Category Archives: Neighbourhoods

The History of College Street and University Avenue

University Avenue and College Street have obvious scholarly connotations. Although the main landmark where these two streets intersect is a political institution, what once stood at the site gives us a fascinating insight into their history, including the lost streets within them.

Aerial of University Avenue and College Street, 2020. Credit: Google Maps.

A New University

In 1827, John Strachan, the archdeacon of the Town of York, was looking for a university for the new colonial settlement. After visiting England, he received a charter for a new school, naming it King’s College, in honour of the monarch of the time. About 150 acres of land was acquired, consisting of park lots 13, 12, and 11 of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s land division system.

1827 Chewett Plan of the Town of York. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The assembled land came via three prominent men of early colonial Toronto — D’arcy Boulton (lot 13), Justice William Dummer Powell (lot 12), and John Elmsley (lot 11) — and roughly stretched from today’s Beverley Street to Bay Street and College Street to Bloor Street.

York commercial directory, street guide, and register, 1833-4 : with almanack and calendar for 1834. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1834 Chewett City of Toronto and Liberties. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The College Avenue

Along with that 150 acres, two private paths were also laid out: one extending from the property to Lot (later Queen Street) — known as The Queen Street Avenue in news articles and maps — and the other to Yonge Street — known as The Yonge Street Avenue. Collectively, these were known as The College Avenue.

City of Toronto in 1834 by E.G.A. Foster ca. 1934. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Famed architect John Howard was charged with the designing the campus for the new King’s College. The palatial-like structure was intended to evoke grandure. Although his design was ultimately not used, Howard contributed to the would-be campus in 1832 with entrance gates and lodges at Queen Street, controlling access to the university property. Gates were also installed at Yonge Street in 1842 but a gatehouse did not go up until 1852. It is unclear if there were barriers on the western end of the Yonge Street Avenue near modern-day Beverley Street.

King’s College (Proposed), 1835. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, University Ave., n. side of Queen St. W., 1870. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, University Ave., n. side, Queen St. W.; lodge, n.w. corner Queen St. & University Ave., 1885. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, College St., w. side of Yonge St., 1875. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The End of King’s College & the new University of Toronto

King’s College finally opened in 1843, although Thomas Young rather than John Howard was responsible for the final design. This was the eastern wing of what was intended to be a larger structure. The building was used as a residence with classes being held on Front Street. Much debate plagued the university specifically on whether it should be religiously affiliated.

King’s College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings., circa 1850s. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The only-five-year-old structure shut its doors in 1848. The following year, King’s College was no more, becoming the University of Toronto on January 1st, 1850. In the following decade, the unused residence became a Lunatic Asylum for Women. In a search for a site for the national government, a plan fell through in the 1850s to use the Queen’s Park grounds for Parliament Building and Government House. The King’s College building was not part of the plans.

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

The University of Toronto established University College in 1853, opening just west of the King’s College site along with a Medical School and Observatory. In 1859, the University of Toronto leased the land around the building to the City of Toronto for 999 years for a public park. This became University Park — or Queen’s Park — as opened by the Prince of Wales in the following year. A provision allowed for a potential future site for the Ontario Parliament, which at the time met at Front Street and Simcoe Street.

Campus Map of area bounded by College, St. George, Bloor and Surrey Place [Plan of the University Park], c. 1859. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto

Kings College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings., 1859. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

A Long, Tree-Lined Avenue

John Ross Robertson wrote in the original laying out College Avenue in 1832, trees and shrubs were mingled together as a sort of wildwood. Famed American landscape gardener André Parmentier designed the road and grounds. Beginning in the 1840s, maps depict trees lining both College Avenues, creating a grand yet exclusive path to the university. Robertson wrote that a Mark Fitzpatrick, the gatekeeper of the College Avenue gatehouse, was responsible for planting the chestnut trees, which had to be brought in from the United States of America. On his visit to Canada in 1842, author Charles Dickens wrote positively on College Avenue: “a long avenue, which is already planted and made available as a public walk.”

Topographical Plan of the City and Liberties of Toronto, In the Province of Canada, Surveyed Drawn and Published by James Cane Tophl Engr, 1842. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The Toronto directory and street guide, for 1843-4. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Rowsell’s city of Toronto and county of York directory for 1850-1. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Provincial Exhibition (1852), University Ave., west side, between (approx.) Elm & Orde Sts. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Park Lane, University Street, and Avenue Street

In 1842, Park Lane (named after the scenic London street of the same name) was laid out adjacent to College Avenue on its east side from Queen Street to King’s College. Unlike College Avenue, this parallel road was public and largely residential. Park Lane seems to have also had a small right of way running eastward to opposite Surrey Place. It is renamed at some point to Avenue Street.

Brown’s Toronto city and Home District directory 1846-7. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1858 WS Boulton: Atlas of the City of Toronto and Vicinity. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Caverhill’s Toronto city directory for 1859-60. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

By 1861, Park Lane was renamed to University Street. Avenue Street kept its name, however.

Brown’s Toronto General Directory 1861. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

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

In 1873, the Canadian Journal of Science, Literature, and History lamented the change in name from Park Lane to University Street. The journal wrote that the street was originally named ‘Park Lane’ by the donor of the land to make the street and was analogous to the London street of the same name. The street would have invoked thoughts of ‘noble and interesting part’ of Toronto. The naming to University was uncalled for and unfitting, especially as there was a much wider, adjacent street with almost the same name.

1872 Wadsworth & Unwin Map of the City of Toronto – Tax Exemptions. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Credit: 1873 Canadian Journal of Science Literature and History

1872 Wadsworth & Unwin Map of the City of Toronto – Tax Exemptions. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

1874 Hart & Rawlinson City of Toronto with Fire Limits. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

1876 PA Gross Bird’s Eye View of Toronto. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The 1880s

In 1881, at least one reader in The Globe was unhappy with the shabby state of the chestnut trees along College Avenue. He also angrily lamented over Toronto Council’s decision to replace the gate between College Avenue and University Street with post and bars.

“The College Avenues” The Globe July 7, 1881. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

Gates, University Ave., north side of Queen St. West, looking north. Toronto, Ont., 1880. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In the same decade, the Ontario government proposed a new site for the Legislative Buildings on Queen’s Park. A map from 1880 labels the former Lunatic Asylum and King’s College building as an “old building to be demolished”. It was indeed razed in 1886 and the current Ontario Legislature were opened on the site in 1892.

