Scenes From The Lesmill Office Park

Welcome to the Lesmill Office Park

The Lesmill Office Park is located in the Don Mills neighbourhood of Toronto. While on the surface this post-war collection of industries may be uninspiring, its history and current make-up is interesting.

The Lesmill Office Park, 2021.
Source: Google Maps.

The City of Toronto defines the Office Park’s borders as roughly the East Don River in the north, Leslie Street to the west, Don Mills Road to the east, and Bond Avenue and Canadian National Railway to the south (excluding parkland and residential areas). For the purposes of this article, only the area north of York Mills Road will be explored.

Office Parks and Employment Zones in Toronto.
Source: City of Toronto.

The Lesmill Office Park mixes light industry, offices, courier companies, and some retail to make for an eclectic combination of enterprises. In modern terms, it is an important employment area for the City of Toronto. Historically, it is an overlooked part of the post-war development and growth of Don Mills. Moreover, the fascinating part of the Office Park is its evolution from farms lot and how they continue to play into the modern fabric of the district.

The Lesmill Office Park with historic farm lots. The circles denote the locations of farmhouses.
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou.

The Duncan Plot & York Mills Road

Beginning in the 1800s, the Duncan family owned 200 acres at Lot 11, Third Concession East of Yonge in the historic community of Oriole. In modern references, this was the north side of York Mills Road between Leslie Street and Highway 404. David Duncan in 1865 constructed a farmhouse which would be named “Moatfield”.

1860 Tremaine’s Map of York County.
Source: Old Toronto Maps.
Duncan, David, ”Moatfield”, York Mills Road, north side, west of Don Mills Road, 1905.
Source: Toronto Public Library
1956 North York Pioneers and Landmarks c. 1878, by Ted Chirnside.
Source: North York Historical Society

By the end of the 1950s, changes came to York Mills Road and the Duncan family lot. At Leslie Street, a British American (B/A) Oil Company service centre opened at 800 York Mills.  By 1960, the gas station expanded to occupy more of the corner. B/A was defunct by 1970; today there is a PetroCanada on site.

1947 Aerial of the future site of the Lesmill Business Park.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
House and service station on the northeast corner of Leslie Street and York Mills Road, 1957. Note the B/A gasoline sign in front of the house.
Source: Toronto Public Library.

In 1960, industry came to this part of Don Mills. The Imperial Tobacco Sales Company of Canada and the Canadian Westinghouse Company opened on either side of the CNR tracks on York Mills Road. The coming of the railway to Don Mills in the late 19th century and early 20th-century was important in the future arrival of the Office Park. A siding served the former factory. Today, both factories no longer exist, being replaced in the 21st century by the York Mills Gardens mall and an empty lot seemingly ready for redevelopment, respectively.

1960 Aerial of York Mills Road, east of Leslie Street.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
1969 Toronto City Directory showing York Mills, north side between Leslie Street and Don Mills Road.
Source: Toronto Public Library.

At 860 York Mills, a second gas station – Harry’s Shell Service – stood at the southern entrance of the Business Park at Lesmill Rd. In 1998, the land was rezoned from industrial to commercial use to accommodate a one-storey building. A City of Toronto report stated the properties in the Business Park were “under-utilized” and the proposed building was “to facilitate the articulation of this important intersection and serve to enhance the general appearance of the area” and “provided increased amenities to the area”. The adjacent Don Mills Car Wash at 862 York Mills was another early business of the Business Park. The structure still operates in its original use and used the Don Mills Car Wash name until about 2014!

The Moatfield House at 866 York Mills Road itself was impacted directly by redevelopment. In Don Mills: From Forest and Farms to Forces of Change, Scott Kennedy wrote by 1962, the Duncan farm was reduced to sixteen acres near the farm house. By this point, the property belonged to Kate Duncan, the widow of Gordon Duncan, son of David Duncan, the house’s builder. In 1972, Kate Duncan passed away. The Prince Hotel (later the Westin Prince, now the Pan Pacific) opened on the former Moatfield property on June 1, 1974.

