2022: A Year in Review

2022 marks ten years for Scenes From Toronto. This year, I committed to a goal of two articles a month when possible. Out of 24 possible articles in the month, I published 17. Although I did not match my goal, I am proud of that output.

2022 also followed the momentum of the previous year in creating original, research-based articles, drawing on primary and secondary sources, as well as the work of great historians and writers. I hope they have added to Toronto’s rich local heritage scene and telling the city’s lesser known (hi)stories.

The Stats

The Best of 2022

To mark the year, I have compiled my favourite ten articles.

1. “Old” Toronto Streets: An exploration of a peculiarity in Toronto’s geography and streets. This is a multi-parter.

2. A Quick Early History of Toronto’s First Traffic Signals and The ‘Right on Red’ Rule: Toronto’s early rules about automobile travel offer some interesting insights about why modern traffic laws are the way they are, including the origins of the allowance of a right turn against a red light.

3. “Know Agincourt, but Their Maps Ignore Toronto”: A Quick History of The Agincourt Magnetic Observatory: The story of a lost Scarborough landmark which brought on discovery and innovation at a global level.

4. A Quick History Of The Iconic Guild Inn in Scarborough: The Guild of All Arts is a famed landmark is the east end of Scarborough with an interesting evolution.

5. The ‘Commercial Slum’ That Once Stood Across Toronto City Hall: This is a layered story of the creative destruction and revitalization which marked an intriguing transitional period in Toronto. The first of two parts.

6. The Rise of The Hill District, Toronto: The origin of one of Toronto’s exclusive neighbourhoods is an interesting tale of the who’s who in Toronto history and a period in which Old Toronto’s street grid began to fill up.

7. Was this the first Chinese restaurant in Toronto’s Junction?: A century ago, there was a Chinese eatery in The Junction. The story explores some history of one of Toronto’s largest communities.

8. The Curious History of Riverdale Avenue, Toronto: The east ends street is a fine reminder of how old lot lines have impacted the look of the city.

9. A Quick History of Controversial Toronto Street Name Changes: In a topical subject, this explores some lesser known street name changes and some overall in themes in why streets are historically altered.

10. The Notorious Brooks’ Bush Gang: A feared group of trouble-makers terrorized 19th century Toronto. A second part to this story is coming.

Thanks to all that have read, engaged with, and supported Scenes From TO! Happy 2023!

A quick wander around Victoria Park Square, Brantford

Victoria Park is a quaint public square located in downtown Brantford. It is found in the square block bordered by Market Street, George Street, Wellington Street, and Darling Street. While the park is in itself interesting, the surrounding streets and sites make for an interesting wander through Brantford’s past and present, and colonial and indigenous roots.

Victoria Park Square, 2022.
Source: Google Maps

The square’s origins are from Lewis Burwell’s 1830 Town Plan of Brantford, a scheme that laid out the village’s original blocks. It provides the genesis for Brantford’s central grid system and lays out its street names as well as some of the city’s original landmarks.

1830 Brantford in the Gore District, U. Canada.
Source: Toronto Public Library

It was not the first survey of Brantford and white settlers were living in Brantford prior to 1830 along with Indigenous peoples, but it was still an important development. Victoria Park appears as Municipal Public Square.

Undated Plan of the Village of Brantford.
Source: Archives of Ontario

Although Victoria Park was laid out in 1830, it wasn’t fully landscaped until 1861. Its designer was John Turner and its diverging paths are intended to mimic the Union Jack flag.

1890s Souvenir of Brantford, Ontario – Victoria Park
Source: Toronto Public Library

A statue to Mohawk Leader and Brantford’s namesake Thayendanegea – anglicized name Joseph Brant – stands boldly in the centre of the park. The monument was unveiled in 1866 as a tribute to Thayendanegea’s allegiance to the British crown. The Brantford area was inhabited by the Haudenosaunee in 1700s. Brant himself is central to the city’s story in he ceded some lands for the place.

Facing the park on Wellington is the imposing Brant County Court House. The land was set aside in 1830 Town Plan and the building was designed later in 1851 by park designer John Turner.

1890s Brant County Court House
Source: Toronto Public Library

The Brant Court House dons the Palladian style and is notable for its grand construction, great columns, and amazing symmetry.

The court house property takes up an entire block backing onto Nelson Street. A Jail and Registry Building make up other notable parts of the complex.

Opposite the Court House on its Market Street side is the Bell Telephone Company of Canada Building. Brantford is the “Telephone City” and the childhood home of the famed Alexander Graham Bell who lived on the outskirts of the city. The Bell Building is quite imposing and is highlighted by its clean grey facade and large central. Reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument to the inventor sits at its entrance.

On the other side of the court house is a complex consisting of municipal and provincial offices at George and Wellington Streets. The impressive complex was built in 1967 in a textbook Brutalist style and offers a modernist layer to the old square. Until 2021, this was the location of Brantford City Hall; it has since moved to the 1913 Federal Building at Dalhousie and Queen Streets.

The corner has a plaque about the Founding of Brantford, which notes Six Nations ceded the land for the city and the role of railways, agriculture, and industry in the city’s development.

Prior to 1967, Brantford City Hall was located several blocks to the south at the historic Market Square. Like Victoria Park and the Court House, this square was included in 1830 Town Plan. The hall was also designed by Turner. Today, Eaton Market Square stands in its place.

1875 Bird’s eye view of Brantford, province Ontario, Canada.
Source: Library of Congress
1925 Brantford City Hall.
Source: Toronto Public Library

Finally, facing into Victoria Square on its eastern side is the former Brantford Public Library. Built in 1904, its erection was facilitated by a donation from the famed Carnegie family, who funded the construction of many libraries in Ontario in the early 20th century. Today, the building is a satellite campus for Wilfred Laurier University.

1910 Postcard – Public Library, Brantford, Canada
Source: Toronto Public Library

The stunning library somewhat echoes the Classical stylings of the Brant County Court House with its own great details, including a grand dome and large windows adorned with the names of iconic historical authors.

1910 Postcard – Public Library and Park Baptist Church from Victoria Park, Brantford, Canada.
Source: Toronto Public Library

Many other sites can be found in and around Victoria Park Square, including a historic water fountain on its west side, several churches — some converted and some modernized — with historic ties to Brantford on the park’s east and south sides, and a gorgeous Bank of Montreal building on the southwest side.

The square and its surroundings have been made and remade through its life. All these buildings — and even lack of buildings (i.e. parking lots) — were one-time additions which changed the complexion of the park at various times. The park’s purpose as a public square remains today, so that original piece of history stands today for Brantford.

The Rise of The Hill District, Toronto

The Hill District in Toronto is a lost neighbourhood — well, somewhat. The name may not be in prominent use, but its geography is certainly still there. The events of the 19th century and early 20th century that led to the rise of this interesting district involve pre-historic escarpments, stately houses, prominent Torontonians, unbuilt plans, and more.

1950 Aerial view showing Casa Loma, looking north-east from south of Dupont Street
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The Beginnings

In rough terms, the Hill District can be found from Avenue Road to Bathurst Street and the Canadian Pacific Railway to north of St. Clair Avenue.

