Tag Archives: yonge street

Scenes From Eglinton Avenue West

Eglinton Avenue is Toronto’s east-west midpoint. It is the only street in the city (although took some doing in the 1950s and 60s to make it so) that traverses all six former municipalities. This attribute has made it perfect for a crosstown transit line. Although it was laid out in 1793 as the Third Concession from Lot (Queen) Street, I would argue that Eglinton’s form, at least from Yonge Street to Latimer Avenue, as we know it today does not begin to take shape until 130 years after it was laid out.

Might’s correct city directory map of Greater Toronto, ca. 1940. The extension across the Don River branches were completed by 1956. In 1967, Richview Sideroad in Etobicoke was absorbed into Eglinton Avenue when the two streets were joined via a bridge across the Humber River. Credit: Map and Data Library, University of Toronto.

This stretch of Eglinton Avenue west of Yonge Street and the surrounding area was historically part of the Village of North Toronto. Even though the village was absorbed into the City of Toronto in 1912, allowing it to reap the benefits of better service delivery, the street was still a sparsely populated dirt road. It wasn’t until the coming decades when Eglinton’s fields morphed into a mixed residential and commercial zone. By 1930, the road was paved and possibly widened.

Eglinton Ave, west from Yonge, October 19, 1922. Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 1637.
Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Eglinton Avenue west from Yonge Street, April 23, 1930. Fonds 1231, Item 1646. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

At Duplex and Eglinton stands a power station. The yellow-bricked structure was built in 1920 at a time of rapid expansion in Toronto. With the Toronto Hydro-Electric System (now known as just Toronto Hydro) becoming the only distributor of power in Toronto at the tail end of the 1910s, Toronto was experiencing the pressures of an electrified transit network and a growing population.

The Eglinton sub-station was one of many built in this era to cope with this demand, specifically serving the surrounding residential community and “the Metropolitan radial line on north Yonge Street and subsequently to the TTC Yonge route and Eglinton Carhouse in the area.”

Eglinton Sub-station, August 10, 1925. Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3975. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Related, a short distance across from the station, there’s a row of mid-rise apartments. The positioning of these 1930s Art-Deco inspired buildings one after the other leads one to conclude that this was by design, although I wonder at their context considering the larger history the Toronto has with this kind of housing stock.

One historical narrative has been that whereas at the time the City of Toronto avoided this housing style, outlying communities like York and Forest Hill including them in their planning. For example, a more prominent row of these decorative lofts exists further west on Eglinton near Bathurst Street in the former Village of Forest Hill. These ones close to Yonge would have existed on land already annexed to the city, though. Curious.

Next, Eglinton Park has a neat past. As Lost Rivers explains, long before its colonial period, Huron peoples occupied its land and the nearby area – notably, the site of Allenby Public School – in the 15th century. In more recent history, the park was a brickyard! Capitalizing on the clay beds created by the now buried Mud Creek, James Pears ran his establishment here beginning in the 1880s.

The Eglinton Hunt Club (foreground) & Pears Brickyard (background), looking southeast,1920. The Pears home (now gone) can be seen at the top of the image at 214 Eglinton Avenue. A water tower stood on Roselawn Avenue near Avenue Road. A communications tower is in its place today. Credit: Toronto Public Libary

The modern geography within the park shows off the layers of time: the ‘dug-in’ escarpment leading up to Oriole Parkway, the hilly topography of Roselawn Avenue. Pears formerly worked out of today’s Ramsden Park in Yorkville before moving up Yonge Street, which has similar rolling features. These are the former lives of our parks.

Later, with North Toronto annexed, the City of Toronto attempted to purchase the yard from Pears before outright expropriating it in 1922 when he refused. The entire exercise came at a time in the 1920s and 30s when the City’s Parks Department was expanding, creating parkland and accompanying infrastructure such as shelters, gazebos, and bandshells. In fact, the Toronto Archives has a wonderful collection of ink & pencil drawings as a part of an Architectural Drawings Scrapbook prepared by the Department of Buildings for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Eglinton Park (Roselawn Avenue) Shelter, August 12, 1930. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 1, Item 934. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Pears’ legacy did live on for a while as the space was unofficially known as Pears Park for a time (and still might be?). Modern amenities have been added to the park since then of course, including a community centre, playground, and a Cretan maze via the Toronto City of Labyrinths Project!

A final sign of the street’s arrival was the eventual population of the street with commercial activity. The north side of Eglinton east of Avenue was one of the first retail blocks, coming to us around 1930.

CANATCO house index map of Toronto and environs, 1932. Credit: University of Toronto Map & Data Library.

Eglinton Ave. north side Avenue Rd. looking east, April 23, 1930. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1223. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

With the opening of the Eglinton Theatre in 1936 to serve the growing local community, another commercial dimension was added. Neighbourhood theatres were abundant in Toronto by World War II, but The Eglinton was a benchmark in grandeur.

Whereas other ‘nabes‘ were more low-key in aesthetic, the Kaplan and Sprachman-designed Art Deco movie house and its neon-lit tower announced itself on the commercial strip. It’s amazing considering this was also during the Great Depression. It was operational until 2002, remarkably late in the history of comparable theatres. Today it’s the Eglinton Grand.

 

Useful Links

City of Toronto Archives – “Turning on Toronto: Toronto Hydro-Electric System” Web Exhibit

City of Toronto Planning Department – “Eglinton Connects Planning Study July 2013 Draft”

Historic Toronto – “Memories of Toronto’s Eglinton Theatre” by Doug Taylor

Lost Rivers – “The Eglinton Park Hill”

Scenes From A City – “Scenes From Yorkville”

Silent Toronto

Spacing – “Toronto’s Art Deco district? Take a walk along Eglinton Avenue West” by Daniel Rotsztain 

Torontoist – “Historicist: The ‘Manifest Destiny’ of North Toronto” by David Wencer

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 Open Streets TO 2015 – Yonge Street

On Sunday August 16, 2015, Open Streets TO ran the first of its car-free street initiatives this year which aim to promote healthy-living and vibrant cities and reimagine public space.

Yonge Street Open Streets
Beyond supporting the awesome event and its cause, I wanted to take advantage of the time and open streets to stroke my historical and urban curiosities, particularly in regards to Yonge Street and the T. Eaton Co.

I’ve embarked on a project to map the history of Eaton’s transformative influence on Toronto. Much of it relates to the Yonge Street we see today. Check it out here.

The streets were open on Bloor from Spadina to Parliament and Yonge from Bloor to Queen, but I elect to walk southwards from College. The intersection’s landmark is, of course, College Park, opened as the ambitious Eaton’s College Street in 1930.

College Park (2)
It was to be the T. Eaton Co.’s headquarters, moving from its flagship store about a 1km to the south. It was also supposed to have a 36-storey tower, but the penny-pinching of the Great Depression scaled it back. Luckily its ornate Art Deco-ness as it exists today hasn’t changed since the 30s.

College Park 1930s

Source: Archives of Ontario. 1930s.

Yonge Street won’t get any emptier than this at noon.

Yonge Street
The College department store was built with many entrances, one of which leads up to the Carlu. The store closed in February 1977 along with seventh floor restaurant and event space, The Round Room and Eaton Auditorium (which opened in 1931). It was locked until 2003, when it was rebranded as the Carlu, after the space’s architect, John Carlu. In 1983, the Round Room and Eaton Auditorium were designated a National Historic Site to prevent demolition.

College Park Carlu

College Park (3)
I had to take a peek inside.

College Park
Passing the store completely, I can’t resist a look back, if only to compare with an dingy looking shot from the 1970s.

College Park 1970s

Source: City of Toronto Archives. 1970s.

College Park Yonge Street
The Downtown Yonge Street strip is next with RyersonU’s towers looming above it all.

Yonge near Gerrard Open Streets
Beyond that, the Eaton Centre, another ambitious Eaton endeavour, is continuing on its perennial makeover of its oldest part from 1977. Nordstrom’s is set to become its third anchoring tenant after the recently closed Sears and the namesake store before it.

