The Curious Evolution of Riverdale Avenue, Toronto

Riverdale Avenue is located in the namesake neighbourhood of Riverdale, an area in the east end of the old city of Toronto. Found a short distance north of Gerrard Street East, the street runs about a kilometre between Broadview Avenue and Kiswick Street (between Pape Avenue and Jones Street). Riverdale Avenue is layered in its development with lost and gained extensions, buried waterways, and disappearing transit lines.

Riverdale Avenue, 2022.
Source: Google Maps.

Origins

Riverdale Avenue was historically located on lot 14, a 200-acre parcel granted by John Graves Simcoe to John Cox in 1796. It was situated roughly between Broadview Avenue to just west of Logan Avenue, south of Danforth Avenue to the lake.  The John Cox cottage, built before 1807 and currently the oldest home in Toronto still used as a residence, sits on the property.

1851 JO Browne Map of the Township of York
Source: Old Toronto Maps

By 1815, the lot passed on to William Smith, which was then subdivided to his heirs in 1839. The 1860 Tremaine’s Map shows the property attributed to Thomas S. Smith. By 1878, the Illustrated Atlas of York County shows the property was divided further: the bottom two-thirds went to B. Langley (possibly for the namesake street currently on the street) and a road with smaller lots. The atlas shows the community around the lots was Don Mount and a post office was located at today’s Queen and Broadview.

1860 Tremaine’s Map
Source: Old Toronto Maps

1878 Illustrated Atlas of York County
Source: Old Toronto Maps

In the 1884 Goad’s Map, the street in 1878 had a name: Smith. It is also labelled as Plan 373. The street stopped at the lot line, roughly two thirds to Logan Avenue.  Also in 1884, Don Mount, now going by Riverside, and the lands east to Greenwood Avenue were annexed by the City of Toronto.

1884 Goad’s Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

By the 1890s, Smith Street was extended into Lot 13. Between Logan Avenue and Carlaw Avenue, only the north side of the street was built as the south side constituted part of the William Harris Estate. The property also had a part of Holly Brook, also known as Heward Creek, running through it, which may or may not have impacted its later development.

1889 Plan of the City of Toronto, proposed intercepting sewers and outfall. Smith Street appears built east of Carlaw despite it not existing until the 1920s.
Source: Don River Historical Mapping Project

Smith was also interrupted at Carlaw by another section of the Harris Property. A house now with a street address of 450 Pape Avenue was built on the lot in 1902, now known as the William Harris/Cranfield House. On the other end of the property at Pape, Smith Street continued in a separate section until MacDonald Street, now Kiswick Street.

1890s Map of Toronto and Suburbs East of Don
Source: City of Toronto Archives

William Harris Home, 1973.
Source: Toronto Public Library

The Lost Riverdale Avenue

In August 1887, the Board of Works recommended the opening of new street, free of cost to the city opposite Smith Street on the other side of Broadview Avenue; this was the first Riverdale Avenue.

The new street was proposed to run “…from Broadview Avenue to a connection with a street leading westerly through Riverdale Park to a new 50 feet street on the east side of the new line of the Don River, giving a connection with Winchester street at the bridge…”. In September, the motion to open the street was passed. It was surveyed with lots and appeared on maps in the 1880s and 90s. The 1895 City of Toronto Directory shows “a lane”, possibly referring to Riverdale Avenue, listed under 380 Broadview Avenue. The address also hosted six residents, Riverside Park (seemingly used interchangibly with Riverdale Park), Isolation Hospital, and Vacant Lots.

1893 Goad’s Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

In 1903, a by-law was inexplicably passed to close the street. Interestingly, in April 1904, Riverdale residents complained “bitterly of the odors” in Riverdale Park from the burning of garbage in the park’s dump “on the extension of Smith Street”. It is unclear if this was Riverdale Avenue, but the street did not appear on maps for much longer after 1903. Riverdale Park was a garbage dump from around the turn on the century to the 1920s; green pipes found today on the property are exhaust tubes for methane.

