Category Archives: Public Art

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, dramatically altered they 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

Scenes From Berczy Park

If I could sum up the new Berczy Park, it would be a heavy expression of changing landscapes mixed in with a bit of whimsy — in a city that perhaps needs a lot more whimsy. One gets that immediately with the cat greeting patrons on Scott Street.

Dogs populate the inside and outside of the pool, water cascading out of their mouths and into the bone-topped fountain. Well, there is one confused feline among the canines, too.

Part of the appeal of parks is the context they exist in. Think Withrow Park, Christie Pits, and Trinity Bellwoods and how crucial they are to the larger Riverdale, Christie Pits, and Queen West Queen neighbourhoods, respectively. While the revitalized Berczy Park is going to be huge in the Old Town-Downtown Core area, the interplay between the park and its immediate surroundings is most intriguing. Having the fountain and the 19th century streetscape to its south as a backdrop makes for a perfect scene.

Robert Rotenberg in Old City Hall describes this stretch of Front East as having a  “comfortable, almost European feel”. With the addition of the park, I think this holds even more true. In particular, the Beardmore Building, 1872, is my favourite of the row with its beautifully restored yellow brick and arched windows.

The existence of Berczy Park is bittersweet in that the triangular block was once filled with warehouses and shops like the Beardmore. Beginning in the late 1950s but accelerating in the 1960s, these historic rows were knocked down, became parking, and then finally usable public space in 1980.

It’s easy to lament the loss – and indeed, we should (a plaque showcasing the former streetscape, anyone?) – but at some point we should move forward and make the best with what exists. Fortunately, that point has been taken very well Berczy Park.

Looking east, above more seating and gardens, one sees the giant mural draped across the back of the Gooderham Flatiron Building. The artwork was commissioned for the opening of the park in 1980.

Below it, an art piece stands for the park’s namesake, William Berczy, a settler in the Town of York and the communities along German Mills Creek in Markham.

Then, there’s the Gooderham Flatiron Building itself, at one time the great headquarters of Toronto’s brewing and distilling industry. It’s perhaps the most imaged structure in the city. With the updated Berczy Park, it’s in a position to be captured even more.

While its lasting existence seems so natural, the Coffin Block actually manned the odd intersection before it. I would say this is a case where heritage replacing potential heritage was not so bad.

Wellington St. E., looking w. from Church St., 1888. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Scenes From Casa Loma Neighbourhood

The journey begins on Dupont street at the northern terminus of St. George Street. Across the way is the very yellow Pour House pub, which much like the rest of the structures on the street is a converted 18th century home. These businesses are all huddle together to make the Dupont By the Castle BIA. Fact: Toronto is the originator of the BIA.

1. Dupont Pour House

This still, in many ways, is an industrial area. Manhole covers hiding the buried Toronto Hydro lines tell me that.

2. Toronto Hydro-Electric manhole cover

But it’s also a industrial area looking to be something else. The railway overpass on Davenport is a perfect example of that. It’s ugly and it’s grimy. But like our alleys, someone (or many someones) has taken this dead space and injected from life and creativity.

3. Davenport Avenue underpass mural

On the other side of the tracks (hmm, that sounds more menacing than I intended it be), Davenport meets Macpherson and Poplar Plains to make an odd intersection. It’s not very pedestrian friendly for someone trying to go from west to east, as I am now. Given that, OK, maybe the other side is a bit menacing.

4. Davenport, Poplar Plains, MacPherson Intersection

Finally mustering it, I come to the massive Macpherson Avenue Substation.  Completed in 1911, it was designed by city architect Robert McCallum who also did Yorkville Public Library and many early 20th century firehalls, among many other city owned buildings.

6. MacPherson Avenue Substation

7. MacPherson Avenue Substation

Across the way is warehouse looking thing. I don’t know what is or was, but I like it. Keystones!

8. MacPherson Ave warehouse

Next, I follow Rathnelly up, a charming street which shares (or lends?) its name to the area’s moniker – The Republic of Rathnelly. How and when did a micro-neighbourhood become a state, you ask? I had to ask as well. The answer is it’s one big inside joke dating back to the 1960s when the areas residents ‘broke away’ from Canada.

9. Rathnelly Avenue

Around the bend is High Level/Poplar Plains Pumping Station, another McCallum project from 1906 (with subsequent additions). Our Rathnellians (?) ‘occupied’ it while in ‘negotiations’ with the Canadian government.

It’s interestingly the second water plant on the site, replacing the old Yorkville Water Works. I make my way around and marvel the outside. There will never be another infrastructure building in this style again. And really, that’s for good reason, isn’t it? Things have to evolve and be of their period.

10. High Level Pumping Station

11. High Level Pumping Station

Leaving the water plant, I pass through the floating island park that is Boulton Parkette and continue up Davenport. I come across another power building, this time Bridgman Transformer Station, 1904. Now operated by Toronto Hydro & Hydro One, it was originally designed for the Electrical Development Company, of which Sir Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame (more in a moment on that) was the president.  In April 2015, it looks like there’s more work to be done.

