The Heritage of Deer Park
In 1837, around the time that Toronto was founded, a woman bought 40 acres of land northwest of Yonge and Third Concession Road (now known as St.Clair). Agnes Heath, the widow of Colonel Charles Heath, called her estate Deer Park, an English translation for the native name of the area, “Mushquoteh”. The deer were living wild in the area back then, and you could see them wondering around the Hotels of the area, looking to be fed by the guests.
Agnes’ son, a lawyer named Charles Wallace Heath, bought the family farm in 1846. He had the land subdivided into 33 lots, which were all sold by 1850. The same year he became one of the original founders of the Toronto Boat Club, which changed name in 1854 to The Royal Canadian Yacht Club.
When Deer Park was annexed to the city of Toronto in 1908, the Yonge and St Clair intersection looked like this. Photo credits: City of Toronto Archives
The neighbourhood was annexed by the city of Toronto in 1908. The area became more urban and in a couple of years the farmland and villas were only a distant memory. By the 1930s, many upper-middle class families established themselves in the area. Deer park is still today one of Toronto’s finest residential districts.
Country life on St. Clair Avenue in 1911. Photo credits: City of Toronto Archives
To get in and around
The limits of Deer Park are roughly defined by the Rosedale Ravine to the east – Farnham Avenue to the south – the Belt Line trail to the north – Avenue Road and Oriole Parkway to the west. Most Torontonians know this neighbourhood for its main intersection, Yonge and St Clair, which is the commercial core of the area.
17 years before the opening of the subway, the area was still very quiet, with a very middle class twist. This photo of Avoca Avenue in 1937 shows how the area evolved (these houses are now condo towers). Photo credits: City of Toronto Archives
The opening of the subway in 1954 is responsible for Deer Park’s recent development with the St Clair station considered the heart of the area. Residents and visitors can also ride the 512 streetcar which runs along St. Clair Avenue from Yonge and St Clair Station to Weston Road. As a dedicated streetcar line, the route offers a limited number of stops compared to regular streetcar lines.
In 1999, Robert Fulford, a Canadian journalist and columnist, gave an honest description of Deer Park: “Sandwiched between Forest Hill on its western flank and Moore Park to the east, Deer Park is utterly unlike either of them – it’s more commercial, a fast changing community dominated by apartment dwellers.”. The opening of the subway line in the 50s has probably something to do with it. As an after effect, the intersection of Yonge and St.Clair became the site of extensive commercial development. Nowadays, the area is filled with stores, office buildings, restaurants and high-rise condo/apartment buildings.
Yonge and St. Clair nowadays. Photo credits: John Fitzgerald
There is much more to discover. For example, few people know that Deer Park is also home to one of Toronto’s oldest cemetaries. St. Michael’s was opened in 1855 by the Roman Catholic Archidiocese of Toronto. Joseph Sheard, who later on became the mayor of Toronto, was the architect hired to design this ten acres cemetery. The reason why it’s one of the area best kept secret is because it is surrounded on all sides by the back of tall buildings. To access it, you must walk through an alley off Yonge Street. It’s worth a visit – the vault itself was designated a historic property in 1975.
Deer Park is one of Toronto’s “pedestrian friendly” neighbourhoods. Some would even call it a hiking paradise with all its parks wrapping around the area. The many green spaces have this “forest feeling” and they are ideal for walkers, joggers or cyclists. When strolling in Rosedale Ravine, just down the stairs from Heath Street, you don’t even know you are steps away from the city. There are at least 3 major parks here: the Rosehill Reservoir Park on Pleasant Boulevard, the David Balfour Park which includes a hiking trail through the Vale of Avoca Ravine, and Oriole Park who is located at the northern tip of the area. We can also add to this list the old Belt Line Railway, which offers a seven kilometres path under the trees.
The area is filled with condo and office towers on St. Clair... Photo credits: John Fitzgerald
Small side streets feels more private, with smaller detached houses. Photo credits: John Fitzgerald
Deer Park is not an area with a well defined style and has an eclectic mix of residences. There are the “posh” brick homes on Chaplin and Oriole Parkway, which match the grandeur of the nearby Forest Hill. Then, there are also an increasing number of high and mega-high-end condo buildings. In between, potential buyers can find older townhouses and two-storey brick boxes… still coming with a very high price tag. For those who can afford it, they can be assured a very good return on their investment.
Many of the historical houses are well kept in this neighbourhood. Photo credits: John Fitzgerald