Category Archives: Parks and Trails

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 was replaced. 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.


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

Scenes From Cedarvale

Cedarvale lies northwest of the intersection of Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West in the old City of York. At the centre of its story and its geography is its parkland. All that surrounds is just as interesting.

Cedarvale, 2018. Credit: Google Maps.

Mappy beginnings

The history of Cedarvale begins with lots 26 and 27 of Concession III west of Yonge Street from the old lot system. The third concession road is now the mentioned St. Clair West with the 200-acre lots extending north to the fourth concession (Eglinton Avenue) just west of present Bathurst Street.

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

Lot 27 first appears in Toronto maps as belonging to the Estate of James Brown. It then passed to John Roach. Lot 28 belonged to a John Severn and then to a Mr. Davidson. The 1899 and 1903 editions of the Goads Fire Insurance Maps show brick fields near Markham Street (today’s Raglan Avenue) which are gone by 1910. Flowing diagonally through the plots was Castle Frank Brook, making brick manufacturing a possibility. The stream was also known as Brewery Creek or Severn Creek, as it is the same waterway that aided the Severn Brewery in Yorkville. It is unclear if the brewer and the land owner are the same, but it is notable their given names do match. By the 1910s, the plots appear under the name of Sir Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame.

Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York, 1878. Roach Street within the modern community (now Strathearn Street) was named for John Roach and falls within his former borders. Credit: Historical Toronto Maps

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

A New Subdivision

Situated up Bathurst at Claxton Boulevard is the first curiousity about this unique area: the Connaught Gates. Dating to 1913, they hide an ambitious past.

Beginning in June 1912, advertisements in The Toronto Daily Star and The Globe newspapers promoted a new exclusive suburb named Cedarvale (or Cedar Vale) in the area south of Eglinton Avenue, north of Vaughan Road, and west of Bathurst Street. The company behind the new 300-acre subdivision was The British and Colonial Land and Securities Company, which was Sir Henry Pellatt’s realty firm. Pellatt’s interests were in land accumulation and speculation. The sales pieces marketed Cedarvale’s tree-lined streets including a neighbourhood-spanning central boulevard and a natural beauty even surpassing Rosedale in the form of Cedarvale ravine. Interested parties were to contact Robins Real Estate Limited for an illustrated booklet.

Cedarvale ad, Toronto Daily Star November 8, 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library

Cedarvale ad, The Globe, June 7, 1913. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Contextually, Cedarvale’s emergence came at a time in the early 20th century when civic discussions revolved heavily around the growth of the city of Toronto and its surrounding areas. Annexations of neighbouring St. Clair Avenue communities of Wychwood and Bracondale in 1909 and Dovercourt and Earlscount in 1910 increased the city’s borders. In the following year, the Toronto Civic Railways opened a transit line along St. Clair, effectively turning those communities into streetcar suburbs and spurring development. Cedarvale – which took advantage of the new streetcar in their new promotional pieces – joined these discussions of annexation, which included a November 1912 meeting of Pellatt, John Gibson, and other investors with Toronto mayor Horatio Hocken. Although the benefits of extending city services like sewers and police and fire protection were discussed, Cedarvale ultimately stayed in the Township of York, not joining Toronto until the mega-city amalgamation in 1998.

“Cedarvale Annexation”, Toronto Daily Star, July 3, 1914. Credit: Source: Toronto Public Library.

Map of the township of York, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The original vision of Cedarvale centred around Connaught Avenue. From the gates at Bathurst, the street travelled northwest, passing through the Connaught Circle roundabout. It then spanned over the valley with the mighty Connaught Bridge. The bridge was important in connecting the upper and lower parts neighbourhood, an affinity still valued today. From here, Connaught spilt into east and west sections, surrounding a diamond island of gardens, finally terminating at Eglinton. Surrounding streets, including one named Pellatt Crescent, fed into the Connaught Gardens. Ravine Drive followed the valley below with lots for purchase. Running adjacent was a trail as well as a lake and tennis courts which could be accessed from the path or via stairs from Hillbrow and Roach Street (Heathdale and Humewood Street today). They would have been located where the Cricket Field and Phil White Arena stand today.

