Category Archives: Landmarks

Toronto’s First McDonald’s

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?

McDonald’s locations of Toronto as of 2019.

The year was 1969. The Big Mac had just made its way onto the hamburger chain’s menu. It also saw the first Toronto franchise open in North York at 3777 Keele Street near LePage Court (just south of Finch Avenue). It was several decades into Toronto’s post-WWII suburban growth and a fast food boom was already underway.

The first McDonald’s — centre of image — was located at suburban Keele Street and LePage Court. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, 1971.

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) happened 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.

The original London location and its golden arches look as they appeared when it opened in 1968. A time capsule and plaque marks its significance. Credit: Google Maps, 2018.

Credit: Globe & Mail, February, 10, 1971

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.

McDonald’s and its famed clown mascot draw up a Toy World contest. Note the list of restaurants in existance at the time. Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 21, 1969.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, August 9, 1969.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 6, 1970.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, June 3, 1970.

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.

McDonald’s locations of Toronto as of 1971.

A growing Bathurst and Steeles area in 1971. McDonald’s is situated at the bottom of the image. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

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 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.

A look at the architecture of early McDonald’s Drive-Ins. Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 13, 1970.

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.

Credit: Globe & Mail, November 30, 1971.

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.

Credit: Toronto Star, October 22, 1977.

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.

McDonald’s at Yonge Street and Grenville Street between 1977 and 1983. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

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.

The oldest McDonald’s in Toronto, Bathurst and Steeles Avenue. Credit: Google Maps, 2018.

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.

Sources

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.

Bateman, Chris. “That Time Toronto Got Its First Taste of Tim Hortons.” BlogTO.

Bradburn, Jamie. “Vintage Toronto Ads: McLower Prices at McDonald’s.” Torontoist, 14 Aug. 2012.

Bullock, Helen. “Arch enemy: A counter atteck repels Big Mac in the battle of Markland Woods” The Toronto Star, 22 Oct 1977, p. A10.

Cohon, George. To Russian With Fries. McClelland & Stewart, 1999

“Dining with Liz.” Toronto Daily Star, 9 Aug. 1969, p. 32.

Gray, Stuart. “Maple leaf forever.” The Globe and Mail, 5 Jul 1973, p. 39.

Howlett, Karen. “Subway Plan Could Benefit Sorbara Family.” The Globe and Mail, 23 Apr. 2018.

Job Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 03 June 1970, p. 61.

Job Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Star, 28 Aug 1979, p. C19

Johnson, Arthur. “For the man on the beat, meals are cheap.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Aug 1976, pg 1.

Lancashire, David. “Burgers, Chicken Pizza Boom: Fast food is tops with Canadians.” The Globe and Mail, 23 May, 1979, p. 7.

Mirsky, Jesse. “Original Harvey’s Restaurant Demolished to Make Way for Condos.” National Post, 13 Mar. 2012.

Moore, Michael. “Pace slowing as fast food meets snags” The Globe and Mail, 05 Aug 1970, p. B1.

Moore, Michael. “Supermarkets can be major factor as burger giants battle to keep growing.” The Globe and Mail, 06 Aug 1970, p. B3.

Parsons, Anne. “Fears swallowed: McDonald’s is picked to cater in new zoo.” The Globe and Mail, 6 Jul 1973, p. 1

Penfold, Steve. “‘Are We to Go Literally to the Hot Dogs?” Parking Lots, Drive-Ins, and the Critique of Progress in Toronto’s Suburbs, 1965–1975 – Urban History Review.” Érudit, Urban History Review / Revue D’histoire Urbaine, 17 May 2013.

Rasky, Frank. “McBreakfast: Fast food grabs the morning rush” Toronto Star, 02 April 1979, p. C1.

Rauchwerger, Daniel. “The Architecture of ‘McDonald’s’ – Architizer Journal.” Journal, 7 Nov. 2017.

Roseman, Ellen. “The man who’s eating up Canada’s fast food industry.” Toronto Star, 22 Feb 1975, p. B1.

Roseman, Ellen. “The Consumer Game: Salad bars good news for waist watchers.” The Globe and Mail, 13 Mar 1979, p. 14.

