Typical houses in Willowdale. In the last decade many of the original ranch style bungalows have been demolished to build neo-eclectic structures such as these
Willowdale began as a postal village (orig. Willow Dale) which covered the area from Finch Ave. at the north to Elmwood Ave at the south and Bathurst St. at the west to Bayview Ave. at the east. The postal village of Lansing was from Elmwood Ave. at the north to approx. Hwy. 401 at the south and Bathurst St. at the west to Bayview Ave. at the east. (East of Bayview Ave. was the postal village of Oriole.) The north-south centreline of Lansing & Willowdale was Yonge St. The postal village of Lansing remained in existence until the post office at Lansing corner (northwest corner of Yonge St. & Sheppard Ave.) was closed. When a new post office was built in Willowdale, the postal villages of Lansing and Willowdale were combined as the new postal village of Willowdale, within the Township of North York. Newtonbrook, originally Newton Brook, was also a postal village, located on Yonge St., north from Finch Ave. to Steeles Ave. The boundaries of the current neighbourhood extend as far east as Victoria Park Avenue, west to Bathurst Street, south to the 401 freeway, and north to Steeles Avenue. The neighbourhood abuts Bayview Village to the east and is considered to overlap Newtonbrook to the north. North York Centre is centred at the intersection of Yonge Street and Empress Avenue and is commonly thought to be a part of Willowdale, though its high-rise residential and commercial development sets it apart from much of the rest of Willowdale.
The Willowdale neighbourhood consists of single-family homes, condominium townhouses and high-rise condominium towers. High density development is restricted along Yonge Street. The single-family homes range in age from the original 1910 to 1950s construction (one- and two-storey pre-war houses and modest one-and-a-half-storey postwar houses). After the 1990s, very large replacement two-storey luxury homes were constructed by tearing down the original houses. It is in this neighbourhood that the term "monster homes" was first applied by Torontonians.
Willowdale was first settled by Jacob Cummer, who immigrated to Canada from the United States in 1797. Cummer was a mill owner on the nearby Don River, a proprietor of a tinsmith shop on Yonge Street and a self-trained doctor and veterinarian. Cummer was held in such high esteem by his neighbours they called the area "Kummer's Settlement".
David Gibson, a distinguished land surveyor, was another leader in this community. Like most of his neighbours, Gibson participated in the ill-fated Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. He was thus charged with high treason and escaped to the United States, where he found employment as the First Assistant Engineer on the building of the Erie Canal.
Gibson returned to his Yonge Street farm in 1851, after being pardoned for his role in the Rebellion. He then helped to establish the "Willow Dale" post office, named after the many willow trees that once graced this district. Members of the Gibson family were still living in Gibson House in the 1920s when the residential subdivision of Willowdale began to take place.
The Gibson House, built in 1851 in the Georgian Rival style, still stands in its original location at 5172 Yonge Street, and is now a historic house museum.
Willowdale United Church
The first church in Willowdale was called the Cummer Chapel, located at the northwest corner of what is now Yonge and Churchill. This log meeting house was built in 1816 by Jacob Cummer on part of his farm. He and other early members of the church are buried in the cemetery which remains on the site, now on the east side of Yonge Street. The Cummers, who were the first German loyalists and farmers from Pennsylvania, had Lutheran roots. However, they readily mixed in with and married people with Methodist and other roots. Thus the chapel was designated as non-denominational.
A large, yellow, brick and stucco church with a tall spire replaced the log building in 1856. It was called the Methodist Episcopal Church, and became part of the new United Church of Canada in 1925. Between 1931 and 1932, Yonge Street was widened and the front end of the church, facing west, was removed. The front door was relocated to the south side of the building.
