Tag Archives: scarborough

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.

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 first McDonald’s opened in Toronto was in North York at 3777 Keele Street near LePage Court (just south of Finch Avenue) in 1969. The Big Mac had just made its way onto the hamburger chain’s menu. It was also 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) opened its doors 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 article 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 Rouge National Urban Park – Vista Trail

Gem. Treasure. These rich descriptors are often paired with Rouge Park — and for good reason. The beauty and cultural and natural history make it a must-visit in Scarborough and Toronto.

In October 2017, Rouge Park, which previously fell under mostly provincial protection, was officially transferred to the federal government. The event completed a process to make it into Canada’s first National Urban Park administered by Parks Canada. The title says it all: massive green space within a busy metropolis. It’s not a new idea for Toronto, though. The City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Department’s motto, “City Within Park”, neatly captures the sentiment its own parklands and trails.

Rouge Park and its trails Credit: Rouge Park.

Rouge Valley’s physical landscape dates to the last Ice Age, when the retreating ice sheet covering the Toronto area left grooves, dips, basins, and indents in the land. This is how the landscape became hilly and flat, and also how we get water bodies. Lakes, rivers, and streams form as meltwater rushes to fill the “holes” in the land. Human activity began from this point with Aboriginal hunters and farmers making use of the valley.


Although evidence is perhaps scarce for the entire period, there was a now well-known Seneca Village Ganatsekwyagon located where the Rouge meets Lake Ontario. The waterway was a portage Carrying Place Trail, too. Ganatsekwyagon is a National Historic Site (although strangely listed under Bead Hill instead of its true name), which perhaps plays into the desire to include the Rouge lands under Parks Canada.

Map of Lake Ontario, ca. 1680. The villages of Teiaiagon and Ganestiquiagon appear in place of modern day Toronto at the Humber and Rouge Rivers, respectively.Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Although there are many access points within Rouge National Urban Park, a popular locale is the Vista Trail, located off Zoo Road at Meadowvale Road — right across, well, Toronto Zoo. The ‘welcome centre’ is a gorgeous Victorian farmhouse known today as the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre. Operated by the volunteer-based Rouge Valley Foundation, the centre’s mandate is to promote and engage in environmental conservation and offer interpretive and education programming within the Park. The homestead itself was built as the 1893 James Pearse House.

The Pearse House is named for the family who came to amass several hundred acres of land in the Rouge River Valley, including the present plot of the Vista Trail and Conservation Centre. This is not the house’s original location, however; it was restored and moved here in 1995 through efforts of volunteers.

Rouge Valley area from the Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. A winding Meadowvale is located in the centre. Names like Pearse, Sewell, Beare, and Reesor still are prominent names in Scarborough today. Credit: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

European settler presence since the 1800s has had the most transformative effect on the land, with maybe the most changes coming after World War II. In the 1950s, the (Metro) Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was created to put greater emphasis and protection in the Toronto area’s natural ravines. A couple of decades later, the Riverdale Zoo moved from Cabbagetown to the Rouge, further reorganizing the land.

Rouge Valley, 1969-1975. Apple orchards belonging to Joseph Burr Tyrell came to be the site of the Toronto Zoo. Meadowvale Road was reconfigured to bridge over Rouge River as its main right of way. Its former course still remains as a portion of Kirkhams Road. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The Vista Trail itself is a scenic walk, offering a number of fabulous views along its 1.5 kilometre route. An observation deck in particular allows for a great panorama of the Carolinian forest within the Little Rouge River and its dale.

Its pathway winds through that forest on a central ridge-like formation. On either side, the land dips down to give one a great look of the trees and colours of fall. The trail itself rolls up and down with tree roots serving as defacto stairs.

But speaking to the urban park aspect, the Vista Trail passes through an open space where Gatineau Hydro Corridor power lines run above. It’s a reminder that despite the perceived seclusion, civilization is not actually that far way.

Like the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre, the Parks Canada team host various guided hikes through the Rouge’s trails, ranging from topics like bird watching to tree identification to the wildlife in the valley to even a social hike. These walks run in all seasons too, offering the chance to see what Rouge Park has to show year-round.

