Tag Archives: maps

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 The Peanut, Parkway Forest, and Graydon Hall

When I was first told about a place in Toronto called the Peanut, I laughed. The Peanut? What kind of name is that? I was then explained that it really looks like a peanut.

Peanut Aerial Looking South Late 1960s

The Peanut Aerial Looking South, Late 1960s. Source: ERA Architects

But even after being told that and looking it up on a map, I still had no visual conception of it. Don Mills and Sheppard itself isn’t completely unfamiliar to me – I’ve known it since my childhood as the home of Fairview Mall. My family doctor is also located here. But Don Mills heading north toward Finch – no clue.

The peanut is the nickname given a development of high-rises and townhouses along Don Mills Rd. - because of the shape of the road in it when seen from the air. Most of it has been built in the past 10 years. Ratepayer groups say the high density of population has aggravated social problems. Two groups oppose a proposed condominium development nearby but other people say development is inevitable and developer should be asked what he would provide for recreation.

The Peanut Aerial Looking South, 1976. Source: Getty Images.

And thus, I begin at the top. Van Horne Avenue. To the north, the street consists of lanes of north-south traffic. To the south, the street splits off into singular direction-flowing lanes on either side of a giant curving island.

The Peanut 1

It’s not an original thought to suggest The Peanut isn’t very pedestrian friendly – even now, getting to its centre is unusual. A Walkability Study by Paul M. Hess and Jane Farrow goes into great detail about the issues – good and bad – about living and walking the Peanut. But even without defined criteria, one can see with one’s own eyes – and feet – how awkward traversing the Peanut can be. Walking toward the mall, I can already see someone jaywalking the southbound curve.

The Peanut 2

Peanut Plaza displays no obvious charm, but seems to hold a bit of meaning to the people that know it. Aesthetically, it’s clearly of another era: the mid-1960s, much like the rest of its surroundings. (The skylight inside, though, is commendable.)

Peanut Plaza 1
Peanut Plaza 2

It’s notably anchored by Tone Tai Supermarket, but every bit of positive word of mouth I’ve heard about the Plaza lies in its eateries – specifically Allan’s Bakery and Mr. Jerk, which have been described to me as having the best Jamaican patties and food in the city. Imagine that: such an unsung landmark in suburbia with some of the best food in Toronto.

Peanut Plaza Mr. Jerk

The rest of the Peanut houses Georges Vanier Secondary School and Woodbine Junior High School. The latter is notable to me (and perhaps only to me) for its naming. Woodbine Avenue currently exists as two main stretches – one running south of the River Don and one running north of Steeles. The portion in Markham once extended south to the 401 and beyond. It was replaced by Highway 404 in 1976.

Woodbine Junior High School

Peanut Woodbine DVP Aerial 1966

Aerial of The Peanut & Parkway Forest, 1966. Woodbine Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway on the right. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Created in 1963, The Peanut is the embodiment of post-war suburbia in Toronto: car designed streets, apartment buildings, strip malls, and minimalist looking schools.

I don’t venture into the residential streets, but in his exploration of the Peanut and the larger Don Valley Village, The Toronto Neighbourhood Walks Project‘s Jason points out the side streets add a new twist to the cookie cutter subdivision. Instead of the same house repeated over and over, it’s the same four in a row, creating a false sense of diversity. (As the comments point out, though, even the residents know this and are trying to instill some individuality to their homesteads.)

Peanut Aerial Looking Northeast Late 1960s

Peanut Aerial Looking Northeast, Late 1960s. Source: Vintage Toronto.

Don Mills West and East converge at Fairview Mall Drive, which houses Fairview Library and Theatre. For the longest time, I knew it as a great library branch – and an architectural slab of grey concrete. In 2013, a glass addition was added to its 1972 exterior. Only months after reopening, though, a flood shut down the library again.

Fairview Library 1976

Fairview Library, 1976. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Fairview Library 1

Fairview Library 3

Across the parking lot is Fairview Mall. It was opened here atop farmland in 1970. Its anchors at the time were Simpson’s and The Bay. I think it might be the only major Toronto shopping centre that never had an Eaton’s.

