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The First Day of 50 Years for the Yorkdale Shopping Centre

Photo credit: Chris Nagy

Diary from a Yorkdale Shopping Centre Customer on February 26th 1964

As I am driving this Highway 401 on this cold Wednesday morning in February, I conceiving so many thoughts. First, how many more songs from these new group The Beatles will be topping CHUM’s Weekly Hit Parade? I like their music but their constant exposure is driving every young woman insane. With one riding in the passenger seat of my Acadian Invader, I am happy that I married her before The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. My second through is how did I let my wife convince me to take a day off work in the midst of winter? I know the answer to that question and I cannot freely confess the reason was all her doing. It involves the opening of a spectacular new shopping Mecca called Yorkdale.

Travelling so fast on this highway, I am realizing how this country is becoming so connected and how everything can be united so quickly. National television, Canada-wide phone calls and now an enclosed shopping space with up to 100 stores under one roof, this is not the world my parents grew up in (its barely the world I grew up in).

There it is in a distant, the highway off-ramp directing us to the newly built Yorkdale Shopping Centre. What a sight the new shopping centre is. It’s hard to believe that only a number of years ago this was all vacant farmland. Fortunately, not all of the 6,500 car spaces have been filled as I pulled into one of the largest stretches of parking spots I have ever seen. Parked, my wife and I leave the car bracing the cold of under-30 degree temperatures, the Yorkdale Shopping Centre seemed ever-so inviting. Just past 9:30 A.M., the doors opened to this new mall providing Canadians a glamorous look at the future of shopping.


Postcard published by Dan Gibson and produced by E.S. & A. Robinson (Canada) Limited

On February 26th 1964, the Yorkdale Shopping Centre opened to a delighted Canadian winter crowd. As much as Canadian citizens find ways to persevere through snow and cold temperatures, the prospect of a visiting a vast, fully heated retail environment was a new concept that was eagerly embraced. The idea of the shopping mall in North America evolved after the Second World War when the idea of bringing a variety of stores previously found in a downtown into a climate-controlled space was seen as ultra-modern.

The Yorkdale Shopping Centre was not Canada’s first mall but it instantly became one of country’s most prestigious. Originally conceived in the late 1950s, the planned shopping mall was initially spearheaded by The Timothy Eaton Company (or Eaton‘s). Eaton had been renting much of the land to be used by the Yorkdale Shopping Centre from a British Columbia based owner with the option to buy it for a massive development. The Yorkdale Shopping Centre (sometimes referred to as Yorkdale Plaza early on) construction was ultimately sealed when Eaton’s the company’s executive J.A. Brockie and Simpson’s department store head John Porter presented the initial model for the mall after the two retailers agreed to become the first occupants on Oct 17th of 1958. Originally planned to be a $25,000,000 development involving 62 stores, the proposed Yorkdale Shopping Centre would be situated on a real estate gem for a major retail hub. The 401 Highway and a proposed Spadina Expressway would run close to the land for this massive shopping development guaranteeing ample vehicle traffic. By the time shovels hit the ground for Yorkdale in 1962, Eaton’s was no longer attached as the developer for the shopping centre. For Eaton’s, the company waited until the 1970s to have a stake in total construction of a Toronto area mall when the Eaton Centre would be built. Webb & Knapp Limited (later becoming Trizec Properties Inc.) would be tasked with constructing and operating the shopping centre. By the time construction started for the mall, the construction cost had climbed to $42,000,000. Some of the increased cost was due to the fact the Yorkdale Shopping Centre would be larger than the original planned capacity. After about a one and half of construction, the shopping centre opened as Canada’s largest with 100-store capacity in a complex spanning 1/3 of a mile. Palm trees decorated the spacious halls between stores while chandelier-type lighting from the ceiling lit the mall. Mostly unnecessary during opening day, the Yorkdale Shopping Centre had air-conditioning ready to battle warm summers. It was said over 60 stores opened on February 26th including all the major anchor stores.

For the first time in Canadian history, it was possible to move between retail rivals Eaton’s and Simpson’s without going outside. Having already spent decades on opposite sides of Queen Street downtown, these Canadian retailers were actually placed further away from each other at Yorkdale. Even though Eaton’s chose not to be as heavily invested in the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in 1964 as it planned to be in 1958, the Canadian department store company did open a grand, modern store. Eaton’s high-fashion retail space at Yorkdale was occupied by a 300-seat, second-floor restaurant called the The Vista. At the other end of the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Simpson’s boasted 83 departments of goods on four floors. At the mall entrance to the Simpson’s store, the so-called Simpson Court presented a welcoming to guests with fountains and greenery.

Postcard Distributed by Royal Specialty Sales

Preparing for the nuance of the shopping mall environment, several innovations were pioneered under the Yorkdale Shopping Centre roof starting on day one. It was typical at department stores up to the start of the 1960s that customers needed to purchase goods in specified checkout. For example, a customer would need to buy a hockey stick at the sporting goods checkout but could not take it to a checkout in the clothing section planning to buy some socks in the same trip. The Simpson’s and the Eaton’s store in the Yorkdale Shopping Centre introduced within their chain the ability for customers to checkout in any stores department.

Photo made available by City of Toronto Archives

Late addition anchor tenants for the opening of the Yorkdale Shopping Centre brought a third department store as well as a grocery store. American-based S.S. Kresge Company Limited set up shop in the center front portion of Yorkdale. Though the S.S. Kresge name is not exactly a household brand for North America in the 21st century, its eventual rebrand as K-Mart is perhaps better known. Announced for the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in late 1962, Dominion opened a high-class supermarket at the rear section of the mall. For kids, a Lollipop Tree provided a free treat during the initial week for the Dominion store. Like the S.S. Kresge name, the Dominion supermarket name has also disappeared in 2014 replaced with Metro.

Aside from the major stores, the small shops filling the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in 1964 provided a blend of genres. Laura Second Candy, Holt, Renfrew & Company Canada, Tip Top Tailors Limited, Plaza Drugs, Bata Shoe Store and Coles Book Store were a few of the smaller merchants setting up shop at Yorkdale. While the Yorkdale Shopping Centre is known for high fashion in 2014, there were several more general-purpose stops in the 1964 floor plan. At least meat markets in addition to the Dominion supermarket, Mac’s Dairy Bar as well as Grand & Toy were also found under the roof during the opening of the high-end shopping centre. For financial services, the Yorkdale Shopping Centre presented a unique convenience to patrons. Canadian Imperial Back of Commerce, Bank of Nova Scotia and Toronto-Dominion Bank could be consulted within a short walk of each other.

Image provided by Yorkdale Shopping Centre

A first for Toronto, a two-screen movie auditorium had also come to life on February 26th playing Famous Players and 20th Century films The first films beamed out of the movie projectors for audiences at the Yorkdale Dual Auditorium Theatres was “Seven Days in May” as well as “To Bed or Not to Bed”. Besides shopping and movies, the first day of Yorkdale Shopping Centre also involved a Jazz at Scotiabank.

From 9:30 A.M. to 9:30 P.M., the Yorkdale Shopping Centre greeted its first guests 50 years ago. As history would show, the shopping centre has given many a sense of upscale retailing.
Thank you to the Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, City of Toronto Archives and Yorkdale Shopping Centre for your assistance as well as resources in compiling this article.


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