Guided or not, a walk through the Vista Trail might offer one the opportunity to engage in some ‘forest pathing’ or shinrin-yoku. The Japanese practice invites one to engage with his or her surroundings in a way to cleanse oneself and relieve stress. And indeed, a calmness follows from taking in all Rouge National Urban Park’s richness.

Scenes From Milliken Park

Milliken District Park lies in Scarborough’s northern reaches, hugging Steeles Avenue East between McCowan Road and Middlefield Road. Its story includes the transformative move from farmland to suburbia, as well as its importance to the community both past and present.

The park’s focal point is Milliken Pond, famed for the great wildlife that frequent its waters – most notably, the trumpeter swans. If one is lucky, one might also catch a look at the great blue heron. (I don’t have the pleasure on this day.)

Beyond its great aesthetic, the body of water also serves a functional purpose as a storm-water management pond. According to The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, which manages the larger Highland Creek Watershed (of which the park is part of), Milliken Park was built in a low-lying area, and this basin collects the run-off rainwater from the surrounding environment and deposits it into the Highland Creek via underground pipes.

Adjacent to the pond is a great bit of greenspace (and my favourite aspect of the park) called Milliken Forest. This wooded area predates the creation of Milliken Park and has remained in tact even when the farmland around it was redeveloped (more on this below). It joins spaces like Passmore Forest, Brimley Woods, and Wishing Well Woods as woodlots that exist as what I call ‘rural leftovers’.

Milliken Park before redevelopment, 1965. The area that became Milliken Park was Lots 22 and 23 of Concession Road 5, historically farmed by families such as the Mitchells and Myles’. That also looks to be a creek running through the western third. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

While they aren’t the great expansive forests of the Don Valley or the more untouched areas closer to the mouth of the Highland Creek, these spaces are important. They are key as homes to wildlife and help to mitigate the larger impact urbanization has had to the Highland Creek Watershed as a whole. For people, they are gems and escapes.

Exploring Milliken Forest piques my interest in labyrinths (albeit sans a mythological beast in the middle). One walks with hopefully a general sense of where they are, but ultimately not knowing where one path may lead. There are several forks in the road, leading me to also think of the Robert Frost poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ about choice, regret, and self-discovery.

On the theme of discovery, moving out of the trees, I locate a cache placed within the park. Geocaching is a global scavenger hunt where individuals hide trinkets of many sizes and shapes in personally significant locales in hopes of drawing folks to those places. I would say Milliken Park is perfect for that — people should know about this place.

A gaze around and one can see this is a well-designed, well-utilized park. In addition to the variety of programming at the community centre, there are walkers, picnickers (barbeque, anyone?), people-watchers, children on various playgrounds, and athletes. A regular sight for a beautiful Sunday morning I imagine. This connection goes back to the intent of the park in the first place: to serve the great amounts of new residents. News articles at the time wrote about the integral part greenspace played in linking new neighbourhoods.

Globe and Mail, January 7, 1984. Credit: Toronto Public Library Globe and Mail Archives.

For historical context, the Millken Park area was subdivided in the 1980s, continuing a process that had been going on in Scarborough since the 1950s. Going through historical aerial maps, one can see suburbia marching northward with every decade. It’s interesting when you get to a year like 1975 and you see that a good part of the borough up until Finch Avenue has been populated, yet still a simple drive or even look north produces agricultural fields. It’s a weird in-between period for Scarborough. For the areas of North Scarborough around Steeles Avenue, it’s odd to think of them as fields as late as the 1990s in some spots.

Milliken Park and its subdivisions under development, 1985. The farmhouses look to be gone. The creek that might have ran through the property has been buried and the stormwater pond has taken shape. Previously two parallel roads north and south of Steeles Avenue, McCowan Road has been rerouted to curve through the intersection, eliminating the jog. To the south, Passmore Avenue (5th Concession) has been largely overtaken by housing and today only remains in segments.

Milliken Park looks to have been possibly created as a ‘deal’ between developers and local government to allow greenspace in new areas of suburbia. The article below outlines the design, planning, and marketability of new parks in new suburbs, and the views different cities and developers take on the form and utility of parks. It also states that Milliken Park was supposed to have ‘model farms’.

Globe and Mail, July 20, 1985. Credit: Toronto Public Library Globe and Mail Archives.

