1996 a smashing year for Beach Metro

The year 1996 started with a jolt for Beach Metro News, and for me. After an evening of welcoming in the New Year, I was awakened by a phone call from the police at 5 a.m. on Jan. 1.  The newspaper’s front door had been smashed in and the ear-piercing alarm was still screeching. I had to get over there right away.

Only two items were missing – an old computer and the Beach Metro counter bell, which was thrown through the window of a nearby apartment.  So the early hours  of 1996 found me sitting  in the office, watching snow falling  and trying to find  a  glazier  on New Year’s morning to repair the front  door.

The main issues of 1996 involved the future of the site of the former Greenwood Race track. Despite the efforts of local politicians from all levels of government, motions to secure the whole property for a park were defeated at city council. Then a deal was negotiated and the city agreed to purchase 15 acres of parkland at the same price the developer had paid for the land.  Combined with land the city and Metro already owned, there was now 32-39 acres available for Woodbine Park on the north side of Lakeshore Boulevard.

The next local concern was a proposed 4,000 square metre gambling teletheatre operated by the Ontario Jockey Club (OJC) on the Greenwood site.  In May city council approved zoning. Mayor Barbara Hall compared the 2,000 seat theatre as being similar to The Fox Theatre or a very large grocery store.  A coalition named CAT (Citizens against the Teletheatre), led by Councillor Steve Ellis, challenged the decision at the Ontario Municipal Board. However, on Dec. 4 the OMB refused to hear the appeal by CAT and the East Beaches Community Association. This halted the efforts of many residents who had been fighting for almost three years against a  teletheatre in the midst of the new Greenwood subdivision. “We were absolutely confident that we had identified real planning and process concerns,” said Wayne Olson, CAT spokesperson, but unfortunately, CAT was opposed by the combined forces of the city, EMM (the Greenwood developer) and the OJC.  Apart from residents’ groups, opposition to the teletheatre came from the Toronto Board of Education, Beaches-Woodbine MPP Frances Lankin and a team of lawyers and planners led by Bruce Bussin, who worked for long hours and little recompense to prepare the appeal. Glenn Cochrane summed up the feeling of many CAT members:  “We thought we had a right to express our concerns. The Beach is an ecological system – just as fragile as the forest of Temagami. We had to try to save it.”

Marco Muzzo, owner of EMM, said now that all legal challenges to development had failed, plans would go ahead to start building on the Greenwood site.

The seats from the old racetrack, which were made from molded cast iron with maple seats and back, were sold to an enterprising businessman who refurbished them, added a number plaque, and sold them along with a full colour lithograph print of the track for $329 each.

Towards the end of the year, just when the controversy over Greenwood was subsiding, there was talk of another major development.  A federal crown corporation, Canada Lands Co. Ltd., submitted plans to the city to build 393 townhouses, semi-detached and single dwellings on the 35 acres of railway lands between the tracks and Gerrard, from Ted Reeve Arena to Victoria Park.

Soon after she joined the paper in 1996, editor Carole Stimmell, left, found herself behind bars in Kew Gardens, along with Beach Metro Community News board member Don Snider, along with Michael Prue, Mayor Barbara Hall, Councillors Steve Ellis and Paul Christie, and the Board of Education’s Sandra Bussin. They were among those who opened their wallets and threw themselves on the mercy of a court presided over by Judge Mark Dailey. The event raised $15,000 for the Cancer Society.

The 13th annual Great Lakes Race, a fundraiser for Community Centre 55, had a remarkable group tackling the 48 kilometre marathon across the lake from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Ontario Place. The six canoes included a team of four paraplegic athletes and two veteran paddlers, competing against canoes which included the Metropolitan Police, the Emergency Response Team and the Toronto Sun. Special seats were designed to support the paraplegics’ trunks, lower backs, pelvis and legs, and these were customized to protect them against pressure sores. To spectators the start looked effortless as paraplegics using superior upper body strength pulled themselves out of wheelchairs into the canoe. By the end of the race they were bloodied, bruised and blistered, but they finished second in the premier’s class and fourth overall. “It was the triumph of the human spirit,” said one observer.

The site of a former lumber yard at 612 Victoria Park Ave., on the west side just south of the railway bridge, was the focus of an intense Ministry of the Environment and Energy investigation as unscrupulous  demolition companies dumped construction rubble and garbage. One investigator described it as the most blatant case of industrial dumping he had seen in ten years. The site’s owner had installed high fences and no dumping signs, but when he returned from a business trip, over 50 loads of garbage had been dumped on the site. By sorting through the garbage, ministry officials were able to identify the offenders. A surveillance team from 55 Division caught some in the act. The culprits were fined and had to clear up the site, which is now the location of a Loblaw’s.

The Beach’s newest fast food eatery, McDonald’s, opened in the summer on the southeast corner of Queen and Lee. Local residents were concerned that chains like McDonald’s would eventually destroy the character of the neighbourhood. There were not enough customers lovin’ it, and it eventually closed.

The Police Marine Unit looked for ways to make the Eastern Beaches safer in summer 1996. The previous August there were two separate drownings caused by freak weather conditions, when two teenagers were caught in a riptide at the western end of Woodbine Beach and were swept away. The accidents happened in the morning before lifeguards came on duty. The previous day five children and an adult had run into trouble in the same area in heavy waves and were pulled to safety by a lifeguard. Among the changes for 1996 were more lifeguards and more warnings signs.

A story on Shoppers World said that it was losing tenants at an alarming rate.  Zeller’s had moved into the space vacated by Eaton’s, but the smaller mall tenants were leaving. Physical structures had deteriorated since the last makeover more than  15 years earlier. New owners hoped to breathe life back into the mall. Meanwhile at Warden and St. Clair, the Warden Power Centre had reversed a downward spiral and was now a prosperous mall. In 1993 it had been a “dark and dingy shopping centre with a pitiful offering of fly-by-night operations.” New owners had transformed it into a bright local shopping centre that consumers wanted to visit. (It is now the site of a subdivision).

A young beaver was found beached near the Balmy Beach Club, after apparently washing ashore. The high waves made it difficult to get it back in the water. It was picked up by the Humane Society and released near the Toronto Islands. In August a deer was spotted in the Neville park ravine, and then in the Neil McNeil parking lot. A reader sent in a picture of another deer seen crossing Queen at Hambly Avenue.

Thomas and Inez Wardle celebrated their 60th wedding by renewing their vows at a service in St. James Cathedral. Inez assisted her husband as he served the area for almost 25 years as school trustee, alderman and MPP.

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