Category Archives: Streets

Scenes From Kensington Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Useful Links

Doug Taylor – The Villages Within

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

Kensington Market Historical Society

Lost Rivers – “Bellevue”

Toronto Park Lot Project

Scenes From Eglinton Avenue West

Eglinton Avenue is Toronto’s east-west midpoint. It is the only street in the city (although took some doing in the 1950s and 60s to make it so) that traverses all six former municipalities. This attribute has made it perfect for a crosstown transit line. Although it was laid out in 1793 as the Third Concession from Lot (Queen) Street, I would argue that Eglinton’s form, at least from Yonge Street to Latimer Avenue, as we know it today does not begin to take shape until 130 years after it was laid out.

Might’s correct city directory map of Greater Toronto, ca. 1940. The extension across the Don River branches were completed by 1956. In 1967, Richview Sideroad in Etobicoke was absorbed into Eglinton Avenue when the two streets were joined via a bridge across the Humber River. Credit: Map and Data Library, University of Toronto.

This stretch of Eglinton Avenue west of Yonge Street and the surrounding area was historically part of the Village of North Toronto. Even though the village was absorbed into the City of Toronto in 1912, allowing it to reap the benefits of better service delivery, the street was still a sparsely populated dirt road. It wasn’t until the coming decades when Eglinton’s fields morphed into a mixed residential and commercial zone. By 1930, the road was paved and possibly widened.

Eglinton Ave, west from Yonge, October 19, 1922. Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 1637.
Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Eglinton Avenue west from Yonge Street, April 23, 1930. Fonds 1231, Item 1646. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

At Duplex and Eglinton stands a power station. The yellow-bricked structure was built in 1920 at a time of rapid expansion in Toronto. With the Toronto Hydro-Electric System (now known as just Toronto Hydro) becoming the only distributor of power in Toronto at the tail end of the 1910s, Toronto was experiencing the pressures of an electrified transit network and a growing population.

The Eglinton sub-station was one of many built in this era to cope with this demand, specifically serving the surrounding residential community and “the Metropolitan radial line on north Yonge Street and subsequently to the TTC Yonge route and Eglinton Carhouse in the area.”

Eglinton Sub-station, August 10, 1925. Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3975. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Related, a short distance across from the station, there’s a row of mid-rise apartments. The positioning of these 1930s Art-Deco inspired buildings one after the other leads one to conclude that this was by design, although I wonder at their context considering the larger history the Toronto has with this kind of housing stock.

One historical narrative has been that whereas at the time the City of Toronto avoided this housing style, outlying communities like York and Forest Hill including them in their planning. For example, a more prominent row of these decorative lofts exists further west on Eglinton near Bathurst Street in the former Village of Forest Hill. These ones close to Yonge would have existed on land already annexed to the city, though. Curious.

Next, Eglinton Park has a neat past. As Lost Rivers explains, long before its colonial period, Huron peoples occupied its land and the nearby area – notably, the site of Allenby Public School – in the 15th century. In more recent history, the park was a brickyard! Capitalizing on the clay beds created by the now buried Mud Creek, James Pears ran his establishment here beginning in the 1880s.

The Eglinton Hunt Club (foreground) & Pears Brickyard (background), looking southeast,1920. The Pears home (now gone) can be seen at the top of the image at 214 Eglinton Avenue. A water tower stood on Roselawn Avenue near Avenue Road. A communications tower is in its place today. Credit: Toronto Public Libary

The modern geography within the park shows off the layers of time: the ‘dug-in’ escarpment leading up to Oriole Parkway, the hilly topography of Roselawn Avenue. Pears formerly worked out of today’s Ramsden Park in Yorkville before moving up Yonge Street, which has similar rolling features. These are the former lives of our parks.

Later, with North Toronto annexed, the City of Toronto attempted to purchase the yard from Pears before outright expropriating it in 1922 when he refused. The entire exercise came at a time in the 1920s and 30s when the City’s Parks Department was expanding, creating parkland and accompanying infrastructure such as shelters, gazebos, and bandshells. In fact, the Toronto Archives has a wonderful collection of ink & pencil drawings as a part of an Architectural Drawings Scrapbook prepared by the Department of Buildings for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Eglinton Park (Roselawn Avenue) Shelter, August 12, 1930. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 1, Item 934. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Pears’ legacy did live on for a while as the space was unofficially known as Pears Park for a time (and still might be?). Modern amenities have been added to the park since then of course, including a community centre, playground, and a Cretan maze via the Toronto City of Labyrinths Project!

