Tag Archives: Tam O’Shanter

The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of The Tam!

The following article originally appeared in the 2019 Volume 114 Annual Publication of the York Pioneer and Historical Society. It has been slightly edited and altered.

This work grew out of a 2016 walkabout article I wrote (to date, the most engaging piece I have produced) and a 2018 Jane’s Walk I led, both in efforts of telling the story of this historical Scarborough landmark. It was also inspired by several posts in the Scarborough, Looking Back… Facebook Group which highlights fond memories of The Tam and its fire.

If you have recollection of the old Tam O’Shanter Golf Club, please let me know or leave a comment below!

The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of The Tam!

By Bob Georgiou

The afternoon of October 3, 1971 was rough for the beloved Tam O’Shanter Golf, Curling, and Skating Club in Agincourt. On that day, the recreation centre of the Scarborough landmark burned to the ground.

The fire broke out around 4:30pm in the lounge of the curling complex after hockey mats inexplicably erupted in flames. The fire swept quickly through the building, feeding on the varnished woodwork. By 4:40pm, the complex was completely enveloped in flames.

Toronto Daily Star, Nov 4, 1971

Upwards of 10,000 people converged on the smoldering building, reported the Globe and Mail and Toronto Daily Star. Many of them arrived from afar, following the smoke trail. Ontario Police blocked off the area around Kennedy Road and Sheppard Avenue to allow emergency vehicles to reach the site. Firefighters battled the flames – but to no avail. Spectators watched from the parking lot of the recently -opened Agincourt Mall as the centre’s characteristic arches collapsed into the rubble.

The damage was devastating. The recreation complex was gone. Long-time Tam O’Shanter owner William G. Sparkhall vowed that day to rebuild the complex within a year, stating it would be better than the wooden construction that made it so vulnerable against the merciless embers. “I’ve spent a lifetime building this club up and I’m not going to stop now,” Sparkwell declared. “It cost me $1.5 million to build it and it will probably cost me $2.5 million to rebuild it.” The loss was otherwise estimated at $2 million.

Tam O’Shanter Fire, 1917. Credit: Toronto Public Library

There were fortunately no casualties on that hot October day. Staff had ushered to safety all two hundred children taking figure skating lessons. Still, the event called into question the future of the club’s hockey and curling operations, which hosted hockey league matches, a prominent hockey school, and one of the best curling facilities in Ontario and Canada.

The life of ‘the Tam’ began in 1933 when George Sparkhall, William’s father, purchased a 160-acre cattle farm on the south half of lot 29 concession 3, now the east side of Kennedy Road north of Sheppard Avenue. Using a barn as a clubhouse, Sparkhall turned the lot into a 104-acre pay-as-you-play golf course, calling it ‘Meadowbrook’, presumably referring to the meandering west branch of the Highland Creek situated in its southern end.

Globe & Mail, June 30, 1937

Globe & Mail, July 11, 1938

In the following years, the golf and country club served as social gathering point for the area, hosting banquets, weddings, dances, and other events such as the 1948 Easter party to kick off a $100,000 campaign for a new North Scarboro Memorial Centre.

In 1947, the Tam applied for a dining room and a lounge liquor serving license, under the recently enacted Liquor License Act, 1946. Under the provisions of the new law, residents could protest an application made within their district. A group of Agincourt residents did just that when 400 of them petitioned to oppose the Tam O’Shanter application, explaining that there had never been a need for the sale of beer in the village, the club house was used by teenagers for parties, and as the Tam was located on two major streets, the license would encourage drinking and driving. Owner William Sparkhall answered that the country club was actually outside the district’s borders and the application was only meant to sell beer to members.

Dance at Tam O’Shanter Boys Club, November 15, 1956. Credit: Toronto Archives

Over the years, the younger Sparkhall, who purchased the golf course from his father in 1938 and renamed it Tam O’Shanter, undertook several upgrades to the property, and added an adjacent lot bordering Birchmount Road. In 1954, the club improved several holes in its 18-hole course, and upgraded its clubhouse and dining room. Two summers later, members and visitors had access to the new and popular Emerald Pool.