1902 Sankey Map
Source: Old Toronto Maps

A New Riverdale Avenue

In the first decade of the 1900s, ‘Riverdale’ came into common use to refer to the neighbourhood. Riverdale Park itself was used since the late 1870s and the park was officially opened 1880, so the neighbourhood was seemingly named after the park, rather than the more obvious reverse. In 1905, Smith Street from Broadview Avenue to Carlaw Avenue was renamed to Riverdale Avenue, taking over the name of the closed street it was once connected to. East of Pape, the road was still Smith Street. A confused rider of the streetcar on Broadview wrote to The Star in 1906 asking about the renaming as some trolley drivers still referred to the street as Smith, while other drivers used the new name. The newspaper set the record straight: west of the intervening Harris property, the street was Riverdale; east of it was Smith Street.

1909 Map of Township of York and City of Toronto
Source: Toronto Public Library

By 1913, the south side of Riverdale between Logan and Pape, part of the Harris Estate, was subdivided under plan 445E. The move allowed for the extensions of Langley Avenue, Victor Avenue, and Simpson Avenue across to Carlaw. The circumstances surrounding this development are unclear, but the branch of Heward Creek/Holly Brook which ran diagonally through the lot stopped appearing on Toronto maps around this time according to Lost Rivers Toronto. Leslieville Creek, which ran through Smith Street, was also potentially buried in the 1910s.

1909 Topographical Map of the Toronto Region
Source: McMaster University

1912 Map of Toronto.
Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library

1913 Goad’s Toronto
Source: Goad’s Toronto

In 1922, Riverdale Avenue was finally extended into the remaining Harris Estate east of Carlaw. The property was subdivided into lots under Plan 587E; some of it became the yard for Pape Avenue School. It was also one of the few remaining tracts left in Riverdale as most of the district by then had been subdivided and redeveloped. Growth in North Riverdale was aided by the opening of The Prince Edward Viaduct in 1918.

1924 Goad’s Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

The extension was instrumental in Toronto’s transit expansion: it provided a key east-west link for a streetcar line on Pape and Carlaw in an growing, under-served part of the city. Langley Avenue was considered in the role in during World War I, but the idea was rejected by residents as it passed by the school; it even got as far as putting up trolley poles before the plan was nixed. The Globe reported in December 1922 that even with the line, development had yet to come to street. Even though water and sewer lines were passed on the street, there were no sidewalks and only pavement for the tracks. In effect, the corridor was a streetcar right of way. This sparse development would be rectified in short time as the 1924 Goad’s Map shows a very built-on Riverdale Avenue.

1922 Toronto Civic Car No. 78 on Pape Avenue at Bain Avenue
Source: City of Toronto Archives
1922 Pape Avenue at Riverdale widening
Source: City of Toronto Archives
1924 Toronto Transit Commission Map
Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library

1924 Goad’s Map
Source: Goad’s Toronto

The tram line was eventually absorbed into the Harbord car and followed a winding route through Toronto’s west, central, and east areas. The line closed in 1966 and its tracks were removed. Finally, Riverdale Avenue was completed with the disconnected section of Smith Street from Pape to Kiswick being absorbed by and renamed to Riverdale around 1926. Ahead of its renaming, The Daily Star provided some funny commentary.

Toronto Daily Star, April 28, 1924. Source: Toronto Star Archives

1925 Lloyd’s map of Greater Toronto and suburbs
Source: York University Archives

The Three Riverdale Avenues

Today, Riverdale Avenue can be thought of in three sections based on their histories and geographies: Broadview-Carlaw, Carlaw-Pape, and Pape-Kiswick. Each have distinct visual differences and vibes which point to their layered development.

The western and oldest part of the street between Broadview and Carlaw is narrow, accommodating only eastbound, local traffic. Trees hang over the road in several spots making for a quaint stroll. It boasts houses mostly dating from the 1880s to the 1910s with oldest homes located on its north side near Broadview — the old Lot 14 — including two heritage homes: 1885 William Jefferies House and 1890-91 John Vick House. The south side between Logan and Carlaw as the ‘youngest’ with mostly 1910s constructions.

