Tag Archives: toronto history

Scenes From Tommy Thompson Park and The Leslie Street Spit

Tommy Thompson Park and The Leslie Street Spit contain some of the most interesting and oddest landscapes in Toronto. They’ve been called an Urban Wilderness and an Accidental Wilderness. Exploring their history and geography, one can see why. They embody Toronto as a whole: the intriguing and sometimes unexpected intersection of nature and city.


Many Paths, Many Landscapes

First, there’s a careful distinction to be made of the two places. Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Street Spit (or the Leslie Spit or just The Spit) are used interchangeably by many people. The reality is one is located within the other. That is to say, the Leslie Spit is a geographic feature and Tommy Thompson Park is the recreational area housed in it.

The entrance of Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Spit is located at Unwin Street where it meets the bottom of Leslie Street. If travelling south from Lake Shore Boulevard by road, one is struck by how bizarre a stretch it is. A streetcar barn, a mail facility, a concrete plant, tool and equipment rental place, and most curiously, an allotment garden all make up the scene. At the same time, the Martin Goodman Trail also passes through the area, making bicycle traffic a natural thing for the Spit (the park’s car lot also has a BikeShare station.)

The Baselands just off the entrance is Tommy Thompson Park’s first landscape. This is a thicket of bushes, shrubs, and trees — and rubble. The red-osier dogwood offer some colour in the spring-time grey and brown.

One emerges from Baselands to meet with the Multi-Use Trail, a paved path used by walkers, runners, cyclists, and sometimes park staff vehicles. The trail runs the course of the Spit from the entrance to its most southern tip. If one doesn’t pass through pedestrian bridge nearly half-way through the 5-kilometre length, one can branch out to the north of the cell bays and pass through the Flats and Headlands. The lighthouse is a natural goal and following the multi-use trail to the end offers a great reward. But the side-trails are well worth it too.

The Spit splits into the three paths. Along with the Multi-Use path, there is a Nature Trail and Pedestrian Trail. If on foot, these quiet and more slower-paced alternatives allow one to take in the Spit in a truly unique way.

The Nature Trail on the north side of the main paved path hugs the north shore of the Spit. It offers views of the marina, embayments, and the great skyline of Toronto beyond them all along the way. Numbered trail markers show the way. It is also on the way to the Ecological Bird Research Centre, one of a few scientific and educational functions of the park.

The Pedestrian Trail runs south of the Multi-Use Trail. It offers clear blue lake views, along with views of Cell 1 where wildlife undoubtedly lives. The shores along this trail also show the most interesting debris.

A History of Many Names

The curious history of the Leslie Street Spit started in the late 1950’s and continued into the 1960s. It was designed to be a breakwater for Toronto harbour. For this reason, the official name for the Leslie Spit is the mouthful-ish “Outer Harbour East Headland”. By 1970, a 5-kilometre “arm” made of infill and construction materials extended into the water. The main road on this landform is now the Multi-Use trail. Over the next several decades, several “branches” would be made to jut out from this “spine”, creating endikements and bays. For this reason, the Leslie Spit is better labelled as a man-made peninsula rather than a naturally-occuring spit.

A pre-Leslie Spit eastern Toronto waterfront, 1950. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Harbor Headland Ahead Of Schedule” The Globe & Mail, Oct 3, 1968. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.
“The big key to waterfront development”, The Globe & Mail, May 27, 1971. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

By the early 1970s, the anticipated port activity in Toronto’s waters never materialized. The East Headland became obsolete as a commercial project. As the decade progressed, a curious thing happened. Nature took over. Birds used the peninsula as migratory stop. The potential of the Spit as a recreational area, namely sailing and boating, also entered the conversation. So much so that the area was known as “The Aquatic Park”.

“New park: Do we want wall-to-wall boats?”, The Globe & Mail, Feb 4, 1977. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

In 1977, a client group consisting of Metro Toronto Regional Conservation Authority and Metro Toronto Park Commission members hired a consultant firm to report on the possibilities of the peninsula. Ideas included a sailing school, marine hotel, camp grounds, a hostel, and a wildlife and nature preserve. Curiously, the north shore of the Spit, already used by recreational boats, was not included in the report. The report put naturalists and recreationists at odds — a theme that continues today. In 1983, the Leslie Street Spit was named “Tommy Thompson Park”, after the longtime Toronto Parks Commissioner. The Toronto & Region Conservation Authority manages the parkland today.

The Leslie Street Spit, 1992. Source: City of Toronto Archives.


Trash or Built Heritage?

A common sight of The Leslie Spit is the piles of bricks, cement blocks, rebar, scrap metal, and more on its trails and on its shores. People have combined two of these elements — the rebar and bricks — to make some makeshift art installations.

It has been said that because the Spit is in a way akin to garbage dump, it is a valuable asset in that it literally is the “archaeology of Toronto”. Indeed, debris excavated to build the downtown subway lines is said to rest at the peninsula. Beyond that, is any of the rubble of the headland actually important?

One brick has the pressing of “F Price” and it may provide an insight into Toronto history a whole. The Prices were a family of brick makers on Greenwood Avenue. The most famous of them are perhaps brothers Isaac Price and John Price — the latter who ran last brickmaking entreprise on Greenwood.

The identity and origin of this “F Price” on this particular brick is a mystery, but may refer to a Fred Price, who was in business in the 1920s. He may have been a brother or son or nephew to the Isaac and John. Fred Price looks to have partnered with a George J Smith. Together they formed Price & Smith, which operated on the west side of Greenwood Avenue north of the railway tracks (where the subway yard now sits). By the mid-1930s, the establishment ceased to appear in the city directories. The historical significance of Price & Smith and brickyards from the same period is in providing the bricks which made the housing stock of Toronto in its growth period after World War I.

“Price & Smith”, The Globe, April 18, 1924. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

Urban Wilderness

Today, the Leslie Spit is an intriguing refuge for many plants and animals. Some of these are species found in other parts of Toronto, like cattails, goldenrod, trumpeter swans, red-wing black birds, and beavers. Some are to the city as a whole, like bats, owls, and cottonwood trees, which are threatened by the pesky cormorant. The Leslie Spit’s importance as a migratory bird stopover led to it to being declared an “Important Bird Area” by Birdlife International in 2000.

There are two main rules to Tommy Thompson Park: no motorized vehicles and no dogs. Both are to safeguard the peninsula as a habitat to seen and unseen wildlife. The lack of cars is an obvious rule with the exhaust fumes and loudness among other threats providing obvious disruptions. Bikes are allowed and are popular on the Spit, but speeds are capped at 20 km/hour to protect not only pedestrians but wildlife like turtles that may wander onto the path. The dogs or pets policy dates back to the 1980s. Dogs can be a threat to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. With a population of coyotes on the Spit, pets themselves can also be at risk too.

The balance between human use and environmental respect remains today. With new controversies and challenges arising (like filming), careful stewartship should perserve the Leslie Street Spit for decades and centuries to come!

The Curious Listing of 28 Jameson Avenue in Parkdale, 1895

In the July 6, 1895 edition of The Globe newspaper, an impressive 14-room house appeared for sale. It was listed at 28 Jameson Avenue in South Parkdale, fronting onto Lake Ontario which a spacious lawn and private boardwalk. The advertisement promoted the property as nothing less than idyllic.

At first glance, the listing of 28 Jameson Avenue provides a window into the real estate market and lives of residents of late-Victorian Toronto. While it does accomplish this, the events in the home in the year before this listing offer not only a dark anecdote in Toronto’s history but a dark insight into the potential reasons for its sale only five years after its owners moved in.

