Tag Archives: toronto history

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

Scenes From Eglinton Avenue West

Eglinton Avenue is Toronto’s east-west midpoint. It is the only street in the city (although took some doing in the 1950s and 60s to make it so) that traverses all six former municipalities. This attribute has made it perfect for a crosstown transit line. Although it was laid out in 1793 as the Third Concession from Lot (Queen) Street, I would argue that Eglinton’s form, at least from Yonge Street to Latimer Avenue, as we know it today does not begin to take shape until 130 years after it was laid out.

Might’s correct city directory map of Greater Toronto, ca. 1940. The extension across the Don River branches were completed by 1956. In 1967, Richview Sideroad in Etobicoke was absorbed into Eglinton Avenue when the two streets were joined via a bridge across the Humber River. Credit: Map and Data Library, University of Toronto.

This stretch of Eglinton Avenue west of Yonge Street and the surrounding area was historically part of the Village of North Toronto. Even though the village was absorbed into the City of Toronto in 1912, allowing it to reap the benefits of better service delivery, the street was still a sparsely populated dirt road. It wasn’t until the coming decades when Eglinton’s fields morphed into a mixed residential and commercial zone. By 1930, the road was paved and possibly widened.

Eglinton Ave, west from Yonge, October 19, 1922. Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 1637.
Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Eglinton Avenue west from Yonge Street, April 23, 1930. Fonds 1231, Item 1646. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

At Duplex and Eglinton stands a power station. The yellow-bricked structure was built in 1920 at a time of rapid expansion in Toronto. With the Toronto Hydro-Electric System (now known as just Toronto Hydro) becoming the only distributor of power in Toronto at the tail end of the 1910s, Toronto was experiencing the pressures of an electrified transit network and a growing population.

The Eglinton sub-station was one of many built in this era to cope with this demand, specifically serving the surrounding residential community and “the Metropolitan radial line on north Yonge Street and subsequently to the TTC Yonge route and Eglinton Carhouse in the area.”

Eglinton Sub-station, August 10, 1925. Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3975. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Related, a short distance across from the station, there’s a row of mid-rise apartments. The positioning of these 1930s Art-Deco inspired buildings one after the other leads one to conclude that this was by design, although I wonder at their context considering the larger history the Toronto has with this kind of housing stock.

One historical narrative has been that whereas at the time the City of Toronto avoided this housing style, outlying communities like York and Forest Hill including them in their planning. For example, a more prominent row of these decorative lofts exists further west on Eglinton near Bathurst Street in the former Village of Forest Hill. These ones close to Yonge would have existed on land already annexed to the city, though. Curious.

Next, Eglinton Park has a neat past. As Lost Rivers explains, long before its colonial period, Huron peoples occupied its land and the nearby area – notably, the site of Allenby Public School – in the 15th century. In more recent history, the park was a brickyard! Capitalizing on the clay beds created by the now buried Mud Creek, James Pears ran his establishment here beginning in the 1880s.

The Eglinton Hunt Club (foreground) & Pears Brickyard (background), looking southeast,1920. The Pears home (now gone) can be seen at the top of the image at 214 Eglinton Avenue. A water tower stood on Roselawn Avenue near Avenue Road. A communications tower is in its place today. Credit: Toronto Public Libary

The modern geography within the park shows off the layers of time: the ‘dug-in’ escarpment leading up to Oriole Parkway, the hilly topography of Roselawn Avenue. Pears formerly worked out of today’s Ramsden Park in Yorkville before moving up Yonge Street, which has similar rolling features. These are the former lives of our parks.

Later, with North Toronto annexed, the City of Toronto attempted to purchase the yard from Pears before outright expropriating it in 1922 when he refused. The entire exercise came at a time in the 1920s and 30s when the City’s Parks Department was expanding, creating parkland and accompanying infrastructure such as shelters, gazebos, and bandshells. In fact, the Toronto Archives has a wonderful collection of ink & pencil drawings as a part of an Architectural Drawings Scrapbook prepared by the Department of Buildings for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Eglinton Park (Roselawn Avenue) Shelter, August 12, 1930. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 1, Item 934. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Pears’ legacy did live on for a while as the space was unofficially known as Pears Park for a time (and still might be?). Modern amenities have been added to the park since then of course, including a community centre, playground, and a Cretan maze via the Toronto City of Labyrinths Project!

A final sign of the street’s arrival was the eventual population of the street with commercial activity. The north side of Eglinton east of Avenue was one of the first retail blocks, coming to us around 1930.

