Tag Archives: condos

Scenes From North York Centre, Gibson House Museum, and Mel Lastman Square

North York Centre. Lansing.  Uptown. The House that Mel Built. What was intended as a simple errand at Yonge and Sheppard turned into a tour of this downtown away from downtown.

It’s been a few years since I frequented the area on a semi-regular basis, so I was slightly shocked at the amount of growth since I was last here. At Yonge and Sheppard – the fortuitous cross-section between two subway lines – towers in differing stages of development have displaced the Metro-flanked strip mall.

1. Yonge and Sheppard towers

2. Yonge and Sheppard towers

Walking up the street, I can see even more cranes with upcoming condos in the distance. Below them, big box stores and restaurants line the streets. My destination is Gibson House Museum – one of the few historic sites operated by the City of Toronto that I have not visited. The towers I saw earlier surround the museum and tell me that a certain Gibson Square is coming to the corner of Yonge and Park Home. I’m compelled to do me a little look around of the museum to see the extent of the ‘takeover’. From Park Home I can see the hint of the brick building beyond the construction site. I continue to Beecroft, where I pass a parkette . I would examine it better after my museum visit. I notice a a house across the street which I immediate recognize as being of an earlier architectural style. I snap a photo and make a note to ask the Gibson House staff about it.

3. Dempsey House on Beecroft

4. Gibson House back Condo

Moving around Gibson House via Basil Hill Court, I’m struck by the contrast of the back of the house and the condominiums going up in front of it. I circle to the front of the house where I’m greeted by a familiar blue plaque. This marker was erected by the Ontario Heritage Trust (interestingly known as the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board in the text) to commemorate David Gibson. I take a few steps back to admire the entirety of the house – but am stopped by the construction wall behind me. Finally, I go around to the side where the entrance is a modern addition to the back the house.

5. David Gibson Ontario Heritage Trust

6. Gibson House front

7. Gibson House side

I’m greeted at the desk by a nice administrator and I immediately mention my observations while getting to the museum. She concurs that it’s tough situation being “landlocked by condos.” It has affected their foot traffic. I pay my 6.29 for an adult visit, she takes my bag to store while I take the guided tour, and I wait for a costumed interpreter in the Discovery Gallery, reading up on textiles and the Gibson story.

This was not the first home the Gibsons owned on this property. A wood frame house stood here, but after the rebellion of 1837, Gibson – a traitor – fled to the United States and the house was burned. Was he returned in 1850, he built this grand Georgian house.

We start in the living room where Claire tells me about Mr. Gibson and the room we are in. He was a land surveyor, which caused him to be often away doing work . This allowed the family the ability to be financially stable enough – not rich, not poor. Of the room itself, Claire tells how the idea was to give off that the impressions they were well off – “perception becomes reality” at work. It sounds like a pompous attitude to have, but it’s a dynamic I have seen in my own life in the 21st century, so perhaps it’s become somewhat normalized. The room is seperated by doors, which divide the room into an entertaining space for guests and an area where the children could play. The public/private divide comes up again later in my tour.

8. Gibson House Living RoomThe room is decked out in Christmas decor,  although a tree would have been anachronistic for the time. Christmas as a whole was not a big deal; perhaps a meal was had and that was it. Hogmanay was the big holiday celebration. Although, if there were adult drinks involved, at least Eliza Gibson was not involved in them, as she was temperate (I think?).

We go to the upper level where Claire tells me about the hired hand David Gibson employed to run the farm (because Gibson was often away). His room was sizable enough for a comfortable enough living, and was situated far away from the children’s bedrooms (locked as well). Claire says there is speculation about his relationship to the family – whether it was strictly an employer-employee dynamic or the family and their good friend. His room faces westward and allowed him a view of the property he managed. The Gibson farm extended all the way to Bathurst from Yonge but wasn’t very wide. He could look out and see all flat fields. Today, the view presents a challenge in interpreting the site because as Claire mentions one sees “a lovely building” when one looks out today.

The children’s bedroom – consisting of a boys and a girls – are low-key in their appearance. And this was on purpose. Nobody went into the bedrooms save for the children themselves and that was in the morning and at night. All the bells and whistles, with the notable exception of the master and guest bedrooms, were reserved for the public areas of the house. The idea, as Claire presented it, was to create a facade for guests: impressing them into thinking they were better off than reality.

