York Mills Neighbourhood Profile
An upscale area with large, leafy properties and ornately decorated homes
By Elysse Zarek, revised by Sarah Bleiwas
Developed and built from the 1920s to 1960s, the York Mills neighbourhood is a residential area bounded by Highway 401 to the north, Leslie St. to the east, the curving West Don River to the south and Yonge St. to the west. The “York” in York Mills harkens back to the time when this neighbourhood belonged to the Town of York, and “Mills” refers to the saw mills that stood in this area as late as 1926.
Today, York Mills is one of the more affluent neighbourhoods in the city. Houses in this neighbourhood can be as old as 1920s-era buildings, although the majority weren’t constructed until the 1950s and later. Parts of York Mills are quite exclusive, filled with large Tudor style homes and majestic trees, and home to many important and influential people. Several historical buildings, including a red-brick cottage built in the 1830s that was the house and studio of famed Canadian artist C.W. Jeffreys, are located in these areas.
Other sections of York Mills are more affordable and family-oriented, particularly around Wanless Park, "the social and recreational hub of the community" (Dunkelman). Housing in these areas is predominantly brick detached houses and bungalows, however, luxury condominums, high rise apartments and townhouses can be found scattered throughout.
In this well-established area, it’s not the institutions but the residents themselves who make the area Jewish. According to Statistics Canada, Jewish is the top ethnic group in this neighbourhood, followed by Canadian, English, Chinese and Scottish.
Within the York area, the streets near the Bridle Path and Post Rd. – informally nicknamed “Millionaire’s Row” – make up an exclusive neighbourhood with multi-million dollar homes and property spanning up to six acres. It’s not unusual for estates to have luxuries like pools, private waterfalls, tennis courts, gazebos and greenhouses.
York Mills by numbers
28,089: neighbourhood population
7,015: number of Jews
25: % of Jewish residents
185: Russian-speaking households
5: Jewish organizations in York Mills
$1.2 million: median price for a single detached home
$2,500: average rent for a two-bedroom apartment
population figures - 2001 Canada Census
Many years ago, the community demographers predicted that the Jewish population along Bayview and Leslie Aves. would flourish, but the predictions didn’t work out. While there are somewhat sizeable Jewish populations in certain pockets along Bayview Ave., many of these populations are shrinking. About 7,015 Jews now reside in the York Mills neighbourhood out of a general population of just over 28,000.
The largest group of York Mills residents falls into the middle age category, between the ages of 45 and 64 with children between the ages of 15 and 24. Many of the residents have been living in the area for more than 25 years, when the York Mills area was an affordable city suburb. Now, the area is known as a professional high-income enclave of Toronto. More than 60 per cent of adult residents have a university education (compared to about 36 per cent in the city).
York Mills is a mostly residential area, known more for its sprawling houses and winding streets than its Jewish community institutions. Many of the residents commute to shuls in other areas.
Temple Emanu-El, a Reform congregation in a ravine setting, has a Hebrew and religious school with approximately 350 students and adult education programs on weeknights. The temple also boasts a biblical garden in the courtyard with trees that are representative of the foliage found in the Torah, including an apple tree and a flowering almond tree.
Kehillat Shaarei Torah is a modern Orthodox synagogue situated on Bayview Ave. and prides itself for its “off Bathurst St.” location. The congregation was founded by a small group of mostly South African Jews and has been at its current location since 1987. The synagogue provides a broad range of programs (including bar/bat mitzvah), holds Shabbat, holiday and daily minyans, and is 'small and intimate enough to make each individuals's contribution count.'
Chabad Lubavitch offers a wide variety of social, religious and educational activities in the midst of the neighborhood through Chabad of York Mills.
There is one Jewish day school close enough to York Mills to be considered an easy drive. Robbins Hebrew Academy Bayview campus is located on Bayview Ave. south of Sheppard Ave. Otherwise, parents who send their kids to other Jewish schools make the shlep over to Bathurst St. in rush hour – a trek that can take more than half an hour each way.
“During the year I’m living in my car,” says Sheryl, who sends two of her children to Leo Baeck Day School in Thornhill-Vaughan.
For those looking for a supplementary Jewish education, Oraynu Children's School is located in the north part of York Mills. Oraynu provides a unique experience, with its focus on Jewish heritage from a secular, humanistic perspective. Ahavat Yisrael Hebrew School also holds supplementary Hebrew classes at the local secondary school in York Mills.
Shops and Services
There are a number of grocery stores in the neighbourhood, including a Longo’s at Leslie and York Mills and a Metro Supermarket at York Mills Rd. and Bayview Ave. It’s possible to buy challah and kosher meat in the York Mills area, but some people, like resident Terri W., prefer to drive over to Bathurst St. to get it fresh.
For more general shopping needs, there is a popular outdoor plaza with a large drug store (among other things) and two shopping centres close by. Upscale shops and novelty stores can also be found on Bayview and Mount Pleasant Aves., just south of the York Mills neighbourhood.
The Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is located on the fringe of this area. The prestigious hospital is the province’s regional trauma centre and specializes in treating head and spinal injuries, cardiac disease and cancer. It is also a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto.
There are several movie theatres not far from the neighbourhood, including Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. and Yonge St. and Sheppard Ave. And because the highway is so close, it’s easy to drive to a farther cinema and be there in minutes.
For athletics and outdoor fun, there are numerous community centres and parks scattered throughout York Mills, making recreational facilities easily accessible. One can find indoor gyms, swimming pools, tennis courts, wading pools, golf courses and public libraries.
Edwards Gardens on Lawrence Ave. is a local park that has several flower gardens, a waterfall, and bike and rollerblade paths. The park is a popular location for picnic lunches and wedding pictures.
York Mills is well-situated near two major highways – the 401 and the Don Valley Parkway. From York Mills, it takes 15 minutes to travel downtown via the Don Valley, 15 minutes to Richmond Hill and 15 minutes to cross the city. Drivers can also travel downtown in approximately twenty minutes by taking smaller roads.
The Toronto subway line is easy to access from York Mills. Depending on exactly where you are located, residents can either walk to a subway station (both York Mills and Lawrence stations are located in the neighbourhood) or hop on the bus for a short trip. Bus lines along Yonge Street run frequently at all hours of the day.
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