CCLCS North York: A Little Canadian History at the Top of Toronto!

CCLCS ESL school and Yonge St. North York Toronto

Here we go with the third and last post on our third (and last?) CCLCS location – way up at 5734 Yonge street (or as we always say on the phone, just north of the passenger drop-off at Finch Station).

20 years ago, the demand for services in North York was so high that, at the behest of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (now IRCC), CCLCS opened up its largest site. YMCA even shared the space with us for a few years to house a special office for the Korean community. We had lengthy waiting lists, large classes, a busy childcare. Heady days indeed! Things settled down after some time but North York is still our busiest location.

Some of our students at our North York campus

Sadly, during these days of online classes, it’s dark and lonely up in CCLCS: NY. As you can see in the photo below, the teachers’ desks are cleaner than they ever were when we were on-site. And the batteries in that clock died some time in 2020.

But what about that view?! The school looks out onto the North American Centre – a dominant piece in the long row of shimmering, squinty office buildings that line this part of Yonge Street. Unfortunately, my photography skills don’t quite capture the gleam.

View of North American Centre from CCLCS North York teacher’s room

The view of the NAC is special not just because we can see CCLCS reflected in its mirrored surface, but also because of what once stood there before – no, not the North York Chevrolet Showroom (1951 – 1990). Before that.

Lester B. Pearson – not just an airport

The NAC stands on the site of the birthplace of Lester B Pearson – former Prime Minister of Canada. Here’s a photo of the house he was born in, circa 1905. It was torn down in 1951 to make way for the said Chevrolet Showroom.

Lester B. Pearson birth home in North York

And this is the plaque near the NAC entrance to mark his birthplace.

As the plaque reads, Pearson is known for many things – peacekeeping, universal healthcare, the Canadian flag, and of course, helping to end the Suez Canal Crisis for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Heck, he was voted the 6th Greatest Canadian in 2004 (well ahead of Wayne Gretzky!).

Lester B Pearson – not just a Nobel Laureate

And that’s all very nice but at CCLCS, we appreciate another of his achievements:  introducing the world’s first points-based immigration system in 1967.

We’re familiar with this today but at the time, it was ground-breaking. Previously, potential immigrants had been subject to the discretionary powers of immigration officials and policies that were biased in favour of Europeans (particularly, the U.K). And in the post-war boom times, Canada had to open its doors a little wider in order to attract much needed skills and labour. Something needed to be done.

The new system assigned points for education, skills, employment opportunities, age, language, family members etc. In other words, a more objective, merit-based approach. Not perfect, by any means – it’s been tweaked and updated often in the intervening years. But, on the other hand, it can be tweaked and updated to reflect changing needs and attitudes.

Canada Immigration Act

The results were almost immediate.

The chart below shows immigration patterns from 1871 onward. If you’re not into charts and stats, suffice it to say that the shades of blue all represent European immigrants (UK, Scandinavian, western etc.); black represents those from the U.S. As you can see, things get more colourful after 1971. More people – and people of colour – started coming to Canada from a much greater range of countries.

This change of policy acknowledged that skilled and educated immigrants are good for Canada. On the other hand, skills, education and family supports are good for immigrants. Evidence suggests that points-based immigrants achieve better outcomes – not only because they are likelier to have the training to integrate into the workforce (although, sadly, we know very well that there are many challenges to this), but also because of the community and family supports necessary to settlement.

Of course, this was part of an evolution of changing attitudes and global events that had forced the conversation for a couple of decades (the first Department of Citizenship and Immigration was established in 1950!). After Pearson, Pierre Trudeau’s Multiculturalism Policy continued to change the faces of Canada (which won him and the Liberal Party the undying love of generations of immigrants); and I would be remiss not to mention the “5-year Plan” from the late 80’s, which led to the creation of LINC! 

And so …

Meanwhile, back here at CCLCS – North York, we see the results of a merit-based system – most of our students are Chinese, Iranian and Korean with a good number of Eastern European, mirroring the local North York demographic. About one third of them are in the Skilled Worker/Professional/Investor category; of course many more skilled workers and professionals may have entered in the Family Class or Refugee categories. About 60% have a Bachelors degree or higher. A talented group indeed!

So when we’re once again in the classroom, listening to the multitude of voices from the far-flung reaches of the globe, we’ll look upon the North American Centre and say:  “thanks Mr. Pearson … and ‘congrats’ on your Peace Prize.”

What do you think about our NY school and the history of North York? Please leave a comment!

Article and research by Tim Cloutis

Editing and production by Mike Simpson


  1. Nicely written Tim. I enjoyed reading (and editing) that and putting this together. It’s amazing in the city, all the connections of place and people, and how CCLCS shares some history with Lester B. Pearson. I learn something new with every one of your posts!

    • CCLCS

      Thanks Mike. It’s what comes from spending too much time down that internet rabbit hole. Always fun!

  2. Paul

    Thanks Tim and Mike for putting this together.

    • Thanks kindly Paul! Cheers for supporting us and commenting on the blog! It’s a great team effort.

  3. Gillian Bonn

    So interesting! Certainly a place in North York to be celebrated. Also was where my father, Don Michael (Dawn Michael’s Dad) had his own Aviation Ground School ,
    so one that I remember with fond memories!

    • CCLCS

      Thanks for sharing Gillian! Wonderful memories for many in North York!

  4. Lynda

    What a great part of North York! I taught ESL in the area some years ago and my father worked for many years in municipal government beside the North York Centre.

    • CCLCS

      Hi Lynda! Thanks for the comment. That Yonge Street corridor has gone through a lot of changes.

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