Indoor gardens. A climate-controlled shopping experience to deal with harsh winters and humid summers. The most stores under one roof in Canada. Plenty of directions for those using their vehicles or public transit. All of these drawing cards were used when Sherway Gardens opened in 1971.
On the drawing board since the early 1960s, construction of Sherway Gardens was delayed for eight years due to legal challenges from merchants in the nearby communities along Lake Shore Boulevard (who feared bankruptcy once the centre opened), rival Cloverdale Mall (due to competition), and from the townships of Mississauga and Chinguacousy (who feared the effects on their growth plans). After a final appeal at the Supreme Court of Ontario favoured the developers, ground broke in 1969. The original owner was Baltimore-based Rouse Company, whose other properties in the 1970s included Faneuil Hall in Boston.
The initial phase consisted of 127 stores filling 80,000 square feet, a third less space than was occupied by Yorkdale Shopping Centre. An “S” design was used to eliminate long corridors, with the developers beaming that shoppers would always be within 60 feet of a place to rest. Four of these stops were gardens designed by landscape architect George Tanaka with Japanese, cactus, hanging plant, and tropical themes.
At the ends of the “S” were initial anchors were Eaton’s and Simpsons. Grocery giants Dominion and Loblaws spent hundreds of thousands on their stores, with each keeping a close eye on the other’s prices. The list of stores on opening day is filled with vanished retailers such as Agnew Surpass, Dominion Playworld, Elk’s Menswear, Maher Shoes and Sam the Record Man. Two nameplates caught our eye: The Pink Poodle and Very Very Terry Jerry.
Within two hours of unlocking the doors on February 24, 1971, over 20,000 shoppers passed through the new mall. The Globe and Mail compared the festivities to “opening day of the CNE without the rides.” Police pipe bands, choirs and beauty queens entertained the crowds, while broadcaster Gordon Sinclair was on hand to open the Dominion store. Simpsons chairman G. Allan Burton joked: “I hope the only mechanical failure is an overheated cash register.” Tight security saw 70 guards mingling among the crowd, which Rouse Company officials hoped would prevent issues with drug dealers they encountered on opening day at several of their American properties.
Reaction from shoppers and high school students playing hooky was generally favourable, most enjoying the number of downtown retailers with outposts in the new mall. One shopper who wasn’t quite sure about their feelings was Mrs. R.O. Phillips of Etobicoke, who noted that “it’s a real asset to the area, but it’s more sterile looking than I expected. There’s certainly a lot of glass and steel in modern designs.”
Source: Toronto Life, April 1971. Additional material from the February 24, 1971 edition of The Toronto Star and February 25, 1971 edition of The Globe and Mail.