Tag Archives: toronto

Scenes From Milliken Park

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’.

Milliken Park before redevelopment, 1965. The area that became Milliken Park was Lots 22 and 23 of Concession Road 5, historically farmed by families such as the Mitchells and Myles’. That also looks to be a creek running through the western third. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

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.

Globe and Mail, January 7, 1984. Credit: Toronto Public Library Globe and Mail Archives.

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 and its subdivisions under development, 1985. The farmhouses look to be gone. The creek that might have ran through the property has been buried and the stormwater pond has taken shape. Previously two parallel roads north and south of Steeles Avenue, McCowan road has been rerouted to curve through the intersection, eliminating the jog. To the south, Passmore Avenue (5th Concession) has been largely overtaken by housing and today only remains in segments.

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’.

Globe and Mail, July 20, 1985. Credit: Toronto Public Library Globe and Mail Archives.

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.

    

    

 

Scenes From Berczy Park

If I could sum up the new Berczy Park, it would be a heavy expression of changing landscapes mixed in with a bit of whimsy — in a city that perhaps needs a lot more whimsy. One gets that immediately with the cat greeting patrons on Scott Street.

Dogs populate the inside and outside of the pool, water cascading out of their mouths and into the bone-topped fountain. Well, there is one confused feline among the canines, too.

Part of the appeal of parks is the context they exist in. Think Withrow Park, Christie Pits, and Trinity Bellwoods and how crucial they are to the larger Riverdale, Christie Pits, and Queen West Queen neighbourhoods, respectively. While the revitalized Berczy Park is going to be huge in the Old Town-Downtown Core area, the interplay between the park and its immediate surroundings is most intriguing. Having the fountain and the 19th century streetscape to its south as a backdrop makes for a perfect scene.

Robert Rotenberg in Old City Hall describes this stretch of Front East as having a  “comfortable, almost European feel”. With the addition of the park, I think this holds even more true. In particular, the Beardmore Building, 1872, is my favourite of the row with its beautifully restored yellow brick and arched windows.

The existence of Berczy Park is bittersweet in that the triangular block was once filled with warehouses and shops like the Beardmore. Beginning in the late 1950s but accelerating in the 1960s, these historic rows were knocked down, became parking, and then finally usable public space in 1980.

It’s easy to lament the loss – and indeed, we should (a plaque showcasing the former streetscape, anyone?) – but at some point we should move forward and make the best with what exists. Fortunately, that point has been taken very well Berczy Park.

Looking east, above more seating and gardens, one sees the giant mural draped across the back of the Gooderham Flatiron Building. The artwork was commissioned for the opening of the park in 1980.

Below it, an art piece stands for the park’s namesake, William Berczy, a settler in the Town of York and the communities along German Mills Creek in Markham.

Then, there’s the Gooderham Flatiron Building itself, at one time the great headquarters of Toronto’s brewing and distilling industry. It’s perhaps the most imaged structure in the city. With the updated Berczy Park, it’s in a position to be captured even more.

While its lasting existence seems so natural, the Coffin Block actually manned the odd intersection before it. I would say this is a case where heritage replacing potential heritage was not so bad.

Wellington St. E., looking w. from Church St., 1888. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“The Ward: Representations and Realities, 1890-1950” at Campbell House Museum

I was first introduced to The Ward several years ago through a compelling archival photograph. It was of an impoverished child standing in the debris-filled lane of what looked like a ‘slum’. In the background were the unmistakable Romanesque Revival towers of Old City Hall. The disparity between the two places – the majestic civic heart of the city and the desperate ‘ghetto’ literally at its doorstep – struck me at the time. And it still does. Even more striking is that photo was taken in what is now the southern end of Nathan Phillips Square.

Rear of 21 Elizabeth Street 1913

Rear of 21 Elizabeth Street, The Ward, 1913. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The story of St. John’s Ward is very much one of lost geographies (like in the photo), lost narratives, and how and why we remember or don’t remember. The Ward’s former borders were from Yonge to University and College to Queen. Those streets still exist of course, but the built form between them largely hasn’t survived. For a long time, the stories associated with those landmarks and their Chinese, Italian, Jewish, and Black communities also went underground.

The 2015 release of The Ward: The Life And Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood was an excellent step in revealing those narratives. The book was co-edited by John Lorinc, Ellen Scheinberg, Michael McClellan, and Tatum Taylor, and features the great contributions of many talented writers. It is easily one of my favourite titles in the Toronto History genre. Today, “The Ward: Representations and Realities, 1890 – 1950” continues that work.