Shepherd, Harvey. “51 Canadian outlets: Merger brings McDonald’s units under single direction.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Feb 1971, p. B1.

Shepherd, Harvey. “Speed the crux as McDonald’s anticipates costumers’ orders, healthy profits.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Feb 1971, p. B13.

Slover, Frank. “McDonald’s expects profit near $6 million” The Globe and Mail, 03 May 1973, p. B3.

Stern, Beverley. “The Canadian Jewish News, Thursday, May 15,1980 – Page 9.” SFU Digitized Newspapers.

“Truce called in hamburger fray.” The Globe and Mail, 3 Dec 1971, p. 5.

Whelan, Peter. “The hamburger drive-in and the quiet street.” The Globe and Mail, 30 Nov 1971, p. 5.

Scenes From Elora

A venture through the town of Elora and its surroundings produces nothing less than beauty and awe. There’s beauty in its more-than-a-century-old streetscapes. There’s awe in its more-than-ten-thousand-year-old limestone cliffs. The allure of the area is the marriage of built and natural, which makes it well worth a visit.

Aerial view of Elora, Ontario, ca. 1950. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

The town is located in Wellington County on the banks of the mighty Grand River, a waterway that historically provided sustenance to the Attawandaron or Neutral Confederacy. The wide river and its majestic walls has a history far beyond even those inhabitants, being carved out of the last ice age 14,000 years ago. The water provided the power for early industry while its cliffs were source for the towns early constructions.

One such structure that falls into both categories – stone walls and industry — is the Elora Mill on the west end of the aptly named Mill Street. It was established in the 1850s by J.M. Fraser. In recent memory, it was closed for many years awaiting redevelopment. As of July 2018, it is reopened as a multi-faceted hotel and hospitality venue.

Elora is full of quaint boutiques, sweet shops, and galleries, such as those at the Elora Mews and the main strip of shops at the juncture of Metcalfe and further north.

           

As modern are the enterprises and restored are their exteriors, Elora still maintains its historic character. They are seen in the 1865 Gordon’s Block (otherwise known as the Flat Iron Building because of the triangular junction at Geddes and Metcalfe), the Elora Public Library (funded by Andrew Carnegie in 1909 and built the following year), the 1911 Post Office, and further up, the 1889 St. Mary’s Schoolhouse.

Dalby House/Gordon’s Block. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

One geography that has not completely survived is the old red bricked Elora Town Hall on Geddes Street next to the Post Office. Its history goes back to 1874 when it was built as a market building. The space in front of it was once known as Market Square. A cenotaph honouring the town’s contributions to World War I was added in the square in 1929. The Town Hall was demolished because of its deteriorating state and new civic offices were constructed in 1992 near the old hall.

Geddes St., Elora, ca. 1910 Postcard. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

Town Hall [left] and Post Office [right], ca. 1910.  House on Henderson Street and St. John’s Anglican Church visible behind Post Office at centre. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

A punt ride on the Grand River allots a great way to view the town’s waterfront. Through Elora Raft Rides, one takes in the history and geography of the town — including neat views of ancient fossils in the limestone cliffs.

A curious sighting is a stone abutment located near the Mill, which is the phantom remainder of the former Victoria Street Bridge. A structure spanning the river has been since 1842, but last incarnation of the bridges was closed to vehicle traffic in the Sixties following the opening of the adjacent Metcalfe Bridge and subsequently demolished. As a part of the Elora Mill redevelopment, Victoria Street Bridge might rise again.

Outside of the town’s built environs, one finds himself in the phenomenal landscapes of the Elora Quarry and Elora Gorge. Both fall under the management of the Grand River Conservation Authority which protects the surrounding watershed while providing recreational activities. The Quarry itself is a sensational post-industrial swimming hole with hiking trails which came under the GRCA in the 1970s. 

Elora Gorge Conservation Area offers neat nature hikes and thrilling (and calming) tube rides — seriously, try it! Through Victoria Park, one can access part of the rocks through a set of stairs, as well as gaze over the Grand & Irvine Rivers with lookouts like the Elora Falls & Tooth of Time, Lover’s Leap and toward the gorge and David Street/Irvine River Bridge.