King’s College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings, 1886. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Site of the proposed parliament buildings, Ontario. Queen’s Park, 1880. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Construction of Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park, 1891. Credit: Archives of Ontario.

In the same year of King’s College’s destruction, property owners with land abutting onto the Yonge Street Avenue complained of the gate separating their property from the street.

1884 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

“The Property Committee: An Effort to be Made to Settle the College Avenue Matters” The Globe, Aug 31, 1886. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

A New University Avenue and College Street

In 1896, the College Avenue was renamed and separated into two differently named streets. The Queen Street Avenue became University Avenue, merging the wider College Avenue and the narrower University Street. A row of trees separated the two former roads.

“Brand New Names” The Globe June 12, 1896. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

The Yonge Street Avenue became part of an existing College Street which existed to its west.

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

There was also a proposal in the 1890s to run electrified streetcar lines up University Avenue, replacing horse-drawn cars on parallel McCaul Street. The scheme did not go through, although rapid transit would come to the street some sixty years later.

Looking s. from Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park., 1893. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“To Electricity” The Globe, July 27, 1894. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Ave., looking s. from College St., 1898. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Looking s. from Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park., 1900. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Improvements, Loss, and Renewal in the 20th Century

By the first decades of the 20th century, College Street and University Avenue maintain some of their chestnut trees planted many decades ago. The fences that separated the old University Street and College Avenue, along with the barrier blocking properties on the old Yonge Street Avenues, are removed. The gatehouse at Yonge Street disappeared on maps in the 1890s and the gatehouse at Queen Street are removed by 1910. College Street ran a horse-drawn streetcar since 1887, which was electrified in the following decade under a Carlton streetcar route.

College St., s. side, betw. University Ave. & Elizabeth St., 1907. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1910 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

Toronto General Hospital, looking east along College Street from University Avenue, 1912. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

College Street, looking west from Yonge Street, 1916. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Victoria, Birthday, 1923, looking n. on University Ave. from Queen St. W.. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1930, changes came to both College Street and University Avenue. In the former, College Street from Yonge Street to Queen’s Park was widened to match with the section further west. University Avenue was also extended south of Queen Street to Front Street in that same year.

University Avenue extension, 1929-30. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Aerial view of downtown from the northwest, 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Canada Life Building, University Avenue from 16th floor, horizontal, 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Northeast corner University Avenue and College Street — College Street Widening, 1930.

In an early attempt of commemoration, The Globe remembered Toronto’s past in 1934 by displaying the history of College Street and the gates leading into King’s College.

“King’s College and Its Massive Gates at College and Yonge Streets” The Globe, April 25, 1934. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Avenue itself was also widened in 1948, particularly the old University Street. Traffic was separated in north-south directions on either side of the median with the old College Avenue taking southbound vehicles and the old University Street taking northbound vehicles. By this point, most of the original trees from the prior century were gone.

UNIVERSITY AVE., looking s. from Ontario Hydro Building, University Ave., s.w. corner Orde St.; showing Elm St. in right foreground., 1944. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“University Avenue Widening Costing $900,000 Hastened.” The Globe and Mail, March 20, 1947. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Avenue East side left south – widening, 1948. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

University Avenue looking north from Queen Street, 1950. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1960s, University Avenue was unfortunately reduced to a shabby state. A firm re-landscaped the central median of the boulevard with internal gardens and planters. In 1963, the University Subway line opened under the avenue.

University Avenue, looking north, from south of College Street, 1960s. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

University & College Today

Today, the view up University Avenue from Queen Street presents a great lead-up to the majestic Queen’s Park. In this way, it invokes its past as a grand corridor. Although times have understandably changed, lost are the gatehouses, fences, and trees that marked the 19th century. The busy intersection of College Street at Yonge Street contains fewer signs of its past as a gateway to King’s College.

Queen Street and University Avenue, 2018. Credit: Google Maps.

College Street and Yonge Street, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

University Avenue and College Street, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

Sources

Arthur, Eric. 2017. Toronto, No Mean City. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bozikovic, Alex. 2017. “Hidden Landmarks: Why Toronto Is at the Forefront of the Landscape Architecture Movement.” The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/hidden-landmarks-why-toronto-is-at-the-forefront-of-the-landscape-architecture-movement/article24228077/

“Brand New Names” The Globe, June 12, 1896.

Brown’s Toronto city and Home District directory 1846-7.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856.

Brown’s Toronto General Directory, 1861.

Bunch, Adam. 2014. “The Long-Lost Chestnut Trees of University Avenue.” Spacing Toronto. http://spacing.ca/toronto/2014/04/15/long-lost-chestnut-trees-university-avenue/.

Canadian Journal of Science, Literature and History. 1873. “XXXVI – Queen Street – York Street” 13.

Caverhill’s Toronto city directory for 1859-60.

Filey, Mike. 2012. Toronto Sketches 11: “The Way We Were”. Dundurn.

Filey, Mike. 2016. “University Ave. – Toronto’s Other Controversial Thoroughfare.” Toronto Sun. https://torontosun.com/2016/12/01/university-ave—-torontos-other-controversial-thoroughfare/wcm/11a3c2a9-43d5-47f1-8be4-aefb5423c499.

“Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era.” 2020. Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era. Accessed March 26. http://goadstoronto.blogspot.com/.

“Heritage U of T.” 2020. U Of T Chronology | Heritage U of T. Accessed March 26. https://heritage.utoronto.ca/exhibits/chronology.

“Historical Maps of Toronto.” 2020. Historical Maps of Toronto. Accessed March 26. http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.com/.

“Home.” 2020. Toronto Public Library. Accessed March 26. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/.

HONSBERGER, JOHN. 2004 . OSGOODE HALL: an Illustrated History. Dundurn.

Marshall, Sean. 2017. “Mapping Toronto’s Streetcar Network: The Age of Electric – 1891 to 1921.” Marshall’s Musings. https://seanmarshall.ca/2016/12/15/mapping-torontos-streetcar-network-the-age-of-electric-1891-to-1921/.