12. Bridgman Transformer Station

13. Bridgman Transformer Station

14. Bridgman Transformer Station

Moving past the transformer station (and another weird three-way intersection), I continue along Davenport. At Madison, an orange building catches my attention. It stumps me. Waldorf? What’s that? Well, turns out it’s the Waldorf Academy, a private school which uses an alternative educational approach – one that’s holistic and multidimensional. Hmm, the more you know?

15. Waldorf Academy Madison Avenue

Davenport hugs the escarpment left behind by the ancient Lake Iroquois. The way up the hill is the Baldwin Steps, which are located up the street from the Toronto Archives. It’s been a long while since I’ve navigated them. In fact, I have very vague childhood memories of making the climb. There are joggers working them as I ascend. I envy them. They attack it so effortless. Meanwhile I have to catch my breath and relieve the burning in my thighs.

16. Baldwin Steps

17. Baldwin Steps

18. Baldwin Steps looking south

The top of the hill and the entire area at large is marked by two neighbouring museums. The first is Spadina Museum House and Gardens. It’s the 1866 manor of the Austin family, now a City of Toronto Historic Site restored back to the 1920s. It’s after closing time, so I can only admire from behind the gates. Next time.

19. Spadina House

Next, I walk around to Pellatt’s Casa Loma, also a Lennox design (perhaps his most famous?), completed in 1914.  The House on the Hill is a mishmash of styles and thus drives some architecture junkies nuts. Me, I’m mostly indifferent. As I scan it now, it’s definitely imposing, but doesn’t wow or horrify me. The one constant in its history has been it’s uncertain future – the idea of a civic museum inside its walls is one of them.

21. Casa Loma

23. Casa Loma plaque

Peering into the fountain, I don’t see any pennies. De-circulation will do that I guess. I also have to smile at the warning sign behind it. The only reason to make a rule is if there have been past examples.

24. Casa Loma Fountain

25. Casa Loma Fountain

Facing the museum is Pellatt Lodge, 1905, the residence of the Pellatts while the castle was under construction.

26. Pellatt Lodge

28. Pellatt Lodge

Up the street, I can see another tower rise above the land, and I admittedly have a “Another castle?!” moment. Then I realize these must be the stables – which my childhood does not recall at all but my brain knows a bit about. There’s some reno-ing happening here too. The best tidbit about the stables: SONAR was being developed in its tunnels during World War II.

29. Casa Loma Stables

30. Casa Loma Stables

Next, I backtrack on to Austin Terrace and give the street a little promenade. It’s narrow, it’s quiet, it’s treelined – all the checkmarks of a residential street checked off. My stopping point before circling back to the castle is a neat cottage-y house at Austin Court.

31. Austin Court house

From there, it’s down the hill on Walmer again where there are mansions overlooking the way. Hello Davenport, old friend. And hello, George Brown College. The school’s Casa Loma campus was founded here in the 70s and it definitely looks it. Or at least, the newer buildings do. Its older ones are repurposed industrial structures. I get a kick that there’s a Tim Horton’s neighbouring by. Students do need their caffeine after all!

33. George Brown Casa Loma

32. George Brown Casa Loma

34. George Brown Casa Loma

Continuing on, I hit Tollkeeper’s Park. It houses the Tollkeeper’s Cottage, a lesser known museum which throws back to the days of toll roads and the stations that operated them. This one at Davenport and Bathurst was in service as early as 1850 and the building itself dates to the 1830s. It’s definitely a great opportunity to tell the story of early York and winding Davenport Road. As I sniff around the site there’s a couple also checking it out. They go right up to it, but I don’t think they get very far because it seems to only be open on Saturdays.

35. Tollkeeper's Cottage Park

36. Davenport Road Plaque

Moving south, the TTC’s Hillcrest facilty hugs the west side of Bathurst and has been on the site since the 1920s. The Inglis building on its southern end catches my attention specifically. Those long arched windows.

37. TTC Hillcrest Yard Inglis

38. TTC Hillcrest Yard

Finally, the day ends as it began at the tracks. Animated faces greet me at the Bathurst underpass. On the other side, I elect to give my feet a break and catch a streetcar.

39. Bathurst Street underpass mural

40. Bathurst Street underpass mural

Scenes From Yorkville

40. Yorkville Avenue at Hazelton Avenue

Before I can start my stroll, I note the taste for coffee developing in my buds. I opt not for Starbucks and not for Timmies, which hang beside each other in competition, but for the Toronto Reference Library. Yes, it may be closed on this Easter Monday, but Balzac’s isn’t. The customer in front of me in line tries to pronounce the name of the brew she’s ordering; the barista has to correct her. Me, I don’t bother with the given name of my amber roast; I grab it and am on my way.  Now I can start.

1. Toronto Reference Library

Yorkville is about as quintessential a Toronto neighbourhood as you can get. It also has a deeply layered past and an ever evolving future, some of which I am already aware of and eager to see the evidence of. While its borders have expanded and contracted over its long history, it’s my thought that the part east of Yonge doesn’t get a lot of consideration.

And so, that’s what I intend to do to start things off.

I don’t get very far on Asquith before I see my first discovery. Although I’m hugging (not literally) the Bell building on the opposite side of the street, my eyes spot a pathway beyond the library across the way. The street sign reads ‘Sherlock Holmes Walk’. Literary giants next to one another! Having read Mr. Conan Doyle’s biography years ago, I imagine he would approve of the tribute – he loved Toronto and Canada (and hated the States).