A final sign of the street’s arrival was the eventual population of the street with commercial activity. The north side of Eglinton east of Avenue was one of the first retail blocks, coming to us around 1930.

CANATCO house index map of Toronto and environs, 1932. Credit: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

Eglinton Ave. north side Avenue Rd. looking east, April 23, 1930. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1223. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

With the opening of the Eglinton Theatre in 1936 to serve the growing local community, another commercial dimension was added. Neighbourhood theatres were abundant in Toronto by World War II, but The Eglinton was a benchmark in grandeur.

Whereas other ‘nabes‘ were more low-key in aesthetic, the Kaplan and Sprachman-designed Art Deco movie house and its neon-lit tower announced itself on the commercial strip. It’s amazing considering this was also during the Great Depression. It was operational until 2002, remarkably late in the history of comparable theatres. Today it’s the Eglinton Grand.

 

Useful Links

City of Toronto Archives – “Turning on Toronto: Toronto Hydro-Electric System” Web Exhibit

City of Toronto Planning Department – “Eglinton Connects Planning Study July 2013 Draft”

Historic Toronto – “Memories of Toronto’s Eglinton Theatre” by Doug Taylor

Lost Rivers – “The Eglinton Park Hill”

Scenes From A City – “Scenes From Yorkville”

Silent Toronto

Spacing – “Toronto’s Art Deco district? Take a walk along Eglinton Avenue West” by Daniel Rotsztain 

Torontoist – “Historicist: The ‘Manifest Destiny’ of North Toronto” by David Wencer

Scenes From Kennedy Road

Kennedy Road between Finch and Linwood Avenues is, at first glance, an inconsequential stretch of street. 1km of nothing. A bit of digging, however, and there’s a story. There’s always a story.

Beginning at the top, there’s the Hugh Clark House. A rural leftover nestled in behind a gas station. The Clark family once lined the north side of Finch with their farms. The first of the Clarks to plant his roots was Hugh‘s father, William, who settled two lots over at Birchmount Road in 1838. I wrote a little bit about the elder Clark while exploring his property at today’s L’Amoreaux Park.

Hugh Clark House
Crossing the street, one comes to an innocent looking parkette. Today’s park, however, is yesterday’s street jog. Kennedy at one time jogged left at Finch, forcing a northbound traveler to turn left and then right before continuing north. At some point Kennedy was reconfigured to run seamlessly through the intersection. An orphaned section of the old route remained south of Finch, however. The old Kennedy bus used to turn around at the loop when the bus route terminated at Finch. The triangular jog was eliminated for good in 1979, leaving us Kennedy Road Parkette.

Finch Kennedy Parkette jog
Next, Lynnwood Heights on Southlawn Drive has been around since 1956. The school’s TDSB webpage notes an original population of 400, a staggering far cry from the current enrollment of 160 pupils. The surrounding subdivision also dates from around 1956, making it one of the older post-war developments in northern Scarborough. One can imagine as the area continued to grow, more schools opened to relieve Lynnwood.

Lynnwood Heights Junior Public School
Huntingwood Drive is an east-west alternative to Sheppard and Finch (at least, between Victoria Park and McCowan), but its existence is a relatively recent thing – around 1967, more specifically. It’s odd in the way it snakes close to Sheppard in some parts and close in Finch in others.

Huntingwood Drive

Kennedy Road & Area, 1965

Kennedy Road & Area, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives. The future Huntingwood Drive is pencilled in bottom left. Finch jog at top.

Bookending the kilometre stretch is another farmhouse, Elmridge. This was the Pat(t)erson family homestead. Or, at least, one of them. Like the Clarks, the Patersons were a pioneering Scarboro family who toiled the land on the east side of the street between Sheppard and Finch. Robert Bonis writes in A History of Scarborough that a Thomas Paterson arrived here in 1820 from Scotland, clearing the land with his son. His descendants continued his work at Elmridge, eventually making the Paterson name synonymous with Agincourt. This excellently researched WikiTree entry breaks down the life of Thomas Archibald Paterson, the great-grandson of the original Thomas Paterson.

