2022 marks ten years for Scenes From Toronto. This year, I committed to a goal of two articles a month when possible. Out of 24 possible articles in the month, I published 17. Although I did not match my goal, I am proud of that output.
2022 also followed the momentum of the previous year in creating original, research-based articles, drawing on primary and secondary sources, as well as the work of great historians and writers. I hope they have added to Toronto’s rich local heritage scene and telling the city’s lesser known (hi)stories.
The Best of 2022
To mark the year, I have compiled my favourite ten articles.
1. “Old” Toronto Streets: An exploration of a peculiarity in Toronto’s geography and streets. This is a multi-parter.
6. The Rise of The Hill District, Toronto: The origin of one of Toronto’s exclusive neighbourhoods is an interesting tale of the who’s who in Toronto history and a period in which Old Toronto’s street grid began to fill up.
Note: This article is the second piece in a two-part series.The first can be found here.
In the 1960s, Toronto had a big question to address: “What would replace the commercial section across The New City Hall?” What followed was action to remove the Queen Street shops between Bay and York Streets and replace them with a complementary project worthy of the new civic centre.
The Expropriation Question
As Toronto entered the 1960s, progress on the Queen Street question seemed slow. In October 1960, there were reports that demolition would begin in the autumn of 1961 or spring of 1962 on the “seedy” south side. The Planning Board was preparing an invitation to attract private developers to redo the site. However, in May 1962, this draft invitation was presented to city council for approval. City Council now had the estimate down to $6,250,000 to buy the properties, but the The Globe and Mail anticipated difficult negotiations with property owners, particularly with the Municipal Hotel and Casino Theatre, who where the largest land owners on the block. The city approved a motion to start expropriating properties, but it was unclear whether this was a path to be taken.
For the Municipal Hotel, owner Arthur Mintz was not going along with city plans to redevelop his property. He had his own project: a three million dollar, 14-storey office tower to replace the hotel. Mintz’ hotel was key in building an office tower at Queen and Bay, but the owner was not going to sell at even a reasonable price to a developer, instead opting to go at it alone. A by-law was passed indicating that whatever new development went through on Queen, the ends of the strip would have towers while the middle would be lower so not to “spoil the view” of the new city hall. The holdup? Owners of these central lots were unwilling to sell. The Daily Star’s editorial section and others advocated for expropriation.
On August 12, 1964, Toronto City Council voted 17-4 to expropriate most of the block bounded by Queen, Richmond, Bay, and York Streets. Mayor Phillip Givens, a pro-development politician, was a large proponent of the expropriation option and the redevelopment of Queen Street as a whole. It was the first time in Toronto history in which the city opted to expropriate land to sell to private interests rather than execute a public project. Development Commissioner Walter Manthorpe warned that renewal was still another 10 years away with steps needing to be taken to take seek Ontario Municipal Board approval for the expropriation, take possession of the properties, demolish them, sell to developers, and come up with a redevelopment plan for the province’s approval. Proposals started to come in which would the potential form the site and Queen Street in general would take, including an interesting plan which would see a tunnel under Queen and the surface turned into a pedestrian mall between Yonge and University.
Much like the civic centre on the north side of Queen, the city decided to hold a design competition for the block leftover by the soon-to-be expropriated and demolished shops. The eastern end of the block would not be part of the project. In November 1964, Mintz sold the Municipal Hotel to a private developer, Reuben Dennis. The other properties included the Victory Building on Richmond St., the Temple and Dominion Bank Buildings on Bay St., and the Hamilton Trust property on Queen Street, the latter of which suffered a fire in 1963 and which Dennis also bought.
On September 13, 1965, the new City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square was revealed to Torontonians. The winning space-aged design by Finnish architect Viljo Revell consisted of two curved towers of differing heights, a central ‘oyster’ housing the council chamber, and a large open space with a wading pool, arches, public art, and a podium.
Across the street, there were some empty storefronts and vacant lots. For the shops that remained, there were ‘expropriation sale’ signs. By the next year, most of the block was razed to the ground and replaced by a level surface of sod and sidewalk.
In 1968, a mini-saga began in who would receive the rights to redevelop the property, which council was to rent out to the winning developer for 99 years. In April 1968, City Council approved a proposal which would see Third Generation Realty Limited build a $50-million hotel-convention centre on the three-and-a-half acre property. However, the Finance Commissioner determined Third Generation did not have the financial proof to back its proposal. In July, Council voted again, this time approving a $34-million scheme by Inn on the Park-Four Seasons, the other bidder in the April vote. During the event, an alderman was even accused of accepting a bribe, which he denied. In 1969, construction began on the 43-storey, 1,400-room hotel, which would become the Four Seasons-Sheraton Hotel. John B. Parkin Associates, who worked on City Hall, designed the complex.
Welcome to the Sheraton-Four Seasons Hotel
In 1972, the Sheraton-Four Seasons Hotel opened (the ‘Four Seasons’ would be dropped in 1976 as the hotel pulled out of the venture), the culmination of a 15-year saga to renew the Queen Street West strip across Toronto’s new municipal hub. Carrying the memorable street address ‘123 Queen West’, it was the second largest hotel in Toronto at the time of opening behind only the iconic Royal York Hotel (it was surpassed by the Chelsea Delta which opened only a few years later).
Conforming with the by-law from a decade earlier, the main hotel tower is situated off to the side of the city hall and square towards York Street, offering an unobstructed vista. The eastern side of the block saw the erection of a two-storey TD bank branch and the Queen-Bay Centre, consisting of the 25-storey Thomson Building and the Munich Re Centre, opening in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The latter building opened on the site of the demolished Temple Building, whose fragments are found at the Guild Inn Park.
In 2022, at fifty years old, the Sheraton Centre is a unique modernist, Brutalist construction. Its central area forms an atrium of waterfall gardens designed by J. Austin Floyd, the famed landscape architect who also left his footprint at the famed yet now lost Inn on the Park hotel at Leslie Street and Eglinton Avenue.
On the Queen Street mega-hotel, architect Michael McLelland wrote how “metropolitan structures like the Sheraton Centre are an integral part of the downtown morphology”. Its views of the complex across the street, which was the catalyst of its construction, are unparalleled in Toronto.
The Sheraton Centre and Toronto City Hall are fine examples of Toronto as a city made and re-made. They mark the ‘creative destruction’ of the post-war years. The south side of Queen Street between Bay and York was an interesting mix of establishments, many with varying stories and origins. The condemning of the strip as a ‘commercial slum’ and its subsequent replacement offers a complicated takeaway. On the one hand, the physical erasure has understandably hidden those histories from collective consciousness; on the other, the emergence of the Sheraton Centre has offered Toronto a marvel in itself. For better or worse, Toronto was growing up after World War II — in area, age, building heights, and architectural styles. The construction of the Sheraton Centre was in itself a microcosm of this period of transformation — and the representative of the expendability of centrally-located, culturally- and socially-colourful sectors like this one.
Note: This article is the first piece in a two-part series. The second article can be found here.
When Toronto’s New City Hall and Square opened in 1965, there was a problem. While Ontario’s Capital was looking to move into a new era, the commercial strip across the new civic centre did not fit into those plans for modernization.
“Redevelopment Area” or “Commercial Slum”?
In 1958, Toronto was in the midst of an international design competition to construct a new city hall and square. The winning entry had not yet been chosen, but the jury — a panel of architects and town planners — had a particular recommendation. For the new landmark to be better situated, Toronto needed to redevelop the downtown area all around the site to better complement it, including the street directly opposing the civic centre. They proposed:
“City action to replace the unworthy buildings on Queen St., between Bay and York Sts., with a continuous facade, not over 90 feet high, with an open arcade under the building for the whole length.”
The Globe and Mail, May 15, 1958
The Globe and Mail agreed with the report of the jurors, citing “it would be a disgrace to leave a stick of it standing as a backdrop to the expensive – and, we hope, beautiful – Civic Square.”
In September, Toronto Planning Board was instructed by the Board of Control to make proposals on the Queen St. frontage. The board recommended the city buy the site and then sell or lease it to a developer. The Globe and Mail also called the south side “a hodge-podge of small, old buildings in various states of repair” and the shops “remain as reminders of that former area, bearing little relation to present surroundings.” The land was divided into separately owned lots and it was estimated $7,000,000 would be needed to buy them.