Eaton Centre
There are many making use of the free street – walkers, runners, cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers – but it’s a wonder seemingly a bigger majority still are using the sidewalk. It’s intuitive behaviour in any normal circumstance, but so counter-intuitive to the whole purpose of Open Streets.

The Toronto Eaton Centre also redefined the street grid around Yonge. Where Baton Rouge is now, one would’ve been able to turn on Albert Street.

EatonsFactories1919

Source: Archives of Ontario. 1919.

Eaton Centre (2)
Beside the 1905 E.J. Lennox designed Bank of Toronto building is the Massey Tower pit. Fun fact: Heritage Toronto’s former logo is based on the bank. I didn’t know that.

Massey Tower Construction
I wonder if the people manning the table in front of Danier know they’re in front of the site of Timothy Eaton’s  first store at 190-196 Yonge Street, opened in 1883.

Eaton Centre Open Streets

Eatons1884catalogue

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Inaugural Eaton’s catalogue, 1884.

The walk ends at Queen Street with a gaze at the 1896 Robert Simpson Co. building, which housed Eaton’s historic competitor. The irony is the Chicago-style structure occupies the site of T. Eaton’s first dry goods store he opened in 1869.

Simpson Building Queen StreetFinally, turning back up to face Yonge, I ponder another historical bookend. I wonder what our 19th century brethren in the pre-automobile age might have thought about Open Streets.

Open Streets Yonge at Queen

Yonge_Street_north_of_Queen_Street_by_Micklethwaite

Source: Wikimedia Commons. 1890s. The T. Eaton Co. flag flies high above the main store.

Scenes From Yorkville

40. Yorkville Avenue at Hazelton Avenue

Before I can start my stroll, I note the taste for coffee developing in my buds. I opt not for Starbucks and not for Timmies, which hang beside each other in competition, but for the Toronto Reference Library. Yes, it may be closed on this Easter Monday, but Balzac’s isn’t. The customer in front of me in line tries to pronounce the name of the brew she’s ordering; the barista has to correct her. Me, I don’t bother with the given name of my amber roast; I grab it and am on my way.  Now I can start.

1. Toronto Reference Library

Yorkville is about as quintessential a Toronto neighbourhood as you can get. It also has a deeply layered past and an ever evolving future, some of which I am already aware of and eager to see the evidence of. While its borders have expanded and contracted over its long history, it’s my thought that the part east of Yonge doesn’t get a lot of consideration.

And so, that’s what I intend to do to start things off.

I don’t get very far on Asquith before I see my first discovery. Although I’m hugging (not literally) the Bell building on the opposite side of the street, my eyes spot a pathway beyond the library across the way. The street sign reads ‘Sherlock Holmes Walk’. Literary giants next to one another! Having read Mr. Conan Doyle’s biography years ago, I imagine he would approve of the tribute – he loved Toronto and Canada (and hated the States).

3. Bell Canada Asquith Avenue

4. Sherlock Holmes Walk Toronto Reference Library 5. Sherlock Holmes Walk Toronto Reference Library

At the end of the way is Church Street, whose curvy route between Bloor and Yonge Streets is the result of a project to relieve traffic congestion in the 1920s. Even without this knowledge, the odd meeting of Church, Collier, and Park streets and the island it forms in the middle just looks unnatural. I look towards Davenport, spotting the famed Masonic Temple, 1917, but opt to head in the opposite direction.

Goads Atlas 1884, Yorkville east of Yonge

Yorkville, east of Yonge Street. Source: Goads Atlas, 1884.

My next stop, situated beside a singular Victorian house (no doubt once part of a row), is Asquith Green, which sadly is more muggy brown than green. Still though, I remind myself of the parkette’s potential in the summer and give it points for the animal cutouts and accenting structure in the middle. I don’t know the source of what I think is a quote, but subsequent Googling has produced ‘We Rise Again’, an Eastern Canadian music classic. Here’s a  moving version with the great Maritme songstresses, Anne Murray and the late Rita MacNeil.