Map Of Cedarvale, Township of York, 1913. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Cedarvale/Connaught Bridge (now Glen Cedar Bridge), 1915. By 1973, the bridge was unsafe for vehicular traffic and was made into a pedestrian-only bridge. Debate swirled in the 1980s over safety and potential heritage status, and the bridge was ultimately replaced in 1989. In 2018, the bridge was again revitalized with replacements stairs spanning from the valley floor up to the bridge. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1930s, maps show a street grid which curiously deviates from the original vision, looking closer to the present-day neighbourhood. Connaught Gates and Connaught Circle still showed, but Connaught Gardens disappeared from the grid. The street was also renamed Claxton Boulevard and Glen Cedar Road, north and south of Connaught Circle respectively. It is notable here that Sir Henry Pellatt himself went bankrupt in 1923 after some shady dealings of buying land and borrowing money, and the street baring his name failed to exist.

Might’s clearview correct city directory map of Greater Toronto, 1930. Credit: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

Development in the 1930s to 1950s

Cedarvale’s streets began to modernize in the 1930s as its population grew and changed, and the city’s geographies necessitated better connectivity. Housing south of the valley had developed in the 1920s, but north of the valley, development stalled. As a point, Glen Cedar Road was not built on at all in 1930. The answer to this: A new $250,000 bridge opened on Bathurst Street on August 6, 1930, replacing an earlier muddy construction over Cedarvale Ravine. The move opened the entire area for development in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

Cedarvale ad, The Globe, September 14, 1929. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Bathurst Street, looking north from Lonsmount Avenue, 1900-1954. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Cedarvale’s empty streets, Might’s Directory, 1930. As seen the above map from this issue, Cedarvale is part of the Wychwood District. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Cedarvale & Forest Hill, 1935. Bathurst Street and its new bridge are at the centre of the image. The north part of Cedarvale filled out by 1950. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

A specialty to York Township, which lacked the building restrictions of Toronto, Bathurst Street between St. Clair and Eglinton Avenues became a sort of ‘apartment row’ in the inter-war years, providing the home to new residents. Architect Victor Llewellyn Morgan designed a few of these walkup lofts, including the 1931 Claxton Manor. Wordsmiths Northrop Frye and Ernest Hemingway also famously resided in Bathurst Street lofts.

By the 1950s, the Jewish community also moved north from downtown Toronto. The Goel Tzedec Congregation, whose synagogue was situated on University Avenue, looked to Bathurst Street North for a new site. Despite community opposition, York Township Council had approved the erection of a place of worship in September 1949. After a merger with the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Congragation, Beth Tzedec Synagogue was dedicated on December 9, 1955.

“Rap Synagogue For Cedarvale”, Globe and Mail, Nov 25 1947. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Site of Goel Tzedec Synagogue, 1951. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Cedarvale Ravine

With numerous access points, Cedarvale Park is well connected to the neighbourhood as it was originally intended. The space itself can be thought of in two sections. To the north, there is an open field area with panoramic views to the downtown Toronto skyline.

To the south, the park is a more wooded and wetland area with the overhead sights of valley-backing houses and the towering bridges of Glen Cedar and Bathurst. Castle Frank Brook also makes its appearance here, albeit briefly. In the 1910s, one could witness military demonstrations in the valley; in the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway is said to have meandered its grounds. But as much as Cedarvale Ravine is about the beauty all around, its story is as much about what is underneath — and what might have existed above.

Cedarvale, 1914. Credit: City of Toronto Archives


Spadina Subway/Expressway

Talk of a northward extension of Spadina Road began in the 1950s with formal plans by the Ontario Government announced in the 1960s. In June 1971, after serious community opposition, Premier William Davis cancelled the controversial Spadina Expressway, halting construction at Lawrence Avenue. This threw rapid transit plans up in the air, specifically the Spadina subway that would have ran along the highway. Since a highway would not happen, the route of the subway fell under debate. Under the original plans, the subway would have run from Downsview Airport through the ‘Spadina corridor’ south to Eglinton and then through Nordheimer and Cedarvale Ravines to Spadina Road, where it would join with Bloor Street at St. George Station. A new proposal favoured a route under Bathurst Street to the Bloor-Danforth Subway.

“New Subway Proposal”, Toronto Star, January 6, 1972. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Metro Toronto Council established a task force to determine its possibilities. The task force analyzed more than 10 possibilities and narrowed it down to 5 final routes. Two of the routes were variations on the original Spadina corridor; the other three followed Bathurst Street. All five designs recommend leaving the portion from Wilson Station to Eglinton untouched.