On October 27, 1958, the city passed a bylaw formally calling the strip a ‘redevelopment area’ and “giving the city expropriation powers over all but one of the properties.” The Toronto Daily Star was blunter in its characterization and advocacy of the fate of Queen Street West:
“Nearly everyone agrees that our handsome new city hall – when and if it is built – should not have to tolerate a commercial slum in front of it. And Queen St. between York and Bay is a tawdry hodge-podge”
Toronto Daily Star, October 31, 1958
The Daily Star and its editorial page in particular were very aggressive in their advocacy. It quite frequently enployed the phrase ‘commercial slum’ in the 1960s when reporting about the state of the site, including a December 1962 ‘Special Report’ boldly entitled “Our New City Hall Will Face a SLUM”:
“The rising towers of the new city hall look across Queen St. W. to a shabby vista of beer parlors, pawnshops, second-hand stores, a closed-down burlesque house.”
Toronto Daily Star, December 29, 1962
Still, the conservative outlet was interestingly weary of using public power to transfer property from private hands to private hands, i.e. the government moving shops from smaller, independent owners to larger, independent developers.
Whether the Queen Street row was euphemized as a ‘redevelopment area’ or disparaged as a ‘commercial slum’, urban renewal and slum clearance were certainly in the psyches and goals of governments of all levels in Canada and the United States of America for several decades in the 20th century. For Toronto, several lower-class neighbourhoods with ‘uneconomic uses’ were identified as requiring clearance and renewal. Regent Park became the first social housing project in Canada in 1947. The southern half of The Ward itself was voted to be expropriated in 1946 for the new city hall and square project, an area centred around Elizabeth Street once known as the first Chinatown in Toronto; the dense “slum” as a whole had calls to be rebuilt going back to the 1910s.
At work was the need to also rejuvenate Toronto’s historic downtown retail districts. Historian Daniel Ross wrote the city created its “pro-development Plan for Downtown Toronto” in 1963 with Yonge Street as a central part. After World War II, the rise of the automobile and urban sprawl impacted the central core, “emptying out” of its historical commercial districts as the suburbs developed their own retail and residential nexuses. A large part of the downtown plan was the Timothy Eaton Company’s Project Viking. First conceived in 1958, it was an endeavour which would reimagine the commercial empire’s ageing downtown holdings of mainly early 20th century warehouses as a post-war shopping centre. The project would become The Eaton Centre.
The Queen Street West Strip in History
In the early 20th century, the near three hundred-metre stretch of Queen between Bay and York Streets was characterized by hotels, restaurants, second-hand goods shops, barbers, butchers, jewelers, pawnbrokers, billiard shops, grocers, and fruit shops. Located on the southern edge of The Ward, a working-class immigrant enclave in the heart of Toronto, it also had East European Jewish and East Asian owned and ran-enterprises, such as restaurants, shops, and clubs.
First, the 1920 Toronto City Directory offers an interesting snapshot of the prominence and variety of Chinese businesses and organizations on the street. In this small zone, there were six Chinese restaurants (sadly all un-named as per the style of the directories in this period) and two tea-related businesses. Two organizations were on the street: The Chinese National League and The Chinese Reform Association. There was also a gentleman’s furnishings shop and possibly a photography shop. Yet Chong Lung Co. is referenced at 117 Queen, although it is unclear what type of dealings it entailed.
105 Queen Street West was a curious address in 1926. The city directory for the year divides the building into 105 — Tighe Lee, billiards — and 105 1/2 — Chinese National League. A picture from the year shows a sign above the door possibly reading “Pool Room”. The sign above that is written in Chinese with an illegible English caption underneath, roughly translating to “Kuomintang Office” or “Republic of Taiwan Political Party”. The smaller third sign on the third floor roughly translated to “World Mirror”, an arts society set up by the Kuomintang.
113 Queen Street West was an intriguing case in that at different points it hosted a Chinese restaurant, the Jewish Daily Eagle, and the Union Ticket Office. In the 1910s, the address was listed in the city directories as hosting a Louis Gurofsky, Joseph Gurofsky, and Samuel Gurofsky at differing times. They were also characterized as ‘insurance agents’. By the 1920s, it was listed as The Union Ticket Office — a steamship ticket business.
Steamship ticket agents were common professions for Jewish-Torontonians and there were several competing businesses in The Ward. The enterprises played a role in the immigration process for Jews abroad. Historian Jack Lipinsky wrote “steamship agents, as their name indicates, originally concentrated on issuing boat and train ticks, mostly to immigrants.” Agents were landsmanschaften and “remittance agents” who worked with the Jewish Immigration Aid Services to bring Jews to Toronto. Lipinski notes that some agents were “dishonest” and defrauded prospective immigrants, including a David Gurofsky. It is unclear if this is the same or related Gurofsky(s) who operated at 113 Queen Street, but the damage done to the industry by him was enormous. The director of Canada’s Immigration Branch, Frederick Charles Blair, was “permanently suspicious” of the Jewish community because of Gurofsky’s dealings, a development which would later impact fleeing European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Gurofsky office seemed to play roles in the First World War. In 1916, the steamship office was responsible for enlisting “Hebrews”. The Globe reported it expected “at least fifty men” in Toronto to sign up for the great war and that over 1,100 had already joined across Canada. In 1917, Louis Gurofsky, at the delegation of the Russian consul, was tasked with “rounding up” prominent Russian Torontonians to return to their home country at the request of the new Russian Provisional Government who were “honeycombing” for “former friends — revolutionists and socialists” who had left Russia. Finally, The Daily Star reported in July 1917, a Mischa Bedler of 113 Queen Street West, a 24-year-old Jewish inventor handed over “a very valuable discovery in wireless telegraphy” to the Canadian government and was promoted to a lieutenant and instructor in the Royal Flying Corps.
Some of the businesses were mainstays on Queen Street for much of the 20th century. Simon Simonsky (occasionally spelt ‘Simonski’), a pawnbroker, was in business since at least the 1890s, settling at 121 Queen and then 107 Queen, where he would stay for at least sixty years. Historian Ellen Scheinberg wrote the family may have been peddlers originally: wandering street salesmen pushing carts of goods. A common professional trajectory of peddlers was to raise enough capital to open a shop, which Simonsky seemed to accomplish. According to a 1954 obituary for Mrs Annie Simonsky, the Simonskys were a “family long active in Jewish communal circles in Toronto”. By 1964, with forced closure looming, the shop moved to 115 York Street.
Harry Stein, a Russian watchmaker, landed on the Queen Street strip in 1932 at a shop at 63 Queen named Henry & Co (in the city directories, it was originally listed as ‘Harry Stein, jeweler’; the business also started as a watch repair shop on Yonge Street in 1909). In 1945, the jewelry business moved to 113 Queen — the former site of Gurofsky’s steamship ticket office. It later added other products and electronics to its offerings, most notably cameras, making it the first Henry’s, as we know it today. Henry’s later resurfaced at other locations, including 119 Church Street near Queen Street East in the 1970s. Henry’s announced in 2022 it would be leaving this location and a condominium is proposed to take its place.
Palaces of Sin
Two cinemas also were huge presences on the Queen Street row. The Broadway Theatre at 75 Queen Street West was on the strip since 1919, opening as the Globe Theatre. Historian Doug Taylor wrote the theatre started playing “‘Girlie Shows’ as well as vaudeville and B-movies”. In the 1930s, it was briefly the Roxy and changed to its final name in 1937. In 1935, the manager of Broadway was found murdered in his office; the killing was never solved.
The Casino Theatre at 87 Queen Street West was an “infamous” burlesque house built in 1936, according to Taylor. He pointedly described the movie house: “Throughout the theatre history of Toronto, other than perhaps the Victory Theatre on Spadina, there is no entertainment venue that has elicited as much praise, raunchy stories, condemnation and newspaper coverage as the infamous Casino Theatre.”
The theatre had reputable architects, Kaplan and Sprachman, who were famed for many of Toronto’s beautiful art deco theatres. The owners of The Casino partnered with the owner of the neighbouring Broadway to open the venture. But a foul reputation followed the Casino itself, which “was famous for its raunchy comedians and risqué burlesque” and “decent citizens” called a “sin palace”. In 1961, the Casino was renamed ‘the Festival Theatre’ as a failed attempt to clean up its image. In the final year of its existence, the theatre was playing a Russian Film Festival, perhaps as a means to that end.
