For this TOcityscape we’ll head to the west of the city and take a look at Islington Village and the beautiful, historic murals there. The Islington Village murals run along Dundas Street West from Islington Avenue to Kipling Avenue:

In 2004 the Islington Business Improvement Area (BIA) was charged with the responsibility of beautifying and enhancing this part of the city. Over the next few years BIA-appointed artists created many large-scale murals on the sides of the area’s buildings. These beautiful, vivid and detailed murals depict some of the history of the community; to date there are 26 murals covering over 25,000 square feet of public art.

Each of the murals has a descriptive panel mounted beside it, telling the particular history and details of the scene. I have transposed those descriptions to my shots below.

Golfing In Islington

This 7.3 by 7.0 metre mural depicts golf in the 1920s. The Islington Golf Club – designed by Stanley Thompson, one of the foremost golf course architects in North America at the time – is located just minutes from this site.

In the foreground of the mural, golfers dressed in late 1920s fashion enjoy their day on the green. The lead golfer is attempting to hit the ball away from the tree line at the western edge of the course where it landed after an overzealous tee off. The impatience of the group is shared by the small boy and the ball collector. The little boy has found distraction in a stray frog, and the ball collector – wearing upper body protective gear – is waiting for the group to play through so he may resume his duties.


Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto on October 15, 1954. In her wake most of the Islington Golf Course and low-lying areas near Mimico Creek were flooded. This mural shows a volunteer clean-up crew arriving at the scene as a member of the Islington Fire Brigade helps moor their boat. Behind them, members of the 48th Highlanders are clearing away the debris. Above, an army supply helicopter prepares to use the 9th fairway, then high ground, as a landing strip. Islington United Church, which became a makeshift supply depot for the whole region, is visible on the horizon (near top left).

The Manse Committee

This mural shows the interior of this Dundas Street West building as it might have appeared around 1888. At that time it was the manse, or minister’s residence, for Islington’s Wesleyan Methodist Church.

The scene is a light-hearted portrayal of “The Manse Committee” which advised the minister’s wife on décor and conducted periodic inspections to make sure the residence was kept acceptably clean. Reverend Richard Bowles, who later became the Chancellor of Victoria University, is shown having tea with the Committee Chair while his wife prepares food in the kitchen and Committee members conduct a white gloved inspection of the premises.

The mural depicts a typical late Victorian residence with furniture that would have been available in Toronto in the 1880s. The floor plan, construction methods and interior were designed according to building practices at the time.

The Faces Of Islington

This mural celebrates the ethnic and cultural character of Islington as it has changed over the last century. The faces and traditional design patterns of fabrics from all four continents travel along the timeline, telling the story of settlement in the area.

Beyond depicting the passage of history as grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren share the same space, notice the change in Islington from a predominantly Eurocentric community during the 1950s into the ethnically diverse neighbourhood it is today.

Faith Of Our Fathers, 2

This mural depicts the history of Islington United Church from its early Wesleyan Methodist days on Dundas Street West to the building of the church now located at 25 Burnhamthorpe Road.

As early as 1815 circuit riders, ministers on horseback, rode from hamlet to hamlet attending to the spiritual needs of roughly 30 rural communities. The first Methodist Church in the village was located at 4946 Dundas Street. When the congregation outgrew the building, it was sold to the Etobicoke Township. The Township added a red brick façade (shown above) and the building became the Municipal Offices and Police Station. Much altered, it is now the Fox and Fiddle, Precinct.

The circuit rider in the mural has the face of Dr. Stewart East who, along with other ministers as part of the dedication ceremony, rode up the steps of the new church at 25 Burnhampthorpe. This re-enactment created quite a spectacle.

Portraits From Our Past

Inspired by old area photos, Manitoba artist Sarah Collard has created a gallery effect on this 6 metre by 10 metre wall. The mural is actually four separate works, each depicting a “slice of life” from the village’s past. These include:

The Village Shoemaker
Mr. Nelson, as he appeared early in the 20th century.
Islington’s First Car
A 1917 Chevrolet owned by the Appleby family
Apple Packers
Bigham family orchards ca. 1917

Battersby’s March, 1813

On July 29, 1813, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Battersby was ordered to leave York (Toronto) with all the soldiers under his command to secure Burlington against an imminent American threat. Dispatched in a “march of extraordinary celerity” along Dundas Street, this force, consisting largely of Battersby’s own regiment, the Glengarry Light Infantry, arrived in time to dissuade the enemy from attacking this key position. However, this troop redeployment left York vulnerable, setting the stage for the second American raid on the town on July 31, 1813.