The empty, derelict farmhouse was moved closer to York Mills Road to accommodate the development, but its survival was not secure. With the future of the Moatfield house in jeopardy, the Tzioumis brothers rescued the property in 1986 and moved it 300 metres north, where it operates as the the David Duncan House. The steakhouse still stands on the original Duncan plot from the 1800s. Both Moatfield and The Prince Hotel are Toronto heritage properties.

Gordon (son of David) Duncan House, 1961.
Source: Toronto Public Library.

Don Mills Road goes north

An important event in the creation of the Business Park was the northward extension of Don Mills Road from its terminus at York Mills Road. The latter road curved through the intersection. The idea was first proposed in 1961 at a cost of $3.75 million and was meant to accommodate the loss of Woodbine Avenue, which was absorbed into the new Don Valley Parkway. Land acquisition took place between 1962, with construction on the road, including new bridges over the East Don River and Highway 401 taking place in the following years. The Don Mills Road extension opened by 1966.

York Mills Road And Don Mills Road, 1963.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
1963 Aerial of York Mills Road and Don Mills Road.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“New Bridge Takes Shape Over No. 401 Highway Where Don Mills Road Crosses”, The Globe and Mail, August 6, 1964.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives.

The Toronto Transit Commission’s Don Mills bus route began servicing York Mills Road in 1954. With the extension of the street, the 25 route also grew, even taking on an “A” branch in 1971 which serviced the business park. The 122 Graydon Hall bus took over in 1985.

1971 TTC Route Map.
Source: Transit Toronto.

Layers and layers on Lesmill Road

Lesmill Road was the first street to go up in the Business Park, being built north only to the Duncan property line in 1963. Warehouses, factories, and offices lined both sides of the streets, hinting at was to come.

1969 Toronto City Directory showing Lesmill Road, east side north of Leslie Street.
Source: Toronto Public Library

The origins of the Business Park lay in 1964 when the North York Planning approved a plan by Wretham Estates Ltd to develop 120 acres of land east of Leslie Street between York Mills Road and Highway 401 for industry. Wrentham Estates Ltd. seems to have been a real estate company spearheaded by industrialist E.P. Taylor which managed residential, commercial, and industrial properties. Taylor initiated the Don Mills project in the 1950s. It might be fair to say in this period “Oriole” as a descriptor for the area fell out of use as the community’s farms slowly started to disappear; it would be supplanted by Don Mills. The Wrentham Estates themselves was a residential and commercial project in York Mills around Bayview Avenue; the York Mills Shopping Centre was one of the by-products.

1957 Aerial of the area which would become the Lesmill Office Park.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

For this reason, the Lesmill Business Park is/was also known as the Wretham Estates Business/Industrial/Office Park, although use of the name seems to have dwindled this century. The 1966 Annual Report of the Canadian Equity & Development Company (later owners of the Wrentham Estates Ltd) cited that 23.6 acres of the industrial park had been sold at $40,000 to $50,000 per acre. Some remaining 43 acres were expected to be sold over the next few years and all services had been installed.

Lesmill Road, seemingly a portmanteau of Leslie and (York) Mill(s), was constructed between 1965 and 1969. It was laid out mostly over the 19th century plots 12 and 13, mostly belonging to the Elliot and Hunter families (and as others as ownership changed).

1965 The Lesmill Business Park starts to take form.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Lesmill is lined with many factories on either side. As it curves towards the CNR tracks, a long-removed siding served a former Johnson and Johnson plant at 66 Lesmill. As one moves up the street, there is an interesting mix of businesses.

