Scenes From O’Sullivan’s Corners & Muirhead’s Corners

When does a place stop being a place? On the border of North York and Scarborough, there are two Sheppard Avenues. Old Sheppard Avenue runs east to west from Victoria Park Avenue to just shy of Highway 404. Sheppard Avenue East curves just south of the old street across the border of the two former municipalities. These two streets — and triangular plot in between — hold quite the history and evolution of two lost junctions: O’Sullivan’s Corners and Muirhead’s Corners. Here is a brief account of their story.

Source: Google Maps.

On Old Sheppard Avenue, there is a house unlike the others around it. Now situated in the middle of a modern subdivision, it was the farmhouse of the Alex Muirhead and his family.

The Muirheads settled the 100-acre plot of land known as Concession IV Lot 15 in York Township in 1853. Alex Muirhead would build his farmhouse in the Ontario Vernacular style in that same year, situating it on the south side of what is now Old Sheppard Avenue. The Muirhead name was prominent in the area — so much so that the odd junction on the northwest corner of the lot was known as Muirhead’s Corners in the early 20th century.

Concession IV Lot 15 from 1860 Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto.

In 1860, Patrick O’Sullivan and Ann O’Reilly opened the O’Sullivan Hotel on the eastern part of Lot 14, directly south of the Muirhead property. The hotel featured ‘two bedrooms, dining room, and a bar’. The structure was situated on the west side of the York-Scarborough line across the Third concession on the Reilly farm.

O’Sullivan’s Hotel (centre background), circa 1920s. Source: Toronto Public Library & North York Historical Society.

1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The area grew from here. In 1873, part of the O’Reilly land was used to house a one-room public school. The school — named School Section #23, later Victoria Park School –roughly served the west side of townline from today’s Lawrence Avenue to Finch Avenue. In 1893, a Post Office opened at the O’Sullivan Hotel, cementing the area as a community with the moniker O’Sullivan’s Corners. The area, sometimes shortened to just O’Sullivan, rose to local landmark status in the early 20th century.

O’Sullivan and SS #3 from the Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

School Section 23 (1873-1964), Toronto, Ont., 1956. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The rise of automobiles and highways in the early 20th century aided in the growth of O’Sullivan. Beginning in the 1910s, significant changes took place along the roadways of northern Scarborough and North York. Motorized vehicles were on the increase and, with them, convenient and leisurely long-distance travel through the suburbs of Toronto. One can imagine couples and families venturing through O’Sullivan’s Corners and stopping for a Sunday lunch.

Toronto Daily Star, September 11, 1925. Don Mills Road jogged east at York Mills Road and then north to what later be Woodbine Avenue. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The main east-west street through these parts was Lansing Sideroad (sometimes named Lansing Cut-Off), which — next to Kingston Road — was the main way from the centre of Toronto to Pickering and Oshawa. Named after the community it originated in, Lansing Sideroad extended east from Yonge Street, passing the community of Oriole at Leslie Street and Muirhead’s Corners at Don Mills Road (later Woodbine Avenue).It stitched together east-west routes connecting the Concession roads of North York: Bayview (2), Leslie (3), and Woodbine (4).

In the 1920s, newspapers presented weekend road trips through the areas around Toronto. Toronto Daily Star, September 9, 1927. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Lansing then jogged south at the townline near O’Sullivan before continuing into the Scarborough through Agincourt and Malvern following the old Third Concession Road. In 1911, Lansing Sideroad was paved to allow better navigation. It is unclear when it was named Lansing Road, but there is an early mention of improvements to the road in 1903.

The Globe, June 2, 1903. Source: Toronto Public Library

As the 1920s rolled into the 1930s, more upgrades were made to Lansing Sideroad. The Department of Public Highways of Ontario, created in 1916, sought to include the road in a larger highway network to improve motor vehicle travel. And so, on August 25, 1931, Premier George S. Henry inaugurated a new motorway between Lansing and Malvern on the street.

Toronto Daily Star June 21, 1929. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Toronto Daily Star, August 25, 1931. Source: Toronto Public Library.

In another huge development, the two sections of the Lansing Sideroad in Scarborough and North York were aligned in 1934. The new curved section of roadway donated and purchased from several landowners in the area and eliminated multiple jogs between O’Sullivan’s Corners at Dawes Road and Muirhead’s Corners at Don Mills Road. Travellers now could travel more seamlessly between townships.

Toronto Daily Star, June 15, 1934. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Aerial photo of Muihead’s Corners, O’Sullivan, and the Lansing Sideroad, 1954. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Along with the O’Sullivan Hotel, there were service centres, gas stations, and some shops to serve the local and commuting populations of O’Sullivan and Muirhead’s Corners in the early 20th century. The North-East Drive-In Theatre also opened between the communities on Lansing Road in 1947, further building on the virtues of car travel.

Looking south on Victoria Park Avenue from north of Sheppard Avenue East, Toronto, Ont, 1958. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Woodbine Avenue looking west at Sheppard Avenue, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Toronto Daily Star, September 23, 1947. The North-East Drive-In showed its final film in 1976 as the Consumers Business Park overtook the area. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The second half of the 20th century proved to be a transitional period for the area and the beginning of the end many things recognizable at O’Sullivan’s Corners. For a start, the road network was significantly altered — even more than before. Perhaps as a result of the new Metropolitan Toronto’s efforts to harmonize transportation in the city, Dawes Road and Lansing Sideroad both were renamed to Victoria Park Avenue and Sheppard Avenue East in the 1950s.

Victoria Park Avenue, Sheppard Avenue East, Lansing Road from 1955 Metropolitan Toronto Map. Lansing Side Road seems to have renamed in Scarborough even as the North York section became Sheppard Avenue. Both would be under the Sheppard name in the 1960s. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The four-laned Toronto By-Pass — now Highway 401 — opened as the new east-west alternative to Kingston Road and Lansing Road in and out of the Toronto area in 1957. It included an exit at Victoria Park Avenue.

Toronto Bypass, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

And in a final update to motorways, Highway 404 replaced Woodbine Avenue north of Highway 401 by 1967. The move spelt the end of Muirhead’s Corners, as the junction was physically eliminated to make way for the highway. It also meant Old Sheppard was now cut off at its west end, now looping into a new Muirhead Road (near a school also named for the pioneer of the street).

