Thorncrest Shopping Centre, 1955


Etobicoke, Midcentury, Retail & Commercial, Toronto / Tuesday, November 21st, 2017
Thorncrest Shopping Centre (Plaza) from above in 1957, shortly after completion. Image: City of Toronto Archives, Series 12, Item 100.

It all depends on how you slice and dice it, though it would not be unfair to at least entertain Thorncrest Village’s claim to be Canada’s first planned community. At least not Canada’s first post World War II planned community. To be certain, comprehensive community plans existed previous to the war and, honestly, claims to “first” tend to obscure the realities of invention and innovation. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, after all.

Thorncrest Shopping Centre / Plaza began construction in 1955. Image: City of Toronto Archives / City of Etobicoke Fonds (213), Etobicoke Clerk’s Photographs (Series 1464), File 1, Item 6.

Where it stands on the urban history podium aside, Thorncrest Village was the project of its promoter ex-RCAF Wing Commander Marshall Foss. He hired urban planning guru Eugene Faludi, who was fresh from the Etobicoke plan, to design his new community on a 100 acre plot. Architect E.C.S. “Ed” Cox was brought on for many of the homes. Regardless of whether or not it may claim any “firsts”, Thorncrest Village has come to occupy the imagination of many urban historians and geographers and has often stood as an example of postwar planning.1See for example, Richard White, Planning Toronto: The Planners, The Plans, Their Legacies, 1940-1980 (Vanvouver: UBC Press, 2016): 97-9; Patrick Vitale. “A Model Suburb for Market Suburbanites: Order, Control, and Expertise in Thorncrest Village,” Urban History Review / Revue d’histoire urbaine 40, no. 1 (Fall 2011): 41-55; Deborah Cowen. “Suburban citizenship? The rise of targeting and the eclipse of social rights in Toronto,” Social and Cultural Geography 6, no. 3 (June 2005): 335-356; John Blumenson. “Robert Fairfield, Architect: ‘The saint who saved the day,'” Ontario History 97, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 15-27; Bradley D. Cross. “New Jerusalems for a New World: The Garden City Idea in Modern Planning Thought and Practice in Britain, Canada, and the United States, 1900-1970,” (PhD diss., University of Guelph, 1997); John Sewell. The Shape of the City: Toronto Struggles with Modern Planning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993; Deborah Ann Harrison. “Canada and the Limits of Liberalism: A Study of S.D. Clark,” (PhD diss. York University, 1979).

Faludi's plan for Thorncrest Village. Note the shopping centre at the bottom right. Source: City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 115, Item 15.
Faludi’s plan for Thorncrest Village. Note the shopping centre at the bottom right. Source: City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 115, Item 15.

Now, I normally find myself in the middle of things. Though I am hopelessly dedicated to the housing end of urban histories, the commercial side of development, planning, and architecture has always been endlessly interesting. Perhaps even more interesting. This is why, as small as it is, the Thorncrest Shopping Centre (or Plaza) is the feature that has captured my attention.

Thorncrest is best known for its housing and being a planned community. Ed Cox designed a number of homes in the planned community, including that of Marshall Foss. Source: CMHC. Prize-Winning Designs of Canada Small House Competition (CMHC: Ottawa, 1947): 91.

In 1945, Marshall Foss was a former RCAF officer from Montreal who had spent his time stationed at the Malton Air Base. As was the case with so many veterans, property development proved to be alluring. With the image of the Levitt development of  Strathmore Village (Centereach) in mind, Foss purchased a 100 acre farm in Etobicoke Township to replicate the vision in Canada.2White (2016): 97.

Foss hired Eugene Faludi for the project in 1945.3White pegs this as 1946, though a friendly advertorial run in the Globe and Mail published on March 17, 1945, quotes Faludi extensively. See Hugh Newton, “Plan Model Village for Toronto Area,” Globe and Mail, March 17, 1945, 15. Although the two did not always see eye-to-eye on just what Thorncrest should look like, the broad strokes were there: 180 lots on the 100 acres, each containing single-family homes. Although Faludi envisioned a small section that would contain apartments, Foss was dedicated to a more country club atmosphere and vetoed the suggestion.4Ibid. To Foss, Thorncrest was to be the future, and the future would most definitely be a country club and not just another example of the suburban development seen elsewhere.5Hugh Newton, “Plan Model Village for Toronto Area,” Globe and Mail, March 17, 1945, 15.

As is the case with most developments based (however tenuously) on Clarence Perry’s Neighbourhood Unit principle,6White (2016): 97-9. Thorncrest also included place for a shopping centre. Located at the development’s far south-east end, it was situated away from the designated green space at the northwest corner, which was situated near Kipling, away from the increasingly busy Islington. As is also the case, the shopping centre did not appear until some time after the neighbourhood had been well established.