1969 Toronto City Directory showing Lesmill Road, east side.
Source: Toronto Public Library.

At the road’s northern end, Moatfield Park edges on a branch of the East Don and has a couple of neat tidbits. Although it named after Moatfield, the farm did not actually extend this far north. In 1985, a recommendation was made by the North York Historical Board to move and restore the derelict Duncan/Oriole Station on York Mills Road, which was ultimately rejected by the city (the old station was sadly and ultimately demolished). More interesting, the park’s soccer field was the site of a 14th-century Huron-Wendat ossuary, discovered in 1997. It is a reminder that before the Business Park and the European settlers before it, there was human settlement here.

Lesmill Road once terminated at Moatfield Park, at the line which divided the north and south halves of Lot 13, another Hunter family plot. In 1983, a Metro Transportation study recommended its northward extension to Leslie Street, one of several suggestions to alleviate road congestion in Toronto. In 1988, an Environment Assessment Study was conducted and the street was extended. The move provided another entrance to the office park, access to and from the highway, and alleviated congestion along Leslie Street.

1983 Aerial showing Lesmill Road
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Lesmill Road Extension”, Toronto Star, January 13, 1988.
Source: Toronto Star Archives.
1991 Aerial showing Lesmill Road.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Out of Place? The Locke and Goodwin Houses

At the north end of Lesmill Road off a driveway, two historic houses stand next to the on-ramp for the eastbound 401. They look out of place, and rightfully so: their contexts have shifted.

The first house is a Tudor Revival-style home built in 1933, informally named the Clark Locke House. Now with the modern address of 355 Lesmill Road, the house was called “Birches End”. The house’s namesake married into the family of former Ontario Premier George S. Henry, who held property here north to Sheppard Avenue. Scott Kennedy wrote Birches End was located “on a high point of land near the top of a ravine that contains one of the oldest stands of white pines in Ontario”.

The Locke House was historically accessible from Leslie Street. When Highway 401 was constructed in the 1950s, the Henry farm was split on either side of the motorway, including landing Birches End on the south side. The widening of the highway expropriated the property in the following decade. The house sat derelict and empty until it was saved by the Ontario Nature. The City of Toronto Forestry Department uses the house now. When Lesmill was extended in the 1980s, it became the driveway for the property. Perhaps it is a candidate for a future Doors Open.

1947 aerial of the Locke House.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Easy to miss but sharing the same address, the William Goodwin House stands beside the Locke House. It was built in 1845 and is not original to the property. It stood on Yonge Street in York Mills until the 1980s. Much like the Locke House, it fell into disrepair until it was saved and moved beside the Locke House. Its survival makes it the oldest standing house in North York.

Duncan Mill Road: New and Old

Today, Duncan Mill Road hosts an interesting collection of buildings, including two medical buildings (one of which lights up at night), the headquarters for Herjavec Group, a co-working space, and storage complex.

Duncan Mill Road was laid out in the mid-1960s at the same time as the other streets in the office park. Its naming seems to references the Duncan family, although their plot was not its direct vicinity (the mill part will be explained shortly). Running from Don Mills to Lesmill, its construction necessitated a bridge over the East Don River, which was completed around 1968. It is, however, not the first crossing here.

A former road was situated just north of the present one, which ran between Graydon Hall Manor to the east of the river and the farms to the west. This was on the north half of Lot 12, historically associated by the Elliots, but likely passed through different owners and subdivisions in the mid-twentieth century. The farm had a horse track on the plot.

1963 Aerial showing the Old Duncan Mill Road.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

When one ventures into the valley of the Betty Sutherland Trail, a couple clues point to the old road’s former existence. The first relics are obvious – at least in the sense that they are visible. These are the “Duncan Mill Ruins”: a larger roofless structure containing a boiler and a smaller, square structure which house more elaborate equipment.

The origin of these buildings are unknown. Scott Kennedy speculated the larger building may be the remains of a mill from the Hunter property, which once may or may not be the same one seen in maps to the south of here. He also theorized the smaller “newer” building was connected to the 1930s Graydon Mall manor as its style references the mansion’s architecture (other writers have pinned it as a water pump for the house itself, but Kennedy does not seem to go as far to make that connection). The North York Historical Society speculated it was a water pumping station for the residents of North York.