McClelland, Michael and Steward, Brendan. 2014. “ERA Architects.” University Ave.: A Heritage Landscape of Value? | ERA Architects. http://www.eraarch.ca/2014/university-ave-a-heritage-landscape-of-value/.

“King’s College and Its Massive Gates at College and Yonge Streets” The Globe, April 25, 1934.

“King’s College University.” 2020. Simcoes Gentry Torontos Park Lots RSS. Accessed March 26. https://torontofamilyhistory.org/simcoesgentry/11/kings-college.

Robertson, John Ross. 1894. Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1.

Rowsell’s city of Toronto and county of York directory for 1850-1.
“There’s Something Creepy about the Ontario Legislature Building at Queen’s Park.” Toronto Life. https://torontolife.com/food/urban-decoder-history-5/.

“To Electricity” The Globe, July 27, 1894.

The Toronto directory and street guide, for 1843-4.

“Transit Toronto.” Route 506 – The Carlton Streetcar – Transit Toronto – Content. Accessed March 26. https://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4105.shtml.

“University Avenue Widening Costing $900,000 Hastened.” The Globe and Mail, March 20, 1947.

University College. Accessed March 26 2020. http://www.lostrivers.ca/content/points/UC.html.

Welcome to the Archives of Ontario. Accessed March 26 2020. http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/index.aspx.

“Welcome to Queen’s Park.” 2020. Welcome to Queen’s Park Historical Plaque. Accessed March 26. http://torontoplaques.com/Pages/Welcome_to_Queens_Park.html.

York commercial directory, street guide, and register, 1833-4 : with almanack and calendar for 1834.

Scenes From O’Sullivan’s Corners & Muirhead’s Corners

When does a place stop being a place? On the border of North York and Scarborough, there are two Sheppard Avenues. Old Sheppard Avenue runs east to west from Victoria Park Avenue to just shy of Highway 404. Sheppard Avenue East curves just south of the old street across the border of the two former municipalities. These two streets — and triangular plot in between — hold quite the history and evolution of two lost junctions: O’Sullivan’s Corners and Muirhead’s Corners. Here is a brief account of their story.

Source: Google Maps.

On Old Sheppard Avenue, there is a house unlike the others around it. Now situated in the middle of a modern subdivision, it was the farmhouse of the Alex Muirhead and his family.

The Muirheads settled the 100-acre plot of land known as Concession IV Lot 15 in York Township in 1853. Alex Muirhead would build his farmhouse in the Ontario Vernacular style in that same year, situating it on the south side of what is now Old Sheppard Avenue. The Muirhead name was prominent in the area — so much so that the odd junction on the northwest corner of the lot was known as Muirhead’s Corners in the early 20th century.

Concession IV Lot 15 from 1860 Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto.

In 1860, Patrick O’Sullivan and Ann O’Reilly opened the O’Sullivan Hotel on the eastern part of Lot 14, directly south of the Muirhead property. The hotel featured ‘two bedrooms, dining room, and a bar’. The structure was situated on the west side of the York-Scarborough line across the Third concession on the Reilly farm.

O’Sullivan’s Hotel (centre background), circa 1920s. Source: Toronto Public Library & North York Historical Society.

1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The area grew from here. In 1873, part of the O’Reilly land was used to house a one-room public school. The school — named School Section #23, later Victoria Park School –roughly served the west side of townline from today’s Lawrence Avenue to Finch Avenue. In 1893, a Post Office opened at the O’Sullivan Hotel, cementing the area as a community with the moniker O’Sullivan’s Corners. The area, sometimes shortened to just O’Sullivan, rose to local landmark status in the early 20th century.

O’Sullivan and SS #3 from the Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

School Section 23 (1873-1964), Toronto, Ont., 1956. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The rise of automobiles and highways in the early 20th century aided in the growth of O’Sullivan. Beginning in the 1910s, significant changes took place along the roadways of northern Scarborough and North York. Motorized vehicles were on the increase and, with them, convenient and leisurely long-distance travel through the suburbs of Toronto. One can imagine couples and families venturing through O’Sullivan’s Corners and stopping for a Sunday lunch.

Toronto Daily Star, September 11, 1925. Don Mills Road jogged east at York Mills Road and then north to what later be Woodbine Avenue. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The main east-west street through these parts was Lansing Sideroad (sometimes named Lansing Cut-Off), which — next to Kingston Road — was the main way from the centre of Toronto to Pickering and Oshawa. Named after the community it originated in, Lansing Sideroad extended east from Yonge Street, passing the community of Oriole at Leslie Street and Muirhead’s Corners at Don Mills Road (later Woodbine Avenue).It stitched together east-west routes connecting the Concession roads of North York: Bayview (2), Leslie (3), and Woodbine (4).

In the 1920s, newspapers presented weekend road trips through the areas around Toronto. Toronto Daily Star, September 9, 1927. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Lansing then jogged south at the townline near O’Sullivan before continuing into the Scarborough through Agincourt and Malvern following the old Third Concession Road. In 1911, Lansing Sideroad was paved to allow better navigation. It is unclear when it was named Lansing Road, but there is an early mention of improvements to the road in 1903.

The Globe, June 2, 1903. Source: Toronto Public Library

As the 1920s rolled into the 1930s, more upgrades were made to Lansing Sideroad. The Department of Public Highways of Ontario, created in 1916, sought to include the road in a larger highway network to improve motor vehicle travel. And so, on August 25, 1931, Premier George S. Henry inaugurated a new motorway between Lansing and Malvern on the street.

Toronto Daily Star June 21, 1929. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Toronto Daily Star, August 25, 1931. Source: Toronto Public Library.

In another huge development, the two sections of the Lansing Sideroad in Scarborough and North York were aligned in 1934. The new curved section of roadway donated and purchased from several landowners in the area and eliminated multiple jogs between O’Sullivan’s Corners at Dawes Road and Muirhead’s Corners at Don Mills Road. Travellers now could travel more seamlessly between townships.

Toronto Daily Star, June 15, 1934. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Aerial photo of Muihead’s Corners, O’Sullivan, and the Lansing Sideroad, 1954. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Along with the O’Sullivan Hotel, there were service centres, gas stations, and some shops to serve the local and commuting populations of O’Sullivan and Muirhead’s Corners in the early 20th century. The North-East Drive-In Theatre also opened between the communities on Lansing Road in 1947, further building on the virtues of car travel.

