Canadian Fashion Connection – Yorkdale Mall

Model in at home jumpsuit, c. 1964/65

A few years ago I acquired a collection of photographs taken by Martin Schaeffer, a Toronto photographer, of fashions being modeled at the newly opened Yorkdale mall. So I was delighted to recently discover an interesting article about the history of Yorkdale Shopping Centre, especially because it was 48 years ago this week, on February 26, 1964, that Yorkdale had its grand opening.

Model in summer dress and kerchief, c. 1964/65

Yorkdale was briefly the largest indoor shopping mall in the world. With Simpsons on the west end and Eaton’s on the east, shoppers could stroll the indoor street-scape between the two anchoring department stores, where it was never too hot or cold, and it never rained or snowed. In 1964 the enclosed shopping mall was still a new concept, although there were plenty of strip plazas located on the perimeters of suburbia – otherwise suburbanites still tended to shop downtown.

Model in coat and hat, c. 1964-65

The plan for the Yorkdale Shopping Centre was announced in 1958, to be located on Dufferin street near where Metro Toronto would soon be locating several expressway interchanges on and off a newly expanded highway 401. The postwar world was an automobile culture, and a mall adjacent to a highway with ample parking was a good thing.

Simpson’s court area, c. 1965

The architect for the mall and Eaton’s store was John Graham, a Yale educated Seattle architect who had already been involved with building over 70 malls in the world; John B. Parkin Associates was hired to design the Simpsons store.

View of the Eaton’s plaza area, c. 1965

The interior space was bright and airy with wide aisles, high ceilings and natural light pouring in from windows above the storefronts. There were large plazas at the Simpsons and Eaton’s interior entrances with dramatic columns, vaulted ceilings, indoor trees, impressive modernist sculptures, and second floor restaurants with views onto fountains and reflecting pools. This was where the fashion shows, car shows, and events took place over the years. Unfortunately, in a redevelopment of the mall in 2005, most of these elegant features  were removed, and turned into retail space.

Although the exteriors of the Eaton’s and Simpson’s stores had architectural interest, architectural criticism was generally unkind, and I can’t say I was overly fond of the mall myself, but when they started altering the original interior features it was then that I realized I would miss its ‘Mad Men’ mid-century modernism.

Addendum November 22/2012: Yorkdale announced its full reopening after several years of updates – view the new look here

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian. He was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. He has amassed a collection of nearly 8,000 items dating from the mid 17th century to the present, and has written various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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