CANATCO house index map of Toronto and environs, 1932. Credit: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

Eglinton Ave. north side Avenue Rd. looking east, April 23, 1930. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1223. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

With the opening of the Eglinton Theatre in 1936 to serve the growing local community, another commercial dimension was added. Neighbourhood theatres were abundant in Toronto by World War II, but The Eglinton was a benchmark in grandeur.

Whereas other ‘nabes‘ were more low-key in aesthetic, the Kaplan and Sprachman-designed Art Deco movie house and its neon-lit tower announced itself on the commercial strip. It’s amazing considering this was also during the Great Depression. It was operational until 2002, remarkably late in the history of comparable theatres. Today it’s the Eglinton Grand.

 

Useful Links

City of Toronto Archives – “Turning on Toronto: Toronto Hydro-Electric System” Web Exhibit

City of Toronto Planning Department – “Eglinton Connects Planning Study July 2013 Draft”

Historic Toronto – “Memories of Toronto’s Eglinton Theatre” by Doug Taylor

Lost Rivers – “The Eglinton Park Hill”

Scenes From A City – “Scenes From Yorkville”

Silent Toronto

Spacing – “Toronto’s Art Deco district? Take a walk along Eglinton Avenue West” by Daniel Rotsztain 

Torontoist – “Historicist: The ‘Manifest Destiny’ of North Toronto” by David Wencer

Scenes From Lansing & Willowdale

Outside of a McDonald’s and 7-Eleven at Yonge and Sheppard, there’s a blue plaque. The City of Toronto and TTC marker commemorates the 1860 Joseph Shepard/Dempsey Brothers Store which once stood at this site. The plaque tracks the building’s history as a nexus in the historic Lansing community – from the residence of the pioneering Shepard family (for which Sheppard Avenue is named) and post office which gave birth to Lansing to the long-standing hardware store of the Dempseys.

Joseph Shepard House plaque

The funny thing is the building still exists – just not here. The store was transplanted to Dempsey Park on Beecroft Road in 1996.

Yonge looking north at Sheppard 1911

Yonge Street looking north at Sheppard Avenue, 1911. Joseph Shepard House/Dempsey Brothers Store at left. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Nearby, the Joseph Shepard Government Building, built in 1977, also pays tribute to Mr. Shepard (albeit, sometimes  spelled with inexplicably added “P”).

Joseph Shepard Building
Despite running parallel to it only 300 metres to the east, Doris Avenue is noticeably more quiet than Yonge. It offers a great view of its tower-filled skyline.

Yonge Street Doris Avenue

Also on Doris: Willowdale Park. In addition to a large central space with tennis courts and playgrounds, a curving path continues north, crossing a few residential streets.

Willowdale Park

Willowdale Park 3              Willowdale Park 2

The linear park is a little peculiar to me – until I realize that the indent in the land and the sewer grates probably signify a buried waterway.

Willowdale Park Wilket Creek

Willowdale Park Wilket Creek 2

As it turns out, Wilket Creek flows under Willowdale! A section of the creek running northwest from York Mills and Bayview was buried and put into storm sewers in the early 1970s.

Lansing Willowdale 1916

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

Willowdale 1966

Lansing & Willowdale, 1966. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Willowdale 2016

Lansing & Willowdale, 2016.

Another surprise in Willowdale Park: Lee Lifeson Art Park! The soon-to-be art and green space honours founding Rush members and Willowdale natives, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson. The park was conceived by the local city councillor and voted on in 2014. Construction began the following year. It – river and all – awaits opening some day.

Lee Lifeson Art Park 1

Lee Lifeson Art Park 2

Lee Lifeson Art Park 3

Across the street, Princess Park looks like a grand courtyard leading up to 1999’s Empress Walk mall and condos. It’s probably my own impression, but something about it seems a little too “planned”.

Princess Park
I suppose it functions well for a park, though: things to see, places to sit and linger. No skateboarding, however.

Princess Park 4

The focal point is a restored hose tower, part of North York’s First Fire Hall. A plaque dates it to 1941. It was moved here from Yonge & Empress.

Princess Park Hose Tower 1

North York's First Fire Hall plaque

A second plaque tells the story of North York’s First Municipal Building, completed in 1923 on the south east corner of Yonge and Empress. The building is largely  gone, but its facade was built into the mall’s eastern entrance.

North York's First Municipal Building plaque

There’s also a floor tile with what looks like a plow. An homage to Willowdale’s farms.

