My Flemingdon Park: Plaza Timeline
In 1961, construction of the plaza at 747 Don Mills Road lagged behind families moving into nearby rental units. To meet their shopping needs, pioneering residents either hiked to Thorncliffe Market Place or boarded a little yellow school bus on the hour stationed outside 4 Vendome Place for a drive to Don Mills Plaza. With an intriguing architectural history, Flemingdon Park Plaza – a community hub and de facto town square – kicked off in dramatic fashion.
It was mild for the end of February, roads sloppy and wet. Seated in a blue, late-model rental car with stolen Quebec plates, Charles Poliquin nervously tapped the steering wheel, eyeing the bank at the corner of the plaza across the parking lot. Money problems hounded the 37-year-old dental supply salesman. A collection agency threatened to repossess his chesterfield and television. Rent on the family’s Thorncliffe Park apartment was past due. The electricity would soon be cut. Married with two school-aged sons, Poliquin was drowning in debt.
The 1959 master plan for Flemingdon Park imagined by Webb & Knapp called for constructing a primary and a secondary shopping centre in the neighbourhood. The primary marketplace would be located on an eight-acre plot north of the hydrofield fronting Don Mills Road. In addition to a national chain supermarket, bank, and post office, sketches called for the inclusion of bowling alleys, restaurants, theatre and private clubs. A second floor would house professional offices.
The smaller plaza to be built on the plateau above Gateway School included a drug store, a tobacconist, a stationery shop, and a delicatessen never materialized.
Webb & Knapp hired renowned American architectural firm John Graham Associates to design the plaza constructed of stone and cedar with a Swiss-style battened roof to blend with the surrounding parkland. The first phase was completed in 1962. Flemingdon Park Shell Centre at 751 Don Mills Road opened the same year.
In addition to the plaza, architect John Graham Jr. designed Yorkdale Shopping Centre and Seattle’s Space Needle, completed for the 1962 World’s Fair hosted by that city.
The Bank of Nova Scotia branch at the northeast corner was among the first plaza occupants, greeting customers in early February 1962. Soon after, Charles Poliquin placed a pink bandage across the bridge of his nose, pulled nylons over his head and shoved two shells into the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun. He entered the bank with the weapon concealed under his coat and exclaimed, “This is a holdup.”
In addition to the bank branch, some original retailers included Dominion, Flemingdon Restaurant, Mac’s Milk, a shoe repair, Curran’s Beauty Salon, Hi-Tone Dry Cleaners and Sam’s Barber Shop. Soon a pharmacy and coin laundry opened. The lower mall contained medical/dental offices and lawyers’ suites.
For a time, John Graham Jr. operated a satellite branch of his Seattle-based architectural firm in the lower mall. The space eventually housed a co-operative nursery school and The Church in the Park.
Bronx-born American ex-pat Alfred Krauss and his wife Geraldine opened Gerry’s Smoke & Gift in 1964*.
Fortunately, no customers were initially present during Poliquin’s noonday stickup. Luckier still for the desperado, technicians had yet to connect the silent alarm. Except for an instance when a customer entered the branch surprising Poliquin, the robber remained calm but forceful, instructing tellers, “On the ground or I’ll blow your heads off.” He provided the manager with a large paper grocery bag and ordered him to fill it with cash, and nobody would get hurt.
Webb & Knapp’s 1966 bankruptcy resulted in significant property losses for the developer in Flemingdon Park. British Commercial Property Investments (BCPI) purchased the plaza, becoming the new landlord.
BCPI possessed the property until 1970 when Alliance Building Corps assumed ownership. After almost a decade, the plaza showed its age. Shop owners and community organizers complained the landlord failed to maintain the property. Flemingdon Restaurant took issue with loitering teenagers.
Gerry’s Smoke & Gift changed hands. Asher and Raya Gliklich assumed ownership. Fire, possibly caused by faulty wiring, resulted in significant property damage to the store. Bouncing back from adversity, the Gliklichs hired from within the community, donated merchandise to numerous local causes and quietly provided lines of credit to customers struggling financially. A neighbourhood institution, the variety store muscled nearby Mac’s Milk out of business.