“For Sale at a Sacrifice”, The Globe, July 6, 1895. Source: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

The owners of the property were the Westwoods, who moved into the house in 1890, appropriately naming it “Lakeview”. The patriarch, Benjamin Westwood, was a successful industrialist who co-owned “Allcock, Laight and Westwood”, a famous fishing shop on Bay Street. Because of Benjamin’s business forays, the Westwoods were a very well-to-do family, moving from 11 Walmer Road in the Annex to 28 Jameson Avenue. By the time they reached Parkdale, the suburb was only in existence for 20 years and had been annexed by the City of Toronto the year prior, and was filled with other Victorian mansion and affluent families — although not exclusively.

Benjamin Westwood’s “Lakeview”, 28 Jameson Avenue, 1893 Goads Fire Insurance Map. Source: Goads Toronto.

“Mr. Benjamin Westwood”, Evening Star, October 11, 1894. Source: Toronto Public Library & Toronto Star Archives.

On the night of Saturday, October 6, 1894, the Westwoods’ lives changed forever. The doorbell rang at Lakeview, and Benjamin’s son, Frank, went to answer it. An unknown character on the other side of the threshold pulled out a gun and randomly shot the 18-year old man. As the assailant disappeared, the young Westwood cried out. His mother, Clara Westwood, found him in agony at his front door. Frank Westwood succumbed to his injuries days later and was laid to rest at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

“Frank B. Westwood”, Evening Star, October 13, 1894. Source: Toronto Public Library & Toronto Star Archives.

“It May Be Murder,” The Globe, October 4, 1894. Source: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives

“Mrs. Westwood”, Evening Star, November 28, 1894. Source: Toronto Public Library & Toronto Star Archives.

The murder captured newspaper headlines for weeks and months following the unfortunate event. The police identified, Clara Ford, a 33-year old, mixed-raced who grew up in Toronto’s ‘Ward’ neighbourhood and was known to dress in men’s clothing (as she was accused to have done the night of the murder). After police questioning, she admitted to gaining revenge on her neighbour Frank Westwood who harassed her for her darker complexion and ultimately raped her. In Ford’s trial the following year, the woman was acquitted, claiming that her confession was forced and false. Clara Ford was set free and soon left Toronto, although not before boasting that she did kill Westwood. The murder itself remained unsolved even until today.

“Clara Ford”, Evening Star, November 28, 1894. Source: Toronto Public Library & Toronto Star Archives.

Although much was made of the sensationalist trial, the fate of Clara and Benjamin Westwood after the events of 1894-5 is less discussed. The family put Lakeview up for sale months after Ford was found not guilty. One can imagine their heartache in living in the home where the horrific event took place. The 1895 Might’s Toronto City Directory listed the occupants of 28 Jameson Avenue as ‘Vacant’, but the following year’s Directory noted ‘Benjamin Westwood’ at the address once again. An 1896 Globe article confirmed the house was still unsold two years after Frank Westwood’s death. The publication also noted Westwood was living at the address in 1897. Ultimately, the house went to George Edwards, who lived in the house by 1899.

“Sixth Ward Values”, The Globe, July 28, 1896. Source: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

Leaving Parkdale, the Westwoods looked to continue with their lives in other, perhaps familiar areas of Toronto. They first moved into a home on Bloor Street East near Huntley Street. By 1902 however, they found themselves in the high society of Rosedale at 90 Scarth Road, often making the newspaper’s “Social” column and the Blue Book. A ‘quiet’ wedding of their daughter to a Chicago man took place in the residence in 1909.

Benjamin Westwood himself died in 1935 at the age of 90. By this time, he and his wife lived on St. Clair West near Yonge Street. The elder Westwood was buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery where his son was laid to rest nearly 40 years prior. None of the houses the family lived in after (and even before) Lakeview stand today.

“Dau’s Toronto, Hamilton and London Blue Book, 1908”. Source: Toronto Public Library.

“Dau’s Toronto, Hamilton and London Blue Book, 1908” Preface. Source: Toronto Public Library.

“Dau’s Toronto, Hamilton and London Blue Book, 1908”, Benjamin Westwood Listing. Source: Toronto Public Library.

For 28 Jameson Avenue itself, the future was also not as fortunate after the Westwoods left the property. By 1910, George Edwards moved out of the home and Arthur Penman came in. In the mid-1920s, Lake Shore Boulevard West was constructed just north of the address, using Laburnam Avenue as its right of way. It looks as though the home survived expropriation at that time. Penman was seemingly the final owner of 28 Jameson Avenue, however, as the address last appeared in the Might’s Toronto City Directory in 1931. Thirty years after the creative destructive effects of Lake Shore Boulevard West, the Gardiner Expressway obliterated the rest of South Parkdale in the mid-1950s.

Today, the existence of the Westwoods’ Lakeview mansion is undetectable. Its violent history some 125-years ago is hidden somewhere in the grassy parkland between the Martin Goodman Trail and Lake Ontario.

Jameson Avenue in 1957, just prior to the installation of the Gardiner Expressway. The Westwood house stood just north of the large mansion at the foot of the street. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

South Parkdale in 2021. Source: Toronto Historic Map.

Looking towards the site of 28 Jameson Avenue, 2021. Source: Google Maps

 

 

Useful Links

Bateman, Chris. “The Lost Streets of South Parkdale.” Spacing Toronto, 4 Mar. 2017, www. spacing.ca/toronto/2017/03/04/lost-streets-south-parkdale/

“Digital Toronto City Directories : Toronto City Directories.” Toronto Public Library, http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/history-genealogy/lh-digital-city-directories.jsp.

The Dreams Attached to Places: From Suburb, to Slum, to Urban Village in a Toronto Neighbourhood, 1875-2002, Carolyn Whitxman, MA. A Thesis PDF

“Frank Westwood.” Mount Pleasant Group, http://www.mountpleasantgroup.com/en-CA/General-Information/Our%20Monthly%20Story/story-archives/mount-pleasant-cemetery/Frank%20Westwood.aspx.

Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era, goadstoronto.blogspot.com/.

Richard. “# 57 ~ The Strange Case of the Parkdale Mystery.” Toronto Then and Now, 1 Jan. 1970, torontothenandnow.blogspot.com/2015/05/57-strange-case-of-parkdale-mystery.html.

Undine. A Murder in Toronto, 1 Jan. 1970, strangeco.blogspot.com/2017/03/a-murder-in-toronto.html.

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 The Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens

The Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens is a beautiful park in midtown Toronto which dates back almost ninety years. The cause to memorialize its namesake Alexander Muir was so great that he had the gardens dedicated to him twice.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 2020. Source: Google Maps.

The first Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens was located near Lawton Boulevard. It was in a triangular plot of land caused by the unusual eastward veering of Yonge Street near Heath Street. The “correction” was made to directly align Yonge Street in the original Town of York with Lake Simcoe when the street was originally surveyed in the 1790s. Yellow Creek flowed through the park.

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

With construction beginning in 1933, the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens were officially opened on August 6, 1934. It was established 24 years after Muir’s death on June 26, 1906. The Gardens were located directly across Mount Pleasant Cemetery — his final resting spot.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1934. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

“Alexander Muir Memorial Garden Officially Opened”, The Globe August 7, 1934. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1947. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The entrance to the gardens featured an ornamental gate at Yonge Street. This led to an impressive stone wall and terrace with a carving of a verse of ‘The Maple Leaf Forever” — Alexander Muir’s best known work. In the garden were 1,000 rose bushes and a well-manicured lawn. In the north of the park was a sunken rockery garden and lily pools below a willow tree. Other ‘Canadian’ trees and Japanese cherry trees were also planted.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens Gates, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens with Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens ravine or pond, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Alexander Muir himself was a hero of sorts of old, colonial, British Toronto, so the appetite to pay tribute to him in the 1930s was high, especially with centennial celebration of incorporation of the City of Toronto happening in the decade. Among other identities, Muir was a patriot, educator, and composer. In addition to Yonge Street, Muir’s geographic footprint stretches across Toronto from Scarborough to Leslieville to Little Portugal — all school sites associated with him late 19th century.

