Tag Archives: O’Sullivan’s Corners

Scenes From O’Sullivan’s Corners & Muirhead’s Corners

When does a place stop being a place? On the border of North York and Scarborough, there are two Sheppard Avenues. Old Sheppard Avenue runs east to west from Victoria Park Avenue to just shy of Highway 404. Sheppard Avenue East curves just south of the old street across the border of the two former municipalities. These two streets — and triangular plot in between — hold quite the history and evolution of two lost junctions: O’Sullivan’s Corners and Muirhead’s Corners. Here is a brief account of their story.

Source: Google Maps.

On Old Sheppard Avenue, there is a house unlike the others around it. Now situated in the middle of a modern subdivision, it was the farmhouse of the Alex Muirhead and his family.

The Muirheads settled the 100-acre plot of land known as Concession IV Lot 15 in York Township in 1853. Alex Muirhead would build his farmhouse in the Ontario Vernacular style in that same year, situating it on the south side of what is now Old Sheppard Avenue. The Muirhead name was prominent in the area — so much so that the odd junction on the northwest corner of the lot was known as Muirhead’s Corners in the early 20th century.

Concession IV Lot 15 from 1860 Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto.

In 1860, Patrick O’Sullivan and Ann O’Reilly opened the O’Sullivan Hotel on the eastern part of Lot 14, directly south of the Muirhead property. The hotel featured ‘two bedrooms, dining room, and a bar’. The structure was situated on the west side of the York-Scarborough line across the Third concession on the Reilly farm.

O’Sullivan’s Hotel (centre background), circa 1920s. Source: Toronto Public Library & North York Historical Society.

1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The area grew from here. In 1873, part of the O’Reilly land was used to house a one-room public school. The school — named School Section #23, later Victoria Park School –roughly served the west side of townline from today’s Lawrence Avenue to Finch Avenue. In 1893, a Post Office opened at the O’Sullivan Hotel, cementing the area as a community with the moniker O’Sullivan’s Corners. The area, sometimes shortened to just O’Sullivan, rose to local landmark status in the early 20th century.

O’Sullivan and SS #3 from the Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

School Section 23 (1873-1964), Toronto, Ont., 1956. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The rise of automobiles and highways in the early 20th century aided in the growth of O’Sullivan. Beginning in the 1910s, significant changes took place along the roadways of northern Scarborough and North York. Motorized vehicles were on the increase and, with them, convenient and leisurely long-distance travel through the suburbs of Toronto. One can imagine couples and families venturing through O’Sullivan’s Corners and stopping for a Sunday lunch.

Toronto Daily Star, September 11, 1925. Don Mills Road jogged east at York Mills Road and then north to what later be Woodbine Avenue. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The main east-west street through these parts was Lansing Sideroad (sometimes named Lansing Cut-Off), which — next to Kingston Road — was the main way from the centre of Toronto to Pickering and Oshawa. Named after the community it originated in, Lansing Sideroad extended east from Yonge Street, passing the community of Oriole at Leslie Street and Muirhead’s Corners at Don Mills Road (later Woodbine Avenue).It stitched together east-west routes connecting the Concession roads of North York: Bayview (2), Leslie (3), and Woodbine (4).

In the 1920s, newspapers presented weekend road trips through the areas around Toronto. Toronto Daily Star, September 9, 1927. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Lansing then jogged south at the townline near O’Sullivan before continuing into the Scarborough through Agincourt and Malvern following the old Third Concession Road. In 1911, Lansing Sideroad was paved to allow better navigation. It is unclear when it was named Lansing Road, but there is an early mention of improvements to the road in 1903.

The Globe, June 2, 1903. Source: Toronto Public Library

As the 1920s rolled into the 1930s, more upgrades were made to Lansing Sideroad. The Department of Public Highways of Ontario, created in 1916, sought to include the road in a larger highway network to improve motor vehicle travel. And so, on August 25, 1931, Premier George S. Henry inaugurated a new motorway between Lansing and Malvern on the street.

