Article by Tim Cloutis / Feature Image by @gtanophotography
After reading the last few posts about the downtown location (hip, homey, happenin’), I wanted to look into our neighbourhood to the east! Now, I know that if you have visited our Scarborough location at 1921 Eglinton Avenue east, you’ll probably have the same opinion as those of us who work and study there – it ain’t all that pretty!
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with flea markets, nail salons, and the Ontario courts but the area won’t win any prizes for urban design.
But that doesn’t make it any less interesting. There’s a lot here for fans of city history.
For starters, take a look at this old photo:
This was the Canadian headquarters of Rootes Canada (not the clothing line!). Rootes was one of the largest British auto manufacturers in the world. (For you car enthusiasts, the picture shows a Sunbeam Rapier Series 111A). Their Canadian HQ boasted the largest auto showroom in North America when it opened in 1952.
FUN FACT: Rootes was well known for its annual Canadian International Winter Rally through the 50’s and 60’s. Over 150 cars of all makes and sizes rolled off the ramp at Rootes for a race to North Bay and back – in the dead of winter. Only a few managed to complete the race.
So what? you may ask. Well 40 years later, CCLCS moved in to the rooms shown on the upper right.
It’s hard to picture – the front has changed quite a bit. But if you compare …
THEN – S/E Corner Warden and Eglinton
NOW – S/E Corner Warden and Eglinton
Today the second floor windows are no longer flush with the face of the building. Perhaps the ground floor was extended further forward. The Rootes tower is gone but I’m guessing the staircase inside is the same one the students take every day to go to class (pre-covid). Those odd window ridges along the top are still there but the light shines down on the Flea Market (what else can you do with “North America’s largest auto showroom”?).
And in case you’re still a little doubtful, look closely at this ad from the time and check out their address.
Grand Designs 1950 – The Golden Mile
Rootes was part of the much bigger story of Scarborough’s expansion. I’ll let the City plaque explain:
“Surrounded by farmland until the 1940s, this stretch of Eglinton Avenue, from Pharmacy Avenue to Birchmount Road, became famous in the 1950s as Scarborough’s “Golden Mile of Industry” – a hub of large-scale manufacturing and a celebrated symbol of post-war prosperity.City of Toronto plaque
The area’s transformation began during World War II, when the government of Canada acquired a vast tract of farmland for a munitions plant known as GECo (General Engineering Company)****. After the war, the Township of Scarborough purchased the plant and additional surrounding land for proposed development….The Golden Mile promised inexpensive land and low property taxes to industries growing with Canada’s post-World War II economic boom. By 1955, corporations such as Frigidaire, the John Inglis Company, Thermos, and Warner Lambert had major manufacturing facilities here. Automobile makers and dealers joined them, including Volkswagen, Rootes Motors, and as late as 1974, a General Motors van plant.
Their move to this area provided much needed industrial property taxes, and served as a catalyst for further development. Residential subdivisions sprang up to house the Golden Mile’s workforce, followed by strip plazas, which were then celebrated as modern conveniences.
By the 1980s, larger industries were moving to less expensive properties, and the Golden Mile of Industry gradually became the Golden Mile of Commerce – known for its large retail stores and car dealerships… “
A map from the Toronto Daily Star, October 16, 1952 shows what they had in mind.
The Golden Mile epitomized the optimism and growth of the post-war boom. It helped create housing for thousands of workers who worked alongside their neighbours in local factories that produced the consumer goods to fill those houses.
It was the land of opportunity, tax revenues and jobs until … it wasn’t.
A Home for New Canadians
As the post-war boom chugged along and the subway system expanded, Scarborough grew and flourished but by the end of the 60’s the Golden Mile lost its glitter. Industry found greener pastures to pave over and the community suffered job losses. Those modest suburban homes became available and affordable to the waves of immigrants that started to move in. Initially, a number of immigrants moved to Scarborough from the congested neighbourhoods of Toronto – southern and eastern Europeans mostly. But eventually, Scarborough became a “first stop” for newcomers to Canada through the 70’s onwards. According to the StatsCan 2016 Census, 53% of Scarborough residents were foreign-born.
Among those immigrants who settled in Scarborough were Paul Galea’s parents – Paul is one of our LINC teachers. He grew up a little further east of Warden and Eglinton. He remembers:
“In the plaza where our school is now, there used to be something either called International Caravan or perhaps International Bazaar. It was meant to be like a bazaar where you could buy products from other parts of the world. That was more unusual in the 70s than it is today. There were flags from all over the world on the roof. It was one of the few places in the city where I could see the Maltese flag (my parents immigrated from Malta in 1954), and I always got a kick out of seeing that flag as we drove by.Paul Galea
A few doors down from our school is Dolphin Gaming, but it used to be a somewhat expensive restaurant called, Boy on a Dolphin. I believe it closed in 1984. I remember a big dolphin sculpture either on the roof or out front. My parents had a tradition of taking the whole family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses and grandchildren, to a big, expensive dinner every New Year’s Day.
The area around Eglinton and Warden was never what anyone would call beautiful. For as long as I can remember, it has always been mostly industrial and commercial. However, I could go on and on with memories of things I did or experienced in that area. My father’s audiovisual company was just up the street at Warden and Lawrence. He started it in the early 60s and it closed only a few years ago. Our school even has some equipment that the company sold. That’s where I had a summer job every year in high school, so the area will always be ingrained in my memory.”
In the midst of all that, there was another “Golden Milestone”: the opening of CCLCS at 1921 Eglinton East on July 1, 1999
Grand Designs 2020 – The Golden Mile Secondary Plan Study
These days, the Eglinton LRT is driving changes in the area. We’ve been watching it grow outside our windows and suffering its inconveniences for a couple of years now but that’s the price to pay for a faster, smoother service. (Let’s face it, public transit in this area is no joyride).
But with better transit comes (fortunately or not) condos and highrises. The City recently approved the “Golden Mile Urban Design Guidelines” which stresses “a comprehensive vision and planning framework for a connected, accessible, diverse, complete and livable community in the historic Golden Mile”. It highlights low- and mid-rise residences, pedestrian walkways, and parks and services from Pharmacy to Birchmount. Pedestrian-friendly sounds great to me! Let’s hope it lasts a little longer than that other plan from 1950.
But where does CCLCS fit in the Golden Mile Secondary Plan? Will we be swept away by the tides of urban planning? Will the good ol’ Rootes building be torn down?
Well you can’t stop progress and you can’t fight City Hall. Changes are surely ahead but you can be sure that CCLCS will continue to support those that come to call Scarborough home.
****During the 1940s, before the Golden Mile and just west of Warden was the sprawling GECO munitions complex – a manufacturing community built in just 7 months to house and serve the thousands of, mostly female, employees who built bombs and bullets for the war effort. The original “bomb girls”. Great story. You can see this terrific mural in the underpass at Warden and St. Clair.
Thank you for reading the article. What do you think about this history of the neighbourhood at Scarborough CCLCS? Please leave a comment
Writing by Tim Cloutis
Feature image by @gtanophotography (follow them on Instagram)
Other images public domain or credited in caption