Muir, Alexander, 1830-1906, 1855. Source: Toronto Public Library.

His ‘Maple Leaf Forever’ is an anthem for British Canada. Its original lyrics made a point of celebrating General Wolfe — the man who led the English to victory over the French at the Plains of Abraham — and highlighted scrimmages in the War of 1812 — a conflict used heavily in the construction of  ‘Canadiana’. His funeral in 1906 was “impressive” and attended by “hundreds”, including the many older Toronto organizations Muir was affiliated with — the Loyal Orange Association, the York Pioneers, the Independent Order of Oddfellows, and others.

Muir, Alexander, gravestone, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 1920. Source: Toronto Public Library.

In the 1950s, Toronto’s character was changing — both culturally and physically. The coming of Yonge Street subway almost spelled the disappearance of the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. The Toronto Transit Commission needed to fill in the ravine to make way for the Davisville Yard. The TTC eventually pledged to cover the $100,000 cost of moving the memorial. Proposed new sites for the gardens included on Lawton Boulevard itself which would have removed four houses and on Gladstone Avenue where Muir himself once worked. Eventually, a spot only several blocks north on Yonge Street was chosen.

“Subway Forces Move of Muir Memorial”, The Globe, December 29, 1950. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.

Davisville Yard, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The new location for the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens was located near St. Edmunds Drive. The Lawrence Park neighbourhood was laid out in 1908 as a garden suburb with winding streets and comfortably sized lots. It also kept a ravine space extending south from the southeast corner of Yonge and Lawrence as parkland. This area would come to house the new Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. In preparation, several hundred trees were cut down. A red maple from the old park was also moved to the new park.

Lawrence Park, 1934. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Lawrence Park, 1947. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The new Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens opened in Lawrence Park on May 28, 1952. Impressively, the wall and terrace were reconstructed in the new location and new trees and gardens were landscaped. A new, maple leaf-ornamented plaque was added to the gates to mark the occasion.

“Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens,”, The Globe, May 23, 1952. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1952. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens terrace, 1952. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

A walk through the Alexander Muir Gardens today is a marvel. Leading from the gates is almost a labyrinth of paths and corners to discover. Well-presented flora and accompanying fauna catch one’s eye at almost every look.

 

Leading off the spacious lawn in the west part of the Alexander Muir Gardens, the park’s contours show themselves on the way up to Dawlish Avenue. This tree-covered topography hides Burke Brook, a Don River tributary. Following Alexander Muir Road past the tennis and lawn bowling courts, the trail continues through several parks ending at Sunnybrook Park.

As it has historically, the central wall and stairs rightfully remain the focal point of the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. In its modern use, the structure is best known as a popular destination for wedding parties. One wonders how much would-be brides and grooms and other park users have a look at the additional words of re-dedication which accompany the poem by Muir and reflect on his legacy and origins of the park. With everything that may come with it, Muir loved his country, and his profession in education is generally a commendable one.

In a current social climate in which the focus of commemorating Toronto history should be on untold stories rather than its colonial figures, these Memorial Gardens likely would not be a priority if they were created today. But alas, their visual beauty is a positive. Alexander Muir and his poem still live on today within the park.

Scenes From Rouge National Urban Park – Twyn Rivers Drive & Orchard Trail

Twyn Rivers Drive is a curious street in the eastern fringes of Toronto. In a larger metropolis where farms and fields have been replaced by residences and populations, Twyn Rivers Drive is slightly rural in nature and still has visible links to its past.

Twyn Rivers Drive, 2020. Source: Google Maps

Country within The City

Located in the Rouge River Valley, Twyn Rivers Drive’s rural character is very well apparent. First, it’s a two-lane street lacking any sidewalks. Motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, and even wildlife all have to carefully negotiate use of the street. Like some country roads, Twyn Rivers’ route across the valley is not direct. There are slopes, curves, and two near 90 degree turns. It has to navigate what may be the most varied topography in the city. Its path starts with a winding descent from Scarborough’s Sheppard Avenue and eventually on the other side on Sheppard Avenue…in Pickering.

Twyn Rivers Drive, 2018. Source: Google Maps.

Twyn Rivers From The Pleistocene of the Toronto Region, 1932. Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

A History of Twyn Rivers Drive

The historical beginnings of Twyn Rivers Drive is an obvious question, but unfortunately, it does not have an obvious answer. It is old for sure. A September 2017 City of Toronto Traffic Operations Review characterizes Twyn Rivers Drive as “a legacy road from colonial times” and speculates that it is about 200 years old. A June 2017 CBC article says Twyn Rivers Drive is “more than 100-years old” and its main purpose was to get horses to the mills in the valley. Neither report provide any historical context to back up the claims. Twyn Rivers Drive seems to first appear in a 1916 map of Toronto and its surrounding townships, so a hundred years may be accurate at the least.

Twyn Rivers from Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library

The naming of Twyn Rivers Drive likely also goes back to its geography. It possibly derives from the Clarence Purcell’s ‘Twyn Waters’ ranch located in the Rouge Valley on what is now Twyn Rivers Drive. The twin rivers in this case are the famed Rouge River and its lesser known brother, the Little Rouge Creek. It is unknown when Twyn Rivers Drive was actually named, but the Twyn Waters ranch existed by the 1930s.

“Picnikers Enjoy Western Hospitality,” Globe and Mail, July 6, 1939. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

Twyn Rivers Drive in Might’s Greater Toronto city directory, 1969. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Two Rivers, Two Bridges

Twyn Rivers Drive travels over two bridges over the mentioned waterways. The first of these over the Rouge River is a single-lane, metal truss construction. It is named “Stott’s Bridge“. Few details are available about the age and origin of this bridge, but it seems to share a surname with William Stotts, who had his estate house, Glen Eagles Manor, further up the hill at the modern junction of Twyn Rivers Drive and Sheppard Avenue East. The house later became the Glen Eagles Hotel.

Stott’s Bridge, 2019. Source: Google Maps.

William Stotts from Nason’s east and west ridings of the county of York or townships of Etobicoke, Markham, Scarboro’, Vaughan & York directory, 1871. Stott’s property was located on Concession 2 (now Ellesmere Road), on north half of lot #3. He is listed as a freeholding farmer. Highland Creek likely denotes the post office Stotts used. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Twyn Rivers From Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

The second causeway is a white arched bridge over the Little Rouge Creek. “Maxwell’s Bridge” is a concrete structure which accommodates two lane traffic. It is at least the second or possibly third version of a water crossing in this location. An antique wooden bridge collapsed in 1914 after a heavy vehicle passed over it. A new bridge was soon ordered to be built. In 1927, Scarboro Township Council funded the construction of a new rainbow arch bridge with a 60-foot span at a cost of $7,797. Several other arch bridges were built in the Nineteen Tens and Nineteen Twenties Kirkham’s Road over the Rouge River in 1910, Don River Boulevard over the West Don River in 1928, and Don Mills Road over the Don River in 1921.

“Antique Bridge Collapses”, Toronto Daily Star, August 7, 1914. Source: Toronto Public Library and Toronto Star Archives.

“BRIDGE AT KIRKHAM’S MILLS”, Globe and Mail, September 13, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives

Maxwell’s Mill

Nearby Maxwell’s Bridge where Twyn Rivers Drive does its second bend are the ruins of a grist mill named “Maxwell’s Mill”. The site was built by a James Maxwell in the 1800s. In 1923, Maxwell sold it to Clarence Purcell who used it to raise livestock on his Twyn Waters ranch.