2022 Map of The Hill District
Source: Google Maps

The “Hill” is the Davenport Road Escarpment, a glacial leftover of the old Lake Iroquois. It is also called the “Davenport” Hill or the “Spadina” Hill – words with Indigenous connections and origins. Davenport was an old portage trail; its name in Ojibwe is Gete-Onigaming: “at the old portage”. Spadina is a transliteration of “Ishpadinaa” or “a place on a hill” (meaning Spadina Hill actually means “Place on a Hill-Hill”).

1876 Gross Bird’s Eye View of Toronto.
Source: Old Toronto Maps

In the 19th century, the area that would become The Hill District was mainly made up of grand, hundred-acre-and-more estates owned by prominent early Toronto settler families. These included the Baldwins, the Austins, the Wells, the Nordheimers, and more. By the turn of the century, the large, open estates began to turn to subdivided lots with the beginnings of a street grid.

1884 Fire Insurance Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto
1894 Wells, Joseph, house, north of Davenport Road, east of Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.
Source: Toronto Public Library
1908 Entrance to Nordheimer estate (Glen Edyth).
Source: City of Toronto Archives

At this point, developers and newspapers began to formally refer to and market the area as the “Hill District” — “the finest and will be the most exclusive residential district”. Advertisements attracted potential buyers to areas such as College Heights near Bathurst between St. Clair and Eglinton, Dunvegan Heights on Forest Hill Road, and Walmer Hill and St. Clair Park, both adjoining upscale subdivisions northeast of Bathurst and St. Clair.

The Globe, October 30, 1911
Source: Globe and Mail Archives
Toronto Daily Star, May 17, 1912
Source: Toronto Star Archives
The Globe, May 24, 1913.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives

Coinciding with the growth of ‘The Hill District’, areas were annexed by the City of Toronto in the first decades of the 20th century. This included the annexation of Wychwood and Bracondale in 1909, which included parts of the Wells, Austin, and Nordheimer lands. Also included were areas north of St. Clair and south of Lonsdale Road, between Spadina Road and Avenue Road.

1967 Annexation Map of Toronto
Source: Old Toronto Maps

The Neighbours

There were three noted neighbours of the early Hill District. James Austin, founder of Dominion Bank, was the owner of ‘Spadina’, an estate purchased from the Baldwins in 1866. Austin built Spadina House, the third version of the Baldwin manor. It was the next generation of homes to experience the spectacular vista of Toronto from the hill.

1880 Austin, James, ‘Spadina’ (1866), Spadina Road, opposite Austin Terrace. Toronto, Ontario.
Source: Toronto Public Library

In the late 19th century, the western part of the Austin estate was subdivided into lots with laying out of Austin Terrace, Walmer Road, and Spadina Road.

1908 Map of Toronto and Suburbs.
Source: Old Toronto Maps

An interesting part of the Spadina story was the corridor leading from Davenport Road to Austin Terrace. Although the Baldwins laid out Spadina Avenue south to the lake, the right of way running north of Bloor faced the challenge of Davenport Escarpment. Here, a set of wooden steps was built in the place of a road. At the top, running adjacent to Spadina House and it gardens was a green right of way. In 1913, the wooden steps were replaced by a sturdier construction which offered a less steep climb. (They would be replaced again in the 1980s to give us the present Baldwin Steps).

Circa 1911 Old and new steps to Casa Loma from Davenport Road
Source: City of Toronto Archives
1913 Spadina Road Park — north from Davenport Road
Source: City of Toronto Archives
1913 Spadina Road Park — south from Austin Terrace.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

In the middle of the first decade of the 1900s, the very-interesting industrialist and land speculator Sir Henry Pellatt purchased property from the Austin and Wells estates for the construction of Casa Loma. The first structures completed were Pellatt Lodge and the horse stables on Walmer Road in 1905. His grand ‘castle’, which translated to ‘house of the hill”, was completed between 1911 and 1914.

1911 Casa Loma under construction
Source: City of Toronto Archives

An interesting episode in the construction of Casa Loma was Pellatt’s desire to expand his property at the expense of the Spadina Road steps and right of way. The Globe reported on Pellatt’s proposal:

The Works Committee of the City Council displayed gratuitous toleration of Sir Henry Pellatt’s ridiculous proposal to close Spadina road to Davenport road, and sell the right of way up the hill to enlarge the building site…

…It would be, were Davenport road widened, as it ought to be, comparatively easy to make a carriage road up to the hill…Perhaps the fear of the effect of such improment on his propety is the real motive for Sir Henry’s proposal. Whatever it is, he cannot have at any price what he is asking.”

The Globe, June 3, 1911.
1907 Spadina Road., looking south from north of Davenport Road.
Source: Toronto Public Library

More than the objection from the Works Committee, residents were also up in arms about the prospect of their direct access to the Dupont Streetcar being removed.

Sir John Craig Eaton was the son of Timothy Eaton, the famed department store baron. In 1908, Eaton purchased and razed the ‘Ravenswood’ house and estate, part of the Austin property, and constructed ‘Ardwold’, meaning “high green hill’, which was completed in 1911. Like Casa Loma and Spadina, Ardwold became the social hangout of ‘elite’ Toronto.

1922 Eaton, Sir John Craig, ‘Ardwold’, Davenport Road, north side, west of Huron Street
Source: Toronto Public Library
1915 Looking northwest from Casa Loma tower, with Spadina and Ardwold visible
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Eaton also funded and constructed Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on St. Clair Avenue near Dunvegan Road, opened in 1914.

1917 Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto, Canada
Source: Toronto Public Library

In 1916, Casa Loma Architect E.J. Lennox moved into ‘Lenwil’ at 5 Austin Terrace at Walmer Road, on 3 acres of land from the Wells Estate. Lennox previously lived on Sherbourne Street.

The Rise of The Hill

In the 1920s, The Hill District further filled out with stately residences, ornate apartments, grand churches, and new (and proposed) roads.

1913 & 1924 Fire Insurance Views of The Hill
Source: Goad’s Toronto

In 1925, the Toronto Transportation Commission began running a coach service to the Hill, running a bus from Bay & Albert Streets to the district via Poplar Plains Road and Warren Road to Lonsdale & Orioles Roads. It gave Hill residents an alternative to the St. Clair and Dupont cars.

1925 Transportation Map of Toronto
Source: City of Toronto Archives

As the Hill intensified, new roads were proposed. Many were built, but some remained as only plans. In 1912, the former Nordheimer estate lands were the site for a proposed alternate road to Poplar Plains Road. The new road would have ran northwest from Davenport and Dupont through part of the Austin and Eaton lands to meet with Spadina Road near St. Clair. It never materialized.

Toronto Daily Star, May 27, 1926
Source: Toronto Star Archives

In late 1920s, during the conceptualization of the St. Clair Reservoir to be located under the ravine, the idea of a highway through the lands resurfaced once more. While the reservoir was built along with a new bridge on Spadina Road, the road never materialized. (It would be another twenty years before another much more consequential highway project through Nordheimer Ravine — this one cutting through the valley west of Spadina and Road and down the street itself.)

1930 St Clair Reservoir & Spadina Road Bridge
Source: City of Toronto Archives

A particularly interesting project was the Peter Pan Statue in a parkette at Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue. The College Heights Association funded the installation of the statue, which was a replica of the sculptor Sr. George Frampton’s work in Kensington Gardens in London. It was unveiled on the northwest corner of the intersection on September 14, 1929.