A lesser known remnant of this old road are some concrete pads located south of the ruins on either side of the river. These look to be leftovers of leftovers: bridge abutments of the former bridge that ran through here! The leftovers were once more pronounced, as seen by these 2004 images. Today, the new Duncan Mill bridge looms over in eyesight of the site of the old bridge and its neighbouring relics.

1970 Aerial showing the new Duncan Mill Road and the old bridge over the East Don River.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Opposite the Betty Sutherland Trail, the Duncan Mill Greenbelt offers some neat surprises. A foot bridge travels over the East Don River. On the east side of the river, there is a baseball diamond, sandy volleyball court, and views of the river. Most oddly yet intriguing of all, some wooden stairs lead up to Duncan Mill Road. Their origin is unknown, but their existence is intriguing.

On the west side, more greenspace offers up a soccer field. There is an ascend up to Moatfield Drive, which is prominent at the Bayview Glen Independent School, whose stairs are built over the topography. The school moved into the Brutalist 1970s-era building in the 1980s. There are currently renovations on the side facing Duncan Mill. Across the street, a Moatfield campus was opened in 2014 using some excess space in a parking lot. The site of the school itself has a history which reaches back many generations.

Scott Kennedy wrote that the Hunters built a home on southern lot of plot 13 west of the Don River in the 1840s. It had a long driveway leading from Leslie Street which straddled the property line with the northern lot. A victim of fire, this house had a survived until 1961 when the property was under the Anderson family. A new house called Green Acres went up in its place and even had an address in the city directory: 85 Valleybrook Road. Much like Moatfield, Green Acres continued to stand even as offices and warehouses went up around it. It survived until the early 1980s.

Valleybrook Drive has a couple of notable modern landmarks. At 41 Valleybrook, there is the headquarters for SOCAN, an organization founded in 1990 to represent Canadian publishers and songwriters. When the structure was first built, it hosted BMI Music. Beside it at 1 Valleybrook, an interestingly-designed office building houses Parkin Architects, which seems to be the firm of famed Canadian modernist architect John C. Parkin. It also hosted a IBM plant too at one point.

1969 Toronto City Directory showing Valleybrook Drive.
Source: Toronto Public Library.

By the early-1980s, Moatfield Drive was added to the business park, running between Valleywood Drive and Don Mills Road and effectively completing the layout we see today. Interestingly, although it seems to be named after the Duncan farm, only a small portion actually runs through the old Duncan lot. In the 1980s, the first buildings went up on the street: the current Kraft Heinz office and Thales Group structures. Green Acres once stood in a parking lot adjacent to these buildings before the Bayview Glen School was built.

Aerial of The Lesmill Office Park, 1991
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

One newer structure is the headquarters for the Ontario Association of Architects at 111 Moatfield Drive. Although this building looks like a 21st-century construction, it opened in 1992 and was designed by Toronto architect Ruth Cawker. It is an interesting two-storey building with many windows and natural light. It too may be a good candidate for a future Doors Open.

Finally, the David Duncan House is situated at 125 Moatfield Drive. As mentioned, it was moved here in 1986, still on the original Moatfield lot, although facing Don Mills instead of York Mills. It is one of a few visible links of the Lesmill Business Park’s former life.

Scenes From Pape Avenue (East York)

Where does Toronto end and East York begin? On Pape Avenue, it’s a row of Edwardian houses half way between Selkirk Street and Aldwych Avenue. When they were constructed around 1914, Aldwych was named Randolph — a point highlighting the obvious British origins of the area and the evolution.

The history of the rough half-trapezoid between The Danforth, Donlands Avenue, and the Don River goes back to the numbered plots of York Township, which was surveyed and divided beginning in 1791. Lot 11 south of modern-day Browning Avenue and west of Logan Avenue encompassed the community of Chester (also interchangeably known as Doncaster).

