Our community has always wanted a better Bloor Dufferin
A streetcar turning north off Bloor St. onto Dovercourt Rd. in 1965. This picture was taken one year before the opening of the Bloor subway line.
Until 1838-39, what is now Bloor and Dufferin was “nearly impenetrable forest” that the Denison sons cleared to build estates for themselves. Dovercourt was one of these estates, owned by Richard Lippincott Denison. It occupied land between what is now Bloor and Queen, and between Dovercourt and Ossington. The other brother, George Taylor Denison II, built the second estate, which stretched further west between Dovercourt and Dufferin, with the same north/south boundaries. That estate was called Rusholme.
“By mid-century the Denisons had created their own distinct community on the western edge of Toronto. Replete with impressive country houses, ancestral nomenclature, tenants, and a family chapel, an eighteenth-century dynastic vision had been realized in the nineteenth-century Canadian bush.”
—Bloor-Dufferin in Pictures, by Cynthia Patterson, Carol McDougall, and George Levin (Toronto Public Library Board Local History Handbook no. 5)
The City of Toronto was incorporated in 1834. Dufferin and Bloor was the northwestern edge of the city but there weren’t many streets beyond Queen and Spadina. Twenty years later, the Denisons’ land, which they’d “acquired at little or no cost,” had exploded in value to between 100 and 300 pounds sterling for every acre of their 100-acre estates.
By the 1870s the neighbourhood existed on paper only. “Developers and speculators knew exactly where the streets would cut through fields and had already determined the size, shape, and numbers of the still grassy lots.” Subdividing, developing, and selling their properties in the 1880s and 1890s, the Denison family and other landowners made significant profits.
A number of schools and churches—for example, Dovercourt Public School on Bartlett and Hallam, and the Ossington Avenue Baptist church at Bloor and Ossington—were built in this era. By 1900, the city of Toronto’s population had grown by close to 700 percent what it had been fifty years prior. Our neighbourhood looked different from what we know. For example:
- Residential streets were dirt roads
- Round cedar blocks made up Dufferin street’s surface
- Bloor was unpaved between Dufferin and Bathurst until 1913 and had boardwalks for sidewalks.
Kent School opened its doors in 1908. It was the largest public school in Canada. Part of its playground was taken over for Bloor Collegiate, which was built in 1925.
Elephants parade down Brock Ave. in 1920. They were an attraction to a circus held on the grounds of the Dufferin Park Race Track. The racetrack existed for decades but was eventually sold to developers and now consists of the land occupied by Dufferin Mall.
In the nineteenth century most people in Toronto traced their origins to the UK. But after the second World War and changes to immigration policy, just under a third of Bloor and Dufferin’s residents had non-British roots. By the 1960s, 77 percent of people here had roots in non-British countries. Italians made up 40% of the area. Shops selling Indian and Pakistani groceries and saris appeared on Bloor street among Portuguese and Italian stores and West Indian roti restaurants. By the 1970s people from South America made their homes here, as did more folks from South Asia. Chinese and Vietnamese families arrived in the 1980s.
When the Bloor Danforth subway opened in 1966, the grand old houses near Dufferin Grove were too large to keep up as single-family homes. Many became co-ops, communes, or rooming houses and some residents felt they didn’t belong in their own neighbourhood anymore. The community was open to developers’ offers.
Bath-Shep Apartments Ltd had options to buy most of the block south of Bloor between Dufferin and Gladstone. They planned to buy all the houses, tear them down, and build a large townhouse and apartment complex. But things didn’t go as planned. Sixty families along Gladstone believed that highrises would replace their homes and had made deposits on apartments or new houses. But facing zoning and money problems, the developer disappeared. Residents turned to the city for help. They were never compensated for lost money.
In 1970 Lionstar Investments had even bigger plans for the area along Bloor between Gladstone and Dovercourt down to Dufferin Grove. The community was divided about the company’s proposal. Many wanted to preserve the old houses. Young families felt that the company’s planned bachelor and one-bedroom apartments had failed to consider family housing. By 1972 the city denied Lionstar’s high-density rezoning requests. Opponents of redevelopment had organized to make their voices heard and it made a difference. The company decided to concentrate on the suburbs where there wouldn’t be so many “so-called community workers” to hold their toes to the fire.
If you have memories, or know the history, of development pressure on our neighbourhood, we’d like to hear more. Do you know anything about the “Ward Four Homeowners Association,” the “Havelock Street Tenants Union” or the “South of Dufferin Grove Park Residents Coalition?”
These were groups active in the 1970s and opposed to massive development in our bucolic neighbourhood. Dust off your bell-bottom jeans and tie-die T-shirts and remind us of our history. We’ve always been shit disturbers.