Where does Toronto end and East York begin? On Pape Avenue, it’s a row of Edwardian houses half way between Selkirk Street and Aldwych Avenue. When they were constructed around 1914, Aldwych was named Randolph — a point highlighting the obvious British origins of the area and the evolution.
The history of the rough half-trapezoid between The Danforth, Donlands Avenue, and the Don River goes back to the numbered plots of York Township, which was surveyed and divided beginning in 1791. Lot 11 south of modern-day Browning Avenue and west of Logan Avenue encompassed the community of Chester (also interchangeably known as Doncaster).
North of Browning Avenue and west of Donlands Avenue (renamed from Leslie Street around 1916), the Taylors and Helliwells owned lots 12 to 15, which came to be known as the village of Todmorden, named after the families’ paper mill on the Don River on Pottery Road. A nexus of buildings including a post office and hotel sprang up on Broadview Avenue, then named Don Mills Road (more on this later).
According to Elizabeth Gillan Muir, author of Riverdale: East of the Don, Chester and Todmorden applied to be part of Toronto in 1890, but were collectively short of the 750 required for annexation (which gives one an insight to their size). Chester would eventually be brought into the big city’s borders in 1909.
For the residents of Todmorden, they voted to incorporate into the Township of East York in 1922 at a time when the Pape Avenue strip began to grow. The opening of the Prince Edward Viaduct in 1918 along with the East York-Leaside Viaduct (now the Millwood Road Bridge) in 1927 opened the area to modern houses and commercial development. The East York bus line began operation on Pape in the same year, departing from Danforth Avenue up the street and looping back at the top of the bridge. In 1928, it combined with the Leaside bus, extending service into the industrial suburb. By the end of the decade, the street grid, once open fields, gave way to the modern layout.
The Todmorden section of the 1920 edition of the Might’s Greater Toronto city directory offers an insight into the geography and social makeup of this initial period. Area residents, mostly of Anglo-Saxon origin, lived on recognizable streets, such as Woodville, Gamble, and Torrens. However, some roads changed names: Leslie to Donlands, Cronyn to Sammon (sometimes spelled ‘Salmon’), and Gardeners (named after the merchants on the street) to Mortimer, and Bee absorbing into Cosburn. Professions were mostly blue-collar and ranged from employment at the nearby Don Valley Brick Works and Don Valley Paper Mill, to the booming T. Eaton Co. and R. Simpson Co., to the mighty Grand Trunk Railway and Canadian National Railway.
Moving around Pape from Browning to O’Connor, one sees signs of the age, look, and evolution of the old neighbourhood from the first half of the 20th century. At Mortimer, there isn’t a heritage building, but a plaque at Agnes Macphail Square points to the one-time existence of the Kitchener Public School. The school was a three-storey structure of seventeen rooms built in 1915.
Kitchener School became the Toronto Normal School in 1941, moving from its downtown location on the current Ryerson University campus to Pape Avenue. After that, it was the Toronto Teachers College. Today Centennial College, the park, and a housing complex occupy the space. Macphail Avenue and Square themselves commemorate Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1921 and a former Member of Parliament for and resident of East York.
Another school, the Todmorden New School, opened a year prior on Torrens Avenue. It was renamed the William Burgess School in 1922; Burgess was a trustee in 1914.
At Cosburn, another institution – the Bethany Baptist Church – was constructed in 1920. The lot to the north of the church remained empty until the late 1950s, when an addition was completed on the space.
At 873-877 Pape Avenue, there’s a ‘1930’ displayed high above a block of shops. At the time of construction, the corner unit (now a Greek restaurant) was a fruit grocery operated by an Antonio Ruta — Italian in origin by the sounds of it — which represented an important shift in the otherwise largely British neighbourhood at the time and a larger trend in Toronto.
At 1007 Pape Avenue, north of Floyd Avenue, the flooring store currently standing was originally a confectionery by a James Hackin when it came to exist in 1930 (albeit at street address 1005). Interestingly, to the south of it was the ‘East York Miniature Golf Course’.
