Recently, the redevelopment of a lot on the northwest corner of Pape and Gamble Avenues revealed an interesting bit of local Toronto history. The result of the removal of a billboard, an intriguing image on the north wall of 1042 Pape Avenue in East York was uncovered, revealing an intriguing tale of a small business and a city’s fascination with a popular dish: fish and chips.
Signs of the past
Ghost signs are or were hand-painted advertisements located on the sides of buildings, which promoted businesses and products. A key to their placement is often the enterprises and subjects contained in the advertisements were situated or available nearby.
This particular ghost sign at 1042 Pape Avenue is curious in that it promotes multiple elements. The top portion displays a slightly faint but distinct Coca-Cola logo. The bottom half is less familiar and carries much of the mystery. It reads:
BUNT’S FISH & CHIPS WE DELIVER * GE 5213 POST OFFICE AT 1038
It is a bit of cruel irony that a billboard covered the ghost sign for many years, as billboards replaced ghost signs as a mass marketing technique. With the big banner taken down, however, it allows us to dive deeper into the sign’s past and answer some important questions:
When was this sign painted?
Where was Bunt’s Fish & Chips?
When did it exist?
What about the post office?
Dating the Bunt’s ghost sign is an interesting task which is aided by a few pieces of context. The heyday of ghost signs as a promotional technique lasted from the early 20th century to about the 1950s or 1960s, with many coming in the Roaring Twenties when Toronto experienced a commercial, industrial, and demographic boom. This sign is particularly well preserved, so unless it was touched up later on as signs sometimes are/were, one can reasonably speculate it originated after 1920. It also may have helped that the billboard was protecting it from the elements. To know for sure, specific details about Bunt’s Fish and Chips and the post office must be uncovered.
A brief history of fish & chips
Working within the first half of the twentieth century, pinpointing the rise in popularity of fish and chips shops in Toronto is a useful exercise. When one thinks of old fish and chips restaurants today, two come to mind: “Len Duckworth’s Fish & Chips” on Danforth Avenue and “Reliable Fish & Chips” on Queen Street East. Both eateries opened in or around 1930. This means the Twenties and Thirties appear to be a good period to learn more about fish and chips restaurants.
In perusing the Toronto City Directories, fish and chips shops first appear as a business type in 1923. 16 shops were listed for that year. Of course, it is very well possible they existed prior to this year. The Globe advertised business opportunities for fish and chip shops as early as 1922. Nonetheless, we can safely point to the mid-1920s as a period they at least became notable. As a point of comparison, in the United Kingdom, the national dish grew in popularity during World War I and hit its apex in 1927 with 35,000 shops across the country. A similar explosion occurred in Toronto: there were 137 fish and chips enterprises in the 1930 City Directory. It only grew from there.
Solving the Bunt’s mystery
From here we can look at the city directories and newspapers beginning the 1920s for any mention of Bunt’s. The first time this occurs is in the 1930s — albeit not on Pape Avenue. A “Bunt’s Fish Store” appears at 908 Broadview Avenue in 1933. Interestingly, The Globe also mentions this shop and address in February 1933, but it is named “Bunt’s Fish and Chips.” In 1937, a separate Bunt’s Fish & Chips opens at 1036 Pape Avenue.
Curiously, there is also a second (or perhaps, third in this case) Bunt’s Fish & Chips at 866 Broadview Avenue in 1937, located several doors down from the original 908 Broadview shop. The original store ceases in the same year, however. The 866 Broadview Bunt’s location does not seem to last long, either; it disappears by 1940.
In 1942, the remaining Bunt’s Fish & Chips at 1036 Pape Avenue moves to 1042 Pape Avenue. At the same time, Sub Post Office No. 109 changes locations from 1042 Pape to 1038 Pape. (The post office was located at 1038 Pape once before until 1935. It moved to 1042 in the following year.) By 1952, the post office closed. Finally, after twenty years in business, Bunt’s Fish & Chips also shut its doors in 1956.
Thus, to date the ghost sign, we must look at the period in which Bunt’s Fish & Chips was located at 1042 Pape Avenue and the Post Office was located at 1038 Pape Avenue. With this, the Bunt’s ghost sign likely went up some time between 1942 and 1952.
A legacy continued?
