The Quest for More Pedestrian Space at Yonge and Eglinton in the Early 2010s

Squaring Off at Yonge and Eglinton

Originally published on Torontoist on March 30, 2010.

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On any given lunch hour, the plaza in front of the Yonge-Eglinton Centre is populated by office workers enjoying a sun-soaked lunch and smoke break, high school students heading toward the food court or other nearby fast food joints, and companies handing out the corporate sample of the day to pedestrians. The sculptures lining the plaza had slightly more company than usual yesterday thanks to a protest over whom the space should serve: its private owner or the surrounding community.

Depending on the media source, between fifty and 125 protestors showed up waving signs urging site owner RioCan and local politicians to “keep Yonge for the young” as they chanted “save our square.” Local media was there in full force, which must have pleased the organizers from the Yonge-Eglinton Square Coalition—at times it felt as if there were more cameras and microphones about than concerned citizens (a running commentary on Urban Toronto made fun of the size of the protest relative to the square). At issue is RioCan’s plan to redevelop the Yonge-Eglinton Centre by topping the two existing office towers with additions of five and seven storeys apiece and the encroaching three storeys of new retail space onto the square thanks to a four-thousand-square-metre addition that will include a rooftop garden.

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RioCan has set aside a gallery in the mall to show off its plans for the site. While the hours listed on the doors to the gallery indicated that it was open to the public yesterday, both of our attempts to take a look were met with unexplained locked entrances. It may be coincidental that the company’s official website for the redevelopment is under construction, though some sketches are still available for viewing.

According to its website, the Yonge-Eglinton Square Coalition represents four local residents’ associations that wish to preserve the lone accessible open space at the intersection. They hope that rather than build more retail onto it, the barren plaza be transformed into a people-friendly “welcoming oasis in the middle of the city.” Supporters were among the community members, city officials, and local developers who participated in a workshop last November [PDF] that examined ways to handle the redesign of the space and the intensification of the neighbourhood in general.

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As far as public space was concerned, the workshop concluded that:

The northwest quadrant is a commercial hub, a focal point, and a regional destination. However, this quadrant needs a refit in its mid-life, including added retail and redesign of the indoor plaza. As well, currently, the square is not a good quality and pedestrian supportive environment as it is: a windy space with bad grades; without appropriate programming; lacking in adequate street furniture; and is seasonally constrained with piles of snow and salt. Therefore, the square in this quadrant, which is one of the key open spaces in the area, should be redesigned and improved…There is a shortage of open space at or near the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton. It is recommended that all four quadrants abutting the intersection contribute to remedy this shortage. Issues related to quantity of open space should be balanced with consideration for high quality design, pedestrian vitality and interest.

As for whether an open public space is legally required at Yonge and Eglinton [PDF], disputes that there were any written guarantees in the land title or any references in contemporary planning reports and council minutes that “require the land to remain as open space in a quid pro quo arrangement for Starrett Avenue [which was closed off to build the complex].”

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Toronto District School Board trustee Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) listens to Lydia Levin of the Yonge Eglinton Square Coalition.

Organizers of the protest hope their efforts will encourage concerned residents to contact city councillors before a final vote is taken on the project on Wednesday or Thursday. So far, RioCan’s proposals have been approved by the North York Community Council. At least two of the neighbourhood’s councillors are divided in their opinion of the project. Strong support for the redevelopment plan from Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) has caused head-scratching among some local taxpayer groups, as she initially ran for municipal office on a wave of residential opposition to the construction of the Minto Quantum condo towers. A March 24 post on her website rebukes opponents of the plan by articling five points about the redevelopment, which include economic, aesthetic, and cultural benefits on land that is privately owned. As Stintz summarizes, “people are free to protest, but this application represents a fair balance for the community who wish to revitalize this corner and the property owners who wish to realize a benefit from their investment.”

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Neighbouring councillor Michael Walker (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) supports those hoping to prevent the encroachment on the space from going ahead. As he told CTV News, “We don’t want to lose it and we should say no. It’s easy to say and the politicians shouldn’t cave to another deal-making exercise. There’s a point where profit has to take second place to city building and it starts right here where we’re standing.” Toronto District School Board trustee Josh Matlow, who is running to fill the retiring Walker’s council seat, lent his support to the protestors. “The reality is that nobody wants the square to be the way it is,” Matlow told the National Post. “It needs some work. Our community wants this to be revitalized, not lost to a shopping mall. It’s not a lot to ask.”

A Pedestrian Square Grows in North Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2011. Images for this story no longer appear to exist.

North Toronto probably isn’t the first neighbourhood you’d name when listing off public space experiments in the city, especially when future development plans at its main intersection look likely to decrease street-level open-air stretching room. Yet walk a block north from Eglinton Avenue along Yonge Street and you’ll find a pilot project aiming to create pedestrian space on Orchard View Boulevard. At an intersection where pedestrians often had to deal with impatient drivers and delivery trucks, they now find planters blocking the road and umbrella-shaded tables providing a more comfortable spot to enjoy al fresco dining than the concrete ledges lining the side street.

Officially opened on July 14, the City created the pedestrian square by closing Orchard View Boulevard to traffic between Yonge Street and the driveway for the Canterbury House apartment building. Though concerns about the space have been expressed by the neighbouring RBC branch (impact on customers) and some local ratepayer groups (procedural issues), Councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) has received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the initiative she helped make a reality, along with ratepayer groups and RioCan. Besides providing a spot for residents and office workers to relax, Stintz joked that the project is “probably the cheapest park we’ll build in North Toronto,” which aligns it the Ford administration’s low-cost philosophy of government and may have contributed to the unanimous support the pilot project received at city council. Stintz also praised the support of RioCan, which operates the neighbouring Yonge-Eglinton Centre, through actions like maintaining the patio tables.

One of main beneficiaries of the pedestrian square is Apple Tree Markets, who moved their Thursday farmers’ market from a hidden space in Eglinton Park behind the North Toronto Memorial Community Recreation Centre to the pedestrian square. Higher visibility seems to be making market vendors happy: even with extreme heat last week and dreary conditions yesterday, they’ve seen increased customer traffic. The threat of rain hadn’t hindered activity when we dropped by around 4 p.m. yesterday—most of the tables were occupied and every market vendor saw several potential purchasers hovering over their fresh vegetables, coolers of meat, and other edible goodies. One vendor we talked to noted that customers indicated they preferred the market’s new home because they couldn’t be bothered to walk over to Eglinton Park, even if they lived mere blocks away.

After the tables are vacated for the last time on October 14, the pilot will be analyzed for its impact on the neighbourhood and for the possibility of making the closure a permanent seasonal attraction. (It’s not the first of its kind, exactly: the City has partnered with U of T and Ryerson on previous road-closure pilots.) There are also plans to test a second pedestrian square next year in the northern end of Stinz’s ward at Avenue Road and Dunblaine Avenue. Given that seating space is at a premium whenever we pass by, we hope that the new space will become a North Toronto fixture for years to come. Orchard View Square, anyone?

UPDATE

As of fall 2018, we can tell you this much: public space wise, Yonge and Eglinton is currently a disaster. Between construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LTR line and the erection of several condo towers, getting around the intersection by any means is complicated. What the future will bring in terms of increasing outdoor pedestrian space probably won’t be clear until the fate of portions of the TTC land on the southwest corner is decided.

The revamp of the Yonge-Eglinton Centre went ahead, shrinking the open-air space. Josh Matlow was elected to City Council in 2010 while Karen Stintz unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2014. The pedestrian pilot along Orchard View Boulevard did not endure, and a traffic light has been installed, creating a stronger traffic flow link to Roehampton Avenue. The farmer’s market spent this past summer near Davisville station.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Revisiting these stories has been a great example of how fleeting information is on the interwebs, as nearly all of the links that appeared in the original posts are kaput. I’m tempted to blockquote large sections of linked material in future blog posts to provide full context before those posts vanish. One of the worst offenders in the current Toronto media world are Postmedia’s Toronto properties (National Post, Sun), which have little online archival material thanks to website revamps.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Stopless Topless

Originally published on Torontoist on May 6, 2015.

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Key to Toronto, December 1978.

By the late 1970s, Yonge Street was synonymous with sin and sleaze. Despite growing calls to clean up its adult cinemas, arcades, and rub-and-tugs, especially in the wake of the murder of shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques in 1977, businesses dealing in titillation continued to launch along the strip.

Take the Pancake Bakery Group, which began as a purveyor of flapjacks at its Pancake Bakery Restaurant and Creperie near Yonge and Eglinton. Browsing the entertainment sections of Toronto’s dailies throughout 1978 and 1979 shows a business with aspirations. First came novelty pancakes—pizza pancake, anyone?—then circus-style entertainment. In Yorkville, they launched Daddy’s Money & Apron Strings, billed as “a unique food & beverage establishment where you never know who you’ll meet.”

Down at one of the Yonge strip’s legendary music venues, the Colonial Tavern, the group operated a series of increasingly naughtier concepts with names like Daddy’s Folly, O’Daddy’s Restaurant, the Pussycat Patio, and the Black Bottom Lounge. One ad suggested that the venues were being run by “an unbelievably true Sugar Daddy,” even if it was officially a reference to a free pizza-pancake giveaway. The Black Bottom promised acts like “Hot Tamale and her breathtaking Fire Dance accompanied by X-rated live shows.”

Daddy’s Folly offered topless servers, which—along with other venues across the city that provided similar service—upset provincial officials. In October 1978, consumer and commercial relations minister Frank Drea warned lounge owners to cover up their staff or else be hauled before liquor authorities for a license review. While some bars, such as the House of Lancaster, resisted Drea’s call, Daddy’s Folly complied. Walking by the Colonial after Drea’s request, Star columnist Peter Gzowski observed several Daddy’s Folly staffers picketing, holdings signs which read “WE’RE NOT PRISONERS” and “WE ABIDE BY THE LAW.” Gzowski heard one of the sign-holders yell, “Where’s CityPulse News?”

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Toronto Star, June 15, 1978.

Daddy’s Folly and its siblings advertised “stopless topless” servers until February 1979, when Metro Toronto council banned the practice. Management was not happy about the move, claiming staff cringingly dubbed “Daddy’s Girls,” would earn less covered up. As a manager told the Globe and Mail, “[T]he public will be unhappy because this is the kind of entertainment they want.” Not everyone bought that line—a patron interviewed, while the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” played in the background, felt that partial covering was sexier (“It leaves more to the imagination”).

By spring 1979, ads for all of the Pancake Bakery Group’s enterprises vanished from the papers. A Star classified the following year listed their Yorkville location as a distressed property. The Colonial Tavern lingered on for a few more years before it was demolished in 1987 for a parkette.

Additional material from the December 18, 1978 and February 12, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the August 3, 1978, October 24, 1978, October 25, 1978, and May 29, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

Rebelling Over Postal Station K

Originally published on Torontoist on July 31, 2012.

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One hundred and seventy-five years after William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern, another group of angry citizens seems ready to rise up against the government on the same site, or at least let a crown corporation know they are unhappy about the possible fallout from its sale—especially if that fallout proves to involve a high-rise condo, as at least one commercial realtor has predicted.

Monday night, a crowd cried things like, “No more condos!” and, “Our history is not for sale!” at a rally in front of Postal Station K, which is what stands on the Montgomery’s Tavern site today. The protest was organized by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle. As a modest crowd listened to speeches about the history of the site and its value to the community, a steady stream of passers-by lined up to sign a petition to save the building.

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Event flyer.

“There’s really not much going on right now,” noted Canada Post spokesperson John Caines in a phone interview yesterday. An RFP (request for proposals) was made in April for Postal Station K, along with Canada Post properties at 50 Charles Street East and 1780 Avenue Road. “We’re considering selling them, but only if the purchaser provides a suitable replacement property or properties in return. We’re not looking to leave the area but upgrade and modernize our network.”

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Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle (centre) leads rally in cry of “No More Condos!”

While the property is a national historic site, because of its role in the rebellion of 1837, Postal Station K is listed but not historically designated by the City of Toronto, affording it few protections under the law. Designed in art-deco style by Murray Brown, whose other works include the nearby Belsize Theatre (now the Regent) on Mount Pleasant Road and the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Postal Station K is one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the insignia of King Edward VIII. Built in 1936, it replaced a structure originally known as Oulcott’s Tavern, which had been used as a post office from 1912 onward. Besides sorting neighbourhood mail, the building has also, at times, provided space for businesses and a halfway house.

Colle first heard rumblings about a potential sale while on a Heritage Toronto walk through the neighbourhood several weeks ago. He decided to mobilize the community before any clashes with developers could occur. “It’s a great place to take a stand,” Colle noted in a phone interview, referring to the property’s symbolic value. During the fight against amalgamation in 1997, Colle participated in a march that stopped at the site. He believes Canada Post is “totally remote from the public” and he will do his “darndest to make sure they realize that the taxpayers of Toronto paid for that building and they can’t just sell it off willy-nilly without listening to us.” Beyond the building, Colle stressed the property’s role as a public gathering place, especially for wheelchair users who find its lack of barriers ideal for relaxing and meeting others.

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Anti-high rise sentiments in the neighbourhood should not be discounted, especially when a high number of condos are underway or being proposed. Though community efforts failed to stop the Minto towers south of Eglinton Avenue, anger at former city councillor Anne Johnston’s role in brokering the deal that allowed the project to proceed led to her defeat in Ward 16 by Karen Stintz in 2004. Though Stintz was unable to attend the rally because she was on vacation, neighbouring councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) was on hand to lend his support.

If a condo doesn’t become part of the site’s future, what could the building be used for? Colle said that the Anne Johnston Health Centre, located across the street, had expressed interest in additional space for their programs. Eglinton Park Residents’ Association chair Tom Cohen imagined a commercial tavern paired with a museum celebrating the rebellion of 1837. Whatever happens, it’s likely that a creative solution that utilizes most or all of Postal Station K (which seems to be a condition of any sale) will be better received than a high-rise that does little to acknowledge the site’s history. Otherwise, any march down Yonge Street to mark the anniversary of Mackenzie’s rebellion this December might not be a mere re-enactment.

UPDATE

In the end, Postal Station K was integrated into the Montgomery Square condo tower, which is nearing completion as of early 2018. The older building will become dining and retail space. The project is one of the numerous towers sprouting up around Yonge and Eglinton, which combined with the work on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, have transformed the neighbourhood into a gigantic construction zone.

Vintage Toronto Ads: British Days at Yonge and Eglinton

Originally published on Torontoist on November 20, 2007.

Vintage Ad #409: Happy British Days at the Yonge-Eglinton CentreNorth Toronto Herald, March 29, 1974.

How does a newly-opened shopping complex bring in shoppers? Hold a British-themed sale, featuring specials on fine UK products like Orange Julius and Gordon Lightfoot records!

The Yonge-Eglinton Centre opened in October 1973 with Dominion and Horizon as its anchors. The short-lived Horizon chain was an attempt by Eaton’s to enter the crowded discount department store field. This location was converted to an Eaton’s store when the company pulled the plug on Horizon in 1978. Among the current occupants of its space are Silver City and Pickle Barrel.

The store we’re fascinated by is Bean Hut, a name that nowadays would be used for a coffee shop or vegetarian grocery. It has one of the few coupons offering a UK-related special, unless the beans are green and the sausages are anything other than bangers. We imagine the family voted “most awful family in Britain” that year made the trek across the Atlantic to catch this special, if the BBC documentary on them is any indication.

The main event in the neighbourhood that week was the opening of the Yonge subway extension to Sheppard and Finch stations, which may have been a more relevant theme to new commuters passing through. Such a sale might have inspired the following ad copy:

Need a drink or bite to eat to or from the office or a gift for your family? Take advantage of these money-saving coupons! See displays of new neighbourhood developments and future technologies that will guide you around the Toronto of Tomorrow! The SUBWAY SALE at the YONGE-EGLINTON CENTRE is a tribute to the innovative fashions, quality workmanship and hearty foods of our city. Your next stop is YONGE-EGLINTON CENTRE’S SUBWAY WEEK! 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

From the final episode of Monty Python, aired on December 5, 1974, the “Most Awful Family in Britain” sketch.