Toronto Daily Star July 31, 1956

In 1958, a game-changing addition came in the form of a 12-sheet curling rink. The modernist structure was constructed of fieldstone and housed spectators’ galleries behind three four-sheet sections. It was the “largest in Canada devoted entirely to curling”. The Globe and Mail boasted that even before construction had completed, the club already had a “considerable response to a membership campaign” for new curlers. At this time, the main clubhouse added bowling alleys, two dance floors, two dining areas, and three lounges. Eight more curling sheets followed in 1961. The following year, the Tam could pride itself on “a rink six inches wider than that of Maple Leaf Gardens.” Together, the improvements made the Tam into a formidable and beloved social, sporting, and recreational venue.

Globe & Mail, Feb 26, 1958

While Sparkhall vowed golf would continue as usual after the fire (and indeed it reopened the next day and the following season), most of the club’s functions were severely compromised. A 3-day Oktoberfest scheduled to take place on the Tam grounds that weekend was shortened to a 1-day event at a different venue. Worse, however, the upcoming hockey season was greatly affected by the lack of a rink. The Wexford Hockey Association, whose teams played out of the Tam O’Shanter Arena, scrambled to find other facilities to host its games. North York Mayor Basil Hall elected to bring the matter to Metro Regional Council to see if it could offer assistance in relocating games.

Bruce and Margaret Hyland had to consider their next steps, too. The 5-time Olympic coaches — legendary figures in Canadian skating — ran a popular summer hockey school and the Canada Skating Club at the Tam. The hockey school was one of the largest in the world; Canadian hockey greats Frank and Peter Mahovlich, Kent Douglas, Paul Henderson, and Eddie Shack practiced at Tam O’Shanter Arena. The skating school was supposed to start a day after the fire. By December 1971 though, the Hylands announced initial plans for a $2 million arena built “on four acres of land between Victoria Park Avenue and Don Mills Road, just south of Finch Avenue.” It would be called the Hyland Ice Skating Centre.

1969 Toronto City Directory of Kennedy Road. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The club’s 300 curling members elected to remain together, and used membership dues to lease space offered by other clubs in the Toronto area. In June 1972, officials at the Tam-Heather curling club announced they were ready to resume their activities in October of that year. They hoped a new sports complex would be ready by the first anniversary of the fire at Tam O’Shanter.

Interestingly, despite William Sparkhall’s declaration to have the recreation centre up and running in 1972, he – under the Tam-Land Estates Ltd. banner – applied shortly after the fire to rezone the 118-acre golf course to accommodate residential and commercial enterprises. The golf course at the time was zoned for agriculture in its western half and recreation in its eastern half. Tam-Land Estates planned to build a housing and high-rise development on the property. Community opposition, led by future Scarborough Controller and Mayor Joyce Trimmer, successfully fought to keep the area as open public space, harnessing the power of Trimmer’s adamant and ultimately effective letter writing campaign.

These debates around the future of the Tam O’Shanter site also coincided with Metro Parks Commissioner Thomas Thompson’s desire to acquire more parkland for Metro Toronto. The events following Hurricane Hazel in 1954 led the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA) to acquire flood valleys that would push Metro’s parkland to nearly 7,000 acres. However, outside of ravine lands, the region was in short supply of recreation lands to service its expected growth. A potential solution was the acquisition and transformation of private golf courses as they became available.

In what the Globe And Mail called “a bold step toward parks’, Metro Parks Committee allotted $5 million dollars in Metro Council’s 1972 budget to acquire the 165-acre York Downs Golf Course in the Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue area and the 118-acre Tam O’Shanter Golf Club in Scarborough. The amount was more than double what Metro spent on parkland acquisition in the previous 10 years. A special subcommittee consisting of Metro Chair Albert Campbell, North York Mayor Basil Hall, Scarborough Mayor Robert White, Metro Parks Commissioner T.W. Thompson, and Metro Planning Commissioner Wojctech Wronski also pushed back Sparkhall’s redevelopment proposal indefinitely so that it could study and report on the possibility of acquiring Tam O’Shanter and York Downs.

