A&P is part of Toronto’s retail history, especially so because the franchise does not exist anymore in the city.
In the 1950s, the American-based company, formally called the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., opened several new super markets in Toronto’s outer communities. These stores and their eventful inaugurations offer a lens into not only the history of the brand, but also the emergence and evolution of Toronto’s inner suburbs.
5559 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
The A&P at 5559 Dundas Street West at Brown’s Line opened on July 8, 1952. As the advertisement notes, it opened at the junction of two highways: Five (Dundas) and Twenty-Seven (Brown’s Line). It also backed onto a Canadian Pacific rail line. At the time of its opening, the intersection was sparsely populated. The larger community at the western edge of the Toronto area was Eatonville, best known for being the farming property of its namesake family and department store barons, the Eatons.
Very much in line with other store inaugurations in the period, the A&P advertisement presented the event as a multi-day spectacle. It was broadcasted over radio, with American singer and radio personality Smilin’ Jack Smith hosting. The famed 48th Highlanders band also played. The opening day flyer touts the supermarket as a “Parking Heaven” with plenty free parking. A map also boasted that “all roads” led to the supermarket, noting all the local major roads and the connecting communities. Many cars and people are depicted, including a long line filing towards and into the large glass store entrance. Altogether, it is very optimistic, with new life and new development now existing outside Toronto’s historic busy core.
The Globe and Mail reported the new super market cost $1,000,000 and included a warehouse building and a rail siding. It wrote: “The huge one-story structure provides consumers with the ultimate in shopping conveniences and affords the company the latest facilities for the efficient distribution of groceries in Ontario.”
By the end of the decade, the area had transformed along with the new store. Brown’s Line and Highway 27 were absorbed by the new Highway 427. The new interchange with Dundas resembled a cloverleaf. This development may have inspired the naming of the adjacent Cloverdale Mall directly across from A&P in 1956, an open air shopping centre whose anchor was another super market, Dominion.
Since 1952, the Dundas Street A&P has undergone a few noted changes. First, it is now Food Basics, which was founded in 1995 as a discount super market subsidiary under the A&P brand. Second, the complex’s area expanded, including an office space. This office is the Metro Ontario Division headquarters. Metro, a Quebec super market chain, acquired A&P Canada in 2005. Interestingly, at the Cloverdale Mall across the street, Dominion was acquired by A&P in the 1980s; the store is now a Metro.
25 Glen Watford Drive, Scarborough
The A&P at 25 Glen Watford Drive at Sheppard Avenue opened on March 21, 1957. It served the historic village of Agincourt, a community with roots in the 19th century whose nexus was the crossroads of Church Street (Midland Avenue) and Lansing Road (Sheppard Avenue). First Street, depicted in the advertisement’s map, was part of an Edwardian residential subdivision. In the 1950s, the community opened its earliest post-war subdivision east of the Agincourt High School. In 1959, bus service ran from Kennedy Road to Sheppard Avenue, looping at Glen Watford, Rural Avenue, and Midland; it was one of the first to serve northern Scarborough.
Like the Dundas Street store, the store opening was a week-long affair. It featured giveaways to shoppers, and a radio broadcast, featuring Scarborough Board of Health Officer and Agincourt resident, C.D. Farquharson. Free parking and parcel pickups were emphasized. Nearly thirty stores in Toronto and area were listed, some with details such as having air conditioning.
The evolution of the area around 25 Glen Watford contains some interesting developments. By the 1960s, Lansing Road became Sheppard Avenue; and Church Street merged with Midland Avenue to the south. First Avenue also became Agincourt Avenue. In 1963, the CP crossing on Sheppard was replaced by a rail overpass; the tracks were temporarily rerouted north during construction. Sheppard Avenue was also widened and Glen Watford was rerouted to curve towards Sheppard.
In the late 1970s, the Glen Watford A&P was torn down. In its place, a strip mall was erected. A larger building also went up to the south, taking up space formerly occupied by properties on the north side of Sheppard removed in the improvements along the street the decade prior. This latter building was a roller rink called Roller World.
In the mid-1980s, the area experienced its greatest evolution. In 1984, Hong Kong born developers bought the roller rink and transformed it into the Dragon Centre, an indoor Chinese mall (the former rink became a circular walkway for shoppers). It was the first of its kind in Toronto and Canada. The development spurred a change in Agincourt and Scarborough’s demographics, bringing East Asian residents and businesses to the area, including the strip mall to the north which replaced the A&P and the Glen Watford Plaza across the street, today’s Dynasty Centre.
The Dragon Centre wasn’t without controversy in the early years, however. Residents complained about the planning of the mall, particularly the parking and gridlock. There were also racist, xenophobic sentiments. Still, the mall endured, becoming a fixture in Agincourt.
Today, the East Asian nexus on Glen Watford is set to endure another change. A development proposal has two condominium buildings to be erected on the site. A project entitled “Dragon Centre Stories” exists to preserve the memory of the places set to be replaced.
2939 Dufferin Street, North York
The A&P at 2939 Dufferin Street south of Lawrence Avenue opened on March 11, 1958. After WWII, Dufferin north of Eglinton Avenue filled out as an arterial street with commercial and industrial uses, and its surrounding residential streets with bungalows, schools, and churches. The Dufferin Street A&P backed onto Barker Stream, a tributary of Castle Frank Brook.