Doncaster and Todmordern from the 1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

North of Browning Avenue and west of Donlands Avenue (renamed from Leslie Street around 1916), the Taylors and Helliwells owned lots 12 to 15, which came to be known as the village of Todmorden, named after the families’ paper mill on the Don River on Pottery Road. A nexus of buildings including a post office and hotel sprang up on Broadview Avenue, then named Don Mills Road (more on this later).

Map of the City of Toronto showing wards and tax collectors divisions, 1893. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Pape Avenue and Bee (Cosburn) Street, Todmorden Mills, 1911. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

According to Elizabeth Gillan Muir, author of Riverdale: East of the Don, Chester and Todmorden applied to be part of Toronto in 1890, but were collectively short of the 750 required for annexation (which gives one an insight to their size). Chester would eventually be brought into the big city’s borders in 1909.

Map of Township of York and City of Toronto, ca. 1909. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

For the residents of Todmorden, they voted to incorporate into the Township of East York in 1922 at a time when the Pape Avenue strip began to grow. The opening of the Prince Edward Viaduct in 1918 along with the East York-Leaside Viaduct (now the Millwood Road Bridge) in 1927 opened the area to modern houses and commercial development. The East York bus line began operation on Pape in the same year, departing from Danforth Avenue up the street and looping back at the top of the bridge. In 1928, it combined with the Leaside bus, extending service into the industrial suburb. By the end of the decade, the street grid, once open fields, gave way to the modern layout.

Construction of the Leaside Bridge, 1927. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The Todmorden section of the 1920 edition of the Might’s Greater Toronto city directory offers an insight into the geography and social makeup of this initial period. Area residents, mostly of Anglo-Saxon origin, lived on recognizable streets, such as Woodville, Gamble, and Torrens. However, some roads changed names: Leslie to Donlands, Cronyn to Sammon (sometimes spelled ‘Salmon’), and Gardeners (named after the merchants on the street) to Mortimer, and Bee absorbing into Cosburn. Professions were mostly blue-collar and ranged from employment at the nearby Don Valley Brick Works and Don Valley Paper Mill, to the booming T. Eaton Co. and R. Simpson Co., to the mighty Grand Trunk Railway and Canadian National Railway.

City of Toronto Directory showing Todmorden, 1920. Of note are the members listed under one household and their varying professions, like the Boyes. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Moving around Pape from Browning to O’Connor, one sees signs of the age, look, and evolution of the old neighbourhood from the first half of the 20th century. At Mortimer, there isn’t a heritage building, but a plaque at Agnes Macphail Square points to the one-time existence of the Kitchener Public School. The school was a three-storey structure of seventeen rooms built in 1915.

Toronto Teacher’s College, 1965. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Kitchener School became the Toronto Normal School in 1941, moving from its downtown location on the current Ryerson University campus to Pape Avenue. After that, it was the Toronto Teachers College. Today Centennial College, the park, and a housing complex occupy the space. Macphail Avenue and Square themselves commemorate Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1921 and a former Member of Parliament for and resident of East York.

Another school, the Todmorden New School, opened a year prior on Torrens Avenue. It was renamed the William Burgess School in 1922; Burgess was a trustee in 1914.

At Cosburn, another institution – the Bethany Baptist Church – was constructed in 1920. The lot to the north of the church remained empty until the late 1950s, when an addition was completed on the space.

At 873-877 Pape Avenue, there’s a ‘1930’ displayed high above a block of shops. At the time of construction, the corner unit (now a Greek restaurant) was a fruit grocery operated by an Antonio Ruta — Italian in origin by the sounds of it — which represented an important shift in the otherwise largely British neighbourhood at the time and a larger trend in Toronto.

At 1007 Pape Avenue, north of Floyd Avenue, the flooring store currently standing was originally a confectionery by a James Hackin when it came to exist in 1930 (albeit at street address 1005). Interestingly, to the south of it was the ‘East York Miniature Golf Course’.

