the SRRA said.

“Employers believe overwhelmingly working remotely is not as productive as many believed early in the pandemic. If this is the case, employers will start to limit the allowable amount of remote work in a wider range of functionality.”

For September and October of this year, the DYBIA says pedestrian traffic levels are roughly 10 to 15 per cent below what they were pre-pandemic, but are significantly higher than in 2021.

Larsen says the return of in-person learning at the nearby Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) has had a big impact on downtown businesses.

“TMU has a large student population and a big campus with a lot of activity. And that doesn't even take into account the faculty, administrative staff or executive staff, so it's a big population that comes back into the neighborhood and you could feel the difference when university was back in session,” said Larsen.

Larsen added that even though overall pedestrian traffic is starting to approach pre-pandemic levels, most of the activity is concentrated on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, while before the pandemic, pedestrian visits to the area were more spread-out across the week.

“They tended to be more stable. And I'm sure part of that is the impact of a hybrid work model where there are more people in on certain days of the week. And I would say some of that is also people being out and about on weekends, wanting to come down to events and be outside in the parks and public spaces,” Larsen said.

GO Transit has previously said that ridership is back at pre-pandemic levels on weekends but is still only at around 50 per cent on weekdays.  

Going into the holiday season, downtown businesses are hoping the increase in pedestrian activity and in-person shopping continues, even as healthcare and infectious disease experts warn there could be another tough winter ahead.

“We are optimistic – albeit cautiously – that the holiday season will see the upward trend continue,” Larsen says. “More pedestrians means more shopping, more dining, more business – and that’s good for everyone.”