Twyn Rivers from Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York, 1878. Maxwell’s Mill is the Grist Mill labelled on his lot. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

James Maxwell from Nason’s east and west ridings of the county of York or townships of Etobicoke, Markham, Scarboro’, Vaughan & York directory, 1871. Maxwell is listed as a flour mill freeholder with a Post Office at Rouge Hill. His plot of land was located at Concession 3 (now Sheppard Avenue) on lot #2. Source: Toronto Public Library.

MEN OF TREES FAIR AT ‘TWYN WATERS’, Globe and Mail, September 24, 1941. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

The mill closed in 1929 after a flood weakened it and a fire in the 1970s destroyed much of what remained. Some of the foundations and walls still stand today. An image of Maxwell’s Mill is available on the Scarborough Historical Society’s website.

Mill stone at the Rouge river Twyn River Estate. Toronto, Ont., 1957. Source: Toronto Public Library

The Rouge Valley Inn & Caper Valley Ski Hill

The Rouge Valley Inn (later called the Rouge Valley Olympic Inn) was located on the south side of Twyn Rivers Drive slightly before the Scarborough-Pickering Townline. The site was a major Scarborough attraction in the twentieth century with a hotel, dining, picnicking for families, and “the largest swimming pool in Ontario.” Ambrose Small, the 20th century Ontario theatre titan who mysteriously disappeared in 1919, owned the Rouge Valley Inn for a time starting around 1900.

“Everyday Outings”, Globe and Mail, June 25, 1958. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

“Rouge Valley Guests” Globe and Mail, August 9, 1940. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

“$500 Reward,” Toronto Daily Star, January 6, 1920. Source: Toronto Public Library and Toronto Star Archives.

Across the Little Rouge Creek from the Rouge Valley Inn was the Caper Valley Ski Slope, also known as ‘Snake Hill’ for those who used to frequent it. Along with Earl Bales Park and other establishments, it was one of a handful of areas in Metro Toronto that offered the winter passtime. It was operated by Repac, whose name spelled backwards gave the ski hill its moniker. A footbridge linked the inn and the ski slope.

“School children taper at weekly ski outing”, Globe and Mail, January 6, 1972. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe and Mail Archives.

Caper Valley Ski Hill, 1975. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Twyn Rivers Transformed

By the end of the 1970s, much of the historic landmarks of Twyn Rivers Drive disappeared from its geography. Fire claimed both the Rouge Valley Inn in 1968 and Maxwell’s Mill in 1970. The former site of the hotel is now the parking lot for the Twyn Rivers Rouge Park area. The mill’s ruins make for an interesting place for urban explores. Clarence Purcell sold his Twyn Waters ranch to the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in 1970, which after Hurricane Hazel in 1954 began to buy other valley and ravine properties for parkland. Today, there are very few residences located in Rouge Valley.

Twyn Rivers Drive, 1953 & 1975. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

By 1973, the Caper Valley Ski Hill was reporting financial difficulty and it too closed by the end of the decade. It now makes for challenging hike in Rouge Park’s Mast Trail. Finally, the Glen Eagles Hotel was also destroyed by fire in 1990, and is now the Glen Eagles Vista park. The site was nearly made condos. Today, most of these are owned and/or managed by Parks Canada.

Glen Eagles Hotel Fire, 1990. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Twyn Rivers Today

Today, Twyn Rivers is quite the nexus for Rouge National Urban Park, being the starting and ending point of multiple trails. The first source of exploration can be enjoyed around the Rouge Park parking lot. The area is situated on the Little Rouge Creek where the foundations of a former dam still stand. A makeshift footbridge crosses the creek where one can walk in the lost tracks of skiers on Snake Hill.

The Orchard Trail

Near Maxwell’s Mill is the southern terminus of the Orchard Trail. The two-kilometre walk slinks within the forest where apple trees grow today. It also offers vistas of the Little Rouge Creek. A particularly stunning area is the ascent/descent near the north end of the trail.

References

clay70, et al. Purcell’s Mill – Twyn Rivers. www.ontarioabandonedplaces.com/Purcell’s-Mill—Twyn-Rivers-abandoned-Ontario_loc5901.html.

Hikingthegta. “Maxwell’s Mill – Rouge Park.” Hiking the GTA, 24 Nov. 2016, hikingthegta.com/2016/11/23/maxwells-mill-rouge-park/.

Noonan, Larry. “STORIES FROM ROUGE PARK: Hurricane Hazel Also Blasted Rouge Valley.” Toronto.com, Toronto.com, 7 June 2016, www.toronto.com/news-story/6709710-stories-from-rouge-park-hurricane-hazel-also-blasted-rouge-valley/.

Noonan, Larry. “STORIES FROM ROUGE PARK: Recalling the Time the Glen Eagles Lands Were Saved from Condo Developers.” Toronto.com, Toronto.com, 4 June 2015, www.toronto.com/news-story/5661631-stories-from-rouge-park-recalling-the-time-the-glen-eagles-lands-were-saved-from-condo-developers/.

Noonan, Larry. “STORIES FROM ROUGE PARK: Rouge Valley Inn’s Owner Was the Subject of Canada’s Largest Manhunt.” Toronto.com, Toronto.com, 2 July 2015, www.toronto.com/news-story/5705937-stories-from-rouge-park-rouge-valley-inn-s-owner-was-the-subject-of-canada-s-largest-manhunt/.

Noonan, Larry. “STORIES FROM ROUGE PARK: The Ruins of Maxwell’s Mill Can Still Be Seen While Driving along Twyn Rivers Drive in Scarborough.” Toronto.com, Toronto.com, 31 Dec. 2015, www.toronto.com/news-story/6214521-stories-from-rouge-park-the-ruins-of-maxwell-s-mill-can-still-be-seen-while-driving-along-twyn-rivers-drive-in-scarborough/.

Parks Canada Agency, Government of Canada. “Twyn Rivers Area.” Twyn Rivers Area – Rouge National Urban Park, 12 Apr. 2019, www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/rouge/culture/histoire-history/twyn.

“Pickering Bygone Days.” DurhamRegion.com, 5 May 2015, www.durhamregion.com/community-story/5600442-pickering-bygone-days/.

Scarborough Historical Society, scarboroughhistorical.ca/local-history/communities/hillside/.

“Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests.” Google Books, Google, books.google.ca/books?id=2Q37CAAAQBAJ.

“Who Should Use This 100-Year-Old Scarborough Road? Not Trucks, Says Resident | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 19 July 2017, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/twyn-rivers-drive-what-should-happen-1.4212333.

The History of College Street and University Avenue

University Avenue and College Street have obvious scholarly connotations. Although the main landmark where these two streets intersect is a political institution, what once stood at the site gives us a fascinating insight into their history, including the lost streets within them.

Aerial of University Avenue and College Street, 2020. Credit: Google Maps.

A New University

In 1827, John Strachan, the archdeacon of the Town of York, was looking for a university for the new colonial settlement. After visiting England, he received a charter for a new school, naming it King’s College, in honour of the monarch of the time. About 150 acres of land was acquired, consisting of park lots 13, 12, and 11 of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s land division system.

1827 Chewett Plan of the Town of York. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The assembled land came via three prominent men of early colonial Toronto — D’arcy Boulton (lot 13), Justice William Dummer Powell (lot 12), and John Elmsley (lot 11) — and roughly stretched from today’s Beverley Street to Bay Street and College Street to Bloor Street.

York commercial directory, street guide, and register, 1833-4 : with almanack and calendar for 1834. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1834 Chewett City of Toronto and Liberties. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The College Avenue

Along with that 150 acres, two private paths were also laid out: one extending from the property to Lot Street (later Queen Street) — known as The Queen Street Avenue in news articles and maps — and the other to Yonge Street — known as The Yonge Street Avenue. Collectively, these were known as The College Avenue.

