Category Archives: Neighbourhoods

Scenes From East Don Parkland

It’s all about the layers in the East Don Parkland. The residual landscape from the last Ice Age, the ravine, which stretches from Leslie and Steeles to Don Mills and Sheppard, has come to see pre-contact wilderness, colonial farming and industry, and post-war revitalization and reconfiguration.

But ‘East Don Parkland’ is a bit of a misnomer if only because it encompasses not only the east branch of the Don River but another – albeit smaller – tributary waterway.

German Mills Creek originates just to the north of Steeles in its historic namesake Markham community (sadly, now lost). The label is pretty literal, too: German Mills was once an industrious village along John Street founded by Bavarian-born William Berczy and a group of his countrymen and women. In addition to being a prosperous settlement, the community was instrumental in the early development of York too. The goods supplied by the mills aided in constructing the actual built form of the young town. The German Mills pioneers also cleared Yonge Street from Eglinton to Thornhill before the Queen’s Rangers finished the job.

East Don Parkland became part of Toronto’s parks network in the 1980s after efforts to remediate and rehabilate a river that had been worn out by European activity. Today, it is home to a number of flora and fauna, most notably salmon and white-tailed deer, the latter which are prominently displayed on the park’s signage. A neat tidbit: the deer’s precense in Toronto dates back to around 9000 years after the end of the last Ice Age.

Cummer Avenue bisects (or trisects?) East Don Parkland and offers more history. Unsurprisingly, the street’s name plays homage to the family who toiled around and built it – although to different designs.

Jacob and Elizabeth Kummer (the name was inexplicably changed to a ‘C’ around 1820), like the pioneers of Markham were of German descent, and came to the Toronto area in 1795, first settling near Yonge and Eglinton. They would relocate further up the main street to Willowdale where they would amass an extraordinary fortune. Their original property was a 190-acre lot fronting Yonge and stretching to Bayview. With subsequent generations of Cummers, their holdings grew to encompass not only large plots fronting Yonge but portions of the East Don Valley too. Whereas the former real estate was good for farming and commercial activities, the power of the river allowed the Cummers to engage in some industry. In 1819, they built and began operating a sawmill.

The Don property was interestingly significant in that early settlers as well as First Nations peoples took part in church and camp activities there. Through the meetings, the area was famously known as “Scripture Town” and “Angel Valley”.

East Don from Tremaine’s Map, 1860. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

Around the 1850s, Jacob III, grandson of Jacob Kummer, built a farmhouse to overlook the valley. The home isn’t perfectly parallel to the street it rests on, making it a bit of an intriguing anomaly with the surrounding post-war subdivision.

To connect the Cummers’ Yonge and East Don holdings, a side road was constructed. Today, we know that road allowance as Cummer Avenue. Where the street crossed the East Don, it veered south to follow the curve of the river on its way to Leslie Street. The aforementioned mill was also located near this junction.

East Don River and Old Cummer, 1950. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

In the mid-1960s, Cummer was re-oriented away from the valley. A bridge that used to carry car traffic across the river serves as a reminder of its former course. One has to think of the vehicular ghosts when traversing the recreational trail that replaced the street.

A paved portion also leads to Old Cummer GO Station, where the street once passed through before the station’s construction in 1978. For years I puzzled about the station’s name. 

South of Finch Avenue, with golden foliage of fall to accentuate the walk, the trail winds on. 

So does the river, although not as it once did. Like Cummer Avenue, the Don’s history has come with some alterations. Along the way is at least one algae-covered oxbow – an orphaned or even ghost segments separated from the river’s course. This particular one was severed around the early 1950s.

East Don River, 1950. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

East Don River oxbow, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

One has to note the monstrosity of human construction that is the CNR Richmond Hill GO line looming above the park.

A fallen tree trunk spanning across the river instantly urges me of more pioneering connections. It reminds me of an Elizabeth Simcoe depiction of an early bridge across the Lower Don River.

Winchester Street, bridge over Don R. (Playter’s bridge), 1794. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Finally, at the park’s southern end is Old Leslie Street. Just like Old Cummer, Leslie used to take on a different route. Heading south, the street used to jogged west at Sheppard before continuing south, all presumably to avoid crossing the Don River.

Sheppard and Leslie, 1961. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The junction of Old Leslie and Sheppard was the nexus of the tiny, lost mill community of Oriole, named for George S. Henry’s homestead located off the Betty Sutherland Trail

Old Leslie Street and Sheppard, 1956. Source: Toronto Public Library. Oriole Wesleyan Methodist Church stood on the southwest corner from 1873 to the 1950s.