3. Bell Canada Asquith Avenue

4. Sherlock Holmes Walk Toronto Reference Library 5. Sherlock Holmes Walk Toronto Reference Library

At the end of the way is Church Street, whose curvy route between Bloor and Yonge Streets is the result of a project to relieve traffic congestion in the 1920s. Even without this knowledge, the odd meeting of Church, Collier, and Park streets and the island it forms in the middle just looks unnatural. I look towards Davenport, spotting the famed Masonic Temple, 1917, but opt to head in the opposite direction.

Goads Atlas 1884, Yorkville east of Yonge

Yorkville, east of Yonge Street. Source: Goads Atlas, 1884.

My next stop, situated beside a singular Victorian house (no doubt once part of a row), is Asquith Green, which sadly is more muggy brown than green. Still though, I remind myself of the parkette’s potential in the summer and give it points for the animal cutouts and accenting structure in the middle. I don’t know the source of what I think is a quote, but subsequent Googling has produced ‘We Rise Again’, an Eastern Canadian music classic. Here’s a  moving version with the great Maritme songstresses, Anne Murray and the late Rita MacNeil.

7. Victorian house beside Asquith Green Park

8. Asquith Green Park

9. Asquith Green Park

Following Park Road up, I come to Rosedale Valley Road. This quiet throughway marks the border between Yorkville and its upscale residential sister, Rosedale.

It is also built on top of the now completely buried Castle Frank Brook. It is particularly important in shaping the modern geography of Yorkville, but also to its history – particularly in its brewing and brick making past. Located southwest of me near Sherbourne Street, for example, was Joseph Bloore’s brewery. Bloor Street, of course, is his namesake. (Mr. Bloore also holds the distinction of having the freakiest portrait of any figure in Toronto’s history.) Parkland marks the intersection, and trudge through it to arrive at Severn Street.

Joseph Bloor Brewery, 1865

Joseph Bloor Brewery, 1865. Source: Toronto Public Library.

12. Lawren Harris Park

14. Lawren Harris Park

The tiny dead end street is anything but inconsequential. For one, it’s named after John Severn, another 19th century brewer. His establishment stood at Yonge and Church. Moreover, Castle Frank Brook’s alternate name is Severn/Brewery Creek.

Severn's Brewery, 1870s

Severn’s Brewery, 1870s. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Severn's Brewery, 1912

Severn’s Brewery, 1912. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Perhaps even more notable to the street is that one can find the Studio Building. On the way here, I passed through Lawren Harris Park; Mr. Harris  lived and worked in the  Studio Building, 1914, along with other members of the Group of Seven.

16. Severn Street 17. Studio Building Severn Street

The Studio Building holds double distinction as a National Historic Site and a Toronto heritage property. The Toronto Historical Board plaque in particular informs me that the Harris in Lawren Harris is of the Massey-Harris industrial empire. Learn something everyday. The Studio Building was designed to be a secluded quiet spot where artists can work their creative process. As I move around the building I hear the periodic screeching of the Yonge subway and somehow I think that doesn’t completely hold true today (although the surrounding parkland does help a bit).

18. Studio Building Toronto plaque

19. Studio Building National Historic Site plaque

I continue on my way, this time following Aylmer up. I stop for a moment to watch the trains roll in and out of Rosedale Station and then cross Yonge. The street becomes Belmont and I’m liking the streetscape on either side of me. Other than admiring the charm, however, I do have another purpose for being here.

22. Rosedale Station from Aylmer

23. Belmont Street Toronto

24. Belmont Street

25. Belmont Street

Belmont House is a retirement home and long term care centre built in the 60s. More interesting to its story is that it is built on the site of an Aged Men’s Home, Aged Women’s Home, and Magdalen Asylum & Industrial House of Refuge.

The latter establishment is most fascinating. On first glance at the name, it doesn’t sound like a particularly good place – asylums generally don’t provoke the best connotations and the Biblical character it’s named for isn’t always portrayed in the best light either. The ever trustworthy Wikipedia tells that Magdalen Asylums are not just a Toronto thing. Its history, however, promotes it as a place of care for homeless women and I suppose I will take it as such.

26. Belmont House Toronto

27. Belmost House

This detour completed, I circle back to Yonge Street and walk north. I turn onto Ramsden Park, the former site of 19th century brickyards. Castle Frank Brook ran through here too, the riverbed making for rich clay deposits. The park’s uneven, dug-in landscape is the only remnant of its industrial past. (And here I’ll shamelessly plug my Industrial Heritage Map). There’s also a few stubborn remnants of winter in a file snow piles that refuse to acknowledge the existence of spring.

Yorkville Brickyards Goad's, 1884 - Copy

Yorkville Brickyards. Source: Goad’s Atlas, 1884.

Yorkville Brickyards, 1880s

Yorkville Brickyards, 1880s. Source: Toronto Public Library.

29. Ramsden Park

30. Ramsden Park

Pears Street, which runs adjacent, is named for one of the brick makers. A cat lounges on the sidewalk and soaks up the sun. He has the right idea. I eventually hit Avenue Road. Across the way is 174 Avenue, otherwise known as the Village Corner in the 1960s Yorkville folk scene. The Village Corner gave the first break to Ian & Silvia and a young Gordon Lightfoot in 1962. For more on Gordon Lightfoot’s Toronto, look here please.