Like the other A&P stores, the opening of the Dufferin store featured contests and giveaways, including “free Cokes for everyone!” It also praised its car-friendly qualities: a giant parking lot, parcel pickup, and “all roads in North West Toronto” led to it. This automobile haven was in the immediately geography too; directly next to the A&P was a drive-in ice cream spot, Tastee Freez. An archival image of the Dufferin A&P offers a comparison with the image in the 1958 ad; the stores are very similar with a noted difference being the positioning of the logo’d tower.
Today, the A&P store is a Lady York Foods, an Italian grocery store. A Dairy Queen is now on the same lot as the former The Tastee Freez. The transformation to Lady York Foods is particularly intriguing because it represents the general shift in demographics in the Dufferin-Lawrence area: The community is largely Italian-speaking.
Do you remember these three A&P super markets or any other early A&P stores? Leave a comment below!
Riverdale Avenue is located in the namesake neighbourhood of Riverdale, an area in the east end of the old city of Toronto. Found a short distance north of Gerrard Street East, the street runs about a kilometre between Broadview Avenue and Kiswick Street (between Pape Avenue and Jones Street). Riverdale Avenue is layered in its development with lost and gained extensions, buried waterways, and disappearing transit lines.
Riverdale Avenue was historically located on lot 14, a 200-acre parcel granted by John Graves Simcoe to John Cox in 1796. It was situated roughly between Broadview Avenue to just west of Logan Avenue, south of Danforth Avenue to the lake. The John Cox cottage, built before 1807 and currently the oldest home in Toronto still used as a residence, sits on the property.
By 1815, the lot passed on to William Smith, which was then subdivided to his heirs in 1839. The 1860 Tremaine’s Map shows the property attributed to Thomas S. Smith. By 1878, the Illustrated Atlas of York County shows the property was divided further: the bottom two-thirds went to B. Langley (possibly for the namesake street currently on the street) and a road with smaller lots. The atlas shows the community around the lots was Don Mount and a post office was located at today’s Queen and Broadview.
In the 1884 Goad’s Map, the street in 1878 had a name: Smith. It is also labelled as Plan 373. The street stopped at the lot line, roughly two thirds to Logan Avenue. Also in 1884, Don Mount, now going by Riverside, and the lands east to Greenwood Avenue were annexed by the City of Toronto.
By the 1890s, Smith Street was extended into Lot 13. Between Logan Avenue and Carlaw Avenue, only the north side of the street was built as the south side constituted part of the William Harris Estate. The property also had a part of Holly Brook, also known as Heward Creek, running through it, which may or may not have impacted its later development.
Smith was also interrupted at Carlaw by another section of the Harris Property. A house now with a street address of 450 Pape Avenue was built on the lot in 1902, now known as the William Harris/Cranfield House. On the other end of the property at Pape, Smith Street continued in a separate section until MacDonald Street, now Kiswick Street.
The Lost Riverdale Avenue
In August 1887, the Board of Works recommended the opening of new street, free of cost to the city opposite Smith Street on the other side of Broadview Avenue; this was the first Riverdale Avenue.
The new street was proposed to run “…from Broadview Avenue to a connection with a street leading westerly through Riverdale Park to a new 50 feet street on the east side of the new line of the Don River, giving a connection with Winchester street at the bridge…”. In September, the motion to open the street was passed. It was surveyed with lots and appeared on maps in the 1880s and 90s. The 1895 City of Toronto Directory shows “a lane”, possibly referring to Riverdale Avenue, listed under 380 Broadview Avenue. The address also hosted six residents, Riverside Park (seemingly used interchangibly with Riverdale Park), Isolation Hospital, and Vacant Lots.
In 1903, a by-law was inexplicably passed to close the street. Interestingly, in April 1904, Riverdale residents complained “bitterly of the odors” in Riverdale Park from the burning of garbage in the park’s dump “on the extension of Smith Street”. It is unclear if this was Riverdale Avenue, but the street did not appear on maps for much longer after 1903. Riverdale Park was a garbage dump from around the turn on the century to the 1920s; green pipes found today on the property are exhaust tubes for methane.
A New Riverdale Avenue
In the first decade of the 1900s, ‘Riverdale’ came into common use to refer to the neighbourhood. Riverdale Park itself was used since the late 1870s and the park was officially opened 1880, so the neighbourhood was seemingly named after the park, rather than the more obvious reverse. In 1905, Smith Street from Broadview Avenue to Carlaw Avenue was renamed to Riverdale Avenue, taking over the name of the closed street it was once connected to. East of Pape, the road was still Smith Street. A confused rider of the streetcar on Broadview wrote to The Star in 1906 asking about the renaming as some trolley drivers still referred to the street as Smith, while other drivers used the new name. The newspaper set the record straight: west of the intervening Harris property, the street was Riverdale; east of it was Smith Street.
By 1913, the south side of Riverdale between Logan and Pape, part of the Harris Estate, was subdivided under plan 445E. The move allowed for the extensions of Langley Avenue, Victor Avenue, and Simpson Avenue across to Carlaw. The circumstances surrounding this development are unclear, but the branch of Heward Creek/Holly Brook which ran diagonally through the lot stopped appearing on Toronto maps around this time according to Lost Rivers Toronto. Leslieville Creek, which ran through Smith Street, was also potentially buried in the 1910s.
In 1922, Riverdale Avenue was finally extended into the remaining Harris Estate east of Carlaw. The property was subdivided into lots under Plan 587E; some of it became the yard for Pape Avenue School. It was also one of the few remaining tracts left in Riverdale as most of the district by then had been subdivided and redeveloped. Growth in North Riverdale was aided by the opening of The Prince Edward Viaduct in 1918.
