The City Within the City

Don Mills
Don Mills

don mills.

Don Mills is one of Toronto’s best known and most popular neighbourhoods.  A residential district, it is referred to be the first “new town” planned and fully integrated post-war community developed by private enterprise in North America, and the blueprint for post-war suburban development in Toronto and contemporary residential neighbourhoods.  With its innovative history, Don Mills set the precedent for the way our city’s neighbourhoods are laid out today.


early settlement:

Don_Mills_Plaque_1The Don Mills area was first settled by Europeans in 1817.  The area was a considerable distance from the town of York, but the Don River provided a easy means of transportation, and also a source of power for a number of mills along its length.  The historic residences of pioneer miller William Gray are still in their original location overlooking the Don River on the Donalda Golf Club grounds.

The Gray property was purchased in 1914 by David Dunlap who made his fortune in the mining business.  The Dunlap family established a prize winning “model farm” here in Don Mills.  “Donalda” farm was visited by farming experts from around the world who came to inspect and marvel at its livestock and equipment.

While the city of Toronto steadily expanded, the Don Mills area remained rural until after the Second World War.  It was cut off from the city by ravines to the south, east, and west.  Only two roads connected to the area York Mills Road and Don Mills Road.  In 1950 the area consisted of about 20 farms.

the don mills project:

EPtaylorThis combination of emptiness and proximity to the city attracted the attention of industrialist E.P. Taylor.  His original plan was to erect a brewery on the site, along with a small community to house the workers.  Taylor had limited experience in the property development business, but had built a project named the Wrentham Estates in York Mills.  Seeing the profit to be made with such projects, Taylor abandoned the brewery idea and decided to simply build a new town on the 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) he had acquired.

In 1951 he began planning the Don Mills community, and it was announced on March 11, 1953, by its financial backer, businessman E.P. Taylor built on about 8.35 square kilometres (2,100 acres) of farmland centred at the intersection of Don Mills Road and Lawrence Avenue East.  Development was headed by the Taylor-owned Don Mills Development Company with an expected cost of $200 million.

The design of Don Mills was influenced by Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, and by the principles of two American town planners, Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, who developed the garden city community of Radburn, New Jersey.  Design of the project was entrusted to Macklin Hancock, the son-in-law of Taylor’s executive assistant.  Still in his mid-20s, Hancock had been studying at Harvard when approached for the job.  At Harvard, Hancock had studied under a number of the founders of modernism and new town planning including: Walter Gropius, William Holford, and Hideo Sasaki. These studies led Hancock to envision a self-contained community distinguished by consistent design principles and a modernist style.  Several names were proposed for the new development, including Eptown after Taylor.  It was called Yorktown at its initial unveiling, but the name Don Mills was finally adopted at the suggestion of Hancock.

The design was based on five planning principles, which had not been implemented in Canada before:

  1. The neighbourhood principle, which broke down the community into four neighbourhood quadrants, all surrounding a regional shopping centre, Don Mills Centre, at the southwest corner of Don Mills and Lawrence.  Each quadrant was to contain a school, a church, and a park.
  2. Separation of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, which was accomplished through the creation of a network of pedestrian paths providing easy access through parks to area schools and the town centre, while roads were designed to slow vehicular traffic through the use of winding roads, T-intersections, and cul-de-sacs.
  3. Promotion of modernist architecture and the modern aesthetic.  Don Mills Development controlled the architectural design, colours, and materials of all buildings in Don Mills.  As well, the corporation insisted that builders use company-approved architects who had been educated according to Bauhaus principles, to prevent the project from deteriorating into a typical post-war subdivision of builder’s homes.
  4. Creation of a greenbelt linked to a system of neighbourhood parks that would preserve the beauty of the surrounding ravines.
  5. Integration of industry into the community which followed Howard’s ideals for the Garden City.  Planners felt that it was important for residents to live and work in the same satellite town so that Don Mills would not become a bedroom community.  A sizeable number of high residential densities, rental townhouses and low-rise apartments was essential if the town were to attract a cross-section of residents working in local industries.

don mills centre

2009_04_30Don_Mills_Centre450_59963-48E.P. Taylor of Argus Corporation originally bought the land for a brewing plant, but decided to make the site the focal point of the 2,100 acre (8.35 km²) planned community.  Initial construction of the Don Mills Centre began in 1954.  In 1955, a strip plaza was opened with a Dominion Supermarket, Kofflers Drug Store (the first Shoppers Drug Mart), Brewers Retail and a dozen other retailers.   Don Mills Centre was primarily intended to serve the local community, centrally located within walking distance of many rental units built around the core of the community.  It quickly became a regional centre, drawing people from North York, East York and Scarborough.  As the Don Mills district was developed, the Don Mills Centre expanded to serve the increasing population.  Eaton’s opened one of its first suburban department stores in 1961.  By 1965, the Dominion Supermarket had relocated into a larger store at the south end, Zellers moved in and an outdoor mall expanded to 65 stores.

2110_largeBy the mid 1960s, other amenities had been added to the site, such as a post office, curling rink, movie theatres, hockey arena, service stations and a 15 storey office building.   In 1978, a major renovation was undertaken to enclose the mall.  The mall was expanded from 400,000 to 462,000 square feet (37,000 to 43,000 m²).  The number of tenants grew from 87 to 120.  In 1986, the under-utilized curling rink at the south-west corner of the development was demolished.  A 4-storey office building and a small outdoor plaza were built in its place.  In 1989, the service station at the north-east corner of the site was demolished, and replaced by a 6 storey office building with retail on the ground floor.

