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!
When one thinks of the history of Scarborough, the intersection of Midland Avenue and the 401 might not be the first thought. However, a site that once stood there for more the half the 20th century literally put the local community on the international scientific map. This was the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory.
The story of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory begins not in Scarborough, but on the grounds of King’s College in downtown Toronto in 1840. The school became the University of Toronto in 1850. Contrary to the dense district of today, the university was then sparsely populated – in other words, perfect conditions to minimize interference. The University granted 2.5 acres for a site that was located on the southwest side of today’s King’s College Circle.
The Globe described the laboratory:
“The first observatory was of logs, rough cast on the outside and plastered on the inside; it was completed during the summer of 1840 and observations were begun in September.”
The Globe, October 1, 1898
The second observatory was built in the autumn of 1853, replacing the wooden observatory on the same site. It was built of stone and the nails and fastenings were of copper and zinc.
In 1892, Toronto’s growing infrastructure began to spell the beginning of the end for the observatory. To be sure, as early as 1876, new structures on the university grounds began to impact the observatory, but it was nothing like the electric railway to come. Streetcars were electrified, first beginning with the Church Street line opened on August 17, 1892, and then the College Street line only steps from the building. Instead of recording magnetic changes, the observatory recorded the starting and stoppings of the trolleys. In 1896, Sir Frederick Stupart, the director at the observatory, took up the issue with the government. There would be no action until a report was received from a committee of meteorologists visiting from England that year. This report recommended the centre be moved far away — to Scarborough.
The observatory was relocated just south of the Agincourt Village centre at the current intersection of Midland Avenue and Sheppard Avenue where a Presbyterian Church and nearby Canadian National and Canadian Pacific stations stood. It was perfect in that no electric railway lines existed – at least not in seven miles and there was little prospect of any lines for many years (the railway did not interfere either). The observatory stood in a 4-acre field at the north end of the southern half of lot 16 (Midland Avenue) and Concession II (Ellesmere Avenue), belonging to the Forfar family. It was constructed over the summer of 1898 and opened in September. The first observations were made on September 10 and by the end of the month, all instruments had been moved from Toronto to the new site.
This Observatory was described in The Globe:
“…[It] consists of two parts, a circular stone collar nineteen feet in diameter, the walls two feet in thickness, the floor concrete and the roof covered with felt and gravel, in which on stone piers sunk in concrete to a depth of six feet below the floor are place the self-recording photographic instruments, namely, the declinometer for recording changes in the direction of the magnetic needle and the bifilar and vertical force instrument, for registering respectively changes in the horizontal and vertical components of the earth’s magnetism: above ground and connected with the cellar by a flight of steps is an erection which divided into two portions, in the larger of which absolute magnetic determinations will be made, piers being provided on which to place the necessary instruments, and an adjustable opening on the roof for transit work – and the smaller, an office, which will be heated by a copper stove.”
The Globe, October 1, 1898
The old Toronto Observatory continued to serve as the central office of the Dominion Meteorological Service. All photographic records from Agincourt were sent there for development. It also conducted astronomical studies. In 1908, the observatory was dismantled to accommodate an extension to King’s College Circle and possibly a new physics building. It was reconstructed brick by brick near Hart House, where it stands today as a students’ union. Some installations stand near its former location between Convocation Hall and the Sandford Fleming Building.
In 1899, severe earthquakes in Alaska were recorded at the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory. In 1903, the observatory recorded the largest magnetic storm on October 30 and 31, which Director Stupart “intimately” connected sunspots and magnetic disturbances on earth. The centre recorded more such magnetic storms attributed to sun sports on Aug 8, 1917. The Agincourt labs were useful in World War II against Germany for “calibration of master compasses and other apparatuses”.
The significance of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory and its activities were very well documented and even world-renowned. In 1919, the Observatory was threatened by a proposed Toronto to Port Perry Hydro Radial, which had officials looking for a new site where electricity would not penetrate that observatory’s environment. It was of significant alarm as the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory was one of two of its kind in Canada and by far the more important of the pair. In 1957, a contagion of scientists from around the world visited Agincourt as a part of some sessions by the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics held at the University of Toronto. They asserted that they knew Agincourt better than Toronto as the village appeared in “thousands of International Geophysical maps” around the world.
Despite its importance, city growth once again spelled the end for the site. Meeting a similar fate to the Toronto Observatory seventy years before, the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory closed in March 1969. In the 1950s, Highway 401 was constructed next to the laboratory. Farms adjacent to the observatory began to turn into housing. Factories were built on either side of the property in the 1960s. On July 1, 1968, a new observatory opened in Ottawa. By 1971, the Agincourt structures were gone completely. Today, government offices stand in its place, hiding the great landmark once housed there.
“Astronomical Conversation.” The Globe, 21 Jan. 1903, p. 12.
“Chilly Weather.” The Globe, 14 Dec. 1898, p. 2.
Dobson, Jack. “Magnetic Observatory One of Canada’s First.” The Globe and Mail, 26 Nov. 1952, p. 3.
Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada. “Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada.” Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Hazards Information Service, Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada, 1 Mar. 2019, https://www.geomag.nrcan.gc.ca/obs/ott-en.php.
The Tam and its golf and country club was a beloved local Toronto landmark in Agincourt and Scarborough, which served not only as a hub of sporting activity for golf, hockey, skating, and curling, but also as a social gathering place.