The extension was instrumental in Toronto’s transit expansion: it provided a key east-west link for a streetcar line on Pape and Carlaw in an growing, under-served part of the city. Langley Avenue was considered in the role in during World War I, but the idea was rejected by residents as it passed by the school; it even got as far as putting up trolley poles before the plan was nixed. The Globe reported in December 1922 that even with the line, development had yet to come to street. Even though water and sewer lines were passed on the street, there were no sidewalks and only pavement for the tracks. In effect, the corridor was a streetcar right of way. This sparse development would be rectified in short time as the 1924 Goad’s Map shows a very built-on Riverdale Avenue.
The tram line was eventually absorbed into the Harbord car and followed a winding route through Toronto’s west, central, and east areas. The line closed in 1966 and its tracks were removed. Finally, Riverdale Avenue was completed with the disconnected section of Smith Street from Pape to Kiswick being absorbed by and renamed to Riverdale around 1926. Ahead of its renaming, The Daily Star provided some funny commentary.
The Three Riverdale Avenues
Today, Riverdale Avenue can be thought of in three sections based on their histories and geographies: Broadview-Carlaw, Carlaw-Pape, and Pape-Kiswick. Each have distinct visual differences and vibes which point to their layered development.
The western and oldest part of the street between Broadview and Carlaw is narrow, accommodating only eastbound, local traffic. Trees hang over the road in several spots making for a quaint stroll. It boasts houses mostly dating from the 1880s to the 1910s with oldest homes located on its north side near Broadview — the old Lot 14 — including two heritage homes: 1885 William Jefferies House and 1890-91 John Vick House. The south side between Logan and Carlaw as the ‘youngest’ with mostly 1910s constructions.
Riverdale between Carlaw and Pape makes up the avenue’s ‘newest’ and busiest section. The houses lining the street are semi-detached bungalows built in the 1920s. Whereas Broadview-Carlaw is a local road, this central section is more of a through street with four lanes at its widest to accommodate parking, heavier traffic, and public transit, such as the Pape bus and its predecessor Harbord streetcar. Travellers coming from Broadview or Logan might note how Riverdale ‘opens up’ at Carlaw with its larger road surface and fewer trees. They would also see how this middle section is slightly misaligned with the rest of the avenue because of its width.
Finally, from Pape to Kiswick, the street mixes the qualities of the other two sections. It offers two-way traffic like the Carlaw-Pape section to the west, but is narrow like Broadview to Carlaw. The residences themselves are mostly Edwardian detached and semi-detached homes from the 1910s and 1920s, offering a middle ground in age in the three sections.
Note: This article is the second piece in a two-part series.The first can be found here.
In the 1960s, Toronto had a big question to address: “What would replace the commercial section across The New City Hall?” What followed was action to remove the Queen Street shops between Bay and York Streets and replace them with a complementary project worthy of the new civic centre.
The Expropriation Question
As Toronto entered the 1960s, progress on the Queen Street question seemed slow. In October 1960, there were reports that demolition would begin in the autumn of 1961 or spring of 1962 on the “seedy” south side. The Planning Board was preparing an invitation to attract private developers to redo the site. However, in May 1962, this draft invitation was presented to city council for approval. City Council now had the estimate down to $6,250,000 to buy the properties, but the The Globe and Mail anticipated difficult negotiations with property owners, particularly with the Municipal Hotel and Casino Theatre, who where the largest land owners on the block. The city approved a motion to start expropriating properties, but it was unclear whether this was a path to be taken.
For the Municipal Hotel, owner Arthur Mintz was not going along with city plans to redevelop his property. He had his own project: a three million dollar, 14-storey office tower to replace the hotel. Mintz’ hotel was key in building an office tower at Queen and Bay, but the owner was not going to sell at even a reasonable price to a developer, instead opting to go at it alone. A by-law was passed indicating that whatever new development went through on Queen, the ends of the strip would have towers while the middle would be lower so not to “spoil the view” of the new city hall. The holdup? Owners of these central lots were unwilling to sell. The Daily Star’s editorial section and others advocated for expropriation.
On August 12, 1964, Toronto City Council voted 17-4 to expropriate most of the block bounded by Queen, Richmond, Bay, and York Streets. Mayor Phillip Givens, a pro-development politician, was a large proponent of the expropriation option and the redevelopment of Queen Street as a whole. It was the first time in Toronto history in which the city opted to expropriate land to sell to private interests rather than execute a public project. Development Commissioner Walter Manthorpe warned that renewal was still another 10 years away with steps needing to be taken to take seek Ontario Municipal Board approval for the expropriation, take possession of the properties, demolish them, sell to developers, and come up with a redevelopment plan for the province’s approval. Proposals started to come in which would the potential form the site and Queen Street in general would take, including an interesting plan which would see a tunnel under Queen and the surface turned into a pedestrian mall between Yonge and University.
Much like the civic centre on the north side of Queen, the city decided to hold a design competition for the block leftover by the soon-to-be expropriated and demolished shops. The eastern end of the block would not be part of the project. In November 1964, Mintz sold the Municipal Hotel to a private developer, Reuben Dennis. The other properties included the Victory Building on Richmond St., the Temple and Dominion Bank Buildings on Bay St., and the Hamilton Trust property on Queen Street, the latter of which suffered a fire in 1963 and which Dennis also bought.
