Category Archives: Scarborough

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

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

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

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

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

By Bob Georgiou

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

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

Toronto Daily Star, Nov 4, 1971

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

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

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

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

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

Globe & Mail, June 30, 1937

Globe & Mail, July 11, 1938

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

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

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

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

Toronto Daily Star July 31, 1956

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

Globe & Mail, Feb 26, 1958

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aerial, 1983. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto Star, Oct 7, 1989

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

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

Agincourt’s Brookside: From Farm to Subdivision

A curious item in the Toronto Public Library’s Digital Archive is an image of farm or ranch located in Agincourt. The picturesque scene is “Brookside”, the estate of the Pattersons, located on the northeast lot of the intersection of Kennedy Road and Sheppard Avenue. The evolution of this property is an interesting story.

Paterson, “Brookside”, Sheppard Ave. E., n.e. lot Kennedy Road, 1905. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The Patterson family of Scarborough had three lots on the east side of Kennedy Road (lot 28) between Sheppard Avenue (Concession III) and Finch Avenue (Concession IV) in Agincourt, together totalling 200 acres. The middle Patterson lot was “Elmridge“, whose farmhouse still exists today.

Illustrated Atlas of York County, 1878. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The Globe, January 7, 1914. Credit: Globe and Mail Archives.

The 67-acre Brookside was the southern most of these lots running a third of the way to Finch Avenue and edging on the Canadian National Railway. It was opposite the future Tam O’Shanter Golf Club. The West Highland Creek ran through the property, likely giving the estate its name.

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

The Globe, September 24, 1926. Credit: Globe and Mail Archives.

Brookside existed in a rural setting for much of its life, until the second half of the 20th century. By 1950, streets and houses popped up to the east, north, and south of the farm buildings, likely as parts of the Patterson lot was partitioned.

Aerial photo, 1950. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Aerial photo, 1953. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the mid-1950s, the streets took their shape and names. Running north to south was Patterson Avenue to honour the family whose farm it was built upon. Running east to west was Station Rd (leading to the CN Station, now a GO Transit Station), Marilyn Avenue, and a tiny Reidmount Avenue. The woodlot behind the farmhouse also seemed to have been cleared.

Map of Metropolitan Toronto, 1955. Credit: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

Aerial photo, 1956. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the end of the decade, changes were afoot. Patterson Avenue was renamed to an extended Reidmount Avenue and Station Road became Dowry Avenue. (As an aside, on the other side of railroad tracks, First Avenue because Agincourt Drive in 1957. The changes likely resulted from the reworking of the road network following the creation of Metropolitan Toronto.)

The image below is a Planning Map from the 1959 Official Plan of Toronto. The Brookside Farm is labelled as “R.E.” potentially meaning “Residential Estate” or “Rural Estate” or even “Residential Expansion”, which in any case references a larger lot. “R” is “residential” and “C” is “commercial”. The corresponding aerial image provides a visual of the lot division.

Scarborough: streets and names, 1959. Credit: York University Map Library.

Aerial photo, 1959. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By 1969, the Patterson farm buildings have completely disappeared. Moreover, the West Highland Creek was channelized and widened along with a new bridge running over Kennedy Road.

Aerial photo, 1969. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

West Highland Creek looking southeast towards Cardwell Avenue.

By the middle of the 1980s, the area around Kennedy and Sheppard was increasingly built up. A new street named Cardwell Avenue now connected Kennedy and Dowry Street. On either side of Cardwell was a new subdivision of houses.

Aerial photo, 1985. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Cardwell Avenue east of Kennedy Road

Today, this group of homes are part of the modern geography of Agincourt. If one looks closer though, the shape of the overall subdivision corresponds to the Pattersons’ farm Brookside that was once there.

Google Maps, 2021

Scenes From Rouge National Urban Park – Twyn Rivers Drive & Orchard Trail

Twyn Rivers Drive is a curious street in the eastern fringes of Toronto. In a larger metropolis where farms and fields have been replaced by residences and populations, Twyn Rivers Drive is slightly rural in nature and still has visible links to its past.

Twyn Rivers Drive, 2020. Source: Google Maps

Country within The City

Located in the Rouge River Valley, Twyn Rivers Drive’s rural character is very well apparent. First, it’s a two-lane street lacking any sidewalks. Motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, and even wildlife all have to carefully negotiate use of the street. Like some country roads, Twyn Rivers’ route across the valley is not direct. There are slopes, curves, and two near 90 degree turns. It has to navigate what may be the most varied topography in the city. Its path starts with a winding descent from Scarborough’s Sheppard Avenue and eventually on the other side on Sheppard Avenue…in Pickering.

Twyn Rivers Drive, 2018. Source: Google Maps.

Twyn Rivers From The Pleistocene of the Toronto Region, 1932. Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

A History of Twyn Rivers Drive

The historical beginnings of Twyn Rivers Drive is an obvious question, but unfortunately, it does not have an obvious answer. It is old for sure. A September 2017 City of Toronto Traffic Operations Review characterizes Twyn Rivers Drive as “a legacy road from colonial times” and speculates that it is about 200 years old. A June 2017 CBC article says Twyn Rivers Drive is “more than 100-years old” and its main purpose was to get horses to the mills in the valley. Neither report provide any historical context to back up the claims. Twyn Rivers Drive seems to first appear in a 1916 map of Toronto and its surrounding townships, so a hundred years may be accurate at the least.

Twyn Rivers from Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library

The naming of Twyn Rivers Drive likely also goes back to its geography. It possibly derives from the Clarence Purcell’s ‘Twyn Waters’ ranch located in the Rouge Valley on what is now Twyn Rivers Drive. The twin rivers in this case are the famed Rouge River and its lesser known brother, the Little Rouge Creek. It is unknown when Twyn Rivers Drive was actually named, but the Twyn Waters ranch existed by the 1930s.

“Picnikers Enjoy Western Hospitality,” Globe and Mail, July 6, 1939. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

Twyn Rivers Drive in Might’s Greater Toronto city directory, 1969. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Two Rivers, Two Bridges

Twyn Rivers Drive travels over two bridges over the mentioned waterways. The first of these over the Rouge River is a single-lane, metal truss construction. It is named “Stott’s Bridge“. Few details are available about the age and origin of this bridge, but it seems to share a surname with William Stotts, who had his estate house, Glen Eagles Manor, further up the hill at the modern junction of Twyn Rivers Drive and Sheppard Avenue East. The house later became the Glen Eagles Hotel.

Stott’s Bridge, 2019. Source: Google Maps.

William Stotts from Nason’s east and west ridings of the county of York or townships of Etobicoke, Markham, Scarboro’, Vaughan & York directory, 1871. Stott’s property was located on Concession 2 (now Ellesmere Road), on north half of lot #3. He is listed as a freeholding farmer. Highland Creek likely denotes the post office Stotts used. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Twyn Rivers From Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

The second causeway is a white arched bridge over the Little Rouge Creek. “Maxwell’s Bridge” is a concrete structure which accommodates two lane traffic. It is at least the second or possibly third version of a water crossing in this location. An antique wooden bridge collapsed in 1914 after a heavy vehicle passed over it. A new bridge was soon ordered to be built. In 1927, Scarboro Township Council funded the construction of a new rainbow arch bridge with a 60-foot span at a cost of $7,797. Several other arch bridges were built in the Nineteen Tens and Nineteen Twenties Kirkham’s Road over the Rouge River in 1910, Don River Boulevard over the West Don River in 1928, and Don Mills Road over the Don River in 1921.