1929 Avenue Road Park – Peter Pan Monument
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Along with the Peter Pan Statue, a fountain was unveiled on the northeast corner. A donation by H.H. Williams, it too was a replica of a fountain found at the Peace Palace at The Hague.

1929 Fountain at northeast corner of Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The Neighbours, Revisited

The development and re-development of the area atop the Davenport Hill in the 1920s and 1930s featured some noteworthy episodes. In 1923, twelve plots opposite Casa Loma owned by the Pellatts were sold to a developer. These were four lots fronting onto Austin Terrace facing the castle and eight lots fronting onto Spadina Road and Walmer Road. In 1928, a plan was in place to build 26 semi-detached duplexes on the site. The caveat was the area required a zoning change, which was put to a vote:

Opposed were the following: R. A. Jones, K. M. Scott, F. E. McMulkin, Charles E. Walsh, W. C. R. Harris, Mary A. Rea, A. W. Austin, Mary R. Austin, Wm. A. Logie, Albert H. Austin, E. J. Lennox, C. W. Hookaway, Eleanor Guerney, H. L. Mathews, Helen McI. Kelley, Marjorie C. Pellatt, E. A. Bott, J. A. Rowland, Charles B. Boeckh, D. Macdonald; in favour, Lady Eaton and Eaton estate, H. J. Long, H. M. Pellatt, F. McMahon, and E. Renfrew.

Toronto Daily Star, May 19, 1928
The Globe March 7, 1923
Source: Globe and Mail Archives

Although not constructed until 1939, the homes were ultimately built along with a new road — now the appropriately named Castle View Avenue — connecting Walmer and Spadina. An aerial look at the subdivision shows a distinct departure from the surrounding neighbourhood and how the historic properties line inform today’s environment.

The Globe, March 24, 1928.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives
1924 to 2022 Austin Terrace Duplexes
Source: Goad’s Toronto and Google Maps

The land to the west of Casa Loma directly north of the escarpment was also redeveloped. By 1910, Austin Terrace was extended to Wells Hill Avenue. Austin Terrace west of Walmer Road was renamed to Theodore Avenue, but then renamed again to Wells Hill Crescent in 1914. By the end of the decade, Austin Terrace was extended to Hilton Avenue near Bathurst Street. Hilton Avenue would be absorbed into Austin Terrace by 1926, completing a route from Spadina to Bathurst.

1924 to 2022 Austin Crescent and Lyndhurst Court
Source: Goads Toronto and Google Maps

Coincidentally, by 1923, the lot south of Austin Terrace and north of Davenport directly over the escarpment was bought for development. Austin Crescent was partially built to run south of Austin Terrace; it was later extended into the adjacent lot. Lyndhurst Court, the twinning cul-de-sac, was completed in the 1950s.

For the Eatons’ Ardwold, Sir John C. Eaton passed away in 1922. By 1936, his widow, Lady Flora Eaton, announced it no longer made sense to maintain the stately home as their children had grown up. The 11-acre was sold and subdivided into lots. The house was demolished, with its former site being located at the end of the cul de sac, Ardwold Gate.

Toronto Daily Star, February 12, 1937
Source: Toronto Star Archives

The Other ‘Hill District’

North of St. Clair, The Hill District had a neighbour in Spadina Heights. The area was known as such since 1910, when the area organized into York School Section 30. In 1923, after a failed bid for Toronto annexation, the area re-branded and incorporated as the Village of Forest Hill. It saw annexation finally in 1967.

The Hill District at one time may have actually included Forest Hill. But as The Hill District came to refer to areas annexed by the City of Toronto south of Lonsdale Road, the areas to the north came to be their own region.

1916 Map of Toronto, York, Scarboro, Etobicoke, showing S.S. 30
Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library
1930 Transportation Map
Source: Transit Toronto

The Toronto Transportation Commission extended coach service to Forest Hill in 1925. Most of the street grid south of Lonsdale Avenue was filled with buildings by the time, and development moved north through Forest Hill later in the decade and into the next.

By the 1930s, The Hill District and Forest Hill became part of the next generation of ‘fashionable Toronto’ neighbourhoods, moving north from the lake. First there was Jarvis Street; then came Rosedale; then finally the Hills. For example, several Eaton houses were located along Dunvegan Rd in the 1930s, including Lady Eaton’s residence following her exit from Ardwold.

The Fall of The Hill District?

By the middle of the century, uses of ‘The Hill District’ diminished in the newspapers, possibly as other names gained prominence or the neighbourhood changed again. In modern times, the area is referred to with names such as The South Hill and Rathnelly. The City of Toronto in its neighbourhood profiles names the entire zone the “Casa Loma” neighhourhood.

Source: City of Toronto

Today, the Hill District is home to two amazing museum and event spaces, a stunning ravine, beautiful parks and parkettes, and thousands of people within its houses and apartment buildings — many with references to the escarpment and elevation. While ‘The Hill District’ may not be as prominent a name as a century ago, its legacy certainly lives on.

“Know Agincourt, but Their Maps Ignore Toronto”: A Quick History of The Agincourt Magnetic Observatory

When one thinks of the history of Scarborough, the intersection of Midland Avenue and the 401 might not be the first thought. However, a site that once stood there for more the half the 20th century literally put the local community on the international scientific map. This was the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory.

Aerial image of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, 1957.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The story of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory begins not in Scarborough, but on the grounds of King’s College in downtown Toronto in 1840. The school became the University of Toronto in 1850. Contrary to the dense district of today, the university was then sparsely populated – in other words, perfect conditions to minimize interference. The University granted 2.5 acres for a site that was located on the southwest side of today’s King’s College Circle.

“The Old Toronto Observatory” painted by William Armstrong, 1852.
Source: University of Toronto Archives
Boulton Atlas, 1858.
Source: Goad’s Toronto

The Globe described the laboratory:

“The first observatory was of logs, rough cast on the outside and plastered on the inside; it was completed during the summer of 1840 and observations were begun in September.”

The Globe, October 1, 1898
University of Toronto Campus Map, 1859.
Source: University of Toronto Archives

The second observatory was built in the autumn of 1853, replacing the wooden observatory on the same site. It was built of stone and the nails and fastenings were of copper and zinc.

The Toronto Observatory as seen looking south from University College, 1857.
Source: Toronto Public Library.
Dominion of Canada Observatory, 1880s.
Source: University of Toronto Archives

In 1892, Toronto’s growing infrastructure began to spell the beginning of the end for the observatory. To be sure, as early as 1876, new structures on the university grounds began to impact the observatory, but it was nothing like the electric railway to come. Streetcars were electrified, first beginning with the Church Street line opened on August 17, 1892, and then the College Street line only steps from the building. Instead of recording magnetic changes, the observatory recorded the starting and stoppings of the trolleys. In 1896, Sir Frederick Stupart, the director at the observatory, took up the issue with the government. There would be no action until a report was received from a committee of meteorologists visiting from England that year. This report recommended the centre be moved far away — to Scarborough.

Goad’s Fire Insurance Map, 1889.
Source: Goad’s Toronto.