At 1016 & 1016 1/2 Pape Avenue is a curiosity. The icon above the shop appears to show a ship. A look into the city directories shows this block was built around 1931 when another Italian, Charles Azzarello, opened up a fruit grocery. By 1950, it was Sydney Evans Fish Market. In the 1960s, it came full circle as a ‘Circle Fruits’ and ‘Woman’s Bakery’. Sources are scarce on the ship emblem, although one might attribute it to its fish shop period.
Finally, Don Mills United Church looks down at the strip and is the oldest landmark of all, reaching back to the 19th century — even if the current structure dates to 1950. The adjoined Taylor Cemetery is the final resting place of early pioneering Todmorden families and is neat way to explore its history.
The naming of the church refers to the area’s mills and the street itself around its founding in 1851. Don Mills or just Mills Road originally ran northeast from the Winchester Bridge in Cabbagetown past Danforth Avenue, and turning right just past modern Woodville Avenue at what was then called Patterson’s Corners. From here, it would veer north just past Donlands across the Don River, following a course north to York Mills (it was extended even further in the 1960s.) A smaller section of Don Mills also continued east past the bend, stopping at present day Derwyn Avenue. From here, Plains Road (also called Globe Road) operated south and then east again. The Taylors also had a private right of way in line with Don Mills Road.
Broadview Avenue, first running north from Riverdale Park East (creating the ‘broad view’ of the Toronto skyline) to Danforth Avenue, was extended first to the city limits at Fulton Avenue and then to Patterson’s Corners. In 1929, John H. Taylor proposed the extension of St. Clair Avenue through his property in the Don Valley in exchange for a strip of land owned by The Synod of Toronto to make his private road into a ‘highway’ to connect with Woodbine Avenue.
Whether it was related to Taylor’s wish or not (for what it’s worth, St. Clair was never extended through the valley), the street was indeed completed to Woodbine Avenue in the following decade. In 1936, O’Connor Drive came into existence east of Don Mills Road facilitating an east-west route to the newly built Woodbine Bridge and Scarborough. By 1939, O’Connor would usurp the entire way from Broadview with development along the road growing in the 1940s.
After World War II, Canada and Toronto saw a wave of unskilled and semi-skilled Greek migrants leave their homelands for new lives across the ocean. To be sure, Hellenes had been successful restaurateurs along Yonge and Queen Streets since the 1920s, but as Jason Hackworth and Josephine Rekers identify in their paper “Ethnic Identity, Place Marketing, and Gentrification in Toronto,” this new wave would settle around The Danforth beginning in the 1950s and ’60s and peaking in the 1970s. Like their Italian predecessors thirty years prior, they opened up fruit shops and eateries as new businesses or simply took over existing enterprises. Although their studies do not include Pape Avenue, one can see similar trends for the street. Hackworth and Rekers also assert that while the residential Greek population around the Danforth has decreased since the 1970s because of out-migration to the suburbs, the percentage of businesses with Greek affiliation has increased.
Also in the 1960s, Cosburn Avenue east and west of Pape saw the introduction of apartment tower-tiving, replacing and mixing in with the post-war one-story housing stock dotted over the neighbourhood.
In 1986, a new label — the Pape Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) or just ‘Pape Village’ — came into use. The BIA manages and promotes the commercial properties from Mortimer to Gamble, engaging in street improvement initiatives and an annual street festival. Today, the strip is an ecclectic mix of service stations and garages, mid-century houses, churches, and independent businesses and associations. Much of these still have a Greek affiliation, although the area is much more cosmopolitan with a variety ethnic eateries.
Historicist: Greektown on the Danforth
Jason Hackworth and Josephine Rekers – “Ethnic Identity, Place Marketing, and Gentrification in Toronto”
Toronto Normal School, 1847-1947
Toronto Public Library – Digital Toronto City Directories
Ward 29 Bikes & The East York Historical Society – “East York History Bike Ride”