Riverdale Avenue, east of Broadview Avenue, 2021.
Source: Google Maps
William Jefferies House, 2019.
Source: Google Maps

Riverdale between Carlaw and Pape makes up the avenue’s ‘newest’ and busiest section. The houses lining the street are semi-detached bungalows built in the 1920s. Whereas Broadview-Carlaw is a local road, this central section is more of a through street with four lanes at its widest to accommodate parking, heavier traffic, and public transit, such as the Pape bus and its predecessor Harbord streetcar. Travellers coming from Broadview or Logan might note how Riverdale ‘opens up’ at Carlaw with its larger road surface and fewer trees. They would also see how this middle section is slightly misaligned with the rest of the avenue because of its width.

Riverdale Avenue, east of Carlaw Avenue, 2019.
Source: Google Maps

Finally, from Pape to Kiswick, the street mixes the qualities of the other two sections. It offers two-way traffic like the Carlaw-Pape section to the west, but is narrow like Broadview to Carlaw. The residences themselves are mostly Edwardian detached and semi-detached homes from the 1910s and 1920s, offering a middle ground in age in the three sections.

Riverdale Avenue, west of Pape Avenue, 2021.
Source: Google Maps

Works Consulted

“The Harbord Streetcar (Deceased)” Transit Toronto. https://transittoronto.ca/streetcar/4118.shtml.

Heritage Property Research and Evaluation Report – Toronto. https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-80237.pdf.

Leslieville Historical Society. “19th Century East End Villages: Donmount, Riverside, Leslieville, Norway.” Leslieville Historical Society, 13 Nov. 2017, https://leslievillehistory.com/2017/11/13/19th-century-east-end-villages-donmount-riverside-leslieville-norway/.

Lost Rivers of Toronto Map, https://www.lostrivers.ca/disappearing.html.

Marshall, Sean. “Hallam Street and the Harbord Streetcar.” Sean Marshall, 4 Feb. 2017, https://seanmarshall.ca/2017/02/03/hallam-street-and-the-harbord-streetcar/.

Muir, Elizabeth Gillan. Riverdale: East of the Don. Dundurn, 2014.

“Riverdale Heritage Conservation District Plan Phase 1.” Toronto. https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2008/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-14121.pdf.

ward14bikes. “Lost Rivers of East Toronto Mark Possible Canals on the Port Lands; Connect the City to the Lake.” Ward 14 Bikes, 8 Dec. 2019, https://ward14bikes.home.blog/2015/04/14/lost-rivers-of-east-toronto-mark-possible-canals-on-the-port-lands-connect-the-city-to-the-lake/.

Wilson, John. “The Lost Rivers Project: The Case of Holly Brook” Geohistory-Géohistoire Canada, 20 Mar. 2017, http://geohist.ca/2017/03/lost-rivers-holly-brook/.

“Old” Streets of Toronto

Across the map of Toronto, there are several “Old” versions of major streets: Old Yonge Street, Old Leslie Street, et cetera. These are smaller and certainly older streets that predate yet still exist alongside their longer, newer counterparts.

How old are these “old” streets anyways? Why were they built as they were in the first place? Why were they replaced?

Tremaine’s Map showing old courses of Toronto’s streets.
Source: Old Toronto Maps

Here are five examples of “Old” Toronto Streets and their histories:


1. Old Yonge Street

Year rerouted: 1835

When Yonge Street was laid out in the 1790s, it was not the continuous straight path we think of today. The sheer length of the street almost welcomed obstacles. At York Mills, the challenging topography around the West Don River caused it to divert east just south of York Mills Road. It curved north and back west to join the original course. In 1835, the street was realigned and straightened. It seems in the 1920s, Yonge Street was re-routed again slightly to the west to allow for better automobile navigation.

1851 JO Browne Map of the Township of York.
Source: Old Toronto Maps
1950 Aerial showing Old Yonge Street and “new” Yonge Street.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Yonge Street, at York Mills, Again Takes Altered Course” The Globe, February 26, 1921.
Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

Today, the old, “orphaned” course remains as part of Mill Street and Old Yonge Street. Old Yonge’s narrow, curvy course in parts maintains a rural quality. While at one time Yonge and Old Yonge once connected at its north end, this connection is now a roundabout. Finally, because of its length in the province, there are other Old Yonge Streets in Thornhill and Aurora.