Elmridge House

Scenes From Gerrard East Back Alleys and Side Streets

I start by rounding around the front of the New Town Family Restaurant. The individual handing out free three-day GoodLife passes nearly startles me. I decline – wouldn’t know who to give them to. “No worries,” he tells me, as I note the good choice in location nonetheless. The diner hugging the corner boasts what seems to be its entire menu on its sign – all day breakfast among it. Even as a proponent of breakfast food at any hour of the day, I have yet to try it out.

1 New Town Family Restaurant

2 Little India

I round the bend, finding myself on Gerrard Street East. It’s a street I have frequented quite a bit over the last year. It is of course home to the Gerrard India Bazaar BIA and one of the most impactful and distinctive streetscapes in the city. It is always a treat to gaze on the colourful facades of the clothing and jewellery shops, but it’s not my goal today. No, today I want to look behind the scenes.

On the way, I note a couple of scenes. The Glen Rhodes United Church, as imposing as it is on the street, at first glance is a bit of an anomaly amongst its South Asian surroundings. The church in its earliest form predates Little India by 60 years, however. I am impressed not only by its Gothic structure, but by its status as an affirmed church and a centre for the Pakistani community.

4 Glen Rhodes United 1909 1926

5 Glen Rhodes United Church Affirmed

6 Glen Rhodes United Pakistani Community

The next street over from Rhodes is Craven, locally known as Tiny Town for its DIY houses. I am tempted to cross the street and head south, but alas, I continue on. Less impressive is the amount of closed, empty shops. If you walk down the entire course of the Bazaar, you’ll notice quite a few of them. It’s a sad sight and speaks to perhaps the decline or at least the changing nature of the South Asian hub.

7 Craven Road

8 Gerrard East Empty Shop

Ashdale Avenue is where I move off Gerrard. I snap a picture of the mural in front of the library before heading north. I enter the alley from behind the library. My first encounter is the Naaz Theatre complex. I didn’t have a chance to check it out from the front, but if it mimics the back, it still needs a lot of work. Actually, I can hear the grinding of a saw happening from inside. My other senses catch the tempting aromas from the street and the not so inticing wall designs.

10 Gerrard Ashdale Library Murals

11 Ashdale Alley

12 Naaz Theatre Rear

13 Gerrard Graffiti

Wooden fences and back decks populate the lane. I admittedly feel weird about being there. Like an arena dressing room to the public, it feels like a no go zone – the unpretty behind-the-scenes scene.

14 Gerrard East Alley

15 Gerrard East Alley

At Woodfield, I am thrown slightly off course by a couple of unplanned and planned distractions. First, the unexpected  – a series of images making up a mural. I interpret the first to be a face with large eyes, a mustache, and tiny mouth – wearing a crown. Walking up to the street, I can’t resist but get another peek of my favourite building on the street.

16 Woodfield Mural

17 Woodfield Mural

18 Gerrard and Woodfield

My planned diversion is to head north. Woodfield has a bit of road maintenance going on. A passing jogger has to navigate around the holes in the sidewalk and through the muddy road. Canadian flags and a mismatch of adjacent housing have my attention. I also remember that a tunnelized stream runs under the street.

19 Canadian Flag

20 Canadian Flag

21 Woodfield Houses

Ahead in the distance the street slopes up to an end. Before that, it’s bisected by another road. The row of houses leading up to southwest corner concludes a flat roofed brick building. This is Woodfield Grocery and puzzles me. I know of corner shops existing in Cabbagetown, so this is unexpected. I wonder how long it’s been here.

I head inside. I see no one at the counter but then hear a ‘hello’ from seemingly nowhere. A couple of steps forward produces a woman sitting in a hidden corner reading the paper and manning the security cameras. I head to the back of the shop and fetch myself a chocolate milk. While she rings it up, I mention my curiosities about its odd location. She makes no comment, so I go on to ask whether a lot of people come by. “Sometimes. More in the summer.” The language barrier between us has me sensing an awkward conversation coming, so I leave it at that and wish her a good day as I exit.

22 Woodfield Ave

23 Woodfield Grocery

If I continue up Woodfield I’ll hit a path which trails under the CNR tracks toward Monarch Park. Alas, this is an adventure already travelled, so I hang a left.

My plan is to head down Highfield to rejoin the laneways. Before I do, I note the houses north of Walpole. They are a bit out of place compared to the rest of street.  As my Greenwood Avenue exploits showed me, the residential neighbourhood in this area developed in pockets as the brickyards closed down and the land was converted.

