The name Don Mills came, of course, from the Don River and from the fact that several mills were established in the Don Valley in the 19th century. There was a woolen mill in the area of what is now Edward’s Gardens near a tributary of the west branch of the Don. Later, another woolen mill was located on the east branch of the Don where the Don Mills Ski Club was located. A saw mill operated in the Don Valley in what is now the Donalda Club area. Amazingly, the Don River flowed strongly enough in the last century and early part of this one to turn the water wheels operating the mills, and at one point during a great flood some of the mills were washed away.
Actual construction of the Don Mills Development started on May 8, 1953 for the first home on Jocelyn Cres. Rather than single family homes overlooking parkland, semi-detached houses were planned on sub-collector roads which joined The Donway. This enabled more residents to enjoy a view of the park or the ravine from their kitchen windows and compensated for their location on roads with higher traffic use. A system of walkways bordering the parks and schools encouraged pedestrian traffic off the main roads.
While building continued quadrant by quadrant, the four model homes on Jocelyn Cres. attracted buyers, and the first residents moved in during October 1953. Families soon flocked to Don Mills, often with dozens moving in the same week. Slightly more than half of the residential units built were apartments, dispelling the myth that Don Mills contained only single-family dwellings. The area within the ring road west of Don Mills Road and north of Lawrence Avenue contained the Brydencourt Apartments- 32 buildings with 11 apartments each, which were rented at $96.00 per month for a two bedroom apartment. Most of the apartments were completed by 1960, which accounts for the large influx of residents during the late 1950’s.
Don Mills opened to a great deal of fanfare, winning numerous architectural and design awards over the subsequent years. In 1997, the Ontario Heritage Foundation designated Don Mills as a heritage site that used integral and consistent planning principles, the only community so honoured.
Don Mills was planned as a model town that would humanize urban life in an age of industry and the automobile. Initiated and financed by businessman E.P. Taylor and designed by Macklin Hancock, a young urban planner, it was built between 1952 and 1965 on 835 hectares of land between the west and east Don River valleys. Hancock’s planning team envisioned a self – contained community distinguished by consistent design principles and modernist style. Industry, commerce and major roads were arranged to be accessible but insulated from residential areas. Green spaces preserved natural watercourses and provided pedestrian routes between different neighbourhoods. An immediate critical and commercial success, Don Mills has been imitated in suburban development across Canada.
Did You Know?
Did you know that early photographs of the Don Mills Shopping Centre revealed a classical simplicity? In its design, John B. Parkin & Associates used the same principles as those of the ancient Greeks. In Athens the great marketplace was called the Agora and it was the centre of trade, schools and the law courts. Its trade area consisted of open-sided markets. This open concept was used in the Don Mills Centre and a protective canopy or arcade ran above the walkways accessing the shops and offering protection from the elements. There was parking on all sides. The landscaping of trees, flowers, gardens, and a reflecting pool with its central fountain drew the concept together, making the whole area attractive and inviting.