Leaside — now an upscale neighbourhood in Toronto — holds the distinction of being the first pre-planned community in Canada. Leaside — although its roots extend further back to its beginning as farmland — was designed near the turn of the last century by Canadian Northern Rail as a home for its workers.
Leaside — which became a part of East York in 1968 — also only became a part of Toronto in 1998, when East York was amalgamated by the provincial government with the city of Toronto.
Bordered by Bayview Avenue on the west, Sunnybrook Park on the north, Laird Drive on the east and Moore Avenue and Southvale Drive on the south, Leaside is also famous as the birthplace, in 1959, of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Today, the neighbourhood –with its Tudor-style detached and semi-detached homes dating largely from the 1930s and ’40s — is a popular destination for those seeking an exclusive neighbourhood at a price that’s still affordable for young families and professionals. Since the 1990s, a number of upscale condominiums and townhouses have also been constructed in Leaside.
The area has become popular because, while maintaining a neighbourhood ambience, Leaside is readily accessible to downtown and offers the bustle, shopping and restaurants along Eglinton Avenue and Bayview Avenue. It also affords residents easy access to the sights and natural beauty of the Don Valley Ravine, as well as numerous parks, green spaces and recreational facilities.
And if all of that isn’t enough, Leaside also offers one of Canada’s better-known bookstores in The Sleuth of Baker Street — a store on Millwood Road dedicated solely to mystery and detective novels. It’s elementary, my dear Watson.
History and Social Profile
Leaside’s history begins with the arrival of John Lea, a farmer who immigrated to the area from Philadelphia in 1819. In 1851, Lea’s son William purchased his own land to the south of his father’s farm, and built a large eight-sided home, which he called Leaside. The home, which also became the area post office after William became a county magistrate, was located near the present-day site of the Leaside Memorial Gardens.
In the 1870s and ’80s, the area became a prime location for railroads due to its flat terrain and open space. Originally, the Ontario and Quebec Railway company began to run its tracks across William Lea’s property. In 1884, the company leased its tracks to the Canadian Pacific railroad, who in turn built a station that it named Leaside, in honour of William Lea.
In 1912, the Canadian Northern Railway — which was building a maintenance yard in the area — decided to build a planned community to house its workers, christening the town Leaside. Several of the streets in today’s Leaside neighbourhood — including Laird Drive, Hanna Road and Wicksteed Avenue — are, in fact, named after CN executives. The town was officially incorporated in 1913.
World War I brought new industry to the area, as Canada Wire and Cable and the Leaside Munitions Company were established to produce shells for the war effort. The federal government also constructed a local airstrip, the Leaside Aerodrome. The airstrip led to another historic first for Leaside, as it became the site of the first airmail delivery in Canadian history, as a pilot transported 120 letters from Montreal, in a test flight for Canada Post.
After World War I, the munitions factories were taken over by the Durant Motor Company and investment in Leaside was boosted by the formation of the Thorncliffe Park Racing and Breeding Association to operate a horsetrack.
While all of these enterprises built additional housing for their employees, it was the construction in 1927 of the Leaside Viaduct, connecting Leaside to Toronto over the Don River Valley, that really allowed the community to develop.
World War II saw the founding of Research Enterprises, which at its height during the war employed over 7,500 people to manufacture military radio equipment. While the company closed after the war, the community has continued to grow ever since.
Today, firmly ensconced as a part of Toronto, Leaside maintains the feel of a small village, but offers both a ready connection to the big city and the green spaces of its more rural roots.
Leaside Memorial Gardens offer an indoor swimming pool, an ice rink, a curling rink and an auditorium. Trace Manes Park houses the Leaside Tennis Club, as well as an outdoor rink and a baseball diamond. Howard Talbot Park has two diamonds and is the home of the Leaside Baseball Association. Serena Gundy Park has large wooded areas, making it very popular with birdwatchers and flower-lovers. And Sunnybrook Park is part of the Thomas H. Thomson Nature Trail, making it a favourite of hikers and runners.
It’s this natural, small-town feel that has made Leaside popular with families, as well with young professionals, who want a sense of exclusivity while living in a neighbourhood that’s diverse and open, while still remaining a part of Toronto.
- Satay On the Road
- Vero Trattoria
- Amaya the Indian Room
- Davisville Station
- St. Clair Station
- Eglinton Station
Buses or streetcars run along St. Clair, Eglinton and Bayview.
- Bessborough Drive Elementary and Middle School, 211 Bessborough Drive, 416-396-2315
- Northlea Elementary and Middle School, 305 Rumsey Road, 416-396-2395
- Rolph Road Elementary School, 31 Rolph Road, 416-421-3862
- Leaside High School, 200 Hanna Road, 416-396-2380