Historicist: The Grand Tour
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Historicist: The Grand Tour

Frederick Gardiner and Tracy leMay show off the possibilities and problems of their newly created realm: Metro Toronto.

Etobicoke Clerk's Dept. photo of officials touring a residential development, likely Don Mills, 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 213, Series 1464, File 7, Item 3.

With the passage of provincial legislation on April 2, 1953, the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto became a legal reality, joining together the City of Toronto with its twelve neighbouring municipalities in a regional federation. But few of the region’s 1.1 million inhabitants perceived Metro Toronto, with its combination of dense urbanization and abundant farmland, as a physical reality.

So, when an interim administration was established under inaugural Metro Chairman Frederick G. Gardiner on April 15, 1953, to prepare for the regional government’s full assumption of duties on January 1, 1954, one of the first tasks was to sell the concept of Metro as a reality—at least to those City aldermen and suburban mayors and reeves who would be governing it through the Metro Council.

To do so, on April 30 Gardiner and his hand-picked director of planning, Tracy Deavin leMay, led two busloads of area politicians and bureaucrats on a 70-mile tour to inspect the present state of Metro and outline future plans for growth and development.

Travelling to the far-flung corners of the territory, they passed through each of the now-federated area municipalities (except Forest Hill) and suffered Metro’s extremes, from “bumpy dust-covered suburban roads” to “rush-hour city traffic,” as the Globe and Mail (May 1, 1953) later put it.

By James T. Lemon’s count in Toronto Since 1918 (James Lorimer & Company, 1985), the tour highlighted almost 100 sites, projects, or proposals, particularly those related to water supply and sewage disposal, regional transportation routes, planning, and housing—all now areas of Metro responsibility. The officials observed, one newspaper touted, almost $1 billion of growth that had occurred in the previous five years, in the form of new apartment blocks, shopping plazas, and sites zoned for industrial development.

And as Gardiner presented Metro’s possibilities and problems and its plans for growth in the coming decades—many of which had been outlined in a 1943 master plan composed by leMay’s Toronto City Planning Board—city and suburban officials alike, a newspaper argued, gained “insight into the problems they [had] to solve.”

Toronto Star (May 1, 1953)

After the buses departed City Hall, the first stop of the tour, the Parkdale Pumping Station, served as a perfect illustration of why Metro had been created.

At the Second World War, Greater Toronto was compact, comprising three highly urbanized municipalities—Toronto, East York, and the Township of York—and surrounded by farmland and tiny settlements. But as pressures of outward expansion and urbanization increased, these sparsely populated municipalities proved unable to cope with the necessity of developing water and sewage infrastructure, or unwilling to broaden their tax bases through the industrial development required to fund such services. The City of Toronto, needing room to grow, pleaded with the province to expand the city’s jurisdiction through amalgamation. The province’s compromise was federation, whereby common issues, like the provision of infrastructure and services across local boundaries, could be tackled on a regional basis without sacrificing local-level governance.

When the tour visited, the capacity of the Parkdale Pumping Station was being increased to push nearly 3 billion gallons of water daily up to York and North York townships. Later that day, officials also visited the R.C. Harris Water Filtration Plant and the Ashbridge’s Bay sewage disposal plant, both of which were also undergoing capacity upgrades to better serve outlying districts until Metro could construct an infrastructure network to support orderly development on the fringe.

Metro Chairman Frederick G. Gardiner, 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3050.

Aboard one bus, Gardiner “outlined the important problems and possible solutions, advanced by planning officials,” as one reporter observed. Aboard the other bus was leMay, the man whom, as the City of Toronto’s chief planner for over four decades, had been responsible for the vast majority of the regional solutions so far advanced.

Trained as a surveyor in his native England and having apprenticed at a Toronto firm, leMay was appointed city surveyor in 1910 at 26 years of age. Although leMay was primarily charged with completing legal surveys, tasks were progressively added to his portfolio, including civic beautification, the review and approval of subdivision layouts and high-rise development, street design and traffic engineering, and the consolidation of zoning by-laws. His duties had always included a degree of urban planning and his title evolved over time; he was elevated to the position of planning commissioner in 1930 then made secretary-treasurer of the Toronto City Planning Board (TCPB) in 1942, and its successor, the Toronto York Planning Board (TYPB), upon that body’s creation in 1947.

Map from the Toronto Planning Board's Master Plan for the City of Toronto and Environs (1943).