Toronto Daily Star June 21, 1929. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Toronto Daily Star, August 25, 1931. Source: Toronto Public Library.

In another huge development, the two sections of the Lansing Sideroad in Scarborough and North York were aligned in 1934. The new curved section of roadway donated and purchased from several landowners in the area and eliminated multiple jogs between O’Sullivan’s Corners at Dawes Road and Muirhead’s Corners at Don Mills Road. Travellers now could travel more seamlessly between townships.

Toronto Daily Star, June 15, 1934. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Aerial photo of Muihead’s Corners, O’Sullivan, and the Lansing Sideroad, 1954. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Along with the O’Sullivan Hotel, there were service centres, gas stations, and some shops to serve the local and commuting populations of O’Sullivan and Muirhead’s Corners in the early 20th century. The North-East Drive-In Theatre also opened between the communities on Lansing Road in 1947, further building on the virtues of car travel.

Looking south on Victoria Park Avenue from north of Sheppard Avenue East, Toronto, Ont, 1958. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Woodbine Avenue looking west at Sheppard Avenue, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Toronto Daily Star, September 23, 1947. The North-East Drive-In showed its final film in 1976 as the Consumers Business Park overtook the area. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The second half of the 20th century proved to be a transitional period for the area and the beginning of the end many things recognizable at O’Sullivan’s Corners. For a start, the road network was significantly altered — even more than before. Perhaps as a result of the new Metropolitan Toronto’s efforts to harmonize transportation in the city, Dawes Road and Lansing Sideroad both were renamed to Victoria Park Avenue and Sheppard Avenue East in the 1950s.

Victoria Park Avenue, Sheppard Avenue East, Lansing Road from 1955 Metropolitan Toronto Map. Lansing Side Road seems to have renamed in Scarborough even as the North York section became Sheppard Avenue. Both would be under the Sheppard name in the 1960s. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The four-laned Toronto By-Pass — now Highway 401 — opened as the new east-west alternative to Kingston Road and Lansing Road in and out of the Toronto area in 1957. It included an exit at Victoria Park Avenue.

Toronto Bypass, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

And in a final update to motorways, Highway 404 replaced Woodbine Avenue north of Highway 401 by 1967. The move spelt the end of Muirhead’s Corners, as the junction was physically eliminated to make way for the highway. It also meant Old Sheppard was now cut off at its west end, now looping into a new Muirhead Road (near a school also named for the pioneer of the street).

Aerial of the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 404 under construction in 1966. Consumers Business Park is also roughed in. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

It is hard to pinpoint when O’Sullivan’s Corners stopped being O’Sullivan’s Corners, but the 1950s and ’60s is certainly a start. After nearly a century in operation, O’Sullivan’s Hotel was closed in 1954. The reasons? Perhaps interest had faded from patrons and management. Or the costs were too high. Its replacement was a gas station — a use the corner continues today. To its south, SS #23 was also lost in 1964 to accommodate more lanes for Highway 401. (Its belfry and bell was salvaged by Herbert and Rosa Clark and is now on display at the Guild Park in Scarborough along with our salvaged building fragments of the post-war era)

By at least 1950, the Muirhead farm was also divided up to host a new residential community. Brian Drive (originally Sandra Boulevard) and Patrick Boulevard both hosted houses with large lots. The old Muirhead farmhouse also received new neighbours on its street. Curiously though, Old Sheppard is unnamed in maps from the 1950s. (Perhaps the moniker came into existence when it was orphaned by the highway 404.)

Aerial of Old Sheppard, Brian Drive, Patrick Boulevard in 1953. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

In the early 1970s, brand new houses went in north of Patrick Boulevard and east of Brian Drive, replacing most of the housing stock from twenty years prior. The Muirhead farmhouse was already situated close to the street, so when the new houses went in beside it, it was relatively integrated into its surroundings.