City of Toronto in 1834 by E.G.A. Foster ca. 1934. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Famed architect John Howard was charged with the designing the campus for the new King’s College. The palatial-like structure was intended to evoke grandure. Although his design was ultimately not used, Howard contributed to the would-be campus in 1832 with entrance gates and lodges at Queen Street, controlling access to the university property. Gates were also installed at Yonge Street in 1842 but a gatehouse did not go up until 1852. It is unclear if there were barriers on the western end of the Yonge Street Avenue near modern-day Beverley Street.

King’s College (Proposed), 1835. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, University Ave., n. side of Queen St. W., 1870. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, University Ave., n. side, Queen St. W.; lodge, n.w. corner Queen St. & University Ave., 1885. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gates, College St., w. side of Yonge St., 1875. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The End of King’s College & the new University of Toronto

King’s College finally opened in 1843, although Thomas Young rather than John Howard was responsible for the final design. This was the eastern wing of what was intended to be a larger structure. The building was used as a residence with classes being held on Front Street. Much debate plagued the university specifically on whether it should be religiously affiliated.

King’s College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings., circa 1850s. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The only-five-year-old structure shut its doors in 1848. The following year, King’s College was no more, becoming the University of Toronto on January 1st, 1850. In the following decade, the unused residence became a Lunatic Asylum for Women. In a search for a site for the national government, a plan fell through in the 1850s to use the Queen’s Park grounds for Parliament Building and Government House. The King’s College building was not part of the plans.

Plan of part of the city of Toronto shewing the town lots on Bellevue for sale by the trustees for the Denison Estate March 1854. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The University of Toronto established University College in 1853, opening just west of the King’s College site along with a Medical School and Observatory. In 1859, the University of Toronto leased the land around the building to the City of Toronto for 999 years for a public park. This became University Park — or Queen’s Park — as opened by the Prince of Wales in the following year. A provision allowed for a potential future site for the Ontario Parliament, which at the time met at Front Street and Simcoe Street.

Campus Map of area bounded by College, St. George, Bloor and Surrey Place [Plan of the University Park], c. 1859. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto

Kings College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings., 1859. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

A Long, Tree-Lined Avenue

The original laying out College Avenue in 1832 consisted of trees and shrubs were mingled together as a sort of wildwood. Famed American landscape gardener André Parmentier designed the road and grounds. Beginning in the 1840s, maps depict trees lining both College Avenues, creating a grand yet exclusive path to the university. Newspaper publisher John Ross Robertson wrote that a Mark Fitzpatrick, the gatekeeper of the College Avenue gatehouse, was responsible for planting the chestnut trees, which had to be brought in from the United States of America. On his visit to Canada in 1842, author Charles Dickens wrote positively on College Avenue: “a long avenue, which is already planted and made available as a public walk.”

Topographical Plan of the City and Liberties of Toronto, In the Province of Canada, Surveyed Drawn and Published by James Cane Tophl Engr, 1842. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The Toronto directory and street guide, for 1843-4. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Rowsell’s city of Toronto and county of York directory for 1850-1. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Provincial Exhibition (1852), University Ave., west side, between (approx.) Elm & Orde Sts. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Park Lane, University Street, and Avenue Street

In 1842, Park Lane (named after the scenic London street of the same name) was laid out adjacent to College Avenue on its east side from Queen Street to King’s College. Unlike College Avenue, this parallel road was public and largely residential. Park Lane seems to have also had a small right of way running eastward to opposite Surrey Place. It is renamed at some point to Avenue Street.

Brown’s Toronto city and Home District directory 1846-7. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1858 WS Boulton: Atlas of the City of Toronto and Vicinity. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Caverhill’s Toronto city directory for 1859-60. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

By 1861, Park Lane was renamed to University Street. Avenue Street kept its name, however.

Brown’s Toronto General Directory 1861. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1862 HJ Browne Plan of the City of Toronto. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

In 1873, the Canadian Journal of Science, Literature, and History lamented the change in name from Park Lane to University Street. The journal wrote that the street was originally named ‘Park Lane’ by the donor of the land to make the street and was analogous to the London street of the same name. The street would have invoked thoughts of ‘noble and interesting part’ of Toronto. The naming to University was uncalled for and unfitting, especially as there was a much wider, adjacent street with almost the same name.

1872 Wadsworth & Unwin Map of the City of Toronto – Tax Exemptions. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Credit: 1873 Canadian Journal of Science Literature and History

1872 Wadsworth & Unwin Map of the City of Toronto – Tax Exemptions. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

1874 Hart & Rawlinson City of Toronto with Fire Limits. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

1876 PA Gross Bird’s Eye View of Toronto. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The 1880s

In 1881, at least one reader in The Globe was unhappy with the shabby state of the chestnut trees along College Avenue. He also angrily lamented over Toronto Council’s decision to replace the gate between College Avenue and University Street with post and bars.

“The College Avenues” The Globe July 7, 1881. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

Gates, University Ave., north side of Queen St. West, looking north. Toronto, Ont., 1880. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In the same decade, the Ontario government proposed a new site for the Legislative Buildings on Queen’s Park. A map from 1880 labels the former Lunatic Asylum and King’s College building as an “old building to be demolished”. It was indeed razed in 1886 and the current Ontario Legislature were opened on the site in 1892.

King’s College, Queen’s Park, e. side of Parliament Buildings, 1886. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Site of the proposed parliament buildings, Ontario. Queen’s Park, 1880. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Construction of Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park, 1891. Credit: Archives of Ontario.

In the same year of King’s College’s destruction, property owners with land abutting onto the Yonge Street Avenue complained of the gate separating their property from the street.

1884 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

“The Property Committee: An Effort to be Made to Settle the College Avenue Matters” The Globe, Aug 31, 1886. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

A New University Avenue and College Street

In 1896, the College Avenue was renamed and separated into two differently named streets. The Queen Street Avenue became University Avenue, merging the wider College Avenue and the narrower University Street. A row of trees separated the two former roads.

“Brand New Names” The Globe June 12, 1896. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

The Yonge Street Avenue became part of an existing College Street which existed to its west.

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

1899 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto

There was also a proposal in the 1890s to run electrified streetcar lines up University Avenue, replacing horse-drawn cars on parallel McCaul Street. The scheme did not go through, although rapid transit would come to the street some sixty years later.

Looking s. from Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park., 1893. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“To Electricity” The Globe, July 27, 1894. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Ave., looking s. from College St., 1898. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Looking s. from Parliament Buildings, Queen’s Park., 1900. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Improvements, Loss, and Renewal in the 20th Century

By the first decades of the 20th century, College Street and University Avenue maintain some of their chestnut trees planted many decades ago. The fences that separated the old University Street and College Avenue, along with the barrier blocking properties on the old Yonge Street Avenues, are removed. The gatehouse at Yonge Street disappeared on maps in the 1890s and the gatehouse at Queen Street are removed by 1910. College Street ran a horse-drawn streetcar since 1887, which was electrified in the following decade under a Carlton streetcar route.

College St., s. side, betw. University Ave. & Elizabeth St., 1907. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1910 Toronto Fire Insurance Map. Credit: Goads Toronto.

Toronto General Hospital, looking east along College Street from University Avenue, 1912. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

College Street, looking west from Yonge Street, 1916. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Victoria, Birthday, 1923, looking n. on University Ave. from Queen St. W.. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1930, changes came to both College Street and University Avenue. In the former, College Street from Yonge Street to Queen’s Park was widened to match with the section further west. University Avenue was also extended south of Queen Street to Front Street in that same year.

University Avenue extension, 1929-30. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Aerial view of downtown from the northwest, 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Canada Life Building, University Avenue from 16th floor, horizontal, 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Northeast corner University Avenue and College Street — College Street Widening, 1930.

In an early attempt of commemoration, The Globe remembered Toronto’s past in 1934 by displaying the history of College Street and the gates leading into King’s College.