“Antique Bridge Collapses”, Toronto Daily Star, August 7, 1914. Source: Toronto Public Library and Toronto Star Archives.

“BRIDGE AT KIRKHAM’S MILLS”, Globe and Mail, September 13, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives

Maxwell’s Mill

Nearby Maxwell’s Bridge where Twyn Rivers Drive does its second bend are the ruins of a grist mill named “Maxwell’s Mill”. The site was built by a James Maxwell in the 1800s. In 1923, Maxwell sold it to Clarence Purcell who used it to raise livestock on his Twyn Waters ranch.

Twyn Rivers from Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York, 1878. Maxwell’s Mill is the Grist Mill labelled on his lot. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

James Maxwell from Nason’s east and west ridings of the county of York or townships of Etobicoke, Markham, Scarboro’, Vaughan & York directory, 1871. Maxwell is listed as a flour mill freeholder with a Post Office at Rouge Hill. His plot of land was located at Concession 3 (now Sheppard Avenue) on lot #2. Source: Toronto Public Library.

MEN OF TREES FAIR AT ‘TWYN WATERS’, Globe and Mail, September 24, 1941. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

The mill closed in 1929 after a flood weakened it and a fire in the 1970s destroyed much of what remained. Some of the foundations and walls still stand today. An image of Maxwell’s Mill is available on the Scarborough Historical Society’s website.

Mill stone at the Rouge river Twyn River Estate. Toronto, Ont., 1957. Source: Toronto Public Library

The Rouge Valley Inn & Caper Valley Ski Hill

The Rouge Valley Inn (later called the Rouge Valley Olympic Inn) was located on the south side of Twyn Rivers Drive slightly before the Scarborough-Pickering Townline. The site was a major Scarborough attraction in the twentieth century with a hotel, dining, picnicking for families, and “the largest swimming pool in Ontario.” Ambrose Small, the 20th century Ontario theatre titan who mysteriously disappeared in 1919, owned the Rouge Valley Inn for a time starting around 1900.

“Everyday Outings”, Globe and Mail, June 25, 1958. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

“Rouge Valley Guests” Globe and Mail, August 9, 1940. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

“$500 Reward,” Toronto Daily Star, January 6, 1920. Source: Toronto Public Library and Toronto Star Archives.

Across the Little Rouge Creek from the Rouge Valley Inn was the Caper Valley Ski Slope, also known as ‘Snake Hill’ for those who used to frequent it. Along with Earl Bales Park and other establishments, it was one of a handful of areas in Metro Toronto that offered the winter passtime. It was operated by Repac, whose name spelled backwards gave the ski hill its moniker. A footbridge linked the inn and the ski slope.

“School children taper at weekly ski outing”, Globe and Mail, January 6, 1972. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

Caper Valley Ski Hill, 1975. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Twyn Rivers Transformed

By the end of the 1970s, much of the historic landmarks of Twyn Rivers Drive disappeared from its geography. Fire claimed both the Rouge Valley Inn in 1968 and Maxwell’s Mill in 1970. The former site of the hotel is now the parking lot for the Twyn Rivers Rouge Park area. The mill’s ruins make for an interesting place for urban explores. Clarence Purcell sold his Twyn Waters ranch to the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in 1970, which after Hurricane Hazel in 1954 began to buy other valley and ravine properties for parkland. Today, there are very few residences located in Rouge Valley.

Twyn Rivers Drive, 1953 & 1975. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

By 1973, the Caper Valley Ski Hill was reporting financial difficulty and it too closed by the end of the decade. It now makes for challenging hike in Rouge Park’s Mast Trail. Finally, the Glen Eagles Hotel was also destroyed by fire in 1990, and is now the Glen Eagles Vista park. The site was nearly made condos. Today, most of these are owned and/or managed by Parks Canada.

Glen Eagles Hotel Fire, 1990. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Twyn Rivers Today

Today, Twyn Rivers is quite the nexus for Rouge National Urban Park, being the starting and ending point of multiple trails. The first source of exploration can be enjoyed around the Rouge Park parking lot. The area is situated on the Little Rouge Creek where the foundations of a former dam still stand. A makeshift footbridge crosses the creek where one can walk in the lost tracks of skiers on Snake Hill.

The Orchard Trail

Near Maxwell’s Mill is the southern terminus of the Orchard Trail. The two-kilometre walk slinks within the forest where apple trees grow today. It also offers vistas of the Little Rouge Creek. A particularly stunning area is the ascent/descent near the north end of the trail.

References

clay70, et al. Purcell’s Mill – Twyn Rivers. www.ontarioabandonedplaces.com/Purcell’s-Mill—Twyn-Rivers-abandoned-Ontario_loc5901.html.

Hikingthegta. “Maxwell’s Mill – Rouge Park.” Hiking the GTA, 24 Nov. 2016, hikingthegta.com/2016/11/23/maxwells-mill-rouge-park/.

Noonan, Larry. “STORIES FROM ROUGE PARK: Hurricane Hazel Also Blasted Rouge Valley.” Toronto.com, Toronto.com, 7 June 2016, www.toronto.com/news-story/6709710-stories-from-rouge-park-hurricane-hazel-also-blasted-rouge-valley/.

Noonan, Larry. “STORIES FROM ROUGE PARK: Recalling the Time the Glen Eagles Lands Were Saved from Condo Developers.” Toronto.com, Toronto.com, 4 June 2015, www.toronto.com/news-story/5661631-stories-from-rouge-park-recalling-the-time-the-glen-eagles-lands-were-saved-from-condo-developers/.

Noonan, Larry. “STORIES FROM ROUGE PARK: Rouge Valley Inn’s Owner Was the Subject of Canada’s Largest Manhunt.” Toronto.com, Toronto.com, 2 July 2015, www.toronto.com/news-story/5705937-stories-from-rouge-park-rouge-valley-inn-s-owner-was-the-subject-of-canada-s-largest-manhunt/.

Noonan, Larry. “STORIES FROM ROUGE PARK: The Ruins of Maxwell’s Mill Can Still Be Seen While Driving along Twyn Rivers Drive in Scarborough.” Toronto.com, Toronto.com, 31 Dec. 2015, www.toronto.com/news-story/6214521-stories-from-rouge-park-the-ruins-of-maxwell-s-mill-can-still-be-seen-while-driving-along-twyn-rivers-drive-in-scarborough/.

Parks Canada Agency, Government of Canada. “Twyn Rivers Area.” Twyn Rivers Area – Rouge National Urban Park, 12 Apr. 2019, www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/rouge/culture/histoire-history/twyn.

“Pickering Bygone Days.” DurhamRegion.com, 5 May 2015, www.durhamregion.com/community-story/5600442-pickering-bygone-days/.

Scarborough Historical Society, scarboroughhistorical.ca/local-history/communities/hillside/.

“Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests.” Google Books, Google, books.google.ca/books?id=2Q37CAAAQBAJ.

“Who Should Use This 100-Year-Old Scarborough Road? Not Trucks, Says Resident | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 19 July 2017, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/twyn-rivers-drive-what-should-happen-1.4212333.

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

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

Source: Google Maps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: OldTO, 1992 vs 2020.

Source: Google Maps

Source: Toronto Star, April 14, 2001

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

Source: Google Maps

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

Source: Globe and Mail, May 25, 1979

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

Source: Globe and Mail, August 17, 1972

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

Source: Toronto Star, November 29, 1988

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

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

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

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

Roads Never Built

 

Roads Never Built

By Bob Georgiou

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019/Issue 50 edition of Spacing Magazine. With permission, I have reproduced it here.

 

Throughout its history, the City of Toronto has reimagined its street grid. Growth periods following both World Wars brought with them road improvement schemes to address traffic congestion and better connect the city. Some projects – like the 1931 Church Street extension north of Bloor Street to Davenport Road – came to fruition. Others – most famously, the Spadina Road Extension-turned-expressway cancelled in 1971 – never saw their intended results. Here are four other road extensions in the 20th century that would have altered the geography of Toronto if built.

Victoria Street

When: 1900s to 1930s

In 1906, the Board of Works discussed the possibility of extending Victoria Street from Gerrard Street to Carlton Street for a new streetcar route. Yonge Street relief had been a theme in road improvement, with Bay Street extended north from Queen Street to Davenport in the 1920s (it was even proposed to extend it to St. Clair Avenue in the 1930s and 1940s). Estimates in 1911 had the Victoria-to-Carlton scheme costing as much as $500,000, and a report by the Civic Improvement Committee proposed to extend it further to Bloor. With costs to expropriate property proving too high, Civic Works abandoned the idea in 1912. City Planners revived the idea in a grander plan for downtown streets in 1929. In yet another city-wide improvement plan in 1930, Works Commissioner RC Harris recommended a streetcar-free Victoria Street that would stretch north via Park Road to join with the also-proposed Jarvis and Sherbourne extensions of Mount Pleasant Road. A council motion in 1935 envisioned Victoria ending at Davenport Road, but none of these plans came to fruition. Today, Victoria Street is in fact shorter, ending at Gould after its last block was absorbed by the Ryerson Campus.

Credit: Civic Improvement Committee Report, 1911.

St. Clair Avenue

When: 1920s, 1960s-1970s

A Council decision in 1928 by East York and York County first imagined uniting the two sections of St. Clair Avenue. Initial talks involved land offers and easements from John H. Taylor and the Toronto City Estates to complete the extension in the Don Valley. Discussions followed in 1929 on the course’s starting point and overall engineering. One route extended straight east from Mount Pleasant Road while the other travelled by way of Moore Avenue via a bridge spanning the Belt Line Ravine from St. Clair. From here, the street would connect to the new Leaside Viaduct, then follow Don Mills Road to Woodbine Avenue before finally bridging diagonally across Massey Creek. Moore Park residents disapproved of the Moore Avenue alignment as it meant more vehicular traffic. Discussion seemed to taper off in the 1930s. Reprises in the 1960s saw a valley-spanning St. Clair brought up again, but these too ended in 1970 when the Metro government decided not to proceed after facing public opposition and high costs.

Credit: The Globe, 21 January 1929

Cosburn Avenue

When: 1950s

As a candidate for East York Reeve in the 1956 election, Jack Allen campaigned on the eastward extension of Cosburn Avenue. After winning the position, he continued his push in 1957 and 1958, highlighting a scheme in which the street would continue past Woodbine Avenue by curving parallel to the disused CNR line in the Taylor-Massey Creek valley to connect with Victoria Park Avenue. The purpose was to relieve congestion at Woodbine and O’Connor. Allen also thought the extension would aid the case for a new courthouse at Cosburn and Woodbine and his vision of high-density apartment towers in East York. Parkland advocates at the Don Valley Conservation Association opposed the plan. Allen introduced a master zoning plan by developer and architect Sulio Venchiarutti of Urban Planning Consultants, but this was rejected by East York Council in 1959. A year later, the township adopted a different official plan and Allen was replaced as reeve by future mayor True Davidson.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star 08 Mar 1957

Leslie Street

When: 1960s to 1990s

Following initial suggestions in 1968 and failed proposals in 1971 and 1973, in 1976 Metro Planners brought forward a $20-million extension of Leslie Street south of Eglinton Avenue. Debates around the idea coincided with another valley-spanning proposal in the 1970s for the direct routing of Lawrence Avenue from Bayview to Leslie. Arguments in favour of a lengthened Leslie centred on eased congestion – at the Leslie/Eglinton bottleneck and at neighbouring north-south avenues – while arguments against cited ravine destruction. Another report in 1983 and an environmental study in 1984 seemingly had the now $50-million scheme moving forward, with the route involving a high-level bridge over Wilket Creek Park, followed by a road along the CPR Belleville line before emerging at the Bayview Extension near Nesbitt Drive. Citizen groups argued that, if allowed, the Leslie proposal would re-open the Spadina Expressway debate. In 1988, Metro Council voted in favour of the 4-lane extension, but the price had gone up to $74 million dollars. Debate and public consultations continued into the 1990s with no extension built. In 2000 and 2002, Toronto Councillor Jane Pitfield proposed lengthening Redway Road to Bayview. Opponents feared the damage to Crowthers Woods and a rehashing of the Leslie debate, and nothing came of that plan either.

Credit: Toronto Star, 20 November 1984

 

Sources


Victoria Street

“Planned New Car Lines” The Globe. 19 May 1906: pg 9.

“Open Victoria Street.” The Globe. 15 March 1907: pg 9

“The Extension of Victoria Street.” The Globe. 2 November 1909: pg 6.

“Victoria Street Extension.” The Globe. 14 January 1910: pg 7. – 330,000

“Extend Victoria St Under New Stature.” The Globe. 22 April 1911: pg 9. – 360,000

“Victoria Street Extension Favored.” The Globe. 3 June 1911: pg 8.

“C.P.R. to Keep Building Site.” The Globe. 28 July 1911: pg 8. – half-million

“Many Important Schemes for the Betterment and Growth of Toronto.” Toronto Daily Star. 30 December 1911: pg 5.

Report of the Civic Improvement Committee for the City of Toronto, 1911

“City May Abandon Victoria Extension.” The Globe. 24 February 1912: pg 9.

“Will Try Arbitration.” The Globe. 2 March 1912: pg 4.

“Victoria Street Extension Killed.” The Globe 18 May 1912: pg 9.

“Make Bloor Street Big Business Centre.” The Globe. 20 March 1917: pg 7.

“City Planners Propose New Downtown Streets.” The Globe. 12 March 1929: pg 15

“Work Commissioner R.C. Harris Presents New City-Wide Project.” The Globe. 15 May 1930: pg 13.

“A Bay Street Plan.” The Globe. 17 January 1930: pg 4.

“Victoria Extension Favored by Expert.” The Globe. 21 November 1930: pg 13.