With news of the Tam’s availability as potential park space, decision-makers and media urged the purchase. As one Toronto Star editorial put it, Metro Council had to “grab the chance for green space”. It argued that Tam O’Shanter was parkland “in a crowded area” and “there was no obvious recreational land coming on the market nearby.” New Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey called the chance “a golden opportunity that won’t come again”. Another positive was it would not require the demolition of any homes, which was notable because Thomas Thompson’s Metro Parks Committee was also recommending the demolition of 254 houses on the Toronto Islands to create more parkland.

With the sub-committee’s final decision to ultimately buy the course, questions in 1973 revolved around who would pay, how they would pay, and how much they would pay. Metro had $3.5 million budgeted for parks for the next five years; if it took a gander on Tam, it could affect its ability to acquire other parks. Scarborough Controller Karl Mallette added that Scarborough taxpayers could “easily afford” a raise on taxes to pay for new parkland and facilities, such as the new park at Tam O’Shanter. In February of that year, Campbell announced a proposal of a three-way agreement which would see the Ontario government cover half the course’s costs and Metro and Scarborough covering a quarter each. The same formula was used to purchase the York Downs Course. An unknown factor was Tam-Land Estates’ asking price, which was reportedly between $12,000 to $100,000 an acre. In September 1973, the price was eventually set at $10.8 million, a number that had East York Mayor Willis Blair suspecting was too rich. However, two different appraisals valued the land at $10.6 million and $11 million.

Aerial view of the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, 1975. Bridges that formerly crossed the West Highland Creek were removed, possibly as the course was awaiting reorganization.

Meanwhile, the Tam’s curling club and hockey and skating schools happily found new homes. Boasting a membership of 540 and set to reach capacity of 640 by the start of the following season, the Tam-Heather Curling Club opened its new eight-sheet, $500,000 complex in March 1973 at Morningside Avenue and Highway 401. Also in 1973, Bruce and Margaret Hyland successfully opened Metropolitan Ice Skating School (later Centre Ice) on Victoria Park Avenue. The complex had three ice surfaces, one of which Mr. Hyland operated a hockey school.

Finally, two years after the fire that devastated the Tam, officials met in Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey’s office to formalize the purchase of Tam O’Shanter Golf Club. On November 10, 1973, William Sparkhall, president of Tam Land Estates, accepted two cheques totalling $10,825,000 for the 118-acre golf course from Godfrey, Education Minister Thomas Wells, Scarborough Mayor Paul Cosgrove, and Fred Wade, chairman of the MTRCA. Tam-Land Estates retained some land for its own redevelopment purposes. With the purchase of Tam and York Downs, Metro Parks also recommended the creation of an inventory of other private courses with the goal of purchasing them in the future. The MTRCA would officially own Tam O’Shanter, but Metro Parks would oversee it.

Following the acquisition, several outlying details remained about the function and form of the new Tam O’Shanter. Scarborough Council disagreed with Metro about the property’s apparent decided future as a municipal golf course. The borough understood that the option was open for it to become a park, and even though discussions during negotiations mentioned that Tam O’Shanter could either continue as a golf course or become a park or a mixture of the two, there was no formal resolution. Wells, the Progressive Conservative representative of Scarborough North, the provincial riding housing Tam O’Shanter, asserted in a February 1973 edition of the Globe and Mail, “It is essential that this site be retained as open space but not necessarily as an 18-hole golf course.” Despite the disagreement, new Metro Committee Parks Commissioner Robert Bundy said the site was “well located for a golf course” and Tam O’Shanter remained a public course – possibly because it was one of the only courses in the east end of Metro Toronto.

The golf course required major upgrades, however. While minor improvements kept the golf club operational through the 1970s, the quality of the greens, which required a new irrigation system, was so poor that Metro Parks lowered its fees in 1975 by 50 cents. With the damage to and the eventual demolition of the old Tam complex in the years after the purchase, the course also required a new clubhouse. In the first half of the 1980s, Tam O’Shanter underwent $800,000 worth of upgrades to update and reconfigure its course with a new entrance of Birchmount Road. Its new clubhouse opened on May 7, 1982.