Old Yonge Street, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Yonge Street, 2021.
Source: Google Maps.
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou


2. Old Sheppard Avenue

Year rerouted: ~1934

Sheppard Avenue once existed in two separate sections on either side of the Scarborough-North York border. A traveller wishing to travel east or west through the two streets had to jog about 300 metres on Victoria Park to reach the other section. In 1934, the two roads were joined through a curving road running from just past Woodbine Avenue to the lower street in Scarborough. The move was the idea of Ontario Premier George S. Henry whose estate stood where the new Sheppard Avenue connection ran.

1965 Aerial showing Old Sheppard Avenue and “new” Sheppard Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Today, the orphaned North York section of the old road now exists as residential Old Sheppard, albeit with small parts removed around Highway 404.

Old Sheppard Avenue, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Sheppard Avenue, 2021.
Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

More reading: Scenes From O’Sullivan’s Corners & Muirhead’s Corners


3. Old Lawrence Avenue

Year rerouted: ~1961

Lawrence Avenue is and was one of many streets which was impact by Toronto’s ravines. West of Victoria Park Avenue, Lawrence once took an interesting route across the East Don River Valley. Like Sheppard Avenue, there were two sections of the street: the Scarborough section which exists today and a North York section. The North York section jogged up Victoria Park over the Canadian Pacific Railway, ran briefly next to the track, and continued west for 1.5 kilometres. From here, it took a rather curvy route south down the East Don Valley, crossed the Don River via a bridge, and curved back north and west before continuing towards Don Mills Road. Presumably, this was easiest way in the 19th century to navigate the valley.

1860 Tremaine’s Map showing Old Lawrence Avenue
Source: Old Toronto Maps
Looking southwest at intersection of Victoria Park Avenue and Old Lawrence Avenue exit, 1958.
Source: Toronto Public Library
1959 Aerial showing Old Lawrence Avenue
Source: City of Toronto Archives
Lawrence Avenue E., bridge over East Don River, looking northwest,1955.
Source: Toronto Public Library

In 1961, Lawrence Avenue was straightened with a road directly connecting Victoria Park and Woodcliff Place, curling northwest from Scarborough with several new bridges to accommodate the Don River and CPR.

1960 Aerial showing Old Lawrence Avenue and “new” Lawrence Avenue under construction.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Lawrence Avenue East and CPR bridge under construction, circa 1960.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Today, the orphaned old road exists as roughly as part of Roanoke Road and, more famously, a short access road to the East Don Trail named Old Lawrence. The remaining section west of the river along with the old bridge itself have been lost.

Old Lawrence Avenue, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Lawrence Avenue, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

More reading: Scenes From East Don Trail


4. Old Leslie Street

Year rerouted: ~1968

Like Lawrence Avenue, Leslie Street’s course at one time also had to divert around the East Don River. Also of 19th-century origin, a traveller going north on Leslie had to turn west for a short distance and then northwest for about 500 metres to meet with Sheppard Avenue. There was then a jog east on Sheppard, which included a bridge over the river and finally a left turn to travel north again.

1860 Tremaine’s Map showing Old Leslie Street.
Source: Old Toronto Maps
1953 Aerial showing course of Old Leslie Street.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
Sheppard Ave. East bridge near Leslie Street, 1964.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

In the 1950s, with the construction of Highway 401, Leslie Street was altered to curve through the highway, but the course has otherwise remained the same. In 1968, the street was reconfigured again to join with Sheppard more directly. The Don River was also straightened and a new bridge was constructed which spanned the entirety of the new four-way intersection.

1967 Aerial of “new” Leslie Street under construction.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Today, the old course remains as Old Leslie Street, albeit a shorter version of the original route is available today to the public. It joins the new Leslie Street via Esther Shiner Drive. South of that street, there are City facilities. North of Esther Shiner, Old Leslie serves the Leslie Street TTC Station before it crosses over Sheppard via an overpass. It then curls back down to join the street (there is also a parking lot with an entrance to the East Don Parkland trail).

Old Leslie Street, 2021
Source: Google Maps
Leslie Street, 2020.
Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

More reading: Scenes From East Don Parkland


5. Cummer Avenue

Year rerouted: ~1969

The original course of Cummer Avenue west of Leslie Street was an 1819 construction. The street was laid out as a side road from Yonge Street by the Cummer family to access their holdings (a mill and camp) near the East Don River. When it approached the valley, it curved down to roughly follow the river’s course. It crossed the river via a bridge and eventually the railway tracks at a level crossing. Finally, it terminated at Leslie Street.