On September 13, 1965, the new City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square was revealed to Torontonians. The winning space-aged design by Finnish architect Viljo Revell consisted of two curved towers of differing heights, a central ‘oyster’ housing the council chamber, and a large open space with a wading pool, arches, public art, and a podium.
Across the street, there were some empty storefronts and vacant lots. For the shops that remained, there were ‘expropriation sale’ signs. By the next year, most of the block was razed to the ground and replaced by a level surface of sod and sidewalk.
In 1968, a mini-saga began in who would receive the rights to redevelop the property, which council was to rent out to the winning developer for 99 years. In April 1968, City Council approved a proposal which would see Third Generation Realty Limited build a $50-million hotel-convention centre on the three-and-a-half acre property. However, the Finance Commissioner determined Third Generation did not have the financial proof to back its proposal. In July, Council voted again, this time approving a $34-million scheme by Inn on the Park-Four Seasons, the other bidder in the April vote. During the event, an alderman was even accused of accepting a bribe, which he denied. In 1969, construction began on the 43-storey, 1,400-room hotel, which would become the Four Seasons-Sheraton Hotel. John B. Parkin Associates, who worked on City Hall, designed the complex.
Welcome to the Sheraton-Four Seasons Hotel
In 1972, the Sheraton-Four Seasons Hotel opened (the ‘Four Seasons’ would be dropped in 1976 as the hotel pulled out of the venture), the culmination of a 15-year saga to renew the Queen Street West strip across Toronto’s new municipal hub. Carrying the memorable street address ‘123 Queen West’, it was the second largest hotel in Toronto at the time of opening behind only the iconic Royal York Hotel (it was surpassed by the Chelsea Delta which opened only a few years later).
Conforming with the by-law from a decade earlier, the main hotel tower is situated off to the side of the city hall and square towards York Street, offering an unobstructed vista. The eastern side of the block saw the erection of a two-storey TD bank branch and the Queen-Bay Centre, consisting of the 25-storey Thomson Building and the Munich Re Centre, opening in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The latter building opened on the site of the demolished Temple Building, whose fragments are found at the Guild Inn Park.
In 2022, at fifty years old, the Sheraton Centre is a unique modernist, Brutalist construction. Its central area forms an atrium of waterfall gardens designed by J. Austin Floyd, the famed landscape architect who also left his footprint at the famed yet now lost Inn on the Park hotel at Leslie Street and Eglinton Avenue.
On the Queen Street mega-hotel, architect Michael McLelland wrote how “metropolitan structures like the Sheraton Centre are an integral part of the downtown morphology”. Its views of the complex across the street, which was the catalyst of its construction, are unparalleled in Toronto.
The Sheraton Centre and Toronto City Hall are fine examples of Toronto as a city made and re-made. They mark the ‘creative destruction’ of the post-war years. The south side of Queen Street between Bay and York was an interesting mix of establishments, many with varying stories and origins. The condemning of the strip as a ‘commercial slum’ and its subsequent replacement offers a complicated takeaway. On the one hand, the physical erasure has understandably hidden those histories from collective consciousness; on the other, the emergence of the Sheraton Centre has offered Toronto a marvel in itself. For better or worse, Toronto was growing up after World War II — in area, age, building heights, and architectural styles. The construction of the Sheraton Centre was in itself a microcosm of this period of transformation — and the representative of the expendability of centrally-located, culturally- and socially-colourful sectors like this one.
Note: This article is the first piece in a two-part series. The second article can be found here.
When Toronto’s New City Hall and Square opened in 1965, there was a problem. While Ontario’s Capital was looking to move into a new era, the commercial strip across the new civic centre did not fit into those plans for modernization.
“Redevelopment Area” or “Commercial Slum”?
In 1958, Toronto was in the midst of an international design competition to construct a new city hall and square. The winning entry had not yet been chosen, but the jury — a panel of architects and town planners — had a particular recommendation. For the new landmark to be better situated, Toronto needed to redevelop the downtown area all around the site to better complement it, including the street directly opposing the civic centre. They proposed:
“City action to replace the unworthy buildings on Queen St., between Bay and York Sts., with a continuous facade, not over 90 feet high, with an open arcade under the building for the whole length.”
The Globe and Mail, May 15, 1958
The Globe and Mail agreed with the report of the jurors, citing “it would be a disgrace to leave a stick of it standing as a backdrop to the expensive – and, we hope, beautiful – Civic Square.”
In September, Toronto Planning Board was instructed by the Board of Control to make proposals on the Queen St. frontage. The board recommended the city buy the site and then sell or lease it to a developer. The Globe and Mail also called the south side “a hodge-podge of small, old buildings in various states of repair” and the shops “remain as reminders of that former area, bearing little relation to present surroundings.” The land was divided into separately owned lots and it was estimated $7,000,000 would be needed to buy them.
On October 27, 1958, the city passed a bylaw formally calling the strip a ‘redevelopment area’ and “giving the city expropriation powers over all but one of the properties.” The Toronto Daily Star was blunter in its characterization and advocacy of the fate of Queen Street West:
“Nearly everyone agrees that our handsome new city hall – when and if it is built – should not have to tolerate a commercial slum in front of it. And Queen St. between York and Bay is a tawdry hodge-podge”
Toronto Daily Star, October 31, 1958
The Daily Star and its editorial page in particular were very aggressive in their advocacy. It quite frequently enployed the phrase ‘commercial slum’ in the 1960s when reporting about the state of the site, including a December 1962 ‘Special Report’ boldly entitled “Our New City Hall Will Face a SLUM”:
“The rising towers of the new city hall look across Queen St. W. to a shabby vista of beer parlors, pawnshops, second-hand stores, a closed-down burlesque house.”