From Might`s Greater Toronto city directory, 1931. Although their street numbers have changed as well, 913 and 965 remain as a garage and corner store respectively in 2018. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

At 1016 & 1016 1/2 Pape Avenue is a curiosity. The icon above the shop appears to show a ship. A look into the city directories shows this block was built around 1931 when another Italian, Charles Azzarello, opened up a fruit grocery. By 1950, it was Sydney Evans Fish Market. In the 1960s, it came full circle as a ‘Circle Fruits’ and ‘Woman’s Bakery’. Sources are scarce on the ship emblem, although one might attribute it to its fish shop period.

Finally, Don Mills United Church looks down at the strip and is the oldest landmark of all, reaching back to the 19th century — even if the current structure dates to 1950. The adjoined Taylor Cemetery is the final resting place of early pioneering Todmorden families and is neat way to explore its history.

The naming of the church refers to the area’s mills and the street itself around its founding in 1851. Don Mills or just Mills Road originally ran northeast from the Winchester Bridge in Cabbagetown past Danforth Avenue, and turning right just past modern Woodville Avenue at what was then called Patterson’s Corners. From here, it would veer north just past Donlands across the Don River, following a course north to York Mills (it was extended even further in the 1960s.) A smaller section of Don Mills also continued east past the bend, stopping at present day Derwyn Avenue. From here, Plains Road (also called Globe Road) operated south and then east again. The Taylors also had a private right of way in line with Don Mills Road.

Don Mills Road, Plains Road, & Taylor’s Private Road, Goads 1924. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

Broadview Avenue, first running north from Riverdale Park East (creating the ‘broad view’ of the Toronto skyline) to Danforth Avenue, was extended first to the city limits at Fulton Avenue and then to Patterson’s Corners. In 1929, John H. Taylor proposed the extension of St. Clair Avenue through his property in the Don Valley in exchange for a strip of land owned by The Synod of Toronto to make his private road into a ‘highway’ to connect with Woodbine Avenue.

“St. Clair Extension Through East York Offer of J.H. Taylor,” The Globe, January 21, 1929. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Whether it was related to Taylor’s wish or not (for what it’s worth, St. Clair was never extended through the valley), the street was indeed completed to Woodbine Avenue in the following decade. In 1936, O’Connor Drive came into existence east of Don Mills Road facilitating an east-west route to the newly built Woodbine Bridge and Scarborough. By 1939, O’Connor would usurp the entire way from Broadview with development along the road growing in the 1940s.

Don Mills Road & O’Connor Drive from Might’s City Directory in 1935, 1936, & 1939. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

After World War II, Canada and Toronto saw a wave of unskilled and semi-skilled Greek migrants leave their homelands for new lives across the ocean. To be sure, Hellenes had been successful restaurateurs along Yonge and Queen Streets since the 1920s, but as Jason Hackworth and Josephine Rekers identify in their paper “Ethnic Identity, Place Marketing, and Gentrification in Toronto,” this new wave would settle around The Danforth beginning in the 1950s and ’60s and peaking in the 1970s. Like their Italian predecessors thirty years prior, they opened up fruit shops and eateries as new businesses or simply took over existing enterprises. Although their studies do not include Pape Avenue, one can see similar trends for the street. Hackworth and Rekers also assert that while the residential Greek population around the Danforth has decreased since the 1970s because of out-migration to the suburbs, the percentage of businesses with Greek affiliation has increased.

988-990 Pape Avenue in 1955 & 1965. The asterisks notes the owner of the building. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Also in the 1960s, Cosburn Avenue east and west of Pape saw the introduction of apartment tower-tiving, replacing and mixing in with the post-war one-story housing stock dotted over the neighbourhood.