“King’s College and Its Massive Gates at College and Yonge Streets” The Globe, April 25, 1934. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Avenue itself was also widened in 1948, particularly the old University Street. Traffic was separated in north-south directions on either side of the median with the old College Avenue taking southbound vehicles and the old University Street taking northbound vehicles. By this point, most of the original trees from the prior century were gone.

UNIVERSITY AVE., looking s. from Ontario Hydro Building, University Ave., s.w. corner Orde St.; showing Elm St. in right foreground., 1944. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“University Avenue Widening Costing $900,000 Hastened.” The Globe and Mail, March 20, 1947. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

University Avenue East side left south – widening, 1948. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

University Avenue looking north from Queen Street, 1950. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1960s, University Avenue was unfortunately reduced to a shabby state. A firm re-landscaped the central median of the boulevard with internal gardens and planters. In 1963, the University Subway line opened under the avenue.

University Avenue, looking north, from south of College Street, 1960s. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

University & College Today

Today, the view up University Avenue from Queen Street presents a great lead-up to the majestic Queen’s Park. In this way, it invokes its past as a grand corridor. Although times have understandably changed, lost are the gatehouses, fences, and trees that marked the 19th century. The busy intersection of College Street at Yonge Street contains fewer signs of its past as a gateway to King’s College.

Queen Street and University Avenue, 2018. Credit: Google Maps.

College Street and Yonge Street, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

University Avenue and College Street, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

Sources

Arthur, Eric. 2017. Toronto, No Mean City. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bozikovic, Alex. 2017. “Hidden Landmarks: Why Toronto Is at the Forefront of the Landscape Architecture Movement.” The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/hidden-landmarks-why-toronto-is-at-the-forefront-of-the-landscape-architecture-movement/article24228077/

“Brand New Names” The Globe, June 12, 1896.

Brown’s Toronto city and Home District directory 1846-7.

Brown’s Toronto general directory, 1856.

Brown’s Toronto General Directory, 1861.

Bunch, Adam. 2014. “The Long-Lost Chestnut Trees of University Avenue.” Spacing Toronto. http://spacing.ca/toronto/2014/04/15/long-lost-chestnut-trees-university-avenue/.

Canadian Journal of Science, Literature and History. 1873. “XXXVI – Queen Street – York Street” 13.

Caverhill’s Toronto city directory for 1859-60.

Filey, Mike. 2012. Toronto Sketches 11: “The Way We Were”. Dundurn.

Filey, Mike. 2016. “University Ave. – Toronto’s Other Controversial Thoroughfare.” Toronto Sun. https://torontosun.com/2016/12/01/university-ave—-torontos-other-controversial-thoroughfare/wcm/11a3c2a9-43d5-47f1-8be4-aefb5423c499.

“Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era.” 2020. Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era. Accessed March 26. http://goadstoronto.blogspot.com/.

“Heritage U of T.” 2020. U Of T Chronology | Heritage U of T. Accessed March 26. https://heritage.utoronto.ca/exhibits/chronology.

“Historical Maps of Toronto.” 2020. Historical Maps of Toronto. Accessed March 26. http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.com/.

“Home.” 2020. Toronto Public Library. Accessed March 26. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/.

HONSBERGER, JOHN. 2004 . OSGOODE HALL: an Illustrated History. Dundurn.

Marshall, Sean. 2017. “Mapping Toronto’s Streetcar Network: The Age of Electric – 1891 to 1921.” Marshall’s Musings. https://seanmarshall.ca/2016/12/15/mapping-torontos-streetcar-network-the-age-of-electric-1891-to-1921/.

McClelland, Michael and Steward, Brendan. 2014. “ERA Architects.” University Ave.: A Heritage Landscape of Value? | ERA Architects. http://www.eraarch.ca/2014/university-ave-a-heritage-landscape-of-value/.

“King’s College and Its Massive Gates at College and Yonge Streets” The Globe, April 25, 1934.

“King’s College University.” 2020. Simcoes Gentry Torontos Park Lots RSS. Accessed March 26. https://torontofamilyhistory.org/simcoesgentry/11/kings-college.

Robertson, John Ross. 1894. Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1.

Rowsell’s city of Toronto and county of York directory for 1850-1.
“There’s Something Creepy about the Ontario Legislature Building at Queen’s Park.” Toronto Life. https://torontolife.com/food/urban-decoder-history-5/.

“To Electricity” The Globe, July 27, 1894.

The Toronto directory and street guide, for 1843-4.

“Transit Toronto.” Route 506 – The Carlton Streetcar – Transit Toronto – Content. Accessed March 26. https://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4105.shtml.

“University Avenue Widening Costing $900,000 Hastened.” The Globe and Mail, March 20, 1947.

University College. Accessed March 26 2020. http://www.lostrivers.ca/content/points/UC.html.

Welcome to the Archives of Ontario. Accessed March 26 2020. http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/index.aspx.

“Welcome to Queen’s Park.” 2020. Welcome to Queen’s Park Historical Plaque. Accessed March 26. http://torontoplaques.com/Pages/Welcome_to_Queens_Park.html.

York commercial directory, street guide, and register, 1833-4 : with almanack and calendar for 1834.

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 Toronto Railway Museum & Roundhouse Park

Since the train first tracks in the 1850s, Toronto’s railways have been a big part of its geography and history. They connect the city and its surroundings, joining neighbourhoods and people. They were also the driving force of industry. Founded in 2001, the Toronto Railway Museum tells their stories. One finds it across the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, and Ripley’s Aquarium in the appropriately named Roundhouse Park.

Map of Toronto’s Railways, date unknown. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Operated by the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the Toronto Railway Museum is based in the great John Street Roundhouse and the surrounding Roundhouse Park. The location is appropriate: Toronto’s railway corridor extended east and west of Union Station and was once the nexus of the city’s transportation network. In many ways, it still is.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 1969. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The John Street Roundhouse was part of that infrastructure. The structure itself was built by Canadian Pacific Railway between 1929 and 1931 as a maintenance and storage facility and to allow trains to, well, turn around.

As an interpretive experience, Toronto Railway Museum is immersive. It starts with an interior space in the Roundhouse’s Stall 17. There are maps and train memorabilia. There’s even a simulator which allows you to conduct a train around historic Toronto.

Outside, it functions as an open air museum. Well-produced plaques are located around park, often near significant landmarks. There are of course some train cars, some of which allow entry inside.

Most notable to me is the marker about the Workers of John Street. Most of Roundhouse Park’s landmarks highlight something physically awing like the Water Tower or a Canadian National Railway train, but this plaque focuses on the easily forgotten human element behind this tough industry.

Of course, Don Station is a remarkable site too. It is part of Toronto’s lost geography of bygone railway stations, companies, structures, and tracks. It operated 1896 to 1967 at Queen Street and the Don River. Then it spent time at Todmorden Mills until 2008 when it was moved to Roundhouse Park and subsequently restored. It also serves the museum’s gift shop and departure point for the park’s own train rides.

CPR Don Station looking west, 1910. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Goads Map, 1913. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

John Street Roundhouse closed in 1986. It marked an era where the railways were taking a bit of a backseat in Toronto’s development. Industry within the city was declining as manufacturing moved elsewhere. The physical lands of the railroads shifted too. Tracks were removed and lands — and some remaining sites — were redeveloped for new residential, commecial, and entertainment uses.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The Corridor just south Union Station saw a lot of this transformation. In 1976, the CN Tower was completed. The 1980s saw opening of the Metro Convention Centre and SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). The latter actually replaced another roundhouse. Using the facade of the old Postal Delivery Building, the Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) came in 1999 as the new home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and newly created Toronto Raptors. Since then, a condo community has grown up around it since as well as a fan area called Maple Leaf Square in 2010. Most recently, the area got the impressive Ripleys Aquarium in 2013.