Toronto Daily Star, December 29, 1962
Still, the conservative outlet was interestingly weary of using public power to transfer property from private hands to private hands, i.e. the government moving shops from smaller, independent owners to larger, independent developers.
Whether the Queen Street row was euphemized as a ‘redevelopment area’ or disparaged as a ‘commercial slum’, urban renewal and slum clearance were certainly in the psyches and goals of governments of all levels in Canada and the United States of America for several decades in the 20th century. For Toronto, several lower-class neighbourhoods with ‘uneconomic uses’ were identified as requiring clearance and renewal. Regent Park became the first social housing project in Canada in 1947. The southern half of The Ward itself was voted to be expropriated in 1946 for the new city hall and square project, an area centred around Elizabeth Street once known as the first Chinatown in Toronto; the dense “slum” as a whole had calls to be rebuilt going back to the 1910s.
At work was the need to also rejuvenate Toronto’s historic downtown retail districts. Historian Daniel Ross wrote the city created its “pro-development Plan for Downtown Toronto” in 1963 with Yonge Street as a central part. After World War II, the rise of the automobile and urban sprawl impacted the central core, “emptying out” of its historical commercial districts as the suburbs developed their own retail and residential nexuses. A large part of the downtown plan was the Timothy Eaton Company’s Project Viking. First conceived in 1958, it was an endeavour which would reimagine the commercial empire’s ageing downtown holdings of mainly early 20th century warehouses as a post-war shopping centre. The project would become The Eaton Centre.
The Queen Street West Strip in History
In the early 20th century, the near three hundred-metre stretch of Queen between Bay and York Streets was characterized by hotels, restaurants, second-hand goods shops, barbers, butchers, jewelers, pawnbrokers, billiard shops, grocers, and fruit shops. Located on the southern edge of The Ward, a working-class immigrant enclave in the heart of Toronto, it also had East European Jewish and East Asian owned and ran-enterprises, such as restaurants, shops, and clubs.
First, the 1920 Toronto City Directory offers an interesting snapshot of the prominence and variety of Chinese businesses and organizations on the street. In this small zone, there were six Chinese restaurants (sadly all un-named as per the style of the directories in this period) and two tea-related businesses. Two organizations were on the street: The Chinese National League and The Chinese Reform Association. There was also a gentleman’s furnishings shop and possibly a photography shop. Yet Chong Lung Co. is referenced at 117 Queen, although it is unclear what type of dealings it entailed.
105 Queen Street West was a curious address in 1926. The city directory for the year divides the building into 105 — Tighe Lee, billiards — and 105 1/2 — Chinese National League. A picture from the year shows a sign above the door possibly reading “Pool Room”. The sign above that is written in Chinese with an illegible English caption underneath, roughly translating to “Kuomintang Office” or “Republic of Taiwan Political Party”. The smaller third sign on the third floor roughly translated to “World Mirror”, an arts society set up by the Kuomintang.
113 Queen Street West was an intriguing case in that at different points it hosted a Chinese restaurant, the Jewish Daily Eagle, and the Union Ticket Office. In the 1910s, the address was listed in the city directories as hosting a Louis Gurofsky, Joseph Gurofsky, and Samuel Gurofsky at differing times. They were also characterized as ‘insurance agents’. By the 1920s, it was listed as The Union Ticket Office — a steamship ticket business.
Steamship ticket agents were common professions for Jewish-Torontonians and there were several competing businesses in The Ward. The enterprises played a role in the immigration process for Jews abroad. Historian Jack Lipinsky wrote “steamship agents, as their name indicates, originally concentrated on issuing boat and train ticks, mostly to immigrants.” Agents were landsmanschaften and “remittance agents” who worked with the Jewish Immigration Aid Services to bring Jews to Toronto. Lipinski notes that some agents were “dishonest” and defrauded prospective immigrants, including a David Gurofsky. It is unclear if this is the same or related Gurofsky(s) who operated at 113 Queen Street, but the damage done to the industry by him was enormous. The director of Canada’s Immigration Branch, Frederick Charles Blair, was “permanently suspicious” of the Jewish community because of Gurofsky’s dealings, a development which would later impact fleeing European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Gurofsky office seemed to play roles in the First World War. In 1916, the steamship office was responsible for enlisting “Hebrews”. The Globe reported it expected “at least fifty men” in Toronto to sign up for the great war and that over 1,100 had already joined across Canada. In 1917, Louis Gurofsky, at the delegation of the Russian consul, was tasked with “rounding up” prominent Russian Torontonians to return to their home country at the request of the new Russian Provisional Government who were “honeycombing” for “former friends — revolutionists and socialists” who had left Russia. Finally, The Daily Star reported in July 1917, a Mischa Bedler of 113 Queen Street West, a 24-year-old Jewish inventor handed over “a very valuable discovery in wireless telegraphy” to the Canadian government and was promoted to a lieutenant and instructor in the Royal Flying Corps.
Some of the businesses were mainstays on Queen Street for much of the 20th century. Simon Simonsky (occasionally spelt ‘Simonski’), a pawnbroker, was in business since at least the 1890s, settling at 121 Queen and then 107 Queen, where he would stay for at least sixty years. Historian Ellen Scheinberg wrote the family may have been peddlers originally: wandering street salesmen pushing carts of goods. A common professional trajectory of peddlers was to raise enough capital to open a shop, which Simonsky seemed to accomplish. According to a 1954 obituary for Mrs Annie Simonsky, the Simonskys were a “family long active in Jewish communal circles in Toronto”. By 1964, with forced closure looming, the shop moved to 115 York Street.