Enlisting the assistance of expert town planners, architects, and engineers in 1943, the TCPB composed a comprehensive plan for next 30 years of the city’s growth, The Master Plan for the City of Toronto and Environs (1943). But rightly perceiving “that the political boundaries of the City [bore] no relation to the social and economic life of its people,” as the plan put it, the TCPB attempted “to co-ordinate the physical development of the Metro Area as one geographic, economic and social unit.” The plan anticipated the necessity of some form of metropolitan unification a decade before Metro’s creation—although it was very brief, and short on implementation details.

It was a visionary plan, adapting international trends in urban planning for the local context, and incorporating elements from previous city proposals or initiatives. Nevertheless, the 1943 plan had, as Don W. Thomson argues in Men and Meridians, Volume 3 (Queen’s Printer, 1969), “very far-reaching effects upon the development of post-war Toronto.” It was a formative influence on the early days of Metro, and many of its specific suggestions were featured as sites visited or proposals discussed during the bus tour.

Aerial view of Gardiner Expressway, 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 47, Item 5.

Gardiner envisioned, in one reporter’s words, “a solid industrial belt, stretching from Oshawa on the east to Niagara Falls on the west.” The weak link in this chain was Toronto in the middle, which had plenty of industry but terrible traffic. Like most provincial highways, the Queen Elizabeth Way ended at the city limits, dumping highway drivers onto the Lakeshore at the Humber River, creating “Metropolitan Toronto’s most urgent traffic problem,” according to a 1954 pamphlet by leMay, promoting three self-guided driving tours of Metro.

A waterfront superhighway, elevated between Bathurst and Cherry Streets, was deemed the only adequate solution for speedy access from the city limits to downtown, Gardiner explained to his bus-riding audience. It was to be one leg in an interconnected network of expressways called for in the 1943 plan. Another was the province’s Toronto By-Pass Highway (now known as the 401), which was already in operation from near Weston Road to beyond Yonge Street.

Toronto traffic, ca. 1950, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 381, File 319, Item 12641-20.

Proposed solutions to the city’s traffic problems would be a recurring theme of the bus tour. By 1939, the area’s existing road system was 30 per cent overcapacity and had only worsened despite the efforts of leMay and other bureaucrats to solve congestion. As if to underline the centrality of the problem’s scale, the tour buses kept getting stuck in traffic.

In trying to navigate around one jam, the bus guided by leMay got lost.

As the tour travelled north from the village of Long Branch, talk turned to the plan to expand Highway 27 (Brown’s Line) into a four-lane route carrying workers to the industrial districts of Etobicoke and defense-industry jobs in Malton.

Construction of bridge on Jane Street at Black Creek, 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 43, Item 9.

Then, after a steak-and-fixings lunch at the Old Mill Inn, the bus tour drove along St. Clair Avenue past the construction project at the northern end of the extension of Spadina from MacPherson Avenue. It was the first stage of the 1943 plan to use ravines to extend the road up to Wilson Avenue, a proposal which had been long delayed due to the opposition of the York and North York townships. Ironically, just over a decade later, the northern suburbs would be among the strongest proponents of upgrading Spadina from roadway to expressway.

Farther along St. Clair, the officials took advantage of the Mount Pleasant extension—recently completed to extend Jarvis Street up to Eglinton Avenue, at a cost of $4 million—to get to Leaside.

Beyond visiting more industrial areas, such as Scarborough’s Golden Mile strip and the Golden Gate Industrial Area north of O’Connor Drive in East York, officials looked at the region’s undeveloped fringe. Luckily, not knowing what to expect in the wilds of the Metropolitan hinterland, some downtown aldermen had brought rubber boots.

Etobicoke Clerk's Department photo of potential site for development, 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 213, Series 1464, File 29, Item 4.

Here, Gardiner explained, he hoped “the Metropolitan Planning Board [would] have regional authority to prevent haphazard industrial and residential growth.” Although he was usually opposed to state authority constraining business, Gardiner expressed unbridled support for Metro’s planning powers, proclaiming on another occasion that the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board (MTPB) was to be “the most important thing in the whole metropolitan setup.” The MTPB, with leMay as planning director, would have broad planning and zoning powers, not only over Metro but also over 500 square miles of adjacent land beyond its borders.