The ‘winning proposal’ had the subway cutting under Cedarvale ravine, then under Claxton and Raglan Avenues, under Bathurst, then south on Albany to Bathurst station, then bypassing Spadina Station to join with St George. It was chosen because of the possibilities to extend the subway south of Bloor to join Queen and to the waterfront. The downsides though were the requirement of acquiring 150 more properties and the demolition of 85 more houses, and would require construction on Bathurst.

“Final Choice”, Toronto Star, January 12, 1972. Ranee Station is today’s Yorkdale Station. Note the station under the Spadina alignment at Bathurst and Heathdale. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Proponents of the Spadina Expressway opportunistically favoured the original alignment because it meant that the Expressway could be added later. The borough of York – and the Cedarvale community specifically – did not favour either for the damage it would do to the ravine and for the expropriated properties. Preparations in 1971 had already interrupted recreational activities in the park. Debate continued into 1972. The Spadina line was a much needed relief line for the Yonge subway, which, even though was set to extend to York Mills from Eglinton in 1972 and to Finch in 1973, was at capacity. A decision was needed.

“Ten Citizens set out to rescue our ravines”, Toronto Star, June 10, 1972. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Finally in January 1973, Premier Davis announced that it would fund 75% of the cost of the subway. It was up to Metro to decide the route of the subway. Council voted in favour of the Spadina alignment for its lower cost and construction time. The Borough of York agreed to support the subway under the grounds that the proposed Bathurst station at Heathdale would be nixed.

“The Spadina Route”, Toronto Star, January 19, 1973. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Toronto City Council opposed the vote and opted to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to have it changed to the Bathurst alignment. It actually announced that it favoured a third route to the west, but if forced to choose, Bathurst was it. During the hearings, another proposal came onto the table from William Kilbourn to follow the Canadian National Railway. Nonetheless, construction on the transit line began in 1975 with the line opening from Bloor to Wilson in 1978 with two stations at Eglinton and St. Clair serving the Cedarvale area. The cancelled station at Heathdale explains long distance between stations.

Cedarvale, 1975. Note the cut and cover method of tunnel building. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Within Cedarvale Park, an emergency entrance at Markdale provides an obvious door into what lies below, but the rumblings of the subway are masked by the replenished canopy and wetland (albeit, the ravine like others in Toronto faces ecological collapse).


At Heath Street, one ascends out of Cedarvale Park near the north entrance of St. Clair West Station. Below, Castle Frank Brook continues under the subway station towards Nordheimer Ravine, leaving behind an area with layered history.

Useful Links

BlogTO – “A Brief History Of Castle Frank Brook, The Ravine Carver” by Chris Bateman

City of Toronto Archives – “A Work in Progress: Landscape Architects and Building Trades”

Discover The Don – “What Was Brewery Creek?”

Friends of Cedarvale

Globe & Mail – “Got a Gate” by John Lorinc

Jay Young – “Searching For A Better Way: Subway Life And Metropolitan Grown In Toronto, 1942-1978”

Lost Rivers – “Cedarvale Ravine”

Spacing – “The fall of Sir Henry Pellatt, king of Casa Loma” by Chris Bateman

Till Next We Trod The Boards – “Toronto’s Heritage Apartments”

Toronto Dreams Project – “Casa Loma & The Crooked Knight”

Toronto Star – “Ghosts of Spadina Expressway Haunt Us Still” by Shawn Micallef

Transit Toronto – “The Spadina Subway” by James Bow

Urban Toronto – “A Pictorial History Of Toronto’s Cedarvale Neighbourhood” by Edward Skira
Wayne Reeves and Christina Palassio – HTO: Toronto’s Water from Lake Iroquois to Taddle Creek and Beyond

Scenes From The McMichael Canadian Art Collection

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is synonymous with the Group of Seven. But its charm reaches beyond this obvious attention grabber. Like the paintings of these Canadian artistic pioneers, it’s all about the link between art and nature at the McMichael.

The story starts with Canadian art enthusiasts and collectors Signe and Robert McMichael, who gifted the McMichael in 1965 to the Province of Ontario (it opened a year later) with the idea of creating a centre for the nation’s artists and their works.

With grand windows throughout to offer views of the great natural landscape outside, the McMichael may be the best gallery space in the Toronto area. It also happens to be Signe and Robert McMichael’s former home, ‘Tapawingo’, which stood in the lush Humber Valley.