October 3rd, 2021 marks 50 years since a fire that devastated the recreation centre of the Tam O’Shanter Golf, Curling, and Skating Club.
The historical events of the fire and preceded and proceeded it have been documented, but what stands out are the associated memories by its patrons. Here are some of them:
“The thing about the Tam that made it so beloved was that it was a public club that you could pay as you play. You could join a membership but you could also swim and picnic all day for 25 cents. Agincourt in those days was so rural but kids could roam safely all the over the farm lanes and village streets back in the day when you had to be in by dark. The golf course “Newton’s” as Johnny Evelyn the golf pro used to call them, were everywhere collecting golf balls, working in the pro shop, caddying and dreaming of being a golfer. So many were characters in their own right. Every Saturday there would be 3 or 4 weddings which my Dad [Alastair “Big Al”] oversaw ( in either his kilt or his dinner suit/ tux) in addition to all the other sports, banquets and bonspiels so it was always a mad house of get it ready, run it, tear it down set up for the next one. My Mum [Elizabeth “Libby”] did flowers, booked the waitresses and bartenders. In the early days she would sit at the door and take tickets. On New Years eve 1955 my Dad was in a pickle because my Mum was the event hostess and called him just before it was to start saying too bad I’m in labour… and the joke goes he asked her if she could just “hold it for a few hours”.”
“Another thought that will stir up memories is that the Tam had the best toboggan hill anywhere !!! Super steep and fast and the best part there was the creek at the bottom. At one time or another we all went for a dunk and had to walk home as total icicles when winter was real winter. No parents , we were all free range. Across the road was Patterson’s lane between old farmsteads and it was a short cut back to the post war subdivisions that had sprung up around the schools (Agincourt public and Collegiate/ North Agincourt PS. and others). My mum says you should ask for memories of people who were married at the Tam … lots of great tales I’m sure.”
“The golf ball was right at the corner of Kennedy Rd and Sheppard. My mum told me someone cut it down as a Halloween prank and it was never re-erected.”
The following Tam promotional material are by the Peterborough Post Card Co. and Canadian Post Card Co, as provided by Kandie Learmonth.
The following photos are courtesy the Toronto Telegram, as provided by Kandie Learmonth.
“I grew up on Birchmount Road between Shephard and Finch in the late 50s to about mid 60s. Attended L’Amoreaux Public School and later started high school at Sir John A MacDonald before having to move from Birchmount due to a subdivision being built in place of our nice open fields ….. One house down with a field in between was a tee-off for the Tam O’Shanter. Many weekends (especially during the summer) were spent either being a caddy for the golfers up to the next hole, finding lost golf balls in the field (and at times pretending we didn’t see them and standing on them until golfer gave up looking), then taking those same balls and putting them into the ball washer and reselling them to the next set of golfers. Remember specifically one weekend raising an extra $10 so my best friend and I could go to the CNE (when you could survive on $10/day and free food at the food building). There was a little house that I believe was part of Tam O’Shanter at this Tee-off, and was rented out to various families over the years and an apple orchard right next to this. We’d climb the trees, pick the apples (even if green, we’d take a salt shaker to eat them). Not too far down from that was a creek that ran under Birchmount where I would take pickle jars and collect tadpoles and bring home and watch them develop. Also after a rain I’d go out onto road and collect the tiny little toads that would come out. Once at the creek I caught a snapping turtle, brought it home and kept in our sub-pump hole in basement until it bit me and I took it back. Right down the back of my house was a small ‘forest’ which we used sometimes to go over to the Tam to go swimming, etc. I took a pickle jar down to this ‘forest’ one day and caught a bat which was hanging upside down on a branch, and brought it home. That was the first time I saw my mother’s hair stand straight up. She made my brother return it. I also picked my mother a bouquet of Trilliums and she nearly fainted. She rushed me in the door to make sure no one saw me. Apparently was not supposed to pick this type of flower. LOL At the Tam we would go swimming regularly, I joined a bowling group there one year. I remember they had, I believe, two St. Bernard dogs (one being named Tammy) who regularly came over to our tee-off on Birchmount with the workers when they came to clean up.”
Pat Woodcock (nee Everingham)
Tam O Shanter played a big part in my life. I was a junior member there in the early sixties and learned most of my game. My dad was a real estate salesman and he would drop me off at 8am. He would return as late as 9pm and John Evelyn the pro or Doug Day the assistant would tell him where I could be found..usually with my “shag bag” around the third green where I practiced chipping till dark.
When the hockey school was on I used to have lunch with Peter Mahovolich and Kent Douglas. Can you imagine what a thrill it was for a 11, 12, and 13 year old boy to lunch with those guys.
I had a friend who was three years older than I was and he worked on the course. He met a figure skater there and they have now been married over 50 years!
I remember the fire. I parked on a hill overlooking the property and watched part of my youth disappear. It was very sad.
Often the Tam burned down a new restaurant went there. It was called Zum Kloster Keller. I don’t think it’s still there. In October of 1978 I was married from that restaurant. My dad was the chef there. It was emotional reading all the posts. I grew up from aged 10 in the Warden and Huntingwood area. Went to Holy Spirit then Leacock. My brothers and I were air cadets at the portable on the Leacock parking lot. Moved to birchmount and Shepherd in later high school. Thanks for the post and the memories
Diane E Webb
For more information and memories on the Tam O’Shanter, read here.