Aerial, 1983. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

In 1985, Sparkhall and Co. – seemingly the new banner of Tam-Lands Estates Limited – looked to redevelop the land south of the course and north of Agincourt Mall. It proposed, and was allowed to build “1000 apartments, 23,225 square metres (250,000 square feet) of offices, up to 6,040 metres (65,000 square feet) of commercial use, libraries, day nursey, and educational facilities on 6.16 hectares (15.23 acres) of land on Kennedy north of Bonis [Avenue].”

Just as there had been opposition in 1971, residents of Bonis Avenue mobilized to fight the proposal. The community assembled a petition of 500 names and packed the Scarborough Council chambers in March 1985 to voice disapproval of their neighbourhood becoming “a mini-downtown.” Along with the scale of the development, another sticking point was the proposed extension of Bonis, which was at the time a dead-end street running east from Birchmount Road, stopping at the old lot border. The plan called for its lengthening to connect with Cardwell Avenue at Kennedy Road. Residents, including Controller Joyce Trimmer (who beat out former Controller Karl Malette in the 1974 election), argued that the street would only serve as a high-speed detour for Sheppard Avenue traffic. After more consultations, the project did not go through.

Plans for development along Bonis Avenue surfaced again in 1988, this time spearheaded by Tridel Corporation. The new proposal involved “four 24-storey condo towers with a total of 1,112 units, a five-story building with 7,961 square metres of office space, a one-story building with 5,580 square metres of retail space, and two-storey, 1953-square metre public library.” The inclusion of a library was notable because a 1977 plan suggested the erection of a much-needed district library on a portion of the Tam O’Shanter property turned over to Scarborough for municipal parkland. This was opposed by Trimmer and was ultimately nixed by Metro planners.

Despite being a slightly more scaled back version of the Sparkhall and Co. project, Tridel Corp. faced similar challenges and objections as its predecessor. As was the case three years ago, the property, zoned for institutional and recreational use, would have to be rezoned. Planning and traffic studies again recommended an extension of Bonis Avenue. Opponents said the development had double the amount of allowed units. The Highland Heights Community Association warned the street would become a ‘traffic nightmare’, which would bring in 1,000 cars in the evening rush hour (Tridel contended 335 cars). Even with the opposition, calls for the developer to scrap the project largely went unheard.

In October 1988, despite last minute objections, Scarborough council approved the $500-million dollar project behind Agincourt Mall. It was the second major condo project approved in the span of a month in the borough. On September 6, Council approved $1.5 billion, 2,420-unit development – also by Tridel – at the Scarborough Civic Centre.

As a part of the Agincourt deal, Scarborough also received a 1,200-square-metre parcel of land worth more than $300,000 for a $4.5 million library. Tridel also gifted $500,000 for its construction as well as $1.6 million for day care, park development and landscaping. The new Agincourt Library branch opened in 1991 on Bonis, moving from Agincourt Mall and continuing a legacy dating back to 1918.

Also in 1991, ‘The Greens at Tam O’Shanter’, the first tower in the phased project, opened. Described by a 1989 Toronto Star ad as “a magnificent collection of country club style residences overlooking the manicured greens and fairways of the renowned Tam O’Shanter Golf course in Scarborough”, it is a 24-storey construction with “211 one, two and three bedroom suites – many of which open up onto private terraces” which “range from 787 square feet to 1,782 square feet. Its marketing harnessed “the royal and ancient” tradition of golf as it was played on old Scottish courses like St. Andrews and Leith Links, when the game “was the sport of kings”. Although it did not do so in the end, the advertisement could have also referenced the 50+ year history of golf at Tam O’Shanter.