24 Highfield Post-War Houses

The image of daisies on a black brick building welcomes me back to the lane. This is the Riverdale Hub, a former industrial building turned community centre. I had a chance to tour it during last year’s Doors Open. It is an interesting building with a wonderful mandate.

25 Gerrard Alley at Highfield

26 Riverdale Hub Daisies

On Glenside I see perhaps the grandest design of the day. A woman from the residential complex behind me exits as I capture it. I often wonder if I’ll be asked what I’m doing when I am snapping photos. Alas, she continues on her business and I add the peacock to my Galaxy SIII’s gallery.

27 Glenside Peacock Mural

28 Glenside Peacock Mural

29 Gerrard Alley at Glenside

30 Gerrard Alley at Glenside

The alley hits an incline and I reach Redwood on the otherside. The Centre of Gravity Circus/Side Show Café is a fascinating structure. I know it’s an old theatre complex but looking up I see ‘Pool and Billiards Parlour’. Perhaps one of its incarnations after it ceased to be a theatre (whenever that was)?

31 Zero Gravity Circus side

32 Zero Gravity Circus side stairs Circles

33 Zero Gravity Circus Pool and Billards Parlor

34 Sideshow Cafe

I round back to check out the rest of building. More graffiti and a door leading to a death drop. That’s different.

35 Zero Gravity Circus Rear

36 Zero Gravity Circus Rear Door to Nowhere

Continuing on, I come to Greenwood. Across the street the alley continues. I contemplate it, but with a 14% phone battery, I nix it. Thwarted by technology.

37 Gerrard Alley

38 Greenwood Avenue

I instead head to Gerrard to attack my bucket list. The first thing that catches my attention at the Brickyard Grounds is the coloured archival photo of the corner.  It’s a long and narrow shop, but spacious nonetheless. I walk up to the counter and am amicably greeted by the barista. Not being one for lattes, I simply ask for drip. Behind me another barista alerts me she’s trying to pass through. Between the counter and the wall there is not tons of rooms. I apologize, joking that I tend to take up a lot of space. She tells me instead that they knew they’d regret putting shelving on the wall. We have a laugh about that.

I fit my coffee with milk and sugar and take a spot at the front of the store – right under the picture. I snap it for my collection and run through the rest of my photos from today while working on my coffee. I half-eavesdrop on the surrounding conversations including a police officer’s chats with the baristas and then a patron near me.

40 Brickyard Grounds 1930s

I bring my finished cup up to the counter and thank the barista that passed behind me earlier. I ask about what I had and she says it is an organic, fair trade roast and tells me about the differences it and dark roasts. Then I compliment her on the unbelievable job they have done with the place and the awesome tribute to the local history of the area. She mentions the photo, which she had touched up by a graphic designer, and points out they took the sign to the former occupants – the Native Canadian Arts & Crafts Gallery – and fitted it onto the counter. Didn’t even notice it ‘til then. From there, I pledge to come back – weekend brunch looks too enticing – and after exchanging names (thanks for the chat Sophie!), I leave.

My Transit Now Toronto app settles my dilemma between the bus and the streetcar. It’ll be the 31 today, and it comes five minutes to swoop me to the subway.

39 Brickyard Grounds

Scenes From Greenwood Avenue

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

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

Greenwood south from Oakvale

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

Of course, I already know the answer going in.

Greenwood Yard (1)

Greenwood Yard (2)

Greenwood Yard (4)

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

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

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

GreenwoodGoads19131

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

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

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

GreenwoodAerial1953

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

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

Greenwood & Felstead Apartments

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

Logan's Brickyards, c. 1912

Logan’s Brickyards, c. 1912

Logan's Brickyards 2

Logan’s Brickyards, c. 1917.

Toronto Brick Company Walpole and Felstead

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

Greenwood & Felstead

Greenwood & Felstead, 2013.

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

TorBrick Road (1)

Torbrick Road (3)

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

Wagstaff Drive (2)

Mr. Wagstaff ran the yard near the GTR tracks.