Do you have a memory to share? Leave a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have recollection of the old Tam O’Shanter Golf Club, please let me know or leave a comment below!
The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of The Tam!
By Bob Georgiou
The afternoon of October 3, 1971 was rough for the beloved Tam O’Shanter Golf, Curling, and Skating Club in Agincourt. On that day, the recreation centre of the Scarborough landmark burned to the ground.
The fire broke out around 4:30pm in the lounge of the curling complex after hockey mats inexplicably erupted in flames. The fire swept quickly through the building, feeding on the varnished woodwork. By 4:40pm, the complex was completely enveloped in flames.
Upwards of 10,000 people converged on the smoldering building, reported the Globe and Mail and Toronto Daily Star. Many of them arrived from afar, following the smoke trail. Ontario Police blocked off the area around Kennedy Road and Sheppard Avenue to allow emergency vehicles to reach the site. Firefighters battled the flames – but to no avail. Spectators watched from the parking lot of the recently -opened Agincourt Mall as the centre’s characteristic arches collapsed into the rubble.
The damage was devastating. The recreation complex was gone. Long-time Tam O’Shanter owner William G. Sparkhall vowed that day to rebuild the complex within a year, stating it would be better than the wooden construction that made it so vulnerable against the merciless embers. “I’ve spent a lifetime building this club up and I’m not going to stop now,” Sparkwell declared. “It cost me $1.5 million to build it and it will probably cost me $2.5 million to rebuild it.” The loss was otherwise estimated at $2 million.
There were fortunately no casualties on that hot October day. Staff had ushered to safety all two hundred children taking figure skating lessons. Still, the event called into question the future of the club’s hockey and curling operations, which hosted hockey league matches, a prominent hockey school, and one of the best curling facilities in Ontario and Canada.
The life of ‘the Tam’ began in 1933 when George Sparkhall, William’s father, purchased a 160-acre cattle farm on the south half of lot 29 concession 3, now the east side of Kennedy Road north of Sheppard Avenue. Using a barn as a clubhouse, Sparkhall turned the lot into a 104-acre pay-as-you-play golf course, calling it ‘Meadowbrook’, presumably referring to the meandering west branch of the Highland Creek situated in its southern end.
In the following years, the golf and country club served as social gathering point for the area, hosting banquets, weddings, dances, and other events such as the 1948 Easter party to kick off a $100,000 campaign for a new North Scarboro Memorial Centre.
In 1947, the Tam applied for a dining room and a lounge liquor serving license, under the recently enacted Liquor License Act, 1946. Under the provisions of the new law, residents could protest an application made within their district. A group of Agincourt residents did just that when 400 of them petitioned to oppose the Tam O’Shanter application, explaining that there had never been a need for the sale of beer in the village, the club house was used by teenagers for parties, and as the Tam was located on two major streets, the license would encourage drinking and driving. Owner William Sparkhall answered that the country club was actually outside the district’s borders and the application was only meant to sell beer to members.
Over the years, the younger Sparkhall, who purchased the golf course from his father in 1938 and renamed it Tam O’Shanter, undertook several upgrades to the property, and added an adjacent lot bordering Birchmount Road. In 1954, the club improved several holes in its 18-hole course, and upgraded its clubhouse and dining room. Two summers later, members and visitors had access to the new and popular Emerald Pool.
In 1958, a game-changing addition came in the form of a 12-sheet curling rink. The modernist structure was constructed of fieldstone and housed spectators’ galleries behind three four-sheet sections. It was the “largest in Canada devoted entirely to curling”. The Globe and Mail boasted that even before construction had completed, the club already had a “considerable response to a membership campaign” for new curlers. At this time, the main clubhouse added bowling alleys, two dance floors, two dining areas, and three lounges. Eight more curling sheets followed in 1961. The following year, the Tam could pride itself on “a rink six inches wider than that of Maple Leaf Gardens.” Together, the improvements made the Tam into a formidable and beloved social, sporting, and recreational venue.
While Sparkhall vowed golf would continue as usual after the fire (and indeed it reopened the next day and the following season), most of the club’s functions were severely compromised. A 3-day Oktoberfest scheduled to take place on the Tam grounds that weekend was shortened to a 1-day event at a different venue. Worse, however, the upcoming hockey season was greatly affected by the lack of a rink. The Wexford Hockey Association, whose teams played out of the Tam O’Shanter Arena, scrambled to find other facilities to host its games. North York Mayor Basil Hall elected to bring the matter to Metro Regional Council to see if it could offer assistance in relocating games.
Bruce and Margaret Hyland had to consider their next steps, too. The 5-time Olympic coaches — legendary figures in Canadian skating — ran a popular summer hockey school and the Canada Skating Club at the Tam. The hockey school was one of the largest in the world; Canadian hockey greats Frank and Peter Mahovlich, Kent Douglas, Paul Henderson, and Eddie Shack practiced at Tam O’Shanter Arena. The skating school was supposed to start a day after the fire. By December 1971 though, the Hylands announced initial plans for a $2 million arena built “on four acres of land between Victoria Park Avenue and Don Mills Road, just south of Finch Avenue.” It would be called the Hyland Ice Skating Centre.