Unlike some of the disappointments faced by those in Ottawa,7Residents of both Manor Park and Strathcona Heights were ultimately disappointed in the resulting commercial development adjacent to their new homes. While there were malls constructed, they were much smaller and contained much less variety than promised. the residents of Thorncrest Village ultimately received a shopping plaza along the lines of what was promised. Larger, actually. Although they typically advertised the project’s commercial area from the get-go, developers typically had to wait for the development and surrounding area to grow sufficiently to support a plaza. Even in a context of rapid growth, the reality on the ground was a bit more uneven and unpredictable.

The building of the shopping centre has not been started yet. This has to be delayed until sufficient people settle in the tributary area to support it. It appears that if the present rate of increase in population is maintained we may build it in 1951.8E.G. Faludi, “Designing New Canadian Communities Theory and Practice,” Journal of the American Institute of Planners 16, no. 2 (Spring 1950): 79.

Of course, Thorncrest’s country club atmosphere is what attracted residents and the first commercial occupant of the southeast corner, Joe O’Brien’s Esso station, was opposed vigorously by the Thorncrest Village Association when it was proposed, the association arguing that the lot be made residential instead.9”Group Oppose Service Station,” Globe and Mail, August 21, 1951, 5.

The Esso station at the corner of Islington and Rathburn (renamed from Rosethorn in 1954) that was the cause of much local consternation. Image: City of Toronto Archives / Etobicoke Fonds (213), Etobicoke Clerk’s Photographs (Series 1464), File 1, Item 9 (1955).

A few more homes was not going to happen, however. In spite of popular fears that Etobicoke would become “‘supersaturated’ with shopping centres”, on January 11, 1955, Etobicoke Council approved construction of a 15-unit shopping centre (as opposed to the 9 planned for in the 1940s) on the lot at the corner of Islington and Rathburn.10”Etobicoke Gives Approval To Two Shopping Centres,” Toronto Star, January 12, 1955, 18; “Department Store Sites Quite Possible in Future; Shopping Centres Released,” Etobicoke Guardian, January 13, 1955, 2. Its developer, Lorne Corley, had been experienced in the field, with commercial properties in the city’s west end and having developed the strip mall at Adelaide and Huron in London.11Etobicoke Guardian, November 29, 1956, 6. Unlike other larger projects in the burgeoning township municipality, the Thorncrest Shopping Centre was small and locally-focused: making it a perfect project to be missed by Toronto’s larger papers.

Early plans for the Shopping Centre were much more modest. Source: E.G. Faludi, “Designing New Canadian Communities Theory and Practice,” Journal of the American Institute of Planners 16, no. 2 (Spring 1950): 76.

The novel slice o’ pie shaped shopping plaza was designed by architects Robert Hanks and Norman Irwin and is considered to be an excellent example of the first generation of Canadian shopping malls.12Marie-Josée Therrien, “Changing Trends in the Canadian ‘Mallscape’ of the 1950s and 1960s,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada 36, no. 2 (2011): 14, 16.Construction began almost immediately after a permit was issued in January 1955 and, in spite of the quick start and years-long delay, there appears to have been little in the way of specific promotion for the new plaza. This is not surprising: Thorncrest’s commercial area was intended for Thorncrest and the immediate vicinity and was not expected or designed to attract shoppers from much outside of that. In Faludi’s formulation, this was a Small Neighbourhood Shopping Centre.13A Small Neighbourhood Shopping Centre was described as such: “This may consist of a drug store with some catering facilities, cash and carry grocery (food market), dry cleaning shop, combined with laundry, beauty parlour, barber shop, filling station, bakery and delicatessen, shoe repair shop, hardware shop, restaurant. The tributary area is a residential area with a radius of half a mile around the shopping centre. The tributary population required is minimum 500-1,000 families (2,000 to 4,000 people).” Eugene Faludi, “The Trend in Shopping Centres,” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 26, no. 9 (September 1949): 269.

In Faludi’s conception of the Small Neighbourhood Shopping Centre, a residential area about a half-mile radius was required to support the range of businesses. Image: Google Maps / O. Beattie.

In a Neighbourhood Unit-inspired plan, the local shopping centre, however it might be opposed by some residents, was considered to be “an integral part of our future satellite communities.”14Ibid, 267. The ability to travel only a short distance on foot to purchase necessities like groceries, drop off dry cleaning, get the banking done, or fill a prescription was a major part of the concept. Moreover, the availability of day-to-day necessaries in one’s own neighbourhood helped to ensure that a measure of exclusivity was maintained. To this end, the leading edge of Thorncrest’s commercial development was a modern supermarket.

