Tag Archives: etobicoke

Toronto’s First McDonald’s

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

McDonald’s locations of Toronto as of 2019.

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

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

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

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

Credit: Globe & Mail, February, 10, 1971

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

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

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, August 9, 1969.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, November 6, 1970.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, June 3, 1970.

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

McDonald’s locations of Toronto as of 1971.

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

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

To be sure, McDonald’s was not the first to enter the drive-in, fast-food restaurant market in Toronto. The first Harvey’s in Canada opened just north of the city at Yonge Street and Observatory Lane in Richmond Hill in 1959. Tim Horton’s originally failed in the 1960s because of competition from other drive-ins. McDonald’s did, however, help to increase the profile of fast food at a time where it was not yet at modern day levels. A 1970 Globe and Mail explained the 1960s had seen a buzz around fast food but that had slowed by the end of the decade as land, food, and construction costs rose and the market was over-saturated with eateries. It also went into detail about the specific criteria of fast food, as if the concept was not fully developed. With competitor Burger King opening their first Toronto restaurant a year after McDonald’s and now defunct Burger Chef giving both a real run for consumer dollars, a new era was on the way.

The look of the McDonald’s Canada restaurants mirrored their American counterparts. Buildings were usually one storey, highlighted architecturally with two golden arches. Following the drive-in model, parking spaces surrounded the structure and a large, recognizable ‘M’ sign stood at the end of the driveway. However, a key difference with Canadian franchises was more space to eat meals inside the diner. As the 1970s progressed, McDonald’s restaurants came to be more sit-down eateries.

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

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

Credit: Globe & Mail, November 30, 1971.

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

Credit: Toronto Star, October 22, 1977.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenes From Humber Lakeshore Campus/Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital

Near the western terminus of the 501 streetcar line at the foot of Kipling Avenue is Humber College’s Lakeshore Campus Welcome Centre. The LEED Silver certified building, completed in 2016, is a Moriyama and Teshima design, and the latest addition to an institution that dates back several decades and an overall area that’s even centuries older.

Indeed, while students have been frequenting Humber since 1991, the built and natural environment certainly predate this current era. Its historical incarnations: an aboriginal meeting point, land later ‘granted’ to Colonel Samuel Smith (the namesake of its waterfront park), and most famously as the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.

The Town of New Toronto, 1947. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Across from the Welcome Centre is another introduction of sorts to the history of the place. On the walkway leading to the hospital’s former Assembly Hall, itself incorporating a glass addition, are messages etched in the sidewalk. The quotes, presumably from patients, date to as late as 1979 (when the hospital closed), and make for a nice yet sad exercise in telling the stories of this lost locale. More on that later.

A tour through the campus is a look into how this old asylum was re-adapted into a learning institution – even down to the old stables/garbage, now a Tim Horton’s.

The main part of the campus though consists of the Lakeshore Hospital’s majestic administrative building and the defining cottages which flank it. They now host classes.

These buildings were erected as early as the 1890s when they were a part of the Mimico Branch Asylum, the successor to the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto (now the site of CAMH). Since then it has appeared in maps and records as the Mimico Asylum (or simply the Asylum), the ‘Lakeside Sanatorium’ (albeit, never officially taking on the title), and the ‘Ontario Hospital’, perhaps reflecting shifting attitudes towards mental health. The last naming change to the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital took place in 1964 – quite recent.

Mimico Asylum (Lakeside Sanatorium), Toronto, Canada, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Grounds and Office Building. Mimico Asylum, Toronto, Canada. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Beyond the main hospital/school buildings, the campus boasts at least two other connected heritage buildings. The Cumberland House, a beautifully restored Victorian residence, once housed the Asylum’s superintendent. Now it’s home to Jean Tweed Centre, which only continues the property’s association with mental health. 

Second, the 1930s Power House, a gorgeous industrial construction, now serves as a recreational centre. There’s a path outside it which floods in winter to create a skating trail.

When a place ceases to functiom under its original purpose or even exist at all, the narratives associated with it risk being lost. The potential for story-telling is diminished. With the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, there is fortunately a movement towards commemorating this important site.

Asylum By the Lake compiles the history of Mimico Asylum, offering insights into evolution of uses in the built heritge as well as great archival maps and images. It also tells the stories of some of its patients, which is the main focus of the Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project. Heritage Toronto recognized the work of the LACP’s volunteers in maintaining the property, which is located off Kipling Ave on Evans Ave, with a Community Heritage Award. 

Similarly, the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, located in the Welcome Centre, has mandate to uncover (or rather recover) and present the Asylum’s lost narratives. The organization has hosted fascinating tunnel tours of the hospital grounds. Lakeshore Grounds’ Behind the Walls exhibition looks like an excellent interpretive endeavour.