The club’s 300 curling members elected to remain together, and used membership dues to lease space offered by other clubs in the Toronto area. In June 1972, officials at the Tam-Heather curling club announced they were ready to resume their activities in October of that year. They hoped a new sports complex would be ready by the first anniversary of the fire at Tam O’Shanter.
Interestingly, despite William Sparkhall’s declaration to have the recreation centre up and running in 1972, he – under the Tam-Land Estates Ltd. banner – applied shortly after the fire to rezone the 118-acre golf course to accommodate residential and commercial enterprises. The golf course at the time was zoned for agriculture in its western half and recreation in its eastern half. Tam-Land Estates planned to build a housing and high-rise development on the property. Community opposition, led by future Scarborough Controller and Mayor Joyce Trimmer, successfully fought to keep the area as open public space, harnessing the power of Trimmer’s adamant and ultimately effective letter writing campaign.
These debates around the future of the Tam O’Shanter site also coincided with Metro Parks Commissioner Thomas Thompson’s desire to acquire more parkland for Metro Toronto. The events following Hurricane Hazel in 1954 led the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA) to acquire flood valleys that would push Metro’s parkland to nearly 7,000 acres. However, outside of ravine lands, the region was in short supply of recreation lands to service its expected growth. A potential solution was the acquisition and transformation of private golf courses as they became available.
In what the Globe And Mail called “a bold step toward parks’, Metro Parks Committee allotted $5 million dollars in Metro Council’s 1972 budget to acquire the 165-acre York Downs Golf Course in the Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue area and the 118-acre Tam O’Shanter Golf Club in Scarborough. The amount was more than double what Metro spent on parkland acquisition in the previous 10 years. A special subcommittee consisting of Metro Chair Albert Campbell, North York Mayor Basil Hall, Scarborough Mayor Robert White, Metro Parks Commissioner T.W. Thompson, and Metro Planning Commissioner Wojctech Wronski also pushed back Sparkhall’s redevelopment proposal indefinitely so that it could study and report on the possibility of acquiring Tam O’Shanter and York Downs.
With news of the Tam’s availability as potential park space, decision-makers and media urged the purchase. As one Toronto Star editorial put it, Metro Council had to “grab the chance for green space”. It argued that Tam O’Shanter was parkland “in a crowded area” and “there was no obvious recreational land coming on the market nearby.” New Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey called the chance “a golden opportunity that won’t come again”. Another positive was it would not require the demolition of any homes, which was notable because Thomas Thompson’s Metro Parks Committee was also recommending the demolition of 254 houses on the Toronto Islands to create more parkland.
With the sub-committee’s final decision to ultimately buy the course, questions in 1973 revolved around who would pay, how they would pay, and how much they would pay. Metro had $3.5 million budgeted for parks for the next five years; if it took a gander on Tam, it could affect its ability to acquire other parks. Scarborough Controller Karl Mallette added that Scarborough taxpayers could “easily afford” a raise on taxes to pay for new parkland and facilities, such as the new park at Tam O’Shanter. In February of that year, Campbell announced a proposal of a three-way agreement which would see the Ontario government cover half the course’s costs and Metro and Scarborough covering a quarter each. The same formula was used to purchase the York Downs Course. An unknown factor was Tam-Land Estates’ asking price, which was reportedly between $12,000 to $100,000 an acre. In September 1973, the price was eventually set at $10.8 million, a number that had East York Mayor Willis Blair suspecting was too rich. However, two different appraisals valued the land at $10.6 million and $11 million.
Meanwhile, the Tam’s curling club and hockey and skating schools happily found new homes. Boasting a membership of 540 and set to reach capacity of 640 by the start of the following season, the Tam-Heather Curling Club opened its new eight-sheet, $500,000 complex in March 1973 at Morningside Avenue and Highway 401. Also in 1973, Bruce and Margaret Hyland successfully opened Metropolitan Ice Skating School (later Centre Ice) on Victoria Park Avenue. The complex had three ice surfaces, one of which Mr. Hyland operated a hockey school.
Finally, two years after the fire that devastated the Tam, officials met in Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey’s office to formalize the purchase of Tam O’Shanter Golf Club. On November 10, 1973, William Sparkhall, president of Tam Land Estates, accepted two cheques totalling $10,825,000 for the 118-acre golf course from Godfrey, Education Minister Thomas Wells, Scarborough Mayor Paul Cosgrove, and Fred Wade, chairman of the MTRCA. Tam-Land Estates retained some land for its own redevelopment purposes. With the purchase of Tam and York Downs, Metro Parks also recommended the creation of an inventory of other private courses with the goal of purchasing them in the future. The MTRCA would officially own Tam O’Shanter, but Metro Parks would oversee it.
Following the acquisition, several outlying details remained about the function and form of the new Tam O’Shanter. Scarborough Council disagreed with Metro about the property’s apparent decided future as a municipal golf course. The borough understood that the option was open for it to become a park, and even though discussions during negotiations mentioned that Tam O’Shanter could either continue as a golf course or become a park or a mixture of the two, there was no formal resolution. Wells, the Progressive Conservative representative of Scarborough North, the provincial riding housing Tam O’Shanter, asserted in a February 1973 edition of the Globe and Mail, “It is essential that this site be retained as open space but not necessarily as an 18-hole golf course.” Despite the disagreement, new Metro Committee Parks Commissioner Robert Bundy said the site was “well located for a golf course” and Tam O’Shanter remained a public course – possibly because it was one of the only courses in the east end of Metro Toronto.