Looking south on Victoria Park Avenue from north of Sheppard Avenue East, Toronto, Ont, 1958. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Woodbine Avenue looking west at Sheppard Avenue, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Toronto Daily Star, September 23, 1947. The North-East Drive-In showed its final film in 1976 as the Consumers Business Park overtook the area. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The second half of the 20th century proved to be a transitional period for the area and the beginning of the end many things recognizable at O’Sullivan’s Corners. For a start, the road network was significantly altered — even more than before. Perhaps as a result of the new Metropolitan Toronto’s efforts to harmonize transportation in the city, Dawes Road and Lansing Sideroad both were renamed to Victoria Park Avenue and Sheppard Avenue East in the 1950s.

Victoria Park Avenue, Sheppard Avenue East, Lansing Road from 1955 Metropolitan Toronto Map. Lansing Side Road seems to have renamed in Scarborough even as the North York section became Sheppard Avenue. Both would be under the Sheppard name in the 1960s. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The four-laned Toronto By-Pass — now Highway 401 — opened as the new east-west alternative to Kingston Road and Lansing Road in and out of the Toronto area in 1957. It included an exit at Victoria Park Avenue.

Toronto Bypass, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

And in a final update to motorways, Highway 404 replaced Woodbine Avenue north of Highway 401 by 1967. The move spelt the end of Muirhead’s Corners, as the junction was physically eliminated to make way for the highway. It also meant Old Sheppard was now cut off at its west end, now looping into a new Muirhead Road (near a school also named for the pioneer of the street).

Aerial of the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 404 under construction in 1966. Consumers Business Park is also roughed in. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

It is hard to pinpoint when O’Sullivan’s Corners stopped being O’Sullivan’s Corners, but the 1950s and ’60s is certainly a start. After nearly a century in operation, O’Sullivan’s Hotel was closed in 1954. The reasons? Perhaps interest had faded from patrons and management. Or the costs were too high. Its replacement was a gas station — a use the corner continues today. To its south, SS #23 was also lost in 1964 to accommodate more lanes for Highway 401. (Its belfry and bell was salvaged by Herbert and Rosa Clark and is now on display at the Guild Park in Scarborough along with our salvaged building fragments of the post-war era)

By at least 1950, the Muirhead farm was also divided up to host a new residential community. Brian Drive (originally Sandra Boulevard) and Patrick Boulevard both hosted houses with large lots. The old Muirhead farmhouse also received new neighbours on its street. Curiously though, Old Sheppard is unnamed in maps from the 1950s. (Perhaps the moniker came into existence when it was orphaned by the highway 404.)

Aerial of Old Sheppard, Brian Drive, Patrick Boulevard in 1953. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

In the early 1970s, brand new houses went in north of Patrick Boulevard and east of Brian Drive, replacing most of the housing stock from twenty years prior. The Muirhead farmhouse was already situated close to the street, so when the new houses went in beside it, it was relatively integrated into its surroundings.

Around the corner on Brian Drive, a line of more modern residences in the middle of the street curiously deviates from neighbouring housing styles. The story: When this area bought up and sold by redevelopers in the 1970s, it seems one property held out on selling. Its deep lot stretched to Wilkinson Drive, leaving the new streets in between incomplete. The holdout looks like it lasted about 30 years until around 2001 when four rows of infill development went in. With that, Doubletree and Wilkinson were finally connected.

Source: OldTO, 1992 vs 2020.

Source: Google Maps

Source: Toronto Star, April 14, 2001

On Patrick Boulevard, a house from the same era as the Brian Drive holdout residence remains. It never had to sell, though. This house is noticeable because, although it is neighbours with houses it predates, it is set back considerably from the street with a long driveway.

Source: Google Maps

On the west side of Brian Drive, apartment towers and townhouses went up steadily through the 1970s too. The ‘Crossroads’ buildings, in particular, are appropriately and geographically named.

Source: Globe and Mail, May 25, 1979

Victoria Park Square is the local mall for the area. It opened in 1972 on the former site of the O’Sullivan Hotel to serve the up-and-coming residences. It was known in those early days for hosting the first Horizon — Eaton’s chain of discount stores. A Heritage Toronto and North York Historical Society plaque today tells the story of O’Sullivan’s Hotel.

Source: Globe and Mail, August 17, 1972

In 1988, a second plaza was built at the corner of Brian Drive and Sheppard Avenue. Named ‘The Shoppes of Brian Village’, the plaza resembles a village centre. It was significant enough to warrant an Urban Design award from the city in 1988. The site also gives the area another name: Brian Village (or perhaps vice versa).

Source: Toronto Star, November 29, 1988

Today, this community is part of the modern Pleasantview census tract – a total area which reaches up to Finch Avenue East. It is a mix of mostly English and Mandarin speakers, with some Italian and Greek households.

The name is not in use anymore, but how much of O’Sullivan’s Corners is left? O’Sullivan School certainly lives at the Guild as a physical remnant. More than that, the busy nexus of Victoria Park and Sheppard — where the hotel once stood — may have a clue. Today, the intersection hosts a gas station, a breakfast spot, a pizza place, and a drugstore. Next to that drug store is the famed Johnny’s Hamburgers. The building housing Johnny’s is from about 1956. The burger joint got its start about ten years later by a Greek immigrant.

Victoria Park Avenue and Sheppard Avenue, shortly after the loss of O’Sullivan’s Hotel, 1956. Note the dual units. By 1970, it was just one unit: Johnny’s. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Although it post-dates the era of the O’Sullivan Hotel, Johnny’s Hamburgers grew out of the car-centric circumstances that brought the area prominence. The simple, table-less interior also plays tribute to North-East Theatre as its one-time neighbour. Even if the place no longer exists, a visit to Johnny’s may a taste of the O’Sullivan community of old.

Event: “Riverdale: A History Through Maps”

On November 26, 2019, I will be presenting to the Riverdale Historical Society in a talk entitled, “Riverdale: A History Through Maps”!

In recounting the history of Toronto’s environs on this website, I have regularly drawn on maps to get an idea of how places are represented at different points in time. In comparing those maps together, it also gives me a good idea on how those places have evolved over time. I look to bring out that visual history when talking about Riverdale.