Aerial of the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 404 under construction in 1966. Consumers Business Park is also roughed in. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

It is hard to pinpoint when O’Sullivan’s Corners stopped being O’Sullivan’s Corners, but the 1950s and ’60s is certainly a start. After nearly a century in operation, O’Sullivan’s Hotel was closed in 1954. The reasons? Perhaps interest had faded from patrons and management. Or the costs were too high. Its replacement was a gas station — a use the corner continues today. To its south, SS #23 was also lost in 1964 to accommodate more lanes for Highway 401. (Its belfry and bell was salvaged by Herbert and Rosa Clark and is now on display at the Guild Park in Scarborough along with our salvaged building fragments of the post-war era)

By at least 1950, the Muirhead farm was also divided up to host a new residential community. Brian Drive (originally Sandra Boulevard) and Patrick Boulevard both hosted houses with large lots. The old Muirhead farmhouse also received new neighbours on its street. Curiously though, Old Sheppard is unnamed in maps from the 1950s. (Perhaps the moniker came into existence when it was orphaned by the highway 404.)

Aerial of Old Sheppard, Brian Drive, Patrick Boulevard in 1953. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

In the early 1970s, brand new houses went in north of Patrick Boulevard and east of Brian Drive, replacing most of the housing stock from twenty years prior. The Muirhead farmhouse was already situated close to the street, so when the new houses went in beside it, it was relatively integrated into its surroundings.

Around the corner on Brian Drive, a line of more modern residences in the middle of the street curiously deviates from neighbouring housing styles. The story: When this area bought up and sold by redevelopers in the 1970s, it seems one property held out on selling. Its deep lot stretched to Wilkinson Drive, leaving the new streets in between incomplete. The holdout looks like it lasted about 30 years until around 2001 when four rows of infill development went in. With that, Doubletree and Wilkinson were finally connected.

Source: OldTO, 1992 vs 2020.

Source: Google Maps

Source: Toronto Star, April 14, 2001

On Patrick Boulevard, a house from the same era as the Brian Drive holdout residence remains. It never had to sell, though. This house is noticeable because, although it is neighbours with houses it predates, it is set back considerably from the street with a long driveway.

Source: Google Maps

On the west side of Brian Drive, apartment towers and townhouses went up steadily through the 1970s too. The ‘Crossroads’ buildings, in particular, are appropriately and geographically named.

Source: Globe and Mail, May 25, 1979

Victoria Park Square is the local mall for the area. It opened in 1972 on the former site of the O’Sullivan Hotel to serve the up-and-coming residences. It was known in those early days for hosting the first Horizon — Eaton’s chain of discount stores. A Heritage Toronto and North York Historical Society plaque today tells the story of O’Sullivan’s Hotel.

Source: Globe and Mail, August 17, 1972

In 1988, a second plaza was built at the corner of Brian Drive and Sheppard Avenue. Named ‘The Shoppes of Brian Village’, the plaza resembles a village centre. It was significant enough to warrant an Urban Design award from the city in 1988. The site also gives the area another name: Brian Village (or perhaps vice versa).

Source: Toronto Star, November 29, 1988

Today, this community is part of the modern Pleasantview census tract – a total area which reaches up to Finch Avenue East. It is a mix of mostly English and Mandarin speakers, with some Italian and Greek households.

The name is not in use anymore, but how much of O’Sullivan’s Corners is left? O’Sullivan School certainly lives at the Guild as a physical remnant. More than that, the busy nexus of Victoria Park and Sheppard — where the hotel once stood — may have a clue. Today, the intersection hosts a gas station, a breakfast spot, a pizza place, and a drugstore. Next to that drug store is the famed Johnny’s Hamburgers. The building housing Johnny’s is from about 1956. The burger joint got its start about ten years later by a Greek immigrant.

Victoria Park Avenue and Sheppard Avenue, shortly after the loss of O’Sullivan’s Hotel, 1956. Note the dual units. By 1970, it was just one unit: Johnny’s. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Although it post-dates the era of the O’Sullivan Hotel, Johnny’s Hamburgers grew out of the car-centric circumstances that brought the area prominence. The simple, table-less interior also plays tribute to North-East Theatre as its one-time neighbour. Even if the place no longer exists, a visit to Johnny’s may a taste of the O’Sullivan community of old.

Event: “Riverdale: A History Through Maps”

On November 26, 2019, I will be presenting to the Riverdale Historical Society in a talk entitled, “Riverdale: A History Through Maps”!

In recounting the history of Toronto’s environs on this website, I have regularly drawn on maps to get an idea of how places are represented at different points in time. In comparing those maps together, it also gives me a good idea on how those places have evolved over time. I look to bring out that visual history when talking about Riverdale.

The area east of the Don River has been an interest of mine since 2006. I have fond memories of riding the 72 Pape bus to Carlaw and Eastern on the way to my part-time job at Weston’s. To this day I marvel at the old factories of the corridor. That time in my life helped create the impetus for this website as well as some early content too with pieces about Industrial Carlaw, the rolling hills of Withrow Park, and Leslieville’s iconic Leslie Grove Park! The 506 Carlton streetcar is another favourite route, as well as the 504 King Street along Broadview — if only to catch the best view in the city as it passes by Riverdale Park!

“Riverdale: A History Through Maps” will explore the areas progression through a variety of themes: topographical, geographical, natural, transportation, built heritage, and more!

 

Talk will begin at 6:30pm at the St. Matthew’s Clubhouse! Event is $5 for non-members of the Riverdale Historical Society. Check their website for more details!

1893 Barclay, Clark & Co. Bird’s Eye View Chromolithograph. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto

Roads Never Built

 

Roads Never Built

By Bob Georgiou

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019/Issue 50 edition of Spacing Magazine. With permission, I have reproduced it here.

 

Throughout its history, the City of Toronto has reimagined its street grid. Growth periods following both World Wars brought with them road improvement schemes to address traffic congestion and better connect the city. Some projects – like the 1931 Church Street extension north of Bloor Street to Davenport Road – came to fruition. Others – most famously, the Spadina Road Extension-turned-expressway cancelled in 1971 – never saw their intended results. Here are four other road extensions in the 20th century that would have altered the geography of Toronto if built.

Victoria Street

When: 1900s to 1930s

In 1906, the Board of Works discussed the possibility of extending Victoria Street from Gerrard Street to Carlton Street for a new streetcar route. Yonge Street relief had been a theme in road improvement, with Bay Street extended north from Queen Street to Davenport in the 1920s (it was even proposed to extend it to St. Clair Avenue in the 1930s and 1940s). Estimates in 1911 had the Victoria-to-Carlton scheme costing as much as $500,000, and a report by the Civic Improvement Committee proposed to extend it further to Bloor. With costs to expropriate property proving too high, Civic Works abandoned the idea in 1912. City Planners revived the idea in a grander plan for downtown streets in 1929. In yet another city-wide improvement plan in 1930, Works Commissioner RC Harris recommended a streetcar-free Victoria Street that would stretch north via Park Road to join with the also-proposed Jarvis and Sherbourne extensions of Mount Pleasant Road. A council motion in 1935 envisioned Victoria ending at Davenport Road, but none of these plans came to fruition. Today, Victoria Street is in fact shorter, ending at Gould after its last block was absorbed by the Ryerson Campus.