East York, 1965. A row of apartment towers centred on Cosburn begins to form. Business at the time were Dad’s Cookies at 940 Pape and Weston Bakeries at 1070 Pape Avenue. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Old and new in East York, 1966. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1986, a new label — the Pape Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) or just ‘Pape Village’ — came into use. The BIA manages and promotes the commercial properties from Mortimer to Gamble, engaging in street improvement initiatives and an annual street festival. Today, the strip is an ecclectic mix of service stations and garages, mid-century houses, churches, and independent businesses and associations. Much of these still have a Greek affiliation, although the area is much more cosmopolitan with a variety ethnic eateries.


Useful Links

Historicist: Greektown on the Danforth

Jason Hackworth and Josephine Rekers – “Ethnic Identity, Place Marketing, and Gentrification in Toronto”

Toronto Normal School, 1847-1947

Toronto Public Library – Digital Toronto City Directories

Ward 29 Bikes & The East York Historical Society – “East York History Bike Ride”

Scenes From The Aga Khan Museum

Deep in the heart of suburbia on Wynford Drive just off the DVP, one can find the newest addition to Toronto’s museum scene – the Aga Khan Museum. It’s a curious place for an arts & culture hub, even with the Ontario Science Centre just a hop away.

In addition to its non-downtown location, the arrival of the AGM was marked with curiousity and a bit of controversy. The opening was delayed, its thematic content is unlike any other museum or gallery in the city, and its construction came with the demolition of the Modernist-designed Bata Shoe Headquarters. Talk surrounding the Aga Khan Museum overwhelming features the question: “Was it worth it losing one unique building for another?”

As I walk up to the museum, I don’t have an answer because it is tough to justify that kind of loss. That said, I can admit that it is a very impressive structure and a fine addition to Toronto’s architectural scene. The entire site consists of the museum itself, the Ismaili Centre, and, between them, a garden and terrace. It’s all a marvel, but I can’t help but wonder how it all looks in the summer (see below).

0. Aga Khan Museum outside

2. Aga Khan Museum Outside

3. Aga Khan Museum Ismaili Centre

The inside is as much a visual wonder. Geometric patterning is a big part of the aesthetic of the Aga Khan Museum. I made a venture out into the courtyard after dropping my belongings at the (complimentary) coat check, which proved to be ill-advised because it was quite chilly. Again, I imagine a different vibe in warmer temperatures.

4. Aga Khan Museum Main Floor

5. Aga Khan Museum Courtyard

9. Aga Khan Museum courtyard

10. Aga Khan Museum courtyard

The main floor exhibition space features the museum’s permanent collection, which is  essentially a historical journey through Islam. For me, it’s a subject matter that I did not encounter during my time as an undergrad of history, so it was a nice treat. The layout, design, and use of the space was very well done (not to mention, it’s got a distinct ‘new museum’ smell!).

6. Aga Khan Museum fountain

6. Aga Khan Museum

7. Aga Khan Museum collection

The upper level dons ‘The Lost Dhow’, a temporary exhibit on loan to the AKM which features the recovered objects from a sunken ship in Indonesia. So much of the details of its sinking is unknown, but the interpretation and presentation is very well done!

Also on the second floor is the ‘Garden of Ideas’, a more contemporary art exhibition that overlooks the permanent collection below (people watching, anyone?). Towards the end of the exhibition was a fun artistic piece featuring a picture books of individuals saying ‘I love you’. Clever!

11. Aga Khan Museum Garden of Ideas

The Aga Khan Museum is also unique in that it contains a performing arts centre! The theatre itself is modestly sized and has great acoustics. The white star-like ceiling is a sight. The angular staircase in the lobby is also of great note.

13. Aga Khan Museum Theatre Lobby

14. Aga Khan Museum Theatre Lobby

16. Aga Khan Museum Theatre

15. Aga Khan Museum Window

In all, between the entire collection and the space itself, the museum doesn’t feel too big, but it’s not underwhelming either. It also helps that the building in of itself makes the Aga Khan Museum a destination. I spent a little over two hours exploring and taking in everything and would gladly return in the spring or summer to take it in again.

