From dance parties featuring the music of Pat Boone to new health-conscious initiatives, the mall has been serving its south Etobicoke community since 1956.
In many ways, Cloverdale Mall fulfils the visions of early shopping-centre designers: a convenient, one-stop destination at the heart of a suburban community. As a 2013 profile of the mall in The Grid observed, “its very ordinariness and prosaic mix of shops is precisely what makes it so valuable to its customers.”
What Cloverdale lacks in flashiness it makes up for by serving its neighbourhood. Initiatives such as offering free temporary space for non-profit organizations and a “Heartwalkers” program for health-conscious shoppers demonstrate an awareness of the community’s needs.
The mall’s efforts have been rewarded, too: in 2007, Cloverdale won the inaugural Social Responsibility Award from the Canadian branch of the International Council of Shopping Centres for its fundraising campaign to build the city’s first free-standing residential hospice, the Dorothy Lea Hospice Palliative Care Centre.
There was a tinge of glitz to Cloverdale’s opening on November 15, 1956. The original 34-store section of the open-air plaza consisted of two rows of businesses separated by a 30-foot wide walkway. Tile mosaics designed by Joseph Iliu provided storefront decoration—the largest was a seven-by-19-foot panel on the west wall of the Dominion supermarket depicting fish, produce, and a cocktail glass.
Near Dominion stood the plaza’s major art installation, a 25-foot high sculpture by Montreal artist Robert Roussil known, depending on the source, as “Figures in Movement” or “Galaxie Humaine.” The work was made of British Columbia fir and covered in lead. “I think I have a normal Canadian viewpoint and this sculpture is designed for everybody,” Roussil told the Globe and Mail. “Like anything new it won’t take long for people to become interested. Whether they accept it or not is another matter.”
Businesses at Cloverdale quickly found ways to draw in customers. Major retailers such as Dominion benefitted from Etobicoke’s relaxed evening-shopping bylaws. Record store owner Wilf Sayer capitalized on the growing power of teen consumers. He began inviting them to his shop on Tuesday nights for listening sessions and dancing, offering pop on the house.
As the events became more popular, Sayer stopped subsidizing the drinks and moved the dances into the plaza. After 600 people showed up for the July 2, 1957 starlight dance, he turned the event into a biweekly affair. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Sayer encouraged parents to chaperone so they could “see for themselves that it is a wholesome evening of entertainment.” While the playlist included Elvis Presley and other early rockers, squares were pleased by the strains of Pat Boone and Andy Williams.
The mall gained a major anchor when Montreal-based department store Morgan’s opened a branch in August 1960. Globe and Mail advertorial columnist Mary Walpole wrote that the store “has an air of big town sophistication and which we think is a compliment to the people who go a-shopping there … whether it is mother and the carriage crowd in sun dresses and slims or smart suburbanites who might have stepped off the cover of Harper’s [Bazaar].” The Morgan’s space would later house The Bay, Zellers (which relocated from elsewhere in the mall), and Target.
The mall, which was enclosed in 1976, has seen its ups and downs. But local retailers such as Hot Oven Bakery and Taylor Somers clothiers have stayed for decades, enhancing Cloverdale’s community-oriented feel and offering the mall some stability. Several other current tenants either have been around since the beginning (LCBO, Scotiabank) or are descended from early businesses (Coles, Metro).
Major retail announcements in Toronto increasingly tend to focus on high-end “prestige” outlets or cheap chic, so it’s reassuring that a pretension-free mall such as Cloverdale manages to survive, and to continue serving its community.
Additional material from the November 16, 1956, November 17, 1956, August 3, 1957 and August 19, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 29, 2013 edition of The Grid; and the September 26, 2007 edition of the Toronto Star.