It may be smaller than Ted Reeve’s pantry, but leasing Pantry Park is a big deal for Kew Beach Junior Public School.
On May 5, Toronto city council will vote on a 999-year lease that allows Kew Beach to use the track and field at Pantry Park as part of its school yard.
In exchange, the Toronto District School Board will take on field maintenance costs of about $15,000, and give up its long-held option to build a new school on the east side of Woodbine Park.
According to city and school officials, the deal is a win-win.
“It really works,” says local school trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher.
Kew Beach is bustling with students, said Cary-Meagher, and the existing yard is too small for students to play soccer and other sports at recess.
“They need more space,” she said. “When you have energetic, happy kids running around, if they don’t have enough square footage they’re inclined to collide.”
Tucked behind the school and the backyards of homes along Kippendavie and Kenilworth Avenues, the 3.6-acre Pantry Park is a popular spot for youth soccer, and for dog walkers and joggers who live nearby.
If the lease goes ahead, Pantry Park will continue to be a public park outside school hours, like the city parks beside Bowmore, George Webster and other schools.
The only difference is that any groups who want to rent the park will get their permits from the TDSB, not the city.
“If people walk through the park on a Sunday afternoon now, they should continue to do that,” said Cary-Meagher, adding that neighbouring residents who have backyard gates to the park can continue to use them.
The lease excludes the small field house and public washroom at the park’s south end, which will remain open to the public.
Since 1996, the TDSB has held an option to build a new school on a 4.3-acre parcel of land on the east side of nearby Woodbine Park, along Northern Dancer Boulevard.
But given the board’s current finances, Cary-Meagher said the chance of that going ahead is “about zero to none.”
“The province doesn’t want to give us one dime for anything,” she said.
It is more likely that an addition will be built on the existing Kew Beach property so it can add Grades 7 and 8, though Cary-Meagher said even an addition would be a challenge to fund.
“It’s a possibility,” she said. “The school very much wants to be a K to 8.”
Ryan Glenn, business services manager for Toronto’s parks department, said the lease is a good deal for the school board, the city, and for regular park users, too.
At first, Glenn said the board and the city looked at a straight land exchange – Pantry Park for the eastern portion of Woodbine Park.
“The city obviously doesn’t want to give up parkland because it’s so valuable, and so important to the overall fabric of Toronto,” he said.
By choosing a lease, Glenn said the city doesn’t give up ownership, just a use of the park during school days.
And should the school board decide to sell Kew Beach school in the next 999 years, Pantry Park will remain city property.
Over 90 per cent of the groups who already rent the park’s track and field do so outside school hours, Glenn added, so the lease should have little impact on community groups.
In fact, the city gets more permit requests for the property at Woodbine Park, and Glenn said that securing that land means the city can make longer-term plans for events like the Beaches Jazz Festival, or future park upgrades.
“It allows us to do all the things we’re doing now, and even more in future,” he said.
Questions about how Pantry Park got its unusual name led to local historian Gene Domagala.
Pantry Park started out with a straightforward name – Beaches Athletic Field – that was exciting enough for people like Ted Reeve, who grew up playing there in the years before the First World War, said Domagala.
The park was smaller at the time, but as the Beach was still transitioning from a cottage hotspot to a year-round neighbourhood, it was really the only local park with a good field for sports like rugby and football – a perfect training ground for Reeve.
“Ted Reeve was the sports guy – he played everything,” said Domagala.
Reeve won a Mann Cup in lacrosse, played on two of the Beach’s own Grey Cup football teams, and stuck out some tough injuries to play wing for the Balmy Beach rugby squad.
And Reeve wasn’t the only big-name athlete who trained on Beaches Athletic Field.
So did Myrtle Cook, who was born the same year, 1902. Cook would go on to set a world record for the 100-metres and win Olympic gold with Canada’s 100-metre relay team in the 1928 Olympics before she, like Reeve, became a popular sports writer.
But it was a quote from Reeve that gave the park its lasting name.
A big guy playing on what was then a small field, Reeve made a complaint worthy of his ‘Moaner’ nickname.
“He said, ‘This place is so small – it’s the size of my mother’s pantry,’” said Domagala, smiling. “The name stuck forever.”