A final feature of the park is the beautiful meadow and garden area towards the northwest quadrant. The gorgeous space is prime for wedding shoots, which indeed happened on this day, or just quiet contemplation.

Storytelling, Jane’s Walk, and Scarborough’s Wishing Well Acres

Every place has a story.

That was the takeaway when I began looking into the past and present of Wishing Well Acres in northwestern Scarborough. That same takeaway was reaffirmed after hosting my first Jane’s Walk on May 8th, 2016: Wandering Wishing Well Acres.

Jane's Walk Wishing Well Acres 2016

The only picture taken at “Wandering Wishing Well Acres”. Discussing Wishing Well Plaza and its future.

The grand story of Wishing Well, like many communities of Toronto, is contained in its historical evolution. Not surprisingly, the layer of suburbia is probably most central to this area. And that’s where my own fascination began.

The millionth house built after World War II in Canada is located in Wishing Well Acres — a little white corner bungalow originally purchased for $16,200. Of course, this bungalow could have been built anywhere — that is to say, there was nothing really special about Wishing Well that ‘bred’ the millionth house (other than perhaps the timing of the subdivision’s construction in 1956).

Heritage Property Map

The genesis of Wandering Wishing Well Acres came from the discovery of Canada’s Millionth Post-War on an Interactive Heritage Property Registry Map. Source: City of Toronto.

But the fact that the millionth house was here gives a bit of insight about the area in the 1950s — why people were moving to Toronto’s new suburbs. The owners of the watershed home were Mr. and Mrs Camisso and their two daughters (nuclear family, much?). The story goes that they were not even looking for a home but Mrs. Camisso was attracted to the green roof. Other selling points: its proximity to the Toronto ByPass (now the 401) and its automatic heating (no more shovelling coal into furnace!).

Millionth House Globe 1956

“1,000,000th House Built in Canada Since War is Sold to Young Family of Four”, Globe & Mail, Sept 15, 1956. Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

1956 is a funny year. In the grand timeline of history, it really isn’t that long ago. But at the same time, it is hard to find a reference point to that period. Newspapers help; first-hand accounts are better. My goal for the walk was to retell the ‘History’ of the area (via research), and elicit other ‘histories’ (i.e. personal anecdotes) from fellow walkers. Together, those make up a complete picture. I think that was achieved.

Wandering Wishing Well Acres had the wonderful benefit of two original residents and their takes on the neighbourhood some fifty and sixty years ago – one that still lives in the subdivision and one that returned for the first time in decades for the Jane’s Walk! Some of those insights: neighbours really did all know each other, children rode their bikes together, and people would gather in Wishing Well Park’s flooded ice pond. It was a great place to grow up. I get a similar vibe whenever I walk through it today.

Back to the layers: It’s no secret Scarborough was mostly rural fields prior to WWII. The farms are gone, but their geographic legacies remain. Subdivisions were developed 100 acres at a time — the size of patented farm lots that were gradually swooped up in the 1800s. Sheppard Avenue, the main street of sorts, provided access to the three farms that compose Wishing Well Acres as Concession Road III. It was later made a highway between Pickering and Yonge Street (because apparently Kingston Road was too congested in 1931?).

There’s the enduring power of names in local storytelling, too: Wishing Well was the name of Christopher Thompson’s farm; Vradenburg/Vradenberg, of which the street and school is named, was another pioneering family (albeit, with a more European spelling: Vradenburgh).

1860Scarboro - Copy

Wishing Well area via 1860 Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

Of course, there’s a story before the Vradenburghs, Thompsons, and Masons. Was there Aboriginal presence here? Unfortunately, there’s no proof, but I’d still say possibly. Other sites in Scarborough — the Alexandra Site, Tabor Hill & Birkdale Ravine — point to indigenous settlement as late as around 800 years ago. Those areas all had a waterway in common — and Wishing Well once sported a free-flowing creek through it.

So then, what’s the future of Wishing Well Acres? I’d say it’s similar to its past: redevelopment. Sheppard Avenue is changing to accommodate more density: walkable, mixed use and mid-rise buildings. It’s like a retrofit to the blantantly, car-designed suburb. Of most interest to Wishing Well is the proposed development at Pharmacy and Sheppard. If it gets the green light, it would replace Wishing Well Plaza, which was at one time the commercial nexus of the early community and today home to a few eateries and shops that are largely and perhaps erroneously overlooked.