1860 Tremaine’s Map showing Old Cummer Avenue
Source: Old Toronto Maps
1968 Aerial showing course of Old Cummer Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

By 1969, the street was rerouted to curve north away from the river (which looks to have been straightened around this time as well). The street passed through a new wider bridge over the Don River and then under a railway overpass before eventually becoming McNiccol Avenue at Leslie Street.

1969 Aerial showing “new” Cummer Avenue under construction and Old Cummer Avenue.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The old, orphaned course still exists in parts. The curved section lives on as part of the East Don Parkland trail, although not all of it follows the old path. The old bridge is in situ as well. The trail travels east through the hydro corridor where it terminates at the railway tracks. On the other side, Old Cummer Go Station and a hundred-metre long Old Cummer Avenue hold the old name.

Old Cummer Avenue, 2020
Source: Google Maps
Cummer Avenue, 2020.
Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

More reading: Scenes From East Don Parkland

Click here for the map below of “Old” Streets.

Source: Google Maps & Bob Georgiou

For more “Old” Streets, I created a sequel here.

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.

The History of the Kemp Manufacturing Co., Toronto

For nearly a hundred years, the Kemp Manufacturing Company of Toronto and its predecessor and successors manufactured household metal products. Its rise, growth, and leadership is an interesting chapter in Toronto history.

The Sheet Metal Products Company (right), successor to the Kemp Manufacturing Company, looking west from the Gerrard Street Bridge.
Credit: City of Toronto Archives

The Beginnings

In 1867, Thomas McDonald founded his Dominion Tin & Stamping Works, operating out of 153-159 Queen Street East near George Street. McDonald was joined by Quebec-born Albert Edward Kemp in 1885 to form the McDonald, Kemp, and Co.

The new partners moved the business to the southeast corner of River Street and Gerrard Street East in then working-class Cabbagetown, eventually taking the street address 199-207 River Street. The joint venture between Kemp and McDonald did not last long as the men had a falling around 1888. Kemp bought out McDonald and brought in his brother William from Quebec as his new partner. Together, the brothers formed the Kemp Manufacturing Company. McDonald moved to Montreal in 1893 where he ran another iron and tinware business; he passed away four years later.

The Kemp Manufacturing Company in 1885 from “The Kemp Manufacturing Co.” The Globe, April 21, 1894.
Credit: Globe and Mail Archives.

Growth & Expansion

From a structure at the corner of River and Gerrard, the Kemp Manufacturing Company grew to house a grand complex that spanned an entire city block. In 1894, The Globe toured the factory and described it as having a main building that extended from the Don River to River Street on Gerrard containing workshops, warehouses, and shipping departments. Offices were located at the corner of streets. Storerooms containing pig tin and plates, rod iron, hoop do., iron and steel sheets, zinc, spelter, copper, and more were located on the other side of a laneway separating the building and covered bridges connected departments.

“The Kemp Manufacturing Co.” The Globe, April 21, 1894.
Credit: Globe and Mail Archives.
The Kemp Manufacturing Co from The Insurance Plan of 1889. This likely was the layout the Globe toured through in 1894. Note the labelled old course of the Don River; the lower Don River was straightened in the latter half of the 1880s.
Credit: Goad’s Toronto

The decades that followed effectively resulted in the annexation of nearly the entire block from Gerrard Street East to Oak Street and River Street to the Don River:

