Tag Archives: toronto history

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.

Scenes From The Distillery District

What began as the Gooderham & Worts complex, the Distillery District is associated with a distinct set of Victorian structures that make up its stunning geography. Its story, though, also extends its lost geography.

Gooderham & Worts, Ltd., Toronto., 1896. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Running through the middle is Trinity Street. At its foot is the Distillery District’s most recognizable building: the Stone Distillery of 1859. Cut from Kingston limestone, it is the largest and oldest of the existing G&W buildings. It infamously went up in flames in 1869 — the pressure from the fire blowing the roof off! It was rebuilt again, but several workers perished in the fire and burn marks can still be seen in the brickwork.

Rising high on the west side of Trinity Street is the Malt House & Kiln Building and Cooperage Building. They are most noticeable for the cupola overlooking the area. Gristmill Lane leads into Trinity Street from Parliament Street.

On the east side (from south to north) is the Pump House, Pure Spirits and Cannery complex, and interestingly, the old Lunch Room. Along what is now Tank House Lane is, well, a complex of Tank Houses, built to house and age liquor for two years by law.

Case Goods Lane houses the Case Goods Warehouse, which is the youngest of the existing buildings (erected in 1927). Its age shows as it looks different than the earlier structures. It came when Harry Hatch, a Bridlewood horsebreeder and industrialist, bought the distillery in the 1920s and merged it with Hiram-Walker.

“Gooderham & Worts Taken Over By Hatch” The Globe, December 21, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“Historic Windmill from Which a Great Modern Industry Grew” The Toronto Daily Star, January 8, 1927.

Aside from the Case Goods Building, the Distillery District’s architecture was designed by David Roberts Sr. and his son David Roberts Jr., who were Gooderham & Worts’ exclusive architects and civil engineers. Roberts Jr also designed the company’s headquarters, the Gooderham Building on Wellington Street, and other Gooderham family residences, such as Waveney — otherwise known as the George Gooderham House on Bloor Street.

George Gooderham residence, northeast corner of St. George and Bloor streets, 1892. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

As much as the current building stock is an impressive visual reminder of the history of Gooderham and Worts, the Distillery District’s story also lays in its lost geography too. The obvious start is the windmill near the mouth of the Don River, started by William Gooderham and James Worts Sr in 1832. Several years later the gristmill turned into a distillery and was the beginning of an empire. It stood until the 1860s when the buildings on the west side of Trinity Street replaced it. A curved line of bricks in Grist Mill Lane marks where it once stood. In the 1950s, G&W and the York Pioneers (of which the Gooderhams were members) erected a replica windmill on Parliament Street near the Victory Mill Silos.

Gooderham and Worts (Toronto, Ont.) Gristmill, 1840s. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Gooderham & Worts, foot of Trinity St. showing replica of original windmill, 1954. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Aerial showing location of Gooderham and Worts Windmill replica, 1957. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Another little known enterprise in the Gooderham & Worts empire was a dairy and cattle business. These cow byres were once located on the east side of Trinity Street across the original mill in the 1830s. They relocated east of the Don near the river’s bend decades later. Residents in the east end of the city complained about the ‘intolerable nuisance’ of pollutants G&W were discharging into Ashbridges Bay in the 1880s and ’90s.

Gooderham & Worts Cattle Sheds from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1903. Credit: Goads Toronto.

“The Marsh”, The Globe, August 21, 1881. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Moving up Trinity Street from Mill Street, there are other lost Gooderham & Worts sites — particularly houses! On the northwest corner of Mill and Trinity was the residence of Henry Gooderham, as the 1880 City of Toronto Directories tell us, but was built and lived in by his father William Gooderham himself. A funeral for the man in 1881 ran from the house to his resting place in St. James Cemetery. In 1902, the General Distilling Company — a subsidiary of G&W — replaced the house. Directly across the street was the James Gooderham Worts House, Lindenwold. It was razed for Rack House “D” in 1895. Both warehouse structures still stand.

