Well, we did it. After living downtown since 1989, I’ve moved my family back upstream, back up the Don River, back to the ancestral homeland where I was spawned back in ’72 – North York.
Oh, sure, my downtown semi-detached Victorian house-dwelling friends think moving away from the city core is a passing phase. A fool’s errand. A flight of fancy. Others straight out said we’re nuts. But I know moving to Don Mills is the second best thing we ever did (The first being our daughter Betty, now 22 months old). It’s been almost three months now since we left our condo in Cityplace, and I’ve never looked back. OK, maybe for a second, but as I look out Betty’s upstairs bedroom window at the city lights and skyscrapers twinkling in the distance, I think, that’s pretty, but I don’t need to live there anymore.
For my husband and I, the decision to move to Don Mills was a convergence of several key factors:
1. I have an extreme fetish for mid-century modern architecture and house design. I pore over butterfly-roof house plans like some folks look at porn. You should see my stash.
2. Don Mills has some of the best public schools in the city – such as Rippleton, Three Valleys, Norman Ingram, and Denlow, (where I went to school as a sprog).
3. I like digging in the dirt, which is kind of hard to do on a balcony overlooking the Gardiner Expressway.
And finally, 4. I realized I no longer feel the need to define my identity by how many cool indie boutiques and hip espresso bars I live close to (I’m looking at you, Leslieville). And besides, I can walk to McEwan at the Shops at Don Mills if I feel like rubbing shoulders with the rich and organically fed.
This convergence of desirable factors didn’t happen by accident, however. Don Mills was PLANNED to be the perfect post-war utopia. It was meticulously and carefully designed on several important (and it seems, hitherto lost to modern-day builders) planning principles:
WALKABILITY. Each quadrant of Don Mills contained a school, a church, a park, and all the shopping the old Don Mills plaza had to offer (now the ‘Shops at Don Mills’). Meaning, all homes in the area are within walking distance of life’s necessities. Plenty of folks walk to work. And I’d hazard a guess that more than a few Don Mills dwelling seniors haven’t touched the Oldsmobiles in their carports since Trudeau was Prime Minister.
SEPARATION OF CARS AND PEOPLE. A network of pedestrian paths snake through and behind the streets and cul-de-sacs – getting those on foot to their destination even quicker – and off the roads. The curvy street plans were designed to slow vehicular traffic, so the happy children of Don Mills don’t get run over playing ball hockey, riding their tricycles, blowing bubbles, or looking at caterpillars (at least, that’s what the kids were up to on our street yesterday).
MODERNISM. Use of modern architecture and embracing the modern aesthetic is what make Don Mills so special. The homes and public buildings were designed by architects (such as Henry Fleiss) who had been educated according to the Bauhaus principles. They were not designed by builders, as most suburban homes are today (squeezing maximum dollars out of minimum thought). That’s worth the drive up the DVP right there, my friends.The fact that these ergonomically designed, perfectly sized homes are being razed to make Home Depot McManisons makes it all the more tragic.
GREEN SPACE. Don Mills is cinched (like a 50’s housedress) by a greenbelt. Each quadrant also contains a system of neighbourhood parks that link to each other, as well as the surrounding ravines. Some of the ravines even have original untouched forest in them, such as Moccasin Trail Park.
So for those reasons (and many more to come, which I will explore on this blog) we’ve set up camp in a rented split-level on Cottonwood Drive, as we search for our perfect 1950’s Don Mills atomic ranch to buy, restore and love.
Stay tuned. This is only the beginning of our exploration of Toronto’s modernist utopia.
Below: Here’s a screen cap of the back of some of the split level houses on Cottonwood Drive (including ours) in 1954, the year they were built. I stumbled cross them in the CBC documentary, ‘White Picket Dreams’ (The Don Mills section begins at 6:50 for those with short attention spans).