Union Station Railway Corridor, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

The John Street Roundhouse was designated a National Historic Site in 1990. Its heritage value comes from being the best example of a roundhouse in the country — its turntable actually works! Roundhouse Park opened around it in 1997 to further its legacy. In 1999, the roundhouse’s stalls became home to the aptly-named Steam Whistle Brewery and then Leon’s in 2009 (it closed for the Rec Room two years ago).

In 2019, the John Street Roundhouse celebrates its 90th birthday, making it a good time to reflect on its related history and geography. And stories. Lot of stories.

Useful Links

Old Time Trains

Toronto’s Railway Heritage by Derek Boles

Toronto Railway Historical Association

Toronto Railway Museum

Dating the Undated: A Look Down Bay Street

I came across an old photo in the Toronto Public Library digital catalog. Taken from Old City Hall, the shot looks south on Bay Street and features its massive towers overlooking the street life below. The photographer is the great Boris Spremo. The source is Toronto Star Archives. The date is…unknown.

Canada – Ontario – Toronto – Streets and Intersections – Bay St, Date Unknown. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Unknown? It had to have been taken at some point in time. Thus, I began my efforts to date the photo.

I attempted a similar exercise to date an undated map also in the Toronto Public Library’s collection. With the input of Twitter users, some research, and dating landmarks within the map (the railways, streets, parks), I was able to narrow the image down to about 1885.

What about our view of Bay Street? The photo is black and white which means it is not quite recent, but it appears more modern than early looks up and down Bay Street. Mid-century sounds about right.

Bay St., looking north from Adelaide St. W., Toronto, Ont., 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Bay St., looking north from north of King St., Toronto, Ont. 1928. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The landmarks within the shot and their years of completion offer a big help. Beyond telling us that a good portion of modern Bay Street dates to 1920s and 1930s, the photo had to have been taken later than the ‘youngest’ tower: the Bank of Nova Scotia of 1951.

All of these landmarks survive today except for one: The Temple Building. It was sadly lost in 1970. So, our picture range is set: 1951-1970.

The Temple Building before demolition, 1969. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

To narrow it further one can look at the cars. I’ve seen this method to date photos before. I’m not an expert on automobile makes, but I guess these to be from the 1950s or 1960s as well.

Flying above Hudson’s Bay is the Canadian Red Ensign. Above the Bank of Nova Scotia are two Union Jacks. Why are these details significant? Canada was using these two flags as its national symbol until 1965. In that year, the Maple Leaf was adopted.

The photographer and his story offer the final clue. Boris Spremo began his photojournalism career in 1962 at the Globe & Mail. In 1966, he moved to the Toronto Star where he built his most famous body of work. Thus, the earliest he could have taken the photo of Bay Street was 1966.

A puzzler: If the Canadian National Flag came in 1965 and Spremo started at the Star in 1966, why the old flags still?

One thought is the flag debate was still fresh after 1965. I imagine people (and businesses) were still loyal to The Union Jack and Red Canadian Ensign (and Great Britain). The old flag in 1966 would not have been unheard of.

So when was the picture taken? I say somewhere between 1966 and 1970.

As a final note, Spremo actually returned to the tower of Old City Hall in 1976 to retake the shot. It is very similar to his photo from a decade earlier, save for the noticeable absence and replacement of the Temple Building.

Bay Street, 1976. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Edit:

Since writing this article, Twitter users Sean Marshall, Alex Bozikovic, and Donald Walker have brought one large clue to my attention. Hidden down at street level under all the towers I previously used to date the image was the old Bank of Toronto (later becoming the Toronto-Dominion Bank through mergers) on the southwest corner of King & Bay Streets. The trademark columns are not too visible but the sloped roof certainly is. The key here is demolition of the TD Bank to make way for the TD Centre began in the spring of 1966.

Toronto Dominion Bank, King Street West and Bay Street, 1962. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Toronto-Dominion bank demolition, 1966. Photo also by Boris Spremo. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

This would place the photo to 1965 or slightly earlier as the structure was still standing. This works better as a date when also considering the old flags. Either this was pre-February 15, 1965 and the switchover had not happened yet or it was during an ‘adjustment period’ right after the new Canadian Flag was introduced as I theorized.

As for Spremo starting at the Star in 1966? Perhaps I placed too much weight on this and he may just have had the photo already with him when he joined the newspaper!

Scenes From The Danforth (Broadview Avenue to Pape Avenue)

For a history of Danforth Avenue, a good place to start is the Playter Farmhouse at the head of Playter Boulevard on Playter Crescent. Although the family had roots in Toronto since the 1790s with land holdings east and west of the Don River, the house was not built until the 1870s.

When the Playters came here, virtually nothing of modern reference existed. Danforth Avenue was laid out as Concession II in the 1790s when York Township was surveyed, but it did not become a usable road until 1851 when the Don and Danforth Plank Road Co. redid the street. Broadview Avenue north of Danforth was known as Mill Road or Don Mill and also was laid out in the 1790s while south of Danforth the street came by the 1860s. Modern day Ellerbeck, Pretoria, and Cambridge Avenues were the first local streets to appear around that time.

Danforth Avenue in the JO Browne Map of the Township of York, 1851. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto

Danforth Avenue in Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The Playters sold off their land over the coming decades and the street grid gradually took its present shape. By the 1920s, Bayfield Crescent looped around the remaining Playter property to surround the old farmhouse. What we today call the Playter Estates came to be filled with beautiful now multi-million dollar Edwardian homes with the occasional Ontario workers’ cottage, hinting at the perhaps humble origins of its early residents.

Today, Broadview Avenue and Danforth Avenue is a gate into the eastern part of the city. Once upon a time however, this part of the city just ended. There was no bridge across the Don River. Anyone looking to travel between Riverdale and Toronto had to go south to Gerrard Street or Queen Street.

Danforth and Broadview avenues before viaduct, looking east, ca. 1908. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Despite the Toronto’s annexation of Riverdale south of the Danforth in 1884 and the village of Chester (made up the former Playter lands) north of the Danforth in 1909, the eastern part of the city remained disconnected from the core of the city for some time. Around 1900, Danforth Avenue and the areas north and south of the street were sparsely populated. There were less than twenty structures between Broadview and Jones, most of them houses!

Danforth Avenue, 1903. Credit: Toronto Historic Maps.

Several developments in the 1910s began to change things. Beginning in 1912, Danforth Avenue was paved and widened to 86 feet. In October of the following year, the Toronto Civic Railway opened the Danforth Civic Streetcar Line to much local support. A Globe article described the scene of 25,000 converging on the street to celebrate — even blocking the cars from passing!

Danforth Avenue east of Broadview Avenue during civic car line construction, Aug 1912. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“VAST THRONG IN STREET BLOCKS NEW CAR SERVICE” The Globe, October 31, 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

Danforth Avenue, looking east from Broadview Avenue, 1914. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth and Broadview Ave [Toronto, Ont.]., 1920. Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

Finally, after many debates of its necessity and four years of construction, the Bloor Street Viaduct opened in 1918. The idea of Public Works Commissioner R.C. Harris and the design of famed Architect Edmund Burke (he has a namesake pub at 107 Danforth Avenue as appreciation), the bridge and transit were in talks since at least 1910. Their proponents saw them as linked and necessary projects. Broadview Avenue already had a streetcar route since 1888, so the corner was set to became a nexus. It is no coincidence that Albert Edward and William Ellerbeck Playter opened the Playter Society in 1908 with grand expectations for the corner in the coming decades. Albert also funded the Playtorium, a building whose incarnations included a vaudeville theatre. Both were two of the earliest on the strip. The Canadian Bank of Commerce branch across the street came around 1918, replacing a blacksmith ship.

Prince Edward Viaduct under construction, 1917. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Northwest corner of Danforth Avenue and Don Mills Road (now Broadview Avenue) shop, 1913. The current CIBC branch occupies building. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Playter Society Building, 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Danforth Avenue in the City of Toronto Directories. 1913. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Danforth Avenue east of Broadview Avenue from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1913. Credit: Goads Toronto.