Unfortunately, few details and memories exist or could be located about the inner workings of Bunt’s Fish & Chips. The Coca-Cola advertisement on the ghost sign is appropriate as it likely would have been a drink available at the shop with an order of food. One local East York history recollection recalls that fish sold for 7 cents and chips sold for 5 cents at Bunt’s.
Despite its short twenty-year life, the Bunt’s Fish & Chips’ story is partially captured through this remaining advertisement at its former location. The relic is not only a marker of the business but by extension, Toronto’s intrigue of the humble dish. Finally, another part of its legacy which continues today: the barbecue-themed restaurant now at 1042 Pape Avenue also serves fish and chips.
Did you ever eat at Bunt’s Fish & Chips or another old fish and chips shop? Leave a comment below!
If you want to read more about the development of this stretch of Pape Avenue in East York, read my article here.
Throughout its history, the City of Toronto has reimagined its street grid. Growth periods following both World Wars brought with them road improvement schemes to address traffic congestion and better connect the city. Some projects – like the 1931 Church Street extension north of Bloor Street to Davenport Road – came to fruition. Others – most famously, the Spadina Road Extension-turned-expressway cancelled in 1971 – never saw their intended results. Here are four other road extensions in the 20th century that would have altered the geography of Toronto if built.
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.
For a history of Danforth Avenue, a good place to start is the Playter Farmhouse at the head of Playter Boulevard on Playter Crescent. Although the family had roots in Toronto since the 1790s with land holdings east and west of the Don River, the house was not built until the 1870s.
When the Playters came here, virtually nothing of modern reference existed. Danforth Avenue was laid out as Concession II in the 1790s when York Township was surveyed, but it did not become a usable road until 1851 when the Don and Danforth Plank Road Co. redid the street. Broadview Avenue north of Danforth was known as Mill Road or Don Mill and also was laid out in the 1790s while south of Danforth the street came by the 1860s. Modern day Ellerbeck, Pretoria, and Cambridge Avenues were the first local streets to appear around that time.
The Playters sold off their land over the coming decades and the street grid gradually took its present shape. By the 1920s, Bayfield Crescent looped around the remaining Playter property to surround the old farmhouse. What we today call the Playter Estates came to be filled with beautiful now multi-million dollar Edwardian homes with the occasional Ontario workers’ cottage, hinting at the perhaps humble origins of its early residents.
Today, Broadview Avenue and Danforth Avenue is a gate into the eastern part of the city. Once upon a time however, this part of the city just ended. There was no bridge across the Don River. Anyone looking to travel between Riverdale and Toronto had to go south to Gerrard Street or Queen Street.
Despite the Toronto’s annexation of Riverdale south of the Danforth in 1884 and the village of Chester (made up the former Playter lands) north of the Danforth in 1909, the eastern part of the city remained disconnected from the core of the city for some time. Around 1900, Danforth Avenue and the areas north and south of the street were sparsely populated. There were less than twenty structures between Broadview and Jones, most of them houses!
Several developments in the 1910s began to change things. Beginning in 1912, Danforth Avenue was paved and widened to 86 feet. In October of the following year, the Toronto Civic Railway opened the Danforth Civic Streetcar Line to much local support. A Globe article described the scene of 25,000 converging on the street to celebrate — even blocking the cars from passing!
Danforth and Broadview Ave [Toronto, Ont.]., 1920. Credit: Library and Archives Canada.
Finally, after many debates of its necessity and four years of construction, the Bloor Street Viaduct opened in 1918. The idea of Public Works Commissioner R.C. Harris and the design of famed Architect Edmund Burke (he has a namesake pub at 107 Danforth Avenue as appreciation), the bridge and transit were in talks since at least 1910. Their proponents saw them as linked and necessary projects. Broadview Avenue already had a streetcar route since 1888, so the corner was set to became a nexus. It is no coincidence that Albert Edward and William Ellerbeck Playter opened the Playter Society in 1908 with grand expectations for the corner in the coming decades. Albert also funded the Playtorium, a building whose incarnations included a vaudeville theatre. Both were two of the earliest on the strip. The Canadian Bank of Commerce branch across the street came around 1918, replacing a blacksmith ship.
In 1913, the Globe identified the Danforth as new business section in the northeastern part of Toronto. It also described a bizarre episode in which a man discovered a muskrat on Moscow Avenue (today’s Gough Avenue). It perhaps shows The Danforth in transition: growing yet still rural (albeit urban wildlife is not uncommon in 2019).
