Beach history group rejuvenated

A packed room at the Beaches library provided ample evidence that the time has come for the rejuvenation of the Beach and East Toronto Historical Society (BETHS).

About 60 history buffs met on Oct. 29 for a slide show and talk by historian and Beach Metro News history columnist Gene Domagala, who offered up a tantalizing glimpse of the many fascinating people, buildings and institutions that constitute the extensive past of the Beach area.

The talk was “the first of many that we hope to have,” said Glenn Chadwick, program convenor on the interim BETHS board of directors.

Interim board president John Ellis said organizers were thrilled by the strong turnout for Domagala’s presentation.

“It’s hugely encouraging, I’m really pleased,” he said.

BETHS was founded in the early 1970s, and was incorporated in 1978 under the Ontario Historical Society (it has recently been incorporated on its own, in accordance with current provincial law).

While the society enjoyed much popularity for a while, it had languished for the past several years, as public interest migrated elsewhere. The early days were also driven primarily by two ambitious Beachers.

“I can’t say too much about the contributions of Barb Myrvold and Mary Campbell,” said Ellis.

BETHS was originally an initiative of the library, and Campbell served as a coordinator until the first executive was voted in. She and Myrvold have both served in various roles including president, though most recently Campbell was president and Myrvold vice president. The two have published books together, and were instrumental in spearheading interest in Beach history when the society was founded.

BETHS was originally named The East Toronto and Beaches Historical Society, and focused on the area still covered today – namely, from Coxwell to Victoria Park, and the former border of East York down to the lake. The name was slightly modified to the current operating name to reflect a (somewhat) final decision to call the area the Beach rather than the Beaches.

Ellis said the society’s role in preserving local history is more important than ever, as new development encroaches on the area. A separate committee formed to work on the possibility of a Heritage Conservation District for parts of Queen Street East will likely work closely with BETHS, which keeps as accurate an inventory as possible of significant architecture and historically important buildings in the East End.

The society is selling annual memberships for $20; applications are available at the Beach Metro News office. Early in 2014 there will be an annual general meeting, where a board will be elected by members of the society.

Another presentation is scheduled for Nov. 20, as author Jane Fairburn (Along The Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage) presents a talk titled The Beach: New insights about a time-honoured neighbourhood.

The free event will run from 7 to 8:15 p.m. at the Beaches library branch, on Queen Street East just west of Lee Avenue.

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