Credit: Civic Improvement Committee Report, 1911.

St. Clair Avenue

When: 1920s, 1960s-1970s

A Council decision in 1928 by East York and York County first imagined uniting the two sections of St. Clair Avenue. Initial talks involved land offers and easements from John H. Taylor and the Toronto City Estates to complete the extension in the Don Valley. Discussions followed in 1929 on the course’s starting point and overall engineering. One route extended straight east from Mount Pleasant Road while the other travelled by way of Moore Avenue via a bridge spanning the Belt Line Ravine from St. Clair. From here, the street would connect to the new Leaside Viaduct, then follow Don Mills Road to Woodbine Avenue before finally bridging diagonally across Massey Creek. Moore Park residents disapproved of the Moore Avenue alignment as it meant more vehicular traffic. Discussion seemed to taper off in the 1930s. Reprises in the 1960s saw a valley-spanning St. Clair brought up again, but these too ended in 1970 when the Metro government decided not to proceed after facing public opposition and high costs.

Credit: The Globe, 21 January 1929

Cosburn Avenue

When: 1950s

As a candidate for East York Reeve in the 1956 election, Jack Allen campaigned on the eastward extension of Cosburn Avenue. After winning the position, he continued his push in 1957 and 1958, highlighting a scheme in which the street would continue past Woodbine Avenue by curving parallel to the disused CNR line in the Taylor-Massey Creek valley to connect with Victoria Park Avenue. The purpose was to relieve congestion at Woodbine and O’Connor. Allen also thought the extension would aid the case for a new courthouse at Cosburn and Woodbine and his vision of high-density apartment towers in East York. Parkland advocates at the Don Valley Conservation Association opposed the plan. Allen introduced a master zoning plan by developer and architect Sulio Venchiarutti of Urban Planning Consultants, but this was rejected by East York Council in 1959. A year later, the township adopted a different official plan and Allen was replaced as reeve by future mayor True Davidson.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star 08 Mar 1957

Leslie Street

When: 1960s to 1990s

Following initial suggestions in 1968 and failed proposals in 1971 and 1973, in 1976 Metro Planners brought forward a $20-million extension of Leslie Street south of Eglinton Avenue. Debates around the idea coincided with another valley-spanning proposal in the 1970s for the direct routing of Lawrence Avenue from Bayview to Leslie. Arguments in favour of a lengthened Leslie centred on eased congestion – at the Leslie/Eglinton bottleneck and at neighbouring north-south avenues – while arguments against cited ravine destruction. Another report in 1983 and an environmental study in 1984 seemingly had the now $50-million scheme moving forward, with the route involving a high-level bridge over Wilket Creek Park, followed by a road along the CPR Belleville line before emerging at the Bayview Extension near Nesbitt Drive. Citizen groups argued that, if allowed, the Leslie proposal would re-open the Spadina Expressway debate. In 1988, Metro Council voted in favour of the 4-lane extension, but the price had gone up to $74 million dollars. Debate and public consultations continued into the 1990s with no extension built. In 2000 and 2002, Toronto Councillor Jane Pitfield proposed lengthening Redway Road to Bayview. Opponents feared the damage to Crowthers Woods and a rehashing of the Leslie debate, and nothing came of that plan either.

Credit: Toronto Star, 20 November 1984

 

Sources


Victoria Street

“Planned New Car Lines” The Globe. 19 May 1906: pg 9.

“Open Victoria Street.” The Globe. 15 March 1907: pg 9

“The Extension of Victoria Street.” The Globe. 2 November 1909: pg 6.

“Victoria Street Extension.” The Globe. 14 January 1910: pg 7. – 330,000

“Extend Victoria St Under New Stature.” The Globe. 22 April 1911: pg 9. – 360,000

“Victoria Street Extension Favored.” The Globe. 3 June 1911: pg 8.

“C.P.R. to Keep Building Site.” The Globe. 28 July 1911: pg 8. – half-million

“Many Important Schemes for the Betterment and Growth of Toronto.” Toronto Daily Star. 30 December 1911: pg 5.

Report of the Civic Improvement Committee for the City of Toronto, 1911

“City May Abandon Victoria Extension.” The Globe. 24 February 1912: pg 9.

“Will Try Arbitration.” The Globe. 2 March 1912: pg 4.

“Victoria Street Extension Killed.” The Globe 18 May 1912: pg 9.

“Make Bloor Street Big Business Centre.” The Globe. 20 March 1917: pg 7.

“City Planners Propose New Downtown Streets.” The Globe. 12 March 1929: pg 15

“Work Commissioner R.C. Harris Presents New City-Wide Project.” The Globe. 15 May 1930: pg 13.

“A Bay Street Plan.” The Globe. 17 January 1930: pg 4.

“Victoria Extension Favored by Expert.” The Globe. 21 November 1930: pg 13.

“Report is Requested on Victoria Extension” The Globe. 26 September 1931: pg 14.

“Victoria Street Extension to Davenport Road Talked.” The Globe. 12 February 1935: pg 11.

 

St. Clair Avenue

“St. Clair Extension.” The Globe. 21 December 1928: pg 2.

“Favor Taylor Proposal St. Clair Ave. Extension.” The Toronto Daily Star. 21 January 1929: pg 3.

“St. Clair Extension Through East York Offer of J.H. Taylor.” The Globe. 21 January 1929: pg 13.

“Problem of Bridges Northeast of City has Many Angles.” The Globe. 5 February 1929: pg 23.

“Hottest Discussion at County Council on Radial Proposal.” The Globe. 7 June 1929: pg 28.

“Easement Offered for Further Link Extending St. Clair.” The Globe. 23 June 1929: pg 13.

“Citizens Reassured on Extension Plans.” The Globe. 22 August 1929: pg 21.

“Action Expected on Moore Avenue Boundary Bridge.” The Globe. 30 July 1929: pg 13.

“Objects to Bridge.” The Globe. 22 August 1929: pg 4.

“The Moore Park Bridge.” The Globe. 7 September 1929: pg 4.

“Residents Agitated By Bridge Question in Northeast Area.” The Globe. 20 September 1929: pg 17.

“M’Bride Declares St. Clair Extension ‘Out of Question’”. The Globe. 21 September 1929: pg 18.

“Scarboro Plans Work on St. Clair to Aid Jobless.” The Globe. 17 December 1930: pg 10.

“Request St. Clair Cross Don Valley.” The Globe and Mail. 31 October 1962: pg 5.

