1994: racetracks and the first stolen cellphone

We know how the story ended, but back in 1994 the local issue causing the most angst was the fate of the land where the Greenwood Racetrack stood for over a century. Most local residents and politicians wanted the 100-acre site to become parkland, and many were ready to work towards that goal.

Public meetings were held throughout the year, such as the one called by GRCC (Greenwood Racetrack Citizens’ Committee) and attended by 500 people. “The East End community views itself as the authority that will determine the acceptability of any racetrack development. Our organization will be aggressive in providing an opportunity for local residents to set the parameters,” said its spokesperson, John McKay. GRAIL (Greenwood Raceway Action Information Link), led by Wayne Olson, maintained that some development was necessary and that it would be best to have some say in the planning right from the start.

On June 21, The River Oaks Group disclosed it had terminated the agreement to purchase between itself and the Ontario Jockey Club (OJC) citing problems with methane gas and a high water table. The OJC conducted its own tests and responded that results showed the amount of methane on the site was not a cause for alarm.

On Sept. 23, MPP Frances Lankin announced the province would give the city $7.5 million towards the purchase of the Greenwood site. She called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reclaim and revitalize part of our waterfront in a way that will benefit the people of our community, our city, our region and our province for many years to come.” On Oct. 4 the Land Use Committee voted against a proposal to buy the land. On Oct. 9 City Council voted 9 to 8 to keep alive the possibility of purchasing all or some of the land for a park.

While the fate of the Greenwood site was still in the balance, other local institutions were thriving. The Gerrard-Ashdale Library was 70 years old. Built in the late Georgian style, it was said to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the Coxwell and Gerrard district. In its early days librarians were concerned that with the low windows they were in a fishbowl, and that people would peek in after-hours. Borrowers of that era often drove up in their model Ts to check out current bestsellers such as Edna Ferber’s So Big or E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. By 1994 the local collection included material in Chinese and East Asian languages.

McArthur Real Estate celebrated its 75th year with early descriptions of the area in its ads, such as this vignette: “In the early 50s ….the Ames Estate north of Williamson Road School was developed for housing. The lilacs on Southwood were replaced with substantial homes. Joan Avenue (now Glen Ames) and Glen Stewart Crescent were created. Weller Avenue became Glen Stewart Avenue. Loblaws had a store on Kingston Road with a parking lot. People now had gas and liked the novelty of driving to shop.” McArthur, the oldest real estate company in the area, is now in its 93rd year.

On April 5 Torontonians were shocked by what the police chief called “an act of urban terrorism.” A local woman, Georgina (Vivi) Leimonis, 23, was killed by a stray bullet at The Just Desserts Café during a robbery. Mayor June Rowlands called for stronger gun control and severe penalties for violent crimes. Others called for a return of the death penalty. Over 3,000 people attended the funeral.
On May 2 this newspaper reported that a two-week amnesty had netted over 50 weapons from local residents. Police at 55 Division were calling for more gun owners to turn in their arms.

The first report in the Police Beat of a cell phone being stolen was in 1994.

A new 5,791 sq m community centre opened at 93 Birchmount Ave., replacing the Phyllis Griffiths centre that had operated from a storefront at Kingston and Warden. Some were unhappy with the decision to change the name to Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre. “While many people remember the work the late journalist Phyllis Griffiths did in southwest Scarborough, we’ve somehow lost the meaning of that name,” said a spokesperson. “Moving into a new building is a new phase in the growth of the centre and the logical time for a name change.
In July planks were nailed back down on the boardwalk following construction of a detention tank at the foot of MacLean Avenue. The tank, 7m deep, 12m wide and 33m long, would collect storm water from the MacLean, Balsam and Glen Manor storm sewers . The run off would be contained for 12 hours to kill off most bacteria. Any remaining bugs would die when the water was pumped 400 metres offshore into cold Lake Ontario.

In May, the late Ray Corley, a local transportation expert, was sent by the World Bank to Russia to assess the condition of buses, streetcars and trolleybuses. The two cities (Novgorod and Yekaterinburg) he visited were comparable in size to Toronto. He wrote: “Transit ridership is tremendous. Fares are cheap. Few people can afford to own or operate a car, let alone find a space to park. Both cities, with only a small subway system, carry 40 per cent more passengers than Toronto, although long waits are a way of life.”

Of a visit to the capital he wrote: “On Moscow roadways pedestrians have no rights. The automobile is king. The principal streets are eight lanes or more wide with no crosswalks and few traffic lights. Motorists drive at you or past you with no breaking or sounding of the horn. Survival requires good hearing and eyesight plus a keen sense of timing, coupled with Olympic agility.”

As 1994 ended, so did a chapter at the paper. In December two of the longtime staff retired.

Joan Latimer had been editor for 22 years. As I have researched each year’s issues to prepare this column, I have been reminded of how great a contribution she made to this paper’s success. She protected it from those who would have exploited it for their own ends. She filled it with a variety of news and features and had something for everyone. She wrote with clarity and humour. Even without her byline, I can easily spot Joan’s hand. “Don’t hit people over the head with issues constantly, use a little lightness too,” was her refrain. Good health was one of her passions, and during her tenure there was a theme running through the pages of strapping on inline skates, adding beans to your fibre intake, losing weight, shunning salt and fat, cooking from scratch, whipping up a bunch of healthy muffins, or straining yogurt through cheese cloth to cut out the fat. Joan is alive and well and living downtown.

Our advertising manager Brenda Dow also retired. Over her 17 years with the paper, Brenda helped build up the advertising numbers to where we could afford to publish a 32 page paper. In those golden days Brenda had something unheard of in the newspaper world today – a waiting list for advertisers. In a way Brenda never really left. She returns on publication days to man the conveyor belt as we unload papers from the truck, and stays on to count and tie papers for the carriers.

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