In 1963, when Liz and I were about to marry, we began searching around the east end of Toronto for an apartment to rent. Although we were both U of T graduates, we didn’t know the city well at all. Everything east of Yonge and north of St. Clair seemed like darkest ‘burbia.
The apartment scene in East York also seemed dismal. But then we stumbled on a fascinating new community overlooking the Don Valley: it turned out that the old Thorncliffe Racetrack (which we’d never heard of) was being redeveloped as an apartment complex surrounding an enclosed shopping centre. The semi-circular Thorncliffe Park Dr. enclosed about 20 six-storey modern apartment buildings. The outside of the circle was entirely parkland.
The shopping centre, Thorncliffe Market Place, had an impressive range of stores.
It looked like a good place to live. We leased a very spacious two-bedroom apartment at 52 Thorncliffe Park (Garden Court), thought the rent of $135 a month (including parking and utilities) was entirely reasonable, and after our wedding that June began our married life there.
Thorncliffe in the 1960s was a delightful place to live. We spent many hours rambling in the ravineland below the development, played baseball and golf and frisbee across the street in the parkland, delighted in the pastoral views from our balcony. One day we heard a crash of glass in our living room – a pheasant had flown through the window and lay unconscious on the floor. We called the superintendent, put the pheasant out on the balcony, and it recovered and flew away.
We shopped at Steinberg’s and Sayvette and the other stores in the mall. When I got a toothache that first year I went to the young dentist who had just opened a practice upstairs in the building. In the next few months Milton Cohen took out all my wisdom teeth and convinced us that he was the best dentist we had ever known. We were among his earliest and most loyal patients.
We learned that the Thorncliffe Park area was part of the town of Leaside, and we soon found our way up Millwood, under the bridge, and into a beautiful residential town of which we had known nothing. Driving around the shady streets, watching the children playing ball at Trace Manes, noticing the beautifully designed and positioned Leaside High School, we realized instantly that this was where we wanted to own a house and raise our children. So in 1969 we left Thorncliffe and bought our first home, on MacNaughton Rd.
Leaside lost its autonomy. Thorncliffe Park went its own way as a development, with huge apartment towers being built around its outer ring and its resident population becoming heavily weighted by newcomers to Canada. Today Thorncliffe is a teeming “gateway” community, heavily Muslim, culturally singular, apparently distinct from Leaside.
Liz and I, our children, and our grandchildren, still have all our dental work done at the Thorncliffe Dental Centre, the bustling monument to the good work done by our retired friend, Dr. Cohen. Right up to the catastrophe of Target, I used to disconcert my wife by occasionally buying clothes at the Zellers store in Thorncliffe. More usefully, at the urging of the tireless Bill Pashby, I have participated in several Canadian citizenship ceremonies at Thorncliffe Public School. These are deeply moving events, affirmations of Canada and the values we have in common.
We regretted that a conflict caused us to miss this year’s gala fundraiser on Nov. 19 to support social services in Thorncliffe. There is no better cause. We may come from different pasts and different cultures, but all of us in these two very wonderfully unique neighbourhoods of Toronto have much the same aspirations. Our future lies with the children of Leaside and Thorncliffe Park, one community.