There was a residential aspect to Danforth Avenue, too. Most of those who now live on the street reside above the shops, but there are at least two remnants of when houses still populated the way at 278 and 280 Danforth Avenue. These were residences built in 1911 for Mr. Alfred W. Pestell and Mrs. Ellen Mackey, respectively. The street addresses were 152 and 154 Danforth Avenue. Residential in nature when they were built, now they host shops.
A look at the Danforth today sees houses of worship on either side of the street which also date to this early period in the 1910s. St. Barnabas Anglican Church in 1910 and Danforth Baptist Church in 1914 were two of the first. The Church of the Holy Name followed with construction also in 1914, although it took twelve years to complete.
Another sign the street was coming of age in the decade: Allen’s Danforth, now the Danforth Music Theatre. Built in 1919, it was advertised as “Canada’s First Super-Suburban Photoplay Palace” according to its Heritage Toronto plaque. At least three neighbourhood theatres would open — and close — between Broadview and Pape in the coming decades.
By the 1920s, Danforth Avenue reached its peak. Empty lots from the prior decades filled out. The Danforth Civic Line turned the area into a streetcar suburb, but the era of the automobile was just beginning. In 1922, the Globe, speaking about growing suburbs across Toronto, declared that the lesson was that ‘settlement follows good roads’, citing the upgrades of the prior decade.
Further to the notion that the automobile was now in play, Logan Avenue at one time existed in two sections north and south of Danforth Avenue. City politicians and politicians proposed road improvement schemes after both World Wars, and street widenings, alignments, and extensions were large factors within them.
In the mid-1950s, the Danforth-Logan was eliminated, allowing traffic to flow straight through without the need to travel west or east on Danforth. Although the sizeable Withrow Park existed just south on Logan, the event created some much needed public space right on Danforth Avenue which would later serve as important gathering point for the community.
By the 1930s, Danforth Avenue was full of the expected businesses: banks, theatres, dry goods shops, men’s and ladies wear, confectioneries, shoe repair places, drug stores, and more. But the demographics began to change.The 1930 Might’s Greater Toronto Directories show Ethels Delicatessen at 173 Danforth and Lorrain Delicatessen at 457 Danforth. More prominently, we also see Italian fruit stands at 127-129 Danforth Avenue by Vincenzo and Augustino Casuso, at 283 by A Maggio, at 449 Danforth by Salvatore Badalli, at 507 Danforth by Vito Simone, 513 Danforth Avenue by Joseph Badali, at 573 Danforth by Tony Fimio. Finally, there were a number of Chinese themed businesses (with unnamed owners): cafes at 108 and 505 Danforth Avenue, restaurants at 107 and 523 Danforth, and a laundy at 471 Danforth.
By the 1950s, political talk in Toronto shifted toward a subway line under Danforth Avenue. The streetcar was the busiest surface route and, with the populations shifting north from the old city of Toronto, underground rapid transit was nearing a reality. On February 26, 1966, the Bloor-Danforth Subway line opened between Keele Street and Woodbine Avenue, utilizing the lower track of the Bloor Viaduct to faciliate the cross-town transit line. The TTC built a “Y-connection” between the two lines to eliminate the need for transferring.
The green line’s opening meant at least two significant changes to the Danforth. First, as the subway corridor was planned to run north of the street rather than under it, hundreds of houses were expropriated and demolished. The physical result today is a linear set of connected parkettes (and some parking lots) between Chester and Pape Stations.
Second, following a similar effect of the Yonge line, the new subway meant the end of streetcar service on the street. Passengers on the Danforth Streetcar and four other routes (Bloor, Coxwell, Harbord, and Parliament) opted for their last rides on the night before the subway’s opening. The Lipton streetcar loop at Pape Avenue and the Erindale loop at Broadview Avenue also closed as transit stations took their spots.
After the Second World War, the Danforth received the identity it is commonly associated with today. The story has been told many times: Greek immigrants left Greece after the military junta of 1967 with a number of them opening up enterprises on Danforth Avenue while settling in the streets north of their shops and further in nearby East York.
Why did they select the Danforth specifically? One theory goes back to the subway. Some shop owners noted how the loss of a surface transit route actually negatively impacted local shopping. The area was not doing as well in the late-1960s as prior decades — a condition for the street to be reinvented. The same would happen in the 1970s when Gerrard Street East became Little India. The rents for closed shops were attractive and affordable for new Greek entrepreneurs.