As time wore on, and the cultural makeup of Toronto changed, once surefire promotions like “British Week” faded away among retailers and shopping centres. This ad serves as a reminder that into the 1970s there was still a strong base this was easily marketed to.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Two Takes on The Art Shoppe

Part One: The Surgeon General Warns That Choosing Office Furniture Will Make You Lose Your Colour

Originally published on Torontoist on August 28, 2007.

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Source: Saturday Night, March 1978.

Pity Mr. Businessman, so lacking in colour. He may have secured a lovely office set for his coworkers from a venerable North Toronto furniture supplier, but his grey demeanor led to his dismissal during a round of belt-tightening at A.T. & Love in 1980.

Note the pyramid, which plays into the “abstract mystery usually associated with office planning.” The Pyramid Power fad reached its height in Toronto during the Maple Leafs’ 1976 playoff run, when coach Red Kelly placed pyramids around the dressing room and under the bench. Kelly felt the pyramids would act as a confidence booster by distracting the team from the latest outbursts from irascible owner Harold Ballard.

During this period, a second location was maintained in Bermuda. One wonders how many luxury desk sets were lost in the Bermuda Triangle.

Part Two: The Art Shoppe 

Originally published on Torontoist on November 28, 2014.

Source: Saturday Night, March 1977

Source: Saturday Night, March 1977.

No matter how timeless a business may seem, change inevitably occurs. Take the case of high-end furniture store the Art Shoppe, which was a fixture of the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood from the Dirty Thirties until this month, when it moved to a new location in the Castlefield Design District and left its old site to be turned into condos.

People thought Leon Offman was crazy to open a luxury goods store in 1936. Toronto was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, which had crushed the high-end hopes of other retailers. Catering to the carriage trade, Offman’s store offered art deco and modernist designs inspired by the likes of Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus school.

In a 1956 Globe and Mail advertorial, Mary Walpole offered a glimpse into the shop’s early years:

From the smart façade, which we have always admired, right through the three floors, it is an exhibition of the finest names in the land of furniture and so artistically and tastefully displayed that you can sit back and relax and almost forget you are in a store … The floors are so spacious that the effect is beautifully uncluttered and it doesn’t take too much imagination to get the feel of things you like in your own house.

By the 1970s, the Art Shoppe’s scope had extended to designing and supplying furniture for international luxury hotels, Mount Sinai Hospital, Aeroquay One (at today’s Pearson Airport), and others. Much of the store’s business came from outside the country, as Canadians freshened up their home décor less often than did Americans. “The average American replaces his furniture every five years,” Leon’s son Allan told the Toronto Star in 1973. “In Canada it’s once every 20 years.”

The store’s advertising was in step with trends and passing fancies of the era, from popular 1920s-inspired fashions to “pyramid power,” which the Toronto Maple Leafs once used in an attempt to improve their playoff chances. Ads also promoted office designs tailored to the specs of high-powered executives (such as the man above, who could almost pass for former Toronto mayor David Miller).

The store itself, according to the Star, had the sombre atmosphere of a funeral parlour: “Men remove their hats, voices are hushed, and the salesmen are as discreet as funeral directors.” And outside, tour buses regularly stopped to give visitors a look at the window displays.

In the ’70s the store expanded, taking up the full frontage of Yonge Street between Soudan and Hillsdale avenues. A Country Style donut shop at the south end of the lot gave way to a $2.2-million, four-storey atrium completed in 1975. Controversy briefly arose when local residents protested plans for a parking lot to replace six homes.

Given the skyward expansion of the neighbourhood, it was almost inevitable that the site would be sold for residential development. Freed Developments purchased the property in 2012 and revealed plans the following year for 29- and 38-storey mixed-use towers. Community resident associations and city councillor Josh Matlow contested the plan, resulting in mediation, which shrank the towers to 12 and 28 stories.

Where window displays previously tantalized bypassers with visions of stylish home interiors, they currently entice potential home owners with contact information for the Art Shoppe Lofts + Condos.

Additional material from the October 12, 1956, November 19, 1975, and September 13, 2003 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the April 12, 1973 and April 17, 1975 editions of the Toronto Star.