Two hotels — the bar beer parlours referenced by the Star – were (in)famous on the south side of Queen. The Municipal Hotel stood at 67 Queen Street West since at least the late 1890s. The Municipal seemed to have a rowdy reputation throughout its history with fights, arrests, and fires plaguing its life. In 1946, Toronto Police prepared a report on hotels to send to the Ontario Liquor Board and had this to say about the hotel:
“Municipal Hotel, 67 Queen St. W.:
‘The chief complaint against this hotel is thefts from drunks who are permitted to become inebriated on the premises. It is also a rendezvous for prostitutes, and a number of girls have been removed from the premises by the police. This hotel is poorly managed and there is much room for improvement.'”
The Globe and Mail, February 4, 1946
Several doors down, at 71 Queen Street West, there were several versions of a hotel at this location since the early 1900s: the Aberdeen Hotel, Lennon’s Hotel, the White’s Hotel, and finally the Union Hotel/House. The Union had a similar seedy reputation to the Municipal. The 1946 report wrote:
“Union Hotel, 71 Queen St. W.:
‘This place appears nothing more than a pickup place for prostitutes, and it is amazing to find how many girls in the downtown area will give their address as the Union Hotel. Plainclothesmen have removed many girls from the premises, and only recently they arrested two teen-agers who had stayed at this hotel three nights with different men each night. A number of girls arrested in this hotel were found to have venereal disease. Improvement by the management in regard to the conduct of this hotel is long overdue.'”
The Globe and Mail, February 4, 1946
Interestingly, The Union and Municipal played notable roles in the history of Toronto’s gay community after World War II. Of the 1950s and 1960s, historian Christine Sismondo wrote the bar rooms of both hotels became places where the gay and lesbian communities were patrons, so much that the area around Queen and Bay was known to the groups for “cruising” as “The Corners” or “Queer Street”. The Municipal in particular was “known for its cheap beer by the glass and transient clientele” in this period and “received far more surveillance” than other establishments along higher class lines. It was known to be a “rough” bar, patronized by hustlers and ex-convicts.
Given this overall history and characterization, it is easily conceivable why the Queen Street frontage held such little value for Toronto decision-makers. Fire, assault, murder, sex, and more all found homes on the street. The shops and professions themselves were of inconsequential business value, the two theatres were ‘sinful’, and the hotels were cheap establishments with questionable management and clientele. Even including the impressively designed Broadway Theatre, the built form of the street was not of any notable architectural significance. Taken together, the row was simply expendable for a city looking for “progress”.
What’s the most colonial representation of colonial Toronto in Toronto? It might be a street marker built into the corner of a George Brown College buiding at Frederick Street and Adelaide Street East.
But the marker itself doesn’t read Frederick and Adelaide; rather, it reads Frederick and Duke. Frederick is still Frederick, but Duke doesn’t exist anyore.
The laughable part of this intersection is it was at one point named entirely for the same guy: Prince Frederick, The Duke of York of Great Britain.
At the time Duke and Frederick were named, the settlement containing them was also named for Duke Frederick: The Town of York. The Duke never visited the town named for him or likely had any direct role in its formation or growth. The British locales contained in his title also got a street name further west of the town – York Street. The Duke was also the son of KingGeorge, the reigning monarch at the time of the town’s founding, who had at least two other street names – King and George – named directly and indirectly for him.
And even more, nearly every street in early York was named by another Brit in charge of this colony: John Graves Simcoe, who didn’t like the indigenous name for the region — Tkaronto. Instead, when setting up his new town and the first few streets in it, he felt it more worthy honouring a man from his home country who scored a victory in his own continent as well as after other members of the British nobility and royalty.
The Town of York would revert to its indigenous name, albeit with an English spelling – Toronto. Duke Street would merge with and take on the name of the nearby rerouted Adelaide Street, named for another royal who likely didn’t have any contributions to the city either.
As a layered bonus, this wasn’t even the first time Duke Street was involved in a name change. The original Duke Street was today’s King Street. The original King Street was Palace Street, today’s Front Street. The Duke Street before this northern re-shifting was Duchess Street, named for the Duke’s royal counterpart. Duchess would move up a street too. It also merged with and took on the name of nearby Richmond Street. The streets of the original blocks of Toronto clearly had a colonial theme.
But today, the marker at Frederick and Adelaide Street still reads Frederick and Duke, still honouring the same guy.
In the early 1900s, St. John’s Ward or familiarly just ‘The Ward’ was a dense, immigrant enclave in the central core of the City of Toronto. The neighbourhood was roughly bound by Queen Street, College Street, Yonge Street, and University Avenue, and housed some of the city’s first Black, Jewish, Chinese, Irish, and Italian colonies. Two early 20th-century rooftop photos provide interesting overhead views of the physical makeup of the district.
The first rooftop view was taken in 1920 by iconic Toronto photographer William James from the top of the Alexandra Palace Apartments, formerly located at 184 University Avenue opposite the terminus of Gerrard Street West on the edge of The Ward.
There was another photograph also taken by James from the Alexandra Apartments, this one dated to “circa 1920”. Although generally quite similar, noticeable differences exist between this and the 1920 photo, most visibly that the latter is a much broader view of the same general area of The Ward.
While the date of the zoomed-in image is approximate, it almost certainly precedes 1920. The main differences between this and the 1920 photo is the lack of the Prest-O-Lite Factory (built 1917) and the northernmost Eaton’s factories (also built 1917). The most important detail, however, is the Eaton’s Annex building, which appears under construction. The store opened in 1913, which likely dates the image to 1912 or 1913.
The Alexandra Palace Apartments (also simply called the ‘Alexandra Apartments’, ‘The Alexandra Palace’, or ‘The Palace’) was a 7-storey, luxury apartment building constructed in 1904 during Toronto’s first apartment building boom, meaning it was one of the first of its kind in the city. The architect was the prolific George W. Gouinlock, who also designed the Temple Building. Famous residents included tycoon E.P. Taylor and Ontario Hydro founder Sir Adam Beck (the old Ontario Hydro Headquarters was directly north of the apartment). It is said that residents moved into the Palace to retire.
In the 1920s, the Palace went from apartment house to apartment hotel with a dining room already in its offerings. In the 1940s, the building was slated to become a nurses’ residence for Sick Children’s Hospital. By the 1950s, the building ceased to be a residence and was heavily remodelled to be a modern office building, losing much of its original exterior features. In 1968, the Alexandra Apartments building was demolished.
The second rooftop photograph comes from the top of an Eaton’s factory tower once located adjacent to the Church of the Holy Trinity. Like the Alexandra Apartments picture, it was taken by William James. It is dated “circa 1910.”
The view is looking northwesterly over The Ward and has several common landmarks with the 1920 Alexandra Apartments image, such as Toronto House of Industry, the Hester How School, and the Grace Church. In the foreground along Bay Street (at the time called Terauley Street) and Dundas Street (Agnes Street) are the Terauley Street Synagogue, the Lyric Yiddish Theatre, and Police Station #2 (which appears to have officers in its yard). As with The Palace image, there are also the tightly packed streets of tiny residences, many undoubtedly housing men and women who were employed by Eaton’s. Finally, the distinctive rooflines of Queen’s Park and Toronto General Hospital loom far in the distance (with the Alexandra Apartments somewhere nearby).
The Eaton’s factory itself where James captured the image was a 12-storey structure located adjacent to the Church of The Holy Trinity. It was built around 1910 in a period when the Eaton’s footprint in the area expanded from a single store at 190 Yonge Street in 1883 to encompass at least half the block between Yonge, Bay, Queen and Dundas Streets by 1920. The factory was demolished in the 1970s when other Eaton’s factories and warehouses were razed in part to make way for the Eaton Centre (The Eaton’s Annex store referenced earlier was destroyed by fire in 1977).
The Eaton’s image is dated “circa 1910”, which is likely accurate as it is very comparable to the “circa 1920, but likely 1912-3” Alexandra Apartments photo. The Prest-O-Lite factory does not appear in the image, thus 1910-1917 is a fair timeframe.
Today, if the two William James rooftop photos were recreated, they would be taken from Mount Sanai Hospital and the Bell Trinity Square office building, respectively. Ironically, the Alexandra Apartments and the Eaton’s factory were both constructed and demolished in similar periods: the 1900s to 1910s and 1960s to 1970s. The dwellings, houses of worship, and businesses of The Ward also largely disappeared by the 1950s as lands were expropriated for various projects. The district continued to change since then until the present-day, making these century-old views a far cry to today’s world.
