Category Archives: Downtown

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 Distillery District

What began as the Gooderham & Worts complex, the Distillery District is associated with a distinct set of Victorian structures that make up its stunning geography. Its story, though, also extends its lost geography.

Gooderham & Worts, Ltd., Toronto., 1896. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Running through the middle is Trinity Street. At its foot is the Distillery District’s most recognizable building: the Stone Distillery of 1859. Cut from Kingston limestone, it is the largest and oldest of the existing G&W buildings. It infamously went up in flames in 1869 — the pressure from the fire blowing the roof off! It was rebuilt again, but several workers perished in the fire and burn marks can still be seen in the brickwork.

Rising high on the west side of Trinity Street is the Malt House & Kiln Building and Cooperage Building. They are most noticeable for the cupola overlooking the area. Gristmill Lane leads into Trinity Street from Parliament Street.

On the east side (from south to north) is the Pump House, Pure Spirits and Cannery complex, and interestingly, the old Lunch Room. Along what is now Tank House Lane is, well, a complex of Tank Houses, built to house and age liquor for two years by law.

Case Goods Lane houses the Case Goods Warehouse, which is the youngest of the existing buildings (erected in 1927). Its age shows as it looks different than the earlier structures. It came when Harry Hatch, a Bridlewood horsebreeder and industrialist, bought the distillery in the 1920s and merged it with Hiram-Walker.

“Gooderham & Worts Taken Over By Hatch” The Globe, December 21, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“Historic Windmill from Which a Great Modern Industry Grew” The Toronto Daily Star, January 8, 1927.

Aside from the Case Goods Building, the Distillery District’s architecture was designed by David Roberts Sr. and his son David Roberts Jr., who were Gooderham & Worts’ exclusive architects and civil engineers. Roberts Jr also designed the company’s headquarters, the Gooderham Building on Wellington Street, and other Gooderham family residences, such as Waveney — otherwise known as the George Gooderham House on Bloor Street.

George Gooderham residence, northeast corner of St. George and Bloor streets, 1892. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

As much as the current building stock is an impressive visual reminder of the history of Gooderham and Worts, the Distillery District’s story also lays in its lost geography too. The obvious start is the windmill near the mouth of the Don River, started by William Gooderham and James Worts Sr in 1832. Several years later the gristmill turned into a distillery and was the beginning of an empire. It stood until the 1860s when the buildings on the west side of Trinity Street replaced it. A curved line of bricks in Grist Mill Lane marks where it once stood. In the 1950s, G&W and the York Pioneers (of which the Gooderhams were members) erected a replica windmill on Parliament Street near the Victory Mill Silos.

Gooderham and Worts (Toronto, Ont.) Gristmill, 1840s. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gooderham & Worts, foot of Trinity St. showing replica of original windmill, 1954. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Aerial showing location of Gooderham and Worts Windmill replica, 1957. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Another little known enterprise in the Gooderham & Worts empire was a dairy and cattle business. These cow byres were once located on the east side of Trinity Street across the original mill in the 1830s. They relocated east of the Don near the river’s bend decades later. Residents in the east end of the city complained about the ‘intolerable nuisance’ of pollutants G&W were discharging into Ashbridges Bay in the 1880s and ’90s.

Gooderham & Worts Cattle Sheds from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1903. Credit: Goads Toronto.

“The Marsh”, The Globe, August 21, 1881. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Moving up Trinity Street from Mill Street, there are other lost Gooderham & Worts sites — particularly houses! On the northwest corner of Mill and Trinity was the residence of Henry Gooderham, as the 1880 City of Toronto Directories tell us, but was built and lived in by his father William Gooderham himself. A funeral for the man in 1881 ran from the house to his resting place in St. James Cemetery. In 1902, the General Distilling Company — a subsidiary of G&W — replaced the house. Directly across the street was the James Gooderham Worts House, Lindenwold. It was razed for Rack House “D” in 1895. Both warehouse structures still stand.

