Thornhill-Markham Neighbourhood Profile
The area used to be a farm, and remnants of its history are still visible today
By Elysse Zarek, revised by Sarah Bleiwas
Thornhill, which begins at Steeles Avenue, is the area directly north of Toronto. It straddles two municipalities within the larger York Region – Vaughan and Markham – with Yonge Street forming the dividing line between them. Vaughan and Markham each administer their halves of Thornhill independently, so in this article, both Thornhills are hyphenated with their municipalities to avoid confusion.
Founded in 1791, the old Township of Markham was home to a clan of German settlers from New York State and French nobility who had fled the French Revolution. Municipal government didn’t come to Markham until 1871. Starting in 1945, rapid urbanization transformed the township from a sleepy rural village to a suburb of Toronto. Elements of Markham’s history are still visible in some parts of the neighbourhood, from the rectangular-shaped subdivisions with towering trees along the borders – once the dividing line for farm properties – to the old English signs and spellings in the shops along Yonge St.
Today, the Town of Markham is the "High Tech Capital of Canada,' making it a prime location for business.
Thornhill-Markham is a mix of different housing styles. Some areas of the neighbourhood are modeled after Markham’s old farms, with wide farmhouse-style residences, backyard ponds and lush foliage. In other areas, houses are brown-and-beige developer homes. The lawns in Markham are impeccably manicured and basketball hoops grace the roofs of garages. Minivans and sport utility vehicles are the cars of choice in this quiet corner of suburbia.
Thornhill-Markham by the numbers
46,772: neighbourhood population*
10,131: number of Jews**
1,731: number of Jewish seniors**
200: Hebrew-speaking households*
135: Russian-speaking households*
$532,000: median price for a single detached home
$1,025: average rent for a two-bedroom apartment
* 2001 Canada Census
** UIA Canada's National Task Force of Jewish Demographics, 2009
Several decades ago, as the Jewish community expanded northwards, community planners anticipated a growth of Jewish life along Bayview Ave. and Leslie St. It seemed logical at the time: the Jewish community was successful on Bathurst St. and was looking to expand to the east. And so schools and synagogues were built: Beth Tikvah Synagogue, United Synagogue Day School (Robbins Hebrews Academy) and Temple Emanu-El on Bayview Ave., and Associated Hebrew School and a Jewish Community Centre on Leslie St. During the 1970s and 1980s, the schools and synagogues were full. However, the community didn’t stay.
This was a case where the demographers’ predictions didn’t work out. The high cost of real estate in the area, the lack of infrastructure between Bathurst St. and Leslie St. and various other factors led young Jewish families to settle and stay in the Bathurst corridor.
This isn’t to say that no Jews live in Markham. However, the Jewish families in Markham are older and more established, with children high-school age and older. The area’s Jewish population has declined by 22 per cent since 1991. During this time, many new immigrants moved to the area, contributing to the diversity found in the community today.
There are a number of local synagogues in Thornhill-Markham. Reform congregation Temple Har Zion is located on Bayview Ave. north of Steeles Ave. and boasts a membership of 600 families. The temple offers educational services for all: a Hebrew school, religious school, preschool, adult education program, and choir.
Conservative synagogue Shaar Shalom, at Don Mills Rd. and Steeles Ave., was also part of the Jewish building boom off Leslie St. Most of the 600 member families come from nearby areas in Markham or in Willowdale. In addition to daily, Shabbat and holidays services, Shaar Shalom has a supplementary Jewish school, a singles’ network, youth programs and adult education classes.
There is one Orthodox synagogue in the area – Chabad Lubavitch of Markham located on Green Lane. Chabad Lubavitch prides itself on being 'the most prominent Jewish program and service provider in Northeast Toronto.' The synagogue attracts a large South African population. Their location also holds a mikvah, and educational programs geared to young adults and youth, in addition to a popular nursery program for toddlers.
Other Thornhill-Markham residents attend the synagogues they grew up with, which means commuting to older Jewish neighbourhoods such as Bathurst Manor, Armour Heights and Forest Hill for services.
Although there is no Jewish high school in the neighbourhood, students commute to TanenbaumCHAT-Kimel Family Education Centre in Thornhill Woods for a Jewish education. Jenna Adler, a 2005 graduate, comments that "My Jewish identity really revolved around my education and involvement at CHAT, not so much the Thornhill community."
The public high schools in Thornhill-Markham also have a significant Jewish population.
Shops and Services
Most residents look to Sobey’s in neighbouring Thornhill-Vaughan for kosher food. However, Longo’s on Bayview Ave. stocks kosher prepackaged food. Food Basics at Thornhill Square Shopping Centre has a kosher section and a seasonal kosher-for-Passover section. Some local drugstores also have tiny kosher-for-Passover selections, where one can find matzah, matzah-ball mix and other last-minute shopping items.
Thornhill-Markham has many parks, ravines and open green spaces. During the summer, it’s not unusual to see people of all ages strolling along the sidewalk or biking down the roads or bike paths (one of which connects to the Don Valley River trail and can take riders right downtown). The area is also home to some of Canada's most highly rated golf courses and a public library, fitness centre and skating rink.
Because of Thornhill-Markham’s proximity to Highways 404 and 400, provincial campgrounds and cottage country on Lake Simcoe are easy and quick to access.
For entertainment, most people drive to other neighbourhoods. There are several movie theatres north at Yonge St. and Highway 7, and south on Yonge St. past Finch Ave.
"When I had access to my parent's car, we would go bowling, to the movies and out for dessert. When I didn't, one of my friend would," Adler describes.
Most residents travel by car because the distances are too far (and too cold in winter) to walk. Highways 7, 407 and 404 cut through Thornhill-Markham, making it easy to access other parts of the Greater Toronto Area and cottage country to the north. A drive downtown can take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic.
York Region Transit and the express VIVA bus service operate in Thornhill-Markham. By checking their website for route and schedule information, you can plan your trip to avoid long waits at bus stops.
YRT and VIVA offer discounted fares to and from GO Train stations, as well as continuous travel in any direction for a two-hour period with just one fare. York Region Transit accomodates students, offering specific bus routes to public schools and York University during the academic year.
Additionally, several bus routes in Thornhill-Markham connect to Finch Station which is the stop furthest north on the Toronto subway line. Connecting to the subway from a York Region Transit or Viva vehicle requires passengers to pay a double fare. Although Toronto buses operate on some of the main routes in Thornhill-Markham, whenever buses pass south of Steeles Avenue ( the border between Markham and Toronto), all passengers must pay bus fare again.
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