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Cloverdale - The Mall That Built A Community
From Toronto Archives
Malls are a place that are going to be very busy this coming weekend! Lots of last minute shopping before the holidays makes many want to stay away from them if possible. But today I am talking about a mall that once was and still is more than just a place to shop. It is a community hub where people meet to socialize and has been for over 60 years. Also a quick mention; Cloverdale is the home of the “real” Santa (if you live in the area you already know this is the best place in TO to gets pics with the big guy)!
From Toronto Archives
Opened in 1956, Cloverdale Mall was a big deal for the residents of a portion of Etobicoke called Islington. The area near Dundas and the old Highway 27 (now the 427) was a growing community being built in an area where just a decade before was vast farmland. This particular area of farms was owned by the Eaton family, yes, the same ones who once owned the beloved department store chain. The area helped to provide ingredients used in the food outlets located in their stores. But more about the Eaton family another day because by the time the mall opened the farmland was sold and that's a WHOLE other (but really cool) story!
The new mall brought a lot of excitement to those living in the area because now residents had one central spot to shop for everything! Cloverdale had fashion, food, and everything else you would need. A little later on in 1960, the mall was the new home of a huge Morgan’s location which was a much loved Quebec-based department store chain (which was later bought by The Bay). This was great for the area and made it so much easier to shop locally without the need to trek downtown. Keep in mind that in those days malls were a newer idea and were not all over the place like they are today. Nearby Sherway Gardens only opened in 1971 and in Mississauga the new Square One Mall only opened its doors in 1973. Then you have Woodbine Mall, another major mall in Etobicoke which opened much more recently, in 1985. I actually remember that one being built and it opening! But in the late 50’s and even into the 60’s, Cloverdale was a novelty for Etobicoke to be proud!
My close connection to the mall came around 1962/63 when my grandfather was promoted to Store Manager of the new furniture store opening. Yollies, a locally owned chain, was expanding into the west-end and decided to open a store in the new and quickly expanding area of Etobicoke. From his arrival in Canada from Holland a decade earlier, he had always lived in the downtown area and so this was a new start for him and his young family. My grandmother who was born in West-Toronto and always lived in the city was also new to the idea of Etobicoke. She had grown up almost downtown and this was like moving to the country. But with a new job and a beautiful new apartment, this was a perfect place to start a new chapter. At the time everything in central Etobicoke was new, even the schools and apartment buildings; the area was expanding in all sectors.
At that time the new housing sub-divisions came first. Many were built up across from the mall, just off the East Mall. Then soon buildings began to rise from the farmland on the west side of the small county road which would eventually become what is now known by all as the 427.
The West Mall, a long street that sits on the west side of highway 427, nowadays is an area very built up with apartment buildings and condos that are set in from the road allowing for a lot of green spaces and older trees. We have a couple of office towers and a lot of commercial spaces as well which make it easier for residents to get out and walk to pick up necessities like milk and bread. In just the last 5 or 6 years we were got our own Starbucks location that now satisfies those of us who prefer their coffee to that of Tim’s (and groan all you want but in the years I worked in the core I would have loved to have had my own Starbucks in walking distance to my home and so yes, I was so happy when they finally opened here)!
But when my mother’s family moved in they were in a new luxury building that had bedrooms bigger than those in most small houses in the neighbourhood. The street ended at about Eva Rd and instead of more buildings next to them, it was only the remnants of old farms and then fields as you looked north. As the area grew, so did the popularity of Cloverdale, the mall became the hub of activity.
If you ask long time residents today many will tell you about the playground built outside the Dominion grocery store where kids played while moms were shopping. The record store had listening parties and dances at the mall for the teens in the area. Many more will talk about the time in the late 70’s when the mall finally got a roof, making winter shopping a bit easier!
The shops in the mall became places for first jobs for many and in my family that became a bit of a family tradition as my Mom and I can be counted in that statistic. After my first job in high school selling bedding and window coverings in a specialty store, I returned many years later looking for a part time evening job when my kids were very young and I was hired by the bookstore! My favourite place in the mall made for a great working environment! At the time I started at that bookstore it had been open for about 50 years and today it is still my favourite place to shop and that says a lot as the mall has a great Winners too!
Over the years many of those who once worked there eventually moved on to start careers and families of their own but if they stayed in the area they too became regular shoppers like their parents a decade earlier. As the years went by and more young families moved into the area the mall had the reputation of being the place to do all your weekend errands in one place. It may have been a bit dated looking but you had everything you needed and that was what mattered! For decades the older patrons would get together in the restaurant in The Bay or Zellers to enjoy a quiet spot to meet with friends and enjoy coffee or lunch, or for a full out meal the mall had an actual restaurant once upon a time.
Over the years as these anchors disappeared the community hub moved to the centre of the mall where there is now a small but very well used food court. Its used by nearby office workers for a quick lunch and shoppers grabbing a snack to keep going, as well as many regulars who spend time there to meet up with friends and have a bite to eat. Many older residents have found friends at this mall. It has helped them connect socially in a world where that is not always so easy to do in a neighbourhood that lacks ACTUAL community hubs and community centres. It is a safe space for our local seniors and many of the employees at the mall have many connections with these patrons and are happy to have a chat both in-store and when passing each other in the halls.
In the last few years the ownership of Cloverdale has changed hands and they have plans to redevelop the site. The community is not happy about this and while many do not like the idea of more condos it is more because of the fact that high density is coming faster than improved infrastructure. Residents know that to accommodate thousands of more residents we need dangerous roads improved, more transit options, and even more spaces in our local schools. But what we are worried about more is the actual loss of the mall. We are told that stores will be maintained but the drawings that are shown look to be more of a return to a few stores that have outside entrances and nothing more. The parkland looks lovely but it does not help older residents when the weather is not good and the lack of an actual mall will push many to Sherway which is already too busy for many who prefer Cloverdale. Also an issue is that those in the area who have mobility issues are still able to go to one place to get all their errands done which is helpful, especially to those who are dependent on Wheel Trans or others to give them a lift.
Etobicoke has been promised a community hub for years. The most recent plans include a new YMCA in the new civic centre that is being planned in the area around Six Points. This is a plan that has been in the works for years and most likely will not be ready for many more as nothing has even started on the site other than flattening the ground that was once a popular area movie theater. However, once it is done it will be far away from any shopping and will be further away from where many of our current residents reside. While developers seem to think new is better and that the current residents should just adapt but for the many reasons above one can see that in actual fact that is not so simple.
So when you see articles and notices of other small neighbourhood malls being transformed in this city (which is happening all over Toronto) think about the community involved and what these changes actually do to individual people. While it's easy to group a bunch of voices of strangers as just a bunch of entitled residents who don’t want to see growth, maybe just maybe that mall is more a life line than a place to run in and run out for a loaf of bread.
Thanks again for joining me this week!
Until next time,