As Timothy J. Colton argues in Big Daddy (University of Toronto Press, 1980), Gardiner took an active interest in planning but recognized that he wasn’t the generator of ideas. Rather, taking advice of his experts, he selected which proposals ought to be fought for in the political sphere, and then bulldozed them through approvals.

Etobicoke Clerk's Department photo of potential site for development, 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 213, Series 1464, File 29, Item 11.

In his decades as a bureaucrat, leMay had proven to be politically astute and adept at reconciling “local self-interests with the high ideals of planning,” as his friend Humphrey Carver said. Gardiner knew this well; the two had worked closely on the TYPB when Gardiner had been its chairman. So leMay was the natural choice as Metro’s first planning director in 1953, and staff loyalty ensured that many of his employees at the City joined him with the new department.

LeMay shared with Gardiner a reputation as an extremely hard worker, spending night after night in his office and taking much on himself rather than delegating. On different occasions, he and Gardiner both had to be hospitalized for conditions stemming from overwork. A quiet, unassuming man, leMay emphasized the need to educate stakeholders and build consensus through committee work. Although he was, by some accounts, an engaging and wryly humorous public speaker, leMay seemed happy enough to leave bold public pronouncements to Gardiner.

York Downs Drive, 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 82.

LeMay also shared Gardiner’s and the Metro Council’s pragmatic planning philosophy, where—through their provision of infrastructure and roadways—Metro was to be an enabler of natural growth undertaken by private enterprise.

This was seen clearly on the Metro tour by its emphasis on the industrial sites and residential development being built by private companies. As an example of private development done right, the bus stopped on Lawrence Avenue at the offices of the Don Mills Development Co., where the tour group examined a contour map of the ambitious development then under construction—at half the density of downtown neighbourhoods.

To enable the planned community’s growth, Eglinton Avenue was being extended, at a cost of $4 million, over the Don Valley to connect the existing portion in Scarborough with Leaside near Laird Drive.

Construction of bridge on Eglinton Avenue East at Don Valley Parkway, 1950s, from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 52, Item 1.

Regent Park, then also under construction and another tour stop, presented the other end of Metro’s housing spectrum during the tour. Undertaken as a result of the 1934 Bruce Report, the 44-acre social-housing project was then considered a model of how Metro could use its powers over housing in the future. The tour also identified the Humber Valley Golf Course as another site for low-income housing development.

The tour concluded where it began, at City Hall, with exhausted officials disembarking after a seven-hour excursion. Although much of what they had seen and heard had been outlined in the 1943 Master Plan, proposals for future growth would be updated and formalized in the MTPB’s 1959 Official Plan. This far more detailed document was developed by leMay’s successor as planning director, Murray V. Jones.

LeMay died, at 70 years of age, in July 1954, after 44 years as a civil servant. One observer called him “primarily the father of town planning…in Ontario.”

Gardiner got off to a rocky start with Jones. Where leMay was a man of practical field experience, which Gardiner respected, Jones had enjoyed a formal academic education in planning—too much of which Gardiner considered impractical in the politically charged municipal environment. It took a degree of feuding with Jones before he and Gardiner found a way to work together effectively.

In that sense, beyond the grand vision extolled and construction projects visited on that April day in 1953, the Metro tour highlighted the collaborative relationship between the inaugural chairman and his hand-picked chief planner in Metro’s formative days.

Other sources consulted: Humphrey Carver, Compassionate Landscape (University of Toronto Press, 1975); Graham Fraser, “Planning vs. Development: Placing Bets on Toronto’s Future,” in Alan Powell, ed., The City: Attacking Modern Myths (McClelland and Stewart, 1972); Tracy D. leMay, Tour of Metropolitan Toronto (Board of Trade of the City of Toronto, 1954); James T. Lemon, “Tracy Deavin LeMay: Toronto’s First Planning Commissioner, 1930–1954,” City Planning, 1, No. 4 (1984); Albert Rose, Governing Metropolitan Toronto: A Social and Political Analysis, 1953-1971 (University of California Press, 1972); John Sewell, The Shape of the Suburbs (University of Toronto Press, 2009); and the Toronto Star (May 1, 1953; July 28 & 29, 1954).

Every Saturday, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.

CORRECTION: APRIL 23, 12:22 PM As pointed out to us by a reader, the lead image in this article, though it comes from the Etobicoke Clerk’s archives, does not actually appear to be of Etobicoke. We have updated the image caption to reflect this.