  • May 1895: The company asks for a lease of a site on the Don for the new enamelled iron and steelworks, and for exemption for the building to be erected there
  • July 1895: Kemp purchases the balance of the whole block of Gerrard to Bell Street and from River street to the Don; this new site will be occupied by a fully equipped factory specially adapted for their new Diamond specialties of enamelled goods
  • June 1896: Kemp expresses his intention to make some extensions to its premises as soon as it knows what the policy of the new (federal) Government
The Kemp Manufacturing Co. from the Klondike Official Guide, 1898. There is likely some artistic license on the layout and scale of the factory.
Credit: Klondike Official Guide, Google Books.
  • April 1898: The company applies to lay a 12-inch water main at its own cost from the Don for fire protection
  • June 1898: The company, now occupying the block bounded by Gerrard, River, and Bell Street, makes an application to the Assessment Commissioners department for the terms in which they may get city property at the east end of Bell Street to the road on the Don Flats and north to the Gerrard Street Bridge. It was awarded to another company the following month.
Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto, 1903.
Credit: Goad’s Toronto.
Southeast corner of Gerrard and River Street,1921. The company offices are on the left. Note the covered alley separating the two buildings.
Credit: City of Toronto Archives.
  • October-November 1902: The Kemp Manufacturing Co ask Mayor Howland and Council to purchase a portion of Bell Street and the Don Terrace to extend their works to the south and east and give them a railway connection. The Assessment Commissioner favoured the purchase but fixes the sale price at $5000. A.E. Kemp, now MP, argues that a new building would not disturb the houses remaining on the street.
  • April-October 1903: The Kemp Manufacturing Co was permitted to erect a bridge from the east side of their factory to Gerrard Street, and to construct a siding running from the Grand Trunk Belt to their property.
The Kemp Manufacturing Co, 1906.
Credit: Toronto Public Library
Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto, 1910. Note the southern and eastern expansions. The straightening of the Don River two decades earlier allowed the latter addition.
Credit: Goad’s Toronto.
  • November 1906: AE Kemp denies intending to build an automobile factory opposite the company overlooking Riverdale Park. The land was bought for the Kemp Mfg Co by Victoria Harbor Lumber Co.
  • June 1920: The Sheet Metal Products Co. applies for a title to the land consisting of the remainder of Bell Street and the north side of Oak Street.
Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto, 1922. Only a row of houses on River Street at Oak Street was not owned by the company.
Credit: Goad’s Toronto.
The Sheet Metal Products catalogue, 1922.
Credit: Toronto Public Library.


An ambitious leader

Edward Kemp was the ambitious head of the Kemp Manufacturing Co. and Sheet Metal Products. In addition to the savvy business moves that expanded the company’s footprint in the River and Gerrard Street area, Kemp added factories in Winnipeg and Montreal in the early 1900s. Kemp and his brother also purchased the MacDonald Manufacturing Co. located at 401 Richmond Street West at Spadina Avenue, adding it as a subsidiary.

The Sheet Metal Products catalogue, 1922.
Credit: Toronto Public Library.
A.E. Kemp.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

At the turn of the century, Edward Kemp took a step back from the company as he pursued a political career. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1900 as the Conservative Member for East Toronto. In 1916, he was appointed Minister of the Militia. He was knighted after World War I for his political efforts in the conflict. Kemp was also appointed to the Senate in 1921.

While Kemp was keen on growing his prosperity, he also furthered general Toronto and Canadian manufacturing interests. He was President of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association in 1895 and 1896; President of the Toronto Board of Trade in 1899 and 1900; and Director of the National Trust Company, the Imperial Life Assurance Company, and other high-profile corporations.

Toronto Board of Trade Building, Yonge and Front Streets, 1900.
Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Unsurprisingly, Kemp and his wives (he married in 1879 and remarried in 1925) were part of high society in Toronto. He was listed in the Toronto Society Blue Book of the city’s ‘elite’ on multiple occasions. In 1902, he built his massive estate ‘Castle Frank’ after previously living at 106 Winchester Street. He was a member of the National Club, Albany Club, York Club, and other prestigious exclusive organizations.

A.E. Kemp’s ‘Castle Frank” formerly at 72 Castle Frank Road. It was named for the ancient Simcoe family home once located near the Kemp estate.
Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1929, Edward Kemp died suddenly in his summer home near Pigeon Lake of reported “acute indigestion”. It was only hours after his seventy-first birthday. The Globe described his success as “bound up in the growth of Toronto.”

SMP Quality

The Kemp Manufacturing Co. and later the Steel Metal Metal Products Co. were renowned for their household goods. A 1922 SMP Catalogue offers an interesting insight into the product line, which was divided into types of products by material, all with quality assurances!

Products ranged from baby baths to chamber pails to ash sifters, and of course, lanterns.


A dedicated workforce