31. Pears Avenue Cat

32. 174 Avenue Village Corner

With a skip down the street and a turn onto Hazelton Avenue, I’m onto more familiar settings when it comes to the neighbourhood of Yorkville. Hazelton is considered part of the heart of the Village and is pretty much an architecture lover’s dream. Bay and Gable, Gothic, Worker’s Cottage…it’s hard not to dream while being here. Alas, I stop myself from getting too ‘in the clouds’.

33. Hazelton Avenue

34. Hazelton Avenue

The southern end of the street has a more commercial character. It features Heliconian Hall, the second National Historic Site of the day (and, like the Studio Building, also holds dual heritage recognition). The Hall is the counterpart to a place like the Arts & Letters Club on Elm Street in that it was originally a professional association for women when they were excluded from Arts & Letter Clubs. Today it is an event space.

Across the way are a line of boutiques and neat little street art. I lament at the sight of one characters wearing a Leaf jerseys. Somehow the ‘maybe next year’ saying isn’t appropriate. They are also the lead in to Hazelton Lanes, the premiere mall of the Village.

36. Hazelton Avenue street art 38. Hazelton Lanes

39. Hazelton Lanes street art

Yorkville Avenue marks the end of the street. At the corner is the Hazelton Hotel, which represents everything Yorkville is today – fashionable, luxurious, and expensive. The Hotel replaced a series of rowhouses after the heyday of the bohemian village, one of which housed the Riverboat Coffee House. This was the most famous of all coffee houses and another venue Mr. Lightfoot got his ‘chops.’

41. Hazelton Hotel

Yorkville Avenue Riverboat

I follow the street east, passing the first Mount Sinai Hospital (1922) and the Sheriff’s House (1837) on either side of the street. I peek down Bellair and inwardly judge the patio-ers. I know it’s a sunny day and there’s a certain desperation for more welcoming climates, but it is still very chilly and not quite patio weather. Moving on, the wideness of Bay Street to me breaks apart the neat, quiet street vibe. It’s no wonder that, like Church Street, it didn’t always run through Yorkville. Bay was extended north to Davenport in 1922.

42. Sheriff's House Yorkville Avenue

43. Yorkville Avenue and Bellair

44. Bay Street Yorkville

In any case, I cross it and pass the shiny and blue Four Seasons Hotel (which might be my favourite tall towers in the city) and its adjoining parkette. Beside is Fire Hall #10, 1890, which displays the Yorkville Coat of Arms. The emblem was once located a stone’s throw away at the now lost Yorkville Town Hall on Yonge Street. Decked on the coat of arms are symbols of early industrialists that built the Village, including our friend Severn the brewer.

45. Four Seasons Hotel Park

47. Four Season Hotel Toronto 48. Yorkville Fire Hall

49. Yorkville Fire Hall Coat of Arms

Beside the fire station is Yorkville Library, 1907.  This Beaux-Arts gem is one of the famed Carnegie Libraries. Adjoined to it is Town Hall Square Park, which, and I know parks come in different forms and sizes, but isn’t too park-ish too me. Maybe users of the park, like the woman promenading around with her dog, disagree.

50. Yorkville Library

51. Yorkville Town Hall Square

52. Yorkville Town Hall Square

I leave the area and head down a laneway to Cumberland. Cumberland Terrace is to my left. It’s a bit of an oddity within its surroundings. It might have fit in well in 1970s when Yorkville was beginning its gentrification, but now it’s a bit of a tacky sour thumb.

Village of Yorkville Park (doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?) is a bit of an oddball park too. It’s meant to represent the diversity of Canadian landscapes from coast to coast. I wouldn’t have known this if I had not read it. The highlight for most people is the giant rock which represents the Canadian Shield (and actually the hunk of rock really did come from the Canadian Shield!). I take a seat on some nearby rest points, and, as the subway rumbles under me, I recognize that park does it’s job. It’s well used and a meeting point for people. It’s excellent for people watching, for example  the people lining the other side of the street and sitting in the patio of Hemingway’s (more internal judgement).

54. Village of Yorkville Park 55. Village of Yorkville Park

58. Cumberland Avenue

59. Hemingway's Yorkville

Down Bellair I go and I’m at Bloor Street. Needing to cross the street, I head towards Bay.  The Manulife Centre, 1974, presides over the intersection and its ill-fated scramble crossing. From mynew location, I get a good view of the ‘Mink Mile’ that is Bloor. A noted spotting is the Pottery Barn, whose facade alludes to its prior incarnation as the University Theatre.

60. Bloor Street Mink Mile 61. Manulife Centre

62. Bloor Street University Theatre Pottery Barn

I take a little detour down St. Thomas and catch a look at the sophisticated Windsor Arms Hotel, 1927. It actually reminds me of a fortress. This area wasn’t part of the original Village of Yorkville, but as mentioned earlier, borders have expanded and contracted, and somehow the area south of Bloor is lumped into Yorkville. The Windsor Arms fits in well with the swankiness of the neighbourhood anyways. As I’m admiring and snapping pictures, a UPS driver buzzes the door of the adjacent University Apartment. He doesn’t find who he’s looking for.

