Ontario Place is nostalgia. We all have vague or even not so vague memories of going down to Ontario Place with our families for a fun-filled day. But things are changing at the park.
Opened in 1971, the idea of Ontario Place came following the success of Expo 67 in Montreal. Ontario Place was a display in modernism — a showcase of the future. The 1960s and ’70s were a transformative time culturally and architecturally in Toronto. Buildings such as Toronto City Hall and the TD Centre ushered Toronto into a new era. Ontario Place was part of that optimism. Brightly coloured pavilions echoing Expo would scatter its grounds along with giant silos, but the signature structure was and still remains the iconic, space-aged Cinesphere, featuring new IMAX movie technology. The buildings were the unique designs of Eb Zeidler, a German born architect working in Canada.
Continuing Toronto’s century long obsession with shaping and reshaping its waterfront, the land to house Ontario Place was a new addition to the city’s geography. Two infill islands would be built south of Lake Shore Boulevard near the Exhibition Grounds, connecting to the mainland by bridges.
The park would grow over the years. A central rink doubled in the summer as roller rink and as a skating rink in the winter months. The Ontario Place Forum offered musical entertainment from Teenage Head to Johnny Cash to Blue Rodeo to BB King to The Tragically Hip. The Toronto’s only waterpark — Froster Soak Park — would open in 1978 on the East Island. Wilderness Adventure Ride would excite log-riding ‘thrill seekers’ starting in 1986.
Ontario Place closed in 2011. Although many of the park landmarks are still intact and Ontario Place Corporation is still active, the sites serve almost as urban relics. It’s an odd yet intriguing contrast walking there today: one thinks of the circumstances of its construction — the hope and intent for grandeur and futurism — and then its sad abandoned state — how that vision didn’t ultimately hold up. Maybe it was never meant last. Dwindling attendance put an end to it.
As mentioned, there were attractions added over the years, but perhaps Ontario Place never matched up as a ‘modern’ amusement park to its suburban counterpart Canada’s Wonderland. As the years grew, I certainly heard it mentioned less and less as a destination. Oddly, I actually encountered the grounds more as an adult than as a child; albeit this was because attending concerts finally became a reality and the Molson Amphitheatre — the successor to the Forum — was a great venue for it, so I was only passing through.
The good news: revitalization is in Ontario Place’s future. A long-term vision has the grounds becoming a destination once more through a lot of re-purposing. One part of this plan is already in effect: Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail. This extraordinary space was carved out parking lots and offers some of the most spectacular skyline views of Toronto.
As a showing of the possibilities, Ontario Place held a Winter Lights Exhibition in the winter of 2018, transforming the grounds and showing them off in a different, well, light. A walk around the artist creations offered neat views of the abandoned park, instilling both a sadness and perhaps some optimism for the next stages. Maybe then Ontario Place will be the future once more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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 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.
Milliken District Park lies in Scarborough’s northern reaches, hugging Steeles Avenue East between McCowan Road and Middlefield Road. Its story includes the transformative move from farmland to suburbia, as well as its importance to the community both past and present.
The park’s focal point is Milliken Pond, famed for the great wildlife that frequent its waters – most notably, the trumpeter swans. If one is lucky, one might also catch a look at the great blue heron. (I don’t have the pleasure on this day.)
Beyond its great aesthetic, the body of water also serves a functional purpose as a storm-water management pond. According to The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, which manages the larger Highland Creek Watershed (of which the park is part of), Milliken Park was built in a low-lying area, and this basin collects the run-off rainwater from the surrounding environment and deposits it into the Highland Creek via underground pipes.
Adjacent to the pond is a great bit of greenspace (and my favourite aspect of the park) called Milliken Forest. This wooded area predates the creation of Milliken Park and has remained in tact even when the farmland around it was redeveloped (more on this below). It joins spaces like Passmore Forest, Brimley Woods, and Wishing Well Woods as woodlots that exist as what I call ‘rural leftovers’.
While they aren’t the great expansive forests of the Don Valley or the more untouched areas closer to the mouth of the Highland Creek, these spaces are important. They are key as homes to wildlife and help to mitigate the larger impact urbanization has had to the Highland Creek Watershed as a whole. For people, they are gems and escapes.
Exploring Milliken Forest piques my interest in labyrinths (albeit sans a mythological beast in the middle). One walks with hopefully a general sense of where they are, but ultimately not knowing where one path may lead. There are several forks in the road, leading me to also think of the Robert Frost poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ about choice, regret, and self-discovery.
On the theme of discovery, moving out of the trees, I locate a cache placed within the park. Geocaching is a global scavenger hunt where individuals hide trinkets of many sizes and shapes in personally significant locales in hopes of drawing folks to those places. I would say Milliken Park is perfect for that — people should know about this place.
A gaze around and one can see this is a well-designed, well-utilized park. In addition to the variety of programming at the community centre, there are walkers, picnickers (barbeque, anyone?), people-watchers, children on various playgrounds, and athletes. A regular sight for a beautiful Sunday morning I imagine. This connection goes back to the intent of the park in the first place: to serve the great amounts of new residents. News articles at the time wrote about the integral part greenspace played in linking new neighbourhoods.
For historical context, the Millken Park area was subdivided in the 1980s, continuing a process that had been going on in Scarborough since the 1950s. Going through historical aerial maps, one can see suburbia marching northward with every decade. It’s interesting when you get to a year like 1975 and you see that a good part of the borough up until Finch Avenue has been populated, yet still a simple drive or even look north produces agricultural fields. It’s a weird in-between period for Scarborough. For the areas of North Scarborough around Steeles Avenue, it’s odd to think of them as fields as late as the 1990s in some spots.
Milliken Park looks to have been possibly created as a ‘deal’ between developers and local government to allow greenspace in new areas of suburbia. The article below outlines the design, planning, and marketability of new parks in new suburbs, and the views different cities and developers take on the form and utility of parks. It also states that Milliken Park was supposed to have ‘model farms’.
A final feature of the park is the beautiful meadow and garden area towards the northwest quadrant. The gorgeous space is prime for wedding shoots, which indeed happened on this day, or just quiet contemplation.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Scarboroughthat 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
The answer: In the 1930s to the 1970s, this was the site of the Tam O’Shanter Golf and Country Club, the precursor to Tam O’Shanter Golf Course.
In addition to golf, the Tam O’Shanter Country Club complex had swimming, ice hockey, and curling. In 1971, the club erupted in flames, destroying some of the complex. In researching the fire, I’ve read many stories about people seeing the flames from afar. Like Agincourt Mall, the country club meant something to many people.
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.
But the creek hasn’t always run the same course.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!