Around the corner on Brian Drive, a line of more modern residences in the middle of the street curiously deviates from neighbouring housing styles. The story: When this area bought up and sold by redevelopers in the 1970s, it seems one property held out on selling. Its deep lot stretched to Wilkinson Drive, leaving the new streets in between incomplete. The holdout looks like it lasted about 30 years until around 2001 when four rows of infill development went in. With that, Doubletree and Wilkinson were finally connected.

Source: OldTO, 1992 vs 2020.

Source: Google Maps

Source: Toronto Star, April 14, 2001

On Patrick Boulevard, a house from the same era as the Brian Drive holdout residence remains. It never had to sell, though. This house is noticeable because, although it is neighbours with houses it predates, it is set back considerably from the street with a long driveway.

Source: Google Maps

On the west side of Brian Drive, apartment towers and townhouses went up steadily through the 1970s too. The ‘Crossroads’ buildings, in particular, are appropriately and geographically named.

Source: Globe and Mail, May 25, 1979

Victoria Park Square is the local mall for the area. It opened in 1972 on the former site of the O’Sullivan Hotel to serve the up-and-coming residences. It was known in those early days for hosting the first Horizon — Eaton’s chain of discount stores. A Heritage Toronto and North York Historical Society plaque today tells the story of O’Sullivan’s Hotel.

Source: Globe and Mail, August 17, 1972

In 1988, a second plaza was built at the corner of Brian Drive and Sheppard Avenue. Named ‘The Shoppes of Brian Village’, the plaza resembles a village centre. It was significant enough to warrant an Urban Design award from the city in 1988. The site also gives the area another name: Brian Village (or perhaps vice versa).

Source: Toronto Star, November 29, 1988

Today, this community is part of the modern Pleasantview census tract – a total area which reaches up to Finch Avenue East. It is a mix of mostly English and Mandarin speakers, with some Italian and Greek households.

The name is not in use anymore, but how much of O’Sullivan’s Corners is left? O’Sullivan School certainly lives at the Guild as a physical remnant. More than that, the busy nexus of Victoria Park and Sheppard — where the hotel once stood — may have a clue. Today, the intersection hosts a gas station, a breakfast spot, a pizza place, and a drugstore. Next to that drug store is the famed Johnny’s Hamburgers. The building housing Johnny’s is from about 1956. The burger joint got its start about ten years later by a Greek immigrant.

Victoria Park Avenue and Sheppard Avenue, shortly after the loss of O’Sullivan’s Hotel, 1956. Note the dual units. By 1970, it was just one unit: Johnny’s. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Although it post-dates the era of the O’Sullivan Hotel, Johnny’s Hamburgers grew out of the car-centric circumstances that brought the area prominence. The simple, table-less interior also plays tribute to North-East Theatre as its one-time neighbour. Even if the place no longer exists, a visit to Johnny’s may a taste of the O’Sullivan community of old.

Scenes From Wishing Well Acres

The area between Highway 401 and Sheppard Avenue East, Warden and Victoria Park Avenues has got a bit going on. A strip-mall and apartment lined main street, a winding neighbourhood of bungalows to its south — it’s unmistakably suburbia. The rise of its subdivisions following World War II, the effects on the natural and built environment, and its pending evolution make it an area of interest.

First, from its beginnings as the narrow, dirt covered Concession Road III to its wide, strip mall-lined incarnation after WWII, Sheppard is about to get another layer.

Sheppard East is an avenue, but it’s also an Avenue – at least, if you ask Toronto city planners.

Sheppard & Warden Avenue

Avenues are corridors which have been identified to help accommodate Toronto’s growth. Avenues like Sheppard have to be rezoned to handle more density and this is done through midrise construction. The result are livable, walkable, transit accessible, mixed use communities outside the downtown core. A Sheppard Avenue East Avenue Study sets out the upcoming changes.

Sheppard East at Warden
The centre of this transformation is the Sheppard and Warden intersection. On one corner, a car dealership sits empty – and has for a while, as far as I can remember – and awaits development. A muralled box by Katherine Laco colours the corner as well.

