1987: Beachers fight change to community

In 1987 Beachers were besieged by change. The  main topic in this newspaper was the rapid transformation underway in the  area especially on Queen Street.

Symbolic of the angst and arbitrary changes was the chopping down of a 75- year-old maple on the front lawn of 1977 Queen (on the south side just west of Kew Gardens). More than 500 people signed a petition to save it and some lashed themselves to its trunk when the chainsaws arrived. The police were called and the workers left, but the maple, which was on private property, was felled a few days later, and made way for  a two-storey retail-building fronting directly onto the sidewalk.

Rodger Beals summed up the situation in a Feb. 24 column.  Older businesses that relied on and served the community were being replaced by established chains whose market was the entire city and had no connection to the area.  Over the previous five years the Beach had grown in popularity as a recreational spot for ever-increasing crowds of summer visitors despite its polluted beaches.  The number of restaurants and clothing stores had doubled in the same period.

It was a common summer sight to see police directing teams of tow trucks removing illegally parked cars. Thousands of visitors were creating chaos. Queen, already a zoo on summer weekends, was becoming a bumper to bumper mass of drivers, spewing exhaust into the air, frantically looking for parking space. Seasoned Beachers knew better than to drive on Queen Street over the weekend.

Change, wrote Beals, would come to the Beach whether residents liked it or not, and they could either sit back and watch, or anticipate it with community-oriented plans.

In March almost 300 people jammed in to the Beach Hebrew Institute on Kenilworth to form COBRA, the Coalition of Beach Residents Associations, concerned that Queen Street development was insensitive to traditional Beach values.

A city bylaw introduced in 1986 to stem the growth of Queen Street eateries east of Woodbine seemed to have worked. By November 1987 there were 49 restaurants, only two more than 18 months earlier.  A report concluded that restaurant growth seemed to have stabilized.

Among the changes was the opening of a Harvey’s on the northwest corner of Queen and Glen Manor.  The Ingram Funeral Parlour block on the north side between Wineva and Hammersmith was slated to be torn down and replaced with a three-storey mixed use building. The previous year, the Price block  (south side between Lee and Leuty) had been replaced with Beachlands (stores with offices overhead).

On the south side of Queen between Balsam and Beech, an eight-unit condo was to be constructed, facing south onto an east-west laneway. A second development in the same block would see two four-storey condos built with retail and office space at street level. The Texaco station site at Queen and Hammersmith had been sold. Plans for a condo unit at 60-64 Kippendavie were in the works.  The Ontario Municipal Board overturned an earlier Committee of Adjustment ruling to prohibit the Kippendavie construction. In a letter circulated to area residents, Councillors Paul Christie and Tom Jakobek wrote that the decision would have a serious impact on the character and streetscape of the neighbourhood.

Adding to the traffic congestion on Queen, was Sunday racing at the Greenwood Racetrack.  On Jan. 4, the first day of Sunday racing,  30 residents from the Beaches Triangle picketed the track, “to make public our opposition to Sunday racing,” said one of the organizers, Sandra Jackson. “One has only to recall the traffic congestion on Queen Street on Sundays last summer, to realize the chaos thousands of additional cars will create,” wrote Beaches-Woodbine MPP Marion Bryden.

The  Triangle residents lost a court battle on April 30 when the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled that the Ontario Racing Commission’s mandate to regulate Ontario racetracks did not require it to listen to the public or take residents’ concerns into consideration.  The court awarded costs against the five residents who would have to pay for the opposition’s lawyers as well as their own.

Some Queen Street merchants spoke out in favour of Sunday shopping, although the Supreme Court of Canada had upheld Ontario’s controversial Business Retail Holiday Act, and the Province was now cracking down on those who flouted the law.
Uldis Blodans of Bimini Clothing explained the merchants’ dilemma. Twenty-five per cent of his business was done on Sundays. He couldn’t afford not to keep his clothing store open, and he couldn’t afford to pay his outstanding fines.  “My lawyer tells me I have three choices. I can declare bankruptcy, pay the fines or go to jail. I’ll go to jail,” he said. “If the racetrack can open on Sunday, why can’t I?”

