History of Beach Metro News: 1999

The final year of the last millennium began with the winter of our discontent. In January five major storms blanketed Toronto with 118 cm (almost five feet) of the white stuff.  Before city staff and residents could dig themselves out from one blizzard, the next began. The amount of snow on Queen Street, coupled with buried cars, meant shuttle buses and tow trucks were the only vehicles moving.  Some businesses across the city closed for the duration and Mayor Mel Lastman urged workers to stay home (of course the Beach Metro staff all made it in). When the city was almost at a standstill, he called in the Canadian Forces to help with the snow clearing. Toronto is still the butt of jokes from other regions used to harsher winters. Nevertheless it was the storm of the century across Eastern Ontario and the Midwest States.

This photo, along with follow-up stories on the victims of the fire, earned Beach Metro News photographer Grant Jennings an award from the Toronto Firefighters Association.

In the early morning of Jan. 14, there was a deadly five-alarm blaze that demolished a four storey apartment building at 2362 Queen St. E., resulting in the death of two tenants, Linda Elderkin and Paul Benson. One of the heroes of the fire was TTC driver David Gregg, who spotted flames shooting from the building as he pulled his vehicle around the Neville Park loop. He raced into the building, waking most of the tenants and sheltering them in his street car. He was credited with saving 12 lives and later received an Award of Merit from the TTC. Over 100 firefighters tackling the blaze were hampered by blowing snow, gusting winds and sub-zero temperatures that froze water as soon as it shot out of the hoses. Beach Metro photographer Grant Jennings, who covered the fire and follow-up stories, received an award from the Firefighters Association for his coverage.

Only a few of the tenants at 2362 had contents insurance and those without faced the daunting task of starting over with nothing. Community fundraising, including a benefit gala held at the Balmy Beach Club, netted $30,000 to help victims re-establish themselves.

By the end of March there had been three fires on Queen Street within three blocks of each other – including the one at Neville Park, and a four-alarm blaze at Silver Birch. The flames that swept through 2451 Queen on March 29 were arson, said fire department officials. In that blaze, three firefighters from Station 22 on Main Street –Andy Younger, Tony Iancic and Michael Stanfield – received awards for their part in rescuing nine trapped residents.

In June the new six-screen theatre complex, Beach Cinemas, opened with a preview of the Canadian premiere of The Winslow Boy. On June 9 there was a screening of An Ideal Husband as a fundraiser for Toronto East General Hospital.

In 1999, the hospital was celebrating its 70th year. Back in the 1920s volunteers went door-to-door persuading neighbours to purchase bricks to build the hospital.  Now a new campaign began – ‘Buy a Brick, Build a Healthy Future’ – to help construct a $42.2 million wing which would include 11 operating rooms and a birthing centre.

In his November column Gene Domagala wrote about a piece of First World War history most of us never knew. The German flying ace, Manfred Von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron, was shot down during a dog fight by Captain A. Roy Brown, who after the war lived with his family on Wrenson Road. In 1943 he ran in the Woodbine riding as the provincial Liberal candidate, but that was one battle he lost.

Among those moving on in 1999 were the Ryan brothers – Jack and Larry – whose father started Ryan’s Hardware on Queen and Willow in 1929. June McNeil retired as manager  of the Balmy Beach Club, as did John Montgomery who was the manager of Sherrin’s Funeral Home, Malvern principal Dave Wells, and Balmy Beach caretaker Mel Graham.

Among East Enders who died in 1999 was roofer Steven Harvey, while trying to save his dog that had fallen into Dufferin Creek, family physician Dr. Michael Elek, Monsignor James Kennedy Stephenson of St. John’s Catholic Church,  Lilian Adams, who had been a governess to David Lloyd George’s grandchildren, and  journalist Nanci Lugsdin who was a former president of this paper.

Just in time for Christmas a new beverage hit the market.  Beach Water, bottled  from a spring at Blue Mountain, was available by the caseload from Community Centre 55.

As the year end approached there was the Y2K uncertainty. Would computers be able to handle the switch to the new millennium? Would planes fall from the sky on January 1?

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