1997 was the year of the megacity

In 1997 one issue eclipsed all other local concerns – municipal reform. The province  announced that  the six municipalities of Toronto, East York, Scarborough, York, North York and Etobicoke  would become  one ‘megacity’. It was promoted as a cost-cutting measure and a more efficient way of coordinating services and reducing staff for garbage collection, libraries, firefighting, transit, water and sewage and other services. The local and Metro councillors would be reduced from 206 to 44.

Amalgamation would also result in a change in the funding relationship between the province and the new city.  For instance the funding of social services (20 per cent city and 80 per cent province) would become fifty-fifty. The package would be the most significant municipal change since 1953 when 13 municipalities were condensed into the current six.

East End Citizens for Local Democracy, a grassroots group of residents unhappy with the proposed megacity legislation, had a full house at their information meeting held at Bellefair United Church on Feb. 16.

Beach Metro News organized a Megacity Forum  at Malvern C.I.  on Feb. 26. Over 400 people braved a dark and stormy night (inside and out) to hear and heckle presentations from Councillor Tom Jakobek, Mayor Barbara Hall, Beaches-Woodbine MPP Frances Lankin and East York MPP John Parker. At one point there were two lines of people stretching the length of the auditorium, mostly naysayers, waiting to  speak.

When  a non-binding referendum was held in the six municipalities there was a higher turnout at the polls than in a city election. The result was overwhelmingly anti-amalgamation. In the East End around 75 per cent were opposed.

At Queen’s Park the opposition parties organized a two-week filibuster, but the legislation went through. On Jan. 1, 1998, the new Toronto, a combination of all six municipalities, would come into being, and the rest is history. The new City of Toronto became the fifth largest municipality in North America, trailing Mexico City, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Committee to name new streets in the Woodbine development met with Councillor Tom Jakobek at the old racetrack in April 1997 before the grandstand was razed. The committee included Beach Metro staff and other prominent Beach residents.

Construction of housing on the Greenwood racetrack site began in 1997. The builder, Marco Muzzo, said the timetable would be staggered over several years to avoid a glut of new homes on the market. By summer the first houses were advertised at $359,000-$429,500, and condos on the south side of Queen Street were $139,900-$169,900.

On behalf of the city, Beach Metro News ran a contest to name the new streets on the racetrack site. The judges were residents familiar with the area’s history.

Contestants were asked to submit names that had a local connection. Duplication of existing streets and the names of living people were not eligible. A  50-word explanation of the name  could be included. There were 660 suggestions and often several people had the same idea.  The final choices were  Sarah Ashbridge, for was the matriarch of the Ashbridge clan that came from Pennsylvania and received a land grant from Governor Simcoe in 1793; Northern Dancer, to represent all horses that ever ran at the track – despite Northern Dancer only racing there once and coming up lame; Winner’s Circle, for everyone who ever placed a wager;  Joseph Duggan, who owned the land when it was originally leased to the Ontario Jockey Club; and Boardwalk, for its location close to the beach.

The final nail was hammered into the coffin of the Scarborough Expressway in 1997 when the lands by the railway tracks between Victoria Park and Ted Reeve Arena became available for development. The Canada Lands Development plan was to put 1,000 units on the site. MPP Maria Minna, Councillor Tom Jakobek and concerned citizens stepped in, and the plan was changed to 400 units and an increase in parkland.  Then the site was sold to Fram Building Group and a new plan for 291 houses and more parkland was substituted. The street names in this subdivision, chosen by city officials, reflect the area’s railway connections: Flagman, Enroute, Whistle Post, Crossovers, Bellevue and Brockville. Ted Reeve Avenue commemorates a local sportsman and columnist, and William Hancox is in memory of a police officer murdered in 1998.

When the provincial government announced that the Beach was one of the proposed locations for a permanent charity casino, MPP Frances Lankin, and Councillors Tom Jakobek, Paul Christie and Steve Ellis were galvanized into action. Christie said that a casino was everyone’s worse fear, since the building of a new teletheatre on the side of the old racetrack had been approved by the OMB.

“Why should this community be burdened with a casino as well ?” he asked.

In  March owners and patrons of local bars and restaurants felt nicotine withdrawal as the city’s new anti-smoking bylaw went into effect. It prohibited smoking in any bar or restaurant unless the establishment provided specially vented smoking areas.

In 1997 one of the best known restaurants in the area closed. The Aranos – Frances, Ron and Denise – ran Griffiths,  on Queen between Wineva and Hambly, for over 30 years, although there had been a Griffiths’ Coffeehouse on the site since the 1940s. Glenn Cochrane lamented the passing of a favourite eatery:  “A  wonderous eccentric ambience that delighted the eye at every turn, stained glass windows and doors rescued from nine different churches, hand-painted regimental drums, oil paintings of English hunting scenes, and a Latin inscription on a wooden beam which (he believed) translated as ‘the customer is always right but there’s nothing wrong in making him wait a while.’”

Sitting  in  dim light  under the papier mache birds suspended from the ceiling in the Mozart Room, or up among the gnomes in  the Cuckoo’s Nest roof garden, tackling  the hearty plates of Kasseler Rippen mit Kartoffel Kloesse or Bratwurst und Sauerkraut was a gustatory experience to remember.

The family moved to a smaller establishment, Grumbles, by the north end of the Main Street bridge.  Ron has passed on, but Frances and Denise still offer hearty German food, gemuetlichkeit and their famous butter tarts. And the Latin beam? It moved with them.

In the June 2 federal election, incumbent Maria Minna returned on a federal Liberal tide that swept across Ontario. In the municipal election in the fall, incumbent Tom Jackobek was returned as councillor for Ward 10. Former school trustee Sandra Bussin became the councillor for Ward 9. David Moll was a shoe-in for school trustee. Councillors Paul Christie and Steve Ellis were edged out. Wards 9 and 10 later became Ward 26, and are now Ward 32.

1997 was the ‘year of the foxes’.  Many saw them for the first time in the area, including one  senior on Balsam who was initially afraid to tell anyone, in case people questioned her mental state. There were foxes  in the  Glen Stewart ravine, the Neville Park ravine,  sitting on a porch on Scarboro Beach Boulevard, walking down Willow Avenue in the rain, playing in  backyards, crossing Kingston Road, running down the middle of local streets, and  sunning themselves at the Hunt Club. After a few years they became thin, mangy and sick and the fox cycle ended. Nowadays we are more likely to see coyotes.

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