The golf course required major upgrades, however. While minor improvements kept the golf club operational through the 1970s, the quality of the greens, which required a new irrigation system, was so poor that Metro Parks lowered its fees in 1975 by 50 cents. With the damage to and the eventual demolition of the old Tam complex in the years after the purchase, the course also required a new clubhouse. In the first half of the 1980s, Tam O’Shanter underwent $800,000 worth of upgrades to update and reconfigure its course with a new entrance of Birchmount Road. Its new clubhouse opened on May 7, 1982.
In 1985, Sparkhall and Co. – seemingly the new banner of Tam-Lands Estates Limited – looked to redevelop the land south of the course and north of Agincourt Mall. It proposed, and was allowed to build “1000 apartments, 23,225 square metres (250,000 square feet) of offices, up to 6,040 metres (65,000 square feet) of commercial use, libraries, day nursey, and educational facilities on 6.16 hectares (15.23 acres) of land on Kennedy north of Bonis [Avenue].”
Just as there had been opposition in 1971, residents of Bonis Avenue mobilized to fight the proposal. The community assembled a petition of 500 names and packed the Scarborough Council chambers in March 1985 to voice disapproval of their neighbourhood becoming “a mini-downtown.” Along with the scale of the development, another sticking point was the proposed extension of Bonis, which was at the time a dead-end street running east from Birchmount Road, stopping at the old lot border. The plan called for its lengthening to connect with Cardwell Avenue at Kennedy Road. Residents, including Controller Joyce Trimmer (who beat out former Controller Karl Malette in the 1974 election), argued that the street would only serve as a high-speed detour for Sheppard Avenue traffic. After more consultations, the project did not go through.
Plans for development along Bonis Avenue surfaced again in 1988, this time spearheaded by Tridel Corporation. The new proposal involved “four 24-storey condo towers with a total of 1,112 units, a five-story building with 7,961 square metres of office space, a one-story building with 5,580 square metres of retail space, and two-storey, 1953-square metre public library.” The inclusion of a library was notable because a 1977 plan suggested the erection of a much-needed district library on a portion of the Tam O’Shanter property turned over to Scarborough for municipal parkland. This was opposed by Trimmer and was ultimately nixed by Metro planners.
Despite being a slightly more scaled back version of the Sparkhall and Co. project, Tridel Corp. faced similar challenges and objections as its predecessor. As was the case three years ago, the property, zoned for institutional and recreational use, would have to be rezoned. Planning and traffic studies again recommended an extension of Bonis Avenue. Opponents said the development had double the amount of allowed units. The Highland Heights Community Association warned the street would become a ‘traffic nightmare’, which would bring in 1,000 cars in the evening rush hour (Tridel contended 335 cars). Even with the opposition, calls for the developer to scrap the project largely went unheard.
In October 1988, despite last minute objections, Scarborough council approved the $500-million dollar project behind Agincourt Mall. It was the second major condo project approved in the span of a month in the borough. On September 6, Council approved $1.5 billion, 2,420-unit development – also by Tridel – at the Scarborough Civic Centre.
As a part of the Agincourt deal, Scarborough also received a 1,200-square-metre parcel of land worth more than $300,000 for a $4.5 million library. Tridel also gifted $500,000 for its construction as well as $1.6 million for day care, park development and landscaping. The new Agincourt Library branch opened in 1991 on Bonis, moving from Agincourt Mall and continuing a legacy dating back to 1918.
Also in 1991, ‘The Greens at Tam O’Shanter’, the first tower in the phased project, opened. Described by a 1989 Toronto Star ad as “a magnificent collection of country club style residences overlooking the manicured greens and fairways of the renowned Tam O’Shanter Golf course in Scarborough”, it is a 24-storey construction with “211 one, two and three bedroom suites – many of which open up onto private terraces” which “range from 787 square feet to 1,782 square feet. Its marketing harnessed “the royal and ancient” tradition of golf as it was played on old Scottish courses like St. Andrews and Leith Links, when the game “was the sport of kings”. Although it did not do so in the end, the advertisement could have also referenced the 50+ year history of golf at Tam O’Shanter.
The next parts of the Tridel complex – 28 brownstone townhouses and 3 more 24-storey condos – would open over the next twenty years. One of the condos – 1998’s “The Highlands at Tam O’Shanter” at 228 Bonis Avenue – roughly occupies the former site of the Tam’s famed clubhouse and recreation centre.
Today, the Tam O’Shanter Golf Clube operates an 18-hole, Par 72 course from mid-April to mid-November.
A curious item in the Toronto Public Library’s Digital Archive is an image of farm or ranch located in Agincourt. The picturesque scene is “Brookside”, the estate of the Pattersons, located on the northeast lot of the intersection of Kennedy Road and Sheppard Avenue. The evolution of this property is an interesting story.
The Paterson family of Scarborough had three lots on the east side of Kennedy Road (lot 28) between Sheppard Avenue (Concession III) and Finch Avenue (Concession IV) in Agincourt, together totaling 200 acres. The middle Paterson lot was “Elmridge“, whose farmhouse still exists today.
The 67-acre Brookside was the southern most of these lots running a third of the way to Finch Avenue and edging on the Canadian National Railway. It was opposite the future Tam O’Shanter Golf Club. The West Highland Creek ran through the property, likely giving the estate its name.