“Urban Renewal Study for Metropolitan Planning Area Covering 750 Square Miles Is Proposed.” The Globe and Mail. 7 February 1963: pg 4.

“Metro Shelves St. Clair Plan.” The Globe and Mail. 9 September 1970: pg 5.

 

Cosburn Avenue

 “Promise to Campaign for Industry in Suburbs to Balance Housing Surge.” The Globe and Mail. 30 November 1956: pg 11.

“Site on Cosburn Ave. Urged for Courthouse.” The Globe and Mail. 14 February 1957: pg 4.

“Urge Alternate Site for E. York Court.” The Toronto Daily Star. 14 February 1957: pg 19.

“Reeve Asks Old Railway Be Expressway.” The Toronto Daily Star. 8 March 1957: pg 9.

“Reeve of East York Backs New Buildings.” The Globe and Mail. 3 December 1957: pg 5.

“Conservation at the Polls.” The Globe and Mail. 8 November 1958: pg 6.

“Residents Oppose Cosburn Extension.” The Toronto Daily Star. 6 June 1958: pg 29.

“Metropolitan Toronto: Scratch-My-Backism And the Courthouse.” The Globe and Mail. 26 June 1958: pg 7.

“Expect Hot Contests in Suburbs.” The Globe and Mail. 18 November 1958: pg 5.

“Cosburn Plan Foes Cut Chairman Short.” The Toronto Daily Star. 25 November 1958: pg 9.

“The Suburban Elections.” The Toronto Daily Star. 28 November 1958: pg 29.

“East York Greenbelt Should be Saved.” The Toronto Daily Star. 20 December 1958: pg 29.

“East York Zoning.” The Toronto Daily Star. 11 April 1959: pg 29.

“Suites to Oust Homeowners?” The Toronto Daily Star. 16 April 1959: pg 1.

“Raze Homes for Apartments?” The Toronto Daily Star. 16 April 1959: pg 3.

“It’s Improper, Mr. Venchiarutti.” The Toronto Daily Star. 20 April 1959: pg 29.

“Appraiser’s Kin Swung Land Deal, Probe Told.” The Toronto Daily Star. 21 May 1959: pg 2.

“East York Plan Limits Apartments to 5 ‘Pockets’”. The Toronto Daily Star. 22 June 1960: pg 41

“An East York Dialogue on Conflict of Interest.” The Toronto Daily Star. 19 June 1961: pg 7.

Redway, Alan. East York 1924-1997: Toronto’s Garden of Eden. FriesenPress, 2018.

 

Leslie Street

“Subway Expansion, Restriction on Cars, Sought for Toronto.” The Globe and Mail. 26 March 1968: pg 1.

“Time Needed for Study: Planners delay Flemingdon Scheme.” The Globe and Mail. 21 November 1968: pg 5.

“Transit Can’t Cope: Planners Want to Widen Metro Roads.” The Globe and Mail. 10 July 1976: pg 5.

“Here’s a plan to improve traffic.” The Toronto Star. 29 January 1979: pg A8.

“Alderman Says Extension Won’t Solve Traffic Mess.” The Toronto Star. 31 August 1979: pg A15

“Transport Plan Not Changing: Eggleton.” The Globe and Mail. 11 May 1984: M3.

“Battle Won by War Still Undecided on Extending Leslie past Eglinton.” The Toronto Star. 20 November 1984: pg A25.

“Neighbors Protest Bayview-Leslie Road Plan.” The Globe and Mail. 31 March 1988: pg A16.

“Leslie Extension Sparks Emotional Debate.” The Toronto Star. 13 April 1988: pg A7.

“Leslie Street Debate Resurfaces.” The Globe and Mail. 23 March 1991: pg A9.

“Notice of Public Hearing: Leslie Street Extension on Bayview Avenue Widening.” The Toronto Star. 27 August 1992: pg A26.

“Plan for Leslie Street Extension Scaled Back.” The Globe and Mail. 7 October 2000: pg A27.

 

Scenes From Toronto Railway Museum & Roundhouse Park

Since the train first tracks in the 1850s, Toronto’s railways have been a big part of its geography and history. They connect the city and its surroundings, joining neighbourhoods and people. They were also the driving force of industry. Founded in 2001, the Toronto Railway Museum tells their stories. One finds it across the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, and Ripley’s Aquarium in the appropriately named Roundhouse Park.

Map of Toronto’s Railways, date unknown. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Operated by the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the Toronto Railway Museum is based in the great John Street Roundhouse and the surrounding Roundhouse Park. The location is appropriate: Toronto’s railway corridor extended east and west of Union Station and was once the nexus of the city’s transportation network. In many ways, it still is.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 1969. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The John Street Roundhouse was part of that infrastructure. The structure itself was built by Canadian Pacific Railway between 1929 and 1931 as a maintenance and storage facility and to allow trains to, well, turn around.

As an interpretive experience, Toronto Railway Museum is immersive. It starts with an interior space in the Roundhouse’s Stall 17. There are maps and train memorabilia. There’s even a simulator which allows you to conduct a train around historic Toronto.

Outside, it functions as an open air museum. Well-produced plaques are located around park, often near significant landmarks. There are of course some train cars, some of which allow entry inside.

Most notable to me is the marker about the Workers of John Street. Most of Roundhouse Park’s landmarks highlight something physically awing like the Water Tower or a Canadian National Railway train, but this plaque focuses on the easily forgotten human element behind this tough industry.

Of course, Don Station is a remarkable site too. It is part of Toronto’s lost geography of bygone railway stations, companies, structures, and tracks. It operated 1896 to 1967 at Queen Street and the Don River. Then it spent time at Todmorden Mills until 2008 when it was moved to Roundhouse Park and subsequently restored. It also serves the museum’s gift shop and departure point for the park’s own train rides.

CPR Don Station looking west, 1910. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Goads Map, 1913. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

John Street Roundhouse closed in 1986. It marked an era where the railways were taking a bit of a backseat in Toronto’s development. Industry within the city was declining as manufacturing moved elsewhere. The physical lands of the railroads shifted too. Tracks were removed and lands — and some remaining sites — were redeveloped for new residential, commecial, and entertainment uses.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The Corridor just south Union Station saw a lot of this transformation. In 1976, the CN Tower was completed. The 1980s saw opening of the Metro Convention Centre and SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). The latter actually replaced another roundhouse. Using the facade of the old Postal Delivery Building, the Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) came in 1999 as the new home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and newly created Toronto Raptors. Since then, a condo community has grown up around it since as well as a fan area called Maple Leaf Square in 2010. Most recently, the area got the impressive Ripleys Aquarium in 2013.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

The John Street Roundhouse was designated a National Historic Site in 1990. Its heritage value comes from being the best example of a roundhouse in the country — its turntable actually works! Roundhouse Park opened around it in 1997 to further its legacy. In 1999, the roundhouse’s stalls became home to the aptly-named Steam Whistle Brewery and then Leon’s in 2009 (it closed for the Rec Room two years ago).