By 1969, the street was rerouted directly through Sheppard. Old Leslie remains mainly as a service road for the Leslie TTC Station, terminating across from North York General Hospital.

Useful Links

City in the Trees – Retrospective: Sheppard, Leslie, and the Don

Discover the Don – Walk The Don – East Don Parkland 

City in the Trees – Treasures on the Doorstep

Hiking The GTA – Old Cummer Road 

Lone Primate – Closed Old Cummer Avenue

Patricia W. Hart – Pioneering in North York: A History of the Borough

Richard Fiennes-Clinton – Muddy York: A History of Toronto Until 1834

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

Scenes From Knox United Church & Cemetery

If you wanted to discover north Scarborough’s past, a heritage walking tour through Knox Church just might do it. It is, after all, an Agincourt landmark. Long before tower complexes dotted the sky of the neighbourhood, the church steeple was the tallest structure around.

A congregation – first Presbyterian and then United  – has been at the corner of Midland and Sheppard Avenues since the 1840s, but the existing Gothic Revival structure has been with us since 1872. Its adjoined cemetery aids in telling some of the area’s stories through its movers and shakers who lie under its grounds.

Knox United Church

Knox United Scarborough Historic Site
A walk through Knox’s field of gravestones is a neat experience. The names that lend themselves to Scarborough and Agincourt’s streets, schools, parks…they’re all here. The community’s early history – or at least, a segment of it – converges at Knox United Cemetery.

Knox Cemetery

Browsing each row, I see a lot of familiar names. They are the pioneering European families I have encountered in my explorations of Scarborough and Agincourt. They are the bloodlines that once farmed the lots that would eventually come to be filled with post-war housing subdivisions, apartment towers, and shopping centres:

The Patersons of Kennedy Road…

Patersons

…the Kennedys, the namesakes of the above mentioned street – who actually donated the land for Knox…

John Kennedy             Amos Egbert Kennedy

Kennedy Family

…the Macklins whose ‘bush’ and farm lay at Brimley and Finch…

Macklin

…and the Vradenburghs and Muirheads further down Sheppard Avenue (sadly, poor Ichabod V’s tribute is fading).

Vradenburgh      Muirhead

One family I haven’t encountered is the Hastings. According to Lost Toronto, the Hastings farmstead was located at Markham and Finch and was later moved to Whitby. The grave marker makes reference to the beautiful house and the family’s farming (and bridle?) roots. Also of note: the Freemason symbol.

Scarborough Hastings

There’s also the Elliots and Glendinnings too (the latter settling in the very northwestern corner of the borough in historic L’Amoreaux).

Elliot      Glendinning

And of course, one can’t not mention the first family of Scarborough: the Thomsons (some of which are also buried at St. Andrew’s in Bendale near the historic Thomson Settlement). All these families are intertwined in marriage too.

Thomson

It’s interesting to go through the dates and ages on the stones. Many people lived long lives, experiencing Agincourt through two world wars and a transition from farms to subdivisions. There’s a story or two there in itself.

Knox United Kennedy

On the other end, there’s sadly the occasional young life who had not the gift of longevity.

EleanorHarris

Knox’s stones themselves are largely in tact, although a great deal of the older markers – the ones in the ground – have succumbed to time and the elements. Fortunately, the Ontario Genealogical Society has transcribed them.

Knox Cemetery stone         Knox Cemetery broken stone

While I was meandering around, a church staffer approached me with some great details about the past and present (and future) of Knox. Apparently soon after it was built, a huge gust blew the top off the steeple! The church has seen a number of additions to its facilities, including a ‘big dig’ to carve out a basement, a rear annex,  a Christian Centre to the north, the widening of the front entrance, and an elevator. Hopefully the impact on the heritage features was mitigated through all the work. Lastly, the plots of the cemetery are largely filled, but a lovely cremation garden was recently created.

Knox Church

Knox Cemetery rows

The decades following the war were particularly good to the church, with returning veterans building a robust membership and their children – now the boomers – filling its Sunday school. The congregation today itself isn’t what it used to be in terms of numbers, a trend within the United Church which has seen memberships dwindle as older church-goers pass away and younger generations fail to take up the torch. This decline has led other houses from other denominations to shut down completely. Their buildings have gone on to be re-adapted into residences, like the Glebe Lofts (Riverdale Presbyterian Church) and the recently converted College Street Baptist Church and Temple Baptist Church. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened for Knox United.