The observatory was relocated just south of the Agincourt Village centre at the current intersection of Midland Avenue and Sheppard Avenue where a Presbyterian Church and nearby Canadian National and Canadian Pacific stations stood. It was perfect in that no electric railway lines existed – at least not in seven miles and there was little prospect of any lines for many years (the railway did not interfere either). The observatory stood in a 4-acre field at the north end of the southern half of lot 16 (Midland Avenue) and Concession II (Ellesmere Avenue), belonging to the Forfar family. It was constructed over the summer of 1898 and opened in September. The first observations were made on September 10 and by the end of the month, all instruments had been moved from Toronto to the new site.

Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916.
Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library
Aerial image of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, 1947.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

This Observatory was described in The Globe:

“…[It] consists of two parts, a circular stone collar nineteen feet in diameter, the walls two feet in thickness, the floor concrete and the roof covered with felt and gravel, in which on stone piers sunk in concrete to a depth of six feet below the floor are place the self-recording photographic instruments, namely, the declinometer for recording changes in the direction of the magnetic needle and the bifilar and vertical force instrument, for registering respectively changes in the horizontal and vertical components of the earth’s magnetism: above ground and connected with the cellar by a flight of steps is an erection which divided into two portions, in the larger of which absolute magnetic determinations will be made, piers being provided on which to place the necessary instruments, and an adjustable opening on the roof for transit work – and the smaller, an office, which will be heated by a copper stove.”

The Globe, October 1, 1898
The Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, The Globe and Mail, November 26, 1952.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives
Basement of Magnetic Building, Agincourt, early 20th Century.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The old Toronto Observatory continued to serve as the central office of the Dominion Meteorological Service. All photographic records from Agincourt were sent there for development. It also conducted astronomical studies. In 1908, the observatory was dismantled to accommodate an extension to King’s College Circle and possibly a new physics building. It was reconstructed brick by brick near Hart House, where it stands today as a students’ union. Some installations stand near its former location between Convocation Hall and the Sandford Fleming Building.

Convocation Hall – East side and Old Observatory, 1907.
Source: University of Toronto Archives
Goad’s Fire Insurance Map, 1930.
Source: University of Toronto Archives
Louis B. Stewart Observatory (UTSU), 12 Hart House Circle, 1980s or 1990s.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

In 1899, severe earthquakes in Alaska were recorded at the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory. In 1903, the observatory recorded the largest magnetic storm on October 30 and 31, which Director Stupart “intimately” connected sunspots and magnetic disturbances on earth. The centre recorded more such magnetic storms attributed to sun sports on Aug 8, 1917. The Agincourt labs were useful in World War II against Germany for “calibration of master compasses and other apparatuses”.

The Toronto Daily Star, September 12, 1917
Source: Toronto Star Archives.

The Globe and Mail, November 26, 1952.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives

The significance of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory and its activities were very well documented and even world-renowned. In 1919, the Observatory was threatened by a proposed Toronto to Port Perry Hydro Radial, which had officials looking for a new site where electricity would not penetrate that observatory’s environment. It was of significant alarm as the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory was one of two of its kind in Canada and by far the more important of the pair. In 1957, a contagion of scientists from around the world visited Agincourt as a part of some sessions by the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics held at the University of Toronto. They asserted that they knew Agincourt better than Toronto as the village appeared in “thousands of International Geophysical maps” around the world.

Despite its importance, city growth once again spelled the end for the site. Meeting a similar fate to the Toronto Observatory seventy years before, the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory closed in March 1969. In the 1950s, Highway 401 was constructed next to the laboratory. Farms adjacent to the observatory began to turn into housing. Factories were built on either side of the property in the 1960s. On July 1, 1968, a new observatory opened in Ottawa. By 1971, the Agincourt structures were gone completely. Today, government offices stand in its place, hiding the great landmark once housed there.

Aerial image of recently demolished Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, 1971.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Site of Agincourt Magnetic Observatory, 2022.
Source: Google Maps

Works Referenced

“Astronomical Conversation.” The Globe, 21 Jan. 1903, p. 12.

“Chilly Weather.” The Globe, 14 Dec. 1898, p. 2.

Dobson, Jack. “Magnetic Observatory One of Canada’s First.” The Globe and Mail, 26 Nov. 1952, p. 3.

Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada. “Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada.” Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Hazards Information Service, Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada, 1 Mar. 2019, https://www.geomag.nrcan.gc.ca/obs/ott-en.php.

“Heritage of 315 Bloor Street West.” Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, 28 June 2018, https://munkschool.utoronto.ca/at-the-observatory/.

“Know Agincourt But Their Maps Ignore Toronto.” The Globe and Mail, 12 Sept. 1957, p. 7.

“The Mounted Police.” The Globe, 7 Mar. 1900, p. 9.

“The New Observatory at Agincourt.” The Globe, 12 Dec. 1898, p. 2.

“The New Observatory.” The Globe, 1 Oct. 1898, p. 5.

“New Radial Line Will Compel Removal of Observatory.” The Globe, 2 Apr. 1919, p. 9.

“Safe From Wires.” The Evening Star, 27 Sept. 1898, p. 1.

“The Spots on the Sun.” The Globe, 6 Nov. 1903, p. 7.

“Studying Magnetic Storms By Diagram.” The Toronto Daily Star, 12 Sept. 1917, p. 2.

“To Remove Observatory.” The Globe, 1 May 1906, p. 14.

“Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Oct. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Magnetic_and_Meteorological_Observatory.

Torontoist. “Historicist: The Toronto Magnetic Observatory.” Torontoist, 13 Oct. 2012, https://torontoist.com/2012/10/historicist-the-toronto-magnetic-observatory/.

“University of Toronto.” Google Books, Google, https://books.google.ca/books?id=kZ61LfzVhJkC&pg=PA353&lpg=PA353&dq=Agincourt%2BMagnetic%2BObservatory%2Bdemolished&source=bl&ots=J5xhggL2Kp&sig=ACfU3U3shyLGTOksTCogpU3LkY1g-zYbSA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjL3KiDx_31AhVZkYkEHcsiDGIQ6AF6BAgPEAM#v=onepage&q=Agincourt%20Magnetic%20Observatory%20demolished&f=false.

“University of Toronto: An Architectural Tour (the Campus Guide) 2nd Edition.” Google Books, Google, https://books.google.ca/books?id=ZTKODwAAQBAJ&pg=PA66&lpg=PA66&dq=toronto%2Bmagnetic%2Bobservatory%2Bking%27s%2Bcollege%2Bcircle&source=bl&ots=T4jfUxams4&sig=ACfU3U0gAQKK9gQj9HbunIK0Z4YFwkdfpQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi3iI682_31AhWEk4kEHXmTBDEQ6AF6BAhOEAM#v=onepage&q=toronto%20magnetic%20observatory%20king’s%20college%20circle&f=false.

“World Weather.” The Globe and Mail, 26 Nov. 1952, p. 3.

“A World-Shaking Earthquake.” The Globe, 27 Sept. 1899, p. 8.


Two Amazing Rooftop Views of Toronto’s The Ward


In the early 1900s, St. John’s Ward or familiarly just ‘The Ward’ was a dense, immigrant enclave in the central core of the City of Toronto. The neighbourhood was roughly bound by Queen Street, College Street, Yonge Street, and University Avenue, and housed some of the city’s first Black, Jewish, Chinese, Irish, and Italian colonies. Two early 20th-century rooftop photos provide interesting overhead views of the physical makeup of the district.

