In praise of our historical society

Speaking to several people about history in our area, I hear, “Oh, there are these other historical societies in the East End, and they are really good.”

I started to think about our Beach and East Toronto Historical Society, which has been involved in local and city-wide history for more than 40 years – we are history lovers and history makers! Our society has been in the vanguard of local historical issues.

Some people are advocating farmers’ markets in the East End – like it is something new! No, my agrarian friends, we have had farmers’ markets in the East End for more than 120 years. The Lions’ Club more than 20 years ago established a farmers’ market at the old Woodbine racetrack. Community Centre 55 hosted a couple of farmers’ markets about 12 years ago. There are too many to mention them all. The idea is not new, please give us some credit!

To get to my main point, our local historical society is and was composed of people who have a passionate interest in our local history. We have people like Mary Campbell, Rod Travers-Griffith, Barbara Myrvold, Dawson Lang, and Eileen Tinney, just to name a few who were there in the early years.

How many times have we tried to stop the destruction of historic buildings by going to the Toronto Historical Board, our local politicians, or our provincial members? How many times have we gone to the Ontario Municipal Board to plead our case?

I can recall a picture in Beach Metro News with Rod Travers and myself standing on the ruins of the Norway Post Office – another one we lost – but we still battled on.

How many articles did Mary Campbell write about preserving our past, Barb Myrvold pleading our historic case before anyone who would listen? We have had hundreds of meetings in libraries, rec centres, and churches spreading the word about local history. We have gone to schools to bring the historic gospel to the young people of our area. We are still doing this work to this day.

We have put up plaques to mark historic buildings and events with the help of the Toronto Historical board. Some of these are Dr. Young in Kew Gardens, the Beach library, Scarborough Beach Amusement Park, Beach Synagogue, and the Glenn Gould plaques.

Our society has contributed so much and has received so little credit that it makes me angry. We have organized over 3000 walks in the East End to promote local history. We are the innovators of these historic walks. There are other people and societies doing walks – this is fine and we congratulate them, but please remember, we were there nearly at the beginning.

What about our guest speakers? Icons such as professor Eric Arthur, who wrote No Mean City, the definitive architectural-historical book on the city of Toronto, an architectural historian who was responsible for saving St. Lawrence Hall, the old City Hall, and a consultant on the new City Hall. (We were to collaborate on a book called From the Bluffs to the Beach, but this didn’t happen.)

Professor Arthur admired our historical society and the Beach, saying the architecture in the Beach is eclectic and unique: the wooden cottages in Kew Beach, the wondrous four-plexes in the Price Development, the stone and brick houses in Balmy Beach, the old Pellat residence, the RC Harris plant, your old fire station.

We have had speakers such as the gregarious and colourful Mike Filey, local people like Ted Reeve, Mary Denoon, Waverley Wilson, and dozens of others.

Our historical society was involved in so many historical ventures over the years. For example, during sesquicentennial year in 1984 we did a dozen walks and talks, had a gala evening at the old Woodbine racetrack, created a Ward 9 quilt, held a sesqui parade on the Danforth, hosted events in local schools, and more. That was a tremendous effort from our society.

There was the restoration of the Leuty Lifeguard Station, chaired by Chris Laylor and Glenn Cochrane, along with our society and the Toronto Historical Board. We raised more than $70,000 through the sale of t-shirts and mugs.

The historical society has celebrated the 100th anniversary of the town of East Toronto. We participated in St. John’s Anglican Church and the cemetery’s anniversary. We put the RC Harris plant on the historical map. We worked with the Balmy Beach Club, Maple Cottage, the Ashbridge house, and the list goes on and on.

One thing you can be sure of, without the help of a great newspaper like Beach Metro News or our public libraries, we would have had a hard time doing the things we do.

Why do we blow our own horn? Because we are a part of the history of the Beach and East Toronto.

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