The history of the Donalda Farm, its property and the subsequent evolvement into one of Ontario's finest private Clubs has spanned over 180 years and is still ongoing. A part of the Don Mills community since its origin in the 1950's, the Donalda estate and its grounds have become a landmark in the lives of many past and present residents. As the original base of operations for Don Mills Developments Limited, the grand old home saw a community being born. When Don Mills Developments moved on, no one could bear the thought of ripping the home down. Instead a group of far-sighted men envisioned a beautiful country Club hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
James A. Daly, Kenneth Burn, Elliot Yarmon, James E. Kelley and W. Blake Dodds, Donalda Club's "Founding Executive", saw a place where families could play and socialize amidst the warmth and romance of the historic Donalda Farm.
Within these pages you will find the history of Donalda Club and how it has impacted the lives of so many before us with its beauty and charm. These are the stories of men and women who helped to establish Donalda and in a sense, Don Mills itself.
Our story begins with the arrival in Canada of the Gray brothers around 1816. Originally from Paisley, Scotland, James, Alexander, William, Joseph, Jason and John Gray drew grants of land on the east and west banks of the Don River. Between the six brothers, they accumulated over 1000 acres. James, the first to arrive in 1816, established a farm and log cabin on the west side of the Don River where St. Louis de France Roman Catholic Church now stands. Alexander arrived in 1820 and built a sawmill on the east bank of the Don, close to what would later become the Donalda Home. In 1828, the third brother William arrived and set up a grist mill on the west side of the river. The remains of that mill can be found housed in the big barn near the sixth tee. The grist mill was operated by water as the Don River at this time supplied power to 21 mills from its point of origin at King, south to Todmorden. The many mills scattered along the Don gave rise to the name "Don Mills". Circa 1840, the Gray brothers built two brick houses, which still stand by the sixth tee.
In 1916, 100 years later, David Alexander Dunlap, the wealthy Vice-President and Treasurer of Hollinger Mines Consolidated, bought 600 acres along the Don Valley. The property bordered by York Mills Road to the North and extending from Don Mills Road east to Victoria Park was comprised of the Gray farms and mills, as well as some of the Duncan farms. Dunlap longed to build a model farm on his newly acquired land, a farm that would be an example to others as well as a teaching tool. Equally enthralled by the land was Dunlap's wife, Jessie Donalda Dunlap. Jessie believed the property to be a "Vision of Beauty" and it took the couple only one night to decide that this piece of land was where they would build their dream farm.
David A. Dunlap was born in Pembroke, Ontario in 1863. He married Jessie Donalda Bell after graduating from Law School in Toronto. The two moved on to live in Mattawa, Ontario where Dunlap set up his law practice until he was called to the bar in 1885. In 1910, the couple moved to Toronto.
David Dunlap is best known for his involvement in the founding of the world's greatest silver mine, which made him a millionaire. He later became involved in the founding of the second greatest gold mine in the world. Dunlap chose the name "Donalda" for his farm to honour his wife, not because of the "Don River" or "Don Mills Road" as often presumed. Commercially it was known as "Don Alda Farms Ltd., R.R.#1, Todmorden, Ontario". Completed around 1921, the farm was comprised of more than 40 buildings. With rented acreage, the farm took in 1800 acres and employed some 30 workers. The farm did research into farm management, stock raising, dairying, husbandry and more. The Dunlaps won almost every agricultural contest they entered and were known to bathe their pigs in olive oil and toilet soap. Since the farm was only a country retreat and not a residence for the Dunlaps, the main home embodied a spirit of rest and recreation in both its furnishings and layout. Designed to cater to both the young and old, the farm included such activities as tennis, badminton, croquet, swimming, golf, canoeing and horseback riding. With a Spanish influence, the house was classically designed using wrought iron and doric columns.
In 1924, David Dunlap died, leaving behind his wife, son and beloved Donalda Farm. With an estate worth an estimated $5 million, Dunlap bequeathed a quarter of a million dollars each to several churches, hospitals and schools. His bequest to the Toronto General Hospital made possible the Dunlap Radiological Science Department on University Avenue. His wife later funded the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill. For 22 years following her husband's death, Jessie Donalda Dunlap continued to operate the farm with the support of her son, David Moffatt Dunlap and his wife, Margaret. Mrs. Dunlap died in 1946, leaving the farm to her son and his wife. When asked prior to her death which aspect of Donalda was closest to her heart, she replied, "I believe, that I think of it mostly as a philanthropy". Six years following her death, David Moffatt Dunlap sold the 600 plus acres to Don Mills Developments Ltd., thus starting a new era in the history of the Donalda home.
