What do you and a Torontonian from nearly one hundred years ago have in common? You’re both strolling down Mount Pleasant Road, enjoying the shops, architecture, and sense of community.
Mount Pleasant Road as we now know it started out as a solution to a problem. In 1912, North Toronto was annexed by the City of Toronto. At that time, smaller avenues and crescents were stitched together and renamed Mount Pleasant Road. Though North Toronto and Davisville area were growing and thriving, the area felt distinctly separate from the rest of the city it was now formally a part of. The blame fell on Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The 205 acre green space made it difficult to get downtown, and also prevented Torontonians from venturing further north. In 1915 Mount Pleasant Road was extended, neatly slicing the cemetery down the middle. By 1922 a bus route ran up to Eglinton, bringing commuters and their spending money up to North Toronto. As a result, businesses began popping up on Mount Pleasant Road. The bus route was so successful it was replaced with a streetcar in 1925.
From there, Mount Pleasant Village continued to grow. The majority of the buildings you see lining the main street were built in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. These two-storey shops with apartments above are typical of the interwar period. The generous front windows were packed with goods to draw in shoppers. Grocers, clothing stores, and restaurants lined both sides of Mount Pleasant Road and quickly became a premier shopping destination in the city.
Mount Pleasant in the 1930’s was bustling. Though the Great Depression saw many Torontonians unemployed, it also caused the price of goods to fall. Dollars stretched further which kept the main street busy with shoppers. Owners of large houses on adjacent streets rented out cheap rooms, attracting more people to North Toronto. Two theatres, The Belsize and The Hudson, showed films throughout the day and into the night which provided some much-needed escapism. Wandering up and down Mount Pleasant offered a welcome distraction from the realities of daily life.
Though the shops have changed and streetcars no longer trundle up and down this road, many things in Mount Pleasant Village remain the same. The original 1930’s buildings are a rare treat in a city where built heritage can be hard to come by. Streetcar poles still grace Mount Pleasant around Soudan, giving a glimpse into a not-so-distant past. Your experience of the main street is very similar to that of Torontonians nearly a century ago. You can grab lunch, do your groceries, buy a new outfit, and when the Regent (formerly the Belsize) reopens, you’ll be able to see a show. Who knew shopping could be a form of historical reenactment?