As mentioned before, the Gibsons weren’t poor, but they weren’t the elite of the elite. They owned this great house that, if not for the lack of indoor plumbing, might suit a family today. These facts prompt to ask myself – and Claire – “If the Gibsons were nothing special, why does the family’s story survive, as opposed to other comparable households in the area?” The answer includes a couple of factors working together. First, because of his line of work, David Gibson wrote a lot of things down that inform us about the family and their lives. Unfortunately Gibson House records do not include records from the other occupants (Claire says it is not even known if Eliza Gibson was literate), but his paper trail is sizable enough. Second, it helps that the house itself survived. Being brick, it did not burn down like other residences. It also survived demolition even after the farm was broken up for development. During the Centennial celebrations of 1967, the Canadian government alloted money to restore historic houses and turn them into museums. The Dempsey Brothers Store/Joseph Shepard House that I saw on Beecroft might very well have been a museum, but the Gibson home instead was commemorated.

In addition to these rooms, there is a place for the seamstresses hired by the family, as well as a guest room (which is the nicest of the non-master bedroom rooms).

Downstairs, Claire takes me through the Gibson’s office, the kitchen, and dining room. The former is populated by the man’s surveying equipment (not original, of, course). In the kitchen, my guide takes me through the Gibson’s diet (a lot of potatoes) and says Eliza Gibson took care of the kitchen herself, no help. The focal point of the room is the fireplace. One can only imagine the difficulties in cooking an entire meal on it – and worrying about the real hazard of not catching fire. (Tidbit: museum workers and volunteers need safety training just for this reason). The nearby dining room is a showcase of how great the Gibson had it (or were believed to have it, anyways. It also houses two original artefacts: a clock and a cabinet.

9. Gibson House Office

10. Gibson House Kitchen

11. Gibson House Dining Room

Our tour ends where it began. Claire shows me a posted map where visitors have plotted their place of origins on a map. Also presented to me is a full family tree of the family. I heard about it upstairs, but I need to visualize it. Interesting fact: Eliza and David Gibson were related before they married. I forgot the exact connection, but perhaps it was 2nd cousins. My guide says they didn’t grow up together, so it might alright by today’s standards? I might agree with that.

12. Gibson House Archive Photo

13. Gibson House Family Tree

I thank her and she leaves me to browse a little bit. After that I pay my appreciation to the staff and head my way. My adventure in understanding the area and the museum is not done, however. I head down to Gibson Park to see some public installations related to the Gibsons. You may read about that here.

After the park, I head back to Yonge. My final stop for the day will be Mel Lastman Square. This is the Nathan Phillips and Albert Campbell Squares of North York. The former civic heart of the borough and a cultural gathering place. Just to note a few events associated with it, it hosts skating, a farmer’s market, and Canada Day celebrations. Lastman himself was a former mayor of North York and the first mayor of the Mega-City. His fingerprints are all over the borough.

I have a look around, noting the North York Central Library, where I ventured to on a few occasions during university, and a gazebo of sorts. Satisfied, I head for the subway.

14. Mel Lastman Square

15. Mel Lastman Square Rink

16. North York Central Library

17. Mel Lastman Square sign 18. Mel Lastman Square

19. Mel Lastman Square gazebo

 

20. Mel Lastman Square

 

Scenes From Scarborough Civic Centre

The Scarborough Town Centre and Scarborough Civic Centre are located in the geographic heart of Scarborough. The former also makes up the main commercial and transportation heart, and, the latter and its adjoined public square hold the administrative, political and cultural heart of the borough.

Scarborough Civic Centre North Side

I exit the Scarborough RT and descend first upon Albert Campbell Square. The area is akin to the space in front of Toronto City Hall. Like its downtown counterpart, the forum fronts a modernist (former) city hall with an open space and stage. It is also named after a famous mayor, who, in fact, was Scarborough’s first in 1967. The square hosts and has hosted many activities such as a farmers’ market, cultural celebrations, and, in my own history, elementary school folk dancing.

Albert Campbell Square

The 1973 Civic Centre itself – one of a number of Raymond Moriyama creations in Toronto – is the political nexus for Scarborough. Of course, when I call it that, I note that this was more the case during pre-amalgamation Scarborough. But the Civic Centre continues as an administration centre for many city departments.

Scarborough Civic Centre Inside (4)         Scarborough Civic Centre Inside (3)

Scarborough Civic Centre Inside (1)

As with other Moriyama designs (North York Central Library, Toronto Reference Library), there are layers of floors.

