‘Yorkdale was regarded as a shopping wonder,’ writes Susan Goldenberg
On Wednesday February 26, 1964, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, the world’s largest enclosed shopping mall of its time, opened in North York, attracting a huge crowd of 100,000 people. “It was like the Friday before Christmas,” the Toronto Star wrote.
The official opening was at noon. The reigning Miss Canada cut an 18-inch wide ribbon before an invited audience of 100 VIPs who subsequently had a lobster lunch and cocktails.
Yorkdale started with floor space of 1.3 million square feet and 6,500 parking spaces, considered gargantuan for a mall. There were 100 stores. It was the first time that rival department stores Eatons and Simpsons shared the same space and one of the first malls to have open storefronts with sliding doors.
There would be plenty of business, John David Eaton, instigator of the plan, had figured. Metropolitan Toronto’s population was projected to go from 1.7 million in 1960 to 2.1 million by 1975. Suburban, car-oriented dwellers disliked downtown shopping because of traffic congestion and limited parking. Isolated but connected to major roadways, Yorkdale was meant to be a regional mall, drawing customers from as far as Brampton and Whitby in addition to Torontonians north of Bloor Street. The potential reach was 800,000 customers, a bonanza.
In the mid 1950s Eaton bought a 40-hectare grassy meadow on the southwest side of the Highway 401-Dufferin Street interchange, which Eaton regarded as an ideal crossroads location. It was a coup for North York. In 1958, Simpsons joined the project, buying 3 hectares.
Shop owners paid $5 per square foot in rent while smaller plazas in Metro only charged $2.50 to $3. Downtown Yonge Street landlords charged higher rents of $7 to $12.
The site was cleared in the spring of 1962 – 500,000 cubic yards of earth were removed and 62,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 6,000 tons of steel used. Employing 1,000 tradesmen and 100 subcontractors, the project took two years to complete.
Yorkdale was regarded as a shopping wonder; developers, architects and retailers from the United States, Europe and Japan came to study it.
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on February 27, 2019, on toronto.com.