View of Toronto’s Front Street from Windmill to Old Fort from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, circa 1850. The Gooderham house at Trinity Street and Mill Street is on the left. The gristmill and wharf are to its right. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Lindenwold, 1870s. Credit: Distillery District Heritage.

On the southwest corner of Trinity and Front was the William George Gooderham house, also as per 1880 City Directories. In the first decade of the 1900s, it fell victim to the expanding Consumers Gas Co. Across street on the east side was the residence of his father, George Gooderham, who perhaps lived there before moving into Waveney around 1892. There are parking lots on both sites today.

Gooderham and Worts houses in the Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1903. Credit: Goads Toronto.

Looking north on Trinity Street, 2018. Credit: Google Maps.

Moving east, the Gooderham and Worts Cooperage once stood on Front Street east of Cherry Street. Bordering the north side of the cooperage yard was Worts Avenue. Worts was originally called Market Street with the name change occurring sometime in the 1880s. George Gooderham had three houses built on the street in 1901. On the north side of Worts was St. Lawrence Square, a oddly situated tract of land shaped by Worts, Cherry, and a bend in Eastern Avenue. G&W sold their land to the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway in 1906 as the CNOR grew its yards, absorbing the cooperage and St Lawrence Square. Cooperage Street today pays homage to the history.

Gooderham and Worts Cooperage in the Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1903. The three houses are hilighted. Credit: Goads Toronto.

Cooperage Street & Front Street, 2018. Credit: Google Maps.

The Canadian National Railway’s expansion also absorbed several residential streets including Water Street and Tate Street, whose residents were labourers at the railroads, G&W, the Toronto Rolling Mills, and at the William Davies Co. With the recent redevelopment of the area to what is now the West Don Lands, little physical reminders remain beyond some street names.

West Don Lands from Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1924. Credit: Goads Toronto

Along with the emergence of the CNOR, there were other railway lines that surrounded the complex. First, the Canadian Pacific Railway curled around the north of Gooderham & Worts, crossing at Parliament Street and Trinity Street.

Bird’s-eye view of plant, 1918. The railway curls in the bottom right of the page. Trinity Street is on the left side. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Parliament St., looking n. across Mill St., 1907. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Plant from Parliament Street, British Acetones Toronto Limited, Toronto, Ontario, 1918. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Parliament Street – old C.P.R. crossing, 1932. The railway ceases to cross Parliament. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Plant, Trinity Street view, British Acetones Toronto Limited, 1918. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Railroad, Trinity south of Front, 1971. View is looking north. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

George Gooderham also co-founded the Toronto & Nipissing Railway which he used to transport raw materials from the northern parts of Ontario to the Distillery. From a train station located in today’s Parliament Square Park, the tracks ran steps away from the Stone Distillery. The T&N Railway was eventually absorbed into the CNR by the 1920s. Part of it is used by the York-Durham Heritage Railway for themed train rides.

Gooderham and Worts from Bird’s Eye View of Toronto, 1889. The old Toronto & Nippissing terminus station is located on the left side of the image. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

On the same right of way was the Grand Trunk Railway, who also had railyards west and east of the complex. The latter now houses the Cherry Street streetcar loop. The GTR also became part of CNR. Overlooking the loop is the Cherry Street Interlocking Tower which was built here in 1931 to monitor rail traffic within the Union Station Railway Corridor.

With Gooderham and Worts leveraging the rails in its growth, it also had water at its whim. With the changes to Toronto’s waterfront, it has been forgotten that the Stone Distillery was steps from Lake Ontario. G&W also had its own wharf beginning in the 1840s, housing its grain elevator.