3105-3133 Sheppard East development 1

And what would a talk of the future be without public transit? Regardless of what transit on Sheppard Avenue ends up looking (or if it ends up looking like anything!), demand for (improved) public transit isn’t new! In 1956, the Town and Country Ratepayers and Community Association were calling for more than just a rush hour bus on Victoria Park. They wanted service on Sheppard! Plus ca change, eh? (That bus didn’t come until the mid-1960s, by the way.)

Town and Country Globe 1956

“A Bungalow in Scarboro”, Globe & Mail, Aug 6, 1956. Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

There are other aspects to the story  too: the burying of Taylor-Massey Creek, the gem of Wishing Well Woods (another rural remnant), the lost O’Sullivan’s Corners village at Victoria Park and Sheppard (of which the Johnny’s Hamburgers building is a leftover), and the Northwest Drive-in once located in Consumers Business Park (which is also getting a makeover.) It’s fitting that “Wandering Wishing Well Acres” ran overtime — there was too much to say!

Northwest Drive-In 1975

Northwest Drive-In & Consumers Business Park, 1975. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Being located in Scarborough, the Wandering Wishing Well Acres Jane’s Walk was likely not destined for popularity. It’s admittedly not a “sexy” topic nor located in a “sexy” area. But I tried not to let that deter me.

Wishing Well Acres has a story. It’s a good one. And it should be told and celebrated.


Useful Links

City of Toronto – Heritage Registry Interactive Map

“Wandering Wishing Well Acres!” Jane’s Walk

On May 6-8, 2016, Toronto will be hosting its tenth edition of Jane’s Walks. The festival features a large number of city-wide, free, citizen-led walking (and talking) tours, which aim to get people exploring their own (or others’) neighbourhoods, learn, tell stories, and connect with others.

Jane Jacobs was an untrained urban theorist from New York City and later Toronto who developed her ideas about cities through observing people. Jane’s Walks began in 2007 following Jane’s death in 2006 as a way for her friends and followers to honour her. This year would have been her 100th birthday.

JAne's Walk

Source: Jane’s Walk

I myself was first introduced to Jane Jacobs and her famed The Death and Life of Great American Cities in a third-year university class. I have also been taking in Jane’s Walks for the last 4 years. Last year, I summarized my experience.

This year, in addition to attending other leaders’ walks, I will be hosting one myself! My recent interest in the history and makeup of Scarborough communities near where I grew up has inspired me to adapt my Wishing Well Acres exploration into a Jane’s Walk!

Wishing Well Woods 3

“Wandering Wishing Well Acres!” will run on May 8th at 11:00am. We will start in the middle of Wishing Well Woods at Pharmarcy & Sheppard and wind our way around the neighbourhood to unpack the layers and the stories of this early post-war subdivision (1955-6!).

 

Wishing Well Park 3

Scenes From The Scarborough Bluffs

The Scarborough Bluffs are Scarborough’s claim to fame and claim to name. Although the southern part of borough and its winding main streets are another world to me personally, I know that in the general consciousness of Torontonians, the Bluffs usually come up in Scarborough word association. Or, at least, they should.

The built form of the southern end of Scarborough is a result of the Bluffs, including Kingston Road, whose course roughly follows the top of the landform. Laid out in 1817, it is one of the oldest European routes in the borough. In a pre-401 world, Kingston Road was the highway in and out of Toronto from the east. Its existence made it ideal for hotels and inns to aid travelers in their voyages. Some motels still dot the street today.

Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke 1916

Map of Scarborough Township, c. 1916. Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

Half-Way House, Kingston Road. - [1920?]

Halfway House, Kingston Road & Midland Avenue, c. 1920. The building is currently situated at Black Creek Pioneer Village. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

One notable landmark near Birchmount Road is not a rest stop but Scarborough Arts. The non-for-profit arts organization has a mandate “to create and cultivate innovative arts and cultural programs in Scarborough.” It’s a good one.