Exploring the town and environs, Elora’s identity of the merger of culture and nature then becomes truly apparent. Its many plaques tell the story of its shakers. It’s also a great arts & culture town with references everywhere to musical showcases like the Elora Festival and Riverfest at Bissell Park. Culinary and historic walking tours guide visitors through the significance of the town.

       

Other landmarks like the Wellington County Museum & Archives – a former House of Industry and keeper of Elora’s past – and the Elora Cataract Trail – a lost railway turned scenic recreational path – also are major draws. For a small town like it and its neighbour Fergus, Elora does an excellent job at marketing itself as a true tourist destination with dual appeal.

 

Scenes From Ontario Place

Ontario Place is nostalgia. We all have vague or even not so vague memories of going down to Ontario Place with our families for a fun-filled day. But things are changing at the park.

           

Opened in 1971, the idea of Ontario Place came following the success of Expo 67 in Montreal. Ontario Place was a display in modernism — a showcase of the future. The 1960s and ’70s were a transformative time culturally and architecturally in Toronto. Buildings such as Toronto City Hall and the TD Centre ushered Toronto into a new era. Ontario Place was part of that optimism. Brightly coloured pavilions echoing Expo would scatter its grounds along with giant silos, but the signature structure was and still remains the iconic, space-aged Cinesphere, featuring new IMAX movie technology.

Cinesphere under construction, circa 1970. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Continuing Toronto’s century long obsession with shaping and reshaping its waterfront, the land to house Ontario Place was a new addition to the city’s geography. Two infill islands would be built south of Lake Shore Boulevard near the Exhibition Grounds, connecting to the mainland by bridges.

Ontario Place under construction, 1970. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The park would grow over the years. A central rink doubled in the summer as roller rink and as a skating rink in the winter months. The Ontario Place Forum offered musical entertainment from Teenage Head to Johnny Cash to Blue Rodeo to BB King to The Tragically Hip. The Toronto’s only waterpark — Froster Soak Park — would open in 1978 on the East Island. Wilderness Adventure Ride would excite log-riding ‘thrill seekers’ starting in 1986. 

Ontario Place in 1980. Silos and Cinesphere as a backdrop. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

B.B. King at the Ontario Place Forum, 1981. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Newly opened Wilderness Adventure Ride, 1986. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Ontario Place closed in 2011. Although many of the park landmarks are still intact and Ontario Place Corporation is still active, the sites serve almost as urban relics. It’s an odd yet intriguing contrast walking there today: one thinks of the circumstances of its construction — the hope and intent for grandeur and futurism — and then its sad abandoned state — how that vision didn’t ultimately hold up. Maybe it was never meant last. Dwindling attendance put an end to it.

           

As mentioned, there were attractions added over the years, but perhaps Ontario Place never matched up as a ‘modern’ amusement park to its suburban counterpart Canada’s Wonderland. As the years grew, I certainly heard it mentioned less and less as a destination. Oddly, I actually encountered the grounds more as an adult than as a child; albeit this was because attending concerts finally became a reality and the Molson Amphitheatre — the successor to the Forum — was a great venue for it, so I was only passing through.

The good news: revitalization is in Ontario Place’s future. A long-term vision has the grounds becoming a destination once more through a lot of re-purposing. One part of this plan is already in effect: Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail. This extraordinary space was carved out parking lots and offers some of the most spectacular skyline views of Toronto.

As a showing of the possibilities, Ontario Place held a Winter Lights Exhibition in the winter of 2018, transforming the grounds and showing them off in a different, well, light. A walk around the artist creations offered neat views of the abandoned park, instilling both a sadness and perhaps some optimism for the next stages. Maybe then Ontario Place will be the future once more.

              

Useful Links

BlogTO – “Adandoned water ride at Ontario Place now an epic urban ruin” by Lauren O’Neil

Historic Toronto – “Ontario Place, closed in 2011” by Doug Taylor

National Post – “Taxpayers ‘Soak City’: The tale of a brand-new Ontario Place waterslide no one will ever use”

The Chive – “The sad condition of the abandoned Ontario Place” by Martin

Torontoist – “Historicist: Opening the Cinesphere” by Jamie Bradburn 

Torontoist – “Remembering Ontario Place’s Origins” by Jamie Bradburn

Scenes From Evergreen Brick Works

Toronto was a brick-making town. Going through the city today, you would not realize it right away. This lost and remade industrial and natural geography is remarkable. Great clay refining enterprises from the Don Valley to Leslieville to Yorkville to North Toronto to the West Toronto Junction now carry transformed greenspaces or residential communities. The Evergreen Brick Works is one of those spaces.