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

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

Brickyard Grounds (1)

Brickyard Grounds (2)

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs

SW corner Greenwood and Gerrard, c. 1934

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

Greenwood Mural (1)

Greenwood Mural

Greenwood Brickyard Signs

Greenwood Brickyard Signs (4)

Greenwood Brickyard Signs (3)

Greenwood Brickyard Signs (2)

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

Greenwood Park (1)

Greenwood Park (3)

Greenwood Park 1922

Baseball in Greenwood Park, c. 1922.

Greenwood Park Opening 2

Greenwood Park Opening, 1920.

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

Greenwood Park (6)

Greenwood Park Baseball Diamonds (1)

Greenwood Park Baseball Diamonds (2)

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

GreenwoodGoads19132

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

Curvy Dundas

Winding Dundas, south of Greenwood Park

Greenwood Avenue and Dundas Avenue East

Greenwood Avenue and Dundas Avenue East, looking southeast

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

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

Althletic Avenue Stairs

Hertle Avenue Postwar House

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

Sam The Record Man Sign Belongs in a Yonge Street Museum

Sam the Record Man Sign

Credit: Shane S. Flickr stream

I have never stepped inside Sam the Record Man, and I shamefully admit my memories of walking by the famous neon signs at Yonge and Gould are vague at best. My experience is limited to exploring my father’s record collection which he purchased at the store in the 80s, and sifting through what would be become new favourites like Bowie’s Let’s Dance and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. With this said, personal memory and collective memory are separate yet connected ideas, and while my own past does not directly intersect with the life and times of Sam the Record Man, I feel part of a collective whose past indeed does – even if those memories aren’t mine.

The issue to me is not losing the store itself. Business is a tricky endeavour, and recent high-profile examples unfortunately show that even the most profitable and high profile enterprises can fold. There are many that would like to see it in existence, and I am not diminishing those sentiments. But since it is gone, we are faced with a ‘now what?’ situation.

Well, the ‘now what?’ is what do we do with the giant neon signs. The signs are the most tangible remnants of that store, along with perhaps the records purchased from the record shop that still exist in the collections of its former patrons and the auctioned memorabilia distributed in the store’s final days. The issue is commemorating, through the signs, the importance of Sam’s and its owner Sam Sniderman in the narrative of our music and cultural history.

Many assign Ryerson University – a rapidly expanding institution and the current owners of the former site of the store – as the villains in this saga. Many lament the loss of the Yonge Street Entertainment Strip (located between Queen and Gerrard Streets), of which Sam’s was a big part of, and dismiss its current incarnation as a soulless commercial and educational strip filled with an upcoming Ryerson student buildings and a mix of big and small name shopping destinations.

Sam The Record Man, Steeles Tavern, A&A

A&A, Steeles Tavern, & Sam The Record Man ca. 1971
         City of Toronto Archives           Series 1465, File 312, Item 51

For me, times change and there should be no qualms about new epochs coming into fashion. That’s fine. The fascinating thing about Toronto is its layered history. Different occupants, one after another (or sometimes at the same time), move into an area, set up their establishments, and in doing so they transform the character of their locale. This is perhaps no better manifested than in Kensington Market.

As these transformational processes take place and time, the altered urban landscapes have the power to reveal and conceal the layered history of their use. From the 1960s to about the 1990s, The Yonge Street Strip was for the most part a music and entertainment epicentre in Toronto. The sites which have contributed to this characterization have largely disappeared. Some buildings currently employ different uses (like Friars Taven at Dundas), others have been demolished completely (like the Colonial Tavern at 203 Yonge St). The loss of Sam’s and the Empress Hotel (which has quite the history itself) were the latest in this episode. The only visible reminder is Zanzibar’s, although even that has shifted identities from a music club to a purely adult entertainment establishment. Take this further and one hundred years ago the history of the Yonge Street Strip comes a bit full circle with how we might see it today. In 1912, for example, Sam’s was Curtis-Wilson Furniture Co. and Byers Albert Jefferies, Ltd., furries. 349 Yonge – Steeles Tavern, which Sam Sniderman eventually took over – was Hele’s Ceramic Art. Co. A&A at 351 Yonge was owned by Walker Frank, a man in the clothing business. In other words, this was a retail strip in its own right.

SamsDirectory1912

Today, the site of Sam is occupied and owned by Ryerson Univeraity – a booming educational institution that has seen tremendous growth since its days as a polytechnic. One has to guess that growing levels of enrollment within existing programs and the addition of new programs has necessitated its spatial growth, so as much as we might curse the ‘takeover’, perhaps we cannot fault that from occurring.