Knox United fenestration

If there’s one way to see how time has affected Knox United Church, though, it’s through a ‘then and now’ shot of its grounds since the early 20th century. Not only is the field and building sparse, but the surrounding pines have grown just a wee bit. If they could talk, eh?

Knox United Church, after 1900. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Knox United 2016

 

Storytelling, Jane’s Walk, and Scarborough’s Wishing Well Acres

Every place has a story.

That was the takeaway when I began looking into the past and present of Wishing Well Acres in northwestern Scarborough. That same takeaway was reaffirmed after hosting my first Jane’s Walk on May 8th, 2016: Wandering Wishing Well Acres.

Jane's Walk Wishing Well Acres 2016

The only picture taken at “Wandering Wishing Well Acres”. Discussing Wishing Well Plaza and its future.

The grand story of Wishing Well, like many communities of Toronto, is contained in its historical evolution. Not surprisingly, the layer of suburbia is probably most central to this area. And that’s where my own fascination began.

The millionth house built after World War II in Canada is located in Wishing Well Acres — a little white corner bungalow originally purchased for $16,200. Of course, this bungalow could have been built anywhere — that is to say, there was nothing really special about Wishing Well that ‘bred’ the millionth house (other than perhaps the timing of the subdivision’s construction in 1956).

Heritage Property Map

The genesis of Wandering Wishing Well Acres came from the discovery of Canada’s Millionth Post-War on an Interactive Heritage Property Registry Map. Source: City of Toronto.

But the fact that the millionth house was here gives a bit of insight about the area in the 1950s — why people were moving to Toronto’s new suburbs. The owners of the watershed home were Mr. and Mrs Camisso and their two daughters (nuclear family, much?). The story goes that they were not even looking for a home but Mrs. Camisso was attracted to the green roof. Other selling points: its proximity to the Toronto ByPass (now the 401) and its automatic heating (no more shovelling coal into furnace!).

Millionth House Globe 1956

“1,000,000th House Built in Canada Since War is Sold to Young Family of Four”, Globe & Mail, Sept 15, 1956. Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

1956 is a funny year. In the grand timeline of history, it really isn’t that long ago. But at the same time, it is hard to find a reference point to that period. Newspapers help; first-hand accounts are better. My goal for the walk was to retell the ‘History’ of the area (via research), and elicit other ‘histories’ (i.e. personal anecdotes) from fellow walkers. Together, those make up a complete picture. I think that was achieved.

Wandering Wishing Well Acres had the wonderful benefit of two original residents and their takes on the neighbourhood some fifty and sixty years ago – one that still lives in the subdivision and one that returned for the first time in decades for the Jane’s Walk! Some of those insights: neighbours really did all know each other, children rode their bikes together, and people would gather in Wishing Well Park’s flooded ice pond. It was a great place to grow up. I get a similar vibe whenever I walk through it today.

Back to the layers: It’s no secret Scarborough was mostly rural fields prior to WWII. The farms are gone, but their geographic legacies remain. Subdivisions were developed 100 acres at a time — the size of patented farm lots that were gradually swooped up in the 1800s. Sheppard Avenue, the main street of sorts, provided access to the three farms that compose Wishing Well Acres as Concession Road III. It was later made a highway between Pickering and Yonge Street (because apparently Kingston Road was too congested in 1931?).

There’s the enduring power of names in local storytelling, too: Wishing Well was the name of Christopher Thompson’s farm; Vradenburg/Vradenberg, of which the street and school is named, was another pioneering family (albeit, with a more European spelling: Vradenburgh).

1860Scarboro - Copy

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

Of course, there’s a story before the Vradenburghs, Thompsons, and Masons. Was there Aboriginal presence here? Unfortunately, there’s no proof, but I’d still say possibly. Other sites in Scarborough — the Alexandra Site, Tabor Hill & Birkdale Ravine — point to indigenous settlement as late as around 800 years ago. Those areas all had a waterway in common — and Wishing Well once sported a free-flowing creek through it.

So then, what’s the future of Wishing Well Acres? I’d say it’s similar to its past: redevelopment. Sheppard Avenue is changing to accommodate more density: walkable, mixed use and mid-rise buildings. It’s like a retrofit to the blantantly, car-designed suburb. Of most interest to Wishing Well is the proposed development at Pharmacy and Sheppard. If it gets the green light, it would replace Wishing Well Plaza, which was at one time the commercial nexus of the early community and today home to a few eateries and shops that are largely and perhaps erroneously overlooked.