Coffee houses are ubiquitous places in Toronto. Tim Horton’s, McCafes, Starbucks, Aroma Espresso Bars, and independent coffee shops seemingly mark every block in its diverse neighbourhoods. While Toronto is in an exciting era of artisanal coffee shops, the locales of the 19th century paint a much different picture in the drink’s social consumption.
Toronto’s First “Coffee Houses”
The first establishment in Toronto to call itself a coffee house was the “Toronto Coffee House”. It was opened in 1801 by William Cooper on the east side of Jarvis Street between King Street and Yonge Street near today’s St. Lawrence Market. Despite the name, historian Chris Bateman writes Cooper’s two-storey establishment was more a tavern than a café, which served liquor, ale, and some food. The name was meant to inspire respectability, drawing on the influence of similarly-named establishments in Great Britain. It also hosted an inn and general store. The coffee house was sold five years after it opened.
In the 1830s, “The (New) British Coffee House” opened in the Chewitt Building at the southeast corner of King Street and York Street. Completed in 1835, the structure was considered Toronto’s first office block. Its ground floor had the Coffee House, which was rented by a Mr. Keating and followed the British tradition in offering a meeting place for influential people. Again, this “Coffee House” likely resembled an establishment serving ale in the British way more than the modern conceptualization of an espresso bar type establishment.
In the 1837 directory, the British Coffee House was listed as a “Principal Hotel” as owned by John Cotter. John Grantham’s “Old British Coffee-House” on Front Street was also listed in the category. According to John Ross Robertson, The British Coffee House was closed in 1837 following its role in the meeting of individuals of the rebellion of that year and then seized by the government and used as barracks. By 1843, the Coffee House was listed as a boarding house. By 1850, it had the added moniker of “Club House”, which Robertson stated later developed into today’s “Toronto Club”. The building was torn down for the luxurious Rossin House Hotel in 1862; an office block stands in both their places today.
“Substitutes to Drinking Saloons”
By the mid-19th century, coffee was a known and consumed commodity, albeit there was more to be learned. There seemed to have been some inconsistencies on how the drink was prepared, and apparently a farmer in Scarboro was trying to grow its own specimen of coffee which was conducive to the Canadian climate.
But finding coffee in a social setting seemed to have been a rare occurrence. In 1860, a reader of The Globe — an Alexander Somerville — lamented the lack of places for a stranger to find a cup of coffee for a fair price. He found “but one place where a passing stranger can obtain small refreshments, such as one or two cups of coffee at a fair price, at any hour in the day.” This was in Montreal for six-pence. Somerville called on the ‘Sons of Temperance’ to make this happen.
In the late 1870s, the temperance movement used the caffeinated beverage to steer people – mostly men – away from the evils of alcohol. It employed eateries to do so. One of the first coffee houses to open with this purpose in January 1878 was the Albert Street Coffee Room. It was based on the ‘coffee taverns’ and ‘coffee palaces’ established in London and other large global cities.
The Albert Coffee Room at 11-13 Albert Street opened in January 1878, and was funded by social reformer and future Toronto mayor W.H. Howland. It was described as “plainly though nicely fitted up” and containing “the bar, or public room, the billiard room, and the reading room”. All were welcome in the public room where coffee, tea, cocoa, or milk were served “with sandwiches, buns, etc, at certain low yet remunerative prices”. Irish stew was a noted dish too. The other two rooms operated with a small fee and subscription. Profane language and intoxicating liquors were forbidden, although smoking was allowed. Its existence was short-lived, however; by 1881, the Albert Coffee Room closed for unknown reasons.
“Our Coffee Room” at 115-117 York Street at Boulton Street (now Pearl Street) opened in 1879. Its owner was S G Noblett. The establishment was described by a visitor as having a billiard table on the ground floor, all the daily city newspapers downstairs, and a large reading room with a valuable collection of books upstairs. All services are free for visitors, except for the billiard table which is available for “the usual price”. The visitor also boasted the “convenience of being able at any moment to supply one with a cup of hot tea or coffee alone for three cents, or with a buttered roll for five cents”.
In the following years, a number of changes came to Our Coffee Room. In 1883, it took on the name of its proprietor and seemingly upgraded from a coffee room to a coffee house. Before it closed in 1886, it was listed as a eating house, abandoning the caffeinated drink altogether in its name.
The impact of these two coffee houses were reported by 1879. In a Globe article highlighting the “Sights of Toronto”, Temperance Coffee-Houses were presented as flourishing establishments with the goals of providing “places of entertainment and substitutes for drinking saloons, where the evil associations of the saloons are absent, and where….coffee and other mild drinks, with lunches ma be obtained with moderate prices”. Both “Albert Street Coffee Room” and “Our Coffee Rooms” were named.
Around this time, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union also operated a coffee house beginning in 1877 on Queen Street West near the Occident Hall at Bathurst Street. The Globe noted that the venture depleted the treasury, and by 1880 it was sold. Later in the decade, the Temperance Union had talks of resurrecting the idea, but it is unclear if it came to fruition.
The Toronto Coffee House Association
The impetus behind the Toronto Coffee House Association may have started in December 1878 meeting of the “Coffee House Committee”. It was held at Shaftesbury Hall on Queen Street at James Street, which was the headquarters of the Young Men’s Christian Association from 1873 to 1887. The committee resolved to make open two coffee houses: one in St. John’s Ward arranged by Howland and others, and another near St. Lawrence Market to accommodate farmers and others in the neighbourhood.
In 1881, the temperance movement formally organized a scheme of coffee houses. In May, there was a “well-attended meeting of parties interested in the prevention and suppression of intemperance” at Shaftesbury Hall. The Committee on Coffee-Houses recommended the formation of a joint stock company and 5,000 shares be issued at once at one dollar per share. The object of the company was “to provide public houses of refreshment and entertainment without intoxicating drink.” The committee highlighted that there were 196 licensed taverns and unknown number of unlicensed places that provided the only places of rest and refreshment. It also targeted working populations, particular men employed in the railways, port, and streetcars, and a separate entrance and room for women. The following passage from The Globe summarizes this philanthropic yet investable endeavour:
“We cannot close our report without stating that, while we wish to launch this Company entirely upoin its merits as a business enterprise, our aim is to benefit the city and promote the cause of temperance, and that we desire he help of all who have at heart the true welfare of our citizens in this good work.”
“Suppression of Intemperance – Meeting in Shaftesbury Hall Yesterday Afternoon – Report on Coffee Houses,” The Globe, May 17, 1881
The organization was inspired by coffee houses in Liverpool run by the British Workman Public House Company, which in the year prior were said to have “a decrease of 1500 in cases of drunkenness.” The goals were to have a collection of strategically located coffee houses targeted towards working men. The capital of the Company was 40 thousand pounds divided in one pound shares. It was reportedly paying out at 14 per cent.
In the fall of 1881, the Toronto Coffee House Association took further steps to organize. It opened a booth at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition where it sold tea, coffee, and other temperance drinks and plain refreshments. It also met to elect a permanent board and decide the location of the coffee houses. They would be located “at the Market-square, another at the corner of Bay and Front streets, and the third in the vicinity of Brock-street.” A meeting of the Society for the Prevent and Suppression of Intolerance urged the participation of society members, particularly in canvassing new members and getting subscriptions. It was also reported that the Coffee House Association had done a number of research into coffee houses in Britain and United States, and interestingly, many people who had taken stock in the organization has never engaged in the temperance cause before.
On November 15, 1881, the first annual meeting of the Toronto Coffee House Association was held at the Confederation Life Association Building. Lieutenant Governor Gzowski served as Chairman for the meeting and was also elected President of the Board of Directors (the Association was operating on a Provisional Board prior to the meeting). It was reported the success of the Liverpool coffee house scheme and that the event at the Exhibition grounds showed that the group could sell a cup of coffee and sandwich for five cents and make a profit.
St. Lawrence and Shaftesbury Coffee Houses
In February 1882, the Toronto Coffee House Association’s inaugurated its first coffee house, the St. Lawrence Coffee House. It was located in the former Small’s Hotel on Jarvis Street at East Market Square. By year’s end, the St. Lawrence Coffee House moved from Jarvis Street to 118 King Street East next to St. James Cathedral, which was a better location.