Following World War II, many veterans and their families began to settle in Willowdale. In 1946, the Rev. Welburn Jones became the minister of Willowdale United Church (WUC) and initiated a building program. In 1954 a substantial building was built on nearby Kenneth Avenue. In 1966, his successor, the Rev. Lindsay G. King, completed the program. The Rev. King spent the rest of his ministry, 27 years, at WUC. While he was the minister of WUC, the Rev. King wrote a regular column for the community paper and he was frequently heard on radio and television, including the CTV and the CBC. Because of his lifelong interest in bringing psychology, religion and health together, in 1973 he initiated the founding of the Family Life Foundation (FLF) of Willowdale, a registered charity encouraging the development of healthy community and family life.
Home to 79,440 people, Willowdale is an ethnically diverse community, with 66% of all Willowdale residents being immigrants as of 2011. Major ethnic groups in Willowdale include: Chinese: 17.3%, Korean: 8.0%, and Iranian: 7.8%.
As of 2006, census tract 0300.00 in Willowdale was 82.15% Canadian citizens and 17.85% Non-Canadian citizens. By 2011, it changed to 76.89% Canadian citizens and 23.11% Non-Canadians. (Census 2006, Census 2011)
- Newtonbrook Secondary School
- Elkhorn Public School
- Pineway Public School
- Empress Walk
- Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts
- Claude Watson School for the Arts
- Earl Haig Secondary School
- A. Y. Jackson Secondary School
- St. John's Rehabilitation Hospital
- St. Joseph's Morrow Park High School
- Brebeuf College School
- Tyndale University College and Seminary
- Highland Junior High School
- Zion Heights Junior High School
- Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College
- North York Central Library
- Georges Vanier Secondary School
- Willowdale Middle School
- Willowdale Pentecostal Church
- York Cemetery
- Willowdale Cemetery (cemetery for the village chapel of Willowdale next to the former Willowdale Methodist Church (later United Church) that was demolished in 1956)
- 19 Oakville Hwy 403 GO Bus
- 27 Milton Hwy 401 GO Bus
- 32 Brampton Trinity Common GO Bus
- 95 Oshawa Hwy 2 Express GO Bus
- 96 Oshawa Hwy 401 GO Bus
- 7 Bathurst
- 11 Bayview
- 36 Finch West
- 39 Finch East
- 42 Cummer
- 53 Steeles East
- 60 Steeles West
- 84 Sheppard West
- 85 Sheppard East
- 97 Yonge
- 98 Willowdale-Senlac
- 125 Drewry
- 160 Bathurst North
- 196 York University Rocket
- 2 Milliken
- 5 Clark
- 23 Thornhill Woods
- 77 Highway 7
- 88/88A/88E Bathurst/Bathurst Express
- 91/91A/91B/91E Bayview South
- 99 Yonge
- 300 Business Express
- 301 Markham Express
- 302 Unionville Express
- 303 Bur Oak Express
Famous residents of Willowdale include:
- Ravi Baichwal, news anchor of ABC Television
- Joseph Boyden, author
- David Clayton-Thomas, singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears
- Dream Warriors, hip hop group
- Frog Fagan, NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver
- Corey Haim, an actor in the 1980s who was in The Lost Boys
- Jimenez Lai, architect, lived on Cummer Avenue
- Henry Lau, actor, and singer for the Mandopop group Super Junior M
- Geddy Lee, bassist and lead singer of progressive rock band Rush
- Alex Lifeson, lead guitar player of progressive rock band Rush
- Howie Mandel, comedian
- Kirk McLean, ice hockey player
- Mark Napier, ice hockey player
- Lloyd Robertson, O.C., Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor of CTV Television Network's nightly newscast, CTV News with Lloyd Robertson
- Seymour Schulich, Canadian businessman and philanthropist
- Dick Shatto, Canadian Football League player
- Steve Shutt, ice hockey player
In popular culture
- The opening line of the song "The Necromancer" by Rush is: "As grey traces of dawn tinge the eastern sky, the three travelers, men of Willowdale [or Willow Dale], emerge from the forest shadow."
- The cartoon series Mother Up starring Eva Longoria is set in Willowdale.
- "Topographic Map sheet 30M14". Atlas of Canada. Natural Resources Canada. 2006-02-06. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- "Gibson House Museum". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
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