17. Aga Khan Museum Outside

Update: Aga Khan Museum Park and Ismaili Centre, Summer 2015

Aga Khan Museum Park (2)

Aga Khan Museum Park (4)

Aga Khan Museum Park (5)

Aga Khan Museum Park (6)

Aga Khan Ismaili Centre (1)

Aga Khan Ismaili Centre (2)

Aga Khan Museum Park (1)

Scenes From Shops At Don Mills

Don Mills and Lawrence is at the epicentre for suburbia in Toronto. In 1953, it became the city’s first planned community – the first suburb. The affluent suburb. That’s not to say that residential areas did not exist outside of Hogtown’s core before this. Suburb here refers to cookie cutter bungalow-lined side streets and shopping centre-defined main ways – all tied together by the epitome of affluence: the automobile.

Don Mills Aerial 1960s
Don Mills Aerial 1960s

Don Mills represented a new consciousness in city building – a shift away from dense metropolises and a needed way to handle the post-war population boom. Some 50+ years later, Don Mills and Lawrence is at the centre of more innovation.

My first visit to the Shops at Don Mills was stemmed from a specific purpose: scouting out locales for a hair trim. It also gave me a chance to scout out a place I’ve heard about in name but never visited.

It’s a fun test to characterize the Shops. This is a mall, there’s little doubt about that. But at the same time, it’s very much unlike other malls we find in Toronto’s suburbia. It’s not the ‘multi-levelled, department store archored Scarborough Town Centre’ kind of mall. Although the shops stand side by side, this isn’t a ‘Golden Mile style strip mall’ kind of shopping centre either. For one, both types involve huge tracts of parking. The Shops at Don Mills lacks that. In its place we have a layout of narrow individually named streets and sidewalks decked out with lampposts, greenery, and benches.

Shops at Don Mills Leadley Lane
The Shops’ streets are named for original residents of Don Mills

Shops at Don Mills Sidewalk 3

Shops At Don Mills Clock Tower Road

At this point, it strikes me: this is all supposed to recreate a city feel. A look on the Shops website cements it: The Urban Village.

Here we have an urban environ in the heart of suburbia. That duality is very intriguing.

The shops themselves make the place a destination: Pandora, Aroma Espresso, Fisker, Glow Fresh Grill & Wine Bar, and the like. Incidentally, as a person that still labels himself as a poor student and not very shopping inclined, these are intimidating establishments with intimidating prices. The cut I was there to cut was a number I do not want to repeat. But I digress.

Shops At Don Mills Stores
Shops at Don Mills is the second mall existing on this site. It opened in 2009 on what was once the Don Mills Shopping Centre.

Shops At Don Mills Bier Markt
A visit to Bier Markt still eludes me.

Two final pieces contribute to the village/town/city characterization. The Shops boasts a gathering area at its centre, aptly called the Town Square. Right now it is a skating track, but I imagine a beautiful lawn in the summer.

Shops at Don Mills Town Square  Rink
The Town Square

The southern edge of the square is marked by a Clock Tower, a landmark that normally highlights many a town or city, but here takes on an interesting form. I recognized the ‘branches’ as houses, but could not place its overall significance. Help via Instagram (thanks again @bobofeed) told me that the piece was the brain child of Douglas Coupland, and highlights the emergence (or explosion?) and importance of the suburb and Don Mills’ place in history as the host of this development. It is a great reminder to the pedestrians and motorists of this urban village that they are still, after all, situated in a suburb.

Shops At Don Mills Clock Tower
Douglas Coupland’s Supernova

Related Links

Don Mills: Rediscovering the Suburban Dream
BlogTO – Nostalgia Tripping: The Construction of Don Mills, Toronto’s First Suburb
Torontoist – The Ghosts of Don Mills
CBC Archives – Don Mills Turns 50
Live at the Shops – Back in The Day: Don Mills & Lawrence
Toronto Star – Toronto’s Mother of All Suburbs: Don Mills
Reurbanist – The Evolution of Don Mills Shopping Centre