The Former Danforth Hall/Playter Fun House/Playtorium at 128 Danforth Avenue, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

In 1913, the Globe identified the Danforth as new business section in the northeastern part of Toronto. It also described a bizarre episode in which a man discovered a muskrat on Moscow Avenue (today’s Gough Avenue). It perhaps shows The Danforth in transition: growing yet still rural (albeit urban wildlife is not uncommon in 2019).

This strip west near 592 Danforth Avenue of Gough Avenue, built 1911, was one of the first row of stores built between Broadview and Pape Avenue.

“EXPANDING TORONTO– MAKING HOMES IN OUTSKIRTS FOR CITY NEARING HALF MILLION”, The Globe, October 25, 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

‘Caught a Muskrat on Danforth Avenue’ The Globe, March 24 1913. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

There was a residential aspect to Danforth Avenue, too. Most of those who now live on the street reside above the shops, but there are at least two remnants of when houses still populated the way at 278 and 280 Danforth Avenue. These were residences built in 1911 for Mr. Alfred W. Pestell and Mrs. Ellen Mackey, respectively. The street addresses were 152 and 154 Danforth Avenue. Residential in nature when they were built, now they host shops.

Danforth Avenue, east from Broadview Avenue, 1913. Credit: City of Toronto Library.

A view from 260 Danforth Avenue, east of Playter Boulevard, 1920s. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

A look at the Danforth today sees houses of worship on either side of the street which also date to this early period in the 1910s. St. Barnabas Anglican Church in 1910 and Danforth Baptist Church in 1914 were two of the first. The Church of the Holy Name followed with construction also in 1914, although it took twelve years to complete.

Another sign the street was coming of age in the decade: Allen’s Danforth, now the Danforth Music Theatre. Built in 1919, it was advertised as “Canada’s First Super-Suburban Photoplay Palace” according to its Heritage Toronto plaque. At least three neighbourhood theatres would open — and close — between Broadview and Pape in the coming decades.

By the 1920s, Danforth Avenue reached its peak. Empty lots from the prior decades filled out. The Danforth Civic Line turned the area into a streetcar suburb, but the era of the automobile was just beginning. In 1922, the Globe, speaking about growing suburbs across Toronto, declared that the lesson was that ‘settlement follows good roads’, citing the upgrades of the prior decade.

Danforth Avenue from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1924. Credit: Toronto Historic Maps.

“Park and Shop in the Danforth District”, The Globe, May 2, 1928. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

Further to the notion that the automobile was now in play, Logan Avenue at one time existed in two sections north and south of Danforth Avenue. City politicians and politicians proposed road improvement schemes after both World Wars, and street widenings, alignments, and extensions were large factors within them.

Aerial view of Logan Avenue, 1947. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth Avenue east at Logan Avenue, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth Avenue west at Logan Avenue, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

In the mid-1950s, the Danforth-Logan was eliminated, allowing traffic to flow straight through without the need to travel west or east on Danforth. Although the sizeable Withrow Park existed just south on Logan, the event created some much needed public space right on Danforth Avenue which would later serve as important gathering point for the community.

Aerial view of Logan Avenue, 1956. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Danforth looking east to Logan, 1987-1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Logan looking south to Danforth, 1987-1992. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1930s, Danforth Avenue was full of the expected businesses: banks, theatres, dry goods shops, men’s and ladies wear, confectioneries, shoe repair places, drug stores, and more. But the demographics began to change. The 1930 Might’s Greater Toronto Directories show Ethels Delicatessen at 173 Danforth and Lorrain Delicatessen at 457 Danforth. More prominently, we also see Italian fruit stands at 127-129 Danforth Avenue by Vincenzo and Augustino Casuso, at 283 by A Maggio, at 449 Danforth by Salvatore Badalli, at 507 Danforth by Vito Simone, 513 Danforth Avenue by Joseph Badali, at 573 Danforth by Tony Fimio. Finally, there were a number of Chinese themed businesses (with unnamed owners): cafes at 108 and 505 Danforth Avenue, restaurants at 107 and 523 Danforth, and a laundy at 471 Danforth.

South side of Danforth Avenue from the Toronto City Directory, 1930. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Sunkist Fruit Market, Southeast corner Carlaw and Danforth, 1934. Sam Badali, son of fruit stand owners at 449 Danforth Avenue, started the stand in 1929. It remained a long-standing business until recently. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

By the 1950s, political talk in Toronto shifted toward a subway line under Danforth Avenue. The streetcar was the busiest surface route and, with the populations shifting north from the old city of Toronto, underground rapid transit was nearing a reality. On February 26, 1966, the Bloor-Danforth Subway line opened between Keele Street and Woodbine Avenue, utilizing the lower track of the Bloor Viaduct to faciliate the cross-town transit line. The TTC built a “Y-connection” between the two lines to eliminate the need for transferring.

“Toronto Public Libraries Served By New Subway Extension”, The Globe, February 25, 1966. Credit: Globe & Mail Archives.

The green line’s opening meant at least two significant changes to the Danforth. First, as the subway corridor was planned to run north of the street rather than under it, hundreds of houses were expropriated and demolished. The physical result today is a linear set of connected parkettes (and some parking lots) between Chester and Pape Stations.

Danforth Avenue between Pape Avenue and Chester Avenue, 1962. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Bloor-Danforth Subway Corridor, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

Second, following a similar effect of the Yonge line, the new subway meant the end of streetcar service on the street. Passengers on the Danforth Streetcar and four other routes (Bloor, Coxwell, Harbord, and Parliament) opted for their last rides on the night before the subway’s opening. The Lipton streetcar loop at Pape Avenue and the Erindale loop at Broadview Avenue also closed as transit stations took their spots.

After the Second World War, the Danforth received the identity it is commonly associated with today. The story has been told many times: Greek immigrants left Greece after the military junta of 1967 with a number of them opening up enterprises on Danforth Avenue while settling in the streets north of their shops and further in nearby East York.

A snapshot of Greek businesses on the north side of Danforth Avenue from the City Directory, 1969. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Why did they select the Danforth specifically? One theory goes back to the subway. Some shop owners noted how the loss of a surface transit route actually negatively impacted local shopping. The area was not doing as well in the late-1960s as prior decades — a condition for the street to be reinvented. The same would happen in the 1970s when Gerrard Street East became Little India. The rents for closed shops were attractive and affordable for new Greek entrepreneurs.

Greek businesses east Pape Avenue on Danforth, 2019. Credit: Google Maps.

They also brought their faith with them. In perhaps the most exemplary case of Danforth’s transformation, an old garage built in 1921 when the street was still named Moscow Avenue became St. Irene Chrisovalantou Greek Orthodox Church.

Finally, the Danforth Avenue of today is mostly imagined as a mostly homogeneous collection of Greek affiliated businesses and organizations and the nearly-century old structures they occupy. What is overlooked is how some of these old structures have disappeared over time and new buildings and non-Greek businesses have taking their place.

348 Danforth Avenue, a building with roots in 1924 (and a site that once housed the residence of John Lea Playter), hosts Carrot Common. The 1980s saw new additions that transformed the old structure. Today, a green roof and garden makes the space truly unique. Near Pape, a bank and event space replace an older two story structure at 629 Danforth and an office building usurped the former Palace Theatre at 664 Danforth of the 1920s.

Palace Theatre, 664 Danforth Avenue, near Pape Avenue, showing its overhanging electric sign, 1920s. View is looking east on Danforth Avenue, from Pape Avenue. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

From the 19th century rural environment of the Playter family to the 1920s boom period of muskrats and nabes to the transformative post-war period of subways and souvlaki, Danforth Avenue has shown its fascinating layers of history and geography.