A series of photographs generously shared with me by Mr. Jim Hughes served as an inspiration for researching and writing the history of the Ben Jungle. Mr. Hughes grew up in the neighbourhood during the sixties and attended Bendale Public School. His father, William P. Hughes, an employee of the T. Eaton Company Limited, meticulously documented the early development of the neighbourhood and his work is reproduced here with the permission of his son. Jim also very kindly and patiently answered all of my questions regarding the early days of the neighbourhood. His wealth of knowledge allowed me to gather a vast amount of information that is not possible to locate by solely relying on archival sources.
A residential community of split-level homes in southern part of Scarborough, the “Ben Jungle” is a subdivision developed between 1955 and 1956. It was originally named Bendale Park by Price-Bilt Homes Limited, but its mid-century name has been entirely forgotten, aside from the name of the nearby park. V.V. De Marco Properties Limited was the other developer of the neighbourhood.
As early as 1960, it was rechristened as the Ben Jungle: finding one’s way around a neighbourhood where every street starts with the name “Ben” can be challenging to couriers, emergency responders, pedestrians, drivers, or any other outsider.
The subdivision is bounded by the Gatineau Hydro Corridor to the north, McCowan Road to the west, Lawrence Avenue Road to the south, and Bellamy Road to the east. Like nearby Hunter’s Glen, is situated within the historic village of Bendale.
And, like other neighbouring communities in the area, the mid-century modern architecture of the Jungle is indicative of the aspirations and social values of the first generation of the middle-class families who chose the Park to be their home in the mid-fifties. The financing provided under the National Housing Act to construct the subdivision and control the price of the houses that line its streets was one of the factors that made their dreams of home ownership possible.
“10,000 People… Visited Last Week-End!”
It is not widely known that the prominent architect and town planner, Eugene G. Faludi, was responsible for the designing the layout of Bendale Park. Faludi (who in 1943 prepared the regional municipal plan associated with the anticipated expansion of Toronto and its suburbs in the postwar period), also designed Thorncrest Village, an exclusive, upper middle-class planned community in southern Etobicoke.
Prominent advertising with impressive typography not only served to entice potential buyers, but also contributed to establishing a unique visual and social identity for the subdivision. Like the developers behind Midland Park, classified ads placed by the real estate firms in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail aimed to convince prospective homeowners that purchasing a home in Bendale Park would provide them with a sense of belonging in a community of neighbours with similar social status (and not simply with a property on an undeveloped piece of land in the middle of a semi-rural township).
A day before the official opening of Bendale Park, Price-Bilt Homes took out a full page advertisement in the Star, touting the advantages of purchasing a home in a “modern self-contained community,” planned to contain five hundred residences, which already had “everything for enjoyable living.” In reality, although the streets had already been laid out, the shape that the development would later take was for the time being confined to the promotional sign, placed in the vicinity of the model homes, to allow the potential homeowners to imagine the scale and the character of their future neighbourhood.
The most rudimentary infrastructure, such as paved roads, sewers, and curbs were still in the planning stages. The people who came to visit what would later become Bendale Park were greeted by a team of real estate agents who took them on tours of the model homes, set in the sprawling backdrop of open country landscape, which, until recently, had consisted of pastures, orchards, and farmer’s fields. Even as construction of the neighbourhood progressed in the next two years, the early view of the Ben Jungle appeared quite open and barren.
The developer possessed a keen understanding that offering community amenities, and not only houses on empty lots, were central to advertising a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle and creating a sense of a connected community of neighbours in the new subdivision. Thus, planned additions to the neighbourhood included schools, park, and a shopping plaza.
A map of the Park also showed the proximity of the neighbourhood to the nearby shopping centres, educational institutions, and churches, to illustrate that buying a home in the subdivision offered quiet surroundings and privacy, but also easy access to the essential services and necessities of life. The marketing strategy was an astounding success, as the developer claimed that ten thousand people came to visit Bendale Park during its opening weekend.
Although Bendale Park closely resembled other developments in the township of Scarborough (and other communities on the fringe of the urban core), the striking, half-page graphics of the newspapers ads and the promotional signs were designed to differentiate the neighbourhood from the swaths of the tract housing that were engulfing (and even entirely replacing) the former rural outposts and villages within the driving distance of Toronto.
Model Homes: From Pasadena to Catalina
The floodlit model homes were constructed on Lawrence Avenue East, west of Bellamy Road and were first presented for inspection on Saturday, May 14, 1955. They were also on display at the 1956 National Home Show. Prospective homeowners were able to select from a variety of models and home plans, ranging from the smallest, the Pasadena, Santa Barbara, and Santa Anita and to the largest, the Catalina. All models were “delightfully designed split-level homes,” which were “well planned examples of fine workmanship and of solid brick construction.” The designs were inspired by the mid-1950s domestic style of architecture from California. Some of the other models were later renamed Bendale, Galbraith, and Dorset.
Most of the newspaper ads featured the most affordable model, the Pasadena, and the most expensive one, the Catalina, representing the price range of the houses in the neighbourhood, and these were the most popular designs among the home buyers. William Allan Real Estate Limited claimed in the ads published in the Star that over one hundred houses were sold within a three-week period their debut on holiday weekend, most of which were the Pasadena and the Catalina models.
The majority of the houses in the neighbourhood are generally small, as they were moderately priced, with most interiors consisting of three bedroom (or six separate spaces in total), lacking fancy finishing and fixtures associated with the construction of wealthier family residences in other suburban subdivisions around Toronto. However, the Ben-Jungle homes represent the expressive mid-century modern design that reflects the domestic comforts of a common Canadian middle-class family in the postwar period.