The first rooftop view was taken in 1920 by iconic Toronto photographer William James from the top of the Alexandra Palace Apartments, formerly located at 184 University Avenue opposite the terminus of Gerrard Street West on the edge of The Ward.

The southeasterly scene below and far beyond the Alexandra Palace Apartments is fascinating. In the foreground is a great visualization of University Avenue’s history as two separate streets. Among the recognizable landmarks are Old City Hall and the T. Eaton Co. factory complex in the background (more on this further down), the Hester How School at centre-left, the Presto-O-Lite factory and the Toronto House of Industry at centre, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, First Baptist Church, and Maclean Publishing Co factories at centre-right. Interspersed is a dense grid of low-rise housing and other structures which ultimately came to define The Ward.

Looking southeast from University Avenue, 1920. Source: City of Toronto Archives. Annotations by Bob Georgiou.

There was another photograph also taken by James from the Alexandra Apartments, this one dated to “circa 1920”. Although generally quite similar, noticeable differences exist between this and the 1920 photo, most visibly that the latter is a much broader view of the same general area of The Ward.

Looking southeast from University Avenue, c 1920. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

While the date of the zoomed-in image is approximate, it almost certainly precedes 1920. The main differences between this and the 1920 photo is the lack of the Prest-O-Lite Factory (built 1917) and the northernmost Eaton’s factories (also built 1917). The most important detail, however, is the Eaton’s Annex building, which appears under construction. The store opened in 1913, which likely dates the image to 1912 or 1913.

The Alexandra Palace Apartments (also simply called the ‘Alexandra Apartments’, ‘The Alexandra Palace’, or ‘The Palace’) was a 7-storey, luxury apartment building constructed in 1904 during Toronto’s first apartment building boom, meaning it was one of the first of its kind in the city. The architect was the prolific George W. Gouinlock, who also designed the Temple Building. Famous residents included tycoon E.P. Taylor and Ontario Hydro founder Sir Adam Beck (the old Ontario Hydro Headquarters was directly north of the apartment). It is said that residents moved into the Palace to retire.

Alexandra Palace Apartments, No. 184-188 University Avenue (erected 1909), 1919. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

In the 1920s, the Palace went from apartment house to apartment hotel with a dining room already in its offerings. In the 1940s, the building was slated to become a nurses’ residence for Sick Children’s Hospital. By the 1950s, the building ceased to be a residence and was heavily remodelled to be a modern office building, losing much of its original exterior features. In 1968, the Alexandra Apartments building was demolished.

Postcard of The Alexandra, Queen’s Park Avenue, Toronto, Canada’s Finest Apartment House, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library.
Alexandra Apartments, University Avenue, west side, between Elm & Orde Streets, 1954. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The second rooftop photograph comes from the top of an Eaton’s factory tower once located adjacent to the Church of the Holy Trinity. Like the Alexandra Apartments picture, it was taken by William James. It is dated “circa 1910.”

The view is looking northwesterly over The Ward and has several common landmarks with the 1920 Alexandra Apartments image, such as Toronto House of Industry, the Hester How School, and the Grace Church. In the foreground along Bay Street (at the time called Terauley Street) and Dundas Street (Agnes Street) are the Terauley Street Synagogue, the Lyric Yiddish Theatre, and Police Station #2 (which appears to have officers in its yard). As with The Palace image, there are also the tightly packed streets of tiny residences, many undoubtedly housing men and women who were employed by Eaton’s. Finally, the distinctive rooflines of Queen’s Park and Toronto General Hospital loom far in the distance (with the Alexandra Apartments somewhere nearby).

Looking north from top of Eaton’s factory, c 1910. Source: City of Toronto Archives. Annotations by Bob Georgiou.

The Eaton’s factory itself where James captured the image was a 12-storey structure located adjacent to the Church of The Holy Trinity. It was built around 1910 in a period when the Eaton’s footprint in the area expanded from a single store at 190 Yonge Street in 1883 to encompass at least half the block between Yonge, Bay, Queen and Dundas Streets by 1920. The factory was demolished in the 1970s when other Eaton’s factories and warehouses were razed in part to make way for the Eaton Centre (The Eaton’s Annex store referenced earlier was destroyed by fire in 1977).

T. Eaton Company factory from Louisa Street, 1910. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
The Eaton’s store, the Eaton’s Annex, mail order facilities and factories in Toronto, at Yonge and Queen Streets, in 1920. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Eaton’s image is dated “circa 1910”, which is likely accurate as it is very comparable to the “circa 1920, but likely 1912-3” Alexandra Apartments photo. The Prest-O-Lite factory does not appear in the image, thus 1910-1917 is a fair timeframe.

T. Eaton factory from Louisa Street, c 1920. Note the addition of the north tower (1920). Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Today, if the two William James rooftop photos were recreated, they would be taken from Mount Sanai Hospital and the Bell Trinity Square office building, respectively. Ironically, the Alexandra Apartments and the Eaton’s factory were both constructed and demolished in similar periods: the 1900s to 1910s and 1960s to 1970s. The dwellings, houses of worship, and businesses of The Ward also largely disappeared by the 1950s as lands were expropriated for various projects. The district continued to change since then until the present-day, making these century-old views a far cry to today’s world.

A modern view of the area formerly known as The Ward, 2021. The sites of The Alexandra Apartments and Eaton’s factory are circled. Source: Google Maps.

Fifty Years Since The Fire: Memories of The Tam

The Tam and its golf and country club was a beloved local Toronto landmark in Agincourt and Scarborough, which served not only as a hub of sporting activity for golf, hockey, skating, and curling, but also as a social gathering place.

October 3rd, 2021 marks 50 years since a fire that devastated the recreation centre of the Tam O’Shanter Golf, Curling, and Skating Club.

The historical events of the fire and preceded and proceeded it have been documented, but what stands out are the associated memories by its patrons. Here are some of them:

“The thing about the Tam that made it so beloved was that it was a public club that you could pay as you play. You could join a membership but you could also swim and picnic all day for 25 cents. Agincourt in those days was so rural but kids could roam safely all the over the farm lanes and village streets back in the day when you had to be in by dark. The golf course “Newton’s” as Johnny Evelyn the golf pro used to call them, were everywhere collecting golf balls, working in the pro shop, caddying and dreaming of being a golfer. So many were characters in their own right. Every Saturday there would be 3 or 4 weddings which my Dad [Alastair “Big Al”] oversaw ( in either his kilt or his dinner suit/ tux) in addition to all the other sports, banquets and bonspiels so it was always a mad house of get it ready, run it, tear it down set up for the next one. My Mum [Elizabeth “Libby”] did flowers, booked the waitresses and bartenders. In the early days she would sit at the door and take tickets. On New Years eve 1955 my Dad was in a pickle because my Mum was the event hostess and called him just before it was to start saying too bad I’m in labour… and the joke goes he asked her if she could just “hold it for a few hours”.”