Princess Park 2

If one thing comes out of Princess Park, it’s that Yonge and Empress was a historic nexus. But you’d never know it. As is the case with Dempsey Store, it’s great that the fire hall and civic building still exist in some capacity, but the transplanting of the buildings and plaques away from Yonge Street literally pushes heritage to the side. Their context is diminished.

Yonge and Empress

North York Fire Hall 1957

North York Fire Hall, Yonge Street, 1957. Source: Toronto Public Library.

North York Municipal offices 1957

North York Municipal Offices, Yonge Street, 1957. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The intersection is surrounded on three sides by towers and the mall. On the remaining corner: a much more modest two-storey shop. A cornerstone dates it to 1929. Uptown Yonge has a few of these tiny older stores mixed in with the towers, but the street doesn’t have the character of downtown Yonge, whose history as a retail strip still prevails even among intensification.

North York Waterworks Yonge Street 1
The store, a beauty supply shop, was oddly enough the North York Waterworks. Again, you wouldn’t know it. A parking lot surrounds the building; one wonders how long it will last before another condo takes over the corner.

Waterworks Yonge and Empress

North York Waterworks, Yonge Street, 1957. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Finally, on Parkview  Avenue, there’s the John McKenzie House, a beautiful Queen Anne/Edwardian/Arts and Crafts farmhouse built in 1913. The McKenzies were pioneers in Willowdale who in 1884 purchased a portion of land from the Cummers, the original European settlers of Willowdale in 1797. The McKenzie farm came to amass some 140 acres from Yonge to Bayview.

Ontario Historical Society John McKenzie House

In 1993, the Ontario Historical Society took the house on as their new headquarters, saving it from demolition. Before moving in, the City of North York agreed to  fund the $600,000 restoration of the heritage house. In 2016, the John McKenzie House is getting a new roof.

Useful Links

Scenes From A City – “Scenes From North York Centre, Gibson House Museum, and Mel Lastman Square”

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

Toronto Star – “John McKenzie House a part of North York history” by Shawn Micallef

Vanishing Point – “Wilket Creek Storm Trunk Sewer”

Scenes From The Scarborough Bluffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarborough Arts 1

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

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 1

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 3

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

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 4

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

Scarborough Arts Yearbook 5             Scarborough Arts Yearbook 12

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

Scarborough Arts 2

Harrison Properties 2

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

Harrison Properties 3

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

Rosetta McLain Gardens 10                       Rosetta McLain Gardens 1

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

Rosetta McLain Gardens 6

Rosetta McLain Gardens 5

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

Rosetta McLain Gardens 9

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

Scarborough Bluffs 6

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

Scarborough Heights 1

This is easier going down than up.

Scarborough Heights 3

Scarborough Heights 2

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

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

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

Scarborough Bluffs 2

Scarborough Bluffs 3

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

Scarborough Bluffs 4

Scarborough Bluffs 5

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

Scarborough Bluffs - pierced rock from above 1909

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

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

Scarborough Bluffs - general view from west 1915

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

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

Scenes From Scarborough Museum, Thomson Memorial Park, and Tabor Hill

If one wants to learn about the roots of Scarborough, Thomson Memorial Park in Bendale is a pretty good place to start. After all, it is located on the historic property of the Thomson family – the first European settlers in Scarboro Township. Thomson Park also houses Scarborough Museum, which serves to tell the history of the Thomsons and the borough. More than that though, Bendale embodies and showcases the great layers of Scarborough: from its pre-contact period to rural pioneers to post-WWII multicultural suburbia.

Scarborough Museum Thomson Settlement
Scarborough Museum, which offers pay-what-you-can admission, is a collection of structures: Cornell House, McCowan Log House, Hough Carriage Works, and the Kennedy Gallery.  Together, they form a sort of scaled back version of Black Creek Pioneer Village.

After arriving in the township in the late 1700s, Scottish immigrants David and Mary (née Glendinning) Thomson followed an old aboriginal trail to a thickly wooded bush on the banks of the Highland Creek. Their task was tall: clear the property and make it inhabitable. In 1802, they patented 200 acres on  lot 24 concession 1 (today’s the east side of Brimley at Lawrence). David’s brother, Andrew Thomson, patented 200 acres on the adjacent lot 23 to the east.

Although none of the museum buildings themselves were part of the Thomson property, they originate from different areas of Scarborough and belonged to noteworthy families in the township. The artefacts within the museum also mostly originate within Scarborough, including a few items belonging to the Thomsons.