Useful Links

Asylum By the Lake

BlogTO – ‘A Brief History of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital’ by Agatha Barc

Hiking The GTA – Mimico Branch Asylum

Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project

Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre

Sane About Town – Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery Project Installation 

Spacing – ‘Campus Perspectives: Humber College’s Lakeshore and North Campuses’ by Matthew Hague

Scenes From Sunnylea

Royal York Subway Station has never been a destination for me. For a Heritage Toronto walk of Post-War Etobicoke, however, I make it so.

Toronto west of the Humber River fails in my mental map of the city, which is the reason I elected to trek cross-town to hear about Sunnylea, the area south of Bloor near Royal York. It’s also a relatively recent yet important history, one that perhaps gets overlooked because it wasn’t so long ago in the grand view of things. It’s maybe a bit closer to home in my own story, having grown up in a post-war borough myself.

Our tour leader, Don Waterfall, opens with a contextual stat about the great suburban migration: in 1941, the total population of Etobicoke was 19,000; in 1951, it was 54,000; in 1956: 100,000; and in 1961, it was 155,000. The migrants were primarily young Anglo-Saxon couples, white-collar, Protestant, with one or children. Yep, that’s a nuclear family, ain’t it? As you hope a neighbourhood would do, housing and services sprang up in Sunnylea to cater to the new demographic.

We start our own migration down the Kingsway BIA shopping strip. The heritage walk is about the emergence of this suburb, but the shops – or the buildings they’re housed in, anyways – are akin to the structures that line Bloor in the old city of Toronto. They look to me to be from the 1920s and 30s, which our guide confirms. Clearly there was some settlement in this area pre-WWII, because if it wasn’t Sunnylea itself, the Kingsway shops were servicing some other community. A short distance away, the Kingsway Theatre has existed among them since 1939.

Kingsway Shopping District Bloor Street West

At Bloor and Prince Edward Drive is All Saints Anglican Church, which looks older than it actually is. I certainly noticed its tower from the subway station and guessed it’s been around for a hundred years. It was actually built here  in 1952 in a Neo-Gothic style. The original church however burnt down in 1966 and was rebuilt.

All Saints Kingsway Church

Across the way we find Park Lawn Cemetery, a site I already know a bit about, even if I haven’t visited myself. It predates the modern neighbourhood by sixty-ish years, opening in the 1890s as Humbervale cemetery. It’s designed in the garden style similar to St. James or The Necropolis. The bombastic Harold Ballard and Maple Leaf Gardens builder Conn Smythe (his namesake park existing on the other side of the Humber) are buried at Park Lawn.

Park Lawn Cemetery

A trip down Prince Edward produces a very familiar site to me, even if I haven’t been here before. Bungalows and two- and three-storey homes line the way. Adjacent to a few residences is the 1959 Firestation 431, which in itself sort of looks like a house.

Prince Edward Drive bungalow

Fire Station 431

Prince Edward Drive Post-War House

But it’s not all new stuff. The great part of Toronto is spotting the layers of its past. Recently developed areas still show their roots on occasion. We come to an old farmhouse. It’s been altered a lot and the yard might need some TLC, but its continued existence is a plus.

Prince Edward Drive farmhouse

Up on Glenroy Avenue, Sunnylea Public School is a highlight, says our walk leader. It’s history and Modernist design  make it so. It’s not the first Sunnylea School, the first existing as a two-storey white building on Prince Edward. A naming contest won by a little girl gave the school its name and eventually the entire community. Not too shabby on her part.

Sunnylea Junior Public School 1

Sunnylea Junior Public School 2

The new Sunnylea opened in 1943 with an addition coming in 1948. Its architect is John B. Parkin, whose work on the school became a model for schools around the province. Parkin really stripped things down with the project – Sunnylea is only one-storey, not flashy or ornate, a hallway with classrooms on either side, and tons of natural light.

Sunnylea Junior Public School 3

Parkin’s other notable works include the former Bata Shoe Headquarters in Don Mills, demolished for the admittedly impressive Aga Khan Museum. Like the post-war period as a historical era, I think Modernist architecture has been under-appreciated, although that looks to be changing with a lament over the loss of Bata Shoe and the Riverdale Hospital.

The final stop is Royal York United Church. Like All Saints, it looks old, but actually dates from just after WWII (in 1954).  It’s got the overall look of a traditional church, but is done in a Modern Gothic design. The neat lines and simpler aesthetic mimic the surrounding neighbourhood.

RoyalYorkRoadUnited1

Credit: TOBuilt

The tour ends and I return to Bloor and Royal York. The northeast corner strikes me a bit. It’s an older building, a bank if I had to guess, that looks to have been annexed by the adjacent Shopper’s Drug Mart. The glass design of the Shopper’s has even creeped in on it. A 1958-2010 Then and Now blog piece proves my suspicions right  and provides a good window into the transformation of the entire intersection.

Bloor Street West & Royal York Road

Random Scene: Montgomery’s Inn

Montgomery's Inn (1)
Montgomery's Inn (2)

Related Links

Montgomery’s Inn Community Museum
Explore Toronto’s Historic Sites – Montgomery’s Inn
Facebook – Montgomery’s Inn