Scarborough Arts 1

In addition to facilitating and promoting artistic programs, Scarborough Arts also has rotating exhibition space, appropriately named the Bluffs Gallery. In March 2016, its showcase was ‘YEARBOOK’, a brilliantly-conceived and -executed exhibit which utilized high school yearbooks to tell Scarborough’s history and its remarkable demographic change in particular.

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 1

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 3

It’s not a surprising discovery, but Scarborough didn’t begin to really diversify until around the 1980s. In addition to offering demographic snapshots, I enjoyed the cultural tidbits that could be gleaned from the yearbooks, such as what kind of school clubs existed and the advertisements of local businesses of the day.

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 4

Agincourt Collegiate Institute yearbook, 1964. I attended and graduated from the school some 50 years later.

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 5             Scarborough Arts Yearbook 12

The Scarborough Arts office is a little  unconventional in that it is housed in a converted 1920s dwelling. Its ‘backyard’ is the Harrison Properties, which makes up part of the Waterfront Trail and whose name strikes me as having some sort of history perhaps relating to a previous owner of the lot. I’ve found nothing on the topic, however.

Scarborough Arts 2

Harrison Properties 2

The park backs onto the Bluffs, although a fence and a warning blocks access to the ridge for safety reasons. More on that later.

Harrison Properties 3

Further up Kingston is the Rosetta McClain Gardens. The backstory of this gem is fortunately known and offered up in a couple of plaques. Rosetta McClain once owned this land, and upon her death, her husband and son gifted the lot to the City of Toronto for a public park. Interesting to me in the story is McClain’s father was in charge of the J & J Taylor Safe Works operation in Old Town.

Rosetta McLain Gardens 10                       Rosetta McLain Gardens 1

The gardens are naturally a better a sight in the summer, but even in spr-winter the awe of the space is evident.

Rosetta McLain Gardens 6

Rosetta McLain Gardens 5

The frame of the old McClain house also still stands in the park as a monument…and as a backdrop for wedding shoots.

Rosetta McLain Gardens 9

Access to the Bluffs themselves can be tricky and elusive. There are many’a sign on local streets south of Kingston which advise people to, well, go away. It reminds me of the ire of local Hollywood residents concerning tourists trying to get to the Hollywood sign.

Scarborough Bluffs 6

Fortunately, there is a path beside Wynnview which leads down to Scarborough Heights Park. The bottom of the steep trail delivers a great view. The eye can follow the curve of the Scarborough coast as seen in maps as well the endless blue expanse of Lake Ontario.

Scarborough Heights 1

This is easier going down than up.

Scarborough Heights 3

Scarborough Heights 2

*** Local Caption *** Item consists of one photograph. The park was near Stop 31 (on the street railway?).

Scarborough Heights Park, 1911. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The way is long and muddy (and marked with bricks), but the reward at the end is worth-while.

Scarborough Bluffs 2

Scarborough Bluffs 3

These natural wonders are the leftovers of Glacial Lake Iroquois, whose geography is apparent throughout the city, most famously along the Davenport escarpment near Casa Loma. They are the same Bluffs that might exist in unknown narratives of Aboriginal settlement in this part of Scarborough. And they are the natural wonders Elizabeth “Don’t-Call-Me-Lady” Simcoe sailed past in 1793 which reminded her of her English home.

Scarborough Bluffs 4

Scarborough Bluffs 5

Of course, the elements and human activity have taken their toll on the Bluffs today, robbing them of stability and their chalky exterior in some places. I might argue their erosion is, though, a good – albeit, unfortunate – marker of time and a reminder of their history and pre-history.

Scarborough Bluffs - pierced rock from above 1909

Scarborough Bluffs, 1909. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

One thing that has remained consistent about the Bluffs is the marvel surrounding them. Sometimes it is hard to connect to bygone times and the psyches of people who lived within them, but human feeling and intelligence was no less primitive one hundred years ago than today. The people who explored Scarborough’s coast for an afternoon outing likely thought and felt the same as us when we do the same. That’s a comforting idea.

Scarborough Bluffs - general view from west 1915

Scarborough Bluffs, 1915. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The Bluffs of course stretch beyond Scarborough Heights for more stunning views, including across the way at Scarborough Bluffs Park. But that’s another day.