In 2019, the John Street Roundhouse celebrates its 90th birthday, making it a good time to reflect on its related history and geography. And stories. Lot of stories.

Useful Links

Old Time Trains

Toronto’s Railway Heritage by Derek Boles

Toronto Railway Historical Association

Toronto Railway Museum

Toronto’s First McDonald’s

With restaurants located in nearly every pocket of Toronto, McDonald’s — for better or worse — is ubiquitous in the city. Although Torontonians may not give their existence a second thought, the origin story of this mega-chain is largely unknown. Just how did McDonald’s get its start in Toronto and where was the first eatery located?

McDonald’s locations of Toronto as of 2019.

The year was 1969. The Big Mac had just made its way onto the hamburger chain’s menu. It also saw the first Toronto franchise open in North York at 3777 Keele Street near LePage Court (just south of Finch Avenue). It was several decades into Toronto’s post-WWII suburban growth and a fast food boom was already underway.

The first McDonald’s — centre of image — was located at suburban Keele Street and LePage Court. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, 1971.

The event came after a couple of other Canadian McDonald’s milestones. The first ever outlet in the country (and indeed, outside of the United States of America) opened in Richmond, British Columbia in 1967, spearheaded by future Keg founder George Tidball. The premiere franchise in Ontario (and Eastern Canada) opened its doors at 520 Oxford Street West in London. The date was November 11, 1968. The man in charge of that operation and growing McDonald’s in Canada was George Cohon. He opened another locale at 344 Queen Street East in Brampton in the same year, which was the first in the Greater Toronto Area. In 1971, Western and Eastern Canada operations merged to create McDonald’s Canada with Cohon at the helm.

The original London location and its golden arches look as they appeared when it opened in 1968. A time capsule and plaque marks its significance. Credit: Google Maps, 2018.

Credit: Globe & Mail, February, 10, 1971

Subsequent Toronto McDonald’s locations opened in the same year as Keele Street. There were eateries at 6170 Bathurst Street, 3660 Dufferin Street, 1068 Islington Avenue (originally 170 Islington Avenue South), 2116 Kipling Avenue (originally 1466 Kipling Avenue North), and 2701 Lawrence Avenue East. The latter was also the first McDonald’s in Scarborough. Two more locations — 5955 Leslie Street and 2870 Eglinton Avenue East — opened in 1970. Advertisements in those years marked contests, store openings, a reduction in menu prices, and job openings (oddly, many were targeted to mothers). Adding to these original eight locales, McDonald’s Canada would continue to steadily open more franchises as the decade marched on.

McDonald’s and its famed clown mascot draw up a Toy World contest. Note the list of restaurants in existance at the time. Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 21, 1969.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, August 9, 1969.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 6, 1970.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, June 3, 1970.

All these initial locations were purposely situated outside Toronto’s downtown core. As was the case in the United States, McDonald’s policy was to find “suburban situations” with a “backup community”. The idea was captured in the company slogan: ‘We count the church steeples and station wagons’. In other words, McDonald’s restaurants were to be located within a built-in market of families and traffic flow. According to Cohon, they were to be active parts of their new communities.

McDonald’s locations of Toronto as of 1971.

A growing Bathurst and Steeles area in 1971. McDonald’s is situated at the bottom of the image. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The McDonald’s origin story goes back to a hamburger and fries stand in 1940s San Bernardino, California. Two brothers, Richard “Dick” McDonald and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, invented the ‘Speedee Service System’ — a Henry Ford-eque approach on food production. No carhops, no tables, no plates, and no half-hour wait times. People only had to drive to the lot, place their order at the window via a very streamlined menu, receive their meal, drive away, and enjoy wherever they wanted. With this, fast food and the drive-in restaurant was born. Ray Croc — the McDonald brothers’ ambitious business partner until he aggressively bought out the company from them in 1961 — made the entreprise into a national and international icon.

To be sure, McDonald’s was not the first to enter the drive-in, fast-food restaurant market in Toronto. The first Harvey’s in Canada opened just north of the city at Yonge Street and Observatory Lane in Richmond Hill in 1959. Tim Horton’s originally failed in the 1960s because of competition from other drive-ins. McDonald’s did, however, help to increase the profile of fast food at a time where it was not yet at modern day levels. A 1970 Globe and Mail article explained the 1960s had seen a buzz around fast food but that had slowed by the end of the decade as land, food, and construction costs rose and the market was over-saturated with eateries. It also went into detail about the specific criteria of fast food, as if the concept was not fully developed. With competitor Burger King opening their first Toronto restaurant a year after McDonald’s and now defunct Burger Chef giving both a real run for consumer dollars, a new era was on the way.
The look of the McDonald’s Canada restaurants mirrored their American counterparts. Buildings were usually one storey, highlighted architecturally with two golden arches. Following the drive-in model, parking spaces surrounded the structure and a large, recognizable ‘M’ sign stood at the end of the driveway. However, a key difference with Canadian franchises was more space to eat meals inside the diner. As the 1970s progressed, McDonald’s restaurants came to be more sit-down eateries.

A look at the architecture of early McDonald’s Drive-Ins. Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 13, 1970.

Despite McDonald’s commitment to be contributing members of their new communities, not all neighbourhoods were receptive to the Golden Arches. In 1971, residents of suburban Roe Avenue argued against a McDonald’s that was set to go on their street at the corner of Avenue Road. The company took over a defunct gas station and subsequently bought and demolished two houses to make a parking lot. Residents argued that the area was zoned for residential use and the drive-in would only bring noise to the quiet neighbourhood. The McDonald’s ultimately went in as planned.

Credit: Globe & Mail, November 30, 1971.

A similar battle took place in Markland Wood in Etobicoke in 1977. Residents fought against a location at a mall at Bloor Street and Mill Street. They argued the restaurant did not fit zoning bylaws (McDonald’s argued it was a sitdown restaurant rather than a drive-in). They almost won too, but like Roe Avenue, a McDonald’s is still there today.

Credit: Toronto Star, October 22, 1977.

These battles highlight the theme of the McDonald’s — and drive-ins in general — as evolutionary by-products of automobile-centred suburbs. By the arrival of the 1970s, ‘quiet, tree-lined’ suburbs had grown to encompass new uses for the car, which now included a new method of food consumption. Steve Penfold writes they were a part of a new transformed landscape of “gas stations, car washes, and other drive-in uses”. As highlighted by Roe Avenue and Markland Wood, the placement of parking lots to serve these new spaces and the implications on zoning became serious issues. Politicians like North York Controller Mel Lastman, Alderman Paul Godfrey, and Scarborough Mayor Paul Cosgrove waged some sort of battle to curtail the expansion of more drive-ins.