7. Victorian house beside Asquith Green Park

8. Asquith Green Park

9. Asquith Green Park

Following Park Road up, I come to Rosedale Valley Road. This quiet throughway marks the border between Yorkville and its upscale residential sister, Rosedale.

It is also built on top of the now completely buried Castle Frank Brook. It is particularly important in shaping the modern geography of Yorkville, but also to its history – particularly in its brewing and brick making past. Located southwest of me near Sherbourne Street, for example, was Joseph Bloore’s brewery. Bloor Street, of course, is his namesake. (Mr. Bloore also holds the distinction of having the freakiest portrait of any figure in Toronto’s history.) Parkland marks the intersection, and trudge through it to arrive at Severn Street.

Joseph Bloor Brewery, 1865

Joseph Bloor Brewery, 1865. Source: Toronto Public Library.

12. Lawren Harris Park

14. Lawren Harris Park

The tiny dead end street is anything but inconsequential. For one, it’s named after John Severn, another 19th century brewer. His establishment stood at Yonge and Church. Moreover, Castle Frank Brook’s alternate name is Severn/Brewery Creek.

Severn's Brewery, 1870s

Severn’s Brewery, 1870s. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Severn's Brewery, 1912

Severn’s Brewery, 1912. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Perhaps even more notable to the street is that one can find the Studio Building. On the way here, I passed through Lawren Harris Park; Mr. Harris  lived and worked in the  Studio Building, 1914, along with other members of the Group of Seven.

16. Severn Street 17. Studio Building Severn Street

The Studio Building holds double distinction as a National Historic Site and a Toronto heritage property. The Toronto Historical Board plaque in particular informs me that the Harris in Lawren Harris is of the Massey-Harris industrial empire. Learn something everyday. The Studio Building was designed to be a secluded quiet spot where artists can work their creative process. As I move around the building I hear the periodic screeching of the Yonge subway and somehow I think that doesn’t completely hold true today (although the surrounding parkland does help a bit).

18. Studio Building Toronto plaque

19. Studio Building National Historic Site plaque

I continue on my way, this time following Aylmer up. I stop for a moment to watch the trains roll in and out of Rosedale Station and then cross Yonge. The street becomes Belmont and I’m liking the streetscape on either side of me. Other than admiring the charm, however, I do have another purpose for being here.

22. Rosedale Station from Aylmer

23. Belmont Street Toronto

24. Belmont Street

25. Belmont Street

Belmont House is a retirement home and long term care centre built in the 60s. More interesting to its story is that it is built on the site of an Aged Men’s Home, Aged Women’s Home, and Magdalen Asylum & Industrial House of Refuge.

The latter establishment is most fascinating. On first glance at the name, it doesn’t sound like a particularly good place – asylums generally don’t provoke the best connotations and the Biblical character it’s named for isn’t always portrayed in the best light either. The ever trustworthy Wikipedia tells that Magdalen Asylums are not just a Toronto thing. Its history, however, promotes it as a place of care for homeless women and I suppose I will take it as such.

26. Belmont House Toronto

27. Belmost House

This detour completed, I circle back to Yonge Street and walk north. I turn onto Ramsden Park, the former site of 19th century brickyards. Castle Frank Brook ran through here too, the riverbed making for rich clay deposits. The park’s uneven, dug-in landscape is the only remnant of its industrial past. (And here I’ll shamelessly plug my Industrial Heritage Map). There’s also a few stubborn remnants of winter in a file snow piles that refuse to acknowledge the existence of spring.

Yorkville Brickyards Goad's, 1884 - Copy

Yorkville Brickyards. Source: Goad’s Atlas, 1884.

Yorkville Brickyards, 1880s

Yorkville Brickyards, 1880s. Source: Toronto Public Library.

29. Ramsden Park

30. Ramsden Park

Pears Street, which runs adjacent, is named for one of the brick makers. A cat lounges on the sidewalk and soaks up the sun. He has the right idea. I eventually hit Avenue Road. Across the way is 174 Avenue, otherwise known as the Village Corner in the 1960s Yorkville folk scene. The Village Corner gave the first break to Ian & Silvia and a young Gordon Lightfoot in 1962. For more on Gordon Lightfoot’s Toronto, look here please.