Scarborough Museum
Cornell House fronts Scarborough Museum, and was the museum’s first structure in 1962. Originally located at Markham and Ellesmere, it was built for Matilda and Charles Cornell in the 185os. The Cornell family sold the property in the 20th century to the Lye family. It was saved from demolition in 1961 and transported to Thomson Park. (One can imagine a building on wheels, meandering through Scarborough.)

Scarborough Museum Cornell House

A highlight of Cornell House is the wood and coal burning oven. A large part of Scarborough Museum’s programming is food preparation, and the oven plays a central role in that. (I enjoyed a delicious chocolate cookie during my visit.) For the Cornells, it also ingeniously heated the bedrooms above with wood during the day and coal at night.

The parlour room has an amazing collection of musical instruments.  Unknown to me was Scarborough has very musical roots, apparently. It also speaks to the detail and amount of artefacts within the museum. There is something in every room that catches the eye and has a story.

Cornell House Parlour Room
Cornell House bedroom

If Cornell House represents a second generation house (that is, the kind of house the children of pioneers would aspire to build), McCowan Log House might be a first-gen home. It dates from the 1830s to a William Porteous McCowan of Malvern – the same McCowan for which the street is named. Much like Cornell House, it was rescued by the Scarborough Historical Society in the 1970s and added to the museum.

McCowan Log House

McCowan Log House is built primarily of wood and consists of a main cooking/living room (with a very hearty fireplace used for more historic cooking programs) and two bedrooms. McCowan lived in the home with his mother and sister, thus the two rooms. In terms of cabins, the house is actually spacious with additions McCowan undertook on the structure.

McCowan Log House bedroom

The crib in the foreground belonged to the Thomsons.

The Thomsons built their own log house out of pine and oak, too. When he wasn’t working his land, David was a mason in Scarboro and the Town of York. Mary’s tasks were concentrated in the house, but when David was absent, Scarborough historian Robert Bonis writes she was left “to face the dangers of the forest alone with her children”. He recounts how wolves would jump on the roof of their cabin and gnaw at the door. My favourite anecdote of his, though, is Mary boldly wielding an axe to scare off a bear trying to make off with a pig! A plaque honouring Rhoda Skinner and other pioneering women stands behind the main building. Skinner was the wife of William Cornell, father of Charles Cornell.

Rhoda Skinner Scarborough Pioneer

Hough Carriage Works is a recreation of the original Hough Carriage Works which stood at Birchmount and Eglinton. This establishment was responsible for building and repairing wagons and more. Interestingly, it also functioned as a gathering point because it served an entire community, so it allowed residents to conduct business with each other.

Hough Carriage Works

Hough Carriage Works Penny Farthing

A penny-farthing, also known as a boneshaker for the toll it takes on a rider’s body.

Finally, the Kennedy Gallery is adaptive reuse at work.  Formerly a 1920s garage from the Lyman Kennedy farm in Agincourt, it is now rotating exhibition space. On until March 2016 is a neat exhibit about Frances Tweedie Milne and her writings in the context of rights and the Magna Carta.

Scarborough Museum Frances Tweedie Milne

Facebook in the 19th century: “Killed 10 pigs today. Men cut them up, Margaret and I salted them. Tired now.”

Exiting Scarborough Museum, Thomson Park is very expansive. The Thomsons used the area as a gathering point before they gifted it to become a public park in 1962, so it enjoys that continuity. It hosts an exercise circuit and a number of seating pavilions, which come in great use at the annual Scarborough Ribfest. The west branch of Highland Creek also winds through the park.

West Highland Creek

Somewhat hidden within the history of Thomson Park is the former Canadian Northern Ontario Railway. I first encountered this now defunct railway at Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor. From East York, it passed northeast through Scarborough and the western edge of this park. By 1926 however, it was abandoned and the tracks were removed.

Thomson Park Canadian Northern Ontario Railway

The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway roughly followed this path. An embankment is also still visible where it crossed Highland Creek.

Thomson Park 1956

Thomson Memorial Park area, 1956. The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway right of way is still visible. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

St. Andrews Road sits atop a ridge as it slinks from Brimley down to McCowan, echoing the route of Highland Creek to its south. It’s definitely a throwback road. For the Thomsons, the road network in the 19th and early 20th centuries mostly consisted of the main roads that essentially formed property boundaries – except for St. Andrews which curiously shows up in early maps.

