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!

23 responses to “Scenes From Tam O’Shanter

  1. Wonderful detective work on the silo. There is a lot in this city that has been “left over” and forgotten form a time long ago.

  2. Definitely. Often stuff we know of but haven’t considered on any deep level.

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  4. y husband is looking for a photo of the GIANT Golf Ball that was at Sheppard & Kennedy and read “Tam O’Shanter Golf Club”

    • Hi Laurie, I do know about the giant golf ball, but haven’t located a picture yet. I’m curious about it, too!

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  6. I worked at the golf course.

    • Hi Mark, thanks for commenting! Any memories? When did you work there? -Bob

      • Worked there in the late 60’s till the fire. What a great time there. Two good families that I knew. The Sparkhalls, and the Sellers. Great people. I worked on the golf course, and the curling rink. So much fun, and what a life I had there. Do it again in a sec. HAHA.

  7. I enjoyed reading your articles. My father built our home on Pharmacy Avenue, north of Sheppard in 1955, on the west side of the street, before Bridlewood was built. He and my mother purchased the 1/2 acre of land with money from their wedding – $500.00. We lived in that house until the home was sold in 1977, after my father passed away. I have many happy memories of that area, Wishing Well Plaza and Agincourt in general.

    • Hi Margaret, thank you very much for sharing. I write in hopes of soliciting memories like yours. From what I’ve gathered there’s a lot of fondness for the area 🙂

  8. Another great read. You do some serious researching!! Now I want to go and look for that abandoned silo 🙂

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  10. Hi Bob and thanks for a walk down memory lane! During the 60’s I lived in the residential development directly across from Agincourt Mall south of Shepard Ave. The “Tam” as we all called it back then was a popular spot year round. Public skating and tobogganing in the winter and swimming at the pool during the summer. For your info, the derelict structure you described in the picture is actually the remains of property owned by a local farmer named Paul Chepak. His farm was in Stoufville and he used to sell his produce at this location. His son Terry was a friend of mine. We used to have some great corn roasts here!

    • Hi Eric! Thanks for the message — this is amazing! Your info about the building on BIrchmount matches with my research. Has been there since the 60s, possibly the 50s.

  11. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who knew the Sparkhalls of Tam O’Shanter, Scarborough.

  12. This is the landscape of my childhood and teen years. As a child, we used to go to the Tam O’Shanter swimming pool, it was marvellous. I have such fond, but somewhat foggy, memories of the place. I remember inside the Tam O’Shanter club, one room had a giant moosehead on the wall.
    As for Woolco and Agincourt Mall, I worked there in the 1970s. I was a high school student (Agincourt Collegiate) and worked at Woolco two evenings a week and all day Saturdays (from 10 am to 10 pm!!) In those days, both Woolco and Agincourt Mall were bustling, thriving, fun places to shop in, eat at, and meet your friends. Loblaws too was super-busy. How sad that that is no longer … what the heck happened???
    Now I live in Paris and all that seems so far away. But thanks to your very well-researched blog posts, it all came back.
    https://julietinparis.net

    • Hi, thank you for sharing! It’s neat to read about Agincourt Mall as a hangout. Different than what I grew up with and especially with what’s there now!

  13. My earliest memories of the Tam would be in the very early ‘60’s. My Mom and Dad both curled, and I have distant memories of going to the Tam with my mom as a pre-schooler while she curled on a weekday morning. I was born in ‘57 so I guess that must have been 1960-61.
    Later, my brother and I both played in the Wexford Hockey League so we were at the Tam every Saturday through the winter. NHL legend Howie Meeker ran his hockey school there too which we both took part in.
    We moved from Warden & 401 (south side) to Bridlewood in ‘68, so in addition to hockey in the winter, we also went there swimming in the summer because we could ride our bikes there. Played golf more than a few times too.
    When the Tam burned down, the smoke could be seen for miles. I remember the ash falling from the sky at our house on the other side of Warden. We rode our bikes over to find the fire and were both amazed at the size of the it, and saddened that the place we had spent so much time in was falling down in front of us.
    I remember the Agincourt Mall being built (we went right past the site to get to the Tam nearly every week) and went there countless times. It was the first Woolco that I can remember and we went there pretty regularly. I think the supermarket was originally a Dominion store.
    My friends and I would ride our bikes there regularly and would go right past the Stephen Leacock site when it was under construction.
    Gordon Sinclair (well-known TV & radio personality) was coming there one Saturday and they had roped off a parking space for him right in front of the Dominion for his Rolls Royce. I’d never seen a Rolls so I talked my dad into going to the mall. We were there for a while but never did see him or his car.
    I think that the beginning of the slide for Agincourt mall was when Fairview Mall opened. It isn’t very far away and I recall when it opened, my friends and I went there to hang out rather than the Agincourt.
    I can still picture the giant golf ball on the tee and remember the silo.
    A bit of a long post Iguess but hopefully others will see this and have their own memories tweaked. Great job on the original research!

    • Scott, thank you very much for sharing your memories! Truly phenomenal to read. I’m amazed that a common thread in people’s recollection of the Tam was the fire and how everyone travelled distances to see it.

  14. The supermarket at Agincourt Mall was actually a Loblaws store. It stood all alone for a few years before the Mall was built.

    • I remember it as a Loblaws — I didn’t realize that it predates the mall as a whole. I see it now through the old aerial photos. Nice!

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