Monday, October 12, 2009

Retrospectives: Finch and Leslie

One of the intersections I've always found interesting in aerial shots of the city is Finch and Leslie. It's another one of those with a dogleg that was straightened out, in its case sometime around 1970 or so. As with the other locations I'm hoping to talk about over the next few days, I wouldn't be bothered blogging about it just on the basis of interesting overhead shots, but because I happened to stumble across some ground-level photos of the area from 1965, which presents the opportunity of then-and-now comparisons.

First some setup. Here's a comparison of area from 1964 and 2009. The intersection is obvious in the upper shot. Leslie Street runs north and south, and Finch runs east and west, and as you can see, Finch once had had a dogleg here of a couple of dozen yards. At the extreme north of the shot, on the left, is Cummer Avenue, which once also carried traffic over the East Don River (just out of sight on the left in these shots) across a one-lane bridge that's still open to pedestrians. It's just the stub of Old Cummer Avenue at the top of the modern shot. You can see where subdivisions were already filling land north of Finch and west of the tracks on Leslie's west side. There's a reason they weren't filling up the land south of Finch yet, which I'll get to later. But for the ground level shots, the photographer was standing on the northwest and southeast corners of the dogleg, and on the south side of Finch just to the west of the level crossing with the railroad tracks.


An overview of the intersection, taken from the parking terrace of the mall on the northeast side. Finch runs across the view, and Leslie runs from top to bottom. The view looks vaguely southwest.

This first shot was taken at the northwest corner, looking south down Leslie Street. Beneath that, the same view today, more or less. Obviously with all the changes, it's difficult to stand in exactly the same place.

This shot was taken on the southeast corner, looking north up Leslie Street. If you look at it large, you'll notice the sign heralding the coming shopping centre... which you can see in the modern shot (not too surprising, since that mall's been there since the early 1970s).


This next one's a little trickier because the view has changed so substantially. That's kind of the point, I guess, but still, it's nice to have some context to provide a strong contrast. This is the CN line crossing at Finch; a level crossing till 1968 when the underpass was built (note the train just leaving the scene in the 1965 view). These views were taken on the south side of Finch Avenue, facing east towards the Leslie Street intersection.


Generally that would be about it, but there's also always been this intriguing little property near the intersection that really stands out in aerial shots. Until yesterday I had no really clear idea about it. I remember when I'd pass it in the early 2000s, it was still a horse ranch... a big house, standing alone, nice fence and trees, and a couple of times I saw horses even on Leslie Street... that's something you don't tend to forget. Whenever I used to drive by and glimpse it, I was compelled to hum the theme song from Dallas. I had no idea how appropriate that was. Four or five years ago, the place finally succumbed and was filled up with new homes... though the big central house remained, which I found pleasing.

Here's how the place appeared from above in 1957, contrast with how it looks today, stuffed with about 70 new homes.


Since I was there, I decided I'd finally go in and take some shots of the place. Up close it was even more impressive... it almost looks like the Canadian answer to the White House, don't you think?



As I got there, I was happily surprised to see there was a plaque before the home (despite the fact that, apparently, it remains a private residence), confirming my feeling that the place was significant. I was surprised just how significant.


The plaque reads as follows:

Built circa 1950, this Colonial Revival house was the centrepiece of a 300-acre equestrian estate owned by John Angus "Bud" McDougall. As Chairman of the Board and President of Angus Corporation from 1969 until his death in 1978, Bud McDougall was one of Canada's most powerful businessmen, and was reputedly worth over $200 million. McDougald and his wife, Hadley Maude, created this estate near the properties of his business partners E.P. Taylor and W.E. Phillips, and called it "Green Meadows".

The elegant house features a full-height, Greek temple facade. On various occasions, members of the British Royal Family stayed here. The estate included housing for staff, as well as outbuildings for McDougald's horses, dogs and antique and luxury cars.