They also brought their faith with them. In perhaps the most exemplary case of Danforth’s transformation, an old garage built in 1921 when the street was still named Moscow Avenue became St. Irene Chrisovalantou Greek Orthodox Church.
Finally, the Danforth Avenue of today is mostly imagined as a mostly homogeneous collection of Greek affiliated businesses and organizations and the nearly-century old structures they occupy. What is overlooked is how some of these old structures have disappeared over time and new buildings and non-Greek businesses have taking their place.
348 Danforth Avenue, a building with roots in 1924 (and a site that once housed the residence of John Lea Playter), hosts Carrot Common. The 1980s saw new additions that transformed the old structure. Today, a green roof and garden makes the space truly unique. Near Pape, a bank and event space replace an older two story structure at 629 Danforth and an office building usurped the former Palace Theatre at 664 Danforth of the 1920s.
From the 19th century rural environment of the Playter family to the 1920s boom period of muskrats and nabes to the transformative post-war period of subways and souvlaki, Danforth Avenue has shown its fascinating layers of history and geography.
Where does Toronto end and East York begin? On Pape Avenue, it’s a row of Edwardian houses half way between Selkirk Street and Aldwych Avenue. When they were constructed around 1914, Aldwych was named Randolph — a point highlighting the obvious British origins of the area and the evolution.
The history of the rough half-trapezoid between The Danforth, Donlands Avenue, and the Don River goes back to the numbered plots of York Township, which was surveyed and divided beginning in 1791. Lot 11 south of modern-day Browning Avenue and west of Logan Avenue encompassed the community of Chester (also interchangeably known as Doncaster).
North of Browning Avenue and west of Donlands Avenue (renamed from Leslie Street around 1916), the Taylors and Helliwells owned lots 12 to 15, which came to be known as the village of Todmorden, named after the families’ paper mill on the Don River on Pottery Road. A nexus of buildings including a post office and hotel sprang up on Broadview Avenue, then named Don Mills Road (more on this later).
According to Elizabeth Gillan Muir, author of Riverdale: East of the Don, Chester and Todmorden applied to be part of Toronto in 1890, but were collectively short of the 750 required for annexation (which gives one an insight to their size). Chester would eventually be brought into the big city’s borders in 1909.
For the residents of Todmorden, they voted to incorporate into the Township of East York in 1922 at a time when the Pape Avenue strip began to grow. The opening of the Prince Edward Viaduct in 1918 along with the East York-Leaside Viaduct (now the Millwood Road Bridge) in 1927 opened the area to modern houses and commercial development. The East York bus line began operation on Pape in the same year, departing from Danforth Avenue up the street and looping back at the top of the bridge. In 1928, it combined with the Leaside bus, extending service into the industrial suburb. By the end of the decade, the street grid, once open fields, gave way to the modern layout.
The Todmorden section of the 1920 edition of the Might’s Greater Toronto city directory offers an insight into the geography and social makeup of this initial period. Area residents, mostly of Anglo-Saxon origin, lived on recognizable streets, such as Woodville, Gamble, and Torrens. However, some roads changed names: Leslie to Donlands, Cronyn to Sammon (sometimes spelled ‘Salmon’), and Gardeners (named after the merchants on the street) to Mortimer, and Bee absorbing into Cosburn. Professions were mostly blue-collar and ranged from employment at the nearby Don Valley Brick Works and Don Valley Paper Mill, to the booming T. Eaton Co. and R. Simpson Co., to the mighty Grand Trunk Railway and Canadian National Railway.
Moving around Pape from Browning to O’Connor, one sees signs of the age, look, and evolution of the old neighbourhood from the first half of the 20th century. At Mortimer, there isn’t a heritage building, but a plaque at Agnes Macphail Square points to the one-time existence of the Kitchener Public School. The school was a three-storey structure of seventeen rooms built in 1915.
Kitchener School became the Toronto Normal School in 1941, moving from its downtown location on the current Ryerson University campus to Pape Avenue. After that, it was the Toronto Teachers College. Today Centennial College, the park, and a housing complex occupy the space. Macphail Avenue and Square themselves commemorate Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1921 and a former Member of Parliament for and resident of East York.
Another school, the Todmorden New School, opened a year prior on Torrens Avenue. It was renamed the William Burgess School in 1922; Burgess was a trustee in 1914.