The area east of the Don River has been an interest of mine since 2006. I have fond memories of riding the 72 Pape bus to Carlaw and Eastern on the way to my part-time job at Weston’s. To this day I marvel at the old factories of the corridor. That time in my life helped create the impetus for this website as well as some early content too with pieces about Industrial Carlaw, the rolling hills of Withrow Park, and Leslieville’s iconic Leslie Grove Park! The 506 Carlton streetcar is another favourite route, as well as the 504 King Street along Broadview — if only to catch the best view in the city as it passes by Riverdale Park!

“Riverdale: A History Through Maps” will explore the areas progression through a variety of themes: topographical, geographical, natural, transportation, built heritage, and more!

 

Talk will begin at 6:30pm at the St. Matthew’s Clubhouse! Event is $5 for non-members of the Riverdale Historical Society. Check their website for more details!

1893 Barclay, Clark & Co. Bird’s Eye View Chromolithograph. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto

Scenes From Toronto Railway Museum & Roundhouse Park

Since the train first tracks in the 1850s, Toronto’s railways have been a big part of its geography and history. They connect the city and its surroundings, joining neighbourhoods and people. They were also the driving force of industry. Founded in 2001, the Toronto Railway Museum tells their stories. One finds it across the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, and Ripley’s Aquarium in the appropriately named Roundhouse Park.

Map of Toronto’s Railways, date unknown. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Operated by the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the Toronto Railway Museum is based in the great John Street Roundhouse and the surrounding Roundhouse Park. The location is appropriate: Toronto’s railway corridor extended east and west of Union Station and was once the nexus of the city’s transportation network. In many ways, it still is.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 1969. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The John Street Roundhouse was part of that infrastructure. The structure itself was built by Canadian Pacific Railway between 1929 and 1931 as a maintenance and storage facility and to allow trains to, well, turn around.

As an interpretive experience, Toronto Railway Museum is immersive. It starts with an interior space in the Roundhouse’s Stall 17. There are maps and train memorabilia. There’s even a simulator which allows you to conduct a train around historic Toronto.

Outside, it functions as an open air museum. Well-produced plaques are located around park, often near significant landmarks. There are of course some train cars, some of which allow entry inside.

Most notable to me is the marker about the Workers of John Street. Most of Roundhouse Park’s landmarks highlight something physically awing like the Water Tower or a Canadian National Railway train, but this plaque focuses on the easily forgotten human element behind this tough industry.

Of course, Don Station is a remarkable site too. It is part of Toronto’s lost geography of bygone railway stations, companies, structures, and tracks. It operated 1896 to 1967 at Queen Street and the Don River. Then it spent time at Todmorden Mills until 2008 when it was moved to Roundhouse Park and subsequently restored. It also serves the museum’s gift shop and departure point for the park’s own train rides.

CPR Don Station looking west, 1910. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Goads Map, 1913. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

John Street Roundhouse closed in 1986. It marked an era where the railways were taking a bit of a backseat in Toronto’s development. Industry within the city was declining as manufacturing moved elsewhere. The physical lands of the railroads shifted too. Tracks were removed and lands — and some remaining sites — were redeveloped for new residential, commecial, and entertainment uses.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The Corridor just south Union Station saw a lot of this transformation. In 1976, the CN Tower was completed. The 1980s saw opening of the Metro Convention Centre and SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). The latter actually replaced another roundhouse. Using the facade of the old Postal Delivery Building, the Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) came in 1999 as the new home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and newly created Toronto Raptors. Since then, a condo community has grown up around it since as well as a fan area called Maple Leaf Square in 2010. Most recently, the area got the impressive Ripleys Aquarium in 2013.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

The John Street Roundhouse was designated a National Historic Site in 1990. Its heritage value comes from being the best example of a roundhouse in the country — its turntable actually works! Roundhouse Park opened around it in 1997 to further its legacy. In 1999, the roundhouse’s stalls became home to the aptly-named Steam Whistle Brewery and then Leon’s in 2009 (it closed for the Rec Room two years ago).

In 2019, the John Street Roundhouse celebrates its 90th birthday, making it a good time to reflect on its related history and geography. And stories. Lot of stories.

Useful Links

Old Time Trains

Toronto’s Railway Heritage by Derek Boles

Toronto Railway Historical Association

Toronto Railway Museum

Scenes From The Danforth (Broadview Avenue to Pape Avenue)

For a history of Danforth Avenue, a good place to start is the Playter Farmhouse at the head of Playter Boulevard on Playter Crescent. Although the family had roots in Toronto since the 1790s with land holdings east and west of the Don River, the house was not built until the 1870s.

When the Playters came here, virtually nothing of modern reference existed. Danforth Avenue was laid out as Concession II in the 1790s when York Township was surveyed, but it did not become a usable road until 1851 when the Don and Danforth Plank Road Co. redid the street. Broadview Avenue north of Danforth was known as Mill Road or Don Mill and also was laid out in the 1790s while south of Danforth the street came by the 1860s. Modern day Ellerbeck, Pretoria, and Cambridge Avenues were the first local streets to appear around that time.

Danforth Avenue in the JO Browne Map of the Township of York, 1851. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto

Danforth Avenue in Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The Playters sold off their land over the coming decades and the street grid gradually took its present shape. By the 1920s, Bayfield Crescent looped around the remaining Playter property to surround the old farmhouse. What we today call the Playter Estates came to be filled with beautiful now multi-million dollar Edwardian homes with the occasional Ontario workers’ cottage, hinting at the perhaps humble origins of its early residents.

Today, Broadview Avenue and Danforth Avenue is a gate into the eastern part of the city. Once upon a time however, this part of the city just ended. There was no bridge across the Don River. Anyone looking to travel between Riverdale and Toronto had to go south to Gerrard Street or Queen Street.

Danforth and Broadview avenues before viaduct, looking east, ca. 1908. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Despite the Toronto’s annexation of Riverdale south of the Danforth in 1884 and the village of Chester (made up the former Playter lands) north of the Danforth in 1909, the eastern part of the city remained disconnected from the core of the city for some time. Around 1900, Danforth Avenue and the areas north and south of the street were sparsely populated. There were less than twenty structures between Broadview and Jones, most of them houses!

Danforth Avenue, 1903. Credit: Toronto Historic Maps.