St. Andrew's Road

In 1818, David Thomson donated part of his land to a congregation started by his brother Andrew and others. The result was a 30 by 40 foot frame church that would become St. Andrew’s Presbyterian – the first church in Scarborough. The street serving the church was appropriately named “Church Lane”, now St. Andrews Road. What stands today is the second St. Andrew’s Church, built in 1849.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
Historic St. Andrews Road also houses a number of other early landmarks such the 1896 Scarborough Centennial Library, and St. Andrews Cemetery, which is the resting spot for a who’s who of Scarborough pioneers. The oldest brick building in Scarborough, Springfield, the 1840 home of  James A. Thomson is also found here.

Scarborough Memorial Library
Following the Gatineau Hydro Corridor back down through the park, I cut through Scarborough General Hospital to Lawrence Avenue. The hospital dates from 1952 with its distinctive circular tower coming in 1968. It’s the major landmark at McCowan and Lawrence today, but historically the honour might have gone to Bendale’s post office.

Scarborough General Hospital

Bendale 1878

1878 Map of Scarboro Township. The 1878 community of Benlomond was renamed Bendale in 1881 to avoid confusion with a nearby town that already had the moniker. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

I don’t realize it at the time passing by it, but the subdivision north of Lawrence between McCowan and Bellamy features streets that all begin with “Ben”. Quirky? You bet.

Ben Jungle

The Ben Jungle subdivision dates from 1956.

Finally, Tabor/Taber Hill Park on Bellamy was the site of a 13th century Huron-Wendat ossuary. It was discovered in 1956 after the hill was set to be leveled to accommodate a new subdivision. Construction immediately stopped, excavations began, and at the end of it, the hill was preserved with a monument to the ancient burial mound. An excavated village on the north banks of Birkdale Ravine also connects to Tabor Hill. As I ascend the hill, there’s a family and their dog who had the same idea. They ask me to snap a portrait of them. I oblige.

Tabor Hill Park

Tabor Hill
Tabor Hill Iroquois Prayer
The view from Tabor Hill is provocative. All around is suburbia. The faint outline of CN Tower is even visible from this perspective. But none of it was here 700 years ago. The next people to see Scarborough as the Wendats saw it were the Thomsons. But the Scarborough David and Mary left was different than the Wendats’ Scarborough and different still than 2016’s Scarborough. And yet, all three realities seem to converge in this one spot.

Tabor Hill lookout

Tabor Hill looking northeast

Useful Links

A Long Walk From Toronto – “The Gatineau Hydro Corridor” by Carolyn Harris

Adam G. Mercer (Graeme Mercer), Charles Pelham Mulvany, Christopher Blackett Robinson – History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario

Andrew Chadwick – The Scots Kirk an oral history of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Scarborough

David Boyle, editor – The Township of Scarborough, 1796 to 1896

Globe and Mail – “Vibrant Scarborough now in cyberspace” by Dave LeBlanc

Metro news – “‘Ben’ a theme of unknown origin” by Rick McGinnis

Rick Schofield – Home Sweet Scarborough

Robert Bonis – A History of Scarborough

Spacing Toronto – “Ford Fest Scarborough – Revisiting Bendale circa 2004” by Shawn Micallef

The Scarborough Hospital – “Milestones”

Toronto Dreams Project – “Scarborough’s 700 Year-Old Burial Mound” by Adam Bunch

Toronto Museums – “Statement of Significance – Scarborough Museum”

Torontoist – “Historicist: Tabor Hill Ossuary” by David Wencer

Virtual Museum – “Bendale: About Place”

Scenes From Kennedy & Lawrence

The White Shield Plaza hugs the northwest corner of Kennedy Road and Lawrence Avenue. Without any disrespect to the mall (which hosts Flipper’s and other tenants) though, my eye goes to two restaurants just off the strip mall.

Kennedy & Lawrence Strip Mall

On first look, Harry’s Drive-In looks of another era. And that’s because it is. Immediately I think of Johnny’s Hamburgers at Victoria Park and Sheppard. It’s a small shack of a burger joint that slightly compensates for its lack of space inside with a tiny patio outside. Even the name is to the point. No gimmicks. My observation is pretty bang on, too: it’s been here since the 1960s.

Harry's Drive-In
Beside Harry’s, there’s Nova Ristorante – a sitdown Pizza Nova restaurant. The first Pizza Nova. Sam Prumicci and his brothers opened the shop here in Scarborough in 1963. One thinks of the pizza chain as a takeout/delivery place, but restaurants have been part of its past and present.