At Cosburn, another institution – the Bethany Baptist Church – was constructed in 1920. The lot to the north of the church remained empty until the late 1950s, when an addition was completed on the space.
At 873-877 Pape Avenue, there’s a ‘1930’ displayed high above a block of shops. At the time of construction, the corner unit (now a Greek restaurant) was a fruit grocery operated by an Antonio Ruta — Italian in origin by the sounds of it — which represented an important shift in the otherwise largely British neighbourhood at the time and a larger trend in Toronto.
At 1007 Pape Avenue, north of Floyd Avenue, the flooring store currently standing was originally a confectionery by a James Hackin when it came to exist in 1930 (albeit at street address 1005). Interestingly, to the south of it was the ‘East York Miniature Golf Course’.
At 1016 & 1016 1/2 Pape Avenue is a curiosity. The icon above the shop appears to show a ship. A look into the city directories shows this block was built around 1931 when another Italian, Charles Azzarello, opened up a fruit grocery. By 1950, it was Sydney Evans Fish Market. In the 1960s, it came full circle as a ‘Circle Fruits’ and ‘Woman’s Bakery’. Sources are scarce on the ship emblem, although one might attribute it to its fish shop period.
Finally, Don Mills United Church looks down at the strip and is the oldest landmark of all, reaching back to the 19th century — even if the current structure dates to 1950. The adjoined Taylor Cemetery is the final resting place of early pioneering Todmorden families and is neat way to explore its history.
The naming of the church refers to the area’s mills and the street itself around its founding in 1851. Don Mills or just Mills Road originally ran northeast from the Winchester Bridge in Cabbagetown past Danforth Avenue, and turning right just past modern Woodville Avenue at what was then called Patterson’s Corners. From here, it would veer north just past Donlands across the Don River, following a course north to York Mills (it was extended even further in the 1960s.) A smaller section of Don Mills also continued east past the bend, stopping at present day Derwyn Avenue. From here, Plains Road (also called Globe Road) operated south and then east again. The Taylors also had a private right of way in line with Don Mills Road.
Broadview Avenue, first running north from Riverdale Park East (creating the ‘broad view’ of the Toronto skyline) to Danforth Avenue, was extended first to the city limits at Fulton Avenue and then to Patterson’s Corners. In 1929, John H. Taylor proposed the extension of St. Clair Avenue through his property in the Don Valley in exchange for a strip of land owned by The Synod of Toronto to make his private road into a ‘highway’ to connect with Woodbine Avenue.
Whether it was related to Taylor’s wish or not (for what it’s worth, St. Clair was never extended through the valley), the street was indeed completed to Woodbine Avenue in the following decade. In 1936, O’Connor Drive came into existence east of Don Mills Road facilitating an east-west route to the newly built Woodbine Bridge and Scarborough. By 1939, O’Connor would usurp the entire way from Broadview with development along the road growing in the 1940s.
After World War II, Canada and Toronto saw a wave of unskilled and semi-skilled Greek migrants leave their homelands for new lives across the ocean. To be sure, Hellenes had been successful restaurateurs along Yonge and Queen Streets since the 1920s, but as Jason Hackworth and Josephine Rekers identify in their paper “Ethnic Identity, Place Marketing, and Gentrification in Toronto,” this new wave would settle around The Danforth beginning in the 1950s and ’60s and peaking in the 1970s. Like their Italian predecessors thirty years prior, they opened up fruit shops and eateries as new businesses or simply took over existing enterprises. Although their studies do not include Pape Avenue, one can see similar trends for the street. Hackworth and Rekers also assert that while the residential Greek population around the Danforth has decreased since the 1970s because of out-migration to the suburbs, the percentage of businesses with Greek affiliation has increased.
Also in the 1960s, Cosburn Avenue east and west of Pape saw the introduction of apartment tower-tiving, replacing and mixing in with the post-war one-story housing stock dotted over the neighbourhood.
In 1986, a new label — the Pape Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) or just ‘Pape Village’ — came into use. The BIA manages and promotes the commercial properties from Mortimer to Gamble, engaging in street improvement initiatives and an annual street festival. Today, the strip is an ecclectic mix of service stations and garages, mid-century houses, churches, and independent businesses and associations. Much of these still have a Greek affiliation, although the area is much more cosmopolitan with a variety ethnic eateries.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
I have a borderline obsessive transit habit. Whenever I travel out of Kennedy Station, I have to sit on the north side of the subway car. Doing that gives me a good view of Warden Woods going by Warden Station and of the Don Valley as it passes under the Bloor Viaduct.
