Urban living where cattle used to roam

Kilgour Estate

ALLEN MACLURE at the gate of Kilgour Estate.
ALLEN MACLURE at the gate of Kilgour Estate. Photo by: Will Ashworth

About 12 years ago Daniels Corporation began marketing a new condominium community they were developing on a parcel of land between CNIB and Holland Bloorview.

In their promotional literature, they wrote about how the development was built on land that was once the estate of Joseph Kilgour and, with a nod to history, called their development Kilgour Estate.

My late wife and I downsized to Kilgour Estate a few years ago. It seemed like an interesting project to investigate the history of the estate for our community newsletter, Talk of 21.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s this area was farmland consisting of long narrow swaths stretching from Bayview Ave. to Leslie St. In 1909, Joseph Kilgour purchased about 200 acres of farmland north of Eglinton from the Burke family (I wonder where the name for Burke Brook came from?).

Kilgour named his property Sunnybrook Farm — and his home, York Lodge — and today we can still see his farm buildings at Sunnybrook Stables. In addition to his hunters Kilgour also maintained dairy cattle and draught horses.

At the time, Joseph was a 57-year-old bachelor; he was not a farmer but a businessman. He partnered with his older brother Robert, and Kilgour Bros. manufactured paper products, and most notably, the recently invented flat bottom paper bag, in their factory at 21 Wellington St. Joseph was also president of the Canada Paper Company, a firm Kilgour Bros. had recently acquired.

In this same time frame, the Canadian Northern Railway Company was purchasing large blocks of land, including the acreage north of Eglinton Ave., and in 1913 incorporated the Town of Leaside.

It would be interesting to know if the railway approached Joseph Kilgour about his land because the Burke Brook ravine would have made a much more natural northern Leaside boundary than the current one north of Glenvale Blvd.

In 1912 Kilgour married Alice Margaret Grand, the 48-year-old widow of T. G. Bright. He brought her to York Lodge, which was located roughly where the Donwoods Institute sits today. In the early 1900s, with fewer trees than are here today the view over the farm and valley below must have been impressive.

Have you ever strolled north to the end of Sutherland Dr. on a sunny afternoon? Did you notice the stone gates on each side of the street at the entrance to Lyndhurst Hospital and the old white stucco house just beyond? If so, you have seen the south entrance to the original Kilgour estate. In 2005 city council included these, together with the stucco house, on its inventory of historic properties.

For much of their life at York Lodge, the Kilgours’ neighbour to the south was the Leaside Aerodrome.

Joseph Kilgour died in Florida in January 1925 (likely the first Kilgour Estate snowbird!).

A few years later his widow Alice Kilgour donated most of Sunnybrook Farm to the City of Toronto for the creation of a park in his memory. Today this is, of course, Sunnybrook Park.

Alice Kilgour retained York Lodge and surrounding lands and continued living there until she sold it to David Dunkelman, president of Tip Top Tailors, in 1930. Six years later it was transferred to Captain James Flanigan who renamed it Divadale.

At the start of World War II, the Department of Veteran Affairs recognized that a new hospital for veterans was needed in Toronto and began the search for a site. The city suggested that Sunnybrook Park might be a suitable location.

Negotiations were held with the trustees of the Kilgour estate and an agreement was reached for a portion of the park to be deeded to Veterans Affairs. Construction of Sunnybrook Hospital was started in 1944; it officially opened in 1948.

Meanwhile, Flanigan converted Divadale into a convalescent home for veterans. After the war, it, and the land out to Bayview Ave., was turned over to Veterans Affairs. It continued for many years as a wing of Sunnybrook Hospital. Over time, Veterans Affairs deeded pieces of the lands to other institutions starting with the CNIB in 1950.

In 2004, with redevelopment pressures mounting on the lands along the northern border of Leaside, the city developed a context plan for this area to provide guidelines and a framework for development.

The plan identified the need to preserve the trees along the original estate driveway, or Grand Allee. The walking path along the top of the Burke Brook ravine was the Grand Allee into the estate.

Today, the remaining evenly spaced trees that lined the driveway so many years ago are best seen behind Holland Bloorview and Lyndhurst, as well as from my Kilgour Estate condominium.

Written by guest contributor Allen Maclure.