1st Pizza Nova Scarborough

The Hellenic Home for the Aged sits on the southeast corner of the intersection. Before the home however, there was a hydro station here.

Kennedy & Lawrence

Kennedy & Lawrence 1960

Kennedy & Lawrence Hydro Station, 1960. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Mike Myers Drive, which was (re)named for the Scarborough comedian in 2002, slinks behind the seniors home. I believe a few power stations still remain.

Mike Myers Drive

Kennedy at Mike Myers 1960

Kennedy Road looking north to Lawrence Avenue, 1960. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Kennedy Lawrence Hydro Station 1965

Kennedy Lawrence Hydro Station aerial, 1965. Note the spur off the Canadian National Railway. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The houses on this stretch of Kennedy Road south of Lawrence date from the 1950s.

Kennedy Road

There’s also a curious and neat juxtaposition of buildings: a bingo hall beside a Muslim society. I remember when the bingo hall had a more coloured exterior.

Kennedy Bingo

Al-Huda Muslim Society

Down in the hydro field, there is (or was, rather) some planting a’happenin’. This is Givendale Allotment Garden, and its concept is new to me. My sense is it’s an unknown idea in general – “secret gardens”, as I’ve read. It’s certainly a neat use for a hydro fiend – much more advisable than model airplane or kite-flying.

If my understanding is right, one can apply for a permit to use a garden plot in one of 13 designated allotment gardens  in the city. Applications are accepted the first day of February and permits are issued the first day of May.

Givendale Allotment Gardens

Hydro Field Kennedy
Finally, Jack Goodlad Park is a nicely sized park with basketball courts, a recreation centre, playground, and a couple of baseball fields. Jack Goodlad, its namesake, was a Scarborough alderman.

Jack Goodlad Park

The Pan Am Path also passes through Jack Goodlad Park in its meandering route through Toronto. It’s one of the legacies of the 2015 Pan Am & Parapan Am Games.

Jack Goodlad Park Pan Am Path

Before it was a park and trail though, Jack Goodlad Park was the Scarboro Drive-In. The theatre opened in 1952 and closed around the late 1970s when drive-in movies in Toronto declined in popularity. It’s fascinating to learn about because it tells us a bit about what Toronto suburbia used to look and be like.

Scarborough Council purchased the Scarboro Drive-In property and redeveloped it into a municipal park beginning in 1980. Goodlad himself had a big hand in the end of the movie theatre, objecting to the seedier movies that were playing in the supposedly family-friendly venue.

Scarboro Drive-In 1960

Scarboro Drive-In, 1960. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Scarboro Drive-In 1965

Scarboro Drive-In aerial, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

 

Useful Links

600sq feet – How to get an Allotment Garden in Toronto

Cinema Treasures – Scarboro Drive-In

Inside Toronto – Meet Pizza Nova’s Dominic Primucci

Local Film Cultures: Toronto – Laurence Jones – “Bad Food and Passion Pits – The Toronto Drive-In Experience”

Scenes From Kennedy Road

Kennedy Road between Finch and Linwood Avenues is, at first glance, an inconsequential stretch of street. 1km of nothing. A bit of digging, however, and there’s a story. There’s always a story.

Beginning at the top, there’s the Hugh Clark House. A rural leftover nestled in behind a gas station. The Clark family once lined the north side of Finch with their farms. The first of the Clarks to plant his roots was Hugh‘s father, William, who settled two lots over at Birchmount Road in 1838. I wrote a little bit about the elder Clark while exploring his property at today’s L’Amoreaux Park.

Hugh Clark House
Crossing the street, one comes to an innocent looking parkette. Today’s park, however, is yesterday’s street jog. Kennedy at one time jogged left at Finch, forcing a northbound traveler to turn left and then right before continuing north. At some point Kennedy was reconfigured to run seamlessly through the intersection. An orphaned section of the old route remained south of Finch, however. The old Kennedy bus used to turn around at the loop when the bus route terminated at Finch. The triangular jog was eliminated for good in 1979, leaving us Kennedy Road Parkette.

Finch Kennedy Parkette jog
Next, Lynnwood Heights on Southlawn Drive has been around since 1956. The school’s TDSB webpage notes an original population of 400, a staggering far cry from the current enrollment of 160 pupils. The surrounding subdivision also dates from around 1956, making it one of the older post-war developments in northern Scarborough. One can imagine as the area continued to grow, more schools opened to relieve Lynnwood.

