This little known ‘hood located along St. Clair Avenue east of O'Connor Drive is a tiny enclave of homes set back on an unusual grid of streets. This classic group of post war homes comes complete with grassy green spaces purposefully placed at the end of the streets so moms could keep their kids in sight. Time seems to have forgotten the collection of 197 wood-frame houses. They sit quietly on charming streets with names like Valor Boulevard in honour of the soldiers of World War II. It’s a little slice of heaven on the edge of East York with most homes preserved in their original style. Here nostalgia finds solace from the bulldozers knocking down cozy bungalows for city homeowners who demand bigger, better houses on the other side of Woodbine Bridge.
Topham Park is located between Westview Boulevard on the west, Victoria Park on the east, Holland Avenue to the north and St. Clair East to the south. It isn’t overly remarkable in its early history having spent most of its time as an apple orchard. However, the area was developed in 1944 to provide housing for returning War Veterans by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The street names reflect the history of the neighbourhood honouring military men such as Victoria Cross medal winner Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Merritt as well as names related to the war in general such as Warvet Crescent.
Originally dubbed "Sunshine Valley" by local bus driver 'Mac' it was later named after war hero Frederick Topham who had a local park dedicated in his honour. The driver might have referred to the stop as Sunshine Valley as the new neighbourhood was treeless and shadeless with a distinct hill that formed the valley. However, residents found the name apropos as it was a happy, close knit area where kids played in the streets and neighbours met and chatted.
The neighbourhood was the brainchild of architect Bruce Haken Wright, who avoided the standard look of Toronto’s gridded subdivisions. Instead, he used a diagonal design and included a broad boulevard with a well-maintained central median in hand with additional green spaces where the houses were built.
Topham Park has since been commemorated by residents of East York and the Scarborough Historical Society. Although its age doesn’t really qualify for official heritage status to keep the homes intact, a simple poster with images and interesting facts was unveiled in 2010 at Gordon A. Brown Middle School. It sits in lieu of the traditional historic plaque that marks Toronto’s official heritage sites.
Today the area is known for its quaint homes situated on angled streets centered around Topham Park. However, a mini war wages on as locals fight to maintain the heritage of the area. To avoid the monster home invasion that has destroyed the original housing in many other areas of East York, a Heritage Conservation District study will determine if the houses should be protected. Heritage rules will maintain the common characteristics of the area limiting new developments and upgrades.
Topham Park provides access to several bus routes along O’Connor, St. Clair East, and Victoria Park. It’s an easy 20-minute ride to several subway stations along the Bloor-Danforth line. The Don Valley Parkway is just minutes away off O’Connor Drive. Shopping is within walking distance at Victoria Park and St. Clair East where grocery stores, small shops, restaurants, and professional services can be found. However, the area is also close enough to other tiny strips of eclectic shopping and dining that helps keep things interesting. A little further west off O’Connor is the ever enchanting Olde East York Village at Coxwell. Mall shopping is a short 10-minute drive north to Eglinton Square.
Locals also enjoy living near Taylor Creek Park where a 10-kilometer trail stretches from Warden Avenue to Edwards Gardens. A babbling creek, shady spots for picnicking and of course paths for cyclists, roller bladers, joggers and walkers offer the perfect place to keep active and enjoy quality family time. There’s also Topham Park in the centre of the nieghbourhood ideal for dog walking, baseball, tennis, and outdoor skating in the winter months.
This is an area where those who grew up here hope to return to raise a family of their own. The feeling of a close community is hard to ignore when the neighbourhood holds under 200 homes. The homes were designed as low-income homes but today are attracting families who want a quiet neighbourhood within easy distance of their jobs in the downtown core. There are also some original homeowners still living here, many involved in the bid to maintain the area as a heritage district.
The Best Part
This East York micro neighbourhood has managed to maintain its original charm for the most part. It’s green, wide boulevards, dapper, distinct wood trimmed homes and tidy lawns speak to a bygone era when pride of ownership wasn’t dependent on size, but instead on the family life it preserved.
The Worst Part
As the monster home era continues to take over the better part of East York, the unique size and design of the homes here face a real threat.
The Real Estate
The former war vet homes of Topham Park are mostly one and a half story, detached homes on larger than normal lots. The streets are centred between Selwyn and Squires Avenues from St. Clair Avenue north to Tiago Avenue. They have a distinct design as wood frame homes with bright frame siding, cozy front porches, and green, well-maintained lawns. Although many homes have been renovated and upgraded, the integrity of the homes’ characters have been preserved. This keeps the wartime homes small and comfortable. On the outskirts of the area you’ll also find some post-war brick bungalows as well as some detached two-story houses. Original bungalows start in the mid to high $800s and upgraded, rebuilt, and renovated homes can run as high as $2 million.
Despite its tiny size there are three schools within the immediate borders of Topham Park:
JK to Grade 5
Selwyn Elementary School, 1 Selwyn Avenue, (416) 396-2455
Victoria Park Elementary School, 145 Tiago Avenue, (416) 396-2475
Grade 6 to 8
Gordon A Brown Middle School, 2800 St Clair Avenue East, (416) 396-2440
Are you thinking about calling Topham Park your new home?
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