Brookside existed in a rural setting for much of its life, until the second half of the 20th century. By 1950, streets and houses popped up to the east, north, and south of the farm buildings, likely as parts of the Paterson lot was partitioned.
By the mid-1950s, the streets took their shape and names. Running north to south was Patterson Avenue to honour the family whose farm it was built upon. Running east to west was Station Rd (leading to the CN Station, now a GO Transit Station), Marilyn Avenue, and a tiny Reidmount Avenue. The woodlot behind the farmhouse also seemed to have been cleared.
By the end of the decade, changes were afoot. Patterson Avenue was renamed to an extended Reidmount Avenue and Station Road became Dowry Avenue. (As an aside, on the other side of railroad tracks, First Avenue became Agincourt Drive in 1957. The changes likely resulted from the reworking of the road network following the creation of Metropolitan Toronto.)
The image below is a Planning Map from the 1959 Official Plan of Toronto. The Brookside Farm is labelled as “R.E.” potentially meaning “Residential Estate” or “Rural Estate” or even “Residential Expansion”, which in any case references a larger lot. “R” is “residential” and “C” is “commercial”. The corresponding aerial image provides a visual of the lot division.
By 1969, the Paterson farm buildings have completely disappeared. Moreover, the West Highland Creek was channelized and widened along with a new bridge running over Kennedy Road.
By the middle of the 1980s, the area around Kennedy and Sheppard was increasingly built up. A new street named Cardwell Avenue now connected Kennedy and Dowry Street. On either side of Cardwell was a new subdivision of houses.
Today, this group of homes are part of the modern geography of Agincourt. If one looks closer though, the shape of the overall subdivision corresponds to the Patersons’ farm Brookside that was once there.
If you wanted to discover North Scarborough’s past, a heritage walking tour through Knox Church just might do it. It is, after all, an Agincourt landmark. Long before tower complexes dotted the sky of the neighbourhood, the church steeple was the tallest structure around.
A congregation – first Presbyterian and then United – has been at the corner of Midland and Sheppard Avenues since the 1840s, but the existing Gothic Revival structure has been with us since 1872. Its adjoined cemetery aids in telling some of the area’s stories through its movers and shakers who lie under its grounds.
A walk through Knox’s field of gravestones is a neat experience. The names that lend themselves to Scarborough and Agincourt’s streets, schools, parks…they’re all here. The community’s early history – or at least, a segment of it – converges at Knox United Cemetery.
Browsing each row, I see a lot of familiar names. They are the pioneering European families I have encountered in my explorations of Scarborough and Agincourt. They are the bloodlines that once farmed the lots that would eventually come to be filled with post-war housing subdivisions, apartment towers, and shopping centres:
One family I haven’t encountered is the Hastings. According to Lost Toronto, the Hastings farmstead was located at Markham and Finch and was later moved to Whitby. The grave marker makes reference to the beautiful house and the family’s farming (and bridle?) roots. Also of note: the Freemason symbol.
There’s also the Elliots and Glendinnings too (the latter settling in the very northwestern corner of the borough in historic L’Amoreaux).
And of course, one can’t not mention the first family of Scarborough: the Thomsons (some of which are also buried at St. Andrew’s in Bendale near the historic Thomson Settlement). All these families are intertwined in marriage too.
It’s interesting to go through the dates and ages on the stones. Many people lived long lives, experiencing Agincourt through two world wars and a transition from farms to subdivisions. There’s a story or two there in itself.
On the other end, there’s sadly the occasional young life who had not the gift of longevity.
While I was meandering around, a church staffer approached me with some great details about the past and present (and future) of Knox. Apparently soon after it was built, a huge gust blew the top off the steeple! The church has seen a number of additions to its facilities, including a ‘big dig’ to carve out a basement, a rear annex, a Christian Centre to the north, the widening of the front entrance, and an elevator. Hopefully the impact on the heritage features was mitigated through all the work. Lastly, the plots of the cemetery are largely filled, but a lovely cremation garden was recently created.
The decades following the war were particularly good to the church, with returning veterans building a robust membership and their children – now the boomers – filling its Sunday school. The congregation today itself isn’t what it used to be in terms of numbers, a trend within the United Church which has seen memberships dwindle as older church-goers pass away and younger generations fail to take up the torch. This decline has led other houses from other denominations to shut down completely. Their buildings have gone on to be re-adapted into residences, like the Glebe Lofts (Riverdale Presbyterian Church) and the recently converted College Street Baptist Church and Temple Baptist Church. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened for Knox United.
If there’s one way to see how time has affected Knox United Church, though, it’s through a ‘then and now’ shot of its grounds since the early 20th century. Not only is the field and building sparse, but the surrounding pines have grown just a wee bit. If they could talk, eh?
Kennedy Road between Finch and Linwood Avenues is, at first glance, an inconsequential stretch of street. 1km of nothing. A bit of digging, however, and there’s a story. There’s always a story.
Beginning at the top, there’s the Hugh Clark House. A rural leftover nestled in behind a gas station. The Clark family once lined the north side of Finch with their farms. The first of the Clarks to plant his roots was Hugh‘s father, William, who settled two lots over at Birchmount Road in 1838. I wrote a little bit about the elder Clark while exploring his property at today’s L’Amoreaux Park.