63. Windsor Arms Hotel

64. Windsor Arms Hotel

I have to let out an internal weep at what I see at the construction site on the opposing corner. There are Victorian facades fronting an empty pit, and I realize we’re about to get a facadist (ie, cop out) approach to preserving the heritage elements to whatever development is on the way. Shame.

65. Sultan & St. Thomas development

66. Sultan & St. Thomas development

Back on Bloor, I make a mental cue for Pink Floyd because I’m off to Yonge to end things where they began. It’s actually a sad note, because, like the site of Sultan and St. Thomas Streets, I note with a frown at the ‘progress’ on the Stollery’s site and how poorly the demolition unfolded. Across the way, One Bloor inches closer to completion.

67. Stollery's

68. One Bloor Toronto

Scenes From Todmorden Mills

I get off the 100C Flemingdon Park bus at Broadview and Mortimer and cross the street. To the west, Mortimer becomes Pottery Road and is my route on the way to Todmorden Mills Heritage Site. A sign ushers me to the descent.

1. Pottery Road Sign

And quite the descent it is! There are several topographical kinks within the city, and this street is definitely one of them. I’m no cyclist myself, but I have to feel for the people coming up the hill. In fact, as I read more about it , Pottery Road ranks up there for people on bikes as the toughest to navigate. My pity pretty soon turn inwards, because I realise that I’ll probably have to muster the climb on the return trip. D’oh.

2. Pottery Road Descent

Another sign and a bricked path ushers me into the Todmorden Mills grounds. Located in the Don River Valley, it’s a site that claims both industrial and natural heritage. In 1967, it was re-adapted as a historic site and operates today under the City of Toronto Museums to help tell the story of Toronto. I was here once before, although very briefly to help out to an event. Today is a long overdue chance to do some more exploring of the museum and the great Wildflower Preserve I’ve heard so much about. (Although, ironically enough, I still don’t have an adequate amount of time to do a just visit). I also read about an intriguing photo exhibition in the Papermill Theatre, which is my first stop.

3. Todmorden Mills City Museum Sign

On the way toward the building, I have to look up to the smokestack, which was nominated for a 2013 Heritage Toronto Award for its recent restoration. Anyone who has ridden down the Don Valley Parkway has seen the chimney and its giant lettering.

4. Brick Path

5. Papermill Theatre Smokestack

Inside the Papermill Theatre is an art show entitled ‘The Past is Never Far.’ It features the work of three people who have visually captured the city at various points in its history: Elizabeth Simcoe, who painted some of the first images of Toronto, William James, who took 6000 some odd photos of the city which are all digitized in the Toronto Archives, and Summer Leigh. If the last name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because she’s the artist behind the show.

6. The Past Is Never Far

Summer takes the images of her predecessors and photographs their subjects in their modern locations. So we can find James’ photo of the dirty foot of Yonge Street in 1909 mixed in with her take of the same site the 21st century. Or Lady Simcoe’s view of Toronto harbour in 1793 with the current incarnation of the shore as we see it today. It all makes for a great visual look into Toronto’s past and present.

Taken together, the exhibition tells a great story. Its message comes in the title, and is something I have been saying and thinking for a while now: Toronto is a layered city. Some of its (her?) landforms and landmarks have changed a great deal. Some haven’t. Perhaps some of the changes aren’t immediately apparent to us, but they are there nonetheless. The past isn’t far. You just have to dig for it, do some analysis, maybe even put on a photo exhibition.

That said however, perhaps some things do stay the same. Summer has one image up of William James that features the Don River Valley flooded in 1910. 100 years and a parkway later and we’re still facing the wrath of the overflowing Don. I shake my head and smile at that. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, n’est-ce pas?

9. The Past Is Never Far

As a nice and unexpected treat, the artist herself is on hand, and I am able to pick her brain about what I see – whether she was actually at the disputed  location of the Simcoes’ Castle Frank residence, as an example. Among the random things we talk about are old school horse drawn streetcars and being de facto tour guides for people in our lives. Through that chat it quickly becomes clear that she is a true buff in Toronto history, whose knowledge, talent, and vision really shows in her work. We probably can geek back and forth about the city for another good chunk of time, but alas, time isn’t abundant today and I graciously thank her again and make my exit.

I head up to the brick path and continue down it. To my left, I see a familiar blue marker. The Ontario Heritage Trust sign gives my the need-to-know of  Todmorden’s history. I briefly circle around the exteriors of the buildings. I did some reading prior to coming, and, if I had more more time, I would enjoy a tour, but it will have to wait until next time.

10. Ontario Heritage Trust Todmorden Mills Sign

Also happening on the grounds of the museum is Eco-Art-Fest, an arts, heritage, culture festival put on by No. 9, who I first heard about during Jane’s Walk preparations. There is a designated ‘chilling’ area which has some pretty soothing country tunes going, an elevated platform (I think it’s also a stage) with an oven, picnic benches, and craft table where a few children try their hands at water colour painting (shoutout to Elizabeth Simcoe with that activity).