In a crowded field of postwar Canadian food retailing, Grand Union had entered the fray with a bang. In 1953, the New Jersey-based chain had purchased the Hamilton-based Carroll’s chain with further plans to expand aggressively into the Canadian market.15The first location was the supermarket constructed in the Crang Plaza in Weston at Jane and Wilson (now a Food Basics at Crang Plaza [Sheridan Mall].) See Paul W. Fox, “Real Estate,” Toronto Star, October 24, 1953, 14. For more about Grand Union’s entry into the Canadian market, see “Grand Union Co. – Canadian Unit Expands -,” The Commercial and Financial Chronicle 172, no. 5267 (October 26, 1953): 5; “Grand Union Co. – Expansion in Canada -,” The Commercial and Financial Chronicle 178, no. 5273 (November 16, 1953): 5. In spite of early success, the venture was highly unsuccessful and by 1959, the entire chain was purchased by Steinberg’s. See Jamie Bradburn, “From a Grand Union to a Miracle,” Torontoist (February 21, 2009). Also see “Company Reports,” Toronto Star, May 2, 1955, 18. The August 25, 1955 first anniversary of the Crang outlet featured a puppy giveaway.

The new Grand Union appears to have been a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. The “Food-o-Mat (visible inside) was Grand Union’s innovative gravity-fed shelving system which allowed for wider aisles and a more comfortable and efficient shopping experience. Image: City of Toronto Archives / Etobicoke Fonds (213), Etobicoke Clerk’s Photographs (Series 1464), File 1, Item 13 (c. 1956).

It appears to be the case that the larger units and those occupied by the better-capitalized organizations were first to hit the ground. Aside from the aforementioned Grand Union, the Canadian Bank of Commerce branch and Woman’s Bakery seem to have been the first to open. Construction continued through the winter and spring, with more of the units being rented out upon completion. Some of the winter hoarding is visible in the photographs below.

At the end of the long process of filling the mall, a two-page ad was placed in the Etobicoke Guardian, welcoming the community to the shopping centre.

As it was only formally opened after the cutoff for Might’s Directories in 1956, a full listing is available in the 1957 edition.161957 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1957): 331.

  1. Joe O’Brien’s Esso Service Station17The station pictured above does not appear to have been actually part of the plaza and in the 1958 Might’s listed it separately at 270 Islington North. See 1958 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1958): 349.
  2. Thorncrest Shoe Service
  3. Paramount Dry Cleaners and Shirt Launderers
  4. G. Tamblyn Ltd. (drugs)
  5. Woman’s Bakery
  6. Grand Union-Carroll’s (supermarket)
  7. Thomas Toggery (children’s clothing)
  8. Potter Electric and Hardware
  9. Gina-Mari Salon (beauty parlour)
  10. The Thorncrest Restaurant
  11. The Golden Apple Gift Shop
  12. Sanderfer-Mackenzie (women’s fashion)18In the following year, it was named Dorothy Affleck Apparel. See 1958 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1958): 349.
  13. Canadian Bank of Commerce
  14. Rathburn Smoke Shop
  15. Leo’s Barber Shop
  16. Ralph G. Harris (dentist)19Ralph G. Harris’ term as the only dentist in the plaza ended the following year when he was joined by Donald Smith. See 1958 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1958): 349.
  17. R.F. Moore (doctor)20R.F. Moore appears only to have remained in his office at Thorncrest for year. In 1958, the local doctor was Margaret McCurdy. See 1958 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1958): 349.

In general, the businesses at Thorncrest didn’t advertise much, if at all. A quick search in both the Globe and Mail and the Star have yielded very little outside of the occasional want ad placed in the classified section. A small selection is reproduced below. Mary Walpole, in her regular Globe advertorial column “Around the Town”, wrote enthusiastically about Sanderfer-Mackenzie women’s fashion, predicting that it would be “a fashion success story.”21Mary Walpole, “Around the Town,” Globe and Mail, April 6, 1956, 14. Walpole herself, who passed away in 2000, had a fascinating story to tell about how she got into the advertorial game, as much as it might not have always been appreciated by others. See “Ad columnist wrote Around the Town,” Globe and Mail, January 14, 2000, R12; “‘Democracy’ Urged in News Decisions,” Ottawa Journal, January 29, 1970, 9.

If you made it this far, I acknowledge that it’s a bit of a messy one (again). It was in draft for more than a year and I felt that I just needed to get it out of there.

