Heritage project aims to preserve and celebrate Leaside’s rich past

A welcome home for WWI vets at St. Cuthbert’s Church, 1918. Photo from CITY OF TORONTO ARCHIVEs.
A welcome home for WWI vets at St. Cuthbert’s Church, 1918. Photo from City Of Toronto Archives.

One of the things that makes Leaside so attractive to residents and visitors alike is its remarkable and varied 100-year-plus history. Whether it’s in business and commerce, industrial or residential development, sports and leisure, the arts, education, local politics or the everyday lives of individual Leasiders and their families – this area boasts an impressive legacy and has a great story to tell.

Preserving, celebrating and communicating that legacy is the role of the newly created Leaside Heritage Project.

The initiative is the brainchild of long-time Leaside resident, business-owner and community activist Ann Brown, who launched the project because she was concerned much of Leaside’s history might be lost or forgotten as the area is transformed over time.

“Leaside has such an amazing story to tell,” says Ann. “Over the decades, the area has been a railway town, an automotive hub, a munitions producer during the First World War and home to one of Canada’s earliest airfields. We also played a huge role in providing electricity to Toronto and Ontario through the Leaside Transformer Station – one of the largest power projects of its kind when completed in 1928.”

John and Ronald Turner at the rear of their new home at 29 McRae Dr., circa 1938. Collection of Susan Parr.
John and Ronald Turner at the rear of their new home at 29 McRae Dr., circa 1938. Collection of Susan Parr.

Leaside has also had its share of famous people. Stephen Harper lived here as a boy. Margaret Atwood attended Leaside High. Historian Michael Bliss made North Leaside his home, and local writer/humourist and Stephen Leacock Medal Winner (and Leaside Life columnist) Terry Fallis grew up at the corner of Parkhurst and Donegall.

What’s more, Leaside boasts some of Toronto’s most impressive architecture – including the old CIBC branch on Laird Drive (now The Local restaurant), the Durant Motors office building (also on Laird), and the Art Deco Garden Courts apartment complex on Bayview Ave.

According to Ann, the ultimate goal is to create a local “museum” where people can share, loan or donate material relevant to Leaside’s history. This could include items such as old photographs, home movies, historical documents, family artifacts and heirlooms, tape recorded stories and reminiscences, and more.

“Leaside needs a home for its history – a place where people can go to experience our community’s amazing past,” she says. “I grew up here, and so did thousands of others. It was a wonderful place for many of us. I want to make sure that experience is preserved and perpetuated.” To help achieve this, Leaside Heritage has launched a website, leasideheritage.ca, Facebook page, Leaside Heritage and an Instagram account.

Most important, there is now a Leaside Heritage committee, comprising nine area residents who share Ann Brown’s passion and commitment. The committee will identify additional ways of preserving Leaside’s history – including exploring plans for the development of the Leaside Heritage Museum.

If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in contributing in any way to the Leaside Heritage Project and its goals, contact .

Does your house have an original stained-glass window? The Leaside Heritage committee would love to hear from you.

This article was guest contributed by Ted Dewelles and Jennifer Hanley.