Harry Stein, a Russian watchmaker, landed on the Queen Street strip in 1932 at a shop at 63 Queen named Henry & Co (in the city directories, it was originally listed as ‘Harry Stein, jeweler’; the business also started as a watch repair shop on Yonge Street in 1909). In 1945, the jewelry business moved to 113 Queen — the former site of Gurofsky’s steamship ticket office. It later added other products and electronics to its offerings, most notably cameras, making it the first Henry’s, as we know it today. Henry’s later resurfaced at other locations, including 119 Church Street near Queen Street East in the 1970s. Henry’s announced in 2022 it would be leaving this location and a condominium is proposed to take its place.
Palaces of Sin
Two cinemas also were huge presences on the Queen Street row. The Broadway Theatre at 75 Queen Street West was on the strip since 1919, opening as the Globe Theatre. Historian Doug Taylor wrote the theatre started playing “‘Girlie Shows’ as well as vaudeville and B-movies”. In the 1930s, it was briefly the Roxy and changed to its final name in 1937. In 1935, the manager of Broadway was found murdered in his office; the killing was never solved.
The Casino Theatre at 87 Queen Street West was an “infamous” burlesque house built in 1936, according to Taylor. He pointedly described the movie house: “Throughout the theatre history of Toronto, other than perhaps the Victory Theatre on Spadina, there is no entertainment venue that has elicited as much praise, raunchy stories, condemnation and newspaper coverage as the infamous Casino Theatre.”
The theatre had reputable architects, Kaplan and Sprachman, who were famed for many of Toronto’s beautiful art deco theatres. The owners of The Casino partnered with the owner of the neighbouring Broadway to open the venture. But a foul reputation followed the Casino itself, which “was famous for its raunchy comedians and risqué burlesque” and “decent citizens” called a “sin palace”. In 1961, the Casino was renamed ‘the Festival Theatre’ as a failed attempt to clean up its image. In the final year of its existence, the theatre was playing a Russian Film Festival, perhaps as a means to that end.
Two hotels — the bar beer parlours referenced by the Star – were (in)famous on the south side of Queen. The Municipal Hotel stood at 67 Queen Street West since at least the late 1890s. The Municipal seemed to have a rowdy reputation throughout its history with fights, arrests, and fires plaguing its life. In 1946, Toronto Police prepared a report on hotels to send to the Ontario Liquor Board and had this to say about the hotel:
“Municipal Hotel, 67 Queen St. W.:
‘The chief complaint against this hotel is thefts from drunks who are permitted to become inebriated on the premises. It is also a rendezvous for prostitutes, and a number of girls have been removed from the premises by the police. This hotel is poorly managed and there is much room for improvement.'”
The Globe and Mail, February 4, 1946
Several doors down, at 71 Queen Street West, there were several versions of a hotel at this location since the early 1900s: the Aberdeen Hotel, Lennon’s Hotel, the White’s Hotel, and finally the Union Hotel/House. The Union had a similar seedy reputation to the Municipal. The 1946 report wrote:
“Union Hotel, 71 Queen St. W.:
‘This place appears nothing more than a pickup place for prostitutes, and it is amazing to find how many girls in the downtown area will give their address as the Union Hotel. Plainclothesmen have removed many girls from the premises, and only recently they arrested two teen-agers who had stayed at this hotel three nights with different men each night. A number of girls arrested in this hotel were found to have venereal disease. Improvement by the management in regard to the conduct of this hotel is long overdue.'”
The Globe and Mail, February 4, 1946
Interestingly, The Union and Municipal played notable roles in the history of Toronto’s gay community after World War II. Of the 1950s and 1960s, historian Christine Sismondo wrote the bar rooms of both hotels became places where the gay and lesbian communities were patrons, so much that the area around Queen and Bay was known to the groups for “cruising” as “The Corners” or “Queer Street”. The Municipal in particular was “known for its cheap beer by the glass and transient clientele” in this period and “received far more surveillance” than other establishments along higher class lines. It was known to be a “rough” bar, patronized by hustlers and ex-convicts.
Given this overall history and characterization, it is easily conceivable why the Queen Street frontage held such little value for Toronto decision-makers. Fire, assault, murder, sex, and more all found homes on the street. The shops and professions themselves were of inconsequential business value, the two theatres were ‘sinful’, and the hotels were cheap establishments with questionable management and clientele. Even including the impressively designed Broadway Theatre, the built form of the street was not of any notable architectural significance. Taken together, the row was simply expendable for a city looking for “progress”.
What’s the most colonial representation of colonial Toronto in Toronto? It might be a street marker built into the corner of a George Brown College buiding at Frederick Street and Adelaide Street East.
But the marker itself doesn’t read Frederick and Adelaide; rather, it reads Frederick and Duke. Frederick is still Frederick, but Duke doesn’t exist anyore.
The laughable part of this intersection is it was at one point named entirely for the same guy: Prince Frederick, The Duke of York of Great Britain.
At the time Duke and Frederick were named, the settlement containing them was also named for Duke Frederick: The Town of York. The Duke never visited the town named for him or likely had any direct role in its formation or growth. The British locales contained in his title also got a street name further west of the town – York Street. The Duke was also the son of KingGeorge, the reigning monarch at the time of the town’s founding, who had at least two other street names – King and George – named directly and indirectly for him.
