One of the oddest incidents of 1998 was the Case of the Biting Beavers. There were reports of beavers jumping out of the bushes at Ashbridges Bay, and nipping and gnawing the rumps of dogs. Pet owners put up a sign: ‘Beware, beavers have bitten three dogs.’ Next day there were teeth marks on the sign’s wooden post.
The year began tragically for a family on Ferncroft Drive. A father and two young sons died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Animals had built a nest in the chimney, blocking fumes from the furnace from escaping.
The newly amalgamated City of Toronto came into effect on Jan. 1, 1998, and the six former municipalities began merging services. When Beachers received their new property tax assessments, it was said that their howls could be heard in Whitby. In Ward 26 (now Ward 32), 156,382 homeowners faced an increase and 6,736 a decrease. Many in the old city of Toronto faced 20 – 120 per cent increases, while those in Scarborough and Etobicoke were more likely to see decreases. The new FMA (Fair Market Assessment) was based on what an assessor thought a residence was worth by comparing it with similar residences, which might be next door or several streets away. This was the year that homeowners went in droves to assessment tribunals to try to get their taxes lowered. The new city council decided to phase in the changes over five years, with increases capped at $300 annually, and reductions capped at $200 a year.
For over 150 years local school boards in the province had been able to supplement education grants through property tax levies. Bill 160 changed the way education would be funded through the provincial government on a formula based on what it decided each community needed. The formula allowed just over nine square metres of space per student. Williamson Road School, for example, had 563 students, but 6,500 square metres of space which included not only classrooms but the gym, pool, library, lunch room and even hallways, so it should have been able to accommodate 705 students. This meant Williamson Road was under-utilized and was one of 138 schools in the new City of Toronto that could have been closed. Other local schools in jeopardy were Bowmore, Courcelette and Corpus Christi. In the end only Corpus Christi was closed. The plans to build a new school to accommodate all the students in the new housing development at the former race track never came to pass.
On Jan. 10, 1998 the Teletheatre at the Queen Street end of Greenwood was officially opened. While residents were unsuccessful in preventing the Teletheatre from being built, they were able to have the liquor licence amended from 1,000 seats to 400 seats, making it more in line with local facilities.
The next controversy at the old racetrack was whether the community wanted a six-screen Famous Players movie theatre on the site. Beach Metro received more letters on this topic than any in its history – even more than the annual off-leash dogs at the beach issue. The majority of writers were in favour of a new cinema, even though some thought it would impinge on The Fox.
The theatre went ahead when the following terms were agreed on: the developer would not seek a liquor licence; the developer would provide parking; the local councillors Tom Jakobek and Sandra Bussin would encourage Toronto Parking Authority to develop more parking at a nearby city lot; a traffic light would be installed on Eastern Avenue to ensure people could safely cross the road; and the developer, EMM, would donate $150,000 for local community improvements.
The Kingston Road extension to Eastern Avenue opened in the fall. Cars travelling on Kingston Road no longer had to jog along Queen Street and risk getting dinged as they turned on to Eastern or Coxwell Avenues.
The development of the Canada Lands (on the north side of Gerrard between Ted Reeve Arena and Victoria Park) continued to be an issue as citizens led by David Breech and local councillors tried to set parameters. Five residents’ meetings were held at Malvern C.I. and the issue was set to go to the Ontario Municipal Board in January, 1999. Local concerns included increased traffic congestion, overcrowded schools, lack of parkland and recreational space, the addressing of planning and environmental issues, and whether current plans would produce a healthy viable neighbourhood.
In 1998 an officer at 55 Division, William Hancox, was murdered while on a stakeout. When the Canada Lands site was developed, a street was named after him.
A proposal to name one of the streets after the late Joe McNulty, a well-known Beach figure, became a city-wide controversy when the public learned that he had belonged to one of the Beach Swastika Clubs in the 1930s. Readers weighed in on whether poor choices made as a youth should count 50 years later. Apparently they do, because the plan for a Joe McNulty Street was shot down.
Homeowners near Blantyre Avenue north of Kingston Road were caught up in their own battle over the fate of the former Fallingbrook Heights Baptist Church, overlooking Blantyre Park. A developer, finding there was no height restriction on the site, wanted to replace the church with a senior citizens’ building with 28 square metre units.
“The question is whether our community wants 111 shoe-boxes on this location,” said one resident.
For once the OMB agreed with the residents and put a three-storey restriction on the site. The developer gave up and the church was sold to a new congregation and became the Toronto New Covenant Cathedral.
Shoppers World, one of Canada’s first malls in the 1960s, was given a new look with a multimillion-dollar renovation. A 4,900 square metre Dominion store (now Metro) was built at the eastern end on the site of a former garage and paint store.
Erin McCloskey, a Malvern student, was elected for a one-year term to head the Ontario Secondary School Students Association in 1997, and served the rest of her term in 1998. This made her the strongest political voice for 800,000 Ontario high school students. During her term, Bill 160’s centralization of municipal school boards, one of the most volatile education bills in Ontario history, was passed.
June 20 was declared Beach Flag Day by Mayor Mel Lastman, and at noon the flag was hoisted on the pole in Kew Gardens, and some locals took a ride in a cherry picker to hang it over the Queen Street firehall. The proclamation said that the Beach is not just a place where people live, but a web of relationships which includes the values we cherish and a place we call home. The Beach flag symbolizes the harmony and spirit of the community.
A competition was held earlier in the year for flag designs. Phil Sybal’s entry was chosen. Flags are still available at Community Centre 55, along with t-shirts, pins and other items. All proceeds go to the centre’s Share A Christmas program.
A popular fundraiser for the centre was a raffle for ‘The Little Leuty’. This was a garden shed replica of the Leuty Lifeguard Station made for the community by the racetrack developer.
During 1998 Beach Metro published the obituaries of a number of well-known local residents: the newspaper’s gardening columnist Eric Slater, writer Louise Boyd, war hero John Baillie G.M., businessman Glenn Varty, former head of the Toronto Board of Education Ron Jones, Ruth Fraedrich who gave out children’s books at Halloween, social activist Rosemary Popham, retired linguist and librarian Leonard Wertheimer, and a man synonymous with the Balmy Beach Club, Joe McNulty.
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