But sitting on the north side of the train presents another sighting: the pedestrian bridge at Victoria Park Station. For the longest time, I never knew what it looked like inside. Or where it went. Or if people use it.
Now, walking through it for the first time, I know the sky bridge over Victoria Park Avenue leads to Crescent Town, the towered community in the southeast corner of East York. And yes, people use it. It’s an important link for them and their main transit hub.
My introduction to Crescent Town comes with a neat mural that summarizes the neighbourhood with beautiful scenes of its past and present. Funded through the city’s StreetARToronto program, it’s entitled ‘Tempo, Toil, & Foil’ and was created by artists and community members.
This is Dentonia Park, the 6-acre athletic field that fronts a courtyard and its surrounding apartment towers. It’s named for Dentonia Park Farm, the dairy farm established here in 1896 by Walter Massey of the famed Toronto family of benevolent industrialists. It was named after his wife, Susan Denton Massey. Dentonia Park Farm stretched from Dawes Road to Pharmacy Avenue and Dentonia Park Avenue to Medhurst Road.
Despite the continuity of open space, it’s hard to imagine what this land would’ve looked like a hundred years ago. But I get a little sign of it through the unusual rolling contours in the otherwise flat park. I don’t know it for sure, but my hunch is that the dip in the land hides a former creek valley.
At the far west end of the park, a tree lined path shields a bit more history about Dentonia Park Farm. The ‘Crescent’ in Crescent Town also goes back to the Masseys, who gifted land for Crescent School, once located here.
Following a corridor of hydro towers (more on that later), I circle back around to the main path and find a way down to Crescent Town Road and Massey Square. Ringed around the streets is the second group of towers in the community.
Massey Dairy Farm was bought by developers in 1969, and by 1971, they constructed apartment towers and marketed the area as Crescent Town, a new way of living in the city.
This development wasn’t isolated to Crescent Town. Across Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, tower living became the planning focus of the city. Communities were created out of former farms, and then marketed as having onsite amenities – laundry, shopping, recreation – and conveniently located near transit or highways. The objective of these high-rise towers was to make a profit out of low-cost social housing.
But the problem with communities like Crescent Town and St. James Town (and Regent Park, for that matter) was that as much as they were made to be their own self-contained ‘towns’, it instead made them isolated from the city around them.
As I approach the towers of Massey Square, I’m reminded of a fortress. My goal is to get to the creek trail I know exists on the other side, but I’m not sure if I can get there through the wall of highrises. It’s a definite physical and psychological barrier. Instead, I walk to Victoria Park to get there, passing Crescent Town Elementary School.
One isn’t cognizant of city borders while traveling them (or, at least, I’m not), but across the road is Dentonia Golf Course (also once part of the Massey property) and Scarborough. I’m standing in East York. Further south is the Old City of Toronto. It’s a neat crossroads. It’s our local Four Corners USA.
A long stairway leads into the valley of Taylor-Massey Creek. With winter approaching, it’s a rather dead and haunting scene. But even so, it’s easy to see this is a great space.
There’s a constructed wetland, and several paths that traverse the rolling topography of the park. By a lookout point, there’s the remnants of a little fire, freshly extinguished and filling the air with its ashy aroma.
At the park’s highest point, I find the Massey Goulding Estate house, otherwise known as Dentonia. Constructed here in 1921, the cottage is built in a very distinct Tudor style. I struggle to think of other examples of Tudor architecture in the city – there seem to be very few, so this is a treat. Perfectly positioned to overlook the farm once upon a time, Dentonia is its last remaining structure today.
After the dairy enterprise ceased, the house and park came under the ownership of the Borough of East York and then the City of Toronto. Children’s Peace Theatre – celebrating its 15th year in 2015 – now makes its home inside (and outside) Dentonia.
Descending some ancient narrow stairs back down, I follow Taylor Creek Trail under and past Dawes Road. Taylor, by the way, is the other old, industrious Toronto family, who owned mills along the Don River, including Todmorden Mills.
Taylor Creek Trail continues westward until it meets the Don River near the Forks of the Don. Tracking the trail the entire way sounds like fun, but I opt to take that adventure another day. Instead, I make towards the trail’s entry/exit point towards Lumsden Avenue.