Gooderham and Worts from Barclay, Clark & Co. Bird’s Eye View, 1893. The elevator is right on the water to the south of the Stone Distillery. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

Since the closing of Gooderham & Worts Ltd in 1990 and its reopening as the Distillery District in 2003 by Cityscape Holdings, the area has been transformed into a pedestrian-only district, friendly for festivals and movie shoots. Although Trinity Street was gravel historically, bricks from Ohio were added for an old-time feel in its redevelopment — if you look close enough you can make out their origins on a select few.

The buildings themselves have been repurposed to host cafes, chocolate shops, micro-breweries, bars, bakeries, and theatres. The area’s past is also nicely displayed throughout via heritage plaques and displays of artefacts, images, and paintings.

Every turn produces some place of interest. Favourites include the clock tower and the famous Love locks sign. Together with the buildings themselves, they create a distinct modern geography.

Useful Links

Distillery District Heritage Website

Scenes From Earl Bales Park

The history of Earl Bales Park starts with the John Bales House. The family arrived in the Bathurst and Sheppard area in 1824, finding a hilly topography bordering on the West Don River. John Bales cleared the land and built a log farmhouse south of Sheppard and east of Bathurst. From there, the layers of story build.

Bales House, south-east view, date unknown. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

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

Steps from the John Bales House is the Earl Bales Community Centre. The meeting place for classes and events came to us by 1981 (a revitalization project took place in 2018 too). Before its arrival, another complex of buildings were neighbours to the John Bales House: The York Downs Golf and Country Club.

York Downs Golf and Country Club near Armour Heights, North Toronto, 1926. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1922, the York Downs Golf Course opened on the former Bales land (albeit by then property passed into the hands of Shedden Company). The John Bales homestead was actually the residence of the groundskeeper and the barn was part of the clubhouse.

“York Downs Course Ready Next Summer” The Globe, February 6, 1922. Credit: Toronto Public Library

Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Ownership map – township of york showing unsubdivided area of 10 acres and over with names of owners and acreages, 1922. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

York Downs Golf and Country Club, 1953. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Ownership map for the region formerly known as the Township of York including York, North York, East York, Forest Hill, Swansea, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

In 1968, the club’s executive voted to move to Unionville and to sell the property to Max Tanenbaum of Pinetree Developments for $6,400,000. Tanenbaum intended to build apartments and houses on the former course. After much debate, local protests under the banner of ‘Save York Downs’ stopped the proposal. Ultimately, Metro Toronto Council purchased the property in 1972 for $9 million to use for parkland. Council also did the same with the Tam O’Shanter Golf and Country Club in Scarborough, although that ultimately became mostly a municipally owned golf course. Earl Bales Park — named for a former North York Reeve and great-grandson of John Bales — opened on a chilly December 2, 1973 with one last round of golf on the 163 acre site.

“Max Tanenbaum and Morry Smith”, Toronto Daily Star, April 16, 1971. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Walking south from the Bales homestead, the landscaping leftovers of the York Downs course are still evident on the land with sand traps, mounds, and trees. Then and now aerial maps provide an interesting comparison of the layouts of the course and the park.

York Downs Golf Course & Earl Bales Park, 1947 & 2019. Credit: Sidewalk Labs OldTO.

Walking down the western half of Earl Bales Park, you can see several attractions added to the park over the years. Taking advantage of the park’s elevation, the North York Ski Centre came in 1973 to provide local skiing to the residents of North York and Toronto.

“North York’s Big Opener”, Globe and Mail, Jan 9, 1974. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

There is also the Barry Zukerman Amphitheatre, which came by 1989 and named for a prominent Canadian Jewish businessman. The theatre is notable for its great performances in the summer.

The most powerful installation in Earl Bales Park is undoubtedly the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. It was unveiled in 1991 with The Wall of Remembrance devoted to victims and survivors coming in 2001. Particularly sombre is the portion dedicated to children, including Anne Frank. The obelisk is the Spirit of Bravery Memorial.

Finally, a bust of Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal came as a gift from the Philippine Government to the City of Toronto in 1998.