The next location to open was across the street from Shaftesbury Hall itself at 23 Queen Street West at James Street. Following the initial plans for coffee house locations, it was at the southern edge of St. John’s Ward, also known as just The Ward – a dense, immigrant enclave, looked upon unfavorably during its time by Toronto’s mainstream establishment for its slum conditions and immoral happenings. Like the St. Lawrence Coffee House at 118 King Street, its capacity was 200 patrons. Interestingly, in March 1889, a man fell through Shaftesbury Coffee House’s coal shoot and successfully sued the Toronto Coffee House Association.
In the first annual meeting of the Toronto Coffee House Association, both coffee houses were reported philanthropical and financial successes in their first year. At the second annual meeting of the organization, it was reported that receipts from the year were almost three times as large as the previous year — a total net profit of $1,131.22.
In August 1895, The Globe toured through the King Street coffee house, which by 1893 moved from 118 King Street East to a building fronted at 78-80 King Street East and the adjoined 15 Court Street behind it. No reason was given for the move, although the increase in floor space is a possibility. The kitchen, broiling room, and bakery were located on the top floor. On the ground level is the lunch counter and a large, bright and airy general dining hall, where one could get a full-course meal of “two kinds of soup, fish, or one of two meats, with potatoes and vegetables, dessert pudding or pie, coffee, tea or milk” for 20 cents (and an “extra selection” for ten cents more. The next floor was the ladies and gentlemen’s dining room and a large waiting-room. A large lavatory for women flanked the waiting-room with the lower level housing the men’s lavatory. The Globe described the entire establishment as clean and well-ventilated.
Citizens of Toronto can with every confidence their friends to either Shaftesbury Coffee House, 23 Queen Street West; or to the St. Lawrence Coffee House, 78-80 King stret east, and have no fear of having to apologize for any dish served. They are equal to any of this class to be found on the continent. Visitors to the fair should make a note of where these two places are to be found.”
“The Toronto Coffee House Association” The Globe, August 31, 1895.
This description of the St. Lawrence Coffee House is notable for the absence of any reference of the temperance. The purpose seems to promote the establishment as a tourist places for the visitors of The Canadian National Exhibition. Even though it refers to the Coffee House Association’s “Famous Coffee”, the menu likens it to a regular eating establishment.
There are other factoids that support the coffee house as in the same category as restaurants. In 1883, the city directories added “See Eating Houses” under the listings for Coffee Houses; in 1890s, coffee houses were not listed at all and enterprises were listed under “restaurants”. In 1886, The Globe ran an article which stated the main objective of coffee houses was not to provide cheap meals; rather, it was supposed to be an alternative to taverns without the temptation. It boldly asserted:
“They are eating houses, nothing more, nothing less. This is good so as as it goes, but this, we repeat, was not the great and chief idea dwelt upn, when these establishments were projected…
…If these establishments were simply private ventures, we should of course allow no criticisms of their merits or demerits in our columns.”
“Our Coffee Houses” The Globe, April 16, 1886.
By 1899, the Toronto Coffee House Association dissolved and sold the coffee houses. Although the circumstances of the dissolution and sale are scarce, the St. Lawrence Coffee House did not operate again. All three sites of the St. Lawrence location now house modern buildings. Shaftesbury Hall was demolished shortly after for shops which eventually became part of the Eaton’s store complex and later shopping mall. Interestingly, Shaftesbury Coffee House moved to 13-15 Richmond Street West in 1900, under Hayward & Co. Proprietors. It closed once more by 1908 for good.
The Canadian Temperance League
In 1890, several new coffee houses entered the scene alongside The Coffee House Association under the Canadian Temperance League banner, which organized two years before. One opened at Edward and Terauley (Bay) Streets, and was described as having a shop and four rooms. It was open 6am to 10pm Monday to Saturday and sold coffee for two cents and sandwiches for five cents.
In only a year, a new location was needed, possibly as the old one was inadequate in size. The Temperance League Coffee House Company opened another coffee house at Elm and Terauley Streets in 1891, which was aimed at ‘workingmen’. Like Shafesbury Hall, both coffee houses were The Ward – this time in the centre of the district. The scheme was similar to the Toronto Coffee House Association with stocks sold at five dollars a piece. The Temperance League Coffee House Association and Canadian Temperance League were connected in that members of the former had to be members of the latter organization. The Canadian Temperance League held events at the Elm Street coffee house, like a February 1893 concert and a June 1894 meeting supporting Mr. O.A. Howland’s candidature in South Toronto.
The coffee houses looked to have been short-lived ventures, however. The Canadian Temperance League Coffee House at 76 Edward Street closed by 1894. The Toronto Coffee Association Coffee House at 55 Elm Street closed by 1895. The building went on to house Dr. John G.C. Adams, the father of modern public dentistry from 1897-1899.
The end of temperance coffee houses
The final years of the 1890s saw some additional calls for an alternative to liquor taverns, which were backed by Bishop Sullivan, rector of St. James Cathedral. The bishop passed away in early 1899, however, and nothing ever came of the new scheme. There were even reports to open new coffee houses in first decade of the 1900s.
Although the temperance movement continued into the 20th century and of course influencing the push for prohibition in Toronto, the heyday of coffee houses of the 1880s and 1890s had passed. It is unclear whether the coffee houses of the Toronto Coffee House Assocition and Canadian Temperance League actually succeeded in their philanthropic goal of providing the alternative to saloons. Like the “Coffee Houses” of the first half of 19th century in Toronto, they were borrowed, respected ideas taken from elsewhere, with the added bourgeois goal of turning a profit for its stock-holders. All with a cup of coffee that was never entirely the focus.
For a map of Toronto’s 19th Century Coffee Houses, click here.
Tommy Thompson Park and The Leslie Street Spit contain some of the most interesting and oddest landscapes in Toronto. They’ve been called an Urban Wilderness and an Accidental Wilderness. Exploring their history and geography, one can see why. They embody Toronto as a whole: the intriguing and sometimes unexpected intersection of nature and city.
Many Paths, Many Landscapes
First, there’s a careful distinction to be made of the two places. Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Street Spit (or the Leslie Spit or just The Spit) are used interchangeably by many people. The reality is one is located within the other. That is to say, the Leslie Spit is a geographic feature and Tommy Thompson Park is the recreational area housed in it.
The entrance of Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Spit is located at Unwin Street where it meets the bottom of Leslie Street. If travelling south from Lake Shore Boulevard by road, one is struck by how bizarre a stretch it is. A streetcar barn, a mail facility, a concrete plant, tool and equipment rental place, and most curiously, an allotment garden all make up the scene. At the same time, the Martin Goodman Trail also passes through the area, making bicycle traffic a natural thing for the Spit (the park’s car lot also has a BikeShare station.)
The Baselands just off the entrance is Tommy Thompson Park’s first landscape. This is a thicket of bushes, shrubs, and trees — and rubble. The red-osier dogwood offer some colour in the spring-time grey and brown.
One emerges from Baselands to meet with the Multi-Use Trail, a paved path used by walkers, runners, cyclists, and sometimes park staff vehicles. The trail runs the course of the Spit from the entrance to its most southern tip. If one doesn’t pass through pedestrian bridge nearly half-way through the 5-kilometre length, one can branch out to the north of the cell bays and pass through the Flats and Headlands. The lighthouse is a natural goal and following the multi-use trail to the end offers a great reward. But the side-trails are well worth it too.
The Spit splits into the three paths. Along with the Multi-Use path, there is a Nature Trail and Pedestrian Trail. If on foot, these quiet and more slower-paced alternatives allow one to take in the Spit in a truly unique way.
The Nature Trail on the north side of the main paved path hugs the north shore of the Spit. It offers views of the marina, embayments, and the great skyline of Toronto beyond them all along the way. Numbered trail markers show the way. It is also on the way to the Ecological Bird Research Centre, one of a few scientific and educational functions of the park.
The Pedestrian Trail runs south of the Multi-Use Trail. It offers clear blue lake views, along with views of Cell 1 where wildlife undoubtedly lives. The shores along this trail also show the most interesting debris.