“Another thought that will stir up memories is that the Tam had the best toboggan hill anywhere !!! Super steep and fast and the best part there was the creek at the bottom. At one time or another we all went for a dunk and had to walk home as total icicles when winter was real winter. No parents , we were all free range. Across the road was Patterson’s lane between old farmsteads and it was a short cut back to the post war subdivisions that had sprung up around the schools (Agincourt public and Collegiate/ North Agincourt PS. and others). My mum says you should ask for memories of people who were married at the Tam … lots of great tales I’m sure.”

“The golf ball was right at the corner of Kennedy Rd and Sheppard. My mum told me someone cut it down as a Halloween prank and it was never re-erected.”

Kandie Learmonth

The following Tam promotional material are by the Peterborough Post Card Co. and Canadian Post Card Co, as provided by Kandie Learmonth.

The following photos are courtesy the Toronto Telegram, as provided by Kandie Learmonth.

Bill Sparkhall in front of aerial view of The Tam
Clan snackbar and dining room
Curling lounge, Mike Housey (2nd Left) and my dad Alastair (3rd Left)
The Golf ball with William Sparkhall and my dad Alaistair

“I grew up on Birchmount Road between Shephard and Finch in the late 50s to about mid 60s.  Attended L’Amoreaux Public School and later started high school at Sir John A MacDonald before having to move from Birchmount due to a subdivision being built in place of our nice open fields …..  One house down with a field in between was a tee-off for the Tam O’Shanter.  Many weekends (especially during the summer) were spent either being a caddy for the golfers up to the next hole, finding lost golf balls in the field (and at times pretending we didn’t see them and standing on them until golfer gave up looking), then taking those same balls and putting them into the ball washer and reselling them to the next set of golfers.  Remember specifically one weekend raising an extra $10 so my best friend and I could go to the CNE (when you could survive on $10/day and free food at the food building).  There was a little house that I believe was part of Tam O’Shanter at this Tee-off, and was rented out to various families over the years and an apple orchard right next to this.  We’d climb the trees, pick the apples (even if green, we’d take a salt shaker to eat them).   Not too far down from that was a creek that ran under Birchmount where I would take pickle jars and collect tadpoles and bring home and watch them develop.  Also after a rain I’d go out onto road and collect the tiny little toads that would come out.  Once at the creek I caught a snapping turtle, brought it home and kept in our sub-pump hole in basement until it bit me and I took it back.  Right down the back of my house was a small ‘forest’ which we used sometimes to go over to the Tam to go swimming, etc.   I took a pickle jar down to this ‘forest’ one day and caught a bat which was hanging upside down on a branch, and brought it home.  That was the first time I saw my mother’s hair stand straight up.  She made my brother return it.  I also picked my mother a bouquet of Trilliums and she nearly fainted.  She rushed me in the door to make sure no one saw me.  Apparently was not supposed to pick this type of flower.  LOL   At the Tam we would go swimming regularly, I joined a bowling group there one year.   I remember they had, I believe, two St. Bernard dogs (one being named Tammy) who regularly came over to our tee-off on Birchmount with the workers when they came to clean up.”

Pat Woodcock (nee Everingham)

Tam O Shanter played a big part in my life.  I was a junior member there in the early sixties and learned most of my game.  My dad was a real estate salesman and he would drop me off at 8am.  He would return as late as 9pm and John Evelyn the pro or Doug Day the assistant would tell him where I could be found..usually with my “shag bag” around the third green where I practiced chipping till dark.

When the hockey school was on I used to have lunch with Peter Mahovolich and Kent Douglas.  Can you imagine what a thrill it was for a 11, 12, and 13 year old boy to lunch with those guys.

I had a friend who was three years older than I was and he worked on the course.  He met a figure skater there and they have now been married over 50 years!

I remember the fire.  I parked on a hill overlooking the property and watched part of my youth disappear.  It was very sad.

Dave Beaven

A hole in one at the Tam O’Shanter, 1961
Courtesy: Dave Beaven

Often the Tam burned down a new restaurant went there. It was called Zum Kloster Keller. I don’t think it’s still there. In October of 1978 I was married from that restaurant. My dad was the chef there. It was emotional reading all the posts. I grew up from aged 10 in the Warden and Huntingwood area. Went to Holy Spirit then Leacock. My brothers and I were air cadets at the portable on the Leacock parking lot. Moved to birchmount and Shepherd in later high school. Thanks for the post and the memories

Diane E Webb

For more information and memories on the Tam O’Shanter, read here.

Do you have a memory to share? Leave a comment below or email bob@scenesto.com.

The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of The Tam!

The following article originally appeared in the 2019 Volume 114 Annual Publication of the York Pioneer and Historical Society. It has been slightly edited and altered.

This work grew out of a 2016 walkabout article I wrote (to date, the most engaging piece I have produced) and a 2018 Jane’s Walk I led, both in efforts of telling the story of this historical Scarborough landmark. It was also inspired by several posts in the Scarborough, Looking Back… Facebook Group which highlights fond memories of The Tam and its fire.

If you have recollection of the old Tam O’Shanter Golf Club, please let me know or leave a comment below!

The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of The Tam!

By Bob Georgiou

The afternoon of October 3, 1971 was rough for the beloved Tam O’Shanter Golf, Curling, and Skating Club in Agincourt. On that day, the recreation centre of the Scarborough landmark burned to the ground.

The fire broke out around 4:30pm in the lounge of the curling complex after hockey mats inexplicably erupted in flames. The fire swept quickly through the building, feeding on the varnished woodwork. By 4:40pm, the complex was completely enveloped in flames.

Toronto Daily Star, Nov 4, 1971

Upwards of 10,000 people converged on the smoldering building, reported the Globe and Mail and Toronto Daily Star. Many of them arrived from afar, following the smoke trail. Ontario Police blocked off the area around Kennedy Road and Sheppard Avenue to allow emergency vehicles to reach the site. Firefighters battled the flames – but to no avail. Spectators watched from the parking lot of the recently -opened Agincourt Mall as the centre’s characteristic arches collapsed into the rubble.

The damage was devastating. The recreation complex was gone. Long-time Tam O’Shanter owner William G. Sparkhall vowed that day to rebuild the complex within a year, stating it would be better than the wooden construction that made it so vulnerable against the merciless embers. “I’ve spent a lifetime building this club up and I’m not going to stop now,” Sparkwell declared. “It cost me $1.5 million to build it and it will probably cost me $2.5 million to rebuild it.” The loss was otherwise estimated at $2 million.

Tam O’Shanter Fire, 1917. Credit: Toronto Public Library

There were fortunately no casualties on that hot October day. Staff had ushered to safety all two hundred children taking figure skating lessons. Still, the event called into question the future of the club’s hockey and curling operations, which hosted hockey league matches, a prominent hockey school, and one of the best curling facilities in Ontario and Canada.

The life of ‘the Tam’ began in 1933 when George Sparkhall, William’s father, purchased a 160-acre cattle farm on the south half of lot 29 concession 3, now the east side of Kennedy Road north of Sheppard Avenue. Using a barn as a clubhouse, Sparkhall turned the lot into a 104-acre pay-as-you-play golf course, calling it ‘Meadowbrook’, presumably referring to the meandering west branch of the Highland Creek situated in its southern end.