These additions to Earl Bales Park represent the notion that parks can be and should be reflections of their environs. For example, the John Bales House — a representation of British colonial York — is now the Russian House Toronto. Since the end of the World War II, the area around the park along Bathurst Street gradually grew with new subdivisions and new populations. Toronto’s Jewish population (and Eastern Europeans in general) moved north on Bathurst to Forest Hill by 1950 and even further to Bathurst Manor in 1957. Toronto’s Filipino population arrived to the city mostly in the 1960s, first to St. Jamestown and then to ‘Little Manila’ at the Bathurst and Wilson area.

“Bathurst Manor Shopping Plaza Grand Opening”, Globe and Mail, November 21, 1957. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

One neighbouring area tied to the history of the York Down Golf Course is Armour Heights. The community, located directly south of Earl Bales Park, is named for the Armour family who were contemporaries of the Bales clan. The Armour lands came under the control of the Robins Real Estate Limited in the early 20th century, who in the 1910s and 1920s intended on making three master-planned, upscale communities in north Toronto: Armour Heights, Ridley Park, and Melrose Park. Together these were to be the ‘Highlands of Toronto‘. Robins Ltd also had a hand in Cedarvale’s ambitious genesis. Much in the same way as that suburb, Armour Heights was planned with lavish roundabouts, gardens, squares, and tennis courts and bowling greens.

Armour Heights – being the subdivision of parts t lots 11, 12, 13, Concession 1, west of Yonge Street, circa 1913. Credit: City of Toronto Library.

“The Highlands of Toronto”, Toronto Daily Star, April 13, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“Why People Are Buying in Armour Heights”, The Globe, April 9, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The owner, Colonel Frederick Burton Robins, built a Tudor-style estate house near Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue. Marketing pieces highlighted a bus line between Yonge and Bathurst Streets via Yonge Boulevard and Armour Heights’ proximity to the York Downs Golf Course. Armour Heights hosted air demonstrations and was even considered by McMaster University for a campus.

Robins Country Estate, Wilson Avenue west of Yonge Street, circa 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“Robins Limited Motor Bus Service”, Toronto Daily Star, May 21, 1914. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“A Plan of The Splendid Site on Armour Heights”, Toronto Daily Star, December 24, 1926. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Like in Cedarvale, Colonel F.B. Robins’ vision for Armour Heights never fully materialized. By 1929, he sold the 300 acres to R. K. Lillico and associates for $930,000. Their idea was to re-brand the area as ‘Beverley Hills’, but the moniker never caught on. The street grid developed under its current form, filling out completely by 1950. It did eventually receive its bus line with the Toronto Transit Commission’s Armour Heights route in 1952. Armour Heights Robins’ grand estate house is now used by the Canadian Forces College. Today York Downs Boulevard — one of the early streets — remains as a tribute to the golf club and fittingly connects the park and subdivision.

Back in Earl Bales Park, a man-made pond exists on the southern end. Earl Bales Lake is a storm-water management pond. Beyond it is the Don Valley Golf Course. The Hoggs Hollow Bridge portion of Highway 401 runs over the course. The Toronto By-Pass, as the expressway was known before it was numbered, opened here in 1953, splitting up the golf course and Armour Heights.

Don Valley Golf Course, Yonge St., w. side, from s. to n. of Macdonald-Cartier Freeway; looking n.w. to Macdonald-Cartier Freeway bridge over West Don River., 1955. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The east side of Earl Bales Park is scenic walk through nature. One is struck by the tree cover, both on this hills and in the valley. A topographical map of the West Don River from 1915 shows off the contours and some cases the tree types of the land that would become the park.

Plan of west branch Don River Valley from Lawrence Avenue to corner Sheppard and Bathurst, 1915. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

One also gets a look from below at the ski slope. ‘Downs’ refers to a grassy hill, so this might explain the naming of golf course.

