Established in 1952 as a self-contained new town for 32,000 residents, Don Mills was Canada’s first garden city and a model for postwar suburban developments across the country.
Don Mills began with industrialist E.P. Taylor assembling some two thousand acres of farmland seven miles northeast of downtown Toronto. Taylor appointed the young Harvard graduate Macklin Hancock as director of planning, and in creating Don Mills Macklin drew upon Ebenezer Howard’s pioneering Garden City and Clarence Stein and Henry Wright’s Radburn.
In accordance with garden city principles, four neighbourhood quadrants surrounded a town centre of commercial buildings, community facilities and high-density housing, which was bisected by Don Mills Road and Lawrence Avenue and encircled by The Donway ring road. Vehicles were separated from pedestrians: The Donway separated the town centre from the neighbourhood quadrants, pedestrian walkways linked neighbourhoods and the town centre, and vehicular traffic within neighbourhoods was slowed by winding streets, cul-de-sacs and T-junctions. A greenbelt around the community was developed to buffer suburban encroachment, and connected to a system of neighbourhood greenspaces as well as the ravines and valleys of the Don River. Existing trees and natural landscape features were retained wherever possible. The integration of clean industry allowed residents to both live and work in Don Mills, a key differentiator between a garden city and a dormitory suburb.
A consistent Modernist aesthetic was ensured by the Don Mills Development Corporation’s control over architectural design, colours and materials; all houses and buildings in the original development were designed by company-approved Modernist architects such as John B. Parkin Associates, Venchiarutti & Venchiarutti, Henry Fliess, James Murray, Irving Grossman and Michael Bach.
The above postcard, published c. 1968, looks north up Don Mills Road through the town centre (click on image to enlarge). The white igloo-shaped dome (1) is the Don Mills Curling Rink (William S. Hall, 1960; demolished); directly behind it is the Don Mills Civitan Arena (Crang & Boake, 1960). (2) is the Don Mills Convenience Centre (John B. Parkin Associates, 1955; demolished), Don Mills’ central shopping plaza and a silver medal winner in the 1955 Massey Medals for Architecture competition. Just across Lawrence Avenue is the diamond-roofed Don Mills Library (3) (Craig, Madill, Abram & Ingleson, 1961). Forming a dense residential core opposite the commercial and recreational facilities are clusters of mid-rise apartment buildings (4) by various architects. To the east is Don Mills Collegiate (5) (John B. Parkin Associates, 1959), the community’s junior and senior high school. (6) is St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church (John B. Parkin Associates, 1963). An early example of the many well-designed row-housing developments in Don Mills is Greenbelt Heights Village (7) (Belcourt and Blair, 1958). In the bottom right corner is the Ortho Pharmaceuticals office and plant (8) (John B. Parkin Associates, 1955), recipient of a 1958 Massey silver medal and a Canadian prototype for innumerable corporate headquarters. In the distance is Highway 401 and Toronto’s ever-expanding suburban periphery.