Chris Blythe, one of the staunchest leaders and defenders of Beach neighbourhood values, died tragically young at age 59, at Princess Margaret Hospital. He leaves his wife, Pat, and sons Thom and Aarron.
Chris was a fighter and according to Pat, fought his illness to his last breath.
Chris was a professional photographer for almost 40 years. He started his photography career in the music industry shooting acts such as Santana, The Cars, The Guess Who, The Police and Elton John, to name a few. He later became the official photographer for the PC Party both provincially and federally in the Bill Davis era.
Chris was also an award-winning writer and publisher, but was best known in his own neighbourhood for his work with the Beach Triangle Residents Association (BTRA).
Chris was born in Ottawa, Ontario, the youngest of four boys, and spent the first 10 years of his life in New Hamburg, a small town outside of Kitchener. Surrounded by farms, his life in New Hamburg kindled his love of the country and the outdoors. Hiking in the woods and camping with Thom were two of his favourite pastimes. He moved to Toronto with his family in early 1974 into an apartment above what was then the Bank of Commerce at the junction of Queen Street East and Kingston Road. (The building now houses Murphy’s Law Irish Pub.)
He moved out on his own in late 1974 and moved back into the same apartment with Pat in 1981 after his mother passed away. Chris and Pat lived there until 1995, raising their son Thom, gardening and barbecuing on the roof (you’ll have to ask Pat!), and enjoying a perfect view of the fireworks at Ashbridges Bay. They moved into their current residence on Kingston Road in the Triangle in the summer of 1995.
Not many know that Penny Lane, the little laneway that comes out beside Murphy’s Law and within eyesight of Chris and Pat’s current home, wasn’t named after the Beatles hit song: it was named after Chris’s mother, Penny, as recommended by the BTRA.
Chris loved being a dad and was the stay-at-home parent. He was heavily involved in Thom’s daycare and school, Kew Beach PS. This was his introduction into community work leading to his engagement in local politics. He also taught the after-school cooking class for several years.
Chris formed opinions based on research and, once decided, held his convictions with vigour and resolve. He often persuaded the BTRA not to take positions on issues without knowing whether it had substantial support from the residents. However, he respected and defended democratic process – always accepting majority decisions whether he personally agreed with them or not.
Pat revealed a side of Chris that his BTRA colleagues rarely saw – a love of “ridiculous jokes.” Chris had a unique way of looking at the world with a different perspective on just about everything. He was always coming up with phrases, putting words together or breaking them apart to mean something completely different (philosopher/Phyllis Officer; chances are/Chanz Sazar). He produced some real groaners that always got a reaction and a smile. His son Thom, much to Pat’s chagrin, follows in his father’s footsteps.
Chris was first elected to the BTRA board in 1998, served as chair until 2001, and continued on the board in two terms until his death. Always restless and eager to serve, he was BTRA newsletter editor, publisher and distributor; Committee Chair of the BTRA Policing, Environmental, Harbourfront, and Gardiner/Lakeshore committees, with primary focus on maintaining and improving the quality of life in the Beach through better policing, environmental and recreational initiatives.
With energy to spare, Chris was also in the forefront in representing the Triangle neighbourhood in a host of other issues. These included the development of Woodbine Park following demolition of the race track, ending incineration at the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant (and being an ongoing liaison), the Police picnic at Woodbine Park, acting as liaison with the Beach BIA, more bike lanes, combating unrestrained development on Queen Street East, initial opposition to the Greenwood Off-Track Betting facility and, when that didn’t succeed, tough controls on its liquor licence.
In his efforts for a better environment, he was often teamed with a BTRA founder, David Windrim, who said of Chris, “The Beach is a better place because of the work of Chris Blythe. We shared a vision and worked toward it for many years.”
Another long-time BTRA member, Edythe Gerrard, said, “I’ll miss sitting on ‘his’ bench in front of the Mennonite church and hearing him speak to everyone who passed. We spoke of lots of things from books to good coffee, good beer, and cooking from scratch. Lately we spoke of not thinking or worrying too far ahead.”
Chris was always open to a new experience. He loved to read anything that was well-written, was fascinated by religion (but wasn’t religious), intrigued by history, enjoyed building things (his last project was a new bookcase in the kitchen to house Pat’s collection of cookbooks), loved his and Pats’ travels to England (both their families were from the UK), was an exceptional cook (famous for his charcoal barbecued turkey and focaccia) and an excellent handy man.
Chris always used to say, “I’m still at the inquisitive stage.” For those who knew him well, it is a perfect epitaph. A life jam-packed with accomplishment, love, and respect has ended far too soon.
Chris was cremated on Friday, Oct. 4, at a private ceremony, and a memorial was held on Oct. 12. The family has requested that any donations be made in memory of Chris to the Palliative Care Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital or Gilda’s Club of Greater Toronto.