Home » Sod turning ushered in North York’s innovative Don Mills community 70 years ago

An aerial of the Don Mills suburb in 1955. - Toronto Star file photo

Sod turning ushered in North York’s innovative Don Mills community 70 years ago


March 12 was a historic date in North York’s history. It was 70 years ago, on March 12, 1953, that a sod-turning ceremony was held on farmland in east North York for Don Mills, North America’s first privately funded, master-planned, mixed-use, self-sufficient “new town.”

It was assembled from 20 farms totalling 2,000 acres and cost $200 million ($2 billion today).

Unlike a conventional bedroom suburb, the new town was a complete community. The purpose was to enable people to both live and work in the same place if they wish, rather than commute to a downtown job.

It was the idea of business tycoon E.P. Taylor (1901-1989) who owned an estate in North York and was one of Canada’s richest people with holdings in many of the country’s largest companies, including Canadian Breweries, Massey-Harris (agricultural equipment), Dominion grocery stores, Hollinger Mines, Standard Broadcasting (radio), and British Columbia Forest Products. He owned championship racehorses including famous Northern Dancer.

According to a 1978 biography of Taylor by Richard Rohmer, business acquaintances told Taylor his Don Mills plan was a big mistake, that nobody would want to settle in what was then a rural outpost of Toronto. Taylor thought otherwise, he realized there would be a huge post-Second World War demand by young families for housing and that they would like all-purpose Don Mills with its more affordable prices than in Toronto.

Getting approval from North York officials was difficult. Smaller new subdivisions already were straining municipal services. Taylor’s firm, Don Mills Developments Ltd., agreed to pay for roads, sidewalks, water mains and a sewage disposal plant.

As told in Rohmer’s biography, Taylor told his designers he wanted tree-lined curving residential streets and cul-de-sacs to slow traffic, a mix of houses, townhouses, and apartments, and square rather than traditional narrow lots. There was a choice of 53 house styles. Taylor insisted, “No blue roofs. Blue fades.”

The average house price was $12,000. Twenty years later the value had risen to $50,000-$60,000; $1 million plus is common today.

Don Mills Developments prohibited companies from having outside storage, “undue noise,” and “unsightly signs” and stuck to this even though the restrictions led to some companies refusing to come in.

Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society which preserves North York’s heritage. The author of nine books, her latest being ‘Deadly Triangle: The Famous Architect, His Wife, Their Chauffeur, and Murder Most Foul’, she has won both a Canadian Author’s Award and a Canadian Business Press Editors’ Award.