Lynnwood Heights Junior Public School
Huntingwood Drive is an east-west alternative to Sheppard and Finch (at least, between Victoria Park and McCowan), but its existence is a relatively recent thing – around 1967, more specifically. It’s odd in the way it snakes close to Sheppard in some parts and close in Finch in others.

Huntingwood Drive

Kennedy Road & Area, 1965

Kennedy Road & Area, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives. The future Huntingwood Drive is pencilled in bottom left. Finch jog at top.

Bookending the kilometre stretch is another farmhouse, Elmridge. This was the Pat(t)erson family homestead. Or, at least, one of them. Like the Clarks, the Patersons were a pioneering Scarboro family who toiled the land on the east side of the street between Sheppard and Finch. Robert Bonis writes in A History of Scarborough that a Thomas Paterson arrived here in 1820 from Scotland, clearing the land with his son. His descendants continued his work at Elmridge, eventually making the Paterson name synonymous with Agincourt. This excellently researched WikiTree entry breaks down the life of Thomas Archibald Paterson, the great-grandson of the original Thomas Paterson.

Elmridge House

Scenes From Tam O’Shanter

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

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

Agincourt Mall outside

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

Agincourt Mall inside

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

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

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

West Highland Creek bridge abutments

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

Tam O'Shanter Country Club

Tam O’Shanter Country Club, 1960s. Source: Scarborough Archives.

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

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

West Highland Creek Bend 1967

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

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

West Highland Creek ducks

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

West Highland Creek Bend 1956

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

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

West Highland Creek Bend 2015

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

Tam Shanter West Highland bend pond

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

West Highland Creek big bridge

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

Ron Watson Park

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

Ron Watson Park tower

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

Ron Watson Turret 1965

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

Ron Watson Turret 2015

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

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

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

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

Ron Watson Park silo

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

Stephen Leacock School Brutalism

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

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

Abandoned building Birchmount Avenue

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

Agincourt Library

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

Starbucks Birchmount and Sheppard

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

Bay Mills Boulevard

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

Sheppard and Bay Mills

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

Scenes From Wishing Well Acres

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

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

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

Sheppard & Warden Avenue

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

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

3445 Sheppard East development

Bellbox Warden and Sheppard

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

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

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

Wishing Well Acres, 1878

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

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

Palmdale Drive

Vrandenburg, 1965

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

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

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

Wishing Well Acres, 1956

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

Passageway

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

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

Canada's Millionth Post-War House

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

Wishing Well Woods

Wishing Well Woods

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

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

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

Sheppard East & Pharmacy

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

Pharmarcy Avenue

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

 

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

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

Town and Country, 1956

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

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

Wishing Well Park Taylor Massey Creek

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

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

Consumers Next Map

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

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

Victoria Park & Sheppard East

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

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

O'Sullivan's Corners, 1955.

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

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

Johnny's Hamburgers
Useful Links

CBC – Birth of the Suburbs

City of Toronto City Planning – ConsumersNext

City of Toronto City Planning – Sheppard Avenue East Avenue Study

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

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

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

 

Scenes From L’Amoreaux Park

North Scarborough’s L’Amoreaux Park has everything one would want in a park. It’s big, it has trails, it has sports, it has nature, and it even has a kid’s water park. But what makes it so interesting is its hidden connections to the past.

L'Amoreaux North Park 1

A focal point is naturally L’Amoreaux Pond in the northern edge of the park. Its trail and its waters are often populated by Canada Geese and today is no exception.

L'Amoreaux North Park 2

L'Amoreaux North Park 3

L'Amoreaux North Park Pond 2
The pond makes up the headwaters of the West Highland Creek – or, at least, the Bendale branch of it. But it seems like it wasn’t always here. Like a lot of waterways in Toronto, the creek has been altered, and, in this case, an entire new body of water has been added.

L'Amoreaux Park 2015

L’Amoreaux Park aerial, 2015.

L'Amoreaux 1965

L’Amoreaux Park aerial, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Also found on the path around L’Amoreaux Pond: a couple of Heritage Toronto plaques commemorating the Alexandra Site – a 14th-century Huron-Wendat village that was excavated just north of here in 2001.

L'Amoreaux North Park Alexandra Site 1

L'Amoreaux North Park Alexandra Site 2
The evidence of Aboriginal villages within the City of Toronto are few and far between. Many of them are destroyed before we ever learn about them. Thus, to know that there was a village here – and one tells us so much about lifestyle of these people – is very neat.

