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The man who created the Leaside look

As we come to the close of the 100th anniversary year of the founding of the Town of Leaside in 1913, let’s take a look at the life and career of Leaside’s inventor: Frederick Gage Todd.

Born in New Hampshire in 1876, Frederick Todd apprenticed as a landscape architect with one of the most celebrated masters of the day, Frederick Olmstead of Boston, whose career included the design of Central Park in New York and Prospect Park (across from my grandmother’s home) in Brooklyn.

Todd moved to Montreal while in his 20s and lived there until his death in 1948.

It was there that he built his enduring reputation as Canada’s first landscape architect.

Todd’s clients included the major city builders of his day: the governments of Canada, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland; the cities of Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City, and others; the Bank of Montreal; and a host of major corporations.

It was of course a time of railway expansion. Where railways spread, land increased in value. Not surprisingly, some of the early city builders were subsidiary corporations established by the railway companies themselves.

The Canadian Northern Railway (eventually absorbed into Canadian National) was one such railway company, whose operations before the First World War included lines in the vicinity of both Montreal and Toronto. The company created new towns on the rail lines near both cities: the Town of Mount Royal near Montreal and the Town of Leaside near Toronto.

The railway retained Fred Todd to design both of them.

Visit the Town of Mount Royal and you will be struck by its similarity to Leaside: Both show the clear early influence of the existence of the rail line. Both are characterized by a general grid pattern to their local streets punctuated by major diagonal thoroughfares reminiscent of Washington DC (no coincidence, by the way – remember the country where Todd learned his craft).

The two towns also share some of the same street names: Laird, Wicksteed, Fleming, MacNaughton, and Markham were Canadian Northern Railway men.

More significantly, both town plans reflect the same design ideals, which themselves show the influence of the leading urban design themes of the day.

Both communities feature lots about 30 to 40 feet in width; both were built, for the most part, of single family dwellings with garages behind the houses; both have narrow streets with lots of trees.

Both display Todd’s enthusiasm for the City Beautiful and Garden City movements: a cohesive plan; the inclusion of institutions and apartment buildings, but mostly on major roadways apart from the areas designated for single family dwellings; the separation of functional zones (in Leaside the residential and industrial zones, of course, were originally and continue to be separated by a wide avenue). And so on.

Want another example of Fred Todd’s work? Visit the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City. The park that has been created to memorialize that historic site is one of his.