View of Toronto’s Front Street from Windmill to Old Fort from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, circa 1850. The Gooderham house at Trinity Street and Mill Street is on the left. The gristmill and wharf are to its right. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Lindenwold, 1870s. Credit: Distillery District Heritage.

On the southwest corner of Trinity and Front was the William George Gooderham house, also as per 1880 City Directories. In the first decade of the 1900s, it fell victim to the expanding Consumers Gas Co. Across street on the east side was the residence of his father, George Gooderham, who perhaps lived there before moving into Waveney around 1892. There are parking lots on both sites today.

Gooderham and Worts houses in the Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1903. Credit: Goads Toronto.

Looking north on Trinity Street, 2018. Credit: Google Maps.

Moving east, the Gooderham and Worts Cooperage once stood on Front Street east of Cherry Street. Bordering the north side of the cooperage yard was Worts Avenue. Worts was originally called Market Street with the name change occurring sometime in the 1880s. George Gooderham had three houses built on the street in 1901. On the north side of Worts was St. Lawrence Square, a oddly situated tract of land shaped by Worts, Cherry, and a bend in Eastern Avenue. G&W sold their land to the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway in 1906 as the CNOR grew its yards, absorbing the cooperage and St Lawrence Square. Cooperage Street today pays homage to the history.

Gooderham and Worts Cooperage in the Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1903. The three houses are hilighted. Credit: Goads Toronto.

Cooperage Street & Front Street, 2018. Credit: Google Maps.

The Canadian National Railway’s expansion also absorbed several residential streets including Water Street and Tate Street, whose residents were labourers at the railroads, G&W, the Toronto Rolling Mills, and at the William Davies Co. With the recent redevelopment of the area to what is now the West Don Lands, little physical reminders remain beyond some street names.

West Don Lands from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1924. Credit: Goads Toronto

Along with the emergence of the CNOR, there were other railway lines that surrounded the complex. First, the Canadian Pacific Railway curled around the north of Gooderham & Worts, crossing at Parliament Street and Trinity Street.

Bird’s-eye view of plant, 1918. The railway curls in the bottom right of the page. Trinity Street is on the left side. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Parliament St., looking n. across Mill St., 1907. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Plant from Parliament Street, British Acetones Toronto Limited, Toronto, Ontario, 1918. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Parliament Street – old C.P.R. crossing, 1932. The railway ceases to cross Parliament. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Plant, Trinity Street view, British Acetones Toronto Limited, 1918. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Railroad, Trinity south of Front, 1971. View is looking north. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

George Gooderham also co-founded the Toronto & Nipissing Railway which he used to transport raw materials from the northern parts of Ontario to the Distillery. From a train station located in today’s Parliament Square Park, the tracks ran steps away from the Stone Distillery. The T&N Railway was eventually absorbed into the CNR by the 1920s. Part of it is used by the York-Durham Heritage Railway for themed train rides.

Gooderham and Worts from Bird’s Eye View of Toronto, 1889. The old Toronto & Nippissing terminus station is located on the left side of the image. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

On the same right of way was the Grand Trunk Railway, who also had railyards west and east of the complex. The latter now houses the Cherry Street streetcar loop. The GTR also became part of CNR. Overlooking the loop is the Cherry Street Interlocking Tower which was built here in 1931 to monitor rail traffic within the Union Station Railway Corridor.

With Gooderham and Worts leveraging the rails in its growth, it also had water at its whim. With the changes to Toronto’s waterfront, it has been forgotten that the Stone Distillery was steps from Lake Ontario. G&W also had its own wharf beginning in the 1840s, housing its grain elevator.

Gooderham and Worts from Barclay, Clark & Co. Bird’s Eye View, 1893. The elevator is right on the water to the south of the Stone Distillery. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

Since the closing of Gooderham & Worts Ltd in 1990 and its reopening as the Distillery District in 2003 by Cityscape Holdings, the area has been transformed into a pedestrian-only district, friendly for festivals and movie shoots. Although Trinity Street was gravel historically, bricks from Ohio were added for an old-time feel in its redevelopment — if you look close enough you can make out their origins on a select few.