Scarborough Civic Centre Inside (6)

After walking through the Civic Centre, I exit the other side. Crossing the street, I come to a field and an interesting piece of public art. The Hand of God is a hand perched atop a talk pole, propping up a man. Completed in 1973 by Carl Milles, it is symbolic of Mr. Campbell’s worldview (as expressed in the accompanying plaque).

Scarborough Civic Centre South Side (1)

The Hand of God (1)

The Hand of God (4)

The Hand of God (5)

There is construction around the south side of the Civic Centre, presumably for new condominiums. This is perhaps the latest identifying caveat – as demonstrated by the towers around Albert Campbell Square – it might also be a residential heart in Scarborough.

Albert Campbell Square Condos (2)

Update 02/07/2015:

That construction was not a condo, but the Toronto Public Library’s newly opened 100th branch, the Scarborough Civic Centre Library!

Scarborough Civic Centre Library Exterior (1)

Scarborough Civic Centre Library Exterior (2)

Scarborough Civic Centre Library Exterior (3)

Scarborough Civic Centre Library Exterior (4)

Walking inside, a new library smell greets me. I’m immediately struck by the abundance of light, wooden beams, and high ceilings. It’s actually a smaller space than I anticipated, but an amazing one nonetheless. As many have said, it’s a great addition to Scarborough and the Toronto Public Library system.

Scarborough Civic Centre Library Interior (1)

Scarborough Civic Centre Library Interior (2)

I sit down at one of the long communal tables to do some work, smiling as I periodically hear a parent ‘shhh’ing her children who are having an enthusiastic time at the KidsStop Centre. Library sounds.

Scarborough Civic Centre Library Interior (3)    Scarborough Civic Centre Library Interior (4)

When I make my exit, I ponder the fenced off construction zone adjacent to the library. Curious about it, I circle back into the library and inquire about it with a staff member at the circulation desk. She graciously tells me there’s some landscaping happening and hopefully there’ll be a parkette-type thing by the end of the summer. That’s reason enough to return!

Scarborough Civic Centre Library Exterior (6)

Rounding the library, I find myself back at the civic square where an information map stump thing catches my eye. I can’t help but think that it’s in an odd location. One has to stand in dirt to read it.

Albert Campbell Square (2)

Albert Campbell Square Map (5)
Albert Campbell Square Map (2)
I admittedly study it more than one should. It’s clearly an outdated thing because Simpson’s, Eaton’s, and The Bay (in its original 1979 spot which Walmart now occupies) are still on the map!

Albert Campbell Square Map (1)

The old Scott Farm House – Baton Rouge, as it’s now known – is looking pretty lonely in its spot north of the mall.

Albert Campbell Square Map (4)

I’m taking a stab that this thing dates from the mid- to late-1980s. Reasons? The Scarborough RT opens in 1985 and Simpson’s ceases to exist in 1991 when The Bay bought it out. Incidentally, this precipitated a game of retail musical chairs where The Bay moved into Simpson’s, Sears moved into The Bay, Sears moved into Eaton’s when Sears bought it out, and finally, Walmart moved into Sears.  (Of course, now Sears is in trouble.)

I’m also going to guess that the wayfinding relic stump was moved here because the ‘You Are Here’ dot is not where I actually am.

Albert Campbell Square Map (3)
For a look at the Scarborough Civic Centre and Scarborough Town Centre dated some time between 1973 and 1979, here’s a vintage image (original source unknown, although credit to HiMY SyED’s Flickr for the amazing find):

Scarborough Town Centre 1970s
There is also a great blown up aerial shot of the area in the 1960s near the lower level food court in the hallway leading to the restrooms.

Related Links

Globe & Mail – Honouring a revered Canadian architect

Now Magazine – Scarborough City Centre and Square: A Space Oddity

Scenes From Carlaw Avenue

Carlaw Sign
Deep in Leslieville lies Carlaw Avenue, a historic manufacturing street in Toronto that fell victim to and adapted with changing times.

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs

Carlaw Avenue looking north from Natalie Avenue (now Colgate)

Perhaps the fitness studios and shiny condominiums might mislead otherwise, but Carlaw still has the remnants of a onetime working class neighbourhood. At one time factories lined the avenue from Queen to just north of Gerrard. During World War I and II, they were used to produced munitions (as a now defunct Carlaw bus route serving Sunday workers suggests).

Carlaw1924Goads

Carlaw Avenue in 1924

But much like the situation with other areas in the city (The Waterfront and Liberty Village, as examples), companies began to fold their operations as it no longer became viable to run in the middle of an urban centre. The results were transformational for the street. With buildings stripped of their original use, they became anomalies in their increasingly residential surroundings. Their fates fell into one of two holes: re-purposing or demolition. Carlaw seems to have employed both.

