A House with a Yard

A House with a Yard

Posted on March 7 by Scott Kennedy in Non-fiction
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Recent articles on the lack of affordable, detached houses in Toronto — and there are many such articles — fail to show proper respect for the elephant in the room: unfettered population growth.

Article after article blames low interest rates, land transfer taxes, red tape, the provincial government’s efforts to protect our greenbelt and all sorts of other “villains” for what is essentially a matter of simple math.

Every year, more than 100,000 people are moving into the so-called Golden Horseshoe that surrounds Toronto, an influx that is predicted to continue for decades; a figure that may well be accelerated by the current state of global affairs. Add to this number, the children born here, who will soon be seeking homes of their own, and the picture becomes clear.   

I grew up in North York when the area was still mostly rural. There was so little light pollution that our parents used to wake us up in the middle of the night to see the Northern Lights, at what is now the corner of Bayview and Sheppard. We were surrounded by farms.

My two recent books on the farms of Willowdale and Don Mills offer up the following population figures for North York:

1943…24,528

1953...110,311

1963...303,577

1973...525,000+

It’s simple math. You can’t experience relentless population growth without facing the inevitable truth that people will have less and less space to themselves. If you want a house with a big backyard, and you’re not a millionaire, you may have to accept the fact that you won’t be able to find what you’re looking for in the GTA.

Many of the farm families of 1940s North York had one- or two-hundred acres to themselves; although they certainly had to work for it and, in fact, fed the rest of us. Many of the families that moved onto the sub-divided farms had half-an-acre or more. Our current backyard is thirty-eight feet by twenty-two feet. Our front yard is so small that by the time we reach the bottom of our front steps, we are already on city property. Times change, and they change in the blink of an eye.

When the Beatles last played Maple Leaf Gardens in 1966, there were still productive farms across most of North York. Wheat was still being harvested in the 1970s. While people now strive to embrace a “100 Mile Diet,” where all of their food originates less than one-hundred miles from home, it wasn’t that long ago that we enjoyed a “10 Mile Diet.” The accompanying photograph by Gordon Jarrett, showing the north-east corner of Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue East in 1948, says it all.

Scott Kennedy

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
Scott Kennedy photo

Scott Kennedy

Scott Kennedy witnessed the farms surrounding his North York childhood home being planted with a new cash crop of buildings. He joined the Toronto Musicians’ Association in 1969, but never lost his passion for history. He traces the evolution of a Toronto neighbourhood in his book Willowdale. Scott lives in a Heritage Conservation District he helped create in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood.