Looking Forward: The Top Five Landmarks In Willowdale

by Markus O'Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

What are the top 5 landmarks in Willowdale? It seemed a simple enough question when we received it from the City's Office of Protocol this week. But as we started to narrow down a list, it became very difficult to balance the diverse mix of public spaces, parks, historical landmarks and cultural institutions in the area. Harder still when we try to represent the different neighbourhoods. Each may have a different view of the important feature on the far side of the community. But if we had to put only five pictures on a Willowdale postcard, what would we capture?

Any such list would have to start with Mel Lastman Square. Both the literal and figurative centre of the Willowdale community, the square hosts many significant community events, and is surrounded by other key features including the North York Civic Centre, Douglas Snow Aquatic Centre, North York Central Library and Meridian Arts Centre. Each of these other buildings could be key landmarks in their own right.

But Willowdale is so much more than just our civic square. It is home to many great parks that define neighbourhoods. From Gwendolen or Glendora parks in the south, to Moore or Lillian parks in the north, they are each destinations in their own right.

Many of our community centres are also hubs of activity, from the softball and hockey leagues run at Goulding, to the natural ice rink or outdoor movie nights at Edithvale, many in the area have strong experiences with these spaces.

Lee Lifeson Art Park is a relatively new space honouring some of Willowdale's most notable former residents, while the towers surrounding Avondale or Willowdale parks might best capture the skyline that defines our area today.

Our community is also rich with historical sites. Some are monuments such as the Pioneer Cemetery at Yonge & Church where the area's first church was once located, or Gibson House at Yonge and Park Home, now operated by the City as a museum. Some have been literally moved for preservation, like the Dempsey Store on Beecroft Road that used to rest at Yonge and Sheppard, or Willowdale United Church on Kenneth Ave, parts of which came from the original site at Yonge & Church.

Some historical homes have even become part of other features. John McKenzie House, home of the Ontario Historical Society, is now surrounded by Parkview Neighbourhood Garden, with its original shed now holding tools for garden volunteers.

We haven't touched on our most notable schools. The one best known in the area is likely Earl Haig. But Brebeuf College or Newtonbrook Secondary are also important institutions in the north, and Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts is also quickly building a rich history in the south.

Shopping Malls are also often important meeting points. Centrepoint Mall remains a popular destination for all local residents, while Empress Walk or the Sheppard Centre highlight the Yonge Street strip. The Yonge/Finch area has also built a strong identity as Korea Town North with its many exceptional restaurants.

With many options, I gravitated towards some larger features linking neighbourhoods together. York Cemetery doubles as a popular walking spot with flower lined paths linking the Yonge-Beecroft corridor with the Burnett Woods, Hinder Property and West Don River Valley. It's also home to the North York Cenotaph, the first monument to recipients of the Victoria Cross in Canada, and even the resting place of Tim Horton.

The Finch Hydro Corridor similarly connects communities east to west, through key features including the Newtonbrook Creek area, Bayview Arena and Hendon Park.

Are there five key landmarks that define Willowdale for you? Have we missed any? You can let us know by participating here and helping us answer this surprisingly challenging question.