Several developments in the 1910s began to change things. Beginning in 1912, Danforth Avenue was paved and widened to 86 feet. In October of the following year, the Toronto Civic Railway opened the Danforth Civic Streetcar Line to much local support. A Globe article described the scene of 25,000 converging on the street to celebrate — even blocking the cars from passing!

Danforth Avenue east of Broadview Avenue during civic car line construction, Aug 1912. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“VAST THRONG IN STREET BLOCKS NEW CAR SERVICE” The Globe, October 31, 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

Danforth Avenue, looking east from Broadview Avenue, 1914. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth and Broadview Ave [Toronto, Ont.]., 1920. Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

Finally, after many debates of its necessity and four years of construction, the Bloor Street Viaduct opened in 1918. The idea of Public Works Commissioner R.C. Harris and the design of famed Architect Edmund Burke (he has a namesake pub at 107 Danforth Avenue as appreciation), the bridge and transit were in talks since at least 1910. Their proponents saw them as linked and necessary projects. Broadview Avenue already had a streetcar route since 1888, so the corner was set to became a nexus. It is no coincidence that Albert Edward and William Ellerbeck Playter opened the Playter Society in 1908 with grand expectations for the corner in the coming decades. Albert also funded the Playtorium, a building whose incarnations included a vaudeville theatre. Both were two of the earliest on the strip. The Canadian Bank of Commerce branch across the street came around 1918, replacing a blacksmith ship.

Prince Edward Viaduct under construction, 1917. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Northwest corner of Danforth Avenue and Don Mills Road (now Broadview Avenue) shop, 1913. The current CIBC branch occupies building. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Playter Society Building, 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Danforth Avenue in the City of Toronto Directories. 1913. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Danforth Avenue east of Broadview Avenue from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1913. Credit: Goads Toronto.

The Former Danforth Hall/Playter Fun House/Playtorium at 128 Danforth Avenue, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

In 1913, the Globe identified the Danforth as new business section in the northeastern part of Toronto. It also described a bizarre episode in which a man discovered a muskrat on Moscow Avenue (today’s Gough Avenue). It perhaps shows The Danforth in transition: growing yet still rural (albeit urban wildlife is not uncommon in 2019).

This strip west near 592 Danforth Avenue of Gough Avenue, built 1911, was one of the first row of stores built between Broadview and Pape Avenue.

“EXPANDING TORONTO– MAKING HOMES IN OUTSKIRTS FOR CITY NEARING HALF MILLION”, The Globe, October 25, 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

‘Caught a Muskrat on Danforth Avenue’ The Globe, March 24 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

There was a residential aspect to Danforth Avenue, too. Most of those who now live on the street reside above the shops, but there are at least two remnants of when houses still populated the way at 278 and 280 Danforth Avenue. These were residences built in 1911 for Mr. Alfred W. Pestell and Mrs. Ellen Mackey, respectively. The street addresses were 152 and 154 Danforth Avenue. Residential in nature when they were built, now they host shops.

Danforth Avenue, east from Broadview Avenue, 1913. Credit: City of Toronto Library.

A view from 260 Danforth Avenue, east of Playter Boulevard, 1920s. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

A look at the Danforth today sees houses of worship on either side of the street which also date to this early period in the 1910s. St. Barnabas Anglican Church in 1910 and Danforth Baptist Church in 1914 were two of the first. The Church of the Holy Name followed with construction also in 1914, although it took twelve years to complete.

Another sign the street was coming of age in the decade: Allen’s Danforth, now the Danforth Music Theatre. Built in 1919, it was advertised as “Canada’s First Super-Suburban Photoplay Palace” according to its Heritage Toronto plaque. At least three neighbourhood theatres would open — and close — between Broadview and Pape in the coming decades.

By the 1920s, Danforth Avenue reached its peak. Empty lots from the prior decades filled out. The Danforth Civic Line turned the area into a streetcar suburb, but the era of the automobile was just beginning. In 1922, the Globe, speaking about growing suburbs across Toronto, declared that the lesson was that ‘settlement follows good roads’, citing the upgrades of the prior decade.

Danforth Avenue from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1924. Credit: Toronto Historic Maps.

“Park and Shop in the Danforth District”, The Globe, May 2, 1928. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

Further to the notion that the automobile was now in play, Logan Avenue at one time existed in two sections north and south of Danforth Avenue. City politicians and politicians proposed road improvement schemes after both World Wars, and street widenings, alignments, and extensions were large factors within them.

Aerial view of Logan Avenue, 1947. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth Avenue east at Logan Avenue, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth Avenue west at Logan Avenue, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

In the mid-1950s, the Danforth-Logan was eliminated, allowing traffic to flow straight through without the need to travel west or east on Danforth. Although the sizeable Withrow Park existed just south on Logan, the event created some much needed public space right on Danforth Avenue which would later serve as important gathering point for the community.

Aerial view of Logan Avenue, 1956. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth looking east to Logan, 1987-1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Logan looking south to Danforth, 1987-1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1930s, Danforth Avenue was full of the expected businesses: banks, theatres, dry goods shops, men’s and ladies wear, confectioneries, shoe repair places, drug stores, and more. But the demographics began to change. The 1930 Might’s Greater Toronto Directories show Ethels Delicatessen at 173 Danforth and Lorrain Delicatessen at 457 Danforth. More prominently, we also see Italian fruit stands at 127-129 Danforth Avenue by Vincenzo and Augustino Casuso, at 283 by A Maggio, at 449 Danforth by Salvatore Badalli, at 507 Danforth by Vito Simone, 513 Danforth Avenue by Joseph Badali, at 573 Danforth by Tony Fimio. Finally, there were a number of Chinese themed businesses (with unnamed owners): cafes at 108 and 505 Danforth Avenue, restaurants at 107 and 523 Danforth, and a laundy at 471 Danforth.

South side of Danforth Avenue from the Toronto City Directory, 1930. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Sunkist Fruit Market, Southeast corner Carlaw and Danforth, 1934. Sam Badali, son of fruit stand owners at 449 Danforth Avenue, started the stand in 1929. It remained a long-standing business until recently. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1950s, political talk in Toronto shifted toward a subway line under Danforth Avenue. The streetcar was the busiest surface route and, with the populations shifting north from the old city of Toronto, underground rapid transit was nearing a reality. On February 26, 1966, the Bloor-Danforth Subway line opened between Keele Street and Woodbine Avenue, utilizing the lower track of the Bloor Viaduct to faciliate the cross-town transit line. The TTC built a “Y-connection” between the two lines to eliminate the need for transferring.