A shallow west branch of the Don River runs through the edge of the property. The river and the way across it has had a few interventions in the second have the 20th century. At one time, albeit north and south of the park, the waterway hosted saw and grist mills. In 1956, the river’s winding course was straightened.

West Don River, 1953-1956. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Further up, at the park’s northern entrance, one looks up at the massive bridge carrying Sheppard Avenue West over the West Don River Valley. A marker dates the bridge to 1961, but it is not the first structure in this location

The history is unclear, but the first photographed bridge was a wooden construction that existed until at least from 1910 (its construction date is unknown).

Sheppard Avenue bridge over the Don River near Bathurst Street., 1910. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Wooden bridge over Don, 1908-1910. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Its replacement — a more sturdy setup — came by 1920. Flood damage from Hurricane Hazel briefly closed the bridge in November 1954. The storm did, however, completely wipe out the nearby Bathurst Street Bridge. The event might have led to the bridge’s replacement in the following decade.

Sheppard Avenue West bridge over West Don River, 1920. This is the same view as the above wooden bridge photo. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“Find Flood Damage, Close Sheppard Bridge” Globe and Mail, November 26, 1954. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Don River (West Don R.), looking w. across Sheppard Ave. bridge, 1954. Photographer James Salmon notes the bridge’s washout after Hurricane Hazel. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The third – and present – bridge began construction in 1961 and opened by 1962 or 1963. The section of the West Don River below it was channelized with concrete holdings. Also in 1962, the Don River Boulevard bridge replaced an earlier bridge opened in 1928. The short and quiet street curiously dates to the 19th century – at least to 1860 by cartographic accounts – and ran through the Shepard family property in Lansing to Bathurst. When both bridges were replaced in the 1960s, Don River Boulevard was also reconfigured to circle up the Sheppard Avenue, linking the street with the park.

Sheppard Avenue over Don River, 1962 & 1963. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Source: Toronto Daily Star November 30, 1928.


Exiting Earl Bales Park, one may go up to the main street or cross the bridge into the Hinder Property, leaving behind a great history.

Useful Links

Marshall’s Musings – “Exploring Earl Bales Park”

North York Historical Society – “June-August 2015 Newsletter”

OldTO Mapping historical photos

Scott Kennedy – Willowdale: Yesterday’s Farms, Today’s Legacy

Scenes From Evergreen Brick Works

Toronto was a brick-making town. Going through the city today, you would not realize it right away. This lost and remade industrial and natural geography is remarkable. Great clay refining enterprises from the Don Valley to Leslieville to Yorkville to North Toronto to the West Toronto Junction now carry transformed greenspaces or residential communities. The Evergreen Brick Works is one of those spaces.

Don Valley clay pits, part of Don Valley Brick Works (Toronto). James Blomfield. June 10, 1939. Credit: City of Ontario Archives.

The Don Valley Brick Works began operations in 1889 and lasted quite a long time, providing the literal building blocks for the city of Toronto until 1984 — not a long time ago. One can think of the Brick Works as the last bastion for smokestack-raising, pollution-spewing, heavy manufacturing in Toronto.

Don Valley Brick Works, Bayview Ave., w. side, s. of Chorley Park in Don Valley; looking s. from Chorley Park, 1952. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Following its closure, much like a lot of discussions then and now in how to imagine the post-industrial metropolis, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and City of Toronto looked to expropriate former brickyard as public space. During this ‘transition’ time, the abandoned factory became a haven for urban explorers.

Don Valley Brickworks, 1986. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brickworks, 1990. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

What came out of it was a rejuvenated community hub and parkland with a mandate for environmental sustainability and conservation, led through the efforts of Evergreen. Much of the complex still stands, showing off ovens and other former operations of the Don Valley Brick Works. Today, they make great event and exhibition space which house among other things a great farmer’s market. Only one of the four chimneys remain, though.