Don Valley clay pits, part of Don Valley Brick Works (Toronto). James Blomfield. June 10, 1939. Credit: City of Ontario Archives.

The Don Valley Brick Works began operations in 1889 and lasted quite a long time, providing the literal building blocks for the city of Toronto until 1984 — not a long time ago. One can think of the Brick Works as the last bastion for smokestack-raising, pollution-spewing, heavy manufacturing in Toronto.

Don Valley Brick Works, Bayview Ave., w. side, s. of Chorley Park in Don Valley; looking s. from Chorley Park, 1952. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Following its closure, much like a lot of discussions then and now in how to imagine the post-industrial metropolis, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and City of Toronto looked to expropriate former brickyard as public space. During this ‘transition’ time, the abandoned factory became a haven for urban explorers.

Don Valley Brickworks, 1986. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brickworks, 1990. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

What came out of it was a rejuvenated community hub and parkland with a mandate for environmental sustainability and conservation, led through the efforts of Evergreen. Much of the complex still stands, showing off ovens and other former operations of the Don Valley Brick Works. Today, they make great event and exhibition space which house among other things a great farmer’s market. Only one of the four chimneys remain, though.

The Evergreen Brick Works is a locale full of discovery, starting with its artistic displays. A favourite of mine is “Watershed Consciousness”, which neatly showcases Toronto’s ravines as the sort of veins and life blood of the city. Fitting.

One quizzical installation is a giant pair of metal shoes. This is “Legacy (the mud beneath our feet)” by David Hind, an homage to geologist Arthur Philemon (A.P.) Coleman. Mr. Coleman got his boots dirty many times over at the Don Valley Brick Works, using the quarry’s north cliff to research Toronto’s Ice Ages. A nearby display, “A Rare Geological Study”, presents Coleman’s notes.

Coleman was instrumental in understanding the literal layers and pre-history of Toronto. He noted ancient beavers, moose, and bison that roamed Pleistoscene Toronto, and also mapped out the old shore of Lake Iroquois.

Map of Toronto and Vicinity To accompany part 1, Volume 22, Report of Bureau of Mines, 1913. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The Pleistocene of the Toronto region Including the Toronto interglacial formation, 1932. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The allure of the Evergreen Brick Works is its physical landscape. Each step offers more discovery and new vantage points. Wandering deeper into the Weston Family Quarry Garden and its tall reconstructed wetland, the factory behind disappears, aside from the chimney.

Running between the handsome factory buildings is a channelized Mud Creek (which might be the best and worst name for a waterway in Toronto). There’s a more naturalized version of the stream as well, running under the great Governor’s Bridge as one moves out of the park.

Veering away from the marked trails, there is the abandoned Don Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway, last operating in 2007. With the Belt Line Trail also nearby it’s the second ghost line of sorts at the Brick Works. Following the CPR tracks takes one to the Half-Mile Bridge, seen as one enters the Evergreen Brick Works.

Don Valley Brick Works, Bayview Ave., w. side, s. of Chorley Park in Don Valley; looking w. from Broadview & Mortimer Ayes. 1955. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Perhaps the most inspiring experience of the Brick Works is the view from above. Moving up the cliff one takes in the awe of the full expanse of the site, its winding trails and ponds below, and the houses of Rosedale overlooking the valley.

One can only take in this reclaimed natural landscape and think of its layered makeup. The intersection of industrial, geological, and environmental history make the Evergreen Brick Works make it a special place. A walk around it only proves that.

Scenes From Riverdale Farm

My welcome into Riverdale Farm comes with a new-ish, yet old-timey looking gate, however I bypass it to round around to the Winchester Street entrance.