Under development pressure from North York's growing suburbs, McDougald agreed in 1969 to sell most of his estate if he could keep his horses on the remaining 19-acre lot (a privilege otherwise prevented by law). Maude McDougald resided here until her death in 1996, after which the remaining estate was sold. This house was preserved, and remains a private residence.

The captions of the photos read:

John Angus "Bud" McDougald in his trademark pin-stripe suit, beside one of his Rolls-Royce automobiles, circa 1978.   

A fox hunting party leaves the front gates of the estate and heads up Leslie Street, circa 1960.

(RIGHT) Green Meadows, 1971
Surrounded by suburbs after 1969, the remaining 19-acre estate around the house was kept secluded by trees on its borders. The following structures are visible, from left to right:
1. Gatehouse   
2. Stables for ten horses   
3. Main house   
4. Sunken garden   
5. Swimming pool   
6. Five-car garage   
7. Kennels   
8. Sixteen-car garage   
9. Staff house
10. Staff cottage and garage   
11. Stables and riding arena   
12. Work building   

Green Meadows, 1958. Finch Avenue and Leslie Street meet at top left. The estate ran south from Finch Avenue past what is now Van Horne Avenue, and east from Leslie Street to what is now Don Mills Road.


Mark Vidov said...

Nice investigation of the area. Where do you find the archive photos?

Lone Primate said...

Hi, Mark, thanks. :) You can look for interesting photos of the city here!

jim said...

You know I just eat this stuff up. But it makes me wonder if there's anything within 20 miles of Toronto that hasn't been suburbanized!

Lone Primate said...

They're working hard, I'll tell you. Something just over 100,000 immigrants are moving to the GTA annually and have been for a couple of decades; the places beyond the core cities are filling up quickly. Just this weekend it occurred to me that I might undertake the project of photographing certain intersections and other identifiable locations beyond the fringe today for the illumination of people a generation or two hence. As Devo said, "Duty Now For the Future". :)

jim said...

I'm imagining a post to this blog in 2025: "As you can see, comparing my 2009 and 2025 photos, this intersection has changed quite a bit!"

Mark Vidov said...

Thanks for the link to the archives. Interesting thought about what to document for the future. With google street view now available in Toronto, we can hope that some of this data will be preserved in some way. So the question is what needs to be documented beyond this. I think you do need to go beyond city boundaries as well as above and below ground. Someone should build a lightweight portable 360 degree archiving tool. This would let a guy on a bike or a hiker build their own "off-street" view. I can see a whole flickr/youtube infrastructure being available to support this. When the glaciers melt and the national parks are paved over, we'll have something to remember.

Mark Vidov said...

I was half-joking about a more mobile google street view creator but google was ahead as usual. They have a street view trike that can reach more areas.

timvm said...

Great post thank you. I live very close to this intersection and was talking to a neighbour a few weeks ago about when she moved into this area 25 years ago. She told me that at that time Leslie St. was just a dirt road. Nice to be able to visualize it through these photos!

Jenn said...

I grew up in that area. I remember trick or treating at The MacDougall Mansion! They gave out full size chocolate bars and cans of pop, and all the servant quarters gave out treats too. You had to go early though, because they were a popular T or T spot - and they pretty much turned their lights off by 9.

Lone Primate said...

Hi, Jenn, thank you for dropping by and sharing that. :) I can only imagine. When I moved into the area, that property was still open and still had horses on it... I saw them on Leslie a few times. But that vanished pretty quickly. I thought that was a real shame; it was a really nice touch having that in the neighbourhood. What it must have been like for you when you were younger. I imagine the neighbourhood was pretty much established by then and looked the way it does now, but there might have been a few things that were different. I'd love to hear more if come by again and have the time. :)

Giorgio said...

I worked for a small landscaping co. Just the boss and a few students,in the 70's. we did lawn maintenance there... I remember looking at the Rolls' in the garage. we saw the 'Lady' a couple of times when she came out to the pool. The boss did the work in the rose garden near the pool himself. He always told us to mind our p's and q's around there! Thanks for the memory!