The Evergreen Brick Works is a locale full of discovery, starting with its artistic displays. A favourite of mine is “Watershed Consciousness”, which neatly showcases Toronto’s ravines as the sort of veins and life blood of the city. Fitting.

One quizzical installation is a giant pair of metal shoes. This is “Legacy (the mud beneath our feet)” by David Hind, an homage to geologist Arthur Philemon (A.P.) Coleman. Mr. Coleman got his boots dirty many times over at the Don Valley Brick Works, using the quarry’s north cliff to research Toronto’s Ice Ages. A nearby display, “A Rare Geological Study”, presents Coleman’s notes.

Coleman was instrumental in understanding the literal layers and pre-history of Toronto. He noted ancient beavers, moose, and bison that roamed Pleistoscene Toronto, and also mapped out the old shore of Lake Iroquois.

Map of Toronto and Vicinity To accompany part 1, Volume 22, Report of Bureau of Mines, 1913. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The Pleistocene of the Toronto region Including the Toronto interglacial formation, 1932. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The allure of the Evergreen Brick Works is its physical landscape. Each step offers more discovery and new vantage points. Wandering deeper into the Weston Family Quarry Garden and its tall reconstructed wetland, the factory behind disappears, aside from the chimney.

Running between the handsome factory buildings is a channelized Mud Creek (which might be the best and worst name for a waterway in Toronto). There’s a more naturalized version of the stream as well, running under the great Governor’s Bridge as one moves out of the park.

Veering away from the marked trails, there is the abandoned Don Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway, last operating in 2007. With the Belt Line Trail also nearby it’s the second ghost line of sorts at the Brick Works. Following the CPR tracks takes one to the Half-Mile Bridge, seen as one enters the Evergreen Brick Works.

Don Valley Brick Works, Bayview Ave., w. side, s. of Chorley Park in Don Valley; looking w. from Broadview & Mortimer Ayes. 1955. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Perhaps the most inspiring experience of the Brick Works is the view from above. Moving up the cliff one takes in the awe of the full expanse of the site, its winding trails and ponds below, and the houses of Rosedale overlooking the valley.

One can only take in this reclaimed natural landscape and think of its layered makeup. The intersection of industrial, geological, and environmental history make the Evergreen Brick Works make it a special place. A walk around it only proves that.

Scenes From Kensington Market

What presumably started as pristine wilderness for many Indigenous peoples, the area that came to be Kensington Market began to take shape under the 1793 colonial park lot system established and administered by John Graves Simcoe and his successors. Here, plots 17 & 18 passed through several owners, eventually falling to Denison family. While today we associate the block between College & Dundas Streets and Spadina Avenue & Bathurst Street with a dense mix of narrow streets and an unlikely mishmash of altered structures, the only built form in the first part of 19th century was the Denisons’ Georgian manor, Belle Vue (also spelt Bellevue).

1842 Cane Topographical Plan of the City and Liberties of Toronto. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

Denison, George Taylor, ‘Bellevue’, Denison Sq., n. side, e. of Bellevue Ave. 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Lost in the modern geography of Kensington Market is the waterway and pond situated just above Belle Vue. Named for a rather unpleasant character in Toronto history, Russell Creek passed through the southern half of the block towards today’s Entertainment District before flowing into the old shore of Lake Ontario near Front & Simcoe Streets.

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

In the mid-1800s, the Belle Vue Estate was subdivided and town lots were put up for sale. Several marketing pieces at the time advertised the lots for sale. Notably, an 1854 pitch highlighted their location in “the most healthy and pleasant part of the city” at a great elevation from Lake Ontario. It also promoted the great proximity to the new Ontario Legislative Buildings and Government House, which as far as I know might have been proposed but were certainly never built (the current legislature opened in 1893).

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

1869 Plan of building lots on part of the Belle Vue estate in the City of Toronto, the property of J. Saurin McMurray, Esq.. Credit: Toronto Public Libary.