17. Outdoor Area with Oven

I continue on the brick path once again, heading toward the bridge. I see a few joggers around, and I have to admit that it that this would be a very good place for a run. I would run through here if I loved closer. A few feet before the bridge is a swirly blue line with the words ‘Don Was Here’ in bold lettering. No, some guy named Donald hasn’t marked his presence. It’s actually a public art initiative commissioned by No. 9 and curated by Labspace Studio in partnership with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. There are several of these ‘Don Was Here’ markers from Todmorden Mills to the mouth of the river which shows the meandering route of the Don before it was rerouted and straightened. It’s a pretty amazing tribute to the city’s natural heritage. The project has got an interactive site too…with a map!

12. Don Was Here at Todmorden Mills

I notice some letter on the side of the bridge as I cross it, but may little mind to it (more on this later). Instead, I focus on the green area it overlooks. I walk around (passing another ‘Don Was Here’ marker) and inspect it a little better. Beyond that it looks really beautiful, I can’t pick out any species or just the entire ecological significance of it.

13. Don Was Here at Todmorden Mills

14. Bridge

I circle around and head back to the open area with the benches so I can give the Wildflower Preserve a walkthrough. I am greeted by a pair of signs to explain everything. It turns out the area under the bridge was the last area on the trail. I get the signs on my phone because I know I’ll need them. And hey, now I know what an Oxbow is.

15. Wildflower Preserve Sign

16. Wildflower Preserve Sign

I spend a few minutes at the pond to take in everything. Gazing out and down at the green surface, I am hoping to spot something alive. Instead, I just see a pop can half-submerged in algae and just think somebody has really missed the point. I do catch movement, something skipping across the water. I can’t tell if it’s a fish or a frog, but I take it anyways and move on.

19. Wildflower Preserve Pond

The tree canopies are tall enough to make me feel closed in and away from everything, but even with the rustling wind, buzzing insects, chirping birds, I still can hear highway traffic. It’s a weird thing spot to be in. I feel like I’m in a secluded spot, but really, I am not. Actually, it reminds me of wandering the Betty Sutherland Trail near the 401. A city within a park, indeed.

At one point, my curiosity is piqued when I spot what looks houses floating in the oxbow. I have to maneuver through and over things to get to the water’s edge. Yup, they are floating houses. Either some trekkers got really mischievous and creative or this is something deliberate and tied to the museum. I suspect the latter. I do some research after the fact, and the Ec0-Art-Fest website and its scrolling banner images provide the answer. The houses are an installation for the festival – as is the lettering on the bridge (which read from the other side says ‘Like a Bridge’) and the ‘Don Was Here’ project. Eureka!

22. Boat houses Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve

As I walk the paths, I try to see if I recognize any flora. I think the yellow flowers are goldenrod, but I’m not willing to bet my guitar on it. In co-creating a nature walking tour last summer, I was introduced into identifying certain floral species, but it does not help me out here. Instead, I just go back to marveling at the Preserve in a big picture sense.

20. Goldenrod, maybe

21. Bridge

I remember something Summer said about our former industrial centres. Places like Todmorden, the neighbouring Evergreen Brickworks, and the quarries of Greenwood and Smythe Parks were pretty dirty looking once upon a time. To see their conversion into beautiful natural and park lands is just remarkable. Tormorden and the Brickworks in particular have their own ecosystems, which makes this preserve more amazing to be in and think about.

For a while I try to go off the main path onto offshoot routes, but then I realise that I really have no idea where they would end up. And I’m being stupid with time. So I turn back and get to the end of the wooded area. I’m at the back of the parking lot, and instead of walking through it, I turn around and tour the Preserve again. When I reach the beginning, I spot a warning I missed the first go around. I smile at the mention of the ‘East York’. The borough lives on.

24. Wildflower Preserve

26. Wildflower Preserve Sign Borough of East York

Walking back to Pottery, I give the museum one last look and then head off to do the climb. Part of me wants to visit the Brickworks, but I know this is not doable. I convince myself it would be a real beneficial exercise to power through at a quick pace, but halfway I’m a bit gassed and cursing my idea. Fortuitously, I do break beside a Sumac, though! Happy that I recognize something, I leisurely finish the ascend and then make it back to The Danforth.

27. Todmorden Mills

28. Pottery Road Sumac

Scenes From Gibson Park

If I didn’t know the context behind Gibson Park, I would figure it to be an interesting place with creative yet seemingly senseless public art. Nothing is senseless, however, and I am well aware of its context. There were a few discoveries to be had – even a poetic display about discovery and exploration themselves.

Approaching the park from Beecroft, I see a random horse next to a pole with rings attached to it. This is Stephen Cruise’s 1998 One Hundred Links — One Chain. Several rocks populate its base while a couple of bushes – sadly succumbing to winter – accompany it at either side. I nearly miss the name of the park behind it.

Gibson Park One Hundred Links - One Chain

Of course, the rhyme and the reason lie in the park’s namesake – Mr. David Gibson – whose former Georgian-style residence (now a City of Toronto museum) rests nearby. Gibson was a land surveyor in the 19th century; the post with the trinkets represents his tools of the trade. The rocks aren’t just rocks either. A closer look produces geographic and UTM coordinates for the park. Pretty cool, eh?

Gibson Park One Hundred Links - One Chain

The horse? Well, that’s a reference to an archival photo of Gibson House taken of granddaughter Eva Gibson in a now lost path of the home.