Notes   [ + ]

1. See for example, Richard White, Planning Toronto: The Planners, The Plans, Their Legacies, 1940-1980 (Vanvouver: UBC Press, 2016): 97-9; Patrick Vitale. “A Model Suburb for Market Suburbanites: Order, Control, and Expertise in Thorncrest Village,” Urban History Review / Revue d’histoire urbaine 40, no. 1 (Fall 2011): 41-55; Deborah Cowen. “Suburban citizenship? The rise of targeting and the eclipse of social rights in Toronto,” Social and Cultural Geography 6, no. 3 (June 2005): 335-356; John Blumenson. “Robert Fairfield, Architect: ‘The saint who saved the day,'” Ontario History 97, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 15-27; Bradley D. Cross. “New Jerusalems for a New World: The Garden City Idea in Modern Planning Thought and Practice in Britain, Canada, and the United States, 1900-1970,” (PhD diss., University of Guelph, 1997); John Sewell. The Shape of the City: Toronto Struggles with Modern Planning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993; Deborah Ann Harrison. “Canada and the Limits of Liberalism: A Study of S.D. Clark,” (PhD diss. York University, 1979).
2. White (2016): 97.
3. White pegs this as 1946, though a friendly advertorial run in the Globe and Mail published on March 17, 1945, quotes Faludi extensively. See Hugh Newton, “Plan Model Village for Toronto Area,” Globe and Mail, March 17, 1945, 15.
4. Ibid.
5. Hugh Newton, “Plan Model Village for Toronto Area,” Globe and Mail, March 17, 1945, 15.
6. White (2016): 97-9.
7. Residents of both Manor Park and Strathcona Heights were ultimately disappointed in the resulting commercial development adjacent to their new homes. While there were malls constructed, they were much smaller and contained much less variety than promised.
8. E.G. Faludi, “Designing New Canadian Communities Theory and Practice,” Journal of the American Institute of Planners 16, no. 2 (Spring 1950): 79.
9. ”Group Oppose Service Station,” Globe and Mail, August 21, 1951, 5.
10. ”Etobicoke Gives Approval To Two Shopping Centres,” Toronto Star, January 12, 1955, 18; “Department Store Sites Quite Possible in Future; Shopping Centres Released,” Etobicoke Guardian, January 13, 1955, 2.
11. Etobicoke Guardian, November 29, 1956, 6.
12. Marie-Josée Therrien, “Changing Trends in the Canadian ‘Mallscape’ of the 1950s and 1960s,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada 36, no. 2 (2011): 14, 16.
13. A Small Neighbourhood Shopping Centre was described as such: “This may consist of a drug store with some catering facilities, cash and carry grocery (food market), dry cleaning shop, combined with laundry, beauty parlour, barber shop, filling station, bakery and delicatessen, shoe repair shop, hardware shop, restaurant. The tributary area is a residential area with a radius of half a mile around the shopping centre. The tributary population required is minimum 500-1,000 families (2,000 to 4,000 people).” Eugene Faludi, “The Trend in Shopping Centres,” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 26, no. 9 (September 1949): 269.
14. Ibid, 267.
15. The first location was the supermarket constructed in the Crang Plaza in Weston at Jane and Wilson (now a Food Basics at Crang Plaza [Sheridan Mall].) See Paul W. Fox, “Real Estate,” Toronto Star, October 24, 1953, 14. For more about Grand Union’s entry into the Canadian market, see “Grand Union Co. – Canadian Unit Expands -,” The Commercial and Financial Chronicle 172, no. 5267 (October 26, 1953): 5; “Grand Union Co. – Expansion in Canada -,” The Commercial and Financial Chronicle 178, no. 5273 (November 16, 1953): 5. In spite of early success, the venture was highly unsuccessful and by 1959, the entire chain was purchased by Steinberg’s. See Jamie Bradburn, “From a Grand Union to a Miracle,” Torontoist (February 21, 2009). Also see “Company Reports,” Toronto Star, May 2, 1955, 18. The August 25, 1955 first anniversary of the Crang outlet featured a puppy giveaway.
16. 1957 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1957): 331.
17. The station pictured above does not appear to have been actually part of the plaza and in the 1958 Might’s listed it separately at 270 Islington North. See 1958 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1958): 349.
18. In the following year, it was named Dorothy Affleck Apparel. See 1958 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1958): 349.
19. Ralph G. Harris’ term as the only dentist in the plaza ended the following year when he was joined by Donald Smith. See 1958 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1958): 349.
20. R.F. Moore appears only to have remained in his office at Thorncrest for year. In 1958, the local doctor was Margaret McCurdy. See 1958 Toronto City Directory (Toronto: Might’s Directories Limited, 1958): 349.
21. Mary Walpole, “Around the Town,” Globe and Mail, April 6, 1956, 14. Walpole herself, who passed away in 2000, had a fascinating story to tell about how she got into the advertorial game, as much as it might not have always been appreciated by others. See “Ad columnist wrote Around the Town,” Globe and Mail, January 14, 2000, R12; “‘Democracy’ Urged in News Decisions,” Ottawa Journal, January 29, 1970, 9.

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