The Ward Toronto

Part of the Myseum of Toronto’s 2015 “Intersections” festival,  “The Ward” exhibition is housed in Campbell House Museum, the 1822 residence of Sir William Campbell, a former Chief Justice of Upper Canada. In 1972, the Georgian-style house famously moved from its original location on Adelaide Street to Queen and University.

Cambell House Museum Toronto

It’s a fitting locale given the museum’s placement near the historic area of The Ward (and indeed, above the mantle of the ballroom is an aerial photograph of the neighbourhood taken from the location of the museum.)

Cambell House Museum The Ward 2

The challenge of interpreting and showcasing The Ward’s histories is the lack of contemporary borders attached to those stories. Thus, from a museological perspective, it affects the kinds of artefacts one has access to. Photos of The Ward are abundant, so the curators –  Paul Bishop, Daniel Panneton & Marisa Strom – had no issues there. Photographer Arthur Goss, at the instruction of the health department of the day, did a remarkable job of documenting the troubling conditions of the enclave.

The show is organized thematically with well-displayed panels and pictures about The Ward’s politics, labour strife, Lawren Harris’ artistic take on the area, and other realities. New to me was Albert Lane was one of Toronto’s notorious laneways.

Cambell House Museum The Ward 3         Cambell House Museum The Ward 5

Cambell House Museum The Ward 4
A nice collection of loaned artefacts offer some physical connections to The Ward. They include a labour union banner, restaurant items and Eaton’s pins, and a copy of the (in)famous 1911 Hastings Report in which Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Hastings, observed and critiqued the overcrowded, ‘diseased’ conditions of the enclave. Slums were not a good look for Toronto, according to the high-ranking civil servant. The report came to be the official representation of The Ward.

Cambell House Museum The Ward 7

Cambell House Museum The Ward 8

The neatest addition for me, though, was the collection of oral histories from surviving members of the neighbourhood. “The Voices of The Ward” offer different realities than the Hastings Report — one that emphasizes its deep community. Stories include the ethnically diverse clientele of its shops, being an Italian during the War, and how Eaton’s would not hire Italians.

The interviews provide an audible, human element to The Ward in a way that faces in pictures or names in old news articles cannot. Archival images and words are certainly great resources, but they can put history at a distance. The recordings are a very important reminder that there are living connections to St. John’s Ward today. After all, 1950 wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of history. Residents of The Ward and their descendants still live in Toronto.

Cambell House Museum The Ward 9
“The Ward: Representations and Realities, 1890-1950” is on until April 23, 2016 at Campbell House Museum at 160 Queen Street West. Admission is free, although donation is always appreciated.

Cambell House Museum The Ward 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarborough Museum Cornell House

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

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

Cornell House Parlour Room
Cornell House bedroom

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

McCowan Log House

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

McCowan Log House bedroom

The crib in the foreground belonged to the Thomsons.

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

Rhoda Skinner Scarborough Pioneer

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

Hough Carriage Works

Hough Carriage Works Penny Farthing

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

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

Scarborough Museum Frances Tweedie Milne

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

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

West Highland Creek

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

Thomson Park Canadian Northern Ontario Railway

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

Thomson Park 1956

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

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

St. Andrew's Road

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

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

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

Scarborough General Hospital

Bendale 1878

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

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

Ben Jungle

The Ben Jungle subdivision dates from 1956.

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

Tabor Hill Park

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

Tabor Hill lookout

Tabor Hill looking northeast

Useful Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Schofield – Home Sweet Scarborough

Robert Bonis – A History of Scarborough

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

The Scarborough Hospital – “Milestones”

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

Toronto Museums – “Statement of Significance – Scarborough Museum”

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

Virtual Museum – “Bendale: About Place”

Scenes From Kennedy & Lawrence

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

Kennedy & Lawrence Strip Mall

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

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

1st Pizza Nova Scarborough

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

Kennedy & Lawrence

Kennedy & Lawrence 1960

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

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

Mike Myers Drive

Kennedy at Mike Myers 1960

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

Kennedy Lawrence Hydro Station 1965

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

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

Kennedy Road

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

Kennedy Bingo

Al-Huda Muslim Society

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

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

Givendale Allotment Gardens

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

Jack Goodlad Park

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

Jack Goodlad Park Pan Am Path

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

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

Scarboro Drive-In 1960

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

Scarboro Drive-In 1965

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

 