Eva Gibson and Logo (Gibson House Museum).

Eva Gibson with Logo, circa 1905. Source: Gibson House Museum.

Traveling around the display, I see an ample amount of seating and chess tables. I have yet to see anyone play a game in public at any location. I think about doing it myself sometime…and then realize they would be pretty short contests because I am terrible.

Gibson Park Chess Tables

The parkette area is very nicely designed, and nearly makes me neglect the adjoining green space. It is a decently sized lot, but the construction wall at its eastern fringe has me considering the ‘City Within A Park’ motto yet again. More specifically, I doubt whether to even call this a ‘natural space’. Beyond the barrier, a tower rises above Gibson Park. There are a bunch of them springing up around the area as a whole. If I look hard enough into the distance, I can barely make out Gibson House.

Gibson Park (2)
I circle back, wanting to look at the art display again. In doing so, I cross perhaps the neatest  and unexpected installation I’ve seen in Toronto. I see a poem spread across five planks. They read:

“We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.”
‘Little Gigging’ Four Quarters
-T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (1)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (2)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (3)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (4)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (5)
I sit down to ponder everything amazing about this find. The work of T.S. Eliot – one of the great literary communicators – finding itself into this little park in North York. And talking about exploration no less! What kind of exploration? I’m not sure. The city wanderer in me takes it as literal at first, but perhaps there’s something more symbolic to it. That is to say, life is an exploratory sequence of happenings – taking us from us from place to place and experience to experience. Perhaps when we circle back to our roots and to the core of who we are (were?) at the start of it all, would we recognize ourselves and everything?

Update: In 2015, the Gibson Square condo development by Menkes Developments finally wrapped up. The result was a completed, redeveloped Gibson Park, which opened in May 2015.

Gibson Park 2
The path to getting the Gibson Square Condos involved a Ontario Municipal Board challenge by Toronto City Council. Menkes won. To gain approval for their project, the developer also agreed to redo Gibson Park. The company turned over ownership of the park to the City of Toronto, but it handles all maintenance.

Gibson Park 3

Gibson Park 4

Worked into the park is neat granite mural which pays tribute to the Gibsons. It features Eva Gibson and Logo too.

Gibson Park mural 2

Gibson Park mural
Over on Yonge Street, the towers loom above Gibson Square. In the middle of the space is a Tolman Sweet Apple Tree, the last tree connect to the Gibsons’ historic apple orchard.

Gibson Square

Tolman Sweet Apple tree
Gibson House Museum

Related Links

Inside Toronto Beach Mirror – “NATURAL ROOTS: The Tolman sweet apple at Yonge and Sheppard is the last tree from David Gibson’s orchard” by Edith  George

Toronto Star – “Gibson Square revives historical spirit of North York” by Tracy Hanes

Scenes From Greenwood Avenue

Note: These travels were made in late November 2013. It was a pleasant day. No snow on the ground, and although it is now alive and serving the community, the Brickyard Grounds was not ready then.

Greenwood Avenue is a curious little throughway in Leslieville. OK, perhaps not so little – it runs from  O’Connor to Queen Street, a distance of 3.6 kilometres. I, however, tackle the street from the Danforth southward – a fortunate choice because northbound Greenwood is built on an incline.

Greenwood south from Oakvale

I deliberately walk on the west side of the street because my first sight/site of note will be the TTC’s Greenwood Subway Yard. Looking far into the distance , I can see the faint outline of the downtown skyline fitted inside the chain link, highlighted by the giant toothpick-like structure. Gazing down at my immediate surroundings, I see a massive facility devoted to housing and servicing subway cars. The Bloor-Danforth subway doesn’t come around until the 1960s, so it begs one of my favourite questions: what was this area before?

Of course, I already know the answer going in.

Greenwood Yard (1)

Greenwood Yard (2)

Greenwood Yard (4)

My interest in Greenwood Avenue arose while researching this east end neighbourhood for a walking tour of Little India for Heritage Toronto. One of my goals was to get an understanding of what Gerrard Street and the surrounding community was like prior to the creation and growth of the Gerrard India Bazaar in the 1970s and 1980s.

One of the most fascinating tidbits that came out of this was that Greenwood Avenue south of the Danforth was lined with claymines and brickyards once upon a time. This intrigued me because looking at the neighbourhood today, I would have never guessed this. It’s a quiet, unassuming residential street. It’s this hidden history that gets me. We think of the Don Valley Brickworks as the place that built Toronto, not where this residential neighbourhood now lies.

In some ways, it reminded me of my travels along Carlaw Avenue a few blocks to west. Both streets hold an industrial past. Both streets are now largely residential. The difference is the majority of the factories on Carlaw still remain, giving us at least an obvious glimpse into the past.

GreenwoodGoads19131

Greenwood Avenue c. 1913. Note the now buried-creeks. Vital to any clay deposit.

Yes, the Greenwood Subway Yard was once a giant clay pit. As this Transit Toronto article tells us, the TTC purchased the 31.5 acre site, which, after the clay beds were depleted, was being used as a garbage dump.