And even more, nearly every street in early York was named by another Brit in charge of this colony: John Graves Simcoe, who didn’t like the indigenous name for the region — Tkaronto. Instead, when setting up his new town and the first few streets in it, he felt it more worthy honouring a man from his home country who scored a victory in his own continent as well as after other members of the British nobility and royalty.
The Town of York would revert to its indigenous name, albeit with an English spelling – Toronto. Duke Street would merge with and take on the name of the nearby rerouted Adelaide Street, named for another royal who likely didn’t have any contributions to the city either.
As a layered bonus, this wasn’t even the first time Duke Street was involved in a name change. The original Duke Street was today’s King Street. The original King Street was Palace Street, today’s Front Street. The Duke Street before this northern re-shifting was Duchess Street, named for the Duke’s royal counterpart. Duchess would move up a street too. It also merged with and took on the name of nearby Richmond Street. The streets of the original blocks of Toronto clearly had a colonial theme.
But today, the marker at Frederick and Adelaide Street still reads Frederick and Duke, still honouring the same guy.
With its history and environment, the storied Guild Inn is one of the most unique places in Toronto. Its ninety-year history has evoked a lot nostalgia, both for its visitors and the city’s built heritage as a whole.
The Guild Inn sits on a tract of land that was known as Lot 13 Concession C on Scarborough’s waterfront. It was part of the Scarboro Village Post Office Community. The lot was owned, among others, by the Humphreys family in the 19th century.
The Guild Inn story begins in 1914 when the property came under the ownership of General Harold Child Bickford. He built a 15-bedroom, two-winged house on the parcel, naming it Ranelagh Park. The home would later go on to be known as The Bickford House.
The Guild of All Arts
In July 1932, Rosa Breithaupt Hewetson bought the Bickford House and the 40-acre property. Together with her new husband H. Spencer Clark, they began to transform it into The Guild of All Arts.
The Toronto Daily Star described its early concept:
“A unique venture into realms of co-operative living will shortly be attempted by a group of Toronto writers, artists, professors and business men, in protest against the standardization of art, education and industry in modern life….
‘The movement is not communistic” was the first declaration.”
Toronto Daily Star, August 27, 1932
Two notable artists who worked at the Guild of All Arts at some point were English sculptor Dorothy Dick and Hungarian-born Torontonian Nicholas Hornyansky.
The Guild of All Arts was accessible south of Kingston Road via a side road (possibly today’s Livingston Avenue) that “twisted into a low forest and glided least into a clearing 1,000 feet from the edge of the cliffs”.
A column by ‘The Homemaker’ in the Daily Star in April 1933 set the scene:
“About forty acres of beautiful countryside, bordered by steep cliffs running down to the water’s edge, surround the house and the barn, which members of the community have been making over into homes, studios, and workshops.
Everywhere there were fine stone fireplaces. In one upper room, beautifully proportioned, we found, under the rafters, a large loom set up, and the weaver ready to talk to us of the possibilities of Ontario wool and Ontario flax – possibilities still, apparently, in the infancy of their development.
About twenty-two residents are not on the place, including a goodly number of children, and visiting children were fascinated by the perfect playhouse that had been built for them. It did seem a fine atmosphere for children, with so much of the real country about them and the real fundamental activities of life from which to learn their lessons, tangible and otherwise.”
Toronto Daily Star, April 29, 1933
The Guild Inn began as this artists’ colony, a legacy that is perhaps not as visible in the current incarnation of the property. The Osterhout Log Cabin — along with The 1940 Sculptor’s Cabin near the north entrance of the property — is one of those remaining markers. The Osterhout Cabin came with the Bickford property when the Clarks bought it. It later served as the work place for sculptor-in-residence Elizabeth Fraser Williamson. A plaque dedicated to her is displayed nearby. A marker about the log cabin itself places the construction as the oldest building in Scarborough dating to 1795, but further research has rather placed its origin to the Humphreys family in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Guild Inn
By the end of the 1930s, the Clarks began to make The Guild of All Arts into The Guild Inn, running it as an event space and country inn, a rural getaway atop the Scarborough Bluffs. In the following decade, they expanded the building and its operations, making it a vacation destination for bridal couples and more.
In the latter part of and following the end of World War II, the Guild Inn’s operations were interrupted to aid in the war effort and recovery. Its building and grounds were leased by the Clarks to the Department of Pensions as a ‘convalescent home to restore the health of men nerve-shattered in the Canadian armed services”. The arts were part of the process.
In the 1950s, the Clarks sold the hundreds of acres they acquired near the Guild Inn to a developer to build a new planned community. Spencer Clark managed the project. The new community was called Guildwood Village and opened in the late 1950s.
Guildwood Parkway runs through the centre of Guildwood Village, curling south from Kingston Road. Part of the road was renamed from Eglinton East, a severed section of the main road to the west. The neighbourhood entrance at Kingston is adorned by the salvaged former gates of the Stanley Barracks (New Fort York). Running off the side of the parkway were curving, tree-lined residential streets, one of which is Toynbee Trail, which hosted a series of model homes collectively called the Avenue of Homes.
Several landmarks opened in the early years along Guildwood Parkway: the Guildwood Presbyterian Church, the Guildwood Village Shopping Centre, and Sir Wilfred Laurier Collegiate. Interestingly, the school’s opening in 1965 seems to have coincided with the closure of four streets east of Livingston and south of Guildwood Parkway. These streets, particularly Woodvale Road, ran right up to the Bluffs.