1 Riverdale Farm sign
The farm’s main building, the Victorian-style Simpson House, is home to the Cabbagetown Regent Park Museum, which is open for business today. It’s unique in that it’s the only museum in Toronto devoted to telling the story of a specific city neighbourhood. I have a soft spot for the museum for the time I volunteered there.

2 Riverdale Farm Simpson House
My time at the museum has taught me of the Riverdale Farm area’s long past: From the pristine valley the Aboriginals encountered (the Algonquian word for the Don itself was Wonscotonach, meaning ‘burnt back grounds’), to the land granted to John Scadding by Mr. John Graves Simcoe which was eventually purchased by the City for parkland, to the zoo Daniel Lamb (whose family is buried in the neighbouring Toronto Necropolis) established here in 1888, and finally, to the heritage farm we now know and have enjoyed since 1978. Walking through the farm, I get a sense of each layer.

4. Riverdale Farm
My first stop is the Pig Barn to take in, among others, some turkeys and bunnies that would have existed in a farm around the turn of the 20th century.

5. Riverdale Farm bunny

6. Riverdale Farm turkey
From there, it’s off to see some goats and sheep, although the latter are sadly M.I.A.

8. Riverdale Farm goats
9. Riverdale Farm
Following the path all the way down, I come to the Residence. This is the first of a handful of remaining buildings that are original to the zoo. This one was, in fact, the keeper’s home. It was also a morgue and an animal hospital as well during its tenure.

11. Riverdale Farm Residence
My favourite feature and tidbit of the Residence is the use of clinker bricks in its construction, which incidentally was conducted by Don Jail inmates as a work project. I’ve heard stories of prisoners interacting with children, and how it was the happiest time for the inmates during their sentences because of it.

12. Riverdale Farm  Residence clinker bricks

13. Riverdale Farm Residence
Backtracking, I do some wayfinding and try to determine whether north is actually north (it isn’t), before finding myself at the cows.

14. Riverdale Farm directions

16. Riverdale Farm cows
Above the cow paddock is the Donnybrook Ruin, a towering structure whose original purpose, as far as I know, is a mystery. I was delighted to spot some clinkers in its walls too.

17. Riverdale Farm Donnybrook ruins

18. Riverdale Farm Donnybrook ruins clinkers
I forge on down the Lower Road and come to the Riverdale Farm Ponds. These  algae covered water bodies are important bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and serve as vibrant ecosystems. They also help in renaturalizing the Don River Valley and bring it back to a time before the river was channelized and rerouted.

19. Riverdale Farm  ponds

20. Rivedale Farm pond
Before meandering across a bridge, I note a barrier to the side which warns of the crossing’s occasionally flooding. Yuh oh. Although I can’t be sure, the bridge itself looks like a left-over from the zoo days.

22. Riverdale Farm bridge

29. Riverdale Farm  bridge
The monkey cage is most definitely a relic, however. Much is made of the ethics of keeping animals in cages for viewing pleasure; even more is made of the state of early zoos and the sizes of the holding cells. The Riverdale Zoo closed and moved to Scarborough in part because its very inadequate facilities. (Also, a zoo next to a growing metropolis isn’t the best of ideas.)

25. Riverdale Farm monkey cage

26. Riverdale Farm monkey cage
Mustering the uphill climb back, I take a peek down the Middle Road, which doesn’t really lead to anything, but allots for a good view of the Meeting House.

31. Riverdale Farm                33. Riverdale Farm

My exit from the farm includes some horse-inspired art outside of the Simpson House. I quizzically study it for a second, eventually giving my due to the effort that must’ve went into its construction. Then, I’m off on my way, this time passing under the new-old sign I shunned before.

34. Riverdale Farm  horse art
This isn’t the end of my Riverdale Farm themed encounters, however. This charming little Bell Box Mural located Parliament on Winchester boasts a great tribute to our barnyard friends.

35. Riverdale Farm Winchester Bell box mural

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano at the Royal Ontario Museum

The Royal Ontario Museum’s Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano looks and sounds every bit like a ROM big-ticket exhibition. That’s because it is. The presentation and quality that have been trademarks for the museum for years are all there.