Beginning just north of Queen on the east side is the former enterprise of Kent McLain. According to the 1910 City of Toronto Directories, Mr McLain was in the business of showcase manufacturing at 181-199 Carlaw Avenue.

Second tall building on the right side of the street

The McLain Building is the 2nd Building on the Right Side

McLain Building 2
Where the street intersects with Colgate is the site of the Colgate-Palmolive Plant, now demolished. Currently the frame of a new condo is going up.

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs

The Palmolive site is the first building on the left

Palmolive-Colgate Factory

Credit: Urban Toronto.

Condo Construction
Across the street, there are two former factories that have been adapted. At 201 Carlaw is the long exterior of the Rolph Clark Stone Limited Building, built in 1913, now with a tower jutting up the middle of it . Up further on the east side of the street is the old Wrigleys Gum plant, placed at 235 Carlaw. Both establishments are now converted lofts, although old monikers still remain above the doors to remind us of their histories.

Rolph Clark Stone Building

Wrigleys Factory Roof

Wrigleys Factory Lofts 2

Wrigleys Building 2

Wrigleys Factory Boston Entrance
On the west side of street is the former home of the Phillips Manufacturing Factory (address 258-326), now a long brown bricked strip of various new commercial endeavours including a kickboxing club and a yoga establishment.

Looking Down Carlaw (2)

Looking down Carlaw

Stores on Carlaw 4

Store on Carlaw
At Carlaw and Dundas several recently completed and recently started condo projects as well as street signs enticing passerbyers to invest.

Construction Dundas and Carlaw   Dundas and Carlaw 4

Urban Lofts Sign

Just south of Gerrard is the grand Toronto Hydro Electric Station. At one time the rounded corner sported a store front, no doubt educating people about the wonder of electric powered appliances in the 20th century. Built in 1916, the station is a heritage property for the City of Toronto.

Carlaw Avenue. - February 3, 1919

Hydro Building 2
It is not an industrial site (although early factories relied on the railroad), but the cross-section at Carlaw and Gerrard is an interesting focal point as well. At one time, the large open section of Gerrard underneath the railroad did not exist, forcing the street to dip down and around at Carlaw before resuming a regular east-west route. The subway was constructed in the 1930s to straighten the street up. The former route still exists as a narrow residential branch of Gerrard running in northeast-southwest direction , although it stops just short of the main road.

Old Gerrard and Carlaw

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs

CNR Gerrard and Carlaw

    Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs

Finally, situated at the northeast corner of the intersection is the Riverdale Shopping Centre, a No Frills-anchored strip mall caught in the shadow of its much larger Gerrard Square neighbour. The presence of this site hides that at one time a series of buildings belonging to the International Varnish Company made their home here.

Internation Varnish Gerrard and Carlaw 2

Internation Varnish Gerrard and Carlaw

Northwest corner Carlaw and Gerrard 2

Scenes From Corktown

2013-08-03 16.47.58

Once the home of working class Irish immigrants, walking the storied streets of Corktown one can see a showcase of the old, the new, and old and new side by side. Long past its days of being a working class neighbourhood, Corktown, like its sister neighbourhood Cabbagetown to the north, has become a gentrified hotbed just outside of the downtown core.

2013-08-03 16.47.31

2013-08-03 16.49.22

2013-08-03 16.51.48

Corktown’s street layout has been reconfigured over the years to account for several changes in the neighbourhood. The razing of the House of Providence south of St. Paul’s Basilica allowed for the extensions of Adelaide and Richmond  (which were Duchess and Duke, respectively) toward the Don Valley Parkway in the 1960s. In more recent activity, River Street was extended south of King Street for the Don Lands development.

Corktown Map

Walking the streets of Corktown, I could trace the various aspects of life a resident would have encountered: the residential 19th century rowhouses on Trinity and Percy streets, the markets and factories on King Street, the religious institutions of Little Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Basilica, to the educational institutions like the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse and Inglenook (Sackville Street) School. It made it an experience to walk those steps.

St Paul's BasilicaTrinity Church

InglenookSchool

Enoch Turner School

And in the same sense, I could look forward into the future of the neighbourhood. Condo buildings erecting on King Street and the rippling effects of the nearby construction of the West Don Lands community and aptly named Corktown Commons parkland tells me of a neighbourhood going through some changes.

2013-08-03 16.53.30

Corktown Common 1

Corktown Common 2