Briarly – Gone But Not Forgotten

Also known as the Gunn house, Briarly was built in the 1840s. Originally a frame Regency style cottage built just east of T. Montgomery’s Inn, it was redesigned in the 1850s to have an Italianate appearance. From 1970 until 1985, the home was owned by the Montgomery family and their descendants.

Although the heritage community lobbied to save the home from demolition, Briarly was demolished by developers in August 1989. Town houses now occupy the site at 4681 Dundas Street West.

This mural, by artist John Kuna was designed not only to illustrate a part of Islington’s history but also to convey a sense of comfort, peace, home and family. Rather than becoming a theme of mourning and end, it is instead conceived as an image of endurance and renewal.

The Pub With No Beer

This mural depicts a scene from the prohibition era (ca. 1928) with a pop truck rounding up empty bottles outside of the old Islington Hotel, which was once a local watering hole. At the time Burnhamthorpe Road was on the west side of the hotel and the hotel’s drive-shed stretched across what is now the intersection of Dundas Street West and Burnhamthorpe Road and Cordova Avenue.

Gordon’s Dairy, ca. 1940

The 3.3 x 7.3 metre mural depicts Gordon’s Dairy, a local landmark once located in this building. The original structure had a yellow-tile front, with a lunch counter and diary bar inside. In the 1940s, Gordon’s Dairy was a popular hang-out for area youth, and the dairy’s horse-drawn milk wagons were a familiar sight on Islington streets.

Ordinary Folk, Extraordinary Lives

This mural commemorates the original founding families of Islington who now rest in the Islington Burying Ground just east of this site, one of the oldest cemeteries in Toronto, dating from the 1840s. While the subject matter is somber, this mural has been infused with light reminiscent of both dusk and dawn to hint at life’s cycle. Six windows remind us of our human vulnerability to the passage of time.

The settler families are depicted in a formal and dignified way to suggest their important and permanent role in the community’s history. The few precious photos that exist of these original families have been incorporated into the mural design, including members of the Montgomery, Death, Shaver, East and Johnston families. Their faces are generally solemn because subjects were required to remain motionless during the early days of photography.

Each family’s headstone is placed to strengthen the composition of the figures and add to their appearance of dignity and gravity. Details of the old tombstones showcase the beauty of their carved emblems and inscriptions. Today, most of the original tombstones have been consolidated into brick friezes to preserve them.

Images of trees taken from the actual cemetery have been used to fill in the background. These have been blended seamlessly with the tombstone motifs as a reminder of growth and renewal, and to show that our past, with its inclusion of permanence, is only a moment in our continuously evolving story as a community.

Islington – The Way We Were, Part I

Looking east along Dundas Street from Cordova, this mural depicts Islington at the turn of the century. Collaged from images in the photo archives at Montgomery’s Inn and posted on, both the buildings and the people were real. The family shown at left was inspired by figures in a photo by famous Islington photographer, Walter Moorhouse. Hopkins’ store was located at 4906 Dundas. The old Wesleyan Methodist Church and manse – which were also seen in our first mural, “Faith of our Fathers” – were across the street.

Islington – The Way We Were, Part II

Designed as a companion piece for the mural on the opposite wall, this mural depicts Islington ca 1912. Together they form a unique historical diorama with the first one looking east and this one looking west along Dundas Street.

This mural shows the old Islington Hotel and drive shed as well as neighbouring shops then located on the north side of Dundas Street at Burnhamthorpe Road. The Islington Burying Grounds are seen in the distance and in the foreground workers are depicted preparing the road to be paved in the ongoing development of Islington as a thriving community.

In 1912 Burnhamthorpe Road was located west of its present location. As shown in the mural, it ran between the Islington Hotel and Clayton’s Butcher Shop. The hotel’s drive shed stretched across the current intersection which has now been reconfigured to connect Burnhamthorpe Road and Cordova Avenue.

Honouring Islington’s Volunteer Fire Brigade

This mural, by artist John Kuna, honours the men of the Islington Volunteer Fire Brigade whose hall was located in this block. Fighting fires, often at great personal risk, was their main purpose; but in the 1940s these men also served their community in a more light-hearted fashion. During the winter months they would dam Mimico Creek below T. Montgomery’s Inn to create a much used and loved skating rink.

Note how the winter mural’s design ingeniously incorporates a boarded window in the back of the building, using it as the serving window for the little hut from which volunteers played ‘dance’ music and dispensed hot chocolate and other refreshments.

Mimico Creek In Fall, ca. 1920

Mimico Creek was a key factor in attracting settlers to the Islington area, as was Dundas Street itself. Islington Avenue did not extend south of Dundas Street until around 1962. Before that time and before the Shell station was built on the north side of Dundas at Islington, artists gathered on the steps on T. Montgomery’s Inn to paint the glorious fall colours. In this mural we see Mimico Creek winding through the valley, framed by sumac, spruce and pine, with Montgomery’s Inn shown at right.