3105-3133 Sheppard East development 1

And what would a talk of the future be without public transit? Regardless of what transit on Sheppard Avenue ends up looking (or if it ends up looking like anything!), demand for (improved) public transit isn’t new! In 1956, the Town and Country Ratepayers and Community Association were calling for more than just a rush hour bus on Victoria Park. They wanted service on Sheppard! Plus ca change, eh? (That bus didn’t come until the mid-1960s, by the way.)

Town and Country Globe 1956

“A Bungalow in Scarboro”, Globe & Mail, Aug 6, 1956. Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

There are other aspects to the story  too: the burying of Taylor-Massey Creek, the gem of Wishing Well Woods (another rural remnant), the lost O’Sullivan’s Corners village at Victoria Park and Sheppard (of which the Johnny’s Hamburgers building is a leftover), and the Northwest Drive-in once located in Consumers Business Park (which is also getting a makeover.) It’s fitting that “Wandering Wishing Well Acres” ran overtime — there was too much to say!

Northwest Drive-In 1975

Northwest Drive-In & Consumers Business Park, 1975. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Being located in Scarborough, the Wandering Wishing Well Acres Jane’s Walk was likely not destined for popularity. It’s admittedly not a “sexy” topic nor located in a “sexy” area. But I tried not to let that deter me.

Wishing Well Acres has a story. It’s a good one. And it should be told and celebrated.


Useful Links

City of Toronto – Heritage Registry Interactive Map

“Wandering Wishing Well Acres!” Jane’s Walk

On May 6-8, 2016, Toronto will be hosting its tenth edition of Jane’s Walks. The festival features a large number of city-wide, free, citizen-led walking (and talking) tours, which aim to get people exploring their own (or others’) neighbourhoods, learn, tell stories, and connect with others.

Jane Jacobs was an untrained urban theorist from New York City and later Toronto who developed her ideas about cities through observing people. Jane’s Walks began in 2007 following Jane’s death in 2006 as a way for her friends and followers to honour her. This year would have been her 100th birthday.

JAne's Walk

Source: Jane’s Walk

I myself was first introduced to Jane Jacobs and her famed The Death and Life of Great American Cities in a third-year university class. I have also been taking in Jane’s Walks for the last 4 years. Last year, I summarized my experience.

This year, in addition to attending other leaders’ walks, I will be hosting one myself! My recent interest in the history and makeup of Scarborough communities near where I grew up has inspired me to adapt my Wishing Well Acres exploration into a Jane’s Walk!

Wishing Well Woods 3

“Wandering Wishing Well Acres!” will run on May 8th at 11:00am. We will start in the middle of Wishing Well Woods at Pharmarcy & Sheppard and wind our way around the neighbourhood to unpack the layers and the stories of this early post-war subdivision (1955-6!).

 

Wishing Well Park 3

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 Bridlewood

If all you knew about Bridlewood was the origin of its name (yes, it involves horses), that would be a great enough tidbit. Fortunately, the intrigue of this North Scarborough community reaches far beyond its curious moniker.

Let’s begin on Huntingwood Drive near Birchmount Road, for example, where a trio of stubby saintly- and stately-named roads, each progressively shorter than the other, dead end at the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course (related: you can read about my take on the club and area here). They might be some of Toronto’s shortest streets.

St. Crispins Dr.King Henrys Blvd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prince Hal Blvd.

At the intersection, Huntingwood Square houses Chris Jerk and Hunter’s Pizza, great local eateries that showcase a few of the tastes of Bridlewood and Scarborough.

Huntingwood Square

Bridlewood also hosts a portion of the North Scarborough Green Loop, a cycling and walking route that winds around the upper part of the borough.

North Scarborough Green Loop

From Huntingwood Drive, the loop turns onto the West Highland Creek trail, the main waterway through the area.

West Highland Creek North Scarborough Green Loop

West Highland Creek Timberbank

On its way towards Finch Avenue, the channelized creek splits off in two places, the latter of which leads into L’Amoreaux Park in one direction and follows the Loop in the other.

West Highland Creek Finch Avenue

The Highland leaves the cycling path behind at L’Amoreaux Drive, and continues to its terminus at Brookmills. Nearby, on the Donway-esque Bridletowne Circle, there’s L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute. Its grey 1973 exterior and coloured lockers were quite familiar to me in the 90s while attending Saturday Greek school.

L'Amoreaux Collegiate Institute 1

L'Amoreaux Collegiate Institute 2
A neat tidbit: Rush’s Subdivisions, the Willowdale group’s 1982 anthem about the alienation that goes with growing up in suburbia, was appropriately filmed at L’Am (albeit, I don’t know if that outsider feeling is exclusive to the suburbs).

