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).
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.
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).
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).
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 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.
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 Halldescribes 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.
The Gooderham (Flatiron) Building, St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, and the newly reopened Berczy Park (formerly a parking lot), then and now. pic.twitter.com/YcCIjXVjx2
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.
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.
This still, in many ways, is an industrial area. Manhole covers hiding the buried Toronto Hydro lines tell me that.
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.
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.
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.
Across the way is warehouse looking thing. I don’t know what is or was, but I like it. Keystones!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Facing the museum is Pellatt Lodge, 1905, the residence of the Pellatts while the castle was under construction.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Worked into the park is neat granite mural which pays tribute to the Gibsons. It features Eva Gibson and Logo too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
Across the street is a nicely coloured residential complex. I do not imagine them being in existence for a long time, however.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 has several baseball diamonds, a dog park, and recently added a skating rink.
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.
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.
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.
Don Mills and Lawrence is at the epicentre for suburbia in Toronto. In 1953, it became the city’s first planned community – the first suburb. The affluent suburb. That’s not to say that residential areas did not exist outside of Hogtown’s core before this. Suburb here refers to cookie cutter bungalow-lined side streets and shopping centre-defined main ways – all tied together by the epitome of affluence: the automobile.
Don Mills represented a new consciousness in city building – a shift away from dense metropolises and a needed way to handle the post-war population boom. Some 50+ years later, Don Mills and Lawrence is at the centre of more innovation.
My first visit to the Shops at Don Mills was stemmed from a specific purpose: scouting out locales for a hair trim. It also gave me a chance to scout out a place I’ve heard about in name but never visited.
It’s a fun test to characterize the Shops. This is a mall, there’s little doubt about that. But at the same time, it’s very much unlike other malls we find in Toronto’s suburbia. It’s not the ‘multi-levelled, department store archored Scarborough Town Centre’ kind of mall. Although the shops stand side by side, this isn’t a ‘Golden Mile style strip mall’ kind of shopping centre either. For one, both types involve huge tracts of parking. The Shops at Don Mills lacks that. In its place we have a layout of narrow individually named streets and sidewalks decked out with lampposts, greenery, and benches.
At this point, it strikes me: this is all supposed to recreate a city feel. A look on the Shops website cements it: The Urban Village.
Here we have an urban environ in the heart of suburbia. That duality is very intriguing.
The shops themselves make the place a destination: Pandora, Aroma Espresso, Fisker, Glow Fresh Grill & Wine Bar, and the like. Incidentally, as a person that still labels himself as a poor student and not very shopping inclined, these are intimidating establishments with intimidating prices. The cut I was there to cut was a number I do not want to repeat. But I digress.
Two final pieces contribute to the village/town/city characterization. The Shops boasts a gathering area at its centre, aptly called the Town Square. Right now it is a skating track, but I imagine a beautiful lawn in the summer.
The southern edge of the square is marked by a Clock Tower, a landmark that normally highlights many a town or city, but here takes on an interesting form. I recognized the ‘branches’ as houses, but could not place its overall significance. Help via Instagram (thanks again @bobofeed) told me that the piece was the brain child of Douglas Coupland, and highlights the emergence (or explosion?) and importance of the suburb and Don Mills’ place in history as the host of this development. It is a great reminder to the pedestrians and motorists of this urban village that they are still, after all, situated in a suburb.
The Scarborough Town Centre and Scarborough Civic Centre are located in the geographic heart of Scarborough. The former also makes up the main commercial and transportation heart, and, the latter and its adjoined public square hold the administrative, political and cultural heart of the borough.
I exit the Scarborough RT and descend first upon Albert Campbell Square. The area is akin to the space in front of Toronto City Hall. Like its downtown counterpart, the forum fronts a modernist (former) city hall with an open space and stage. It is also named after a famous mayor, who, in fact, was Scarborough’s first in 1967. The square hosts and has hosted many activities such as a farmers’ market, cultural celebrations, and, in my own history, elementary school folk dancing.
The 1973 Civic Centre itself – one of a number of Raymond Moriyama creations in Toronto – is the political nexus for Scarborough. Of course, when I call it that, I note that this was more the case during pre-amalgamation Scarborough. But the Civic Centre continues as an administration centre for many city departments.
As with other Moriyama designs (North York Central Library, Toronto Reference Library), there are layers of floors.
After walking through the Civic Centre, I exit the other side. Crossing the street, I come to a field and an interesting piece of public art. The Hand of God is a hand perched atop a talk pole, propping up a man. Completed in 1973 by Carl Milles, it is symbolic of Mr. Campbell’s worldview (as expressed in the accompanying plaque).
There is construction around the south side of the Civic Centre, presumably for new condominiums. This is perhaps the latest identifying caveat – as demonstrated by the towers around Albert Campbell Square – it might also be a residential heart in Scarborough.
Walking inside, a new library smell greets me. I’m immediately struck by the abundance of light, wooden beams, and high ceilings. It’s actually a smaller space than I anticipated, but an amazing one nonetheless. As many have said, it’s a great addition to Scarborough and the Toronto Public Library system.
I sit down at one of the long communal tables to do some work, smiling as I periodically hear a parent ‘shhh’ing her children who are having an enthusiastic time at the KidsStop Centre. Library sounds.
When I make my exit, I ponder the fenced off construction zone adjacent to the library. Curious about it, I circle back into the library and inquire about it with a staff member at the circulation desk. She graciously tells me there’s some landscaping happening and hopefully there’ll be a parkette-type thing by the end of the summer. That’s reason enough to return!
Rounding the library, I find myself back at the civic square where an information map stump thing catches my eye. I can’t help but think that it’s in an odd location. One has to stand in dirt to read it.
I admittedly study it more than one should. It’s clearly an outdated thing because Simpson’s, Eaton’s, and The Bay (in its original 1979 spot which Walmart now occupies) are still on the map!
The old Scott Farm House – Baton Rouge, as it’s now known – is looking pretty lonely in its spot north of the mall.
I’m taking a stab that this thing dates from the mid- to late-1980s. Reasons? The Scarborough RT opens in 1985 and Simpson’s ceases to exist in 1991 when The Bay bought it out. Incidentally, this precipitated a game of retail musical chairs where The Bay moved into Simpson’s, Sears moved into The Bay, Sears moved into Eaton’s when Sears bought it out, and finally, Walmart moved into Sears. (Of course, now Sears is in trouble.)
I’m also going to guess that the wayfinding relic stump was moved here because the ‘You Are Here’ dot is not where I actually am.
For a look at the Scarborough Civic Centre and Scarborough Town Centre dated some time between 1973 and 1979, here’s a vintage image (original source unknown, although credit to HiMY SyED’s Flickr for the amazing find):
There is also a great blown up aerial shot of the area in the 1960s near the lower level food court in the hallway leading to the restrooms.