By the end of the 1970s, McDonald’s dropped its exclusivity of suburban locations. The first downtowner was on Yonge Street south of Bloor around the middle of the decade. Others would open up on the street near King and Adelaide Streets and further north near St. Clair and Eglinton Avenues. Fifty years and around a hundred frachises later, McDonald’s fingers extends into Toronto’s modern and heritage buildings, food courts, strip malls, Wal-Marts, subway stations, and even the Toronto Zoo.

McDonald’s at Yonge Street and Grenville Street between 1977 and 1983. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The original Keele Street McDonald’s closed around 2006. It would however relocate to a new building slightly to its north. Outlets at Islington, Dufferin, and Leslie each converted to other restaurants too. The Bathurst and Steeles location is now the oldest continually operating site in Toronto, although the building — like many others in the city — has been heavily altered.

The oldest McDonald’s in Toronto, Bathurst and Steeles Avenue. Credit: Google Maps, 2018.

A question might be if a historical marker like the ones in London or Richmond is warranted on either the first or earliest surviving Toronto McDonald’s. The proliferation of fast food and the chain itself has certainly had negative impacts on society, and this is a case against ‘celebrating’ McDonald’s significance as something of deep value. But in a more neutral sense, the geographic and cultural reach of the company, its impact on daily Toronto life, and its association with the development of suburban Toronto may bring on at least a closer recognition of its significance and existence. And with existence comes the origin story.

Sources

Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 21 Nov, 1969, p. 37.

Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 06 Nov, 1970, p. 11.

Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 13 Nov, 1970, p. 11.

Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 04 Oct, 1975, p. 19.

Bateman, Chris. “That Time Toronto Got Its First Taste of Tim Hortons.” BlogTO.

Bradburn, Jamie. “Vintage Toronto Ads: McLower Prices at McDonald’s.” Torontoist, 14 Aug. 2012.

Bullock, Helen. “Arch enemy: A counter atteck repels Big Mac in the battle of Markland Woods” The Toronto Star, 22 Oct 1977, p. A10.

Cohon, George. To Russian With Fries. McClelland & Stewart, 1999

“Dining with Liz.” Toronto Daily Star, 9 Aug. 1969, p. 32.

Gray, Stuart. “Maple leaf forever.” The Globe and Mail, 5 Jul 1973, p. 39.

Howlett, Karen. “Subway Plan Could Benefit Sorbara Family.” The Globe and Mail, 23 Apr. 2018.

Job Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 03 June 1970, p. 61.

Job Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Star, 28 Aug 1979, p. C19

Johnson, Arthur. “For the man on the beat, meals are cheap.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Aug 1976, pg 1.

Lancashire, David. “Burgers, Chicken Pizza Boom: Fast food is tops with Canadians.” The Globe and Mail, 23 May, 1979, p. 7.

Mirsky, Jesse. “Original Harvey’s Restaurant Demolished to Make Way for Condos.” National Post, 13 Mar. 2012.

Moore, Michael. “Pace slowing as fast food meets snags” The Globe and Mail, 05 Aug 1970, p. B1.

Moore, Michael. “Supermarkets can be major factor as burger giants battle to keep growing.” The Globe and Mail, 06 Aug 1970, p. B3.

Parsons, Anne. “Fears swallowed: McDonald’s is picked to cater in new zoo.” The Globe and Mail, 6 Jul 1973, p. 1

Penfold, Steve. “‘Are We to Go Literally to the Hot Dogs?” Parking Lots, Drive-Ins, and the Critique of Progress in Toronto’s Suburbs, 1965–1975 – Urban History Review.” Érudit, Urban History Review / Revue D’histoire Urbaine, 17 May 2013.

Rasky, Frank. “McBreakfast: Fast food grabs the morning rush” Toronto Star, 02 April 1979, p. C1.

Rauchwerger, Daniel. “The Architecture of ‘McDonald’s’ – Architizer Journal.” Journal, 7 Nov. 2017.

Roseman, Ellen. “The man who’s eating up Canada’s fast food industry.” Toronto Star, 22 Feb 1975, p. B1.

Roseman, Ellen. “The Consumer Game: Salad bars good news for waist watchers.” The Globe and Mail, 13 Mar 1979, p. 14.

Shepherd, Harvey. “51 Canadian outlets: Merger brings McDonald’s units under single direction.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Feb 1971, p. B1.

Shepherd, Harvey. “Speed the crux as McDonald’s anticipates costumers’ orders, healthy profits.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Feb 1971, p. B13.

Slover, Frank. “McDonald’s expects profit near $6 million” The Globe and Mail, 03 May 1973, p. B3.

Stern, Beverley. “The Canadian Jewish News, Thursday, May 15,1980 – Page 9.” SFU Digitized Newspapers.

“Truce called in hamburger fray.” The Globe and Mail, 3 Dec 1971, p. 5.

Whelan, Peter. “The hamburger drive-in and the quiet street.” The Globe and Mail, 30 Nov 1971, p. 5.

Dating the Undated: A Look Down Bay Street

I came across an old photo in the Toronto Public Library digital catalog. Taken from Old City Hall, the shot looks south on Bay Street and features its massive towers overlooking the street life below. The photographer is the great Boris Spremo. The source is Toronto Star Archives. The date is…unknown.

Canada – Ontario – Toronto – Streets and Intersections – Bay St, Date Unknown. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Unknown? It had to have been taken at some point in time. Thus, I began my efforts to date the photo.

I attempted a similar exercise to date an undated map also in the Toronto Public Library’s collection. With the input of Twitter users, some research, and dating landmarks within the map (the railways, streets, parks), I was able to narrow the image down to about 1885.

What about our view of Bay Street? The photo is black and white which means it is not quite recent, but it appears more modern than early looks up and down Bay Street. Mid-century sounds about right.

Bay St., looking north from Adelaide St. W., Toronto, Ont., 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Bay St., looking north from north of King St., Toronto, Ont. 1928. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The landmarks within the shot and their years of completion offer a big help. Beyond telling us that a good portion of modern Bay Street dates to 1920s and 1930s, the photo had to have been taken later than the ‘youngest’ tower: the Bank of Nova Scotia of 1951.

All of these landmarks survive today except for one: The Temple Building. It was sadly lost in 1970. So, our picture range is set: 1951-1970.

The Temple Building before demolition, 1969. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

To narrow it further one can look at the cars. I’ve seen this method to date photos before. I’m not an expert on automobile makes, but I guess these to be from the 1950s or 1960s as well.