Harold Weisfeld of Ends predicted that if Queen Street stores were forced to close on Sundays, most of them wouldn’t make it. Weisfeld  had chosen to close on Saturday and open on Sunday, the busier day.

The Beach, once a favorite location of filmmakers’ searching  for a hometown look, was losing its appeal because of Queen Street commercialization and a lack of parking, according to Kelly O’Brien of Atlantis Films, a former assistant location librarian with the Ontario Film Development Corp. “No one will shoot in the Beach unless absolutely necessary… crowds of people and cars have made the area almost inaccessible,” she said.

Despite the upheavals, life continued.

Nicos Evdemon received a Gemini award for his work as director of photography on the CBC series, Seeing Things.  Tracie Findlay, 13, won a gold medal in the rhythmic gymnastics group event at the Canada Winter Games in Sydney, NB. Liam Jewell won a bronze medal in the 1000 metre kayak pairs in the Pan-Am Games.  Myra Corcoran piled up an impressive number of first place wins in running, discus throwing and shot put, and finished her first triathlon.

Early in the New Year 3,200 Toronto homes were supplied with special blue recycling boxes. The area from the lake to Kingston Road, and from Lee to Woodbine, was one of three such areas in the city.

The Main Street Library switched to a computerized  system to check out books. Beaches Library would follow in 1988.  Louise Unlauf retired after 28 years as an assistant at Beaches Library.

At Variety Village Lieutenant-Governor Lincoln Alexander turned the sod to mark the start of a $5.7 million aquatic wing.

The recently renovated war memorial at Malvern C.I. was moved to  a special niche in front of the school’s new library.  Students and teachers had raised $1,300, and it was hoped the community would cover the extra $1,000 needed to cover the cost of the move.

The local chapter of Amnesty International, which began 18 months earlier, was accredited as an official group by the International Secretariat in England. It became the 12th group in Metro and still meets each month at St. John the Baptist Norway Church.

The Kew Beach Bible Club held a reunion at its old home base, Kew Beach United Church. The Class, as it was known flourished from the 1945 to the late 60s. Led by Gord Ferguson, it figured prominently in the spiritual and social lives of many young adults with its dances, weekend outings, social events and welfare projects.  There are still many local couples now married over 50 years who met at The Class.

The first Down in the Beach Fun Run raised $1,200 and heightened public awareness of Down Syndrome. This became an annual boardwalk event.

Reena Schellenger, Keith Campbell, Cydney Hodder, Darcy McFaddyen,  Rachel Zolf, Allison Wright and Denis Zyduk  met the Queen Mother and performed for her at Buckingham Palace. The Malvern students were part of a 70-member youth orchestra on a six-country tour of Europe.

Littlefair’s Butcher’s Shop on Queen closed after 64 years. Ron Bruce of Willow Fish & Chips, retired after 38 years at 2250 Queen. Bill Davison, the Beach Chimney Sweep, hung up his brushes.

Woods Factory was razed to make way for 48 semi-detached houses and 128 seniors apartments in the Danforth and Coxwell area.  On Oct. 29 the $3.5 million Hope Seniors Residence, west of Hope United Church was opened  in the Main/Danforth area.

On Sept. 22 for the first time  in their history, Metro Toronto elementary teachers in the public system walked out of the classroom and on to the picket line.  The strike came after Metro’s seven school boards refused the teachers’ request for 180 minutes of preparation time each week. The boards offered 80 minutes of prep time. The strike was settled with the teachers receiving three 40 minute periods a week within two years.

While the Liberals swept Toronto in the provincial election of 1987, the NDP’s Marion Bryden easily kept her seat. She had represented Beaches/Woodbine for 12 years.

At the newspaper life went on. After six years writing 130 features on local artists, photographers, sculptors, designers, weavers, ceramicists, printmakers and gallery owners, freelancer Allan O’Marra went back to concentrating on his own paintings. Barry Morrison took over with the column, Art Lines.

Our photographer-reporter Benn Guinn continued his On Street Interviews with questions of the day:  Should the city ban vicious dogs? Should merchants be allowed to keep loaded guns for protection?

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Do you know if any of the Littlefair’s are still alive. I have a picture of the original Butcher shop at 1155 Queen St E. and some family pictures.
Billy and Eva Littlefair were known to me as an aunt and uncle.

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