Toronto Star, Oct 7, 1989

The next parts of the Tridel complex – 28 brownstone townhouses and 3 more 24-storey condos – would open over the next twenty years. One of the condos – 1998’s “The Highlands at Tam O’Shanter” at 228 Bonis Avenue – roughly occupies the former site of the Tam’s famed clubhouse and recreation centre.

Today, the Tam O’Shanter Golf Clube operates an 18-hole, Par 72 course from mid-April to mid-November.

Scenes From Tam O’Shanter

Consider this a sequel. Or, maybe a prequel. Whatever the case, if Wishing Well Acres is  the Sullivan in Tam O’Shanter-Sullivan, here’s the Tam O’Shanter part.

We begin at Agincourt Mall. The shopping centre dates back to 1966, likely making it the third enclosed mall in Scarborough after 1954’s Eglinton Square and Golden Mile (Cedarbrae Mall predates Agincourt by four years but didn’t get its ceiling until 1972). The mall’s anchors are Wal-Mart and No Frills, but I can recall a time – in 1994, specifically – when they were Woolco and Loblaws, respectively. Walmart bought Woolco that year. No Frills came in the 2000s.

Agincourt Mall outside

As much as malls like Agincourt are seen as shabby and sad (Agincourt Mall as of 2016 has a number of empty tenants), I’ve found that they are still appreciated locales. A lot of nostalgia fills their walls. The comments in this BlogTO article about Agincourt Mall by Robyn Urback  prove that. Everyone has a story, or a store they enjoyed frequently, or an odd memory about something that isn’t there anymore. Mine is the RadioShack that was there in 1990s and 00s, reminding me of lost Canadian retailers. There is a Source in the mall now, but not in the same space as its predecessor.

Agincourt Mall inside

Agincourt Mall was built on the Kennedy farm, with the farmhouse once located just north of the mall and south of the West Highland Creek. A walk down the street named for the family leads to a trail that lines the creek.

West Highland Creek bridge
The path is sandwiched between an apartment and townhouse complex on one side and the creek and Tam O’Shanter Golf Club on the other. A look down at the shallow waterway produces a shiny sheet of ice over the surface and the occasional group of ducks in the non-frozen bits. But there’s also something that doesn’t quite belong.

West Highland Creek
Several pillars jut out on either side of the creek – two on one side and two opposite them. I count three sets of these abutments along the way. Their meaning isn’t hard to figure out: 3 sets of abutments, 3 phantom bridges. There is one question, though: what’s the story?

West Highland Creek bridge abutments

The answer: In the 1930s to the 1970s, this was the site of the Tam O’Shanter Golf and Country Club, the precursor to Tam O’Shanter Golf Course.

In addition to golf, the Tam O’Shanter Country Club complex had swimming, ice hockey, and curling. In 1971, the club erupted in flames, destroying some of the complex. In researching the fire, I’ve read many stories about people seeing the flames from afar. Like Agincourt Mall, the country club meant something to many people.

In 1973, the Province of Ontario, Metro Toronto, and Scarborough jointly acquired Tam O’Shanter and converted it into a municipal golf course. In the coming years, the complex would be gradually demolished and a new clubhouse would be built around 1980. Today, a couple of apartment towers on Bonis Avenue stand in the club’s former location.

West Highland Creek Bend 1967

Tam O’Shanter & West Highland Creek, 1967, Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Back to the abandoned abutments, the creek was located just behind the clubhouse and its bridges led to and from the golf course. Shortly after the course’s acquisition, the bridges were removed, presumably because the course layout would be reorganized.

West Highland Creek ducks

But the creek hasn’t always run the same course.

West Highland Creek Bend 1956

Tam O’Shanter & West Highland Creek, 1956, Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The West Highland at one time swung north up into the golf course before dropping back down and resuming in a northwest direction. Around 1967, the creek was straightened and bridges were installed. The orphan bend remained as a sort of oxbox for some time, but since has been mostly filled in. One can still see the imprint of the bend today, though, notably through the pond and the ‘etched’ curved outline north of it.