3445 Sheppard East development

Bellbox Warden and Sheppard

On another corner, the aptly named Warden-Sheppard Plaza looks like it might be razed as well. I remember this mall for its longtime archor, the Galati Brothers supermarket, now Food Depot Supermarket.

Warden Sheppard Plaza
South of the Sheppard to the 401, the residential neighbourhood also sports some layers. It’s a bit of a name game to identify this neighbourhood. Tam O’Shanter-Sullivan (or simply Sullivan) marks the larger area in the Scarborough-Agincourt federal and provincial ridings. Just to narrow it down, though, I’ll elect to use the Wishing Well Acres moniker after one of the subdivisions.

This area between Warden and Victoria Park Avenue historically consisted of three 19th century farms: one by Ichabod Vradenburgh at Concession II Lot 33, another by Christopher Thomson  at Lot 34, and finally one by Thomas Mason at Lot 35.

Wishing Well Acres, 1878

Source: 1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York.

Ichabod Vradenburgh was born in 1815, and emigrated from New York some time after. He married Jane Thompson, a Scarborough native, and had six children. The Vradenburgh name is pretty well represented in the new neighbourhood – sort of.

Palmdale Drive

Vrandenburg, 1965

Vradenburgh development, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives. The northern half of the plot, consisting of Palmdale Drive (above picture) and Warden-Sheppard Plaza, is constructed by 1975.

Vradenburg Junior Public School was built in 1957, which was approximately year the community starts to take shape. By the looks of its large windows, it follows the Modernist design of John B. Parkin’s 1942 Sunnylea Junior Public School. Vradenberg Drive and Park also bear the family name, although with an inexplicably vowel swap and consonant removal.

Vradenburg Park
Today’s Castleford Drive roughly marks the border between Vradenburgh’s property and Christopher Thomson’s Wishing Well Farm. Thomson was named after his Scottish father, who was one of the first settlers in Scarboro Township and who rose to a respected position locally. Christopher’s mother, Mary, was a native of York, Upper Canada. According to the Scarborough Historical Society, Thomson settled here in 1827 and the name of his farm derived from his hope to plant a well on his land. When he finally hit water, he called it Wishing Well Farm.

Wishing Well Acres, 1956

Wishing Well Acres, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives. North of Sheppard is Harry C. Hatch’s indoor racetrack. On the south side of Sheppard is Wishing Well Woods.

Passageway

I always feel like I’m taking a secret passageway anytime I encounter paths like this.

Wishing Well Acres, the subdivision that rose out of the farm in 1956, is notable for housing Canada’s Millionth Post-War House, a bungalow on Beacham Crescent also built in 1956, needless to say, marked a watershed moment in suburbia.

Canada's Millionth Post-War House

Hidden behind a strip mall at Pharmacy and Sheppard is Wishing Well Woods. Like Brimley Woods and Passmore Forest, this woodlot is what I like to call a colonial remnant or a rural leftover – a patch of 100 to 200 year old forest on a farming parcel which survived redevelopment after WWII. Of course, these remnants never seem to prevail fully in tact, especially in the case of Wishing Well Woods. Compared to Brimley and Passmore Woods, though, this collection of trees isn’t much of a woodlot. That said, green space is green space and losing it would be a loss.

Wishing Well Woods

Wishing Well Woods

The mentioned strip mall at Pharmacy and Sheppard looks like it has development in its future. Hopefully that doesn’t affect Wishing Well Woods.

3105-3133 Sheppard East development 1      3105-3133 Sheppard East development 2

The Pharmacy and Sheppard intersection is no stranger to redevelopment. North of Sheppard is the Bridlewood neighbourhood, which gets its name from the indoor racetrack once located at the northeast corner. It was built for Harry H. Hatch, a distiller with a hand in the Gooderham & Worts empire and a championship horse breeder. The racetrack was torn down in 1958 and the Bridlewood development was subsequently constructed.

Sheppard East & Pharmacy

South of Sheppard, Pharmacy Avenue takes on a narrower, sparser form than north of it. Historically, it ran through the area now occupied by Highway 401, but since the highway’s construction in the early t0 mid-1950s, it dead ends just north and south of the expressway. One supposes with its proximity to Victoria Park, a bridge at Pharmacy wasn’t needed.