Another Bridletowne Circle landmark is Bridlewood Mall — and the graveyard curiously situated in its parking lot. This is Christie’s Methodist Cemetery and it has an interesting story.

Christie's Methodist Cemetery 2
When the mall was to be constructed the 1970s, the developer had this collection of 19th century gravestones at the end of a dead-end path to contend with.

Christie's Methodist Cemetery, 1974

Christie’s Methodist Cemetery, 1974. Source: Toronto Star Archives.

The trustees of the overgrown necropolis as well as the descendants of its “inhabitants” successfully fought against the desire to move the graves. And so it remained — a welcomed rural leftover within post-war Scarboro.

Christie's Methodist Cemetery 3

Christie's Methodist Cemetery gravestone

The cemetery has its origins as a part of Isabella Graeme and Isaac Christie‘s 200 acres on Concession IV lot 33. They donated a portion of their land in the 1840s to a congregation for a church. Their headstones, along with their relatives, are housed in the parkette. A plaque tells their story.

Christie's Methodist Cemetery Isaac Christie Isabella Graeme           Christie's Methodist Cemetery Rachel Christie

Christie's Methodist Cemetery plaque

Bridlewood Mall, which celebrated its 40th year in 2015, hosts some of Canada’s retail ghosts. Its original anchor, a Zellers (Kmart before that), sits empty, even as its doors still welcome people into the bargain store. Inside is a collection of stores, including a well-loved Toronto Public Library branch. It seems 40 years after its inception, the Finch-Warden community around the mall might need some revitalization.

Bridlewood Mall
Bridlewood Mall 2      Bridlewood Mall 3

Like Christie’s Cemetery, the First Alliance Church and its parking lot hold another link to Scarborough’s rural past.

First Alliance Church
First Alliance Church Parking Lot
The church was built in 1977, but a photo in the Toronto Star five years prior shows a Mr. Harold Patton plowing his field in the presence of newly constructed hydro towers, townhouses, and apartment buildings. It’s a remarkable view of the borough in transition. Suburbia emerging.

Harold Patton 1972

Harold Patton on his farm near Warden & Finch, 1972. Source: Toronto Public Library/Toronto Star Archives.

Finch & Warden 1973

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

The hydro towers in the photo are gone, but the muddy corridor remains. There seems to be something happening with it.

Hydro Corridor
North Bridlewood Park has an unexpectedly king-of-the-castle-esque hill. (At least, I hope local children use it as such. I could be out of touch. Let’s go with toboganning. That’s a thing still.)

North Bridlewood Park 1

North Bridlewood Park 3
Further south, Bridlewood Park has a similar, more popular hill. Good for flying kites.

Bridlewood Park 1

Bridlewood Park 2

The existence of a Bridlewood and a North Bridlewood is somewhat curious to me, given that the schools and parks aren’t actually that far apart. It might lie in how the community developed. The original Bridlewood subdivision is located between Sheppard Avenue and just north of Huntingwood and between Pharmacy and Warden Avenues. It was completed in 1966.

Bridlewood1962

Bridlewood under construction, 1962. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Later “expansions” north toward and past Finch, which we might call North Bridlewood today, came in the 1970s. They might also be considered part of the larger Bridlewood neighbourhood (although, one could say there is overlap with L’Amoreaux and Tam O’Shanter — borders seem to be fluid). Judging by the friendly faces I speak to as I make my way down Bridlewood Boulevard, this is great area.

Bridlewood 1

Bridlewood 2

Lapping back to the Bridlewood name, the northeast corner of Pharmacy and Sheppard was once home to industrialist and distiller Harry Hatch‘s indoor horse racing track. Hatch took over the stable in 1926, adding “championship horse breeder” to his profile in the process.

Bridlewood Indoor Racetrack 1961

Harry Hatch’s Indoor Racetrack, 1961. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

When the structure was demolished around 1963 to make way for the housing development, Robert McClintock, who had an unsuccessful go at developing Bridlewood Mall, harnessed its history in its branding.

Bridlewood Sheppard Avenue 2

Bridlewood Sheppard Avenue
Useful Links

BlogTO – “GTA Tripping: Cemetery in a Park Lot” by Christopher Reynolds

City of Toronto – “Finch-Warden Revitalization Study”

Distillery Heritage – “Harry C. Hatch (1884 – 1946)”

J.H. Beers & Co – Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of York, Ontario

Spacing – “There are 100 graves in the parking lot of this mall” by Chris Bateman

Toronto Public Library – “A History of Toronto Public Library Bridlewood Branch”

Toronto Star Archives – “Finch and Warden – Agincourt/Scarborough”