“Toronto Public Libraries Served By New Subway Extension”, The Globe, February 25, 1966. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

The green line’s opening meant at least two significant changes to the Danforth. First, as the subway corridor was planned to run north of the street rather than under it, hundreds of houses were expropriated and demolished. The physical result today is a linear set of connected parkettes (and some parking lots) between Chester and Pape Stations.

Danforth Avenue between Pape Avenue and Chester Avenue, 1962. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Bloor-Danforth Subway Corridor, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

Second, following a similar effect of the Yonge line, the new subway meant the end of streetcar service on the street. Passengers on the Danforth Streetcar and four other routes (Bloor, Coxwell, Harbord, and Parliament) opted for their last rides on the night before the subway’s opening. The Lipton streetcar loop at Pape Avenue and the Erindale loop at Broadview Avenue also closed as transit stations took their spots.

After the Second World War, the Danforth received the identity it is commonly associated with today. The story has been told many times: Greek immigrants left Greece after the military junta of 1967 with a number of them opening up enterprises on Danforth Avenue while settling in the streets north of their shops and further in nearby East York.

A snapshot of Greek businesses on the north side of Danforth Avenue from the City Directory, 1969. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Why did they select the Danforth specifically? One theory goes back to the subway. Some shop owners noted how the loss of a surface transit route actually negatively impacted local shopping. The area was not doing as well in the late-1960s as prior decades — a condition for the street to be reinvented. The same would happen in the 1970s when Gerrard Street East became Little India. The rents for closed shops were attractive and affordable for new Greek entrepreneurs.

Greek businesses east Pape Avenue on Danforth, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

They also brought their faith with them. In perhaps the most exemplary case of Danforth’s transformation, an old garage built in 1921 when the street was still named Moscow Avenue became St. Irene Chrisovalantou Greek Orthodox Church.

Finally, the Danforth Avenue of today is mostly imagined as a mostly homogeneous collection of Greek affiliated businesses and organizations and the nearly-century old structures they occupy. What is overlooked is how some of these old structures have disappeared over time and new buildings and non-Greek businesses have taking their place.

348 Danforth Avenue, a building with roots in 1924 (and a site that once housed the residence of John Lea Playter), hosts Carrot Common. The 1980s saw new additions that transformed the old structure. Today, a green roof and garden makes the space truly unique. Near Pape, a bank and event space replace an older two story structure at 629 Danforth and an office building usurped the former Palace Theatre at 664 Danforth of the 1920s.

Palace Theatre, 664 Danforth Avenue, near Pape Avenue, showing its overhanging electric sign, 1920s. View is looking east on Danforth Avenue, from Pape Avenue. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

From the 19th century rural environment of the Playter family to the 1920s boom period of muskrats and nabes to the transformative post-war period of subways and souvlaki, Danforth Avenue has shown its fascinating layers of history and geography.

Scenes From The Distillery District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindenwold, 1870s. Credit: Distillery District Heritage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Useful Links

Distillery District Heritage Website

Scenes From Earl Bales Park

The history of Earl Bales Park starts with the John Bales House. The family arrived in the Bathurst and Sheppard area in 1824, finding a hilly topography bordering on the West Don River. John Bales cleared the land and built a log farmhouse south of Sheppard and east of Bathurst. From there, the layers of story build.

Bales House, south-east view, date unknown. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Steps from the John Bales House is the Earl Bales Community Centre. The meeting place for classes and events came to us by 1981 (a revitalization project took place in 2018 too). Before its arrival, another complex of buildings were neighbours to the John Bales House: The York Downs Golf and Country Club.

York Downs Golf and Country Club near Armour Heights, North Toronto, 1926. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1922, the York Downs Golf Course opened on the former Bales land (albeit by then property passed into the hands of Shedden Company). The John Bales homestead was actually the residence of the groundskeeper and the barn was part of the clubhouse.

“York Downs Course Ready Next Summer” The Globe, February 6, 1922. Credit: Toronto Public Library

Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Ownership map – township of york showing unsubdivided area of 10 acres and over with names of owners and acreages, 1922. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

York Downs Golf and Country Club, 1953. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Ownership map for the region formerly known as the Township of York including York, North York, East York, Forest Hill, Swansea, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

In 1968, the club’s executive voted to move to Unionville and to sell the property to Max Tanenbaum of Pinetree Developments for $6,400,000. Tanenbaum intended to build apartments and houses on the former course. After much debate, local protests under the banner of ‘Save York Downs’ stopped the proposal. Ultimately, Metro Toronto Council purchased the property in 1972 for $9 million to use for parkland. Council also did the same with the Tam O’Shanter Golf and Country Club in Scarborough, although that ultimately became mostly a municipally owned golf course. Earl Bales Park — named for a former North York Reeve and great-grandson of John Bales — opened on a chilly December 2, 1973 with one last round of golf on the 163 acre site.

“Max Tanenbaum and Morry Smith”, Toronto Daily Star, April 16, 1971. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Walking south from the Bales homestead, the landscaping leftovers of the York Downs course are still evident on the land with sand traps, mounds, and trees. Then and now aerial maps provide an interesting comparison of the layouts of the course and the park.

York Downs Golf Course & Earl Bales Park, 1947 & 2019. Credit: Sidewalk Labs OldTO.

Walking down the western half of Earl Bales Park, you can see several attractions added to the park over the years. Taking advantage of the park’s elevation, the North York Ski Centre came in 1973 to provide local skiing to the residents of North York and Toronto.

“North York’s Big Opener”, Globe and Mail, Jan 9, 1974. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

There is also the Barry Zukerman Amphitheatre, which came by 1989 and named for a prominent Canadian Jewish businessman. The theatre is notable for its great performances in the summer.

The most powerful installation in Earl Bales Park is undoubtedly the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. It was unveiled in 1991 with The Wall of Remembrance devoted to victims and survivors coming in 2001. Particularly sombre is the portion dedicated to children, including Anne Frank. The obelisk is the Spirit of Bravery Memorial.