To make way for the residential neighbourhood, Russell Creek and its pond were buried in 1876, following a trend with other creeks in Toronto. Today, there is little trace of its existence. Compared to Garrison and Taddle Creeks though, Russell Creek seems to sit lower in the psyche and awareness of Torontonians as it is not as readily mentioned. Belle Vue would last for a few more decades, disappearing by 1890. Strangely, it seems to shows up in the Goads fire insurance maps as late as 1903, however. It was replaced by houses and then finally the Kiever Synagogue in 1927.

Although the house is gone, Belle Vue’s geographic imprint remains in a few locales. Bellevue Square, which historically served as the promenade grounds for the manor, was donated to the city as public space in 1887. Denison Avenue was the driveway to the grounds. The names of the streets themselves offer links to the Denison Estate and the English motherland in general with monikers such as Lippincott Street, Bellevue Avenue, Oxford Street, and of course, Kensington Street. The latter is a throwback to the London commercial district of the same name (it is not clear who in Toronto drew the connection and offered the designation, though).

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto. Belle Vue House, while now housing an address at 22 Denison Square, is positioned with its corners aligning with the directions of a compass. By the end of the century, one can see the modern roots of Kensington Market’s layout of narrow streets and closely bunched structures. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Of course, there is also the Victorian housing stock whose architectural style by definition is referential to the reigning monarch at the time. The early occupants of the neighbourhoood were unsuprisingly of largely White Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent. What happened to some of these houses over the next few generations erased that early connection to Britain, however.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the WASPs migrated to more favourable parts of Toronto. Finding opportunity and low rents, the Jewish community already situated in The Ward moved into those empty houses. It’s a common story to Toronto: a group occupies a space, leaves after it outlives its utility, and then a new group moves in and remakes it accordingly.

These East European Jews settled on Kensington, Augusta, and Baldwin Streets, not only residing in the former homes of their white predecessors, but also altering their fronts to accommodate commercial enterprise. And so began the ‘Jewish Market’. This ‘creation and re-creation’ happened over and over in Kensington Market. The Jews’ out-migration around World War II left their storefronts to other populations of Italian, Portuguese, Caribbean, and South & East Asian entrepreneurs, allowing new histories to be created.

The former Sanci’s fruit shop was the first non-Jewish merchant in Kensington Market. There’s a cross in the brickwork atop the store hinting at the building’s roots.

Baldwin Street, 1940s. Credit: Library & Archives Canada.

The importance of Kensington Market in the lives of generations of Canadian immigrants led to its designation as a place of national significance and as a National Historic Site in 2006. In 2017, Historica Canada neatly and creatively distilled its layered history into its first animated Heritage Minute. The clip nicely showcases the physical and cultural transformation of a shop through the decades, moving from the outside to the inside and back out again to show the masses of people who have frequented the Market through the ages.

The grand narrative of Kensington Market has then been this intersection between tangible (geographic) and intangible (cultural). That is to say, the histories of the people within the same physical space they have all come to call “home” over the years. Many writers have explored the theme, including Na Li in her book Kensington Market: Collective Memory, Public History, and Toronto’s Urban Landscape. The original Victorian homes, dramatically altered they after generations of use and reuse, become vessels to tell these stories.

From the Baldwin family countryside to the cafe- and bar-filled nexus of today, Kensington Market’s evolution was unplanned, organic, and anarchic, and yet somehow still falling in line with what came before. It survived urban renewal plans in the 1960s whose purpose to preserve the neighbourhood would have actually destroyed it. The quirks in its murals, hidden backways, street sights, and people can only exist within its borders. It cannot be replicated.

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto showing Kensington Place and Fitroy Terrace as part of the initial layout of the subdivided neighbourhood. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Useful Links

Doug Taylor – The Villages Within

JB’s Warehouse & Curio Emporium – “Toronto Back Streets: Denison Square”

Kensington Market Historical Society

Lost Rivers – “Bellevue”

Toronto Park Lot Project