Flying above Hudson’s Bay is the Canadian Red Ensign. Above the Bank of Nova Scotia are two Union Jacks. Why are these details significant? Canada was using these two flags as its national symbol until 1965. In that year, the Maple Leaf was adopted.

The photographer and his story offer the final clue. Boris Spremo began his photojournalism career in 1962 at the Globe & Mail. In 1966, he moved to the Toronto Star where he built his most famous body of work. Thus, the earliest he could have taken the photo of Bay Street was 1966.

A puzzler: If the Canadian National Flag came in 1965 and Spremo started at the Star in 1966, why the old flags still?

One thought is the flag debate was still fresh after 1965. I imagine people (and businesses) were still loyal to The Union Jack and Red Canadian Ensign (and Great Britain). The old flag in 1966 would not have been unheard of.

So when was the picture taken? I say somewhere between 1966 and 1970.

As a final note, Spremo actually returned to the tower of Old City Hall in 1976 to retake the shot. It is very similar to his photo from a decade earlier, save for the noticeable absence and replacement of the Temple Building.

Bay Street, 1976. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Edit:

Since writing this article, Twitter users Sean Marshall, Alex Bozikovic, and Donald Walker have brought one large clue to my attention. Hidden down at street level under all the towers I previously used to date the image was the old Bank of Toronto (later becoming the Toronto-Dominion Bank through mergers) on the southwest corner of King & Bay Streets. The trademark columns are not too visible but the sloped roof certainly is. The key here is demolition of the TD Bank to make way for the TD Centre began in the spring of 1966.

Toronto Dominion Bank, King Street West and Bay Street, 1962. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Toronto-Dominion bank demolition, 1966. Photo also by Boris Spremo. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

This would place the photo to 1965 or slightly earlier as the structure was still standing. This works better as a date when also considering the old flags. Either this was pre-February 15, 1965 and the switchover had not happened yet or it was during an ‘adjustment period’ right after the new Canadian Flag was introduced as I theorized.

As for Spremo starting at the Star in 1966? Perhaps I placed too much weight on this and he may just have had the photo already with him when he joined the newspaper!

Scenes From The Danforth (Broadview Avenue to Pape Avenue)

For a history of Danforth Avenue, a good place to start is the Playter Farmhouse at the head of Playter Boulevard on Playter Crescent. Although the family had roots in Toronto since the 1790s with land holdings east and west of the Don River, the house was not built until the 1870s.

When the Playters came here, virtually nothing of modern reference existed. Danforth Avenue was laid out as Concession II in the 1790s when York Township was surveyed, but it did not become a usable road until 1851 when the Don and Danforth Plank Road Co. redid the street. Broadview Avenue north of Danforth was known as Mill Road or Don Mill and also was laid out in the 1790s while south of Danforth the street came by the 1860s. Modern day Ellerbeck, Pretoria, and Cambridge Avenues were the first local streets to appear around that time.

Danforth Avenue in the JO Browne Map of the Township of York, 1851. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto

Danforth Avenue in Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The Playters sold off their land over the coming decades and the street grid gradually took its present shape. By the 1920s, Bayfield Crescent looped around the remaining Playter property to surround the old farmhouse. What we today call the Playter Estates came to be filled with beautiful now multi-million dollar Edwardian homes with the occasional Ontario workers’ cottage, hinting at the perhaps humble origins of its early residents.

Today, Broadview Avenue and Danforth Avenue is a gate into the eastern part of the city. Once upon a time however, this part of the city just ended. There was no bridge across the Don River. Anyone looking to travel between Riverdale and Toronto had to go south to Gerrard Street or Queen Street.

Danforth and Broadview avenues before viaduct, looking east, ca. 1908. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Despite the Toronto’s annexation of Riverdale south of the Danforth in 1884 and the village of Chester (made up the former Playter lands) north of the Danforth in 1909, the eastern part of the city remained disconnected from the core of the city for some time. Around 1900, Danforth Avenue and the areas north and south of the street were sparsely populated. There were less than twenty structures between Broadview and Jones, most of them houses!

Danforth Avenue, 1903. Credit: Toronto Historic Maps.

Several developments in the 1910s began to change things. Beginning in 1912, Danforth Avenue was paved and widened to 86 feet. In October of the following year, the Toronto Civic Railway opened the Danforth Civic Streetcar Line to much local support. A Globe article described the scene of 25,000 converging on the street to celebrate — even blocking the cars from passing!

Danforth Avenue east of Broadview Avenue during civic car line construction, Aug 1912. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“VAST THRONG IN STREET BLOCKS NEW CAR SERVICE” The Globe, October 31, 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

Danforth Avenue, looking east from Broadview Avenue, 1914. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth and Broadview Ave [Toronto, Ont.]., 1920. Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

Finally, after many debates of its necessity and four years of construction, the Bloor Street Viaduct opened in 1918. The idea of Public Works Commissioner R.C. Harris and the design of famed Architect Edmund Burke (he has a namesake pub at 107 Danforth Avenue as appreciation), the bridge and transit were in talks since at least 1910. Their proponents saw them as linked and necessary projects. Broadview Avenue already had a streetcar route since 1888, so the corner was set to became a nexus. It is no coincidence that Albert Edward and William Ellerbeck Playter opened the Playter Society in 1908 with grand expectations for the corner in the coming decades. Albert also funded the Playtorium, a building whose incarnations included a vaudeville theatre. Both were two of the earliest on the strip. The Canadian Bank of Commerce branch across the street came around 1918, replacing a blacksmith ship.

Prince Edward Viaduct under construction, 1917. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Northwest corner of Danforth Avenue and Don Mills Road (now Broadview Avenue) shop, 1913. The current CIBC branch occupies building. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Playter Society Building, 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Danforth Avenue in the City of Toronto Directories. 1913. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Danforth Avenue east of Broadview Avenue from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1913. Credit: Goads Toronto.

The Former Danforth Hall/Playter Fun House/Playtorium at 128 Danforth Avenue, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

In 1913, the Globe identified the Danforth as new business section in the northeastern part of Toronto. It also described a bizarre episode in which a man discovered a muskrat on Moscow Avenue (today’s Gough Avenue). It perhaps shows The Danforth in transition: growing yet still rural (albeit urban wildlife is not uncommon in 2019).

This strip west near 592 Danforth Avenue of Gough Avenue, built 1911, was one of the first row of stores built between Broadview and Pape Avenue.

“EXPANDING TORONTO– MAKING HOMES IN OUTSKIRTS FOR CITY NEARING HALF MILLION”, The Globe, October 25, 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

‘Caught a Muskrat on Danforth Avenue’ The Globe, March 24 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

There was a residential aspect to Danforth Avenue, too. Most of those who now live on the street reside above the shops, but there are at least two remnants of when houses still populated the way at 278 and 280 Danforth Avenue. These were residences built in 1911 for Mr. Alfred W. Pestell and Mrs. Ellen Mackey, respectively. The street addresses were 152 and 154 Danforth Avenue. Residential in nature when they were built, now they host shops.