West Highland Creek Bend 2015

Tam O’Shanter & West Highland Creek, 2015. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

Tam Shanter West Highland bend pond

There is one remaining bridge, however – a wider, sturdier construction. There is a gate in the fence on the other side, so one can guess that at least it might have been a vehicular corridor. As of 2015, though, both ends have been barricaded to prevent any sort of use.

West Highland Creek big bridge

As the West Highland continues into the golf course and beyond, the trail comes to Ron Watson Park, renamed from Tam O’Shanter Park in 2005 in recognition of the long-time Scarborough resident, trustee, and councillor. Watson was honoured with a star on Scarborough’s Walk of Fame in 2011. The park forms the field of Tam O’Shanter School, featuring a nice playground…and a stone turret.

Ron Watson Park

This viney tower became an instant curiosity to me. It looked old and misplaced. No doors (although, perhaps a sealed opening), a couple of ‘windows’ near the top. What was/is it?

Ron Watson Park tower

I had to do some digging. Google presented nothing, so I consulted some aerial photos to try and date it. It’s been around since at least 1947, the first year on record for aerials in the Toronto Archives.

Ron Watson Turret 1965

Charles Watson Farm, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Ron Watson Turret 2015

Ron Watson Park, 2015. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

Next, looking at the 1878 Map of Scarboro Township, Ron Watson Park was once part of the Samuel Horsey farm on Concession 3 Lot 30. Whether Horsey built the mystery tower is unknown. His house had a parlour, though!

Posting my findings and curiosities on Twitter, answers came in from the Scarborough Archives.

So, Horsey sold his farm to Watson, who likely built the silo. When Watson’s farm was subdivided, the tower was never torn down with it. My guess is the task proved too difficult. It doesn’t fully answer the ‘when?’ part, but mystery solved!

Ron Watson Park silo

Leaving the park and silo, the two-in-one Stephen Leacock  Collegiate/John Buchan Senior Public School has had a place on Birchmount Road since 1970. It is built in the Brutalist (or, Heroic) style that was indicative of Toronto architecture in the 1950s to 1970s. The schools’ namesakes were a Canadian author and humourist and Scottish author and historian, respectively.

Stephen Leacock School Brutalism

And while I’m profiling, Tam O’Shanter is a Robbie Burns poem. Another Scottish connection. The Anglo-Saxon roots and references of the Tam O’Shanter community is interesting though, considering what it became. Today, it is one of the more diverse areas in the city of Toronto.

Next, a derelict structure stands across the school. I don’t know its full context, but it’s most definitely another rural leftover.

Abandoned building Birchmount Avenue

On Bonis Avenue, there’s Agincourt Library and another great turret. Although the building opened in 1991, the library itself dates back to 1918. Within that time it has moved locales a few times, including a stay in Agincourt Mall. The branh carries three copies of A History of Scaborough. Its editor is a Mr. Robert Bonis, who lends his name to the street.

Agincourt Library

Down at Birchmount and Sheppard, a strip mall has gone through a makeover in the last few years. It’s about to get a new tenant, too: Starbucks. The sight is initial shock for me, if only because it’s strange to see one in this neighbourhood. My mind shoots to the old idea that a Starbucks is tell tale sign of gentrification, but I question whether it applies here. We’ll have to see.

Starbucks Birchmount and Sheppard

Foregoing a stroll down Sheppard,  I backtrack to Bay Mills Boulevard. The curved street offers a sort of ‘backstage’ view of Tam O’Shanter, showing off the apartments, church, school, field, playground that all front Sheppard. The intersection of Bay Mills and Sheppard is the start of the Sheppard Avenue East Avenue Study zone. On one side there’s another strip mall; on the other, a car dealership. They’ll surely be part of the plans.

Bay Mills Boulevard

Warden Avenue is further down the way, but that adventure lies in the mentioned Wish Well exploration. For now, that’s a wrap on this one.

Sheppard and Bay Mills

If you have memories of Agincourt Mall, Tam O’Shanter Country Club, Stephen Leacock School, or Tam-O’Shanter-Sullivan in general, I would like to hear about it. Leave a comment below or tweet me!

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’