The overlap of natural and built history

The Silver Birch boathouse as it looked in June of 1931. This building and several others still stand thanks to the work of local history advocates. PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, series 372, subseries 1, Item 1013

I will lead a walk starting at Balsam and Pine Avenues, showing different points of interest in this historic corner of our area on Sunday, Nov. 29 at 1 p.m. All those interested please come out and let me know your views.


What do we want to preserve? In our East End there are many properties and buildings that should be saved. In many cases there could be a practical use for these buildings or houses.

In the Beach we have saved a few buildings, such as the Silver Birch boathouse, the only waterfront spot to store your boat or canoe.

The Leuty Lifeguard Station is a historical life-saving structure that has been preserved and has great practical use even today. It is a beacon on the lakeshore. It has been saved through the efforts of many people such as Mary Campbell, Chris Layton, the Toronto Historical Board and the late Glenn Cochrane, among others.

Another building is the Kew Beach boathouse, now empty, but plans are there to use it again.

There are two “cottages” in particular that should be saved permanently and put into practical use.

One of these is Kew Williams Cottage, located on the west side of Lee Avenue in Kew Gardens, close to the lake.

This building is of historic and architectural importance. It is one of the last remaining homes built by the Williams family, who were among the original pioneers of the Beach and East End.

In fact, Joe Williams, the patriarch of the family, named his son Kew after the famous Kew Gardens of London, England. Kew built this house in 1902 as a honeymoon residence for his wife and family.

It has been a great oasis in the park, with gardens filled with flowers all around it. We would like to turn it into a museum of the Beach area. What do you think? Please let me know.

There is another building that has not been talked about too much, especially by the general public, but it has been discussed by people who would like to have it preserved.

This is a lovely frame cottage located at 140 Balsam Ave., on city property right across from Balmy Beach Community School. This frame cottage is unique in the area of Balsam and Pine, all the other homes are different in this historic area.

In the area we have homes such as Pine Crest at Balsam and Pine. There are homes that belonged to well-known artists such as Doris McCarthy and William Kurelek, and to our great activist-historian Glenn Cochrane.

This little frame cottage is a Beach wonder. A couple of weeks ago I was on a field naturalists’ walk which took in many areas of trees, small bushes, little streams, and birds flying about. This was led by Bob Kortright. We had 100 people in attendance.

The interest in this ravine is of great concern to anyone concerned about the incursion of concrete canyons upon our natural habitation of wildlife and ravines. One of the great tragedies is that there is not more public outcry to save and preserve our forests, especially in the East End.

There are many small ravines in our East End, but they are hidden away. There should be a great movement to understand and study the creatures of our inner city forests and protect them (and ourselves) from destruction.

Here we have a lovely, empty cottage on city property backing onto the Glen Stewart Ravine, right across the street from Balmy Beach School. Why not use it for a practical purpose? Use it for people to come and study different trees, have field naturalists use it to teach the young children about their ravine. We can ask teachers in the schools if they would like to study nature in an idyllic setting right across the street. Imagine, we could bring seniors on outings and share information on wildlife and forests. Children and parents could come and learn about the early history of the ravine and the surrounding area.

But I leave this up to you, the people of the Beach. The politicians, the educators, those interested in the ravine and what it stands for: this building would be a great undertaking for all those interested.

What do you think? Preserve the past and future, Kew Williams Cottage, and our quaint cottage on Balsam Avenue?

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