31. Pears Avenue Cat

32. 174 Avenue Village Corner

With a skip down the street and a turn onto Hazelton Avenue, I’m onto more familiar settings when it comes to the neighbourhood of Yorkville. Hazelton is considered part of the heart of the Village and is pretty much an architecture lover’s dream. Bay and Gable, Gothic, Worker’s Cottage…it’s hard not to dream while being here. Alas, I stop myself from getting too ‘in the clouds’.

33. Hazelton Avenue

34. Hazelton Avenue

The southern end of the street has a more commercial character. It features Heliconian Hall, the second National Historic Site of the day (and, like the Studio Building, also holds dual heritage recognition). The Hall is the counterpart to a place like the Arts & Letters Club on Elm Street in that it was originally a professional association for women when they were excluded from Arts & Letter Clubs. Today it is an event space.

Across the way are a line of boutiques and neat little street art. I lament at the sight of one characters wearing a Leaf jerseys. Somehow the ‘maybe next year’ saying isn’t appropriate. They are also the lead in to Hazelton Lanes, the premiere mall of the Village.

36. Hazelton Avenue street art 38. Hazelton Lanes

39. Hazelton Lanes street art

Yorkville Avenue marks the end of the street. At the corner is the Hazelton Hotel, which represents everything Yorkville is today – fashionable, luxurious, and expensive. The Hotel replaced a series of rowhouses after the heyday of the bohemian village, one of which housed the Riverboat Coffee House. This was the most famous of all coffee houses and another venue Mr. Lightfoot got his ‘chops.’

41. Hazelton Hotel

Yorkville Avenue Riverboat

I follow the street east, passing the first Mount Sinai Hospital (1922) and the Sheriff’s House (1837) on either side of the street. I peek down Bellair and inwardly judge the patio-ers. I know it’s a sunny day and there’s a certain desperation for more welcoming climates, but it is still very chilly and not quite patio weather. Moving on, the wideness of Bay Street to me breaks apart the neat, quiet street vibe. It’s no wonder that, like Church Street, it didn’t always run through Yorkville. Bay was extended north to Davenport in 1922.

42. Sheriff's House Yorkville Avenue

43. Yorkville Avenue and Bellair

44. Bay Street Yorkville

In any case, I cross it and pass the shiny and blue Four Seasons Hotel (which might be my favourite tall towers in the city) and its adjoining parkette. Beside is Fire Hall #10, 1890, which displays the Yorkville Coat of Arms. The emblem was once located a stone’s throw away at the now lost Yorkville Town Hall on Yonge Street. Decked on the coat of arms are symbols of early industrialists that built the Village, including our friend Severn the brewer.

45. Four Seasons Hotel Park

47. Four Season Hotel Toronto 48. Yorkville Fire Hall

49. Yorkville Fire Hall Coat of Arms

Beside the fire station is Yorkville Library, 1907.  This Beaux-Arts gem is one of the famed Carnegie Libraries. Adjoined to it is Town Hall Square Park, which, and I know parks come in different forms and sizes, but isn’t too park-ish too me. Maybe users of the park, like the woman promenading around with her dog, disagree.

50. Yorkville Library

51. Yorkville Town Hall Square

52. Yorkville Town Hall Square

I leave the area and head down a laneway to Cumberland. Cumberland Terrace is to my left. It’s a bit of an oddity within its surroundings. It might have fit in well in 1970s when Yorkville was beginning its gentrification, but now it’s a bit of a tacky sour thumb.

Village of Yorkville Park (doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?) is a bit of an oddball park too. It’s meant to represent the diversity of Canadian landscapes from coast to coast. I wouldn’t have known this if I had not read it. The highlight for most people is the giant rock which represents the Canadian Shield (and actually the hunk of rock really did come from the Canadian Shield!). I take a seat on some nearby rest points, and, as the subway rumbles under me, I recognize that park does it’s job. It’s well used and a meeting point for people. It’s excellent for people watching, for example  the people lining the other side of the street and sitting in the patio of Hemingway’s (more internal judgement).

