North York

10 quirky things to know about North York

Like Scarborough and Etobicoke to the east and west, North York's originated as a collection of independent communities north of the Old City of Toronto. Post amalgamation and the former borough and city is a mostly suburban mix of conspicuous wealth, manifest poverty, and everything in between.

Over 200 years of settlement has produced a variety of delightful quirks. For example, did you know the city's "traffic brain" used to be in a bunker at Yonge and Sheppard, or that Don Mills used to have a curling rink shaped like a UFO? How about the incomplete platform at Sheppard-Yonge station?

Here are 10 quirky things to know about North York.

toronto univac 1107

The city's traffic computer used to be located in a bunker at Yonge and Sheppard
When Toronto's $3.2 million behemoth of a traffic computer was delivered in 1963, this city became the first in the world to entrust the timing and control of traffic lights to a machine. The computer took up an entire room at Old City Hall and had to be specially air conditioned to keep it from overheating. In later life, the UNIVAC 1107 was stored at the city's police headquarters on Jarvis and finally an underground room at Yonge and Sheppard in 1979, before being retired.

North York Centre station was retrofitted into the Yonge line
When the Yonge line was extended to its current terminus at Finch in 1974, there was no North York Centre Station. The stop was added in 1987 by excavating around the subway tunnel. Evidence of the station's past as a nondescript section of track is evident in the thick support columns separating the north and southbound platforms. Unlike other stations, the supports are an essential component of the structure.

toronto yorkdale mall

Yorkdale was once the largest indoor shopping mall in the world
There was nothing in Canada quite like Yorkdale when it opened in 1964. Built at the intersection of the 401 and Allen Road, the quintessentially suburban mall with its 6,500 parking spaces included branches of Reitman's, Laura Secord, Toy World, and Eddie Black's Camera Store, but more importantly it was the first retail development to unite the country's two leading department stores, Eaton's and Simpson's, under one (massive) roof. Novel features of the mall included an underground receiving tunnel and a conveyor belt linking the checkout of the Dominion supermarket with the parking lot.

Sheppard-Yonge station features a never-used platform
In the late 1990s, in anticipation of a future spike in traffic at Sheppard-Yonge, the TTC installed a centre platform between the two eastbound Sheppard line tracks. If the line is ever extended west to Downsview (as originally planned,) the roughed-in platform could be used to provide additional capacity. Right now it's dark and only partly-finished. Bloor-Yonge could use a similar innovation.

toronto don mills curling

Don Mills used to have a spaceship shaped curling rink
It's hard to miss the Don Mills Curling Rink in aerial photos of the 1960s. The bright white dome at the corner of Don Mills Rd. and the Donway was the work of architect Douglas M. Hall. It served originally as a curling facility, but was later converted for use as a bingo hall. It closed for good in 1984 and was unceremoniously demolished in '86. Hall described his wood-framed masterpiece as "a flower at the end of the long stem of buildings."

North York Central Library is designed to match the Toronto Reference Library
Architect Raymond Moriyama's design for the Toronto Reference Library features a massive central atrium lined with dangling vines and hanging plants, tumbling out of planters. The North York Central Library was completed 10 years later to a similar design, minus some of the foliage. The central atrium with its staggered balconies is the most obvious visual connection. Moriyama is also responsible for designing the Scarborough Civic Centre, the Bata Shoe Museum, Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, to name a few.

Willowdale is getting a park named for members of Rush
Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson founded the legendary Canadian rock band with original drummer John Rutsey while students at Fisherville Junior High School near G. Ross Lord Park. The band wrote songs and played early shows in Willowdale and were honoured in the name of "Lee Lifeson Art Park," which was given the green light in August. The park is set to open in 2015.

Cummer Ave. is named after German settlers
Tee-hee. Cummer Ave. and by extension Old Cummer GO station is named for the Kummer family, early German settlers driven north out of Pennsylvania by the American Revolution. Jacob Kummer owned a large swath of undeveloped land between Sheppard and Finch and built a sawmill on the Don River. Later, according to Toronto Street Names by Leonard Wise and Allan Gould, the family opened a woollen mill and operated the Willowdale post office, unaware their name would cause guffaws centuries later.

Parts of the Avro Arrow were hidden at CFB Downsview
The fate of the Avro supersonic fighter program has become the source of countless conspiracy theories. The Arrow, the pride of Canada's burgeoning aviation industry, was built by engineering firm Avro at Malton Airport (now Pearson) starting in 1955. The jet was capable of astonishing speeds (up to 2,400 km/h, almost twice the speed of sound,) but the project was controversially cancelled in 1959 and the five completed planes destroyed. The nosecone and two wing panels from an incomplete sixth Arrow were spirited away to CFB Downsview and kept hidden. The parts are now on display in Ottawa.

Tim Horton is buried at York Cemetery
Tim Horton would be surprised, but pleased, to know that the coffee and donut chain he co-founded in the 1960s became a nationwide concern, but he would probably wonder why his image has all but vanished from the business. Horton, a popular Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman, tried unsuccessfully to launch a fast food empire in Scarborough, but later found traction with a different business partner in Hamilton, Ont. Before the business really took off, Horton was killed in a crash on the QEW in 1974.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: jp1958/blogTO Flickr pool, City of Toronto Archives.

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