Useful Links

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

Cinema Treasures – Scarboro Drive-In

Inside Toronto – Meet Pizza Nova’s Dominic Primucci

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

Scenes From Tam O’Shanter

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

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

Agincourt Mall outside

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

Agincourt Mall inside

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

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

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

West Highland Creek bridge abutments

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

Tam O'Shanter Country Club

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

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

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

West Highland Creek Bend 1967

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

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

West Highland Creek ducks

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

West Highland Creek Bend 1956

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

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

West Highland Creek Bend 2015

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

Tam Shanter West Highland bend pond

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

West Highland Creek big bridge

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

Ron Watson Park

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

Ron Watson Park tower

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

Ron Watson Turret 1965

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

Ron Watson Turret 2015

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

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

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

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

Ron Watson Park silo

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

Stephen Leacock School Brutalism

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

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

Abandoned building Birchmount Avenue

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

Agincourt Library

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

Starbucks Birchmount and Sheppard

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

Bay Mills Boulevard

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

Sheppard and Bay Mills

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

Scenes From Open Streets TO 2015 – Bloor Street West

On September 6, 2015, Toronto opened its streets for the second time this year for Open Streets TO. Last time, I walked the dynamic Yonge Street, noting the history and influence of Eaton’s on the strip. On this day, I decide to tackle the other main street: Bloor.

10. Open Streets TO
In the course of walking this 3km stretch, I came to the curious realization that I’m actually walking three Bloors: the Mink Mile upscale shopping district, the museum/UofT/Annex row, and the smaller shop and bar section within the Koreatown BIA.

I suppose there could be a fourth if I include Bloor east of Yonge: the neglected, forgotten Bloor. (Seriously, I have no idea what’s there.)

2. Bloor Street West Mink Mile
Yonge and Bloor is changing. It’s had a long history, beginning as the gateway into the Village of Yorkville and continuing to be reinvented today. Its southern corners will eventually host two massive towers – one that’s well far along and the other that’s just a plot for now (formerly occupied by the fallen Stollery’s building). When One Bloor East Number One Bloor and The One are completed, they will be imposing gatekeepers.

1. One Bloor

4. Stollerys site & One Bloor
The Mink Mile lines both sides of the street from Bloor to Avenue. There’s nothing modest about the size of its storefronts – and for good reason. It’s the most prestigious commercial real estate in the city and country. It’s an exclusive part of town, and even though I’ve walked the stretch many times, it’s easy to feel excluded because of it. Still though, it’s a beautiful and walkable stretch of street with colourful planters and wide sidewalks.

3. Bloor Street West Mink Mile 2
5. Bay & Bloor
At Queen’s Park, the ROM crystal boldly juts into the street. It’s a controversial structure in the city. The museum is beloved as a classy, archaic building, the original Romanesque Revival wing which lines Philosopher’s Walk opening in 1914. But then there’s this thing that’s been slabbed onto it. You either like it or hate it.

And I get the hate – it represents everything that many feel is wrong with redevelopment & heritage in Toronto. It’s the new ruining the old – whether it’s attaching a tower to an older pediment or obliterating the old with a new tower completely (cough*Stollery’s*cough). But to me, the ROM is a structure that works aesthetically. I like it.

7. ROM
The ROM kicks off the campus/museum-y row. Beside it is the Royal Conservatory, built in 1880 as the first McMaster University before it moved to Hamilton. As one might expect, there’s a musical performance in front of it. Like the ROM, the Convervatory also has a modern addition which really meshes old & new. And Koerner Hall is a great venue.

8. Royal Conservatory of Music

9. Open Streets TO chalk message
The Bata Shoe Museum mans the southwest corner at St. George. It’s a Raymond Moriyama design, who intended it to look like a shoe box. That was in 1994. In 1924, the corner looked a bit different.

12. St. George & Bloor Bata Shoe

Bloor St. George 1924

Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1924.

166 St. George Street looks somewhat similar to the George Gooderham house (1892), which survives diagonally from it. They were both built in the 1890s in the castle-like Romanesque Revival style, as highlighted by their mighty turrets and fine masonry. The Gooderham residence, now the York Club, is the last bastion of residential Bloor Street.

George Gooderham York Club

Taken April 2015.