Finally, a bust of Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal came as a gift from the Philippine Government to the City of Toronto in 1998.

These additions to Earl Bales Park represent the notion that parks can be and should be reflections of their environs. For example, the John Bales House — a representation of British colonial York — is now the Russian House Toronto. Since the end of the World War II, the area around the park along Bathurst Street gradually grew with new subdivisions and new populations. Toronto’s Jewish population (and Eastern Europeans in general) moved north on Bathurst to Forest Hill by 1950 and even further to Bathurst Manor in 1957. Toronto’s Filipino population arrived to the city mostly in the 1960s, first to St. Jamestown and then to ‘Little Manila’ at the Bathurst and Wilson area.

“Bathurst Manor Shopping Plaza Grand Opening”, Globe and Mail, November 21, 1957. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

One neighbouring area tied to the history of the York Down Golf Course is Armour Heights. The community, located directly south of Earl Bales Park, is named for the Armour family who were contemporaries of the Bales clan. The Armour lands came under the control of the Robins Real Estate Limited in the early 20th century, who in the 1910s and 1920s intended on making three master-planned, upscale communities in north Toronto: Armour Heights, Ridley Park, and Melrose Park. Together these were to be the ‘Highlands of Toronto‘. Robins Ltd also had a hand in Cedarvale’s ambitious genesis. Much in the same way as that suburb, Armour Heights was planned with lavish roundabouts, gardens, squares, and tennis courts and bowling greens.

Armour Heights – being the subdivision of parts t lots 11, 12, 13, Concession 1, west of Yonge Street, circa 1913. Credit: City of Toronto Library.

“The Highlands of Toronto”, Toronto Daily Star, April 13, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“Why People Are Buying in Armour Heights”, The Globe, April 9, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The owner, Colonel Frederick Burton Robins, built a Tudor-style estate house near Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue. Marketing pieces highlighted a bus line between Yonge and Bathurst Streets via Yonge Boulevard and Armour Heights’ proximity to the York Downs Golf Course. Armour Heights hosted air demonstrations and was even considered by McMaster University for a campus.

Robins Country Estate, Wilson Avenue west of Yonge Street, circa 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“Robins Limited Motor Bus Service”, Toronto Daily Star, May 21, 1914. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“A Plan of The Splendid Site on Armour Heights”, Toronto Daily Star, December 24, 1926. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Like in Cedarvale, Colonel F.B. Robins’ vision for Armour Heights never fully materialized. By 1929, he sold the 300 acres to R. K. Lillico and associates for $930,000. Their idea was to re-brand the area as ‘Beverley Hills’, but the moniker never caught on. The street grid developed under its current form, filling out completely by 1950. It did eventually receive its bus line with the Toronto Transit Commission’s Armour Heights route in 1952. Armour Heights Robins’ grand estate house is now used by the Canadian Forces College. Today York Downs Boulevard — one of the early streets — remains as a tribute to the golf club and fittingly connects the park and subdivision.

Back in Earl Bales Park, a man-made pond exists on the southern end. Earl Bales Lake is a storm-water management pond. Beyond it is the Don Valley Golf Course. The Hoggs Hollow Bridge portion of Highway 401 runs over the course. The Toronto By-Pass, as the expressway was known before it was numbered, opened here in 1953, splitting up the golf course and Armour Heights.

Don Valley Golf Course, Yonge St., w. side, from s. to n. of Macdonald-Cartier Freeway; looking n.w. to Macdonald-Cartier Freeway bridge over West Don River., 1955. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The east side of Earl Bales Park is scenic walk through nature. One is struck by the tree cover, both on this hills and in the valley. A topographical map of the West Don River from 1915 shows off the contours and some cases the tree types of the land that would become the park.

Plan of west branch Don River Valley from Lawrence Avenue to corner Sheppard and Bathurst, 1915. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

One also gets a look from below at the ski slope. ‘Downs’ refers to a grassy hill, so this might explain the naming of golf course.

A shallow west branch of the Don River runs through the edge of the property. The river and the way across it has had a few interventions in the second have the 20th century. At one time, albeit north and south of the park, the waterway hosted saw and grist mills. In 1956, the river’s winding course was straightened.

West Don River, 1953-1956. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Further up, at the park’s northern entrance, one looks up at the massive bridge carrying Sheppard Avenue West over the West Don River Valley. A marker dates the bridge to 1961, but it is not the first structure in this location

The history is unclear, but the first photographed bridge was a wooden construction that existed until at least from 1910 (its construction date is unknown).

Sheppard Avenue bridge over the Don River near Bathurst Street., 1910. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Wooden bridge over Don, 1908-1910. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Its replacement — a more sturdy setup — came by 1920. Flood damage from Hurricane Hazel briefly closed the bridge in November 1954. The storm did, however, completely wipe out the nearby Bathurst Street Bridge. The event might have led to the bridge’s replacement in the following decade.

Sheppard Avenue West bridge over West Don River, 1920. This is the same view as the above wooden bridge photo. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“Find Flood Damage, Close Sheppard Bridge” Globe and Mail, November 26, 1954. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Don River (West Don R.), looking w. across Sheppard Ave. bridge, 1954. Photographer James Salmon notes the bridge’s washout after Hurricane Hazel. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The third – and present – bridge began construction in 1961 and opened by 1962 or 1963. The section of the West Don River below it was channelized with concrete holdings. Also in 1962, the Don River Boulevard bridge replaced an earlier bridge opened in 1928. The short and quiet street curiously dates to the 19th century – at least to 1860 by cartographic accounts – and ran through the Shepard family property in Lansing to Bathurst. When both bridges were replaced in the 1960s, Don River Boulevard was also reconfigured to circle up the Sheppard Avenue, linking the street with the park.

Sheppard Avenue over Don River, 1962 & 1963. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Source: Toronto Daily Star November 30, 1928.


Exiting Earl Bales Park, one may go up to the main street or cross the bridge into the Hinder Property, leaving behind a great history.

Useful Links

Marshall’s Musings – “Exploring Earl Bales Park”

North York Historical Society – “June-August 2015 Newsletter”

OldTO Mapping historical photos

Scott Kennedy – Willowdale: Yesterday’s Farms, Today’s Legacy