The buildings themselves have been repurposed to host cafes, chocolate shops, micro-breweries, bars, bakeries, and theatres. The area’s past is also nicely displayed throughout via heritage plaques and displays of artefacts, images, and paintings.

Every turn produces some place of interest. Favourites include the clock tower and the famous Love locks sign. Together with the buildings themselves, they create a distinct modern geography.

Useful Links

Distillery District Heritage Website

Scenes From Kensington Market

What presumably started as pristine wilderness for many Indigenous peoples, the area that came to be Kensington Market began to take shape under the 1793 colonial park lot system established and administered by John Graves Simcoe and his successors. Here, plots 17 & 18 passed through several owners, eventually falling to Denison family. While today we associate the block between College & Dundas Streets and Spadina Avenue & Bathurst Street with a dense mix of narrow streets and an unlikely mishmash of altered structures, the only built form in the first part of 19th century was the Denisons’ Georgian manor, Belle Vue (also spelt Bellevue).

1842 Cane Topographical Plan of the City and Liberties of Toronto. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

Denison, George Taylor, ‘Bellevue’, Denison Sq., n. side, e. of Bellevue Ave. 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Lost in the modern geography of Kensington Market is the waterway and pond situated just above Belle Vue. Named for a rather unpleasant character in Toronto history, Russell Creek passed through the southern half of the block towards today’s Entertainment District before flowing into the old shore of Lake Ontario near Front & Simcoe Streets.

1862 HJ Browne Plan of the City of Toronto. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

In the mid-1800s, the Belle Vue Estate was subdivided and town lots were put up for sale. Several marketing pieces at the time advertised the lots for sale. Notably, an 1854 pitch highlighted their location in “the most healthy and pleasant part of the city” at a great elevation from Lake Ontario. It also promoted the great proximity to the new Ontario Legislative Buildings and Government House, which as far as I know might have been proposed but were certainly never built (the current legislature opened in 1893).

1854 Plan of part of the city of Toronto showing the town lots on Bellevue for sale by the trustees for the Denison Estate March 1854. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1869 Plan of building lots on part of the Belle Vue estate in the City of Toronto, the property of J. Saurin McMurray, Esq.. Credit: Toronto Public Libary.

To make way for the residential neighbourhood, Russell Creek and its pond were buried in 1876, following a trend with other creeks in Toronto. Today, there is little trace of its existence. Compared to Garrison and Taddle Creeks though, Russell Creek seems to sit lower in the psyche and awareness of Torontonians as it is not as readily mentioned. Belle Vue would last for a few more decades, disappearing by 1890. Strangely, it seems to shows up in the Goads fire insurance maps as late as 1903, however. It was replaced by houses and then finally the Kiever Synagogue in 1927.

Although the house is gone, Belle Vue’s geographic imprint remains in a few locales. Bellevue Square, which historically served as the promenade grounds for the manor, was donated to the city as public space in 1887. Denison Avenue was the driveway to the grounds. The names of the streets themselves offer links to the Denison Estate and the English motherland in general with monikers such as Lippincott Street, Bellevue Avenue, Oxford Street, and of course, Kensington Street. The latter is a throwback to the London commercial district of the same name (it is not clear who in Toronto drew the connection and offered the designation, though).

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto. Belle Vue House, while now housing an address at 22 Denison Square, is positioned with its corners aligning with the directions of a compass. By the end of the century, one can see the modern roots of Kensington Market’s layout of narrow streets and closely bunched structures. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Of course, there is also the Victorian housing stock whose architectural style by definition is referential to the reigning monarch at the time. The early occupants of the neighbourhoood were unsuprisingly of largely White Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent. What happened to some of these houses over the next few generations erased that early connection to Britain, however.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the WASPs migrated to more favourable parts of Toronto. Finding opportunity and low rents, the Jewish community already situated in The Ward moved into those empty houses. It’s a common story to Toronto: a group occupies a space, leaves after it outlives its utility, and then a new group moves in and remakes it accordingly.