When the McMichael’s bought 10 acres in 1952 to build Tapawingo, the Village of Kleinburg — with its main strip just up the road on Islington Avenue — was itself a hundred years removed from its roots as a milling settlement on the Humber. The coming postwar decades would be pivotal for both the town and the museum: Kleinburg’s aim was to keep its historic integrity amongst suburban boom and the McMichael has its transition from a quiet private residence to an expanding public institution.

Kleinburg, 1905. Credit: City of Vaughan Archives.

McMichael Canadian Art Collection & Kleinburg, 1956-1975. Note the additions to Gallery. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Naturally, the galleries exhibit much of the famed works of Group of Seven — Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley — and associated artists Emily Carr and Tom Thomson. The great works of Norval Morrisseau and other Native artists are also present, demonstrating the importance of Aboriginal voices in the institution and helping in answering the perennial questions of “What is Canadian art?” and “What is included — and not included — in Canadian art?”

To keep things in the present, the McMichael also has rotating exhibits of current contemporary Canadian art. The current photo-exhibition on until October 21, 2018, “…Everything Remains Raw”, is about the history of Toronto Hip Hop.

Perhaps more impressive than the galleries themselves is everything outside them. An excellently paced and presented audio guide takes one through the grounds.

It starts with the Tom Thomson Shack where the artist himself lived and worked in the last years of his life, famously for a dollar rent. Its original home was in the Rosedale Ravine in Toronto behind the famous Studio Building. Unfortunately, he left Toronto an excursion to his beloved Algonquin Park in 1907, never returning to his work-live studio. His death remains a mystery today.

             

“Tom Thomson Shack in Art Gift to Metro”, The Globe and Mail, 20 June 1962. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

A small cemetery nearby houses the resting place of the McMicheals and members of the Group of Seven. The shape of their stones reflect each person’s work and character; Lawren Harris’ triangular marker for example evokes the mountains of his Arctic paintings.

Further is a Sculpture Garden of the works of Ivan Eyre. The picturesque settings of the area as a whole allows the museum to open itself up to wedding shoots.

 

lichen, a piece by Mary Anne Barkhouse and Michael Belmore featuring canines seemingly waiting for the bus, offers a whimsical yet provocative origin story. The transit shelter idea arose from the introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, oddly enough. In the early 20th century, all large predators were removed from the park as a safety precaution to visitors, allowing the elk population to grow unchecked.

To reintroduce ecological balance, Canadian Grey Wolves were reintroduced in 1995. Biologists who recommended the idea spoke local communities about the development, informing them the wolves would not be waiting at bus shelters for their children. The sculptures also reference the constant duality of effects of humans on nature and vice versa. Iichen was once located in the Toronto Sculpture Garden, too.

Finally, further past Wedding Hill and David Ruben Piqtoukun’s Inukshuk, a path leads one down to the Valley Trails — foot and bike paths which meander along and across the East Humber in a way that might evoke the historic Toronto Carrying Place. A less adventurous but still stunning Gallery Loop Trail leads one around the McMichael’s fieldstone walls and massive fenestration.

              

Scenes From Elora

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

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

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

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

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

           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       

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

 

Scenes From Ontario Place

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

           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           

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

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

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

              

Useful Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenes From Evergreen Brick Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brickworks, 1990. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenes From Kensington Market

What presumably started as pristine wilderness for many Indigenous peoples, the area that came to be Kensington Market began to take shape under the 1793 colonial park lot system established and administered by John Graves Simcoe and his successors. Here, plots 17 & 18 passed through several owners, eventually falling to Denison family. While today we associate the block between College & Dundas Streets and Spadina Avenue & Bathurst Street with a dense mix of narrow streets and an unlikely mishmash of altered structures, the only built form in the first part of 19th century was the Denisons’ Georgian manor, Belle Vue (also spelt Bellevue).

1842 Cane Topographical Plan of the City and Liberties of Toronto. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

Denison, George Taylor, ‘Bellevue’, Denison Sq., n. side, e. of Bellevue Ave. 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Lost in the modern geography of Kensington Market is the waterway and pond situated just above Belle Vue. Named for a rather unpleasant character in Toronto history, Russell Creek passed through the southern half of the block towards today’s Entertainment District before flowing into the old shore of Lake Ontario near Front & Simcoe Streets.