“Report is Requested on Victoria Extension” The Globe. 26 September 1931: pg 14.

“Victoria Street Extension to Davenport Road Talked.” The Globe. 12 February 1935: pg 11.

 

St. Clair Avenue

“St. Clair Extension.” The Globe. 21 December 1928: pg 2.

“Favor Taylor Proposal St. Clair Ave. Extension.” The Toronto Daily Star. 21 January 1929: pg 3.

“St. Clair Extension Through East York Offer of J.H. Taylor.” The Globe. 21 January 1929: pg 13.

“Problem of Bridges Northeast of City has Many Angles.” The Globe. 5 February 1929: pg 23.

“Hottest Discussion at County Council on Radial Proposal.” The Globe. 7 June 1929: pg 28.

“Easement Offered for Further Link Extending St. Clair.” The Globe. 23 June 1929: pg 13.

“Citizens Reassured on Extension Plans.” The Globe. 22 August 1929: pg 21.

“Action Expected on Moore Avenue Boundary Bridge.” The Globe. 30 July 1929: pg 13.

“Objects to Bridge.” The Globe. 22 August 1929: pg 4.

“The Moore Park Bridge.” The Globe. 7 September 1929: pg 4.

“Residents Agitated By Bridge Question in Northeast Area.” The Globe. 20 September 1929: pg 17.

“M’Bride Declares St. Clair Extension ‘Out of Question’”. The Globe. 21 September 1929: pg 18.

“Scarboro Plans Work on St. Clair to Aid Jobless.” The Globe. 17 December 1930: pg 10.

“Request St. Clair Cross Don Valley.” The Globe and Mail. 31 October 1962: pg 5.

“Urban Renewal Study for Metropolitan Planning Area Covering 750 Square Miles Is Proposed.” The Globe and Mail. 7 February 1963: pg 4.

“Metro Shelves St. Clair Plan.” The Globe and Mail. 9 September 1970: pg 5.

 

Cosburn Avenue

 “Promise to Campaign for Industry in Suburbs to Balance Housing Surge.” The Globe and Mail. 30 November 1956: pg 11.

“Site on Cosburn Ave. Urged for Courthouse.” The Globe and Mail. 14 February 1957: pg 4.

“Urge Alternate Site for E. York Court.” The Toronto Daily Star. 14 February 1957: pg 19.

“Reeve Asks Old Railway Be Expressway.” The Toronto Daily Star. 8 March 1957: pg 9.

“Reeve of East York Backs New Buildings.” The Globe and Mail. 3 December 1957: pg 5.

“Conservation at the Polls.” The Globe and Mail. 8 November 1958: pg 6.

“Residents Oppose Cosburn Extension.” The Toronto Daily Star. 6 June 1958: pg 29.

“Metropolitan Toronto: Scratch-My-Backism And the Courthouse.” The Globe and Mail. 26 June 1958: pg 7.

“Expect Hot Contests in Suburbs.” The Globe and Mail. 18 November 1958: pg 5.

“Cosburn Plan Foes Cut Chairman Short.” The Toronto Daily Star. 25 November 1958: pg 9.

“The Suburban Elections.” The Toronto Daily Star. 28 November 1958: pg 29.

“East York Greenbelt Should be Saved.” The Toronto Daily Star. 20 December 1958: pg 29.

“East York Zoning.” The Toronto Daily Star. 11 April 1959: pg 29.

“Suites to Oust Homeowners?” The Toronto Daily Star. 16 April 1959: pg 1.

“Raze Homes for Apartments?” The Toronto Daily Star. 16 April 1959: pg 3.

“It’s Improper, Mr. Venchiarutti.” The Toronto Daily Star. 20 April 1959: pg 29.

“Appraiser’s Kin Swung Land Deal, Probe Told.” The Toronto Daily Star. 21 May 1959: pg 2.

“East York Plan Limits Apartments to 5 ‘Pockets’”. The Toronto Daily Star. 22 June 1960: pg 41

“An East York Dialogue on Conflict of Interest.” The Toronto Daily Star. 19 June 1961: pg 7.

Redway, Alan. East York 1924-1997: Toronto’s Garden of Eden. FriesenPress, 2018.

 

Leslie Street

“Subway Expansion, Restriction on Cars, Sought for Toronto.” The Globe and Mail. 26 March 1968: pg 1.

“Time Needed for Study: Planners delay Flemingdon Scheme.” The Globe and Mail. 21 November 1968: pg 5.

“Transit Can’t Cope: Planners Want to Widen Metro Roads.” The Globe and Mail. 10 July 1976: pg 5.

“Here’s a plan to improve traffic.” The Toronto Star. 29 January 1979: pg A8.

“Alderman Says Extension Won’t Solve Traffic Mess.” The Toronto Star. 31 August 1979: pg A15

“Transport Plan Not Changing: Eggleton.” The Globe and Mail. 11 May 1984: M3.

“Battle Won by War Still Undecided on Extending Leslie past Eglinton.” The Toronto Star. 20 November 1984: pg A25.

“Neighbors Protest Bayview-Leslie Road Plan.” The Globe and Mail. 31 March 1988: pg A16.

“Leslie Extension Sparks Emotional Debate.” The Toronto Star. 13 April 1988: pg A7.

“Leslie Street Debate Resurfaces.” The Globe and Mail. 23 March 1991: pg A9.

“Notice of Public Hearing: Leslie Street Extension on Bayview Avenue Widening.” The Toronto Star. 27 August 1992: pg A26.

“Plan for Leslie Street Extension Scaled Back.” The Globe and Mail. 7 October 2000: pg A27.

 

Toronto’s First McDonald’s

With restaurants located in nearly every pocket of Toronto, McDonald’s — for better or worse — is ubiquitous in the city. Although Torontonians may not give their existence a second thought, the origin story of this mega-chain is largely unknown. Just how did McDonald’s get its start in Toronto and where was the first eatery located?

McDonald’s locations of Toronto as of 2019.

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

The first McDonald’s — centre of image — was located at suburban Keele Street and LePage Court. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, 1971.

The event came after a couple of other Canadian McDonald’s milestones. The first ever outlet in the country (and indeed, outside of the United States of America) opened in Richmond, British Columbia in 1967, spearheaded by future Keg founder George Tidball. The premiere franchise in Ontario (and Eastern Canada) opened its doors at 520 Oxford Street West in London. The date was November 11, 1968. The man in charge of that operation and growing McDonald’s in Canada was George Cohon. He opened another locale at 344 Queen Street East in Brampton in the same year, which was the first in the Greater Toronto Area. In 1971, Western and Eastern Canada operations merged to create McDonald’s Canada with Cohon at the helm.

The original London location and its golden arches look as they appeared when it opened in 1968. A time capsule and plaque marks its significance. Credit: Google Maps, 2018.

Credit: Globe & Mail, February, 10, 1971

Subsequent Toronto McDonald’s locations opened in the same year as Keele Street. There were eateries at 6170 Bathurst Street, 3660 Dufferin Street, 1068 Islington Avenue (originally 170 Islington Avenue South), 2116 Kipling Avenue (originally 1466 Kipling Avenue North), and 2701 Lawrence Avenue East. The latter was also the first McDonald’s in Scarborough. Two more locations — 5955 Leslie Street and 2870 Eglinton Avenue East — opened in 1970. Advertisements in those years marked contests, store openings, a reduction in menu prices, and job openings (oddly, many were targeted to mothers). Adding to these original eight locales, McDonald’s Canada would continue to steadily open more franchises as the decade marched on.