A History of Many Names
The curious history of the Leslie Street Spit started in the late 1950’s and continued into the 1960s. It was designed to be a breakwater for Toronto harbour. For this reason, the official name for the Leslie Spit is the mouthful-ish “Outer Harbour East Headland”. By 1970, a 5-kilometre “arm” made of infill and construction materials extended into the water. The main road on this landform is now the Multi-Use trail. Over the next several decades, several “branches” would be made to jut out from this “spine”, creating endikements and bays. For this reason, the Leslie Spit is better labelled as a man-made peninsula rather than a naturally-occuring spit.
By the early 1970s, the anticipated port activity in Toronto’s waters never materialized. The East Headland became obsolete as a commercial project. As the decade progressed, a curious thing happened. Nature took over. Birds used the peninsula as migratory stop. The potential of the Spit as a recreational area, namely sailing and boating, also entered the conversation. So much so that the area was known as “The Aquatic Park”.
In 1977, a client group consisting of Metro Toronto Regional Conservation Authority and Metro Toronto Park Commission members hired a consultant firm to report on the possibilities of the peninsula. Ideas included a sailing school, marine hotel, camp grounds, a hostel, and a wildlife and nature preserve. Curiously, the north shore of the Spit, already used by recreational boats, was not included in the report. The report put naturalists and recreationists at odds — a theme that continues today. In 1983, the Leslie Street Spit was named “Tommy Thompson Park”, after the longtime Toronto Parks Commissioner. The Toronto & Region Conservation Authority manages the parkland today.
Trash or Built Heritage?
A common sight of The Leslie Spit is the piles of bricks, cement blocks, rebar, scrap metal, and more on its trails and on its shores. People have combined two of these elements — the rebar and bricks — to make some makeshift art installations.
It has been said that because the Spit is in a way akin to garbage dump, it is a valuable asset in that it literally is the “archaeology of Toronto”. Indeed, debris excavated to build the downtown subway lines is said to rest at the peninsula. Beyond that, is any of the rubble of the headland actually important?
One brick has the pressing of “F Price” and it may provide an insight into Toronto history a whole. The Prices were a family of brick makers on Greenwood Avenue. The most famous of them are perhaps brothers Isaac Price and John Price — the latter who ran last brickmaking entreprise on Greenwood.
The identity and origin of this “F Price” on this particular brick is a mystery, but may refer to a Fred Price, who was in business in the 1920s. He may have been a brother or son or nephew to the Isaac and John. Fred Price looks to have partnered with a George J Smith. Together they formed Price & Smith, which operated on the west side of Greenwood Avenue north of the railway tracks (where the subway yard now sits). By the mid-1930s, the establishment ceased to appear in the city directories. The historical significance of Price & Smith and brickyards from the same period is in providing the bricks which made the housing stock of Toronto in its growth period after World War I.
Today, the Leslie Spit is an intriguing refuge for many plants and animals. Some of these are species found in other parts of Toronto, like cattails, goldenrod, trumpeter swans, red-wing black birds, and beavers. Some are to the city as a whole, like bats, owls, and cottonwood trees, which are threatened by the pesky cormorant. The Leslie Spit’s importance as a migratory bird stopover led to it to being declared an “Important Bird Area” by Birdlife International in 2000.
There are two main rules to Tommy Thompson Park: no motorized vehicles and no dogs. Both are to safeguard the peninsula as a habitat to seen and unseen wildlife. The lack of cars is an obvious rule with the exhaust fumes and loudness among other threats providing obvious disruptions. Bikes are allowed and are popular on the Spit, but speeds are capped at 20 km/hour to protect not only pedestrians but wildlife like turtles that may wander onto the path. The dogs or pets policy dates back to the 1980s. Dogs can be a threat to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. With a population of coyotes on the Spit, pets themselves can also be at risk too.
The balance between human use and environmental respect remains today. With new controversies and challenges arising (like filming), careful stewartship should perserve the Leslie Street Spit for decades and centuries to come!
Throughout its history, the City of Toronto has reimagined its street grid. Growth periods following both World Wars brought with them road improvement schemes to address traffic congestion and better connect the city. Some projects – like the 1931 Church Street extension north of Bloor Street to Davenport Road – came to fruition. Others – most famously, the Spadina Road Extension-turned-expressway cancelled in 1971 – never saw their intended results. Here are four other road extensions in the 20th century that would have altered the geography of Toronto if built.
When: 1900s to 1930s
In 1906, the Board of Works discussed the possibility of extending Victoria Street from Gerrard Street to Carlton Street for a new streetcar route. Yonge Street relief had been a theme in road improvement, with Bay Street extended north from Queen Street to Davenport in the 1920s (it was even proposed to extend it to St. Clair Avenue in the 1930s and 1940s). Estimates in 1911 had the Victoria-to-Carlton scheme costing as much as $500,000, and a report by the Civic Improvement Committee proposed to extend it further to Bloor. With costs to expropriate property proving too high, Civic Works abandoned the idea in 1912. City Planners revived the idea in a grander plan for downtown streets in 1929. In yet another city-wide improvement plan in 1930, Works Commissioner RC Harris recommended a streetcar-free Victoria Street that would stretch north via Park Road to join with the also-proposed Jarvis and Sherbourne extensions of Mount Pleasant Road. A council motion in 1935 envisioned Victoria ending at Davenport Road, but none of these plans came to fruition. Today, Victoria Street is in fact shorter, ending at Gould after its last block was absorbed by the Ryerson Campus.
St. Clair Avenue
When: 1920s, 1960s-1970s
A Council decision in 1928 by East York and York County first imagined uniting the two sections of St. Clair Avenue. Initial talks involved land offers and easements from John H. Taylor and the Toronto City Estates to complete the extension in the Don Valley. Discussions followed in 1929 on the course’s starting point and overall engineering. One route extended straight east from Mount Pleasant Road while the other travelled by way of Moore Avenue via a bridge spanning the Belt Line Ravine from St. Clair. From here, the street would connect to the new Leaside Viaduct, then follow Don Mills Road to Woodbine Avenue before finally bridging diagonally across Massey Creek. Moore Park residents disapproved of the Moore Avenue alignment as it meant more vehicular traffic. Discussion seemed to taper off in the 1930s. Reprises in the 1960s saw a valley-spanning St. Clair brought up again, but these too ended in 1970 when the Metro government decided not to proceed after facing public opposition and high costs.
As a candidate for East York Reeve in the 1956 election, Jack Allen campaigned on the eastward extension of Cosburn Avenue. After winning the position, he continued his push in 1957 and 1958, highlighting a scheme in which the street would continue past Woodbine Avenue by curving parallel to the disused CNR line in the Taylor-Massey Creek valley to connect with Victoria Park Avenue. The purpose was to relieve congestion at Woodbine and O’Connor. Allen also thought the extension would aid the case for a new courthouse at Cosburn and Woodbine and his vision of high-density apartment towers in East York. Parkland advocates at the Don Valley Conservation Association opposed the plan. Allen introduced a master zoning plan by developer and architect Sulio Venchiarutti of Urban Planning Consultants, but this was rejected by East York Council in 1959. A year later, the township adopted a different official plan and Allen was replaced as reeve by future mayor True Davidson.
When: 1960s to 1990s
Following initial suggestions in 1968 and failed proposals in 1971 and 1973, in 1976 Metro Planners brought forward a $20-million extension of Leslie Street south of Eglinton Avenue. Debates around the idea coincided with another valley-spanning proposal in the 1970s for the direct routing of Lawrence Avenue from Bayview to Leslie. Arguments in favour of a lengthened Leslie centred on eased congestion – at the Leslie/Eglinton bottleneck and at neighbouring north-south avenues – while arguments against cited ravine destruction. Another report in 1983 and an environmental study in 1984 seemingly had the now $50-million scheme moving forward, with the route involving a high-level bridge over Wilket Creek Park, followed by a road along the CPR Belleville line before emerging at the Bayview Extension near Nesbitt Drive. Citizen groups argued that, if allowed, the Leslie proposal would re-open the Spadina Expressway debate. In 1988, Metro Council voted in favour of the 4-lane extension, but the price had gone up to $74 million dollars. Debate and public consultations continued into the 1990s with no extension built. In 2000 and 2002, Toronto Councillor Jane Pitfield proposed lengthening Redway Road to Bayview. Opponents feared the damage to Crowthers Woods and a rehashing of the Leslie debate, and nothing came of that plan either.
“Planned New Car Lines” The Globe. 19 May 1906: pg 9.
