Don Mills: A future in the past
There’s a Back to the Future vibe to Don Mills that’s hard to ignore,and it’s not just because it’s one of the largest and best-preservedpostwar neighbourhoods in the city, and probably the whole country.
There’s a Back to the Future vibe to Don Mills that’s hard to ignore, and it’s not just because it’s one of the largest and best-preserved postwar neighbourhoods in the city, and probably the whole country.
Once you’re off the main thoroughfares, it’s hard not to imagine cars with tail fins and kids with Davey Crockett caps on the sinuous network of curving residential streets laid out in the early ’50s, full of ranch-style houses with slanted roofs, carports and picture windows.
Terry West, president of Don Mills Residents Inc., a community association, moved here in 1964, and says he’s seen the neighbourhood go through a full life cycle.
“One of the significant things about Don Mills is that it becomes a final destination,” West says. “When people move here they tend to stay here. The houses are fairly small and when the kids move people didn’t need to downsize.”
While Don Mills didn’t have a main street, it did have a centre — an open-air shopping mall at Lawrence and Don Mills called Don Mills Centre. It thrived and prospered through the ’50s and ’60s, and had a hockey and curling rink, a bowling alley, a pool hall and a movie theatre at its zenith. It was enclosed in the late ’70s, which was when its long, slow decline began. It was finally demolished in 2006, after which Cadillac Fairview broke ground on the Shops at Don Mills, which opened last year as, of all things, an open-air mall.
It’s as if Marty McFly had gotten out of Doc Brown’s DeLorean in the future, to find that Hill Valley had been faithfully rebuilt to look like it did in the ’50s – but with upscale shops and franchises replacing Lou’s Café and Roy’s Record Store. There have been some hiccups, however, with aging local residents complaining that the new Shops, with its gourmet supermarket by restaurateur Mark McEwan and fashion boutiques, wasn’t meant for them. The hiccups got louder when the McNally Robinson Bookstore, an anchor store, suddenly closed when the company went bankrupt.
Anthony Lucian cuts hair at Barba, an updated men’s barber located under a covered breezeway by the Shops’ centre square.
“That was bad,” he recalls of the day the bookstore went down, but he acknowledges that there’s money in the area — who else is driving the Aston Martins he’s seen parked here? “Some people say it’s too high end for the area. Some people say it’s just right.”
What do you like about Don Mills?
– compiled by Rafael Brusilow
age 32, visits the area
A: “I like that there’s a strong community feel around here. Joey’s is a nice in-between meeting spot for food and drinks.”
age 30, visits the area
A: “Everything here feels aimed at the outdoors. Mongolian Grill has great variety.”
age 49, lives in the area
A: “It’s a great place for families and in the summer we love the outdoor concerts. We go to Jack Astor’s a lot.”