After its closure in the 1990s, the lower level of the Eaton’s store was converted to a Sears Canada outlet store, which later closed.  The store once again stood empty for some time until it was leased by a sporting goods store, National Sports.  The store then left the site after two years and was replaced by a patio furniture store and a used car dealership.  The owner of the mall, Cadillac Fairview, proposed a redevelopment of the site to include a lifestyle centre, condos and office space.  The redevelopment plans originally called for a phased redevelopment, keeping different portions of the mall open at different times to ensure its continuity as a shopping centre.  However, plans changed and the centre was demolished.

don-mills-towerOn April 22 2009, the new Shops at Don Mills made Canadian retail history as Ontario’s very first urban village.  It was one of the largest redevelopment projects in Canada and represents a new evolution in retail, showcasing a fresh concept where visitors stroll from stores to restaurants to public spaces in an open-air setting.  More than 100 best-in-class shops and boutiques, restaurants and amenities are either moving in or already moved in, including many first-to-market tenants including Canada’s first Anthropologie store, Ontario’s first McNally Robinson bookstore, Salomon Sports’ first North American non-resort store, and Toronto chef Mark McEwan’s 20,000-sq.-ft. gourmet food store.  And not to mention: Browns, Banana Republic, Coach, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Barbuti (an upscale men’s shop), and Murale, the first Toronto location for Shoppers Drug Mart’s experiment in beauty retail already operating in Ottawa and Montreal.

the sheppard TTC line


North York was initially supposed to receive the Sheppard Subway, while York and Etobicoke were initially to have received a busway.  York and Etobicoke were dissatisfied, even though the transit plan stated that a busway was sufficient for the near future.

subway-5004-08Leading up to the 1995 provincial election, the governing New Democratic Party proposed provincial funding for four subway/LRT projects for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).  Included in these four proposals were plans to build new subway lines along Eglinton and Sheppard Avenues. Premier Bob Rae decided to spread the funding throughout Metro Toronto to appease residents of both sides, which would have resulted in two truncated subway lines instead of a single complete line.  Three of these proposals had their municipal funding rejected by metropolitan Toronto city council, causing the cancellation of any provincial funding for the projects and causing current work on the Eglinton line to be terminated immediately.

Funding for the Sheppard line originally was rejected by city council as well. However, after a number of votes on different alterations to the project (including only building the subway to Leslie Street), the proposal to build the Sheppard line tunnels only, without tracks, was passed by a narrow margin.  After this vote passed city council, a revote was taken on the entire Sheppard line project to Don Mills which then passed by the narrowest of margins. Some believed that North York Mayor Mel Lastman’s political clout (he was later elected Mayor of the amalgamated City of Toronto) was crucial to the Sheppard Line proposal being implemented.  The Downsview station was added to the Spadina line partially in anticipation of the Sheppard project westward extension.

subway_5316_train_sheppard-station_01The Sheppard subway is unusual in that it was the first “suburban” subway; the previous TTC lines had started from downtown Toronto.  However, North York, especially around Yonge and Sheppard, has seen intense high-rise developments in recent years, giving it the nickname of the “new downtown” upon which other surrounding suburban areas were increasingly relying.  The case for building the subway line was the existing TTC bus service could not handle the commuter capacity; full buses drove right past waiting crowds at bus stops.  Although some suggested that expanding Sheppard Avenue to allow for dedicated bus lanes would have been much cheaper than a subway, it would be difficult to acquire the necessary right-of-way as Sheppard Avenue ran though a built-up Willowdale community.  The then-new Fairview Mall commuter parking garages at Don Mills were also intended to take the pressure off of the crowded Finch station.  Another reason was to alleviate the congested Highway 404–Don Valley Parkway (DVP) route; while Highway 404 was widened by the province in 1999–2007, similar plans to expand the DVP were not approved by city council, and this would result in an inevitable bottleneck.  The intention was that downtown-bound drivers would exit Highway 404 at Sheppard Avenue, and take the subway to avoid this choke point.

When the Sheppard line opened in 2002, it was the city’s first new subway line in decades.  It is shorter than originally planned, running from Yonge Street (at the former Sheppard station, now renamed Sheppard-Yonge) east to Don Mills Road rather than further west to Downsview station and southeast to Scarborough Centre station.  The line will be extended only with substantial additional government funding.  The Sheppard line cost just under $1 billion and took eight years to build.  It is the first subway line in Canada whose plain tunnel sections were built entirely by tunnel-boring machine.  All stations on the line are in cut-and-cover sections, and just east of Leslie station there is an enclosed bridge over the Don River (east branch). Additionally, the Sheppard line is the only subway line in Toronto not to have any open sections.  Yonge Street had to be diverted for several years in order to accommodate the expansion of Sheppard Station; since the completion of the line, the temporary diversion of Yonge are two vacant lots.

Inside_Sheppard_station_(across_platforms_on_Sheppard_line)One of the ideas proposed for the Sheppard line was platform screen doors. Aligned at the edge of the platforms, platform screen doors would align themselves with the subway-car doors when in station for safety and suicide prevention.  The system was dropped on the account of cost.  Stations are built to eventually take the TTC’s standard subway trains of six 23 m (75-foot) cars, but part of each platform has been blocked off since only four-car trains are needed to carry the amount of traffic the line currently receives.  The line is designed so that it can be extended at both ends, allowing for the construction of the originally planned westward and eastward branches in the future. Extension is not currently a priority, however.

via TTC


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