At Huron is the former Rochdale College. I feel especially connected to this site because of its association with 1960s Yorkville, which effectively got me into learning about Toronto history. The school opened in September 1968, following the Yorkville hippie ‘exodus’ after the hepatitis crisis of that summer. The building wasn’t even finished.

13. Rochdale College Bloor Street
Rochdale was intended to be an innovative, experimental alternative to conventional university education, which by accounts of Rochdalians (see comments) had its plusses and  negatives. Being an outsider who was born long after Rochdale, I’m cautious about commenting about its legacy. I do wonder if it’s an “you-had-to-be-there-to-know” kind of history. The dominant perception that seems to have prevailed in history is that Rochdale was a chaotic, drug-filled environment that succumbed to its own dangers. But its influence and legacy goes beyond that limited view. The Unknown Student (1969), created by the Rochdale Sculpture Group, sits in despair in front of the building.

14. Unknown Student Rochdale College
For more on Rochdale and the Unknown Student, there’s Stuart Henderson’s incredible thesis and book Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s, Dream Tower: the life and legacy of Rochdale College, Rochdale, the runaway college, and this very informative blog on the sculpture (featuring some great shots of the lost houses across the street).

Spadina Avenue/Road marks the end of UofT and the beginning of what I call the modest commercial strip that extends to (and past) Christie. I’m welcomed by a jovial band.

16. Open Streets TO music Spadina
Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church is another interesting landmark to me for its Eaton family connection. Timothy Eaton, with his empire already quite profitable, helped f(o)und the construction of Trinity Methodist Church, as it was first named in 1889.

There are few nearby Eaton homes in the Annex as well. You can see their locations and other Eaton affiliated sites in my T. Eaton Co.’s Toronto map.

17. Trinity-St. Paul's United Church
While caught up in the examining Trinity-St. Paul’s, I hear ringing behind me. I have to sidestep the oncoming cyclist, who I’m pretty sure is Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.  It’s serendipitous, because she is an advocate for city building & public space, and responsible for bringing us Open Streets. She tells me a ‘thank you’ and rides out of sight.

Next, I come to two nearby structures which I believe were once neighbourhood theatres. Actually, the first – now housing a Bulk Barn and the Annex Billiards Club – looks like a one-time theatre, although I can’t confirm.

19. Annex Billiards
The second – the muralled Lee’s Palace (of Scott Pilgrim fame) – was Allen’s Bloor, opened here in 1919. I’ve taken in one concert at Lee’s: an intimidate showing by 90s rock outfit Econoline Crush in 2007. I have to puzzle at why or how someone painted ‘WE HATE YOU’ on the top (or who is ‘we’).

21. Lee's Palace Allen's Bloor 2
At Bathurst & Bloor, Honest Ed’s buzzes with Open Streets activity. A train of cycists ride by some yogis. Nearby, people partake in some road hockey. Behind them, Ed Mirvish’s store – a Toronto institution since 1948 – is set for closure and redevelopment in 2017. It’ll be another project to track, especially in what happens to Mirvish Village.

22. Open Streets TO Honest Ed's Hockey

23. Open Streets TO Honest Ed's Cyclists Yoga
The next stretch of street encompasses downtown Toronto’s Koreatown. It’s a neighbourhood whose beginnings reach back to the 1960 & 70s, when the first wave of Korean immigrants came to Toronto and began to rent out these shops on Bloor West.

25. Bloor Koreatown
The Korean Village Restaurant, for example, opened in 1978 and is one of the oldest and best Korean eateries in the city. There’s a date marker above its door, taking it back to the 1900s. I like to imagine the layers of occupants in this structure over the years. Those are a lot of stories.

26. Korean Village Restaurant 1

26. Korean Village Restaurant 2
Approaching Christie, I stop to take a photo, because I’m reminded of an archival shot I saw days before of the same location in 1920.

29. Christie & Bloor
The Bloor Street of 1920 at Christie Street was residential, streetcar lined, and cobblestoned with a recently created Christie Pits/Willowvale Park.

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs

Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1920.

As it should, Christie Pits bookends Open Streets TO as an activity hub. There’s target shooting and more yoga.

32. Christie Pits Park
Finally, I gaze back east. Number One Bloor is somehow still visible kilometres away! Between where that tower and I stand, there are several neighbourhoods and several moods and many landmarks with their own stories, all linked together by this one stretch of road. It’s amazing how that happens – and we have so many examples of it across our city. With that, it’s off to the next adventure!

30. Open Streets TO Christie Street 1