The 1913 City of Toronto directories tell me of a few enterprises that were once on the site: Standard Brick Co. at 500 Greenwood, Isaac Price Brickyard at 420-430 Greenwood, Bell Bros & Co. at 386 Greenwood, and A H Wagstaff Brick Co. at 362-368 Greenwood.  I have pinned them on my map of Toronto’s Industrial Heritage which you can see here (do check it out, it’s fun!).

GreenwoodAerial1953

Aerial of Greenwood Subway Yard, c. 1953. Still a pit.

Across the street is a nicely coloured residential complex. I do not imagine them being in existence for a long time, however.

Greenwood & Felstead Apartments

I was aware of the yards on the other side of Greenwood as well: just north of the tracks was the John Price Brickyard (335-405 Greenwood), further up from that and south of Felstead Avenue was the John Logan Brickyards (471 Greenwood). The latter of these is significant because John Logan’s enterprise later became the Toronto Brick Company, which was the last of the brickyards on the street.

Logan's Brickyards, c. 1912

Logan’s Brickyards, c. 1912

Logan's Brickyards 2

Logan’s Brickyards, c. 1917.

Toronto Brick Company Walpole and Felstead

Toronto Brick Company, south of Felstead, c. 1952. Right around the time of its closure.

Greenwood & Felstead

Greenwood & Felstead, 2013.

There is a Torbrick Road! Not only that, but as I walk down Torbrick Road, I can see that houses are very modern. Toronto Brick Co. outlasted until the 1950s, which makes this all come together. New area, new houses. I wonder how the residents feel about living on what was a dirty pit.

TorBrick Road (1)

Torbrick Road (3)

Passing an apparent staircase to nowhere that’s actually a remnant entrance to the former brickyard, I elect to travel to Gerrard on the west side of the street. I go under the CNR tracks and pass by another marker.

Wagstaff Drive (2)

Mr. Wagstaff ran the yard near the GTR tracks.

In my previous visit to the southwest corner of Greenwood and Gerrard some months ago, the gallery housed in this building ceased operations. Now, I walk by it and I see that a “Brickyard Grounds Fine Coffee” is ready to take over its space! What a tribute to the local heritage!

I make a giant note of it and vow to return when it is up and running (which, since this exploration, has happened). If Gerrard Street East is undergoing a bit of an identity shift with art galleries and coffee houses springing up, The Brickyard Grounds fits right in there!

Brickyard Grounds (1)

Brickyard Grounds (2)

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs

SW corner Greenwood and Gerrard, c. 1934

On the wall of the Grounds is a spectacular public art piece. There are so many great ones in the city. Doing a little digging, this one is entitled “Bricks and Wagons: A Greenwood Allegory” and looks to be a ‘throwback’ to the days of old days in the community. My favourite part are the street signs with the names of all the former brickyards.

Greenwood Mural (1)

Greenwood Mural

Greenwood Brickyard Signs

Greenwood Brickyard Signs (4)

Greenwood Brickyard Signs (3)

Greenwood Brickyard Signs (2)

Then, of course, I encounter Greenwood Park – notable for its size, hills, and view of Toronto. It looks a bit ‘dug in’, and that’s because it was once the site of the Joseph Russell Brickyard. In 1920s it was opened as Greenwood Athletic Field, but as local historian Joanne Doucette’s Pigs, Flowers, and Bricks: A History of Leslieville to 192o tells me, the feeling to turn the abandoned clay pit into a park was not as obvious as one might expect. Some Councillors felt that creating a park would encourage the working class population in this blue collar area to loaf around. Interesting.

Greenwood Park (1)

Greenwood Park (3)

Greenwood Park 1922

Baseball in Greenwood Park, c. 1922.

Greenwood Park Opening 2

Greenwood Park Opening, 1920.

Greenwood Park has several baseball diamonds, a dog park, and recently added a skating rink.

Greenwood Park (6)

Greenwood Park Baseball Diamonds (1)

Greenwood Park Baseball Diamonds (2)

The area south of the park is intriguing. Dundas Street is one of the most peculiar streets in Toronto because of the manner in which it snakes through the city. This is because it is an amalgamation of previously existing roads as well as the creation of new paths altogether. This portion of Dundas doesn’t come into existence until the 1950s.

GreenwoodGoads19132

Greenwood south of Gerrard, c. 1913. Doel and Applegrove Avenues both eventually get absorbed into the new Dundas Avenue, with a new road constructed to connect them.

Curvy Dundas

Winding Dundas, south of Greenwood Park

Greenwood Avenue and Dundas Avenue East

Greenwood Avenue and Dundas Avenue East, looking southeast

On Dundas, I head east to Billings and then up to Athletic Avenue, noting the near century houses along the way. Before its creation, the site of Billings Avenue once housed Morley and Ashbridge’s Ashbridge Brick Co., addressed in the 1913 Directories at 119 Greenwood Avenue. Ashbridge of course is a famous name in the east end, and his partner also had a street named after him. We know it today as Woodfield Road.

Athletic Avenue, by the way, remains as a final tribute to the stadium which was torn down after WWII. At the end of the street, a set of stairs present themselves to me. Curious, I descend them and find myself on another residential street. This is post-war Hertle Avenue.

Althletic Avenue Stairs

Hertle Avenue Postwar House

I tour through the street until I hit Highfield road. From there, I conclude my journey by walking up to Gerrard, where I catch the eastbound streetcar to Main Street Station.