McDonald’s and its famed clown mascot draw up a Toy World contest. Note the list of restaurants in existance at the time. Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 21, 1969.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, August 9, 1969.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 6, 1970.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, June 3, 1970.

All these initial locations were purposely situated outside Toronto’s downtown core. As was the case in the United States, McDonald’s policy was to find “suburban situations” with a “backup community”. The idea was captured in the company slogan: ‘We count the church steeples and station wagons’. In other words, McDonald’s restaurants were to be located within a built-in market of families and traffic flow. According to Cohon, they were to be active parts of their new communities.

McDonald’s locations of Toronto as of 1971.

A growing Bathurst and Steeles area in 1971. McDonald’s is situated at the bottom of the image. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The McDonald’s origin story goes back to a hamburger and fries stand in 1940s San Bernardino, California. Two brothers, Richard “Dick” McDonald and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, invented the ‘Speedee Service System’ — a Henry Ford-eque approach on food production. No carhops, no tables, no plates, and no half-hour wait times. People only had to drive to the lot, place their order at the window via a very streamlined menu, receive their meal, drive away, and enjoy wherever they wanted. With this, fast food and the drive-in restaurant was born. Ray Croc — the McDonald brothers’ ambitious business partner until he aggressively bought out the company from them in 1961 — made the entreprise into a national and international icon.

To be sure, McDonald’s was not the first to enter the drive-in, fast-food restaurant market in Toronto. The first Harvey’s in Canada opened just north of the city at Yonge Street and Observatory Lane in Richmond Hill in 1959. Tim Horton’s originally failed in the 1960s because of competition from other drive-ins. McDonald’s did, however, help to increase the profile of fast food at a time where it was not yet at modern day levels. A 1970 Globe and Mail article explained the 1960s had seen a buzz around fast food but that had slowed by the end of the decade as land, food, and construction costs rose and the market was over-saturated with eateries. It also went into detail about the specific criteria of fast food, as if the concept was not fully developed. With competitor Burger King opening their first Toronto restaurant a year after McDonald’s and now defunct Burger Chef giving both a real run for consumer dollars, a new era was on the way.
The look of the McDonald’s Canada restaurants mirrored their American counterparts. Buildings were usually one storey, highlighted architecturally with two golden arches. Following the drive-in model, parking spaces surrounded the structure and a large, recognizable ‘M’ sign stood at the end of the driveway. However, a key difference with Canadian franchises was more space to eat meals inside the diner. As the 1970s progressed, McDonald’s restaurants came to be more sit-down eateries.

A look at the architecture of early McDonald’s Drive-Ins. Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 13, 1970.

Despite McDonald’s commitment to be contributing members of their new communities, not all neighbourhoods were receptive to the Golden Arches. In 1971, residents of suburban Roe Avenue argued against a McDonald’s that was set to go on their street at the corner of Avenue Road. The company took over a defunct gas station and subsequently bought and demolished two houses to make a parking lot. Residents argued that the area was zoned for residential use and the drive-in would only bring noise to the quiet neighbourhood. The McDonald’s ultimately went in as planned.

Credit: Globe & Mail, November 30, 1971.

A similar battle took place in Markland Wood in Etobicoke in 1977. Residents fought against a location at a mall at Bloor Street and Mill Street. They argued the restaurant did not fit zoning bylaws (McDonald’s argued it was a sitdown restaurant rather than a drive-in). They almost won too, but like Roe Avenue, a McDonald’s is still there today.

Credit: Toronto Star, October 22, 1977.

These battles highlight the theme of the McDonald’s — and drive-ins in general — as evolutionary by-products of automobile-centred suburbs. By the arrival of the 1970s, ‘quiet, tree-lined’ suburbs had grown to encompass new uses for the car, which now included a new method of food consumption. Steve Penfold writes they were a part of a new transformed landscape of “gas stations, car washes, and other drive-in uses”. As highlighted by Roe Avenue and Markland Wood, the placement of parking lots to serve these new spaces and the implications on zoning became serious issues. Politicians like North York Controller Mel Lastman, Alderman Paul Godfrey, and Scarborough Mayor Paul Cosgrove waged some sort of battle to curtail the expansion of more drive-ins.

By the end of the 1970s, McDonald’s dropped its exclusivity of suburban locations. The first downtowner was on Yonge Street south of Bloor around the middle of the decade. Others would open up on the street near King and Adelaide Streets and further north near St. Clair and Eglinton Avenues. Fifty years and around a hundred frachises later, McDonald’s fingers extends into Toronto’s modern and heritage buildings, food courts, strip malls, Wal-Marts, subway stations, and even the Toronto Zoo.

McDonald’s at Yonge Street and Grenville Street between 1977 and 1983. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The original Keele Street McDonald’s closed around 2006. It would however relocate to a new building slightly to its north. Outlets at Islington, Dufferin, and Leslie each converted to other restaurants too. The Bathurst and Steeles location is now the oldest continually operating site in Toronto, although the building — like many others in the city — has been heavily altered.

The oldest McDonald’s in Toronto, Bathurst and Steeles Avenue. Credit: Google Maps, 2018.

A question might be if a historical marker like the ones in London or Richmond is warranted on either the first or earliest surviving Toronto McDonald’s. The proliferation of fast food and the chain itself has certainly had negative impacts on society, and this is a case against ‘celebrating’ McDonald’s significance as something of deep value. But in a more neutral sense, the geographic and cultural reach of the company, its impact on daily Toronto life, and its association with the development of suburban Toronto may bring on at least a closer recognition of its significance and existence. And with existence comes the origin story.

Sources

Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 21 Nov, 1969, p. 37.

Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 06 Nov, 1970, p. 11.

Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 13 Nov, 1970, p. 11.

Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 04 Oct, 1975, p. 19.

Bateman, Chris. “That Time Toronto Got Its First Taste of Tim Hortons.” BlogTO.

Bradburn, Jamie. “Vintage Toronto Ads: McLower Prices at McDonald’s.” Torontoist, 14 Aug. 2012.

Bullock, Helen. “Arch enemy: A counter atteck repels Big Mac in the battle of Markland Woods” The Toronto Star, 22 Oct 1977, p. A10.

Cohon, George. To Russian With Fries. McClelland & Stewart, 1999

“Dining with Liz.” Toronto Daily Star, 9 Aug. 1969, p. 32.

Gray, Stuart. “Maple leaf forever.” The Globe and Mail, 5 Jul 1973, p. 39.

Howlett, Karen. “Subway Plan Could Benefit Sorbara Family.” The Globe and Mail, 23 Apr. 2018.

Job Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Daily Star, 03 June 1970, p. 61.

Job Advertisement for McDonald’s, Toronto Star, 28 Aug 1979, p. C19

Johnson, Arthur. “For the man on the beat, meals are cheap.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Aug 1976, pg 1.

