Headgear reignites old debate(s)

An age-old debate will be top of mind for hundreds of toque wearers this fall.

Is this the Beach or the Beaches?

Since the Toronto Star revealed two weeks ago that Tuck Shop Trading Co. is selling three times as many toques marked “Beaches” as “Beach” in its line of toques printed with Toronto neighbourhood names, designer Lyndsay Borschke has been overrun with orders.

“It definitely stirred up conversation,” said Borschke, who was only selling ‘Beaches’ toques last year until she got requests for a ‘Beach’ version.

“I just got some new Beaches stock in because of the demand.”

In another worrying development for people in the ‘Beach’ camp, Tuck Shop’s new infant-size toques will only be available in the ‘Beaches’ version.

“That’s brainwashing!” joked Mary Campbell when she heard the news.

A local historian and author of The Beach in Pictures, 1793-1932, Campbell is ready to make a historical case for ‘Beach,’ never mind that it was also the name chosen by 58 per cent of voters in a 2006 BIA referendum to decide what name to print on the Queen Street East street signs.

Campbell and other ‘Beach’ believers can also take heart when they walk into Seagull Classics, a Queen Street East shop that sells hoodies, sweatshirts and T-shirts with ‘BEACH’ printed across the front in big block letters.

“Honestly, out of the three years I’ve been selling these, I’ve only had one person ask for it to say ‘Beaches’ instead of ‘Beach,’” said Jennifer Jones, one of the owners.

Seagull Classics co-owner Jennifer Jones stands by some of the 'BEACH' T-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts sold at the shop. In three years of selling the clothes, Jones said she has only had one request for a 'Beaches' version. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Seagull Classics co-owner Jennifer Jones stands by some of the ‘BEACH’ T-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts sold at the shop. In three years of selling the clothes, Jones said she has only had one request for a ‘Beaches’ version.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Seagull Classics also sells a ‘Beach’ calendar by the Beach Photo Club, plus a line of locally made cushions marked ‘Beach’ (others bear geographical coordinates for the Leuty Lifeguard Station).

And across the street at Kew Gardens Variety Store, owner Steve Kim says he has never had any requests for another version of his popular ‘BEACH’ bumper stickers.

Asked what side she takes on the Beach/Beaches question, Jones tried to be diplomatic.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and I say both,” she said, smiling.

“But I’d say more people call it the Beach.”

Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, Mary Campbell said the same – most people she knew said ‘Beach.’

To put a very fine point on it, Campbell recalls people saying they lived “at the Beach” or “in the Beach district,” and not “in the Beach,” as they do now.

“Well, I can swallow that as long as they say ‘Beach’,” she said.

“But when they say ‘in the Beach,’ I always think, okay, they’re in sand up to their neck.”

For historians, Campbell said looking up names of old buildings and community groups doesn’t really settle the issue. For every Beaches Library (1916) there is a Beach Theatre (1919), for every Beaches Presbyterian Church (1926), a Beach Hebrew Institute (1920).

For those who prefer ‘the Beaches,’ the crux of the argument seems to be that the name counts all four beaches in the neighbourhood: Woodbine, Kew, Scarboro and Balmy.

In fact, that issue came up when Campbell and others were naming the Beach and East Toronto Historical Society. For a while, she actually preferred East Toronto and Beaches Historical Society, but was getting flak for it.

“I said it’s a small ‘B’ beaches!” she said, laughing.

Campbell, who published A Historical Walking Tour of Kew Beach, explained that ‘beaches’ made sense for a group looking at the distinct histories of each beach area.

“They were quite separate, and in a way they still are,” she said, noting how Beech and Queen remains the hub of the historical Balmy Beach neighbourhood, whereas Queen and Lee is the centre of Kew.

But ever since the late 1920s, when the city cleared away the remaining waterfront cottages along Woodbine Beach and the Scarboro Beach Amusement Park was also replaced by permanent houses, Campbell says the whole area became better known as one united ‘Beach.’

Just don’t get her started on the popular name for her neighbourhood of the last 50 years, the “Upper Beaches.”

“It’s a whole other history up here – it was a railway town,” she said. Merging that history with that of the waterfront community just below it is “anathema to a purist,” she added, smiling.

“It’ll go on forever, but it makes things more interesting.”

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I remember being in “The Beaches” once as a tourist and asked a local where “The beach” was, meaning the physical object, the beach. The local proceed to tell me I was already at the beach over and over again despite my confused look. That’s why I call it “The Beaches”, to distinguish between the neighbourhood and the physical object of the same name as “The Beach” neighbourhood.

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