54. Village of Yorkville Park 55. Village of Yorkville Park

58. Cumberland Avenue

59. Hemingway's Yorkville

Down Bellair I go and I’m at Bloor Street. Needing to cross the street, I head towards Bay.  The Manulife Centre, 1974, presides over the intersection and its ill-fated scramble crossing. From mynew location, I get a good view of the ‘Mink Mile’ that is Bloor. A noted spotting is the Pottery Barn, whose facade alludes to its prior incarnation as the University Theatre.

60. Bloor Street Mink Mile 61. Manulife Centre

62. Bloor Street University Theatre Pottery Barn

I take a little detour down St. Thomas and catch a look at the sophisticated Windsor Arms Hotel, 1927. It actually reminds me of a fortress. This area wasn’t part of the original Village of Yorkville, but as mentioned earlier, borders have expanded and contracted, and somehow the area south of Bloor is lumped into Yorkville. The Windsor Arms fits in well with the swankiness of the neighbourhood anyways. As I’m admiring and snapping pictures, a UPS driver buzzes the door of the adjacent University Apartment. He doesn’t find who he’s looking for.

63. Windsor Arms Hotel

64. Windsor Arms Hotel

I have to let out an internal weep at what I see at the construction site on the opposing corner. There are Victorian facades fronting an empty pit, and I realize we’re about to get a facadist (ie, cop out) approach to preserving the heritage elements to whatever development is on the way. Shame.

65. Sultan & St. Thomas development

66. Sultan & St. Thomas development

Back on Bloor, I make a mental cue for Pink Floyd because I’m off to Yonge to end things where they began. It’s actually a sad note, because, like the site of Sultan and St. Thomas Streets, I note with a frown at the ‘progress’ on the Stollery’s site and how poorly the demolition unfolded. Across the way, One Bloor inches closer to completion.

67. Stollery's

68. One Bloor Toronto

Scenes From Gibson Park

If I didn’t know the context behind Gibson Park, I would figure it to be an interesting place with creative yet seemingly senseless public art. Nothing is senseless, however, and I am well aware of its context. There were a few discoveries to be had – even a poetic display about discovery and exploration themselves.

Approaching the park from Beecroft, I see a random horse next to a pole with rings attached to it. This is Stephen Cruise’s 1998 One Hundred Links — One Chain. Several rocks populate its base while a couple of bushes – sadly succumbing to winter – accompany it at either side. I nearly miss the name of the park behind it.

Gibson Park One Hundred Links - One Chain

Of course, the rhyme and the reason lie in the park’s namesake – Mr. David Gibson – whose former Georgian-style residence (now a City of Toronto museum) rests nearby. Gibson was a land surveyor in the 19th century; the post with the trinkets represents his tools of the trade. The rocks aren’t just rocks either. A closer look produces geographic and UTM coordinates for the park. Pretty cool, eh?

Gibson Park One Hundred Links - One Chain

The horse? Well, that’s a reference to an archival photo of Gibson House taken of granddaughter Eva Gibson in a now lost path of the home.

Eva Gibson and Logo (Gibson House Museum).

Eva Gibson with Logo, circa 1905. Source: Gibson House Museum.

Traveling around the display, I see an ample amount of seating and chess tables. I have yet to see anyone play a game in public at any location. I think about doing it myself sometime…and then realize they would be pretty short contests because I am terrible.

Gibson Park Chess Tables

The parkette area is very nicely designed, and nearly makes me neglect the adjoining green space. It is a decently sized lot, but the construction wall at its eastern fringe has me considering the ‘City Within A Park’ motto yet again. More specifically, I doubt whether to even call this a ‘natural space’. Beyond the barrier, a tower rises above Gibson Park. There are a bunch of them springing up around the area as a whole. If I look hard enough into the distance, I can barely make out Gibson House.

