By MURRAY CRAWFORD
To say that East York has changed over the past 50 years is an understatement. As recently as the 1970s, restaurants in the borough could not serve alcohol.
There are, however, changes that East York refused. Whether these involved standing up for environmental protection or construction projects failing because of lack of provincial funds, numerous projects did not come to fruition. So what would East York have looked like if these proposals had gone through?
The Bayview Ghost
It stood vacant, overlooking the Don Valley, for 22 years — an empty shell of a building that was supposed to be a six-storey apartment that would have been in use by the early 1960s.
The construction project began in 1953 when the lands were purchased by the developer, the Hampton Park Company. In 1957, East York town planner Sulio Venchiarutti earmarked the site as suitable for apartment construction. This was published in the township’s first official plan in 1957. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that Venchiarutti moonlighted with the apartment builders as a consultant. He was promptly fired and the plan was rejected.
Construction on the building began in October of 1959, after East York council approved a building permit. The permit was approved on Oct. 2, water and sewer service was not approved, and by Oct. 4 construction had begun on the apartment building. It took council two weeks to prohibit the extension of the sewer system to the site and the permit was revoked on Nov. 9.
According to East York reeve True Davidson, the township issued the building permit in error, admitted that East York council had made mistakes, but also blamed Metro council chairman Fredrick Gardiner for the construction.
The Hampton Park Company continued work on the building until 1961, when East York council officially legislated a halt to the construction. Over the course of the next 22 years, the developers attempted to restart construction through various means.
Opponents had many different rallying points. The township, and eventually the borough of East York, wouldn’t attach their sewer system to the apartments, in part because it couldn’t handle it. If the apartments were to instead go to the City of Toronto sewer system, that would have traversed a landfill and parklands, where no sewer system existed at the time.
A report from the park commissioner, Tommy Thompson on May 26, 1961 pointed to the need to maintain the wooded area in the Don Valley. It was originally a well-wooded area but since the purchase, 10 of the 16 acres were bulldozed. Blending the apartments with the rest of the valley parkland was difficult as there was little way to make a white apartment fit in with a forest. Thompson suggested that the township try to purchase the lands and redevelop them as natural valley parkland, but this failed.
Joe Cooper, a long-time resident and columnist with the East York/Riverdale Mirror, pointed to the lack of sewer connection as important, but really it was about preserving the Don Valley.
“It was really East York standing up for ecology,” he said.
Another big issue was the traffic pattern changes this new apartment would cause. In a letter from June Rowlands (Ward 10 executive alderman), it was clear that the TTC had stated that public transit would not be provided.
“This lack of transit will result in 7,000 car trips per day,” she wrote.
The Hampton Park Lands came to be known as the “Bayview Ghost,” or the “White Elephant.” Because it was unmonitored, it became a popular spot for parties. The building slowly decayed through the 1970s and in 1981 it was torn down.
Since then, the site has not returned to a forested area. Instead, construction of houses has filled the 16 acres. Starting in 2001, the area was redeveloped as houses and one of the streets that connected the neighbourhood to Bayview Avenue is called True Davidson drive.
Taylor-Massey Creek Roadway
Originally, the Gardiner Expressway was supposed to continue east of the Don Valley Parkway and through the Beaches neighbourhood and Scarborough, eventually connecting with Hwy. 401. As such, there was a plan to develop a roadway linking the Gardiner with the DVP. This was the Taylor-Massey Creek Roadway.
The Gardiner would have gone through the Canadian National rail corridor between Gerrard and Danforth on its way to Scarborough. The exit for the Taylor-Massey Creek Roadway would have been near the Victoria Park subway station. The roadway would then have travelled west through the creek and underneath the O’Connor Drive Bridge, connecting with the DVP close to the current Don Mills road exit.
By 1962, the project was failing and True Davidson and N.C. Goodhead (a Metro representative) chose to instead recommend a much smaller roadway, from Dawes Road to Cedarvale Park in East York. Davidson again represented the ecological concerns as she sought to maintain the parkland that surrounded the creek.
The roadway ultimately failed when the Gardiner extension and Scarborough Expressway failed. The roadway was not necessary without the extension, as its main purpose was to link the extension with the existing DVP.
Leslie Street Extension
By the early 1980s, traffic pressure on the DVP was increasing exponentially and the highway had become crowded and overused. The borough of East York and the city of Toronto revived an extension of Leslie Street as a solution.