Alliance initiated an ambitious expansion plan, doubling the plaza’s footprint between 1975 and 1976. McDonald’s, Brewer’s Retailer, ShopRite, Bread Man, Direct Film, Becker’s, Kara Jewellers and J&R Family Fashions became some of the new local shopping destinations. The neighbourhood’s first public library began loaning books from a branch in the addition.
The J in J&R Family Fashions represented co-owner Judy Kowal; the R represented Gerry’s owner Raya Gliklich.
Next door to the bank, patrons lunching at the Flemingdon Restaurant knew something was up when police cars, sirens wailing, screeched to a stop outside. Officers leaped from squad cars with weapons drawn. Local streets were cordoned off. The robbery, executed in minutes by a calm and level-headed individual, led authorities to suspect they were looking for a pro.
The hunt for the robber, dubbed by the media as the Pink Bandage Bandit, was on.
Many shopkeepers and plaza employees resided in the neighbourhood. The Sarifs, proprietors of the successful family-owned Four Oceans Fish Market, lived in an apartment at 95 Leeward Glenway. Ramzanali Sarif, or Big Joe as he was affectionately known, and his wife Razia arrived in Toronto from South Africa in 1975 with three youngsters in tow. (The brood expanded by one a few years later.) A pillar of the community and an astute businessman, Big Joe’s simple business edict displayed in the store read as follows: Eat more fish; Fish gives brains; Brains make money; Money buys more fish. The family also operated an ice cream shop next door for a brief time. Relatives of the Sarifs operated a beauty salon in the lower mall. Today, daughter Salima has fond memories of the family business, “It really gave us a head start. It was definitely a positive experience.” The Sarifs sold Flemingdon Park’s only seafood market in 1979 to pursue other business interests. Salima visited the plaza a few years back and lamented, “It was unrecognizable.”
In six decades, the plaza has seen numerous changes. A 2010 addition introduced a popular Asian supermarket. Flemingdon Park Shell Centre was demolished in 2011 and replaced by Dongate Plaza and a Tim Hortons. Traces of the original stone and cedar façade were stuccoed-over in 2013. Dominion was replaced by a Food Basics than a Shoppers Drug Mart. Lantern of Knowledge Academy, a mosque and Islamic education centre, opened in 2020.
The bank branch held up by Charles Poliquin soon relocated to the Foresters Building on Don Mills Road. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce that replaced it eventually relocated in the plaza. The premises became a Dutch Master Donuts. Flemingdon Restaurant was rebranded as Acorns. An all-you-can-eat sushi buffet today occupies both spaces.
Four hours after the heist, Poliquin sat on the chesterfield in his apartment at 15 Thorncliffe Park Drive, watching Razzle Dazzle with his two boys and wife. An astute detective patrolling the building’s parking lot spotted the blue, late model car described by witnesses and noted a loose wire dangling where Poliquin had switched the stolen Quebec plate for the original Ontario plate. Backup arrived, and police swooped into Poliquin’s fifth-floor suite in dramatic fashion and made an arrest.
Detectives learned Poliquin had previously served time for armed robberies in Ohio and Quebec. The robbery netted roughly five thousand dollars. In the short time after the stickup, Poliquin put half the plunder toward clearing his debts. The remainder of the loot, plus the sawed-off shotgun, disguise, and Quebec plates, were discovered in a locker at Eglinton subway station.
The plaza is owned today by #95429 Ontario Ltd. After various changes in ownership, Gerry’s Smoke & Gift remains in business. Charles Poliquin was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He died in 1973.
*Accuracy of ownership timeline cannot be verified
Thank you Salima Balouchi for her contribution
Photographs courtesy Shawn Gliklich and City of Toronto Archives
Ed Brown lived in Flemingdon Park at 58 Grenoble Drive from 1969-1991