The land was acquired by ARGUS, a closed investment group which was working on behalf of several large corporations, including O'Keefe's Brewery. O'Keefe's was set to use the land to build a new brewery, but due to the Federal Government's ban on steel for non strategic uses during the Korean War, that plan was halted. E.P. Taylor, a member of the ARGUS group, soon developed a new plan for the newly purchased land. Macklin Hancock, a family friend and recent Harvard Graduate in Town Planning, proposed that the company should expand their land holdings, due to the expected growth of the Metropolitan Toronto area; and should build a community with schools, housing, industry and churches. Hancock set the wheels in motion for the future Don Mills. Don Mills Developments was created in 1954. With a high of 1000 homes a year, the new community was booming. At this time, the Donalda home came into use as the base of operations for Don Mills Developments. As construction came to a close, thoughts of the future for the grand old home emerged. One suggestion was to build a gentleman's club, something that did not exist outside the city at this time. However, the idea of demolishing the home was by far becoming the popular choice.
Founding Executive member, James A. Daly, is the man most recognized for his hard work and enthusiasm during the developmental phases of Donalda Club. He had been acquainted with E.P. Taylor through membership at the Toronto Club and was invited to the first of several cocktail parties held to garner interest in the possibility of a gentleman's Club. It was Daly who first had the idea of a family Club. He felt Taylor was heading in the wrong direction with a business man's club. Excited by the new concept, Taylor offered Daly and fellow "Founding Father" Ken Burn the option of purchasing the home and its land, if they could round up enough interest to make the Club viable. Jim Daly took immediate action and organized a meeting for February 12, 1959 at the Toronto Club. Twenty-five people turned out, most taking on various tasks to help hasten the development of the new Club. By the end of the evening, Jim Kelley, on behalf of Don Mills Developments Limited, contributed $10,000 to help the new committee get organized.
By April 10, 1959, 116 applications, at $300.00 each, had been received and $30,000 had been invested in Canada Savings Bonds. A brochure was printed by Jim Daly's office, Hugh C. Maclean Publications, explaining the ideals and concepts of the proposed Club. It talked of golf, tennis, curling, lawn bowling, swimming and horseback riding. Prospective members were assured should the Club not go ahead, they would receive their money back by the end of 1959. The Committee agreed that 600 applications would be the target. By May of that year, the number of incoming applications had dropped and the committee was asked to start reviewing their Christmas card lists in order to recruit possible members. The committee decided on two routes of action. One, a Garden Party would be held at the Donalda home on June 17, 1959 and secondly, they would begin to advertise for a manager to show their serious intent. The Committee also decided to apply for a Provincial Charter. A draft debenture, letters patent and option agreement was prepared. Once the Charter was obtained, Don Mills Developments agreed that work could begin on the golf course.
The Garden Party on June 17, 1959 attracted only 25 applications, but warranted the interest of many others who would later sign on for membership. When 300 applications were received, more positive action was taken. Preliminary plans for the golf course were completed, an architect was appointed and a By-law committee was organized. On September 28, the building of the first nine holes was approved. Also around this time, L. Osborne was hired as manager of the Club, later to be replaced by Michael J. Quaid before the opening of Donalda. A short time later construction began on the tennis courts.
On December 2, the option with Don Mills Developments was exercised. The terms included a purchase price of $180,000 for the Donalda home and its twelve plus acres of "tableland" and 86 acres of valleyland for the golf course, later expanded to 117 acres, to be leased for 99 years at an annual rental of $3,000 with an option to purchase for $50,000. Three months later, renovations to the Donalda home began. It was decided that the architects would try to preserve as much of the original house as possible. Despite a few problems and a limited budget, the architects did an excellent job maintaining the romance and charm of the Dunlap's country retreat. Architect James A. Murray believes that it is due to the original Board of Directors and their solid direction that the Club turned out as a first class family facility. On November 26, 1960, Donalda Club opened its doors. Although the first nine holes of the golf course did not open until May 27, 1961, members enjoyed many of Donalda's other wonderful offerings. Unfortunately, a fire broke out in the upper kitchen on December 18, 1960, causing smoke and water contamination. However, the Club was soon back up and running at full steam.
It's been over 40 years since the opening of Donalda Club and not much has changed. Donalda still prides itself in being both a family Club and a part of the Don Mills community. The spirit of the past prevails inside with much of the Dunlap home remaining untouched by the years. Members, management and residents of the area look to Donalda as both a sign of the riches of the past and a constant in the future. In a time when family and community are facing many pressures Don Mills and the Donalda estate bring both of these elements together, making residents proud to call Don Mills and Donalda home.