Gibson Park (2)
I circle back, wanting to look at the art display again. In doing so, I cross perhaps the neatest  and unexpected installation I’ve seen in Toronto. I see a poem spread across five planks. They read:

“We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.”
‘Little Gigging’ Four Quarters
-T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (1)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (2)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (3)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (4)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (5)
I sit down to ponder everything amazing about this find. The work of T.S. Eliot – one of the great literary communicators – finding itself into this little park in North York. And talking about exploration no less! What kind of exploration? I’m not sure. The city wanderer in me takes it as literal at first, but perhaps there’s something more symbolic to it. That is to say, life is an exploratory sequence of happenings – taking us from us from place to place and experience to experience. Perhaps when we circle back to our roots and to the core of who we are (were?) at the start of it all, would we recognize ourselves and everything?

Update: In 2015, the Gibson Square condo development by Menkes Developments finally wrapped up. The result was a completed, redeveloped Gibson Park, which opened in May 2015.

Gibson Park 2
The path to getting the Gibson Square Condos involved a Ontario Municipal Board challenge by Toronto City Council. Menkes won. To gain approval for their project, the developer also agreed to redo Gibson Park. The company turned over ownership of the park to the City of Toronto, but it handles all maintenance.

Gibson Park 3

Gibson Park 4

Worked into the park is neat granite mural which pays tribute to the Gibsons. It features Eva Gibson and Logo too.

Gibson Park mural 2

Gibson Park mural
Over on Yonge Street, the towers loom above Gibson Square. In the middle of the space is a Tolman Sweet Apple Tree, the last tree connect to the Gibsons’ historic apple orchard.

Gibson Square

Tolman Sweet Apple tree
Gibson House Museum

Related Links

Inside Toronto Beach Mirror – “NATURAL ROOTS: The Tolman sweet apple at Yonge and Sheppard is the last tree from David Gibson’s orchard” by Edith  George

Toronto Star – “Gibson Square revives historical spirit of North York” by Tracy Hanes

Sam The Record Man Sign Belongs in a Yonge Street Museum

Sam the Record Man Sign

Credit: Shane S. Flickr stream

I have never stepped inside Sam the Record Man, and I shamefully admit my memories of walking by the famous neon signs at Yonge and Gould are vague at best. My experience is limited to exploring my father’s record collection which he purchased at the store in the 80s, and sifting through what would be become new favourites like Bowie’s Let’s Dance and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. With this said, personal memory and collective memory are separate yet connected ideas, and while my own past does not directly intersect with the life and times of Sam the Record Man, I feel part of a collective whose past indeed does – even if those memories aren’t mine.

The issue to me is not losing the store itself. Business is a tricky endeavour, and recent high-profile examples unfortunately show that even the most profitable and high profile enterprises can fold. There are many that would like to see it in existence, and I am not diminishing those sentiments. But since it is gone, we are faced with a ‘now what?’ situation.

Well, the ‘now what?’ is what do we do with the giant neon signs. The signs are the most tangible remnants of that store, along with perhaps the records purchased from the record shop that still exist in the collections of its former patrons and the auctioned memorabilia distributed in the store’s final days. The issue is commemorating, through the signs, the importance of Sam’s and its owner Sam Sniderman in the narrative of our music and cultural history.

Many assign Ryerson University – a rapidly expanding institution and the current owners of the former site of the store – as the villains in this saga. Many lament the loss of the Yonge Street Entertainment Strip (located between Queen and Gerrard Streets), of which Sam’s was a big part of, and dismiss its current incarnation as a soulless commercial and educational strip filled with an upcoming Ryerson student buildings and a mix of big and small name shopping destinations.

Sam The Record Man, Steeles Tavern, A&A

A&A, Steeles Tavern, & Sam The Record Man ca. 1971
         City of Toronto Archives           Series 1465, File 312, Item 51

For me, times change and there should be no qualms about new epochs coming into fashion. That’s fine. The fascinating thing about Toronto is its layered history. Different occupants, one after another (or sometimes at the same time), move into an area, set up their establishments, and in doing so they transform the character of their locale. This is perhaps no better manifested than in Kensington Market.