So the question remains: where do the signs end up? They are doing no favours to anyone stored in a North Toronto trailer.

The original plan was to have them mounted within the new student centre as a part of the deal struck by the Ryerson-Sniderman deal. Much fuss has been made about a broken promise on Ryerson’s president who has said that signs would clash with the modernist style of the new building.

Recently renewed talk has called for the need of a Toronto Museum. Whether we have the site and leadership to finally execute such a needed endeavour is another story. It does remain, however, that the neon signs would be ideal artefacts within such as a space. This would help in telling the musical and cultural narrative of Toronto as well as the role of Yonge Street.

Ideally, I’d like to see them back a part of the street, which also was the proposal put forward by Councillor Wong-Tam and supported by Mayor Rob Ford. The signs are best preserved and presented in context. Sam’s was an important part of a certain era of Yonge Street, and its signs should be displayed at its historic intersection. In doing so, in the end, we are putting them in a museum – albeit one that lacks physical plant and invites the components of the urban landscape to be the artifacts themselves.

Urban landscapes as museums are not a new idea. The Textile Museum’s mobile app TXTile City turns the city of Toronto into a museum whose artifacts are the sites – the built forms and their related oral histories — themselves. A recent TedTalk promoted the idea of the built and natural forms of Indianapolis – the city itself – as a science museum. A Toronto Star column has outlined the importance of Yonge Street. This is our Saint Laurent Boulevard of Montreal fame. Like The Main, Yonge Street, our spine, bisects the city, connects neighbourhoods, serves as cultural and commercial epicentre, and has a very layered past. In other words, it is important in the historical, geographic, cultural, natural, economic, sociological development of Toronto.

Fortunately, we already have something like what I’ve been proposing already underway. Youryongestreet is an online crowdsourcing initiative, launched by the Toronto Public Library, aimed at celebrating the history of Yonge Street. The potential age range of participants (and backgrounds in general) allows for exactly what I’ve been talking about: the presentation of the diversity of Yonge Street. The exhibits collection features a range of images, videos, audio accounts, and written tales about Yonge Street.

Youryongestreet and the urban landscape museum I have presented are two parts in an grander museum that showcases Yonge Street’s past. No doubt the Sam the Record sign should be an artefect in that museum, too.

Scenes From Smythe Park

Located on the west side of Jane Street between St. Clair and Eglinton is Smythe Park. Somehow this park fits into Toronto’s sports heritage, industrial heritage, and natural heritage.

The naming of this park was intriguing to me. Any hockey fan will recognize the surname Smythe as synonymous with the National Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Indeed, Mr. Conn Smythe was at one time the Leafs’ coach, general manager, and owner, and the man who built Maple Leaf Gardens.

Smythe Park 1

Unknown to me was the fact that, along with running the Toronto Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe had several business operations in Toronto. Beginning in the 1920s, one of these was a sand and gravel enterprise on Jane Street – a very lucrative one at that. Smythe Park sits where that operation once was.

East Side of Jane Street, north of Alliance Avenue. Jane Plaza is located here today. Source: Toronto Public Library

East Side of Jane Street, north of Alliance Avenue. Jane Plaza is located here today. Source: Toronto Public Library

Following a descent north of the creek, I follow the path – the aptly titled Black Creek Trail – into the park. To my right there is a baseball diamond. To my left, a bridge (the first of two in the park) across Black Creek is gated up and inaccessible.

Smythe Park 2Smythe Park 4

Smythe Park 3

The downpour from earlier in the day has left the path wet and puddled, but it is an otherwise a nice walk. The willow trees that hang adjacent to the creek make it somewhat scenic.

Smythe Park 6

Smythe Park 8

I come to a second bridge, which at first glance are marked with two randomly placed giant rocks at either end. At closer inspection and deliberation, they are tributes to the industrial heritage of the area – and a reminder of the remarkable transformation from a quarry to a park. I look through the bridge’s unexpectedly high railings and see the muggy, depleted, manipulated, flowing creek.

Smythe Park 10

Smythe Park 11

Smythe Park 12

Smythe Park 13

A look on the other side of the bridge produces a view of the park’s outdoor pool facility. I follow the path up a very windy climb back to Jane Street, stopping to look down into valley – no doubt dug in from the gravel quarry.

Smythe Park 14