“Open Victoria Street.” The Globe. 15 March 1907: pg 9
“The Extension of Victoria Street.” The Globe. 2 November 1909: pg 6.
“Victoria Street Extension.” The Globe. 14 January 1910: pg 7. – 330,000
“Extend Victoria St Under New Stature.” The Globe. 22 April 1911: pg 9. – 360,000
“Victoria Street Extension Favored.” The Globe. 3 June 1911: pg 8.
“C.P.R. to Keep Building Site.” The Globe. 28 July 1911: pg 8. – half-million
“Many Important Schemes for the Betterment and Growth of Toronto.” Toronto Daily Star. 30 December 1911: pg 5.
Report of the Civic Improvement Committee for the City of Toronto, 1911
“City May Abandon Victoria Extension.” The Globe. 24 February 1912: pg 9.
“Will Try Arbitration.” The Globe. 2 March 1912: pg 4.
“Victoria Street Extension Killed.” The Globe 18 May 1912: pg 9.
“Make Bloor Street Big Business Centre.” The Globe. 20 March 1917: pg 7.
“City Planners Propose New Downtown Streets.” The Globe. 12 March 1929: pg 15
“Work Commissioner R.C. Harris Presents New City-Wide Project.” The Globe. 15 May 1930: pg 13.
“A Bay Street Plan.” The Globe. 17 January 1930: pg 4.
“Victoria Extension Favored by Expert.” The Globe. 21 November 1930: pg 13.
“Report is Requested on Victoria Extension” The Globe. 26 September 1931: pg 14.
“Victoria Street Extension to Davenport Road Talked.” The Globe. 12 February 1935: pg 11.
St. Clair Avenue
“St. Clair Extension.” The Globe. 21 December 1928: pg 2.
“Favor Taylor Proposal St. Clair Ave. Extension.” The Toronto Daily Star. 21 January 1929: pg 3.
“St. Clair Extension Through East York Offer of J.H. Taylor.” The Globe. 21 January 1929: pg 13.
“Problem of Bridges Northeast of City has Many Angles.” The Globe. 5 February 1929: pg 23.
“Hottest Discussion at County Council on Radial Proposal.” The Globe. 7 June 1929: pg 28.
“Easement Offered for Further Link Extending St. Clair.” The Globe. 23 June 1929: pg 13.
“Citizens Reassured on Extension Plans.” The Globe. 22 August 1929: pg 21.
“Action Expected on Moore Avenue Boundary Bridge.” The Globe. 30 July 1929: pg 13.
“Objects to Bridge.” The Globe. 22 August 1929: pg 4.
“The Moore Park Bridge.” The Globe. 7 September 1929: pg 4.
“Residents Agitated By Bridge Question in Northeast Area.” The Globe. 20 September 1929: pg 17.
“M’Bride Declares St. Clair Extension ‘Out of Question’”. The Globe. 21 September 1929: pg 18.
“Scarboro Plans Work on St. Clair to Aid Jobless.” The Globe. 17 December 1930: pg 10.
“Request St. Clair Cross Don Valley.” The Globe and Mail. 31 October 1962: pg 5.
“Urban Renewal Study for Metropolitan Planning Area Covering 750 Square Miles Is Proposed.” The Globe and Mail. 7 February 1963: pg 4.
“Metro Shelves St. Clair Plan.” The Globe and Mail. 9 September 1970: pg 5.
“Promise to Campaign for Industry in Suburbs to Balance Housing Surge.” The Globe and Mail. 30 November 1956: pg 11.
“Site on Cosburn Ave. Urged for Courthouse.” The Globe and Mail. 14 February 1957: pg 4.
“Urge Alternate Site for E. York Court.” The Toronto Daily Star. 14 February 1957: pg 19.
“Reeve Asks Old Railway Be Expressway.” The Toronto Daily Star. 8 March 1957: pg 9.
“Reeve of East York Backs New Buildings.” The Globe and Mail. 3 December 1957: pg 5.
“Conservation at the Polls.” The Globe and Mail. 8 November 1958: pg 6.
“Residents Oppose Cosburn Extension.” The Toronto Daily Star. 6 June 1958: pg 29.
“Metropolitan Toronto: Scratch-My-Backism And the Courthouse.” The Globe and Mail. 26 June 1958: pg 7.
“Expect Hot Contests in Suburbs.” The Globe and Mail. 18 November 1958: pg 5.
“Cosburn Plan Foes Cut Chairman Short.” The Toronto Daily Star. 25 November 1958: pg 9.
“The Suburban Elections.” The Toronto Daily Star. 28 November 1958: pg 29.
“East York Greenbelt Should be Saved.” The Toronto Daily Star. 20 December 1958: pg 29.
“East York Zoning.” The Toronto Daily Star. 11 April 1959: pg 29.
“Suites to Oust Homeowners?” The Toronto Daily Star. 16 April 1959: pg 1.
“Raze Homes for Apartments?” The Toronto Daily Star. 16 April 1959: pg 3.
“It’s Improper, Mr. Venchiarutti.” The Toronto Daily Star. 20 April 1959: pg 29.
“Appraiser’s Kin Swung Land Deal, Probe Told.” The Toronto Daily Star. 21 May 1959: pg 2.
“East York Plan Limits Apartments to 5 ‘Pockets’”. The Toronto Daily Star. 22 June 1960: pg 41
“An East York Dialogue on Conflict of Interest.” The Toronto Daily Star. 19 June 1961: pg 7.
Redway, Alan. East York 1924-1997: Toronto’s Garden of Eden. FriesenPress, 2018.
“Subway Expansion, Restriction on Cars, Sought for Toronto.” The Globe and Mail. 26 March 1968: pg 1.
“Time Needed for Study: Planners delay Flemingdon Scheme.” The Globe and Mail. 21 November 1968: pg 5.
“Transit Can’t Cope: Planners Want to Widen Metro Roads.” The Globe and Mail. 10 July 1976: pg 5.
“Here’s a plan to improve traffic.” The Toronto Star. 29 January 1979: pg A8.
“Alderman Says Extension Won’t Solve Traffic Mess.” The Toronto Star. 31 August 1979: pg A15
“Transport Plan Not Changing: Eggleton.” The Globe and Mail. 11 May 1984: M3.
“Battle Won by War Still Undecided on Extending Leslie past Eglinton.” The Toronto Star. 20 November 1984: pg A25.
“Neighbors Protest Bayview-Leslie Road Plan.” The Globe and Mail. 31 March 1988: pg A16.
“Leslie Extension Sparks Emotional Debate.” The Toronto Star. 13 April 1988: pg A7.
“Leslie Street Debate Resurfaces.” The Globe and Mail. 23 March 1991: pg A9.
“Notice of Public Hearing: Leslie Street Extension on Bayview Avenue Widening.” The Toronto Star. 27 August 1992: pg A26.
“Plan for Leslie Street Extension Scaled Back.” The Globe and Mail. 7 October 2000: pg A27.
Since the train first tracks in the 1850s, Toronto’s railways have been a big part of its geography and history. They connect the city and its surroundings, joining neighbourhoods and people. They were also the driving force of industry. Founded in 2001, the Toronto Railway Museum tells their stories. One finds it across the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, and Ripley’s Aquarium in the appropriately named Roundhouse Park.
Operated by the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the Toronto Railway Museum is based in the great John Street Roundhouse and the surrounding Roundhouse Park. The location is appropriate: Toronto’s railway corridor extended east and west of Union Station and was once the nexus of the city’s transportation network. In many ways, it still is.
The John Street Roundhouse was part of that infrastructure. The structure itself was built by Canadian Pacific Railway between 1929 and 1931 as a maintenance and storage facility and to allow trains to, well, turn around.
As an interpretive experience, Toronto Railway Museum is immersive. It starts with an interior space in the Roundhouse’s Stall 17. There are maps and train memorabilia. There’s even a simulator which allows you to conduct a train around historic Toronto.
Outside, it functions as an open air museum. Well-produced plaques are located around park, often near significant landmarks. There are of course some train cars, some of which allow entry inside.
Most notable to me is the marker about the Workers of John Street. Most of Roundhouse Park’s landmarks highlight something physically awing like the Water Tower or a Canadian National Railway train, but this plaque focuses on the easily forgotten human element behind this tough industry.