ROM Pompeii (1)

In its grand story-telling, it follows a logical enough progression. It starts with the ‘what, where, when, why, and how’ of Mount Vesuvius itself…

ROM Pompeii (2)

…then profiles some notable Pompeii-ans(?)…

ROM Pompeii (4)

…then  talks about city life…

ROM Pompeii (17)

….and finally, almost coming full circle, deals with the human toll of the eruption.

ROM Pompeii (15)

This gets to you, no?

There’s nothing redefining about Pompeii as a blockbuster, and there didn’t need to be. There are a lot of artefacts, which exist primarily as static displays, and interpretive paneling and quotes on the wall.

ROM Pompeii (3)

A good summary of the Pompeii phenomenon.

ROM Pompeii (7)

Ancient Oboe!

ROM Pompeii (9)

Canine Art

ROM Pompeii (10)

Pizza toppings…erm, olives.

The text was at a good reading level and there wasn’t too much of it. I like to be told about the things I’m looking at, but I also get bored very easy with large sections of writing. I didn’t need to do a lot of skimming or ignoring with Pompeii.

ROM Pompeii

If I could change anything, though, I wanted more of the ‘We don’t know for sure…’ or ‘This is what we think this is or happened…’ element to the interpretation. There are issues in trying to piece together ancient cultures – sources are scarce and unreliable, as an example – and, maybe I’m wrong on this, but I get the impression that Pompeii is very much figured out. Perhaps, though, because everything was preserved under magma, there is that clearer picture.

There are sprinkles of audience involvement, particularly in the toga tying station, the gladiator station, the mosaic making station, and stereoscope viewer. I enjoyed the viewer especially for how basic it is. It shows flash and gimmicks don’t always rule the day. Pompeii also encourages sharing on social media, as highlighted by the clever hashtag #ROMpeii.

ROM Pompeii (16)

ROM Pompeii (6)

ROM Pompeii (12)

ROM Pompeii (13)

Moving through the exhibit, there is a bit of crowding near the start, but once I got out of the gladiator section and into the city section, things were more free-flowing.

Roman history, even though I have studied it, generally doesn’t intrigue me as much as other topics, but I could nonetheless find a lot of value in The ROM’s Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano as a great museological experience. All in all, the look and feel and effort make it a worth-while endeavour.

100 in 1 Day (and More) 2015 at the Old Eastern Avenue Bridge

100 in 1 Day is an initiative of citywide ‘interventions’, aimed at making the city a better place. There were many to choose from (far greater than 100 actually), but I chose to go the ‘Learnt Wisdom: Above and Beyond’ lecture.

There were a few reasons for attending this particular intervention. First, it would be held at the old Eastern Avenue bridge, which I’ve read about and seen pictures about, but I’ve never actually been to. Second, one of the hosts – Daniel “The Urban Geographer” Rostzain (I feel like I gave him a wrestling name) – is doing really great things with his library-philia, Jane’s Walking, and everything else. And third, it’s about storytelling – and who doesn’t love a good story?

The meetup point is at King and River Streets. While waiting, I chat with Daniel, who I have bounced tweets back and forth but never met in the flesh. I also meet Kyle Baptista of Park People. On top of that, I encounter fellow tweeter Sean Marshall at the bridge. It’s a wonderful meeting of the online community!

Also while waiting, I do a panorama of the interesting sites in the vicinity. To the south is the sleek black River City complex of condos, which, in the last time I wrote about Corktown, was not completed. To the east is the always intriguing convergence of King and Queen Streets. There’s a triangular island and undeveloped plot of land, which Kyle believes is supposed to be a park eventually. Makes sense. To the immediate north is the old Scotiabank and beyond that up River is the 1907 Queen City Vinegar Co. Lofts.

1. River City Condo

The walk to the Eastern Avenue Bridge travels down Lower River Street, which was absent from Toronto’s street grid up until a few years ago. We pass Underpass Park (great use of dead space), Lawren Harris Square (not to be confused with Lawren Harris Park), and come to the Corktown  Common. Only, we don’t actually come to the Corktown Common because it’s been fenced off for the summer for the PanAm games. A shame because it’s a great recreational space which doubles as a natural flood plain.