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

In the mid-1800s, the Belle Vue Estate was subdivided and town lots were put up for sale. Several marketing pieces at the time advertised the lots for sale. Notably, an 1854 pitch highlighted their location in “the most healthy and pleasant part of the city” at a great elevation from Lake Ontario. It also promoted the great proximity to the new Ontario Legislative Buildings and Government House, which as far as I know might have been proposed but were certainly never built (the current legislature opened in 1893).

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

1869 Plan of building lots on part of the Belle Vue estate in the City of Toronto, the property of J. Saurin McMurray, Esq.. Credit: Toronto Public Libary.

To make way for the residential neighbourhood, Russell Creek and its pond were buried in 1876, following a trend with other creeks in Toronto. Today, there is little trace of its existence. Compared to Garrison and Taddle Creeks though, Russell Creek seems to sit lower in the psyche and awareness of Torontonians as it is not as readily mentioned. Belle Vue would last for a few more decades, disappearing by 1890. Strangely, it seems to shows up in the Goads fire insurance maps as late as 1903, however. It was replaced by houses and then finally the Kiever Synagogue in 1927.

Although the house is gone, Belle Vue’s geographic imprint remains in a few locales. Bellevue Square, which historically served as the promenade grounds for the manor, was donated to the city as public space in 1887. Denison Avenue was the driveway to the grounds. The names of the streets themselves offer links to the Denison Estate and the English motherland in general with monikers such as Lippincott Street, Bellevue Avenue, Oxford Street, and of course, Kensington Street. The latter is a throwback to the London commercial district of the same name (it is not clear who in Toronto drew the connection and offered the designation, though).

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto. Belle Vue House, while now housing an address at 22 Denison Square, is positioned with its corners aligning with the directions of a compass. By the end of the century, one can see the modern roots of Kensington Market’s layout of narrow streets and closely bunched structures. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Of course, there is also the Victorian housing stock whose architectural style by definition is referential to the reigning monarch at the time. The early occupants of the neighbourhoood were unsuprisingly of largely White Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent. What happened to some of these houses over the next few generations erased that early connection to Britain, however.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the WASPs migrated to more favourable parts of Toronto. Finding opportunity and low rents, the Jewish community already situated in The Ward moved into those empty houses. It’s a common story to Toronto: a group occupies a space, leaves after it outlives its utility, and then a new group moves in and remakes it accordingly.

These East European Jews settled on Kensington, Augusta, and Baldwin Streets, not only residing in the former homes of their white predecessors, but also altering their fronts to accommodate commercial enterprise. And so began the ‘Jewish Market’. This ‘creation and re-creation’ happened over and over in Kensington Market. The Jews’ out-migration around World War II left their storefronts to other populations of Italian, Portuguese, Caribbean, and South & East Asian entrepreneurs, allowing new histories to be created.

The former Sanci’s fruit shop was the first non-Jewish merchant in Kensington Market. There’s a cross in the brickwork atop the store hinting at the building’s roots.

Baldwin Street, 1940s. Credit: Library & Archives Canada.

The importance of Kensington Market in the lives of generations of Canadian immigrants led to its designation as a place of national significance and as a National Historic Site in 2006. In 2017, Historica Canada neatly and creatively distilled its layered history into its first animated Heritage Minute. The clip nicely showcases the physical and cultural transformation of a shop through the decades, moving from the outside to the inside and back out again to show the masses of people who have frequented the Market through the ages.

The grand narrative of Kensington Market has then been this intersection between tangible (geographic) and intangible (cultural). That is to say, the histories of the people within the same physical space they have all come to call “home” over the years. Many writers have explored the theme, including Na Li in her book Kensington Market: Collective Memory, Public History, and Toronto’s Urban Landscape. The original Victorian homes, as altered as it has become after generations of use and reuse, become vessels to tell these stories.

From the Baldwin family countryside to the cafe- and bar-filled nexus of today, Kensington Market’s evolution was unplanned, organic, and anarchic, and yet somehow still falling in line with what came before. It survived urban renewal plans in the 1960s whose purpose to preserve the neighbourhood would have actually destroyed it. The quirks in its murals, hidden backways, street sights, and people can only exist within its borders. It cannot be replicated.

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto showing Kensington Place and Fitroy Terrace as part of the initial layout of the subdivided neighbourhood. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Useful Links

Doug Taylor – The Villages Within

JB’s Warehouse & Curio Emporium – “Toronto Back Streets: Denison Square”

Kensington Market Historical Society

Lost Rivers – “Bellevue”

Toronto Park Lot Project