Lancashire, David. “Burgers, Chicken Pizza Boom: Fast food is tops with Canadians.” The Globe and Mail, 23 May, 1979, p. 7.

Mirsky, Jesse. “Original Harvey’s Restaurant Demolished to Make Way for Condos.” National Post, 13 Mar. 2012.

Moore, Michael. “Pace slowing as fast food meets snags” The Globe and Mail, 05 Aug 1970, p. B1.

Moore, Michael. “Supermarkets can be major factor as burger giants battle to keep growing.” The Globe and Mail, 06 Aug 1970, p. B3.

Parsons, Anne. “Fears swallowed: McDonald’s is picked to cater in new zoo.” The Globe and Mail, 6 Jul 1973, p. 1

Penfold, Steve. “‘Are We to Go Literally to the Hot Dogs?” Parking Lots, Drive-Ins, and the Critique of Progress in Toronto’s Suburbs, 1965–1975 – Urban History Review.” Érudit, Urban History Review / Revue D’histoire Urbaine, 17 May 2013.

Rasky, Frank. “McBreakfast: Fast food grabs the morning rush” Toronto Star, 02 April 1979, p. C1.

Rauchwerger, Daniel. “The Architecture of ‘McDonald’s’ – Architizer Journal.” Journal, 7 Nov. 2017.

Roseman, Ellen. “The man who’s eating up Canada’s fast food industry.” Toronto Star, 22 Feb 1975, p. B1.

Roseman, Ellen. “The Consumer Game: Salad bars good news for waist watchers.” The Globe and Mail, 13 Mar 1979, p. 14.

Shepherd, Harvey. “51 Canadian outlets: Merger brings McDonald’s units under single direction.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Feb 1971, p. B1.

Shepherd, Harvey. “Speed the crux as McDonald’s anticipates costumers’ orders, healthy profits.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Feb 1971, p. B13.

Slover, Frank. “McDonald’s expects profit near $6 million” The Globe and Mail, 03 May 1973, p. B3.

Stern, Beverley. “The Canadian Jewish News, Thursday, May 15,1980 – Page 9.” SFU Digitized Newspapers.

“Truce called in hamburger fray.” The Globe and Mail, 3 Dec 1971, p. 5.

Whelan, Peter. “The hamburger drive-in and the quiet street.” The Globe and Mail, 30 Nov 1971, p. 5.

Scenes From Rouge National Urban Park – Vista Trail

Gem. Treasure. These rich descriptors are often paired with Rouge Park — and for good reason. The beauty and cultural and natural history make it a must-visit in Scarborough and Toronto.

In October 2017, Rouge Park, which previously fell under mostly provincial protection, was officially transferred to the federal government. The event completed a process to make it into Canada’s first National Urban Park administered by Parks Canada. The title says it all: massive green space within a busy metropolis. It’s not a new idea for Toronto, though. The City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Department’s motto, “City Within Park”, neatly captures the sentiment its own parklands and trails.

Rouge Park and its trails Credit: Rouge Park.

Rouge Valley’s physical landscape dates to the last Ice Age, when the retreating ice sheet covering the Toronto area left grooves, dips, basins, and indents in the land. This is how the landscape became hilly and flat, and also how we get water bodies. Lakes, rivers, and streams form as meltwater rushes to fill the “holes” in the land. Human activity began from this point with Aboriginal hunters and farmers making use of the valley.


Although evidence is perhaps scarce for the entire period, there was a now well-known Seneca Village Ganatsekwyagon located where the Rouge meets Lake Ontario. The waterway was a portage Carrying Place Trail, too. Ganatsekwyagon is a National Historic Site (although strangely listed under Bead Hill instead of its true name), which perhaps plays into the desire to include the Rouge lands under Parks Canada.

Map of Lake Ontario, ca. 1680. The villages of Teiaiagon and Ganestiquiagon appear in place of modern day Toronto at the Humber and Rouge Rivers, respectively.Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Although there are many access points within Rouge National Urban Park, a popular locale is the Vista Trail, located off Zoo Road at Meadowvale Road — right across, well, Toronto Zoo. The ‘welcome centre’ is a gorgeous Victorian farmhouse known today as the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre. Operated by the volunteer-based Rouge Valley Foundation, the centre’s mandate is to promote and engage in environmental conservation and offer interpretive and education programming within the Park. The homestead itself was built as the 1893 James Pearse House.

The Pearse House is named for the family who came to amass several hundred acres of land in the Rouge River Valley, including the present plot of the Vista Trail and Conservation Centre. This is not the house’s original location, however; it was restored and moved here in 1995 through efforts of volunteers.

Rouge Valley area from the Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. A winding Meadowvale is located in the centre. Names like Pearse, Sewell, Beare, and Reesor still are prominent names in Scarborough today. Credit: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

European settler presence since the 1800s has had the most transformative effect on the land, with maybe the most changes coming after World War II. In the 1950s, the (Metro) Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was created to put greater emphasis and protection in the Toronto area’s natural ravines. A couple of decades later, the Riverdale Zoo moved from Cabbagetown to the Rouge, further reorganizing the land.

Rouge Valley, 1969-1975. Apple orchards belonging to Joseph Burr Tyrell came to be the site of the Toronto Zoo. Meadowvale Road was reconfigured to bridge over Rouge River as its main right of way. Its former course still remains as a portion of Kirkhams Road. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The Vista Trail itself is a scenic walk, offering a number of fabulous views along its 1.5 kilometre route. An observation deck in particular allows for a great panorama of the Carolinian forest within the Little Rouge River and its dale.

Its pathway winds through that forest on a central ridge-like formation. On either side, the land dips down to give one a great look of the trees and colours of fall. The trail itself rolls up and down with tree roots serving as defacto stairs.

But speaking to the urban park aspect, the Vista Trail passes through an open space where Gatineau Hydro Corridor power lines run above. It’s a reminder that despite the perceived seclusion, civilization is not actually that far way.

Like the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre, the Parks Canada team host various guided hikes through the Rouge’s trails, ranging from topics like bird watching to tree identification to the wildlife in the valley to even a social hike. These walks run in all seasons too, offering the chance to see what Rouge Park has to show year-round.

Guided or not, a walk through the Vista Trail might offer one the opportunity to engage in some ‘forest pathing’ or shinrin-yoku. The Japanese practice invites one to engage with his or her surroundings in a way to cleanse oneself and relieve stress. And indeed, a calmness follows from taking in all Rouge National Urban Park’s richness.

Scenes From Milliken Park

Milliken District Park lies in Scarborough’s northern reaches, hugging Steeles Avenue East between McCowan Road and Middlefield Road. Its story includes the transformative move from farmland to suburbia, as well as its importance to the community both past and present.

The park’s focal point is Milliken Pond, famed for the great wildlife that frequent its waters – most notably, the trumpeter swans. If one is lucky, one might also catch a look at the great blue heron. (I don’t have the pleasure on this day.)

Beyond its great aesthetic, the body of water also serves a functional purpose as a storm-water management pond. According to The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, which manages the larger Highland Creek Watershed (of which the park is part of), Milliken Park was built in a low-lying area, and this basin collects the run-off rainwater from the surrounding environment and deposits it into the Highland Creek via underground pipes.