These East European Jews settled on Kensington, Augusta, and Baldwin Streets, not only residing in the former homes of their white predecessors, but also altering their fronts to accommodate commercial enterprise. And so began the ‘Jewish Market’. This ‘creation and re-creation’ happened over and over in Kensington Market. The Jews’ out-migration around World War II left their storefronts to other populations of Italian, Portuguese, Caribbean, and South & East Asian entrepreneurs, allowing new histories to be created.

The former Sanci’s fruit shop was the first non-Jewish merchant in Kensington Market. There’s a cross in the brickwork atop the store hinting at the building’s roots.

Baldwin Street, 1940s. Credit: Library & Archives Canada.

The importance of Kensington Market in the lives of generations of Canadian immigrants led to its designation as a place of national significance and as a National Historic Site in 2006. In 2017, Historica Canada neatly and creatively distilled its layered history into its first animated Heritage Minute. The clip nicely showcases the physical and cultural transformation of a shop through the decades, moving from the outside to the inside and back out again to show the masses of people who have frequented the Market through the ages.


The grand narrative of Kensington Market has then been this intersection between tangible (geographic) and intangible (cultural). That is to say, the histories of the people within the same physical space they have all come to call “home” over the years. Many writers have explored the theme, including Na Li in her book Kensington Market: Collective Memory, Public History, and Toronto’s Urban Landscape. The original Victorian homes, dramatically altered they after generations of use and reuse, become vessels to tell these stories.

From the Baldwin family countryside to the cafe- and bar-filled nexus of today, Kensington Market’s evolution was unplanned, organic, and anarchic, and yet somehow still falling in line with what came before. It survived urban renewal plans in the 1960s whose purpose to preserve the neighbourhood would have actually destroyed it. The quirks in its murals, hidden backways, street sights, and people can only exist within its borders. It cannot be replicated.

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto showing Kensington Place and Fitroy Terrace as part of the initial layout of the subdivided neighbourhood. Credit: Old Toronto Maps


Useful Links

Doug Taylor – The Villages Within

JB’s Warehouse & Curio Emporium – “Toronto Back Streets: Denison Square”

Kensington Market Historical Society

Lost Rivers – “Bellevue”

Toronto Park Lot Project

Scenes From Berczy Park

If I could sum up the new Berczy Park, it would be a heavy expression of changing landscapes mixed in with a bit of whimsy — in a city that perhaps needs a lot more whimsy. One gets that immediately with the cat greeting patrons on Scott Street.

Dogs populate the inside and outside of the pool, water cascading out of their mouths and into the bone-topped fountain. Well, there is one confused feline among the canines, too.

Part of the appeal of parks is the context they exist in. Think Withrow Park, Christie Pits, and Trinity Bellwoods and how crucial they are to the larger Riverdale, Christie Pits, and Queen West Queen neighbourhoods, respectively. While the revitalized Berczy Park is going to be huge in the Old Town-Downtown Core area, the interplay between the park and its immediate surroundings is most intriguing. Having the fountain and the 19th century streetscape to its south as a backdrop makes for a perfect scene.

Robert Rotenberg in Old City Hall describes this stretch of Front East as having a  “comfortable, almost European feel”. With the addition of the park, I think this holds even more true. In particular, the Beardmore Building, 1872, is my favourite of the row with its beautifully restored yellow brick and arched windows.

The existence of Berczy Park is bittersweet in that the triangular block was once filled with warehouses and shops like the Beardmore. Beginning in the late 1950s but accelerating in the 1960s, these historic rows were knocked down, became parking, and then finally usable public space in 1980.

It’s easy to lament the loss – and indeed, we should (a plaque showcasing the former streetscape, anyone?) – but at some point we should move forward and make the best with what exists. Fortunately, that point has been taken very well Berczy Park.

Looking east, above more seating and gardens, one sees the giant mural draped across the back of the Gooderham Flatiron Building. The artwork was commissioned for the opening of the park in 1980.