Ontario Gothic

Based on a photo of the Appleby family taken around 1900 in front of their farmhouse on the northwest corner of Dundas St. West and Islington Avenue, this mural is intended as a parody of Grant Wood’s iconic 1930s painting entitled “American Gothic”. A little known fact about that work is that the couple shown were not husband and wife. The same is true of the couple here; the man is William Appleby shown with his sister Mabel. The Appleby’s farmhouse was built in an Ontario Gothic style with fine gingerbread trim.

Timeline, Islington Then and Now

This mural depicts Dundas Street at three stages in Islington’s history. The shops on the right are currently located in this block. The cars in the centre are from the 1950s. The buildings at left are from the early 1900s.

At that time, flowering catalpa trees graced the south side of Dundas Street stretching from Mimico Creek to Cordova Avenue. They had been planted by Mr. J.D. Evans and lent a quaint yet exotic feel to the village.

Dunn’s Store was located on the north east corner of Dundas Street at Burnhamthorpe Crescent. The store sold dry goods, groceries and hardware. It was also Islington’s Post Office. That site was later home to Old Mill Donuts and is now the Second Cup.

Harold G. Shipp’s ‘First High Flier!’

In May of 1944 an eighteen-year-old Etobicoke High School student named Harold G. Shipp convinced a pilot, who ferried Lancaster bombers from Toronto to England during the war, to fly over the school’s football field and drop cards which could be redeemed for prizes. The stunt was to raise money for bleachers, but it went awry when a wind came up scattering the cards across the Chinese market gardens near Montgomery’s Inn.

The scene at right shows a football game in heated progress while the massive Lancaster bomber makes its daring low pass over the field, trailing a stream of promotional cards behind it. The scene at left depicts the unsuspecting farmer looking up in disbelief at the shower of colourful paper descending upon his field.

Imagine the impending disaster as 600 excited football fans converge on the field to collect their prize cards, trampling the carefully tended cabbages in the process. Mr. Shipp later became a successful Toronto developer. He still has a flair for promotion.


A satellite branch of the Royal Conservatory of Music was located in this building from the 1950s through the 1980s. This mural honours that history showing the RCM’s most celebrated former student Glenn Gould, circa 1947, with his childhood teacher Antonio Alberto Garcia Guerrero. In the bottom left corner is a copy of a manuscript by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Together these elements allude to the passing on of musical tradition and how humble yet prodigious beginnings may be nurtured to great heights, as illustrated by a current audience in the conservatory’s celebrated new concert venue, Koerner Hall.

Riding The Radials

From 1917 to 1931 the old Guelph Radial Line, that ran behind this site, linked communities from Lambton Mills to Guelph. Forerunners of today’s electric streetcars, radial trains were so named because they “radiated” from the city centre outwards to neighbouring towns and villages. Long before the construction of provincial highways, radial lines were part of a transportation network that facilitated the integration of communities such as Islington into what is now the Greater Toronto Region.

To evoke feelings of nostalgia, artist John Kuna used a painterly style recalling old coloured postcards and turn of the century paintings. Note how the radial masts are painted so as to form part of the adjacent building to convey a sense that the train is presently docked at station before carrying passengers onwards to their destination.

Toboggan Hill

This mural continues the theme of children at play, first introduced in the Riding The Radials mural at 5110 Dundas Street West. Both are set in the 1920s. This one shows children tobogganing on the hill behind Montgomery’s Inn in fresh snowfall. In the foreground a group of children are depicted on a “tandem” sleigh which was custom built for the Appleby family. The image is borrowed from a photo in the Islington archives at Montgomery’s Inn, our community’s living history museum.

The Old Swimming Hole

This is an artist’s conception of the old swimming hole once located on Willow Dale Farm and a fanciful look at the swimwear of earlier times. The 6.5 m x 8.5 m mural was inspired by Mary Appleby’s note in Villages of Etobicoke, describing the remains of a mill pond which became a favourite swimming hole for generations of young Islington residents. The mill pond was below what was once a functioning sawmill on Mimico Creek, likely near the little parkette at Burnhamthorpe Road and Burnhamthorpe Park Boulevard, on property now owned by Islington Golf Club.

Although there are no known photos of the sawmill, historical interpreters suggest it would have been a wooden structure no more than two stories tall and powered by a water wheel. The swimwear featured in the mural came from actual European swimwear designs from no later than the 1920s.

If you would like to see a map of these Islington Village murals along with further descriptions, click here.