Pharmarcy Avenue

Wishing Well Park occupies the foot of Pharmacy. Anyone traveling westbound on the 401 near Victoria Park is at least familiar with Wishing Well and its baseball diamonds.

 

Wishing Well Park 3
But today’s baseball fields is yesterday’s farmfield, specifically Thomas Mason’s barns. The post-Mason farm development to the north, constructed around 1955, is named Town & Country. Information about Mason himself and the root of this naming is scarce, but if I had to guess, it might be because of the duality of (sub)urban and rural at the time.

Further to the story, Wishing Well Park also once contained the headwaters to Taylor-Massey Creek, a slinking waterway that shows up in Warden Woods Park and the former Massey property in today’s Crescent Town. Today’s headwaters are located south of the highway after the original were buried and diverted to Highland Creek.

Town and Country, 1956

Town and Country, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives. Taylor Massey Creek cuts diagonally through Wishing Well Park, then still a farm.

As signs of its one time existence, one can pick out Taylor Massey Creek’s topographical imprint on the park. Moreover, streets like Meadowacres Drive pay tribute to it.

Wishing Well Park Taylor Massey Creek

Up on Victoria Park, Consumers Road and area is home to a large employment district in Toronto and a few company headquarters, including Universal Music and the street’s namesake company, Consumers Enbridge Gas.

Enbridge Consumers Road
Consumers Road
Like Sheppard East, the area is set for redevelopment with the ConsumersNext project. As a huge locale for jobs, Consumers Road Business Park is currently zoned as an employment area, but the environment isn’t very navigable sans an automobile. Among its goals, ConsumersNext will make the Business Park pedestrian- and transit-friendly.

Consumers Next Map

Consumers Next Map. Source: City of Toronto City Planning.

Within the ConsumersNext lands is the recently named Ann O’Reilly Road. The new street contains an interesting bit of local, hidden history. O’Reilly was an innkeeper who, in 1860, along with husband, Patrick O’Sullivan, opened a hotel on the northwest corner of Victoria Park and Sheppard (now Victoria Park Square).

Victoria Park & Sheppard East

The intersection and area became known as O’Sullivan’s Corners after Ann & Patrick’s son, Micheal O’Sullivan, opened a post office in the hotel in 1892. It’s a familiar origin story in Toronto: a post office (and/or hotel, in the case of O’Sullivan’s Corners) opens in an area and becomes a hub for the new community.

The inn/post office was torn down around 1954, and without its existence, O’Sullivan’s Corners seems to have fallen out of use. It’s a part of a long list of bygone neighbourhoods in Toronto. The grander community of Sullivan (sans the “O'”) seems to reference it, however.

O'Sullivan's Corners, 1955.

Metropolitan Map of Toronto, 1955. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library. Note the routing of Sheppard Avenue at the top of the map. It once ended at Victoria Park Avenue. A separate street named Lansing Road curled down from Woodbine Avenue and straightened at Victoria Park before continuing into Scarborough. Around 1955, the two streets were merged to make the modern Sheppard Avenue. The ‘orphaned’ section between Woodbine (which became the 404 in 1977) and Victoria Park became Old Sheppard Avenue.

Today, though, there’s another landmark at the intersection: the famed Johnny’s Hamburgers, a fixture since 1967 which seems like it’ll endure whatever comes next for its surroundings.

Johnny's Hamburgers
Useful Links

CBC – Birth of the Suburbs

City of Toronto City Planning – ConsumersNext

City of Toronto City Planning – Sheppard Avenue East Avenue Study

Ian Hadden’s Family Tree – City of Toronto Honours Ann O’Reilly

Inside Toronto – ‘Innkeeper Ann O’Reilly Gets Warm Welcome From Preservation Panel’

Toronto Star – Laura Stone – ‘Street Meet: 10 years post-subway, Sheppard Ave. E. is poised to look like an urban street’