Lumsden isn’t my goal, however – the Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor is. I’m fascinated by this informal path because of its former incarnation as a railway corridor. Looking at the dead vegetation lining it only increases the thoughts of ghosts and past lives.
Yes, Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor once housed tracks for the now defunct Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, which ran from the also lost Todmorden Station on the north side of Don River, through Taylor Creek valley, and northeast into Scarborough and beyond. It bisected Dentonia Park Farm (now at the north end of Dentonia Park).
The Bloor-Danforth subway tracks between Kennedy and Victoria Park Stations are the only tangible remnants of the CNOR’s former corridor in Toronto, which was out of use in the city as early as 1925. (And here I thought the subway was carved out of farmland and expropriated homes). The rest has been swallowed up by the city around it. If one looks, however, the signs of existence are there. (Note to self: take on this adventure).
Following the hydro corridor east would bring me back to Dentonia Park, but I make my exit at Eastdale Avenue. Concluding my travels, I find my way back to Dawes Road and follow its odd diagonal routing down to The Danforth. That too is something to explore.
I get off the 100C Flemingdon Park bus at Broadview and Mortimer and cross the street. To the west, Mortimer becomes Pottery Road and is my route on the way to Todmorden Mills Heritage Site. A sign ushers me to the descent.
And quite the descent it is! There are several topographical kinks within the city, and this street is definitely one of them. I’m no cyclist myself, but I have to feel for the people coming up the hill. In fact, as I read more about it , Pottery Road ranks up there for people on bikes as the toughest to navigate. My pity pretty soon turn inwards, because I realise that I’ll probably have to muster the climb on the return trip. D’oh.
Another sign and a bricked path ushers me into the Todmorden Mills grounds. Located in the Don River Valley, it’s a site that claims both industrial and natural heritage. In 1967, it was re-adapted as a historic site and operates today under the City of Toronto Museums to help tell the story of Toronto. I was here once before, although very briefly to help out to an event. Today is a long overdue chance to do some more exploring of the museum and the great Wildflower Preserve I’ve heard so much about. (Although, ironically enough, I still don’t have an adequate amount of time to do a just visit). I also read about an intriguing photo exhibition in the Papermill Theatre, which is my first stop.
On the way toward the building, I have to look up to the smokestack, which was nominated for a 2013 Heritage Toronto Award for its recent restoration. Anyone who has ridden down the Don Valley Parkway has seen the chimney and its giant lettering.
Inside the Papermill Theatre is an art show entitled ‘The Past is Never Far.’ It features the work of three people who have visually captured the city at various points in its history: Elizabeth Simcoe, who painted some of the first images of Toronto, William James, who took 6000 some odd photos of the city which are all digitized in the Toronto Archives, and Summer Leigh. If the last name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because she’s the artist behind the show.
Summer takes the images of her predecessors and photographs their subjects in their modern locations. So we can find James’ photo of the dirty foot of Yonge Street in 1909 mixed in with her take of the same site the 21st century. Or Lady Simcoe’s view of Toronto harbour in 1793 with the current incarnation of the shore as we see it today. It all makes for a great visual look into Toronto’s past and present.
Taken together, the exhibition tells a great story. Its message comes in the title, and is something I have been saying and thinking for a while now: Toronto is a layered city. Some of its (her?) landforms and landmarks have changed a great deal. Some haven’t. Perhaps some of the changes aren’t immediately apparent to us, but they are there nonetheless. The past isn’t far. You just have to dig for it, do some analysis, maybe even put on a photo exhibition.
That said however, perhaps some things do stay the same. Summer has one image up of William James that features the Don River Valley flooded in 1910. 100 years and a parkway later and we’re still facing the wrath of the overflowing Don. I shake my head and smile at that. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, n’est-ce pas?
As a nice and unexpected treat, the artist herself is on hand, and I am able to pick her brain about what I see – whether she was actually at the disputed location of the Simcoes’ Castle Frank residence, as an example. Among the random things we talk about are old school horse drawn streetcars and being de facto tour guides for people in our lives. Through that chat it quickly becomes clear that she is a true buff in Toronto history, whose knowledge, talent, and vision really shows in her work. We probably can geek back and forth about the city for another good chunk of time, but alas, time isn’t abundant today and I graciously thank her again and make my exit.
I head up to the brick path and continue down it. To my left, I see a familiar blue marker. The Ontario Heritage Trust sign gives my the need-to-know of Todmorden’s history. I briefly circle around the exteriors of the buildings. I did some reading prior to coming, and, if I had more more time, I would enjoy a tour, but it will have to wait until next time.