As these transformational processes take place and time, the altered urban landscapes have the power to reveal and conceal the layered history of their use. From the 1960s to about the 1990s, The Yonge Street Strip was for the most part a music and entertainment epicentre in Toronto. The sites which have contributed to this characterization have largely disappeared. Some buildings currently employ different uses (like Friars Taven at Dundas), others have been demolished completely (like the Colonial Tavern at 203 Yonge St). The loss of Sam’s and the Empress Hotel (which has quite the history itself) were the latest in this episode. The only visible reminder is Zanzibar’s, although even that has shifted identities from a music club to a purely adult entertainment establishment. Take this further and one hundred years ago the history of the Yonge Street Strip comes a bit full circle with how we might see it today. In 1912, for example, Sam’s was Curtis-Wilson Furniture Co. and Byers Albert Jefferies, Ltd., furries. 349 Yonge – Steeles Tavern, which Sam Sniderman eventually took over – was Hele’s Ceramic Art. Co. A&A at 351 Yonge was owned by Walker Frank, a man in the clothing business. In other words, this was a retail strip in its own right.

SamsDirectory1912

Today, the site of Sam is occupied and owned by Ryerson Univeraity – a booming educational institution that has seen tremendous growth since its days as a polytechnic. One has to guess that growing levels of enrollment within existing programs and the addition of new programs has necessitated its spatial growth, so as much as we might curse the ‘takeover’, perhaps we cannot fault that from occurring.

So the question remains: where do the signs end up? They are doing no favours to anyone stored in a North Toronto trailer.

The original plan was to have them mounted within the new student centre as a part of the deal struck by the Ryerson-Sniderman deal. Much fuss has been made about a broken promise on Ryerson’s president who has said that signs would clash with the modernist style of the new building.

Recently renewed talk has called for the need of a Toronto Museum. Whether we have the site and leadership to finally execute such a needed endeavour is another story. It does remain, however, that the neon signs would be ideal artefacts within such as a space. This would help in telling the musical and cultural narrative of Toronto as well as the role of Yonge Street.

Ideally, I’d like to see them back a part of the street, which also was the proposal put forward by Councillor Wong-Tam and supported by Mayor Rob Ford. The signs are best preserved and presented in context. Sam’s was an important part of a certain era of Yonge Street, and its signs should be displayed at its historic intersection. In doing so, in the end, we are putting them in a museum – albeit one that lacks physical plant and invites the components of the urban landscape to be the artifacts themselves.

Urban landscapes as museums are not a new idea. The Textile Museum’s mobile app TXTile City turns the city of Toronto into a museum whose artifacts are the sites – the built forms and their related oral histories — themselves. A recent TedTalk promoted the idea of the built and natural forms of Indianapolis – the city itself – as a science museum. A Toronto Star column has outlined the importance of Yonge Street. This is our Saint Laurent Boulevard of Montreal fame. Like The Main, Yonge Street, our spine, bisects the city, connects neighbourhoods, serves as cultural and commercial epicentre, and has a very layered past. In other words, it is important in the historical, geographic, cultural, natural, economic, sociological development of Toronto.

Fortunately, we already have something like what I’ve been proposing already underway. Youryongestreet is an online crowdsourcing initiative, launched by the Toronto Public Library, aimed at celebrating the history of Yonge Street. The potential age range of participants (and backgrounds in general) allows for exactly what I’ve been talking about: the presentation of the diversity of Yonge Street. The exhibits collection features a range of images, videos, audio accounts, and written tales about Yonge Street.

Youryongestreet and the urban landscape museum I have presented are two parts in an grander museum that showcases Yonge Street’s past. No doubt the Sam the Record sign should be an artefect in that museum, too.

Random Scene: McGill Street Arch

McGill Street Arch (8)

McGill Street Arch (1)

McGill Street Arch (2)

McGill Street Arch (5)

Related Links

Urban Toronto – Then and Now: Yonge & McGill
Toronto Public Library – Scott, Jonathan, house, Yonge St., s.e. corner McGill St.
Coppermine Photo Gallery – Cubeman – Historic Toronto – Yonge and McGill 1914
Toronto Life – McGill Street Arch