Below it, an art piece stands for the park’s namesake, William Berczy, a settler in the Town of York and the communities along German Mills Creek in Markham.

Then, there’s the Gooderham Flatiron Building itself, at one time the great headquarters of Toronto’s brewing and distilling industry. It’s perhaps the most imaged structure in the city. With the updated Berczy Park, it’s in a position to be captured even more.

While its lasting existence seems so natural, the Coffin Block actually manned the odd intersection before it. I would say this is a case where heritage replacing potential heritage was not so bad.

Wellington St. E., looking w. from Church St., 1888. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“The Ward: Representations and Realities, 1890-1950” at Campbell House Museum

I was first introduced to The Ward several years ago through a compelling archival photograph. It was of an impoverished child standing in the debris-filled lane of what looked like a ‘slum’. In the background were the unmistakable Romanesque Revival towers of Old City Hall. The disparity between the two places – the majestic civic heart of the city and the desperate ‘ghetto’ literally at its doorstep – struck me at the time. And it still does. Even more striking is that photo was taken in what is now the southern end of Nathan Phillips Square.

Rear of 21 Elizabeth Street 1913

Rear of 21 Elizabeth Street, The Ward, 1913. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The story of St. John’s Ward is very much one of lost geographies (like in the photo), lost narratives, and how and why we remember or don’t remember. The Ward’s former borders were from Yonge to University and College to Queen. Those streets still exist of course, but the built form between them largely hasn’t survived. For a long time, the stories associated with those landmarks and their Chinese, Italian, Jewish, and Black communities also went underground.

The 2015 release of The Ward: The Life And Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood was an excellent step in revealing those narratives. The book was co-edited by John Lorinc, Ellen Scheinberg, Michael McClellan, and Tatum Taylor, and features the great contributions of many talented writers. It is easily one of my favourite titles in the Toronto History genre. Today, “The Ward: Representations and Realities, 1890 – 1950” continues that work.

The Ward Toronto

Part of the Myseum of Toronto’s 2015 “Intersections” festival,  “The Ward” exhibition is housed in Campbell House Museum, the 1822 residence of Sir William Campbell, a former Chief Justice of Upper Canada. In 1972, the Georgian-style house famously moved from its original location on Adelaide Street to Queen and University.

Cambell House Museum Toronto

It’s a fitting locale given the museum’s placement near the historic area of The Ward (and indeed, above the mantle of the ballroom is an aerial photograph of the neighbourhood taken from the location of the museum.)

Cambell House Museum The Ward 2

The challenge of interpreting and showcasing The Ward’s histories is the lack of contemporary borders attached to those stories. Thus, from a museological perspective, it affects the kinds of artefacts one has access to. Photos of The Ward are abundant, so the curators –  Paul Bishop, Daniel Panneton & Marisa Strom – had no issues there. Photographer Arthur Goss, at the instruction of the health department of the day, did a remarkable job of documenting the troubling conditions of the enclave.

The show is organized thematically with well-displayed panels and pictures about The Ward’s politics, labour strife, Lawren Harris’ artistic take on the area, and other realities. New to me was Albert Lane was one of Toronto’s notorious laneways.

Cambell House Museum The Ward 3         Cambell House Museum The Ward 5

Cambell House Museum The Ward 4
A nice collection of loaned artefacts offer some physical connections to The Ward. They include a labour union banner, restaurant items and Eaton’s pins, and a copy of the (in)famous 1911 Hastings Report in which Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Hastings, observed and critiqued the overcrowded, ‘diseased’ conditions of the enclave. Slums were not a good look for Toronto, according to the high-ranking civil servant. The report came to be the official representation of The Ward.

Cambell House Museum The Ward 7

Cambell House Museum The Ward 8

The neatest addition for me, though, was the collection of oral histories from surviving members of the neighbourhood. “The Voices of The Ward” offer different realities than the Hastings Report — one that emphasizes its deep community. Stories include the ethnically diverse clientele of its shops, being an Italian during the War, and how Eaton’s would not hire Italians.

