Pondering the imponderable – what is history?

We ask the question, what is history? Especially in the East End? Is it 10,000 years ago when the last ice age receded to form Lake Iroquois, which left us with the bluffs and and all  the land along the Niagara Escarpment? This geological formation left us with the present Lake Ontario, and in the East End left us with little streams, rivers and hills which now make up our Beach area.

Is history when the Ashbridges family came to the eastern shores with matriarch Sarah Ashbridge over 210 years ago and settled in the area – giving the Ashbridge name to the area? Is history the Joseph Williams family who came to the area in the 1850s and gave us the lovely Kew Gardens?

Is history architectural delights like the Kew Beach Fire Hall sitting like a sentinel on Queen Street, guarding the entrance to the Beach? Or is it the magnificent R.C. Harris water filtration plant at the end of Queen, which is a National Historic Site?

Is history Roland Caldwell Harris, the ‘commissioner of everything’, who lived in the Beach and built the modern city? Is history Sir Adam Wilson, a mayor of Toronto, a judge who lived in the Beach and donated three acres to the people to form the Balmy Beach? Or is it the Balmy Beach Club, which has won more events and accolades than any other sports and recreation organization in the province of Ontario?

Is history the Grand Trunk Rail Road (later the C.N.R.) which was located at Main and Gerrard, and employed hundreds of people, and was responsible for people settling in the area? Is history the Woodbine Race Track, which for many years hosted the Kings/Queens Plate and brought King George and Queen Elizabeth to the Beach in 1939? Is it Joseph Duggan, the man who owned the race track for many years?

Is history Glenn Cochrane, a great Beacher who devoted a great part of his life to the betterment of the Beach and its history? Or is it Fred Bodsworth, the great field naturalist who devoted his life to the wildlife in the ravines of the Beach? Is history the firefighters or the police officers who put their lives on the line every day for us, along with the emergency department with their ambulances? These are also part of the East End.

Is history our educational places like Malvern Collegiate Institute, Neil McNeil Catholic High School, Kew Beach Public School, Norway P.S., Notre Dame C.H.S., St. Denis Catholic School, St. John’s C.S., Courcelette, Williamson Road, Adam Beck, Kimberley? All these schools which have turned out so many of our people are also history personified.

Is history the TTC, without which we would be in a terrible predicament? Is history politicians like Joseph Harris, who was one of the founders of Toronto East General Hospital – or is it the hospital, which has been part of the East End for many years?

Is history the Leuty Life Guard station or Kew Williams cottage sitting at the bottom of the Beach at Lee Avenue in all their architectural splendor?

Is history people like Glenn Gould, who became one of the greatest pianists in the world, or Norman Jewison, one of the great film directors/producers, both of whom lived in the Beach?

Is History our amusement parks, like Victoria Park (1876-1896), Munro Park (1896-1906), Scarboro Beach Park (1907-1925), Smalls Pond (1902)? All of these were great recreation outlets which enticed the people of Toronto to come to the Beach.

Is History our religious buildings and congregations, like the New Life Mennonite Church, Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist Norway – along  with its cemetery which date back to the 1850s – St. John’s Catholic Church, Kingston Road United, St. Aidan’s Anglican, the old Bellefair and Kew Beach United (now one church as Beach United), or the Beach Synagogue or Hope United? All of these are part of the history of the East End, along with Calvary Baptist (which operates the Grace Pascoe Food Bank), Waverly Road Baptist and Forward Baptist.

Is history our streets, like Kingston Road – one of the oldest in the province – or Queen Street East, Main Street, Gerrard, the Danforth, Woodbine, Victoria Park, Coxwell Avenue, Lee Avenue? All of these streets and avenues make up parts of the streetscape.

Is history the Beaches International Jazz Festival, which draws hundreds of thousands of people through the hard work of Lido Chilelli? Is it the Beaches Lions Club, which has served the area so long? Or the Rotary Club, a part of the Beach, along with so many other charitable organizations? Is it Community Centre 55, which has given and done more for charity than any other community centre in the East End? Is history Ted Reeve Arena, where many of us have skated? Or Ted Reeve, a longtime sportsman who contributed to the Beach in many ways?

Is history the Beaches Library or the Main Street Library, where thousands of people use the resources? Is it people like Mary Campbell, Barb Myrvold, or Rod and Helen Travers-Griffin, who have devoted a good portion of their lives in building the Beach & East Toronto Historical Society? Is history the eclectic architecture of the Beach like the lovely small wooden cottages on Kenilworth, Kippendavie, Lee and Leuty? Or the Price Brothers developments on Queen, Scarboro Beach Boulevard and Hammersmith, with their round and rectangular front porch columns? These buildings are unique in the province. Or the walk-up threes storey apartment buildings on Queen Street? The stately homes on Glen Manor Drive facing Glen Stewart Park and our lovely nature trail going to Kingston Road? Is history the Massey Estate on Dawes Road north of the Danforth, a park donated to the city by the Massey family? Is it the Beach Triangle with its lovely sidewalks and trees on both sides of the street? Is history the first location of the Toronto Golf Club, between Coxwell and Woodbine, south of the railroad tracks close to St. John the Baptist Norway cemetery?

Are events like the Beaches Spring Sprint, The Terry Fox Run, or the numerous walks history? Are movements like ForWard Nine, that stopped the Scarborough expressway, or citizens organizations that stopped the railways on the boardwalk history?

Are newspapers like Beach Metro News history? Are our banks and drugstores history? Are the baseball games, Kew Beach or Balmy Beach lawn bowling clubs history?

We have people like John McPherson Ross, Wm Williamson, Dorothy Thomas, Neil Young, Tom Wardle, Tom Jakobek, Alex Christie, Paul Christie, Frances Lankin, Joseph Oliver, Donald Summerville, Sandra Bussin, Maria Minna, C.F. Wagner, Arie Nerman, David Breech, Marie Perrotta, Pat Silver, Ted Randall, Jean Cochrane, Thomas Neal. There are so many events and places that I haven’t written about, so please forgive me.

So what makes history? People, places, events, architecture, the grass, the sand, the water – all of these together, not singularly, are what makes history.

Fellow Beachers, I want to invite all of those interested in preserving history, with any ideas, young and old, to come to a meeting being held at the Beaches Public Library at Queen and Lee, on Tuesday, Oct. 2, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Your chance – your history – your area.

For those interested, I will be giving a historical walk on Kingston Road on Oct. 13, starting at Kingston Road United Church. My next column will be on the War of 1812 – and also an addition to my previous column on Queen Street.

Anyone with any comments or questions, please call me at 416-691-5229 or drop me a line the old fashioned way at 147 Lee Ave., or through Beach Metro News. Let’s build a better historic area on Queen Street.

Historically yours,
Gene Domagala

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