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Some racy Leaside stories

Target is coming soon to Thorncliffe, which as we were recently reminded by Lorna Krawchuk, was a part of the former Town of Leaside.

Originally however, only a small part of Thorncliffe was located in Leaside. Most of it was either in North York or East York. But in 1954, on the eve of apartment development, the OMB granted Leaside’s application to annex the entire area.

Prior to 1920 Thorncliffe was farmland but that year it was purchased by Americans who built a race track on the site, which operated for over 40 years. Many famous Canadian horses of the day ran at Thorncliffe including Bunty Lawless, Joey Bomber and Queen’s Own.

I well remember the year my Rolph Road school class walked over to the racetrack for our class picnic. Many other Leaside and East York kids remember sneaking in to watch the races.

But betting the horses was not the only form of gambling at Thorncliffe. Garity’s Club was there as well, located near the present Banigan Dr. (named after Joe Banigan, a former Leaside councillor). The club was the subject of many fruitless police raids by Leaside Police Chief Sandy Bruce, for whom Sandy Bruce Park on Moore Ave. is named.

Apparently someone always tipped off the operator before Sandy arrived.

Eventually, the building, listed on the assessment roll as a storage warehouse, was blown up. It was rumoured to be the work of a business rival.

In 1952 the Ontario Jockey Club bought the track from its American owners, shut it down and sold it to developers. That is why the Leaside Planning Board was established.

Leaside, a well planned community thanks to Mayor Howard Talbot and his council, never had a planning board until the annexation of Thorncliffe. One of the first things the board did was to recommend the construction of the Charles Hiscott Bridge (named after a former Leaside mayor) over the Don Valley to provide a second access to Thorncliffe by linking Overlea with Don Mills Rd.

Development quickly followed with streets named Grandstand Place and Milepost Rd., the first indoor plaza in Canada, the 43-storey towers of 85 and 95 Thorncliffe Park Dr., at the time the tallest apartment buildings in the British Commonwealth, Central Park Lodge (now the Leaside Retirement Residence) on William Morgan Dr. (named after a former long-time Leaside reeve, deputy reeve and councillor), R.V. Burgess Park (named after the long serving Leaside municipal clerk), Beth Neilson Dr.(named after the last mayor of Leaside) and more recently the Jenner Jean-Marie Recreation Centre (named after one of Leaside’s members of East York Council).

 In 1970 Thorncliffe was home to about 13,000 people. Today the same number of apartment  buildings are home to 30,000 people with four new students registering for school each day. No wonder the three schools are bursting at the seams.

Those Thorncliffe residents are not only our neighbours but they are also our fellow Leasiders.