Adjacent to the pond is a great bit of greenspace (and my favourite aspect of the park) called Milliken Forest. This wooded area predates the creation of Milliken Park and has remained in tact even when the farmland around it was redeveloped (more on this below). It joins spaces like Passmore Forest, Brimley Woods, and Wishing Well Woods as woodlots that exist as what I call ‘rural leftovers’.

Milliken Park before redevelopment, 1965. The area that became Milliken Park was Lots 22 and 23 of Concession Road 5, historically farmed by families such as the Mitchells and Myles’. That also looks to be a creek running through the western third. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

While they aren’t the great expansive forests of the Don Valley or the more untouched areas closer to the mouth of the Highland Creek, these spaces are important. They are key as homes to wildlife and help to mitigate the larger impact urbanization has had to the Highland Creek Watershed as a whole. For people, they are gems and escapes.

Exploring Milliken Forest piques my interest in labyrinths (albeit sans a mythological beast in the middle). One walks with hopefully a general sense of where they are, but ultimately not knowing where one path may lead. There are several forks in the road, leading me to also think of the Robert Frost poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ about choice, regret, and self-discovery.

On the theme of discovery, moving out of the trees, I locate a cache placed within the park. Geocaching is a global scavenger hunt where individuals hide trinkets of many sizes and shapes in personally significant locales in hopes of drawing folks to those places. I would say Milliken Park is perfect for that — people should know about this place.

A gaze around and one can see this is a well-designed, well-utilized park. In addition to the variety of programming at the community centre, there are walkers, picnickers (barbeque, anyone?), people-watchers, children on various playgrounds, and athletes. A regular sight for a beautiful Sunday morning I imagine. This connection goes back to the intent of the park in the first place: to serve the great amounts of new residents. News articles at the time wrote about the integral part greenspace played in linking new neighbourhoods.

Globe and Mail, January 7, 1984. Credit: Toronto Public Library Globe and Mail Archives.

For historical context, the Millken Park area was subdivided in the 1980s, continuing a process that had been going on in Scarborough since the 1950s. Going through historical aerial maps, one can see suburbia marching northward with every decade. It’s interesting when you get to a year like 1975 and you see that a good part of the borough up until Finch Avenue has been populated, yet still a simple drive or even look north produces agricultural fields. It’s a weird in-between period for Scarborough. For the areas of North Scarborough around Steeles Avenue, it’s odd to think of them as fields as late as the 1990s in some spots.

Milliken Park and its subdivisions under development, 1985. The farmhouses look to be gone. The creek that might have ran through the property has been buried and the stormwater pond has taken shape. Previously two parallel roads north and south of Steeles Avenue, McCowan Road has been rerouted to curve through the intersection, eliminating the jog. To the south, Passmore Avenue (5th Concession) has been largely overtaken by housing and today only remains in segments.

Milliken Park looks to have been possibly created as a ‘deal’ between developers and local government to allow greenspace in new areas of suburbia. The article below outlines the design, planning, and marketability of new parks in new suburbs, and the views different cities and developers take on the form and utility of parks. It also states that Milliken Park was supposed to have ‘model farms’.

Globe and Mail, July 20, 1985. Credit: Toronto Public Library Globe and Mail Archives.

A final feature of the park is the beautiful meadow and garden area towards the northwest quadrant. The gorgeous space is prime for wedding shoots, which indeed happened on this day, or just quiet contemplation.

Storytelling, Jane’s Walk, and Scarborough’s Wishing Well Acres

Every place has a story.

That was the takeaway when I began looking into the past and present of Wishing Well Acres in northwestern Scarborough. That same takeaway was reaffirmed after hosting my first Jane’s Walk on May 8th, 2016: Wandering Wishing Well Acres.

Jane's Walk Wishing Well Acres 2016

The only picture taken at “Wandering Wishing Well Acres”. Discussing Wishing Well Plaza and its future.

The grand story of Wishing Well, like many communities of Toronto, is contained in its historical evolution. Not surprisingly, the layer of suburbia is probably most central to this area. And that’s where my own fascination began.

The millionth house built after World War II in Canada is located in Wishing Well Acres — a little white corner bungalow originally purchased for $16,200. Of course, this bungalow could have been built anywhere — that is to say, there was nothing really special about Wishing Well that ‘bred’ the millionth house (other than perhaps the timing of the subdivision’s construction in 1956).

Heritage Property Map

The genesis of Wandering Wishing Well Acres came from the discovery of Canada’s Millionth Post-War on an Interactive Heritage Property Registry Map. Source: City of Toronto.

But the fact that the millionth house was here gives a bit of insight about the area in the 1950s — why people were moving to Toronto’s new suburbs. The owners of the watershed home were Mr. and Mrs Camisso and their two daughters (nuclear family, much?). The story goes that they were not even looking for a home but Mrs. Camisso was attracted to the green roof. Other selling points: its proximity to the Toronto ByPass (now the 401) and its automatic heating (no more shovelling coal into furnace!).

Millionth House Globe 1956

“1,000,000th House Built in Canada Since War is Sold to Young Family of Four”, Globe & Mail, Sept 15, 1956. Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

1956 is a funny year. In the grand timeline of history, it really isn’t that long ago. But at the same time, it is hard to find a reference point to that period. Newspapers help; first-hand accounts are better. My goal for the walk was to retell the ‘History’ of the area (via research), and elicit other ‘histories’ (i.e. personal anecdotes) from fellow walkers. Together, those make up a complete picture. I think that was achieved.

Wandering Wishing Well Acres had the wonderful benefit of two original residents and their takes on the neighbourhood some fifty and sixty years ago – one that still lives in the subdivision and one that returned for the first time in decades for the Jane’s Walk! Some of those insights: neighbours really did all know each other, children rode their bikes together, and people would gather in Wishing Well Park’s flooded ice pond. It was a great place to grow up. I get a similar vibe whenever I walk through it today.

Back to the layers: It’s no secret Scarborough was mostly rural fields prior to WWII. The farms are gone, but their geographic legacies remain. Subdivisions were developed 100 acres at a time — the size of patented farm lots that were gradually swooped up in the 1800s. Sheppard Avenue, the main street of sorts, provided access to the three farms that compose Wishing Well Acres as Concession Road III. It was later made a highway between Pickering and Yonge Street (because apparently Kingston Road was too congested in 1931?).

There’s the enduring power of names in local storytelling, too: Wishing Well was the name of Christopher Thompson’s farm; Vradenburg/Vradenberg, of which the street and school is named, was another pioneering family (albeit, with a more European spelling: Vradenburgh).

1860Scarboro - Copy

Wishing Well area via 1860 Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

Of course, there’s a story before the Vradenburghs, Thompsons, and Masons. Was there Aboriginal presence here? Unfortunately, there’s no proof, but I’d still say possibly. Other sites in Scarborough — the Alexandra Site, Tabor Hill & Birkdale Ravine — point to indigenous settlement as late as around 800 years ago. Those areas all had a waterway in common — and Wishing Well once sported a free-flowing creek through it.