The interviews provide an audible, human element to The Ward in a way that faces in pictures or names in old news articles cannot. Archival images and words are certainly great resources, but they can put history at a distance. The recordings are a very important reminder that there are living connections to St. John’s Ward today. After all, 1950 wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of history. Residents of The Ward and their descendants still live in Toronto.

Cambell House Museum The Ward 9
“The Ward: Representations and Realities, 1890-1950” is on until April 23, 2016 at Campbell House Museum at 160 Queen Street West. Admission is free, although donation is always appreciated.

Cambell House Museum The Ward 1

Scenes From 2015

As 2015 has come and gone, I think it’s an appropriate exercise to take stock of my year of exploring the city.

My adventures were concentrated once again within the borders of the Old City of Toronto, which was expected, because even in the context of the MegaCity, Toronto Proper still has many stories to discover and relay. A huge highlight was attempting to peel back of the layers of the Fort York area. For an area that has had two hundred years of history and is important in the grand story of Toronto, it’s development into a neighbourhood is only a recent development.

Fort York

I took a similar approach in meandering through Yorkville, which has been a ‘village’ for more than a hundred years, but has layers of natural, industrial, cultural, and built heritage.

47. Four Season Hotel Toronto

29. Ramsden Park

23. Belmont Street Toronto

Towards the end of the year, however, I got outside of the downtown core and started to explore areas that were closer to home. This ultimately began with a guided Heritage Toronto tour through Etobicoke’s Sunnylea, but it really took off with a look into Passmore Forest and then shortly followed by Brimley Woods. The existence and evolution of these greenspaces and their environs in the context of Scarborough’s farming past and suburban present is fascinating. In the case of Passmore Forest, there’s even a pre-contact history with the Alexandra Site!

Sunnylea Junior Public School 3

L'Amoreaux North Park Passmore Forest 1

L'Amoreaux North Park Alexandra Site 1

Brimley Woods Park 1

East York’s Crescent Town and North York’s Peanut and environs was a further investigation into suburbia, particularly in the history of tower building in Toronto. Although located in different parts of the city, both their constructions interestingly necessitated the extension of two main roads – Victoria Park Avenue for Crescent Town and Don Mills Road in The Peanut and area.

Crescent Town (2)        Emerald City 1

In regards to where I’ve been, in June I attempted to draw out Toronto from memory. In constructing this mental map, I identified the holes in my concept of the city. More than half a year later, the western reaches of the city still draw blanks. A resolution for 2016, perhaps?

2015-06-26 15.27.03

In sum, I’ve been through a bunch of parks, attended festivals, visited areas I’ve known about for a while but never been to (hello Rainbow tunnel!), got very interested in the transformative effect and influence of Eaton’s on the physical form of Toronto, and most importantly, nerded out about my city.

Here’s to more of that in 2016!

Rainbow Tunnel (1)

2015 By The Numbers

Adventures: 39

Distance Travelled: 57.75+ km

City Wards: 17

Museums, Galleries, Archives: 4

Parks & Trails: 32

Cemeteries: 3

Festivals: 3

East York: 1

Etobicoke: 1

North York: 3

Old City of Toronto: 31

Scarborough: 3

York: 0

Scenes From Fort York

The Fort York area has some of the oldest built heritage in the city, but also has some of the newest real estate as well. And as much as its history is some of the deepest in the city, its emergence as a neighbourhood – as in, the Fort York neighbourhood or Garrison – is only a recent development.

I begin at Bathurst and Fort York. Across the way is the KPMB Architects-designed Fort York Library, opened in 2014. It’s been celebrated as some of the best new architecture in the city. It’s also important to the neighbourhood itself given the changes in the area.

Fort York Library

The waGardiner Expresswaylk to the Fort is actually quite a long one, considering that I’m technically walking right in front of it. It also passes under the looming Gardiner Expressway, where there’s construction happening.