The Sculpture Garden
On the Guild’s grounds themselves, the Clarks had great plans as well. In 1958, The Globe reported that “a funicular railway, an outdoor Amphitheatre that will seat 1,500 persons, and a copy of the Hampton Court maze” were part of “the third stage of Spencer Clark’s dream”. The incline railway would have ran 300 feet from the top of the bluffs to the base where a cabana night club would be located. It was never built. The maze, however, did become an attraction in the early 1960s and onwards. The amphitheater would have to wait. In 1965, they also added a six-storey hotel addition.
Perhaps the biggest change was the addition of a unique sculpture park. In the 1960s, Spencer Clark began to collect architectural fragments from demolished buildings in and around Toronto. His method was laborious:
“Sometimes it meant standing all day long, often in a bitter winter wind, cajoling, begging and bribing workmen to bring them down, from some great height, in one piece. This would be after Mr. Clark had arranged with the wrecking company for the purchase of the piece. But the final arbitrator was the man swinging the wrecker’s ball, he discovered. And once down, these enormous pieces – each weighs anywhere from half a ton to six tons – had to be carted many miles to the collector’s Scarborough property.”
The Globe and Mail, August 6, 1970
More than just preserving the intangible heritage of the buildings, Clark’s goal was to save the craftmanship and skill inherent to the buildings, an objective which directly fit in with the initial vision of The Guild Of All Arts. The collection is a notable what’s what of iconic former Toronto landmarks:
The Banker’s Bond Building, formerly at 60 King Street West
The Temple Building, formerly at Bay Street and Richmond Street West
The Old Toronto Star Building, formerly at 80 King Street West
The Old Globe and Mail Building, formerly at York Street and King Street West
Victoria Park School (S.S. 23), formerly at Victoria Park Avenue and Highway 401
The Granite Club, formerly at St. Clair West near Yonge Street
The Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building, formerly at 90 Albert Street
In 1977, with the Clarks growing older and business costs rising, the couple sold the Guild Inn to the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Metro Toronto City Council. The goal was to protect the site by keeping it in the public trust. Spencer Clark had been thinking about how to best ensure the Inn and its grounds’ future, including a plan in 1971 to bestow some lakefront parkland to the province.
Clark continued to manage it for another five years, however. In 1982, in time for the The Guild of All Arts’ fiftieth anniversary, they added the park’s centrepiece: The Greek Theatre. The sculpture was made from salvaged columns of the Bank of Toronto building, formerly at King and Bay Streets, which was demolished to make way for its ambitious successor, the Toronto-Dominion Centre. The theatre is located on the former spot of the Hampton Court maze. It serves as a backdrop for performances and photoshoots.
A Future Uncertain
From the 1980s, the prevailing theme surrounding the Guild Inn was its future. In an interview with the Globe and Mail in 1981, Mr. Clark himself expressed his desire to “make sure they don’t change this place into just another commercial motel or glorified hamburger stand.” Rosa Clark died in that year, followed by her husband five years later. The City of Toronto leased the site to a developer who managed and operated the Inn. It was a money-losing operation in need of repairs until its closure in 2001. Although the park remained opened, the Inn was boarded up while proposals came through about how to revitalize it.
In 2017, the Guild Inn finally reopened as an event venue to much adulation. The 1965 hotel was demolished and in its place a new modern entertainment space was established. The Clark Centre for The Arts opened in 2022 as cultural facility in a 1960s era storage building on the property.
The City of Toronto continues to manage the grounds with the advocacy, help, and promotion from The Friends of Guild Park. The group’s motto for the park is ‘Where Art Meets Nature’, which neatly captures intersection park and its great trails with the artistry all over the grounds and its in history. Today, The Guild Inn Estate is a marvel for visitors old and new who may get a taste of its past and present.
Victoria Park is a quaint public square located in downtown Brantford. It is found in the square block bordered by Market Street, George Street, Wellington Street, and Darling Street. While the park is in itself interesting, the surrounding streets and sites make for an interesting wander through Brantford’s past and present, and colonial and indigenous roots.
The square’s origins are from Lewis Burwell’s 1830 Town Plan of Brantford, a scheme that laid out the village’s original blocks. It provides the genesis for Brantford’s central grid system and lays out its street names as well as some of the city’s original landmarks.
It was not the first survey of Brantford and white settlers were living in Brantford prior to 1830 along with Indigenous peoples, but it was still an important development. Victoria Park appears as Municipal Public Square.
Although Victoria Park was laid out in 1830, it wasn’t fully landscaped until 1861. Its designer was John Turner and its diverging paths are intended to mimic the Union Jack flag.
A statue to Mohawk Leader and Brantford’s namesake Thayendanegea – anglicized name Joseph Brant – stands boldly in the centre of the park. The monument was unveiled in 1866 as a tribute to Thayendanegea’s allegiance to the British crown. The Brantford area was inhabited by the Haudenosaunee in 1700s. Brant himself is central to the city’s story in he ceded some lands for the place.
Facing the park on Wellington is the imposing Brant County Court House. The land was set aside in 1830 Town Plan and the building was designed later in 1851 by park designer John Turner.
The Brant Court House dons the Palladian style and is notable for its grand construction, great columns, and amazing symmetry.
The court house property takes up an entire block backing onto Nelson Street. A Jail and Registry Building make up other notable parts of the complex.