Crossing the street, one comes to an innocent looking parkette. Today’s park, however, is yesterday’s street jog. Kennedy at one time jogged left at Finch, forcing a northbound traveler to turn left and then right before continuing north. At some point Kennedy was reconfigured to run seamlessly through the intersection. An orphaned section of the old route remained south of Finch, however. The old Kennedy bus used to turn around at the loop when the bus route terminated at Finch. The triangular jog was eliminated for good in 1979, leaving us Kennedy Road Parkette.
Next, Lynnwood Heights on Southlawn Drive has been around since 1956. The school’s TDSB webpage notes an original population of 400, a staggering far cry from the current enrollment of 160 pupils. The surrounding subdivision also dates from around 1956, making it one of the older post-war developments in northern Scarborough. One can imagine as the area continued to grow, more schools opened to relieve Lynnwood.
Huntingwood Drive is an east-west alternative to Sheppard and Finch (at least, between Victoria Park and McCowan), but its existence is a relatively recent thing – around 1967, more specifically. It’s odd in the way it snakes close to Sheppard in some parts and close in Finch in others.
Bookending the kilometre stretch is another farmhouse, Elmridge. This was the Pat(t)erson family homestead. Or, at least, one of them. Like the Clarks, the Patersons were a pioneering Scarboro family who toiled the land on the east side of the street between Sheppard and Finch. Robert Bonis writes in A History of Scarboroughthat a Thomas Paterson arrived here in 1820 from Scotland, clearing the land with his son. His descendants continued his work at Elmridge, eventually making the Paterson name synonymous with Agincourt. This excellently researched WikiTree entry breaks down the life of Thomas Archibald Paterson, the great-grandson of the original Thomas Paterson.
Consider this a sequel. Or, maybe a prequel. Whatever the case, if Wishing Well Acres is the Sullivan in Tam O’Shanter-Sullivan, here’s the Tam O’Shanter part.
We begin at Agincourt Mall. The shopping centre dates back to 1966, likely making it the third enclosed mall in Scarborough after 1954’s Eglinton Square and Golden Mile (Cedarbrae Mall predates Agincourt by four years but didn’t get its ceiling until 1972). The mall’s anchors are Wal-Mart and No Frills, but I can recall a time – in 1994, specifically – when they were Woolco and Loblaws, respectively. Walmart bought Woolco that year. No Frills came in the 2000s.
As much as malls like Agincourt are seen as shabby and sad (Agincourt Mall as of 2016 has a number of empty tenants), I’ve found that they are still appreciated locales. A lot of nostalgia fills their walls. The comments in this BlogTO article about Agincourt Mall by Robyn Urback prove that. Everyone has a story, or a store they enjoyed frequently, or an odd memory about something that isn’t there anymore. Mine is the RadioShack that was there in 1990s and 00s, reminding me of lost Canadian retailers. There is a Source in the mall now, but not in the same space as its predecessor.
Agincourt Mall was built on the Kennedy farm, with the farmhouse once located just north of the mall and south of the West Highland Creek. A walk down the street named for the family leads to a trail that lines the creek.
The path is sandwiched between an apartment and townhouse complex on one side and the creek and Tam O’Shanter Golf Club on the other. A look down at the shallow waterway produces a shiny sheet of ice over the surface and the occasional group of ducks in the non-frozen bits. But there’s also something that doesn’t quite belong.
Several pillars jut out on either side of the creek – two on one side and two opposite them. I count three sets of these abutments along the way. Their meaning isn’t hard to figure out: 3 sets of abutments, 3 phantom bridges. There is one question, though: what’s the story?
The answer: In the 1930s to the 1970s, this was the site of the Tam O’Shanter Golf and Country Club, the precursor to Tam O’Shanter Golf Course.
In addition to golf, the Tam O’Shanter Country Club complex had swimming, ice hockey, and curling. In 1971, the club erupted in flames, destroying some of the complex. In researching the fire, I’ve read many stories about people seeing the flames from afar. Like Agincourt Mall, the country club meant something to many people.
Back to the abandoned abutments, the creek was located just behind the clubhouse and its bridges led to and from the golf course. Shortly after the course’s acquisition, the bridges were removed, presumably because the course layout would be reorganized.
But the creek hasn’t always run the same course.
The West Highland at one time swung north up into the golf course before dropping back down and resuming in a northwest direction. Around 1967, the creek was straightened and bridges were installed. The orphan bend remained as a sort of oxbox for some time, but since has been mostly filled in. One can still see the imprint of the bend today, though, notably through the pond and the ‘etched’ curved outline north of it.
There is one remaining bridge, however – a wider, sturdier construction. There is a gate in the fence on the other side, so one can guess that at least it might have been a vehicular corridor. As of 2015, though, both ends have been barricaded to prevent any sort of use.
As the West Highland continues into the golf course and beyond, the trail comes to Ron Watson Park, renamed from Tam O’Shanter Park in 2005 in recognition of the long-time Scarborough resident, trustee, and councillor. Watson was honoured with a star on Scarborough’s Walk of Fame in 2011. The park forms the field of Tam O’Shanter School, featuring a nice playground…and a stone turret.
This viney tower became an instant curiosity to me. It looked old and misplaced. No doors (although, perhaps a sealed opening), a couple of ‘windows’ near the top. What was/is it?
