Rich in natural beauty, Deer Park is centred on the bustling intersection of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue; its official boundaries are the Vale of Avoca to the east, Farnham Avenue and Jackes Avenue to the south, Avenue Road and Oriole Parkway to the west, and the Belt Line trail to the north. Deer Park differs from similar upscale Toronto neighbourhoods in that its homes are not located on the sidelines of the main drag. Rather, the residential streets spill right out onto either Yonge Street or St. Clair Avenue, into the heart of one of Toronto’s busiest shopping, entertainment, and business districts.
One of Toronto’s older neighbourhoods (established in the 1830’s), Deer Park came into existence in a time when every necessity had to be within walking distance – explaining the plethora of places to worship, shop, learn, socialize and play, steps from the fine old homes. Today, Deer Park residents enjoy vibrant streets studded with boutiques, fruit markets, butchers, bakeries, pet supply stores and coffee shops. Mid-town office buildings abound and Upper Canada College is only a stroll away from the area’s homes, as is the St. Clair subway station.
Deer Park has all the attributes that make a neighbourhood highly desirable for professional families.
The Deer Park name dates from 1837, when the Heath family purchased 40 acres of land on the northwest corner of Yonge and St. Clair for about $2,000. The area was formerly referred to by the First Nations people as “Mushquoteh”, which means a meadow or opening in the wood where deer come to feed. Appropriately, the Heath family chose to name their land Deer Park.
By the 1850s the neighbourhood included country villas, a racetrack, a school, a store and a hotel at which patrons could feed deer which roamed the Heaths’ property. Despite this prosperity or perhaps because of it, the Heath property was subdivided into 33 lots in 1846 and entirely sold off by 1874.
In the meantime, Deer Park became home to one of Toronto’s oldest cemeteries. St. Michael’s Cemetery (Toronto)? was opened by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto on September 28, 1855 and holds an estimated 29,000 graves. The ten acre cemetery is surrounded on all sides (St. Clair, Foxbar, Balmoral and Yonge) by the backs of buildings, making it nearly invisible from the street. Its octagonal mortuary vault was designated a historic property under the Ontario Heritage Act in December 1975.
In 1891 Upper Canada College moved from its downtown location at King and Simcoe Streets to the then rural Deer Park area, establishing a large campus that still remains on Avenue Road north of St. Clair Avenue.
The Deer Park Sanatorium, which once stood at 72 Heath Street and is now the site of apartment buildings, operated as a private hospital employing a staff of twenty-two until the early 1920’s.
Deer Park was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1908, and by the 1930s it had become an upper-middle class residential district – with deer notably absent. It is interesting to note that several key Deer Park streets – Balmoral, Farnham and Clarendon Avenues -get their names from places in Britain, adding to the upper-class tone of the neighbourhood.
Since the original “Deer Park” was an estate built in 1837, an eclectic mix of detached and semi detached homes encompassing a variety of architectural styles have developed the neighbourhood. Most of the original Deer Park houses were built between 1875 and 1920. As well, modern luxury condos and townhomes that fit well with the older homes in the neighbourhood, have been added from the 1980’s onward. Most of these units have balconies with picturesque views of the park, the ravine or the city skyline.
In addition to a diverse housing stock, Deer Park is also home to some notable addresses:
- 42 Heath Street West, where Canada’s most notorious bank robber of the day, Edwin Boyd, was captured on March 15, 1952. The house is non-descript.
37, 39 & 41 Heath Street West, Hoskin House built 1880; Altered and added to by architects Peter Gabor and George Popper in 1981. They were given an “Ontario Renews Award” for the restoration project.
- 55 Heath; Willis House. Built in 1888, this Victorian home with its steeply pitched roof, eyebrow dormer window, and two-storey bay window, is listed in The City of Toronto inventory of Heritage Properties for its architectural importance. The stained glass transoms in the lower bay are possibly the work of the first owner, John Willis, a stained glass manufacturer.
- Significant Deer Park buildings include the Imperial Oil building at 111 St. Clair Avenue West, built to the original design for the Toronto City Hall, with its top floor observation deck and famous mural; and the award-winning Wittington Tower, a 20-storey octagonal tower located at 22 St. Clair Avenue East.
- Deer Park also has three famous churches: Deer Park United Church was erected at 129 St. Clair Avenue West in 1913, and the immense Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, built from 1926 – 1928 at the northeast corner of Yonge and Heath Streets which is Canada’s largest Baptist Church.
Christ Church Deer Park, built at the northwest corner of Heath and Yonge in 1922, is an Anglican church with a plethora of community events, clubs and activities including unique Jazz Vespers.
Over the years, the Deer Park neighbourhood has also been home to some famous citizens:
- Classical pianist Glenn Gould lived in Apt. 902 at 110 St Clair Avenue West from 1962 until his death in 1982. He is buried in nearby Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
- J. E. H. MacDonald, a founding member of the Group of Seven painters, lived at 40 Duggan for several years until his death on September 26, 1932.
- Novelist Joy Fielding (b. 1945) wrote Kiss Mommy Goodbye while living at 83 Lonsdale Road during the last three years of the ’70s.
- Writer Farley Mowat (b. 1933) lived at 90 Lonsdale Road for six months in 1939-40.
- Poet Margaret Avison (1918-2007) lived in Apt. 104 at 150 St Clair Avenue West from 1964-70.
Inside Deer Park
Deer Park feels similar to other North Toronto neighbourhoods in that it oozes middle-class comfort. Everything from fine dining establishments and high profile boutiques to grocery stores and other staple retailers comprise the commercial hub of Deer Park, which is surrounded by lush green parkland and majestic trees. Most of the local staple and grocery stores, such as the pricey Loblaws ‘To Go’, PharmaPlus and City Optical, are located inside the St. Clair Centre, with additional options such as Bruno’s Fine Foods in the Delisle Court and freestanding mainstays like Shoppers Drug Mart on Yonge Street just north of St. Clair.
There’s no shortage of wholesome recreation: the gorgeous Rosehill Reservoir Park on Pleasant Blvd, has a large children’s playground, wading pool, decorative water fountain, reflecting pool and waterfall all surrounded by a surfaced path perfect for walking, jogging and cycling. Also in the neighbourhood are David Balfour Park, which includes a hiking trail through the wilderness of the Vale of Avoca Ravine, and Oriole Park, with two tennis courts and access to the 7-kilometre “Belt Line” path. The Deer Park Public Library serves the neighbourhood from its location at 40 St. Clair Ave. East.
Deer Park is known for its majestic trees; arborists tour the area marvelling at the diversity of the many species, including: White and Red Oaks, Pin Oak, Silver, Red, Sugar and Norway Maples, Horse Chestnuts, Honey and Black Locust, White Pine, White Cedar, White & Chinese Elm, Linden, Crab Apples, Colorado Spruce, Mountain and Basswood Ash, Cherry, Hemlock, Yew, Japanese Lilac, Mulberry, White Spruce, Russian Olive, Gingko, Linden, Hackberry, Beech, Crack Willow, and Mulberry.
The St. Clair subway station is just a short walk to any home in Deer Park and motorists are approximately ten minutes from downtown, and twenty minutes from Toronto’s commuter expressways.
Children of Deer Park residents can attend a number of prestigious schools in the area, including Brown Jr. School, Bishop Strachan School, Upper Canada College, De La Salle College, and the York School.