Growing up in Downsview in the 1950s and 1960s

Growing up in Downsview in the 1950s and 1960s

Downsview in the late 50s and early 60s

Here is something I wrote for the Downsview Avocate. Only a fraction of the article was published.

Growing up in Downsview during the Late 50’s and Early 60’s
Michael Davidson

I lived on Regent Road in Downsview from 1954 when I was born until I moved away from home in 1973. Regent Road was south of the de Havilland Aircraft company facility and north of Wilson Avenue -- between Dufferin Street and the railway tracks. I wanted to write about some of the experiences and landmarks that were memorable to a kid growing up in that time and place. Downsview, formally, goes from Sheppard to the 401 and from Highway 400 to Dufferin but my experiences as a kid were mostly around my home on Regent so I will write about that.

Regent Road was a middle class street with mostly modest bungalows. The inhabitants were a mixed bunch of born-here Canadians and mainly European immigrants such as the ex-British soldiers like my dad who came over with the “Drew Plan”. Some of the Italians build beautiful Mediterrean-style homes that stood out by their relative magnificence. When I was young there were no sidewalks, but rather ditches where grey water from the clothes washing machine would pour out. I think the toilets were originally flushed out to some kind of septic drain field in the back yard – but I am not sure about this. The house was originally heated by a coal furnace, then an oil furnace, finally natural gas.

I went to Ancaster Road Public School. It was only a few blocks away from our house. I have my brother’s photo issued by the school showing the graduating class for 1962-1963. The teachers are Mrs. Pollard, Mrs. Hisaki, Miss Blackman, Mrs. Porter, Mr. Draffin, Mr. Buck, Mr. Huges, Mrs. Litowitz, Mrs. Chadwick, Miss MacRae, and Mrs. Gordon. The principal was Mr. Conley. I somehow remember that the school had an air raid siren on the roof from the Cold War – but I might be mistaken. From the second floor you could look out the window and see the Simpsons store in the new Yorkdale Plaza. Ancaster School had three parts, the kindergarten where Mrs. Pollard taught, the gym, and the regular classrooms. There were also a few portables outside. Ancaster students came from this side of Wilson. Kids from the yellow and red brick apartments on the other side of Wilson went to Anthony Road Public School and we didn’t have much to do with them.

Our house on Regent was just up the road from Murray Street. Between Murray Street and the tracks were lumber yards and I would jump their fence late at night and gather up a big bag of sawdust to use in my hamster cage. This was before Teskey's set up their operation. We could bicycle up to de Havilland and ride around the parking lots. There was lots to look at, the big hangars sometimes with Beaver or Caribou planes on the tarmac, the memorial monument and a few plaques. There was one road into the plant area with a sign saying “Do not enter” that I always enjoyed entering. They had an airplane part junkyard at the end where they stored old containers for aircraft engines and such things.

Behind Regent was Wilson Avenue and its shops and apartments. At Murray Street and Wilson was Avon Printing where they printed business cards using hand-placed lead type. A friend of mine lived in the apartment upstairs. Going east from there was an empty lot, the house of Mr. Lewis the lawyer, another lot, and then a small plaza. In the plaza was a fish and chips shop where they wrapped the food in old newspapers and then sold you a grape crush to go along with it. Beside it was a shop selling cigarettes, candies, pop, Archie comics, and some dry goods. I used to collect discarded cigar bands just outside. The plaza also had a small grocery store, a hairdresser, and a barber shop with the red and white barber pole. Behind the plaza was a long rickety wooden shed where they kept old pieces of pipe and other useless stuff that as an exploring kid you found so fascinating. Then there was undeveloped field with a large billboard with a heavy wooden structure we used to climb on. That led to the plaza this side of Garrett Street with its delicious Maestro Pizza and another cigarette store.