I had to do some digging. Google presented nothing, so I consulted some aerial photos to try and date it. It’s been around since at least 1947, the first year on record for aerials in the Toronto Archives.
So, Horsey sold his farm to Watson, who likely built the silo. When Watson’s farm was subdivided, the tower was never torn down with it. My guess is the task proved too difficult. It doesn’t fully answer the ‘when?’ part, but mystery solved!
Leaving the park and silo, the two-in-one Stephen Leacock Collegiate/John Buchan Senior Public School has had a place on Birchmount Road since 1970. It is built in the Brutalist (or, Heroic) style that was indicative of Toronto architecture in the 1950s to 1970s. The schools’ namesakes were a Canadian author and humourist and Scottish author and historian, respectively.
And while I’m profiling, Tam O’Shanter is a Robbie Burns poem. Another Scottish connection. The Anglo-Saxon roots and references of the Tam O’Shanter community is interesting though, considering what it became. Today, it is one of the more diverse areas in the city of Toronto.
Next, a derelict structure stands across the school. I don’t know its full context, but it’s most definitely another rural leftover.
On Bonis Avenue, there’s Agincourt Library and another great turret. Although the building opened in 1991, the library itself dates back to 1918. Within that time it has moved locales a few times, including a stay in Agincourt Mall. The branh carries three copies of A History of Scaborough. Its editor is a Mr. Robert Bonis, who lends his name to the street.
Down at Birchmount and Sheppard, a strip mall has gone through a makeover in the last few years. It’s about to get a new tenant, too: Starbucks. The sight is initial shock for me, if only because it’s strange to see one in this neighbourhood. My mind shoots to the old idea that a Starbucks is tell tale sign of gentrification, but I question whether it applies here. We’ll have to see.
Foregoing a stroll down Sheppard, I backtrack to Bay Mills Boulevard. The curved street offers a sort of ‘backstage’ view of Tam O’Shanter, showing off the apartments, church, school, field, playground that all front Sheppard. The intersection of Bay Mills and Sheppard is the start of the Sheppard Avenue East Avenue Study zone. On one side there’s another strip mall; on the other, a car dealership. They’ll surely be part of the plans.
Warden Avenue is further down the way, but that adventure lies in the mentioned Wish Well exploration. For now, that’s a wrap on this one.
If you have memories of Agincourt Mall, Tam O’Shanter Country Club, Stephen Leacock School, or Tam-O’Shanter-Sullivan in general, I would like to hear about it. Leave a comment below or tweet me!
It’s fun to think about what was happening in different parts of the city at the same time. You have communities with no formal connections to each other growing alongside each other. Communities that eventually form the modern City of Toronto.
Wikipedia’s page on the History of Toronto has articles on History of Neighbourhoods, Historic places, Oldest buildings and structures, and Timeline of Toronto History. It would interesting to combine these into a giant timeline of events in Toronto’s history. More than that, because this relies on displaying information tied to places, I’d like to see the information displayed on a map (because really, who doesn’t like looking at maps?). I imagine being able to look at map of a given year and clicking on different nodes placed on that map. Then, being able to explore the map from the following year.
I imagine being able to draw observations about how the city developed, what was settled when, what areas were industrializing/de-industrializing, when and how natural landforms were shaped (think the burial of creeks) etc..
In all, it would be another way to capture the story of Toronto. Just an idea.
Having already conducted and written about a walk around my neighbourhood in Agincourt, I was looking for new ways to understand my surroundings. The City of Toronto Archives website has aerial photographs dating from 1947 to 1992 . I was already aware my local subdivision grew out of the post-WWII suburban boom, but this was a very visual way to track that growth and development.
I had to stitch together two portions of the atlas to retrieve this image. The street running north-south on the left side is Kennedy Road and is the only route that exists – other than what appears to be a farm road for one of the two properties in the area. The CNR track runs north-south on the right hand side. Also of note is the landscape in the lower left corner – quite distinct from the adjacent farmland on the east side of Kennedy. Today this is the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course.
We have roads! To the north Linwood Avenue springs up and south of that, Havendale Road. The farm is now not the only residence either.
Other than the angle of the first image, there is very little difference in nine years. The houses are quite set back from the street which leads me to believe that during the next decade at least some were lost. Also, I especially enjoy the consistency in the topography of the golf course.
The rise of the subdivision – at least partially. There is a portion of a side street – Fulbert Crescent – that has not yet been built due to the existence of a farm or an orchard on Kennedy Road south of Havendale. I am fascinated by what went on there between the owner and the city that made that portion of the street develop later than the surrounding environ, and whether this sort of event happened in other parts of the city. In addition, there are ‘gaps’ in the street, where houses now exist, which have been pointed out by a darker set of markings.
The subdivision (I’m picturing the Rush song with the music video partially set in Scarborough) is complete! The park in the northeast portion of the image now has a baseball diamond! Also, according to this post on the Golf Werks website (I was unable to track down more supporting sources), by this time in 1980, Tam O’Shanter Golf Course would come into existence after being redeveloped from the old Tam O’Shanter Country Club.
Having lived here for nearly the last twenty years, the neighbourhood is well past its growth period. As a final note, I will say that the property mentioned in the 1947, the one south of Linwood Avenue, still exists. Growing up I thought it was odd because unlike the rest of the houses on the row, it is set back from the street and has this long driveway. I have still never seen the house. Who knew it was a heritage farm property!