The plan can be traced back to 1968 when the extension was first proposed. The route would start at Leslie Street and Eglinton Avenue, where there was no southbound route. Leslie would be extended south through part of the west branch of the Don Valley and then continue south along the Canadian Pacific railroad route, through Millwood Road, and then connect with Bayview Avenue near the Bayview Ghost. In its early stages in the 1980s, the cost was going to be anywhere from $50 to $70 million.
Between 1968 until 1984, only Metro council approved the extension –city council did not. It wasn’t until Nov. 20, 1984 that city council approved the project by a 21-18 vote.
Were it not for the work of activist Nadine Nowlan and environmentalist (and member of the Order of Canada) Charles Sauriol, the extension might have succeeded. Nowlan attended meetings from the start and targeted specific politicians who could be convinced to vote against the construction.
Nowlan had previously worked with another vocal opponent, Alan Tonks, to prevent the construction of the Spadina Expressway. In the early 1980s, Tonks was the mayor of York.
Another politician who would join the cause was a young alderman from Ward 6 named Jack Layton. Layton was an opponent from the start and in a press release dated Nov. 2, 1984, he vocalized his position.
“By extending Leslie Street, it makes it easier for cars to enter downtown Toronto and will effectively kill the efforts of cities like North York and Scarborough to develop their own downtowns.”
Even after the vote was approved in 1984, it drew comparisons to the Spadina Expressway. Throughout the 1980s, the project toiled away through environmental assessments and municipal politics. Construction was supposed to occur between 1987 and 1991.
By 1990, the project hadn’t yet been started, in part because of the unstable provincial government at the time — a minority Liberal government in 1985 and an NDP government in 1990. At this time, Sauriol joined the fight and recruited the legal services of Gowling, Strathy and Henderson. Correspondence between the two indicated that they thought the extension was in dire straits by the 1990s, due to the change in government and the looming recession.
East York mayor David Johnson kept up the fight for the extension. He believed it would improve transportation to Thorncliffe Park, relieve the congestion on the DVP and, above all, increase East York’s tax base.
Sauriol then established a letter campaign to provincial ministers Ruth Grier (environment) and Gilles Pouliot (transportation), as well as then-Premier Bob Rae. By 1992, the project’s costs had escalated to $141 million. With the province in a recession, the provincial government could not provide the funds it had promised, according to then-East York Mayor Michael Prue.
Downtown Relief Line
Included in the report suggesting the Leslie Street Extension were traffic statistics based on diverted bus routes to a Downtown Relief Line, a subway starting at either Donlands or Pape subway stations and travelling south-west, connecting with Union Station and then travelling north-west to reconnect with the Bloor-Danforth line at either Keele or Dundas west station.
This plan was not new: in a TTC pamphlet highlighting the 50th anniversary of the commission there was a map outlining new subway lines. Aside from the Scarborough extension (now the Scarborough rapid transit line) and the Eglinton cross-town was the Downtown Relief Line. But the line also continued north to Eglinton.
As recently as the early 1980s there was a plan to extend the Downtown Relief Line north through East York from either Donlands or Pape, turning on to Overlea Boulevard and then north on Don Mills Road to Eglinton Avenue.
But with the failure of the line, in part because of the 1985 election that ended the Conservatives’ 42-year reign in Ontario, the extension was never brought up again.
That is until the TTC released its transit city plan in 2007. One of the light rail routes proposed was the Don Mills LRT. Metrolinx released a similar plan but included the Downtown Relief Line in conjunction with the Don Mills LRT, which poses its own problems, according to transit activist Steve Munro.
“The DRL (Downtown Relief Line) intercepts Danforth and then continues north to Eglinton, so that becomes the question of the Don Mills LRT line to have the LRT end and start a subway line at Danforth,” Munro said. “The part of the line between the Danforth and, at least, Thorncliffe Park is going to be run underground no matter what.”
Munro suggests that if the Metrolinx plan of a Downtown Relief Line is implemented, it makes sense to instead turn the Don Mills LRT line into a subway between Danforth and Eglinton, like the plan on a TTC promotional pamphlet from 1971.
While many of these projects are gone, they are not forgotten. The Bayview Ghost is now a planned neighbourhood, with houses developed in a suburban style. The Leslie Street Extension may have failed, but the DVP was widened to six lanes from four as a compromise. Now it is facing similar congestion problems to that which spurred the extension. A local light rail service, in conjunction with the Downtown Relief Line, is in the 15- and 25-year Metrolinx transportation plan. They may not have been right for East York at the time, but they may become right in time.