Also happening on the grounds of the museum is Eco-Art-Fest, an arts, heritage, culture festival put on by No. 9, who I first heard about during Jane’s Walk preparations. There is a designated ‘chilling’ area which has some pretty soothing country tunes going, an elevated platform (I think it’s also a stage) with an oven, picnic benches, and craft table where a few children try their hands at water colour painting (shoutout to Elizabeth Simcoe with that activity).
I continue on the brick path once again, heading toward the bridge. I see a few joggers around, and I have to admit that it that this would be a very good place for a run. I would run through here if I loved closer. A few feet before the bridge is a swirly blue line with the words ‘Don Was Here’ in bold lettering. No, some guy named Donald hasn’t marked his presence. It’s actually a public art initiative commissioned by No. 9 and curated by Labspace Studio in partnership with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. There are several of these ‘Don Was Here’ markers from Todmorden Mills to the mouth of the river which shows the meandering route of the Don before it was rerouted and straightened. It’s a pretty amazing tribute to the city’s natural heritage. The project has got an interactive site too…with a map!
I notice some letter on the side of the bridge as I cross it, but may little mind to it (more on this later). Instead, I focus on the green area it overlooks. I walk around (passing another ‘Don Was Here’ marker) and inspect it a little better. Beyond that it looks really beautiful, I can’t pick out any species or just the entire ecological significance of it.
I circle around and head back to the open area with the benches so I can give the Wildflower Preserve a walkthrough. I am greeted by a pair of signs to explain everything. It turns out the area under the bridge was the last area on the trail. I get the signs on my phone because I know I’ll need them. And hey, now I know what an Oxbow is.
I spend a few minutes at the pond to take in everything. Gazing out and down at the green surface, I am hoping to spot something alive. Instead, I just see a pop can half-submerged in algae and just think somebody has really missed the point. I do catch movement, something skipping across the water. I can’t tell if it’s a fish or a frog, but I take it anyways and move on.
The tree canopies are tall enough to make me feel closed in and away from everything, but even with the rustling wind, buzzing insects, chirping birds, I still can hear highway traffic. It’s a weird thing spot to be in. I feel like I’m in a secluded spot, but really, I am not. Actually, it reminds me of wandering the Betty Sutherland Trail near the 401. A city within a park, indeed.
At one point, my curiosity is piqued when I spot what looks houses floating in the oxbow. I have to maneuver through and over things to get to the water’s edge. Yup, they are floating houses. Either some trekkers got really mischievous and creative or this is something deliberate and tied to the museum. I suspect the latter. I do some research after the fact, and the Ec0-Art-Fest website and its scrolling banner images provide the answer. The houses are an installation for the festival – as is the lettering on the bridge (which read from the other side says ‘Like a Bridge’) and the ‘Don Was Here’ project. Eureka!
As I walk the paths, I try to see if I recognize any flora. I think the yellow flowers are goldenrod, but I’m not willing to bet my guitar on it. In co-creating a nature walking tour last summer, I was introduced into identifying certain floral species, but it does not help me out here. Instead, I just go back to marveling at the Preserve in a big picture sense.
I remember something Summer said about our former industrial centres. Places like Todmorden, the neighbouring Evergreen Brickworks, and the quarries of Greenwood and Smythe Parks were pretty dirty looking once upon a time. To see their conversion into beautiful natural and park lands is just remarkable. Tormorden and the Brickworks in particular have their own ecosystems, which makes this preserve more amazing to be in and think about.
For a while I try to go off the main path onto offshoot routes, but then I realise that I really have no idea where they would end up. And I’m being stupid with time. So I turn back and get to the end of the wooded area. I’m at the back of the parking lot, and instead of walking through it, I turn around and tour the Preserve again. When I reach the beginning, I spot a warning I missed the first go around. I smile at the mention of the ‘East York’. The borough lives on.
Walking back to Pottery, I give the museum one last look and then head off to do the climb. Part of me wants to visit the Brickworks, but I know this is not doable. I convince myself it would be a real beneficial exercise to power through at a quick pace, but halfway I’m a bit gassed and cursing my idea. Fortuitously, I do break beside a Sumac, though! Happy that I recognize something, I leisurely finish the ascend and then make it back to The Danforth.