Danforth Avenue, east from Broadview Avenue, 1913. Credit: City of Toronto Library.

A view from 260 Danforth Avenue, east of Playter Boulevard, 1920s. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

A look at the Danforth today sees houses of worship on either side of the street which also date to this early period in the 1910s. St. Barnabas Anglican Church in 1910 and Danforth Baptist Church in 1914 were two of the first. The Church of the Holy Name followed with construction also in 1914, although it took twelve years to complete.

Another sign the street was coming of age in the decade: Allen’s Danforth, now the Danforth Music Theatre. Built in 1919, it was advertised as “Canada’s First Super-Suburban Photoplay Palace” according to its Heritage Toronto plaque. At least three neighbourhood theatres would open — and close — between Broadview and Pape in the coming decades.

By the 1920s, Danforth Avenue reached its peak. Empty lots from the prior decades filled out. The Danforth Civic Line turned the area into a streetcar suburb, but the era of the automobile was just beginning. In 1922, the Globe, speaking about growing suburbs across Toronto, declared that the lesson was that ‘settlement follows good roads’, citing the upgrades of the prior decade.

Danforth Avenue from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1924. Credit: Toronto Historic Maps.

“Park and Shop in the Danforth District”, The Globe, May 2, 1928. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

Further to the notion that the automobile was now in play, Logan Avenue at one time existed in two sections north and south of Danforth Avenue. City politicians and politicians proposed road improvement schemes after both World Wars, and street widenings, alignments, and extensions were large factors within them.

Aerial view of Logan Avenue, 1947. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth Avenue east at Logan Avenue, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth Avenue west at Logan Avenue, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

In the mid-1950s, the Danforth-Logan was eliminated, allowing traffic to flow straight through without the need to travel west or east on Danforth. Although the sizeable Withrow Park existed just south on Logan, the event created some much needed public space right on Danforth Avenue which would later serve as important gathering point for the community.

Aerial view of Logan Avenue, 1956. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth looking east to Logan, 1987-1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Logan looking south to Danforth, 1987-1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1930s, Danforth Avenue was full of the expected businesses: banks, theatres, dry goods shops, men’s and ladies wear, confectioneries, shoe repair places, drug stores, and more. But the demographics began to change. The 1930 Might’s Greater Toronto Directories show Ethels Delicatessen at 173 Danforth and Lorrain Delicatessen at 457 Danforth. More prominently, we also see Italian fruit stands at 127-129 Danforth Avenue by Vincenzo and Augustino Casuso, at 283 by A Maggio, at 449 Danforth by Salvatore Badalli, at 507 Danforth by Vito Simone, 513 Danforth Avenue by Joseph Badali, at 573 Danforth by Tony Fimio. Finally, there were a number of Chinese themed businesses (with unnamed owners): cafes at 108 and 505 Danforth Avenue, restaurants at 107 and 523 Danforth, and a laundy at 471 Danforth.

South side of Danforth Avenue from the Toronto City Directory, 1930. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Sunkist Fruit Market, Southeast corner Carlaw and Danforth, 1934. Sam Badali, son of fruit stand owners at 449 Danforth Avenue, started the stand in 1929. It remained a long-standing business until recently. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1950s, political talk in Toronto shifted toward a subway line under Danforth Avenue. The streetcar was the busiest surface route and, with the populations shifting north from the old city of Toronto, underground rapid transit was nearing a reality. On February 26, 1966, the Bloor-Danforth Subway line opened between Keele Street and Woodbine Avenue, utilizing the lower track of the Bloor Viaduct to faciliate the cross-town transit line. The TTC built a “Y-connection” between the two lines to eliminate the need for transferring.

“Toronto Public Libraries Served By New Subway Extension”, The Globe, February 25, 1966. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

The green line’s opening meant at least two significant changes to the Danforth. First, as the subway corridor was planned to run north of the street rather than under it, hundreds of houses were expropriated and demolished. The physical result today is a linear set of connected parkettes (and some parking lots) between Chester and Pape Stations.

Danforth Avenue between Pape Avenue and Chester Avenue, 1962. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Bloor-Danforth Subway Corridor, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

Second, following a similar effect of the Yonge line, the new subway meant the end of streetcar service on the street. Passengers on the Danforth Streetcar and four other routes (Bloor, Coxwell, Harbord, and Parliament) opted for their last rides on the night before the subway’s opening. The Lipton streetcar loop at Pape Avenue and the Erindale loop at Broadview Avenue also closed as transit stations took their spots.

After the Second World War, the Danforth received the identity it is commonly associated with today. The story has been told many times: Greek immigrants left Greece after the military junta of 1967 with a number of them opening up enterprises on Danforth Avenue while settling in the streets north of their shops and further in nearby East York.

A snapshot of Greek businesses on the north side of Danforth Avenue from the City Directory, 1969. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Why did they select the Danforth specifically? One theory goes back to the subway. Some shop owners noted how the loss of a surface transit route actually negatively impacted local shopping. The area was not doing as well in the late-1960s as prior decades — a condition for the street to be reinvented. The same would happen in the 1970s when Gerrard Street East became Little India. The rents for closed shops were attractive and affordable for new Greek entrepreneurs.

Greek businesses east Pape Avenue on Danforth, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

They also brought their faith with them. In perhaps the most exemplary case of Danforth’s transformation, an old garage built in 1921 when the street was still named Moscow Avenue became St. Irene Chrisovalantou Greek Orthodox Church.

Finally, the Danforth Avenue of today is mostly imagined as a mostly homogeneous collection of Greek affiliated businesses and organizations and the nearly-century old structures they occupy. What is overlooked is how some of these old structures have disappeared over time and new buildings and non-Greek businesses have taking their place.

348 Danforth Avenue, a building with roots in 1924 (and a site that once housed the residence of John Lea Playter), hosts Carrot Common. The 1980s saw new additions that transformed the old structure. Today, a green roof and garden makes the space truly unique. Near Pape, a bank and event space replace an older two story structure at 629 Danforth and an office building usurped the former Palace Theatre at 664 Danforth of the 1920s.

Palace Theatre, 664 Danforth Avenue, near Pape Avenue, showing its overhanging electric sign, 1920s. View is looking east on Danforth Avenue, from Pape Avenue. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

From the 19th century rural environment of the Playter family to the 1920s boom period of muskrats and nabes to the transformative post-war period of subways and souvlaki, Danforth Avenue has shown its fascinating layers of history and geography.