The entrance to Fort York National Historic Site is the Visitor Centre, which wasn’t here the last time I was at the museum several years ago. Designed by Patkau Architects and Kearns Mancini Architects, it opened in 2014 to great fanfare and great necessity. The shape of the building is an homage to the bluff that once front the shore of Lake Ontario, which was once located in this spot.

Fort York Visitor Centre 1

Fort York Vistor Centre 4

Fort York Visitor Centre 2
My reason for coming to Fort York is to sample the new Augmented Reality (AR) tour which is in beta testing for the month of October. As an educational and interpretation tool, it’s a significant addition for the museum.

Fort York Western Gate, 1885. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Fort York Western Gate, 1885. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Fort York is the birthplace of Toronto. It was founded in 1797, but its buildings date to the War of 1812.

1818 Phillpotts Plan of York

1818 Phillpotts Plan of York. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

But despite that history, it’s lost a bit of its context given the changes in Toronto over the years. Its historic significance is tied to its geography. The original shoreline, which gave the Fort a strategic location to defend the town of York, is buried under infill. Today, Fort York is landlocked by condos, a highway, and railways.

Fort York
The AR tour recreates Fort York’s historical environment and instills some of the sense of place that’s been lost. It’s powered by GPS and features audio and visual exhibits which are prompted when you enter particular locations.

Fort York Officers Mess 1

Fort York Officers Mess 2
My favourite vignettes were the Battle of York, in which British soldiers blew up the grand magazine killing a lot of invading American troops (including the best named figure in Toronto history: Zebulon Pike). The crater in the grass today is said to be from the explosion.

Fort York Augmented Reality
Also, the Gardiner Expressway, which had great audio from the debates of the day. The original proposal for the Gardiner included a plan to route the highway over the Fort. Running it around the site would’ve added eight additional minutes to commuter times (hmm, where have I heard this debate before?).

FortYork1934

Fort York, 1934. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The AR tour is overall a great experience. I was awed by the ability to look around and see the Fort and its surroundings as it once stood. For a museum goer that doesn’t necessary seek a social experience, it’s an excellent way to take in the site. I look forward to seeing it in the museum’s regular programming.

Fort York Soldiers Barracks
After finishing with Fort, I return back to the Visitor Centre to take in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. The exhibition is a great mix of didactic and interactive elements, and its messaging is on point.

The Magna Carta is a significant document in human history, and there’s great continuity in Canada’s and Toronto’s past, particularly in the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms and the fight for Responsible Government. It’s on display until November 7, 2015. (This is also the first exhibition I’ve been to that explicitly bans selfie sticks.)

Magna Carta Fort York 3

Magna Cart Fort York 2
From there, I make my way out of the fort and explore the neighbourhood. Passing by Garrison Common, which gets forgotten but is a significant part of the site, I come to Fort York Armouries, built here in 1933.

Fort York Armoury

Further down the way is the 1861 Queen’s Wharf Lighthouse. Like Fort York, it’s a bit removed from its historical situation. It was moved here in 1929 after infill no longer had it on the water. Queen’s Wharf was the location of the recently excavated schooner.

Queen's Wharf Lighthouse

Condo pit

Moving around the weird Fleet Street/Lake Shore Boulevard setup is a pedestrian’s nightmare. There’s car traffic and streetcar tracks to contend with. It’s no wonder the nearby intersection is named one of worst in the city.

Fleet Street Lakeshore
Coming to Grand Magazine Street and Iannuzi Street, there’s markers in the ground honouring their naming. Grand Magazine references the Fort, but Iannuzi refers to the nearby OMNI building  and the station’s founder Daniel Iannuzi. I remember when it was just named CFMT.

Grand Magazine Street plaque

Iannuzi Street plaque

The Tip Top Lofts is a highlight on the street and one of my favourite buildings in the city. It was originally built here in 1929 as a garment factory. After sitting derelict, it reopened as residences in 2006 with an addition that, in my opinion, works very well with the rest of its Art Deco exterior.