So then, what’s the future of Wishing Well Acres? I’d say it’s similar to its past: redevelopment. Sheppard Avenue is changing to accommodate more density: walkable, mixed use and mid-rise buildings. It’s like a retrofit to the blantantly, car-designed suburb. Of most interest to Wishing Well is the proposed development at Pharmacy and Sheppard. If it gets the green light, it would replace Wishing Well Plaza, which was at one time the commercial nexus of the early community and today home to a few eateries and shops that are largely and perhaps erroneously overlooked.

3105-3133 Sheppard East development 1

And what would a talk of the future be without public transit? Regardless of what transit on Sheppard Avenue ends up looking (or if it ends up looking like anything!), demand for (improved) public transit isn’t new! In 1956, the Town and Country Ratepayers and Community Association were calling for more than just a rush hour bus on Victoria Park. They wanted service on Sheppard! Plus ca change, eh? (That bus didn’t come until the mid-1960s, by the way.)

Town and Country Globe 1956

“A Bungalow in Scarboro”, Globe & Mail, Aug 6, 1956. Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

There are other aspects to the story  too: the burying of Taylor-Massey Creek, the gem of Wishing Well Woods (another rural remnant), the lost O’Sullivan’s Corners village at Victoria Park and Sheppard (of which the Johnny’s Hamburgers building is a leftover), and the Northwest Drive-in once located in Consumers Business Park (which is also getting a makeover.) It’s fitting that “Wandering Wishing Well Acres” ran overtime — there was too much to say!

Northwest Drive-In 1975

Northwest Drive-In & Consumers Business Park, 1975. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Being located in Scarborough, the Wandering Wishing Well Acres Jane’s Walk was likely not destined for popularity. It’s admittedly not a “sexy” topic nor located in a “sexy” area. But I tried not to let that deter me.

Wishing Well Acres has a story. It’s a good one. And it should be told and celebrated.


Useful Links

City of Toronto – Heritage Registry Interactive Map

Scenes From The Scarborough Bluffs

The Scarborough Bluffs are Scarborough’s claim to fame and claim to name. Although the southern part of borough and its winding main streets are another world to me personally, I know that in the general consciousness of Torontonians, the Bluffs usually come up in Scarborough word association. Or, at least, they should.

The built form of the southern end of Scarborough is a result of the Bluffs, including Kingston Road, whose course roughly follows the top of the landform. Laid out in 1817, it is one of the oldest European routes in the borough. In a pre-401 world, Kingston Road was the highway in and out of Toronto from the east. Its existence made it ideal for hotels and inns to aid travelers in their voyages. Some motels still dot the street today.

Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke 1916

Map of Scarborough Township, c. 1916. Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

Half-Way House, Kingston Road. - [1920?]

Halfway House, Kingston Road & Midland Avenue, c. 1920. The building is currently situated at Black Creek Pioneer Village. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

One notable landmark near Birchmount Road is not a rest stop but Scarborough Arts. The non-for-profit arts organization has a mandate “to create and cultivate innovative arts and cultural programs in Scarborough.” It’s a good one.

Scarborough Arts 1

In addition to facilitating and promoting artistic programs, Scarborough Arts also has rotating exhibition space, appropriately named the Bluffs Gallery. In March 2016, its showcase was ‘YEARBOOK’, a brilliantly-conceived and -executed exhibit which utilized high school yearbooks to tell Scarborough’s history and its remarkable demographic change in particular.

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 1

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 3

It’s not a surprising discovery, but Scarborough didn’t begin to really diversify until around the 1980s. In addition to offering demographic snapshots, I enjoyed the cultural tidbits that could be gleaned from the yearbooks, such as what kind of school clubs existed and the advertisements of local businesses of the day.

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 4

Agincourt Collegiate Institute yearbook, 1964. I attended and graduated from the school some 50 years later.

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 5             Scarborough Arts Yearbook 12

The Scarborough Arts office is a little  unconventional in that it is housed in a converted 1920s dwelling. Its ‘backyard’ is the Harrison Properties, which makes up part of the Waterfront Trail and whose name strikes me as having some sort of history perhaps relating to a previous owner of the lot. I’ve found nothing on the topic, however.

Scarborough Arts 2

Harrison Properties 2

The park backs onto the Bluffs, although a fence and a warning blocks access to the ridge for safety reasons. More on that later.

Harrison Properties 3

Further up Kingston is the Rosetta McClain Gardens. The backstory of this gem is fortunately known and offered up in a couple of plaques. Rosetta McClain once owned this land, and upon her death, her husband and son gifted the lot to the City of Toronto for a public park. Interesting to me in the story is McClain’s father was in charge of the J & J Taylor Safe Works operation in Old Town.

Rosetta McLain Gardens 10                       Rosetta McLain Gardens 1

The gardens are naturally a better a sight in the summer, but even in spr-winter the awe of the space is evident.

Rosetta McLain Gardens 6

Rosetta McLain Gardens 5

The frame of the old McClain house also still stands in the park as a monument…and as a backdrop for wedding shoots.

Rosetta McLain Gardens 9

Access to the Bluffs themselves can be tricky and elusive. There are many’a sign on local streets south of Kingston which advise people to, well, go away. It reminds me of the ire of local Hollywood residents concerning tourists trying to get to the Hollywood sign.

Scarborough Bluffs 6

Fortunately, there is a path beside Wynnview which leads down to Scarborough Heights Park. The bottom of the steep trail delivers a great view. The eye can follow the curve of the Scarborough coast as seen in maps as well the endless blue expanse of Lake Ontario.

Scarborough Heights 1

This is easier going down than up.

Scarborough Heights 3

Scarborough Heights 2

*** Local Caption *** Item consists of one photograph. The park was near Stop 31 (on the street railway?).

Scarborough Heights Park, 1911. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The way is long and muddy (and marked with bricks), but the reward at the end is worth-while.

Scarborough Bluffs 2

Scarborough Bluffs 3

These natural wonders are the leftovers of Glacial Lake Iroquois, whose geography is apparent throughout the city, most famously along the Davenport escarpment near Casa Loma. They are the same Bluffs that might exist in unknown narratives of Aboriginal settlement in this part of Scarborough. And they are the natural wonders Elizabeth “Don’t-Call-Me-Lady” Simcoe sailed past in 1793 which reminded her of her English home.

Scarborough Bluffs 4

Scarborough Bluffs 5

Of course, the elements and human activity have taken their toll on the Bluffs today, robbing them of stability and their chalky exterior in some places. I might argue their erosion is, though, a good – albeit, unfortunate – marker of time and a reminder of their history and pre-history.

Scarborough Bluffs - pierced rock from above 1909

Scarborough Bluffs, 1909. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

One thing that has remained consistent about the Bluffs is the marvel surrounding them. Sometimes it is hard to connect to bygone times and the psyches of people who lived within them, but human feeling and intelligence was no less primitive one hundred years ago than today. The people who explored Scarborough’s coast for an afternoon outing likely thought and felt the same as us when we do the same. That’s a comforting idea.

Scarborough Bluffs - general view from west 1915

Scarborough Bluffs, 1915. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The Bluffs of course stretch beyond Scarborough Heights for more stunning views, including across the way at Scarborough Bluffs Park. But that’s another day.