It has grown a bit since my childhood; the tenants are different, the food court’s moved, and there’s no more Rainbow Cinemas and their cheap matinee movies. Even the parking lot is different. There are now fences separating the mall from the library and medical building lots.

Fairview Mall

Walking south to Sheppard Avenue, you have to be a mindful pedestrian. There are cars turning in and out of the mall as well as buses turning into the station.

Fairview Mall 2

 

Don Mills apartments
There is a neat find in a plaque devoted to Northern Dancer, a revolutionary thorough-bred horse ‘foaled’ (word of the day?) in 1961 at businessman E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Estate fronting Bayview Avenue. I question the very liberal use of ‘near this site’ (although the farm might have extended towards Don Mills), but it’s another unexpected tidbit of North York’s rural past.

Northern Dancer plaque
At the busy intersection of Don Mills and Sheppard, a look to the west produces the far off towers of downtown North York.

Downtown North York Skyline

Don Mills and Sheppard Looking South 1964

Don Mills and Sheppard Looking South, 1964. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

At the southeast corner, rainbow cones animate a nice walkup to the Emerald City condo complex. They are Douglas Coupland creations, and are the second occasion of his art showing up in Toronto suburbia – the first down the road at the Shops At Don Mills.

Emerald City 1       Emerald City Douglas Coupland

There’s also a Bell box covered in a jungled motif. I suppose that’s a reference to the ‘forest’ in Parkway Forest. The ‘parkway’ is naturally the Don Valley Parkway, completed here in 1966. Parkway Forest has its origins that year too, but after 40+ years was in need of revitalization and re-urbanization.

Parkway Forest Bell Box

Don Valley Village is a bit of a misnomer, because I’ve been to actual Greek villages and there’s very little continuity between them and the ‘villages’ in Toronto. Emerald City – or, at least, its street layout – to me approaches that compact community feel. Coupland’s striped pencil crayons dot the streets, sprinkling new life into a space whose previous incarnation, according to the author and artist, was comparable to a World War I trench. Ouch.

Emerald City 3         Emerald City 6

Emerald City 4

There’s an interesting dynamic within this community because there are the new towers of Emerald City and then the old Parkway Forest apartments. It’s got Toronto’s two tower booms in one place – the 1960s to 1970s and 1990s to now.

Parkway Forest Ad July 21 1972

Parkway Forest Ad, Toronto Star July 21, 1972. Source: Toronto Star Archives.

Parkway Forest Apartments
On George Henry Boulevard, there’s a pit awaiting the next phase of Emerald City.

George Henry Boulevard Emerald City Construction
Following Forest Manor Road down, one comes to Parkway Forest Community Centre, which looks every bit like a Diamond Schmitt creation: swanky, glassy, and energy efficient.

Parkway Forest Community Centre 1           Parkway Forest Community Centre 2

Leaving Parkway Forest, a venture south on Don Mills is a notable one. First, one can see the faint outlines of downtown Toronto and the CN Tower in the distance. Second, it treacherously (for me, anyways) runs over the 401, where the Peace Lady in White (I had no idea about her) has been known make her presence.

Don Mills over 401 2

Don Mills over 401 1
South of it, the community of Graydon Hall is named for the main landmark in the area, the Georgian-style Graydon House, which was constructed here in 1936. It was designed by Allan George and Walter Moorehouse for broker Henry Rupert Bain.

Graydon Hall Manor 2

In Casa Loma-esque fashion, Graydon House is situated on a hill east of Don Mills Road, which makes for an amazing view of the gardens but also a slight feat to reach the manor.

Graydon Hall Manor Rear Henry Rupert Bain, 1950s.

Henry Rupert Bain in the gardens of Graydon Hall Manor, 1950s. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Graydon Hall Manor gardens

The hilly Graydon Hall Manor estate, undated. Source:Graydon Historical Archive.

Its historical driveway did not lead to and from Don Mills, however, but Woodbine Avenue. Until 1964, Don Mills stopped at York Mills and was continued north when new communities – The Peanut, Parkway Forest – necessitated its existence.

Graydon Hall 1963

Aerial of Graydon Hall and area, 1963. Source: City of Toronto Archives. Graydon House is located in the top centre. Highway 401 is north of it. Woodbine Avenue on the right. Don Mills & York Mills, bottom left.