Globe & Mail, June 30, 1937

Globe & Mail, July 11, 1938

In the following years, the golf and country club served as social gathering point for the area, hosting banquets, weddings, dances, and other events such as the 1948 Easter party to kick off a $100,000 campaign for a new North Scarboro Memorial Centre.

In 1947, the Tam applied for a dining room and a lounge liquor serving license, under the recently enacted Liquor License Act, 1946. Under the provisions of the new law, residents could protest an application made within their district. A group of Agincourt residents did just that when 400 of them petitioned to oppose the Tam O’Shanter application, explaining that there had never been a need for the sale of beer in the village, the club house was used by teenagers for parties, and as the Tam was located on two major streets, the license would encourage drinking and driving. Owner William Sparkhall answered that the country club was actually outside the district’s borders and the application was only meant to sell beer to members.

Dance at Tam O’Shanter Boys Club, November 15, 1956. Credit: Toronto Archives

Over the years, the younger Sparkhall, who purchased the golf course from his father in 1938 and renamed it Tam O’Shanter, undertook several upgrades to the property, and added an adjacent lot bordering Birchmount Road. In 1954, the club improved several holes in its 18-hole course, and upgraded its clubhouse and dining room. Two summers later, members and visitors had access to the new and popular Emerald Pool.

Toronto Daily Star July 31, 1956

In 1958, a game-changing addition came in the form of a 12-sheet curling rink. The modernist structure was constructed of fieldstone and housed spectators’ galleries behind three four-sheet sections. It was the “largest in Canada devoted entirely to curling”. The Globe and Mail boasted that even before construction had completed, the club already had a “considerable response to a membership campaign” for new curlers. At this time, the main clubhouse added bowling alleys, two dance floors, two dining areas, and three lounges. Eight more curling sheets followed in 1961. The following year, the Tam could pride itself on “a rink six inches wider than that of Maple Leaf Gardens.” Together, the improvements made the Tam into a formidable and beloved social, sporting, and recreational venue.

Globe & Mail, Feb 26, 1958

While Sparkhall vowed golf would continue as usual after the fire (and indeed it reopened the next day and the following season), most of the club’s functions were severely compromised. A 3-day Oktoberfest scheduled to take place on the Tam grounds that weekend was shortened to a 1-day event at a different venue. Worse, however, the upcoming hockey season was greatly affected by the lack of a rink. The Wexford Hockey Association, whose teams played out of the Tam O’Shanter Arena, scrambled to find other facilities to host its games. North York Mayor Basil Hall elected to bring the matter to Metro Regional Council to see if it could offer assistance in relocating games.

Bruce and Margaret Hyland had to consider their next steps, too. The 5-time Olympic coaches — legendary figures in Canadian skating — ran a popular summer hockey school and the Canada Skating Club at the Tam. The hockey school was one of the largest in the world; Canadian hockey greats Frank and Peter Mahovlich, Kent Douglas, Paul Henderson, and Eddie Shack practiced at Tam O’Shanter Arena. The skating school was supposed to start a day after the fire. By December 1971 though, the Hylands announced initial plans for a $2 million arena built “on four acres of land between Victoria Park Avenue and Don Mills Road, just south of Finch Avenue.” It would be called the Hyland Ice Skating Centre.

1969 Toronto City Directory of Kennedy Road. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The club’s 300 curling members elected to remain together, and used membership dues to lease space offered by other clubs in the Toronto area. In June 1972, officials at the Tam-Heather curling club announced they were ready to resume their activities in October of that year. They hoped a new sports complex would be ready by the first anniversary of the fire at Tam O’Shanter.

Interestingly, despite William Sparkhall’s declaration to have the recreation centre up and running in 1972, he – under the Tam-Land Estates Ltd. banner – applied shortly after the fire to rezone the 118-acre golf course to accommodate residential and commercial enterprises. The golf course at the time was zoned for agriculture in its western half and recreation in its eastern half. Tam-Land Estates planned to build a housing and high-rise development on the property. Community opposition, led by future Scarborough Controller and Mayor Joyce Trimmer, successfully fought to keep the area as open public space, harnessing the power of Trimmer’s adamant and ultimately effective letter writing campaign.

These debates around the future of the Tam O’Shanter site also coincided with Metro Parks Commissioner Thomas Thompson’s desire to acquire more parkland for Metro Toronto. The events following Hurricane Hazel in 1954 led the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA) to acquire flood valleys that would push Metro’s parkland to nearly 7,000 acres. However, outside of ravine lands, the region was in short supply of recreation lands to service its expected growth. A potential solution was the acquisition and transformation of private golf courses as they became available.

In what the Globe And Mail called “a bold step toward parks’, Metro Parks Committee allotted $5 million dollars in Metro Council’s 1972 budget to acquire the 165-acre York Downs Golf Course in the Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue area and the 118-acre Tam O’Shanter Golf Club in Scarborough. The amount was more than double what Metro spent on parkland acquisition in the previous 10 years. A special subcommittee consisting of Metro Chair Albert Campbell, North York Mayor Basil Hall, Scarborough Mayor Robert White, Metro Parks Commissioner T.W. Thompson, and Metro Planning Commissioner Wojctech Wronski also pushed back Sparkhall’s redevelopment proposal indefinitely so that it could study and report on the possibility of acquiring Tam O’Shanter and York Downs.

With news of the Tam’s availability as potential park space, decision-makers and media urged the purchase. As one Toronto Star editorial put it, Metro Council had to “grab the chance for green space”. It argued that Tam O’Shanter was parkland “in a crowded area” and “there was no obvious recreational land coming on the market nearby.” New Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey called the chance “a golden opportunity that won’t come again”. Another positive was it would not require the demolition of any homes, which was notable because Thomas Thompson’s Metro Parks Committee was also recommending the demolition of 254 houses on the Toronto Islands to create more parkland.

With the sub-committee’s final decision to ultimately buy the course, questions in 1973 revolved around who would pay, how they would pay, and how much they would pay. Metro had $3.5 million budgeted for parks for the next five years; if it took a gander on Tam, it could affect its ability to acquire other parks. Scarborough Controller Karl Mallette added that Scarborough taxpayers could “easily afford” a raise on taxes to pay for new parkland and facilities, such as the new park at Tam O’Shanter. In February of that year, Campbell announced a proposal of a three-way agreement which would see the Ontario government cover half the course’s costs and Metro and Scarborough covering a quarter each. The same formula was used to purchase the York Downs Course. An unknown factor was Tam-Land Estates’ asking price, which was reportedly between $12,000 to $100,000 an acre. In September 1973, the price was eventually set at $10.8 million, a number that had East York Mayor Willis Blair suspecting was too rich. However, two different appraisals valued the land at $10.6 million and $11 million.

Aerial view of the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, 1975. Bridges that formerly crossed the West Highland Creek were removed, possibly as the course was awaiting reorganization.

Meanwhile, the Tam’s curling club and hockey and skating schools happily found new homes. Boasting a membership of 540 and set to reach capacity of 640 by the start of the following season, the Tam-Heather Curling Club opened its new eight-sheet, $500,000 complex in March 1973 at Morningside Avenue and Highway 401. Also in 1973, Bruce and Margaret Hyland successfully opened Metropolitan Ice Skating School (later Centre Ice) on Victoria Park Avenue. The complex had three ice surfaces, one of which Mr. Hyland operated a hockey school.

