This is the first of a four-part blog series chronicling the proposed redevelopment of Mirvish Village.
Toronto is celebrated for its varied neighbourhoods, multicultural milieu, and vibrant street life. However, like all cities, its urban and social fabric is a function of shifting policies, social movements and urban development. In short, the Toronto we know has evolved through time, with some histories erased and others preserved. The one constant is change.
Bloor and Bathurst, 1911
One of the higher profile developments in Toronto is situated at the unique intersection of Bloor and Bathurst. In local parlance, the neighbourhood is known as Mirvish Village, bounded by Bloor and Lennox to the north and south, and Bathurst and Palmerston to the east and west. More importantly, it houses one of Toronto’s cultural destinations: Honest Ed’s.
Thirty years before Ed Mirvish opened Honest Ed’s in 1948, the neighbourhoods abutting it were nearly fully built out. A turn-of-the-century architectural impulse has been captured in time by the Victorian buildings lining Markham Street. These brick facades have borne witness to the site’s evolving configuration, guided in large part by Ed Mirvish.
The original Honest Ed’s store was a modest business venture, occupying a single house on the corner of Markham and Bloor Streets. Made famous by marketing stunts, including turkey giveaways at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and its larger-than-life helmsman, it soon became evident that expansion was economically feasible. Accordingly, Mirvish began acquiring properties adjacent to the store, as well as the majority of houses on Markham Street and the west side of Bathurst. Later, at the behest of his wife Anne, Mirvish converted the houses on Markham into commercial spaces, prompting the emergence of one of Toronto’s most important art enclaves.
Bloor facing west, Honest ed’s on left side of photo
In the 1960’s, Markham Street transformed from an ordinary residential street into a unique art colony, its streets enlivened with the busy hum of art connoisseurs perusing artisanal goods, art, clothes and comic books. Perhaps it seems natural that Markham morphed into a unique urban destination, given the continued dialogue it held with the neighbouring Honest Ed’s; a kooky establishment known for carnivalesque signage and celebratory events. Against this cultural backdrop, Honest Ed’s continued to expand, until 1983 when its eastern creep met the intersection of Bloor and Bathurst, its animated façade contributing to the din of city life.
Some thirty years later, its façade replaced with something resembling the love child of the Las Vegas strip and Hollywood, Honest Ed’s was quietly put on the market. In 2013, Honest Ed’s was sold to Westbank, a developer out of Vancouver, Canada. Considered by some to be the end of an era, the sale signaled the next moment of transformation in Mirvish Village. With this comes the loss of the familiar—that which once felt as commonplace as it did immutable. However, where other urban histories have been culled in favour of out-of-context developments, the Mirvish Village redevelopment will be largely informed by the historical, cultural and social context that has defined the neighbourhood for nearly a century. In this way, we should all work to retain the spirit of Honest Ed’s, even though its structure will leave this earthly realm.
Clothing for sale on Markham Street
Toronto has been changing rapidly recently, and Honest Ed’s is caught up in this transformation. But this city has always been changing, and that’s what makes it a desirable place to live and work. Importantly, the change that will be witnessed on the Honest Ed’s site is strongly informed by the past. Bloor and Bathurst will remain a unique part of the city, as it always has been. This is in part because of the extent of public consultation that has informed the principles for this redevelopment. The next blog in this series explores these consultations, and how they have led to a wholly new process of urban development.
A budding urban planner, Corey Bialek is entering into his second year of the Master of Science in Planning program at the University of Toronto. His primary interest is located at the intersection of urban design and social policy, tapping into his passion for design that is equal parts aesthetically pleasing and socially equitable.
In an effort to achieve full disclosure, Corey works for both OpenCity Projects and Brook Pooni, the planning firm responsible for conducting public consultation and outreach for the Honest Ed’s redevelopment.