Of course, Don Station is a remarkable site too. It is part of Toronto’s lost geography of bygone railway stations, companies, structures, and tracks. It operated 1896 to 1967 at Queen Street and the Don River. Then it spent time at Todmorden Mills until 2008 when it was moved to Roundhouse Park and subsequently restored. It also serves the museum’s gift shop and departure point for the park’s own train rides.
John Street Roundhouse closed in 1986. It marked an era where the railways were taking a bit of a backseat in Toronto’s development. Industry within the city was declining as manufacturing moved elsewhere. The physical lands of the railroads shifted too. Tracks were removed and lands — and some remaining sites — were redeveloped for new residential, commecial, and entertainment uses.
The Corridor just south Union Station saw a lot of this transformation. In 1976, the CN Tower was completed. The 1980s saw opening of the Metro Convention Centre and SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). The latter actually replaced another roundhouse. Using the facade of the old Postal Delivery Building, the Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) came in 1999 as the new home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and newly created Toronto Raptors. Since then, a condo community has grown up around it since as well as a fan area called Maple Leaf Square in 2010. Most recently, the area got the impressive Ripleys Aquarium in 2013.
The John Street Roundhouse was designated a National Historic Site in 1990. Its heritage value comes from being the best example of a roundhouse in the country — its turntable actually works! Roundhouse Park opened around it in 1997 to further its legacy. In 1999, the roundhouse’s stalls became home to the aptly-named Steam Whistle Brewery and then Leon’s in 2009 (it closed for the Rec Room two years ago).
In 2019, the John Street Roundhouse celebrates its 90th birthday, making it a good time to reflect on its related history and geography. And stories. Lot of stories.
With restaurants located in nearly every pocket of Toronto, McDonald’s — for better or worse — is ubiquitous in the city. Although Torontonians may not give their existence a second thought, the origin story of this mega-chain is largely unknown. Just how did McDonald’s get its start in Toronto and where was the first eatery located?
The first McDonald’s opened in Toronto was in North York at 3777 Keele Street near LePage Court (just south of Finch Avenue) in May 1969. The Big Mac had just made its way onto the hamburger chain’s menu.It was also several decades into Toronto’s post-WWII suburban growth and a fast food boom was already underway.
The event came after a couple of other Canadian McDonald’s milestones. The first ever outlet in the country (and indeed, outside of the United States of America) opened in Richmond, British Columbia in 1967, spearheaded by future Keg founder George Tidball. The premiere franchise in Ontario (and Eastern Canada) opened its doors at 520 Oxford Street West in London. The date was November 11, 1968. The man in charge of that operation and growing McDonald’s in Canada was George Cohon. He opened another locale at 344 Queen Street East in Brampton in the same year, which was the first in the Greater Toronto Area. In 1971, Western and Eastern Canada operations merged to create McDonald’s Canada with Cohon at the helm.
Subsequent Toronto McDonald’s locations opened in the same year as Keele Street. There were eateries at 6170 Bathurst Street, 3660 Dufferin Street, 1068 Islington Avenue (originally 170 Islington Avenue South), 2116 Kipling Avenue (originally 1466 Kipling Avenue North), and 2701 Lawrence Avenue East. The latter was also the first McDonald’s in Scarborough. Two more locations — 5955 Leslie Street and 2870 Eglinton Avenue East — opened in 1970. Advertisements in those years marked contests, store openings, a reduction in menu prices, and job openings (oddly, many were targeted to mothers). Adding to these original eight locales, McDonald’s Canada would continue to steadily open more franchises as the decade marched on.
All these initial locations were purposely situated outside Toronto’s downtown core. As was the case in the United States, McDonald’s policy was to find “suburban situations” with a “backup community”. The idea was captured in the company slogan: ‘We count the church steeples and station wagons’. In other words, McDonald’s restaurants were to be located within a built-in market of families and traffic flow. According to Cohon, they were to be active parts of their new communities.
The McDonald’s origin story goes back to a hamburger and fries stand in 1940s San Bernardino, California. Two brothers, Richard “Dick” McDonald and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, invented the ‘Speedee Service System’ — a Henry Ford-eque approach on food production. No carhops, no tables, no plates, and no half-hour wait times. People only had to drive to the lot, place their order at the window via a very streamlined menu, receive their meal, drive away, and enjoy wherever they wanted. With this, fast food and the drive-in restaurant was born. Ray Croc — the McDonald brothers’ ambitious business partner until he aggressively bought out the company from them in 1961 — made the entreprise into a national and international icon.
To be sure, McDonald’s was not the first to enter the drive-in, fast-food restaurant market in Toronto. The first Harvey’s in Canada opened just north of the city at Yonge Street and Observatory Lane in Richmond Hill in 1959. Tim Horton’s originally failed in the 1960s because of competition from other drive-ins. McDonald’s did, however, help to increase the profile of fast food at a time where it was not yet at modern day levels. A 1970 Globe and Mail article explained the 1960s had seen a buzz around fast food but that had slowed by the end of the decade as land, food, and construction costs rose and the market was over-saturated with eateries. It also went into detail about the specific criteria of fast food, as if the concept was not fully developed. With competitor Burger King opening their first Toronto restaurant a year after McDonald’s and now defunct Burger Chef giving both a real run for consumer dollars, a new era was on the way. The look of the McDonald’s Canada restaurants mirrored their American counterparts. Buildings were usually one storey, highlighted architecturally with two golden arches. Following the drive-in model, parking spaces surrounded the structure and a large, recognizable ‘M’ sign stood at the end of the driveway. However, a key difference with Canadian franchises was more space to eat meals inside the diner. As the 1970s progressed, McDonald’s restaurants came to be more sit-down eateries.
Despite McDonald’s commitment to be contributing members of their new communities, not all neighbourhoods were receptive to the Golden Arches. In 1971, residents of suburban Roe Avenue argued against a McDonald’s that was set to go on their street at the corner of Avenue Road. The company took over a defunct gas station and subsequently bought and demolished two houses to make a parking lot. Residents argued that the area was zoned for residential use and the drive-in would only bring noise to the quiet neighbourhood. The McDonald’s ultimately went in as planned.
A similar battle took place in Markland Wood in Etobicoke in 1977. Residents fought against a location at a mall at Bloor Street and Mill Street. They argued the restaurant did not fit zoning bylaws (McDonald’s argued it was a sitdown restaurant rather than a drive-in). They almost won too, but like Roe Avenue, a McDonald’s is still there today.
These battles highlight the theme of the McDonald’s — and drive-ins in general — as evolutionary by-products of automobile-centred suburbs. By the arrival of the 1970s, ‘quiet, tree-lined’ suburbs had grown to encompass new uses for the car, which now included a new method of food consumption. Steve Penfold writes they were a part of a new transformed landscape of “gas stations, car washes, and other drive-in uses”. As highlighted by Roe Avenue and Markland Wood, the placement of parking lots to serve these new spaces and the implications on zoning became serious issues. Politicians like North York Controller Mel Lastman, Alderman Paul Godfrey, and Scarborough Mayor Paul Cosgrove waged some sort of battle to curtail the expansion of more drive-ins.
By the end of the 1970s, McDonald’s dropped its exclusivity of suburban locations. The first downtowner was on Yonge Street south of Bloor around the middle of the decade. Others would open up on the street near King and Adelaide Streets and further north near St. Clair and Eglinton Avenues. Fifty years and around a hundred frachises later, McDonald’s fingers extends into Toronto’s modern and heritage buildings, food courts, strip malls, Wal-Marts, subway stations, and even the Toronto Zoo.
The original Keele Street McDonald’s closed around 2006. It would however relocate to a new building slightly to its north. Outlets at Islington, Dufferin, and Leslie each converted to other restaurants too. The Bathurst and Steeles location is now the oldest continually operating site in Toronto, although the building — like many others in the city — has been heavily altered.
A question might be if a historical marker like the ones in London or Richmond is warranted on either the first or earliest surviving Toronto McDonald’s. The proliferation of fast food and the chain itself has certainly had negative impacts on society, and this is a case against ‘celebrating’ McDonald’s significance as something of deep value. But in a more neutral sense, the geographic and cultural reach of the company, its impact on daily Toronto life, and its association with the development of suburban Toronto may bring on at least a closer recognition of its significance and existence. And with existence comes the origin story.
Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 21 Nov, 1969, p. 37.
Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 06 Nov, 1970, p. 11.
Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 13 Nov, 1970, p. 11.
Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 04 Oct, 1975, p. 19.