L'Amoreaux North Park 5

But in addition to the great information the plaques tell us about this Huron-Wendat settlement, it’s remarkable that up until 15 years ago, the Alexandra Site was still a farmer’s field! It speaks to the fact that even though Scarborough has changed a lot since World War II, pockets of its rural beginnings have still endured in recent years. Northeast Scarborough near the Markham line in particular still looks like the country in some parts. (And indeed, it is home to the Reesor farm – the last of its kind in the borough).

L'Amoreaux 1878

Lot 30 Concession IV, 1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York. L’Amoreaux Park was once owned and farmed by the Clarks. William Clark first settled here in 1838. Clarks Corners, the neighbourhood in the Finch Ave. & Birchmount Ave. area, is named for the family.

Rounding around the pond, one comes to Passmore Forest, a neat woodlot of looping paths and lots of great foliage. The survival of such a wooded area is remarkable if only because the legacy of colonialism is, well, a very destructive and disruptive one. Lands get cleared and farmed, invasive species are introduced, species disappear etc.

L'Amoreaux North Park Passmore Forest 1
But looking at a map of the area even 50 years ago (see above), one can see the forest even existed in 1965.

L'Amoreaux North Park Passmore Forest 2
Its naming is significant to Scarborough’s roots too, because F.F. Passmore surveyed the township in 1882. Passmore Avenue is named for him. Today, it exists as an inconsequential industrial road, but at one time ran the span of northern Scarborough (and was directly north of these woods before being obliterated for development). My theory is that Passmore became expendable as an east-west corridor because it was so close to Steeles Avenue. McNiccol Avenue further south eventually replaced it.

L'Amoreaux North Park Passmore Forest 3
As the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority – the governing agency for the Highland Creek Watershed – tells us, the existence of this woodlot is a mixed thing. On the one hand, Passmore Forest is in good shape and does accommodate some flora and fauna. On the other hand, such isolated pockets of tree cover and the effects of urbanization and human use does not allow for greater species diversity.

Out of the forest and down the other side of the pond, I find myself under McNiccol  with the expectedly shallow West Highland flowing next to me.

L'Amoreaux North Park Pond 2
L'Amoreaux North Park West Highland Creek 1
From there, L’Amoreaux Park opens up and two loafs rise high above the park. I follow the unofficial path up one and survey the scene. There are courts and fields here for tennis, baseball, soccer, cricket, and a dog park too. (Although, I best know the grounds for the Kidstown Water Park, a childhood hangout.)

L'Amoreaux North Park 6
L'Amoreaux North Park 7
From here the tree lined trail meanders around and over the creek, offering looks at the channelized  waterway before concluding at Birchmount and Silver Springs. Throughout the pleasant walk is a mental reminder that it didn’t always look like this.

L'Amoreaux North Park 8           L'Amoreaux North Park West Highland Creek 2

L'Amoreaux North Park 9

Down at Finch and Birchmount, there’s a final hidden reminder of a time long ago. The northeast corner was home to L’Amoreaux Public School (S.S. #1) from 1817-48, possibly rebuilt and replaced in the 20th century. Alexander Muir of Maple Leaf Forever fame taught at the log school. Although his name is perhaps more synonymous with Leslieville, Alexmuir School and Park carry his legacy in Scarborough.

AlexanderMuirSchoolBirchmountFinch1909

L’Amoreaux School circa 1840, 1909. Source: Toronto Public Library.

According to the Scarborough Archives, S.S. #1 was demolished in the 1970s (around 1974, more specifically) as the Birchmount Road was realigned to eliminate the job across Finch Avenue.

Finch & Birchmount, 1973

Finch & Birchmount, 1973. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Finch & Birchmount, 1975

Finch & Birchmount, 1975. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

L'Amoreaux North Park Pond

Useful Links

Hiking The GTA – Abandoned Passmore Avenue

C.B. Robinson – History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario: Biographical notices – ‘The Township of Scarborough’

Dodgeville – Lost Passmore Avenue

In Search of Your Canadian Past: Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

Jason Ramsay Brown – Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests: Their natural heritage and local history – ‘L’Amoreaux North Park and Passmore Forest’

Kevin Plummer – Historicist: Unearthing the Alexandra Site’s Pre-Contact Past

Scenes From Birkdale Ravine

Toronto & Region Conservation Authority – State of the Watershed Report: Highland Creek Watershed, August 1999