Past Garret along Wilson was the Dominion store, the dentist (what was his name – he had a cord-driven drill and this big black x-ray machine), Dr. Fines who lived and worked out of a house on the north side of Wilson before they put up the store fronts, the Toronto Dominion Bank at Lady York, the rifle store, the vacuum cleaner store, …

At the southwest corner of Wilson and Dufferin where Coffee Time is now was the Diplomat Tavern. A friend of my father used to frequent there. Across the road, on the northwest corner, was an early McDonalds with its golden arches and its millions and millions served. We loved their fries and milkshakes and wouldn’t think much about healthy food until much later. On the southeast corner was a gas station. The northeast corner was a forgotten territory merging with the runway fields of de Havilland. There was a dilapidated, and probably abandoned, old garage of cinder block there.

Further up Wilson was the Mr. Donut with its W-shaped roof and the donut-making machine out front where the customers could watch the donuts popping out of the dough-bin and then float down a curved channel of heated oil. Past that was of Bathurst street.with its curious store-fronts of Jewish bookstores, prayer halls, bakeries, and grocery stores

Early in the sixties they built the original Denison Armoury on Dufferin Street, and I remember talking to the guy who lived across the road who got up every morning to see the armoury tank pointing its gun into his dining room over breakfast. When I passed the Armoury on the Dufferin bus, it meant that meant I was getting close to home. The old building was torn down and the new Denison Armoury built in the 2000s.

The railway tracks were a fascinating domain to explore. For the longest time there was no railway bridge and the train ran right across Wilson. On-coming traffic was blocked by a metal beam lowering down across the road. You could hear the train coming so walking along the tracks was not really dangerous. Put a penny on the tracks and the train would squish it. I used to walk up the tracks going north from Wilson. First you walked between the Mount Sinai Jewish cemetery and the timber cutting and stacked wood operations along Murray Street. Then you passed some back lots of de Havilland. Finally, when the tracks went into the Air Force base (this was before the unification of the Canadian Forces) I would turn back. Going south from Wilson along the tracks I would walk past the cement company yards, under the 401 bridge and into the Downsview railway yards backed by the parking lots of companies on Bridgeland and Caledonia Avenue. Finally I got to North Park with its tennis court and ravine.

In 1967 the Confederation Train stayed for a couple of days at the Downsview rail yards. There was a cutie Italian girl on the street, a bit older than me – I was 13 years old, and she wanted me to show her how to get there. I remember us walking down the tracks together to see the train with its exhibits on the ice age, the Inuit and first nations, Canadian history, and Canadian soldiers in the first and second world wars.

Keep going west down Wilson past the tracks, past the Mount Sinai cemetery and the huge warehouse belonging to some construction firm, past more fields and you would arrive at the Keele Street plaza with its covered walkway and strip of shops. They had a Loblaws here where my family would shop, a Woolworth's Five and Dime, and a modest restaurant. Behind the Keele plaza was the very civilized Downsview Public Library building and its elegant circular entrance and ramp. Further west down Wilson you came too Jane Street, with its plaza, and its army surplus shops and the Black Creek concrete waterway, its five imposing Exbury apartment Towers, and the Jane Street Fire Station. There was a Bad Boy store down on Weston Road and the original Bad Boy Mel Lastman could occasionally be seen on Wilson being pulled around behind a car on a trailer with jail cell with bars wearing black and white striped prisoner outfit to emphasize how bad he was.

Time was the enemy to all these places. I remember walking down Dufferin Street late one night seeing a company of demolition specialists taking down part of Yorkdale Plaza. That's how it happens. Late at night a team of gnomes come out from somewhere and tears down another one of the landmarks of your jeunesse. I moved away from Toronto thirty-five years ago and live in Ottawa now. The place I grew up in is all gone and built over now and there no reason why it shouldn't be.

Looking back, I think that Downsview was a great place to grow up. Not everything was ideal of course. It had bullies, stolen bicycles, teenage pregnancies, racism and prejudice, drunken driving, families with no money, and wife abusers. These are the hard lessons of life which we learn along with the more positive ones, the need for hard work, the value of money, and many many instances of generosity, caring, and love from my family and friends. Today I am proud to have grown up there. There are other places and experiences of early Downsview I should write about – but some are of things I can’t remember, while others are not very meaningful to anybody but the little kid standing alone in the grassy field beside Wilson watching the cars whiz by.

For some photos from this period, see my early Downsview web site at

Michael Davidson

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Since May 18, 2016
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