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North York’s transformation from “agrarian” to the “Modern Age” can be said to have begun Friday, June 22, 1951 when International Business Machines’ new Canadian headquarters — on former pasture at the northwest corner of Eglinton and Don Mills — was officially dedicated. The company placed a full-page ad in the Toronto Star and broadcast the event on radio (few people then owned TVs).

Parent company CEO Thomas Watson Jr. wanted a modernistic design to project IBM’s advanced technology. The architect Clarence (” Clare”) Godwin Maclean (1903-1973) of Toronto, previously known for traditional-style houses — including in North York — switched gears for what was the biggest assignment in his career. The building was three and a half football fields long, two storeys, manufacturing in one wing, assembly in the other, and a handsome three-storey, columned, rectangular entry “pavilion” containing offices in between, facing Don Mills Road. “It was an effective billboard, demonstrating the capacity and sophistication of the company,” Heritage Preservation Services, City of Toronto Planning Department, wrote in September 2016.

The complex frequently was expanded to meet the growth in production and staff. Nevertheless, there was not enough space and staff were spread around several different sites in Don Mills. The company bought 40 acres on a hilltop facing Eglinton to the west of the original site and in 1966 hired John B. Parkin Associates, Toronto, a trailblazer in modernistic architecture and then Canada’s largest architectural firm, to design a new headquarters on the hill.

“Home, Sweet Home for Computers,” the Toronto Star wrote, May 9, 1967.

Parkin Associates’ portfolio included several Don Mills projects — houses, Don Mills Shopping Centre (replaced in 2006 by Shops at Don Mills), Bata Shoes’ modernistic headquarters near IBM, and Don Mills Collegiate Institute.

The complex’s buildings varied in height. Bronze-tinted glass was used to minimize heat and glare from the sun. It was nicknamed “The Hilltop Fortress.”

In 1994 IBM relocated to Markham, giving the original building to a newly created subsidiary, Celestica. Celestica sold the whole site to a developer in 2019.

Despite heritage lovers’ protests, the original building including its iconic entrance was demolished.

Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society, which preserves North York’s heritage. For further information, visit www.nyhs.ca.

In 1994 IBM relocated to Markham, giving the original building to a newly created subsidiary, Celestica. Celestica sold the whole site to a developer in 2019. – Richard Lautens/Torstar file photo