Tip Top Lofts

The Bathurst/Lakeshore/Fleet Street intersection is an interesting one for the landmarks that stand here and once stood here.

Aerial view of Bathurst Street and Lakeshore Road. - [after 1929]

Aerial view of Bathurst Street and Lake Shore Boulevard, 1930s?. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Standing at the northwest corner, there’s Douglas Coupland’s toy soldiers,  known as the 2008 Monument to the War of 1812.

Douglas Coupland Monument to the War of 1812

Across the way is a gas station that was once the site of Maple Leaf Stadium, which stood here from 1908 to 1968. It hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team. As Adam Bunch tells in his Illustrated History of Baseball in Toronto, it’s one of a couple of lost baseball venues in the city, joining Hanlan’s Point Stadium on the islands and Riverdale’s Sunlight Park. Today, Stadium Road is only remnant of its existence.

Bathurst & Lakeshore
On the southeast corner is the mentioned OMNI building, known historically as the 1927 Crosse and Blackwell Building.

CrosseBlackwell_Bldg-small-940x703 1927

Crosse and Blackwell Building, 1927. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Rounding things out is the landmark Loblaws Groceterias Warehouse, which sadly, has seen better days. A 1927 design by Sparling Martin and Forbes, it completes the Art Deco row happening here on Lake Shore (Carlton Street has another one going too). 90 years later, ERA architects are going to take their shot at revitalizing the worn out building.

Loblaw Warehouse, Bathurst and Fleet Sts. - January 21, 1929

Loblaws Groceterias Warehouse, 1929. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Loblaws Groceteria Warehouse 2

Heading east and up onto Dan Leckie Way, the neighbourhood makeover continues. This is CityPlace, whose towers and the amazing Canoe Landing Park disguise the fact that there were once extensive railway lands here. Underneath the Gardiner there’s a park, akin to Underpass Park in the West Don Lands.

Gardiner Expressway Dan Leckie Way Park 1

Speaking of railways, at its head I cross at the Puente de Luz pedestrian bridge.

Puente de Luz 1

Puente de Luz 2
Draper Street
is a hidden Victorian gem in the city. Anytime I’m in the area I have to traverse it. Its rowhouses are something else. And there’s a couple of cats that can be found roaming it.

Draper Street 3

Draper Street 1
At Wellington & Portland, I like the unexpected juxtaposition between the house-turned-restaurant and the condo beside it. I have to believe there was once a vintage row of homes here, but the present looks pretty nice.

Portland & Wellington

Across the way, Victoria Memorial Square went from yesterday’s military burial ground to today’s quiet park. Although geographically disconnected from it, it’s part of Fort York National Historic Site. For a deeper read into the park and its history, do read Hiking The GTA’s piece on Victoria Memorial Square.

Victoria Square 2

Victoria Square 3

Back on Bathurst, I end my urban hike at King Street. The Otto Higel Piano Co.  stood at its northwest corner for the better part of the 20th century before being demolished in 1981. It’s one of my favourite lost industrial buildings in the city, and can’t help but wonder what its use would be today. There’s a Second Cup in its place, which I don’t mind getting a coffee from.

Item consists of one photograph. This building was later known as the Clocktower Building and was demolished in the 1980s. *** Local Caption *** Item consists of one photograph. This building was later known as the Clocktower Building and was demolished in the 1980s.

Otto Higel Co., 1919. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The intersection is also a great bookend for the day because of the Wheat Sheaf, which figures into Fort York and Toronto mythology. Soldiers at the fort were said to have dug a tunnel from the garrison to the watering hole. Great story although not true, sadly!

Wheat Sheaf

Fort York sign

Useful Links

Fort York and Garrison Common Maps

Hiking The GTA – Military Burying Grounds

Nathan Ng  – A History of Front & Bathurst – Victorian/Early 20th Century Era

Scenes From Garrison Creek

Scenes From Rush Lane, Queen West, and Niagara

Spacing Magazine – A bird’s-eye tour of the foot of Bathurst Street in the 1950s by Adam Bunch