2. Corktown Common Closed

3. Corktown Common Closed

It’s amazing to think of the reconfiguration the West Don Lands has gone through in the last little while and over the last hundred years. River and Bayview Streets have southern extensions. The railway lands that dominated the area are gone. All the industry that once prevailed on or near the banks of the Don are gone. It’s remarkable to think, in that regard, that the Corktown Common was once occupied by the William Davies Co. pig processing operation.

West Don Lands Goads, 1924

Corktown & West Don Lands. Source: Goads Atlas, 1924

We travel around the security zone and come the Lower Don Trail. My eye catches a couple of Heritage Toronto plaques highlighting the stories of the waterway. But more than that, the graffiti is disappointing to see. I don’t see a reason to mark up a plaque.

5. Don River Heritage Toronto plaques

4. Don River Heritage Toronto plaques

Far into the distance is the Unilever Plant, which is the subject of a lot of city building discussions including the Gardiner East debacle debate. Every week for the final year of the soap plant I saw the striking workers camped outside the factory. Then, they weren’t there and the plant succumbed.

6. Don River Heritage Toronto plaques

A stroll up the trail (very well used on this sunny Saturday) and we’re at our destination. The Eastern Avenue Bridge is pretty much a bridge in only name because it doesn’t connect anything. It’s truly a bridge to nowhere. On one side is the trail with the meager security and on the other the Don Valley Parkway.

7. Old Eastern Avenue Bridge from Lower Don Trail

In a pre-DVP world, Eastern Avenue ran a straight course east and west of the Don. But with the construction of the highway in 1961, Eastern was rerouted to curve up from about Broadview Avenue to about Cherry Street before following its original course again.

The Eastern Avenue bridge, the third version of its kind at this crossing, is a big hunk of metal with cool zig-zaggy beams and locales where explorers have left their mark. It’s a dead space, but for our purposes makes a great performance venue – surprisingly so with the highway running beside us. As Natalie – the other creator/host of Learnt Wisdom – told me, their past venues have included underneath the Leaside Bridge, a pool, the Toronto Islands. Their next one is at a cemetery tucked in at a highway interchange.

    8. Old Eastern Avenue Bridge         9. Old Eastern Avenue Bridge

12. Old Eastern Avenue Bridge circle

13. Don't Try to Fix Me! I'm not Broken! Old Eastern Avenue Bridge

14. DVP from Old Eastern Avenue Bridge

The lecture starts and, one by one, four speakers come up and tell us their tales of going ‘above and beyond’. I won’t recount the stories themselves, but the messages behind them were great: how being lazy and doing nothing can actually be a good thing; and how small people can do big things & if you have an idea, for it.

   10. Learnt Wisdom Old Eastern Avenue Bridge          19. Learnt Wisdom Old Eastern Avenue Bridge

If the goal of 100 in 1 Day was to inspire change that would make Toronto a better place, I think the Learnt Wisdom intervention achieved it with the messages of the story tellers.

On that note: If you, reader, have a story to tell on the theme of ‘Milestones’ or have an idea for am unusual venue, get in touch with them.

17. Learnt Wisdom Old Eastern Avenue Bridge

Following that, Kyle and I retrace our steps back to King Street, and get a good look at the city skyline from the development lands.

20. Corktown condos

21. Toronto skyline from Corktown

22. Corktown condos

My streetcar isn’t going to arrive for another 10 minutes lamentably, so I get a coffee and walk down the street to pass the time. At St. Lawrence Street, a building catches my attention. At first I think it’s a church because of the northern part that juts out, but on further inspection, I better suspect that it’s a factory. Further research has produced that this was originally the Simpson Knitting Mill in the 1920s. Today, it’s work-live lofts.

23. 52 St. Lawrence Street Simpson Knitting Mill factory

24. 52 St. Lawrence Street Simpson Knitting Mill factory

A peer down Sumach and its almost completed Cherry ROW streetcar line to the Distillery District follows.

25. Sumach Street streetcar

Finally, I check in with the great art pieces under the Richmond and Adelaide Street overpasses. The nautical exploration themed design catches my attention most. It’s about this time that, not a boat but, a rocket picks me to conclude this adventure.

26. King Street East underpass art

27. King Street East underpass art

28. King Street East underpass art