An ode to Sunnybrook Plaza

Sunnybrook Plaza 1952.
Sunnybrook Plaza 1952.

It’s gone now. Built in 1952 as the first suburban strip mall in Canada, Sunnybrook Plaza at Bayview and Eglinton had a good run. But it’s gone now.

Growing up at the corner of Parkhurst and Donegall, I could literally see Sunnybrook Plaza from my parents’ bedroom window. I remember the big Power store in the middle of the plaza in our early years in Leaside. Eventually Power moved out and Consumers Distributing moved in. Consumers Distributing seemed to be a retailing experiment where you would scan the catalogues provided and fill out a purchase form noting the names of the desired products and their identification numbers. Then you submitted the form at the front counter and a staff person would disappear into the back of the space through double doors. Then you waited patiently until the staffer returned – they almost always returned – usually bearing the products you were seeking.

They sold a broad range of consumer and household items. I remember doing a good chunk of my shopping at Consumers Distributing for more than one Christmas. It may have been modeled after the old LCBO outlets that pursued the same approach to retailing where all the “products” were secreted offstage in the back of the store. Nowadays, the LCBO clearly wants us to see the complete product range available as it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate an LCBO store on foot for fear that the nine-foot-high pyramid of Veuve Clicquot champagne bottles might collapse and bury a customer. Consumers Distributing lasted a long time, but eventually, it too closed down to make way for a Boots Pharmacy and then a Pharma Plus.

There were many other stores that came and went from the plaza including some classics like the men’s clothes store, Woodhams (I think that was the name), Mac’s Milk (or was it Beckers?), John and Chris Interiors that my mother used for all our reupholstering needs, a Second Cup, a Blacks photo store, a Home Hardware, and of course the Sunnybrook Restaurant.

I’d nearly forgotten the full name of the restaurant. Nearly every single student at Leaside knew it simply as “the Raunt,” (rhymes with “taunt.”) It became a very convenient student hangout given its close proximity. If you were dragging yourself slowly from class for a much-needed coffee or a piece of apple pie, it would still only take you about three minutes to get there. I didn’t spend a lot of time at the Raunt, but the really cool kids sure did. No, there was a different retailer where I spent lots of time and hard-earned babysitting money. Yes, I frequented Hunts Bakery.

The aroma that greeted you when you entered Hunts Bakery was enough to send me into some kind of pastry-high. I would just stand there inhaling deeply and exhaling only when I had to. The older women who stood behind the counter to serve customers would often ask if they could help me, but I usually just delayed so I could spend more time breathing in the glorious scent of baked goods for a little longer. When I’d stood there long enough for it to be weird, I’d finally place my order. “Three glazed and three chocolate donuts, please.” I can still see them loading a small box with my six donuts. They were bigger than any other donuts on the market back then, and I think would still come out on top today, all these years later. Every square millimetre of donut was glazed, and as for the chocolate donuts, we’re talking full immersion here, not just a drizzle on the top. Chocolate completing encased the donut. Both flavours were gastronomical works of art. And the taste was something I cannot describe, but I remember it oh so well. You may be wondering with whom would I share my six donuts from Hunts Bakery? Bite your tongue. I never shared them with anyone. They were all for me.

And now, Hunts Bakery, and all the other retailers at Sunnybrook Plaza, are gone, replaced by a big condo development now under construction. They say change is good for us. But I sure miss those donuts.

About Terry Fallis 87 Articles
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of nine national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, A New Season, is now in bookstores.