Henry Rupert Bain died in 1952, and his manor and estate was sold to developer Normco Limited in 1964, who constructed the surrounding high-rise and residential community. Today, the house functions as a wedding and event venue.

Graydon Hall

Graydon Hall Ad July 29 1972

Graydon Hall Ad, Toronto Star, July 29, 1972. Source: Toronto Star Archives.

Around the corner from Graydon Manor is one of the first landmarks in the new community, George S. Henry Secondary School (now Academy). Built in 1965, it celebrates its 50th year in existence in 2015. I took Saturday language classes at G.S. Henry in my teens and haven’t been back since, so it was a treat seeing the school (and actually seeing what the rest of the area looks like). Its namesake, George Stewart Henry, was a farmer of the area and a former premier of Ontario. His former residence, Oriole Lodge, is situated west of Don Mills Road near the East Don.

To end things, I make my way through the residential community and down to Duncan Mill Road. I opt for another visit to the Duncan Mills Ruins, located at the Betty Sutherland Trail.

Duncan Mills Ruins 1

Two years after first looking into them, the industrial relics are still a mystery to me, but it seems they might be connected to the Graydon House story. Amongst their possible uses, Jason Ramsay-Brown of Toronto’s Ravines And Urban Forests speculates that they likely were a pumping station for Henry Rupert Bain’s estate. Neat!

Duncan Mills Ruins 2

Useful Links

ERA Architects – Michael McClelland at the Getty: Toronto Towers

Get Toronto Moving – The Don Valley Parkway

Graydon Hall Manor Facebook Group – From the Graydon Historical Archive

Heritage Toronto – Wes Farris – From Brewing to Horsebreeding: E. P. Taylor and Windfields Estate

Hiking The GTA – Graydon Hall

Paul M. Hess and Jane Farrow – Walkibility in Toronto’s High-Rise Neighbourhoods

Satellite Magazine – Graeme Stewart, Josh Thorpe, & Michael McClelland – The slabs vs. the points: Toronto’s two tower booms

Scenes From A City – Scenes From The Betty Sutherland Trail

Scenes From A City – Scenes From Crescent Town

Scenes From A City – Scenes From Duncan Mills Ruins

Scenes From A City – Scenes From Shops At Don Mills

Toronto Neighbourhood Walks Project – Don Valley Village

Toronto Public Library – Shawn Micallef – The Great Toronto Peanut

Toronto Star – Shawn Micallef – Following North York’s Yellow Brick Road

Toronto’s Ravines And Urban Forests – Duncan Mills Ruins

Vintage Toronto Facebook Group – Don Valley East, Fairview Mall Area

A Grand Geographic Timeline of Toronto History?

This is just me trying to get down some ideas. It may be rough and unclear, but hopefully something to build on.

As a follower of Toronto’s history, I come across a lot of dates – when something was built, when a town is incorporated, when a park is founded etc.

What’s interesting, though, is I’ve started noticing how certain years come up in different stories across the city.

Take the year 1854 as an example. A storm splits Toronto Peninsula to create the Toronto Islands. 26 km to the northeast John Hill founds a post office in Agincourt which signals the start of that community.

It’s fun to think about what was happening in different parts of the city at the same time. You have communities with no formal connections to each other growing alongside each other. Communities that eventually form the modern City of Toronto.

Wikipedia’s page on the History of Toronto has articles on History of Neighbourhoods, Historic places, Oldest buildings and structures, and Timeline of Toronto History. It would interesting to combine these into a giant timeline of events in Toronto’s history. More than that, because this relies on displaying information tied to places, I’d like to see the information displayed on a map (because really, who doesn’t like looking at maps?). I imagine being able to look at map of a given year and clicking on different nodes placed on that map. Then, being able to explore the map from the following year.

I imagine being able to draw observations about how the city developed, what was settled when, what areas were industrializing/de-industrializing, when and how natural landforms were shaped (think the burial of creeks) etc..

In all, it would be another way to capture the story of Toronto. Just an idea.

A View of York (Toronto) Upper Canada, 1820

Edmund Wyly Grier’s “A View of York (Toronto) Upper Canada, 1820”  Credit: Toronto Public Library