Finally, two years after the fire that devastated the Tam, officials met in Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey’s office to formalize the purchase of Tam O’Shanter Golf Club. On November 10, 1973, William Sparkhall, president of Tam Land Estates, accepted two cheques totalling $10,825,000 for the 118-acre golf course from Godfrey, Education Minister Thomas Wells, Scarborough Mayor Paul Cosgrove, and Fred Wade, chairman of the MTRCA. Tam-Land Estates retained some land for its own redevelopment purposes. With the purchase of Tam and York Downs, Metro Parks also recommended the creation of an inventory of other private courses with the goal of purchasing them in the future. The MTRCA would officially own Tam O’Shanter, but Metro Parks would oversee it.

Following the acquisition, several outlying details remained about the function and form of the new Tam O’Shanter. Scarborough Council disagreed with Metro about the property’s apparent decided future as a municipal golf course. The borough understood that the option was open for it to become a park, and even though discussions during negotiations mentioned that Tam O’Shanter could either continue as a golf course or become a park or a mixture of the two, there was no formal resolution. Wells, the Progressive Conservative representative of Scarborough North, the provincial riding housing Tam O’Shanter, asserted in a February 1973 edition of the Globe and Mail, “It is essential that this site be retained as open space but not necessarily as an 18-hole golf course.” Despite the disagreement, new Metro Committee Parks Commissioner Robert Bundy said the site was “well located for a golf course” and Tam O’Shanter remained a public course – possibly because it was one of the only courses in the east end of Metro Toronto.

The golf course required major upgrades, however. While minor improvements kept the golf club operational through the 1970s, the quality of the greens, which required a new irrigation system, was so poor that Metro Parks lowered its fees in 1975 by 50 cents. With the damage to and the eventual demolition of the old Tam complex in the years after the purchase, the course also required a new clubhouse. In the first half of the 1980s, Tam O’Shanter underwent $800,000 worth of upgrades to update and reconfigure its course with a new entrance of Birchmount Road. Its new clubhouse opened on May 7, 1982.

Aerial, 1983. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

In 1985, Sparkhall and Co. – seemingly the new banner of Tam-Lands Estates Limited – looked to redevelop the land south of the course and north of Agincourt Mall. It proposed, and was allowed to build “1000 apartments, 23,225 square metres (250,000 square feet) of offices, up to 6,040 metres (65,000 square feet) of commercial use, libraries, day nursey, and educational facilities on 6.16 hectares (15.23 acres) of land on Kennedy north of Bonis [Avenue].”

Just as there had been opposition in 1971, residents of Bonis Avenue mobilized to fight the proposal. The community assembled a petition of 500 names and packed the Scarborough Council chambers in March 1985 to voice disapproval of their neighbourhood becoming “a mini-downtown.” Along with the scale of the development, another sticking point was the proposed extension of Bonis, which was at the time a dead-end street running east from Birchmount Road, stopping at the old lot border. The plan called for its lengthening to connect with Cardwell Avenue at Kennedy Road. Residents, including Controller Joyce Trimmer (who beat out former Controller Karl Malette in the 1974 election), argued that the street would only serve as a high-speed detour for Sheppard Avenue traffic. After more consultations, the project did not go through.

Plans for development along Bonis Avenue surfaced again in 1988, this time spearheaded by Tridel Corporation. The new proposal involved “four 24-storey condo towers with a total of 1,112 units, a five-story building with 7,961 square metres of office space, a one-story building with 5,580 square metres of retail space, and two-storey, 1953-square metre public library.” The inclusion of a library was notable because a 1977 plan suggested the erection of a much-needed district library on a portion of the Tam O’Shanter property turned over to Scarborough for municipal parkland. This was opposed by Trimmer and was ultimately nixed by Metro planners.

Despite being a slightly more scaled back version of the Sparkhall and Co. project, Tridel Corp. faced similar challenges and objections as its predecessor. As was the case three years ago, the property, zoned for institutional and recreational use, would have to be rezoned. Planning and traffic studies again recommended an extension of Bonis Avenue. Opponents said the development had double the amount of allowed units. The Highland Heights Community Association warned the street would become a ‘traffic nightmare’, which would bring in 1,000 cars in the evening rush hour (Tridel contended 335 cars). Even with the opposition, calls for the developer to scrap the project largely went unheard.

In October 1988, despite last minute objections, Scarborough council approved the $500-million dollar project behind Agincourt Mall. It was the second major condo project approved in the span of a month in the borough. On September 6, Council approved $1.5 billion, 2,420-unit development – also by Tridel – at the Scarborough Civic Centre.

As a part of the Agincourt deal, Scarborough also received a 1,200-square-metre parcel of land worth more than $300,000 for a $4.5 million library. Tridel also gifted $500,000 for its construction as well as $1.6 million for day care, park development and landscaping. The new Agincourt Library branch opened in 1991 on Bonis, moving from Agincourt Mall and continuing a legacy dating back to 1918.

Also in 1991, ‘The Greens at Tam O’Shanter’, the first tower in the phased project, opened. Described by a 1989 Toronto Star ad as “a magnificent collection of country club style residences overlooking the manicured greens and fairways of the renowned Tam O’Shanter Golf course in Scarborough”, it is a 24-storey construction with “211 one, two and three bedroom suites – many of which open up onto private terraces” which “range from 787 square feet to 1,782 square feet. Its marketing harnessed “the royal and ancient” tradition of golf as it was played on old Scottish courses like St. Andrews and Leith Links, when the game “was the sport of kings”. Although it did not do so in the end, the advertisement could have also referenced the 50+ year history of golf at Tam O’Shanter.

Toronto Star, Oct 7, 1989

The next parts of the Tridel complex – 28 brownstone townhouses and 3 more 24-storey condos – would open over the next twenty years. One of the condos – 1998’s “The Highlands at Tam O’Shanter” at 228 Bonis Avenue – roughly occupies the former site of the Tam’s famed clubhouse and recreation centre.

Today, the Tam O’Shanter Golf Clube operates an 18-hole, Par 72 course from mid-April to mid-November.

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

The 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) opened its doors at 520 Oxford Street West in London. The date was November 11, 1968. The man in charge of that operation and growing McDonald’s in Canada was George Cohon. He opened another locale at 344 Queen Street East in Brampton in the same year, which was the first in the Greater Toronto Area. In 1971, Western and Eastern Canada operations merged to create McDonald’s Canada with Cohon at the helm.

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 article explained the 1960s had seen a buzz around fast food but that had slowed by the end of the decade as land, food, and construction costs rose and the market was over-saturated with eateries. It also went into detail about the specific criteria of fast food, as if the concept was not fully developed. With competitor Burger King opening their first Toronto restaurant a year after McDonald’s and now defunct Burger Chef giving both a real run for consumer dollars, a new era was on the way.
The look of the McDonald’s Canada restaurants mirrored their American counterparts. Buildings were usually one storey, highlighted architecturally with two golden arches. Following the drive-in model, parking spaces surrounded the structure and a large, recognizable ‘M’ sign stood at the end of the driveway. However, a key difference with Canadian franchises was more space to eat meals inside the diner. As the 1970s progressed, McDonald’s restaurants came to be more sit-down eateries.

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.

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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.