All models were split-level and featured prominent picture windows on the front façade, which was built of stone. The kitchens were equipped with Arborite (laminate) countertops and linotile floors, and the bathrooms had colourful tiles and fixtures.
The keys to a Pasadena could be secured with a minimum down payment of $1,578. The total purchase price was $11,950 and the monthly mortgage cost was $60, with a 5% annual interest. The model had an L-shaped living and dining room and iron railing.
The half-basement was unfinished and a garage was not included to keep the price of the house low, but each lot, measuring a thirty-foot frontage, could accommodate either an addition of a carport, breezeway or a garage. Depending on the model, the buyers were provided with the option to add specific decorative finishing to the interior of the home and additional landscaping features if the desired, but this increased the purchase price. The buyers of the Pasadena model were able to add a carport on the side of the house over the driveway and ceramic tiles around the bathtub.
A real estate ad published in the Toronto Daily Star on January 17th, 1956, describes the Pasadena with a dramatic flair:
“A most original and unusually attractive design such as this is not usually found in the low price field. The split level effect is emphasized in the living room by being overlooked by a landing or a balcony with a wrought iron railing.
[T]his together with the high ceilings gives a most fascinating atmosphere to the room. The kitchen–breakfast room is a woman’s dream with its huge windows spacious cupboards.
On the upper level there are 3 bedrooms and 4-piece bathroom, hot water heater, sodding to curb, gravel drive. Gravel roads and curbs installed now for easy access to the houses.”
The Catalina, a typical ranch-style split-level design ultimately defined the character of the Jungle, and its picture-window and pitched-roof fronts dominate the streets in the neighbourhood (an intact example is the residence at 34 Benary Crescent). The minimum down payment was $2,325 and the total purchase price was $12,500.
The original model that was constructed for inspection by the future homeowners was furnished by Madeline Bell, an interior decorator at Simpsons, an upscale Canadian department store, which opened a location nearby at the Cedarbrae Plaza in 1962.
Mrs. Bell’s design incorporated “up-to-minute decor, the beautiful use of cheerful colors, and the clever, space-saving arrangements of modern furnishing.” As the most expensive option for home ownership in the Jungle, it featured a wood-burning fireplace, made of cut stone, in the living room, which had high sloping ceilings. Many of the Catalina-style houses that were constructed include carports (an example can be seen at 4 Ben Doran Boulevard).
In the early stages of the development of the neighbourhood (by late October 1955), the sidewalks, curbs, and roads were already paved, so there was “no mud here” (as the William Allan real estate agents boasted), but the homeowners were responsible for finishing their driveways (which were covered in gravel). Sewers were already “in and paid for,” but the real estate ads make no mention of any greenery, including grass or trees. The front yards were sodded to the curb.
Bendale Shopping Centre, constructed in 1959 or 1960, served the residents of the nearby neighbourhood. It still stands between 3258 and 3280 Lawrence Avenue East. Although it has considerably changed in the last several decades, the venerable Bendale Restaurant (originally named Cedar Brae) continues to operate to this day. The businesses that were located in the plaza during the fifties and the sixties included Rexall Drug Store (originally Bendale, with medical offices on the upper floors), a barber shop (named Willy’s), a beauty salon, a grocery store (IGA), and a variety store (Ken’s Smoke and Gift Shop), with the restaurant at the end of the plaza.
Bendale: About Place is an online exhibition comprised of photographs, first-person narratives, and essays about the history of the village from 1798 to the early twenty-first century. A substantial part of the website is devoted to information on the early experiences of the residents who settled in the newly developed suburban neighbourhoods in the former village.
Archival maps of the neighbourhood and its vicinity can be accessed from the University of Toronto Map and Data Library, while aerial photographs are available from the City of Toronto Archives.
Classified ads placed by the developer and real estate firms which promoted houses for sale in the subdivision can be accessed from from Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive and Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive (both resources can be accessed with your library card).
“10,000 Visited Bendale Park Last Week-End!” The Globe and Mail, 21 May 1955, p. 28.
Bélec, John. “Underwriting Suburbanization: The National Housing Act and the Canadian City.” The Canadian Geographer, 2015, vol. 59, issue 3, pp. 341–353.
“Bendale Park.” Toronto Daily Star, 4 Nov. 1955, p. 14.
“Bendale Park.” Toronto Daily Star, 17 Jan. 1956, p. 35.
“Bendale Park: Floodlit Model Homes.” Toronto Daily Star, 28 Oct. 1955, p. 40.
“Bendale Park: Officially Open!” The Globe and Mail, 14 May 1955, p. 7.
“Open for Inspection: Bendale Park.” Toronto Daily Star, 3 Sept. 1955, p. 29.
“Own a Home in Toronto’s Newest Development: Bendale Park.” Toronto Daily Star, 11 June 1955, p. 5.
Rolph Clark Stone Ltd. Map of Metropolitan Toronto. 1955. University of Toronto Map and Data Library, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. mdlcollections.library.utoronto.ca/islandora/object/mdl%3AG3524_T6_36_1955. Accessed 10 October 2021.
Scarborough Historical Museum. “Muddy Scarborough. Typical New Subdivision under Construction.” Bendale: About Place. Virtual Museum of Canada, communitystories.ca/v1/pm_v2.phpid=record_detail&fl=0&lg=English&ex
=00000654&hs=0&rd=152442#. Accessed 10 October 2021.
“See 1956 Homes at Home Show, Booth 550.” Toronto Daily Star, 6 Apr. 1956, p. 43.