Beaches Lions tree lot move part of new approach to Kew Gardens

Residents sit on one of the new benches at Kew Gardens ahead of this year's Remembrance Day ceremony. PHOTO: Anna Killen

While some in the Beach are crying “Grinch!” at the relocation of the Beaches Lions Christmas tree lot from Kew Gardens to Woodbine Beach, city officials stand by the decision, noting that the move signifies a new way of doing business in Kew Gardens.

That new way means commercial business will be strongly discouraged in the Queen Street East park, with the newly refurbished grounds instead acting as a place that is open to the public at all times with opportunities for non-profit groups to apply to host small, local events in the park.

“We really don’t want any commercial permits at any point in that area,” said James Dann, City of Toronto’s waterfront parks manager.

The Lions Christmas Tree Sale, a fixture at Kew Gardens for 25 years that acts as a fundraiser but also as a commercial operation, does not fit parks management’s intention for the park, explained Dann.

“We just spent a substantial amount of money making sure that area was completely refurbished and we want it open to the public all of the time,” he said.

It also does not fit with the city’s intention to maintain the grounds and keep trucks and vehicles off of the new cobblestones, away from the cenotaph, and out of parks in general, he said. Loading and unloading trucks and having them on the park grounds is a major part of the tree lot’s operation.

“We’ve had issues in the past with trucks being right on the hard surface in Kew Gardens, which was just destroying the existing slate that was there,” he said.

“You just can’t have trucks on that space,” he said. “That’s something that was crucial to their operation. They tried to do it on Queen where it was just a no parking lane. It is something where that park itself is an extremely busy location and it doesn’t necessarily need the activation of a Christmas tree sale going on at that location.”

Dann said the parks department understood the history of the tree lot in the area and went beyond normal protocol to secure the lot a new location in the Beach that would provide them with a similar opportunity. The organizers of the tree lot said last week that the city and Dann had been particularly helpful in setting up the new location at Woodbine Beach.

“Had they not had the history of being in Kew Gardens, I would not be listening to someone saying to me that they want to sell Christmas trees in parks,” said Dann. “The fact that they do have a history and many Beachers, myself included, have purchased Christmas trees from them in the past … we said, ‘It’s done well, the community enjoys it, the community gets it, and we want to look at what we are going to be doing to still provide them with an opportunity to sell Christmas trees in the Beach, in the same ward.”

Woodbine Beach works because “there’s a big parking lot there, and/or pedestrian traffic with people walking along the boardwalk, which we certainly are encouraging people to do throughout the year,” he said.

Addressing local chatter that the move from Kew Gardens was in some way associated with Tuggs, the company which holds an exclusive lease to sponsorship and food and beverage rights on several Eastern Beach properties, Dann stressed that was “absolutely” not the case.

“This has nothing to do with George Foulidis (Tuggs’ owner).” he said. “He had absolutely nothing to do with it. This was a parks management operations decision.”

In fact, the rebuild of Kew Gardens means that the newly refurbished portion is no longer beholden to Tuggs’ lease, explained ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, speaking yesterday.

“Here’s the thing with the new refresh that I don’t think people realize yet,” said McMahon. “Because it’s considered a new build that means Tuggs does not have the right to that top of the park anymore.”

She said the Beach Village BIA, which is a non-profit, will now be able to start holding events by applying to the city directly.

Dann agreed that there will be opportunities for public use of the space.

“The councillor’s office is looking at opportunities for small local bands, it will be animated during the jazz festival, it will be activated potentially for buskers, it will be activated for a smaller-scale multi-use operation. It will be an animated place,” he said.

He said he knows people are upset about the tree lot’s move — some online are calling for a petition to stop it — but he thinks those feelings will pass once people visit the new location.

“I hope those people realize that having a completely beautiful refurbished Kew Gardens is something that’s important,” he said. “And as stewards of the public asset within parks, we do our best to manage all of the interests, not just people who have one specific interest.”

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Oh, sooo, the Christmas Tree sales in Kew Gardens is not as altruistic as presented? It’s a split operation by which some of the funds are donated to the Lions from what appears to be a retail/commercial operation? Hmmmm

It needs an audit.

I think this is a poorly thought out decision and I support change – so let me get this straight – you have scrapped something that is special to the community to create space for events that will be special and unique to the community. This is IMHO an annual event that holds a special place in people’s memories that they share with friends, family, children annually …so tell me City Stewards during this holiday season what are you doing at Kew Gardens instead?

If “commercial business will be strongly discouraged” in the park, does this mean the end of the annual craft fair as well?

Maybe “parks management’s intention for the park” is vastly different from Beachers’ expectations of the park. Why is what WE do in OUR park dictated by faceless, distant bureaucrats?

It seems to me there are two issues. One is the question of how the tree sales negatively impact Kew Gardens and if it does why can’t the tree sales take place near the gazebo rather than on the new deck. I think the real issue is “commercial business”.

The transformation of the Kew Gardens area was originally done to improve business and that’s why the Business Association got involved. So if that is true then what is wrong with the “commercial business” of selling Christmas Trees?

Often a ‘commercial business” will use a charity to avoid permit costs and to improve access and often the amount of money that is actually donated to the charity is rather small. That’s why an audit is necessary.

So it seems to me that the Tree Sales could be moved a little further into Kew and the commercial business can still operate and provide funds to the Lions. You will note however that the Lions have not responded to this issue at all. Does that mean they get very little revenue and its more trouble than its worth?

In my view, Kew Gardens could be one hell-of-a-Christmas Market with lights, and vendors and a real wonderland. It has enormous community potential. Costs associated with damage and cleaning etc, would have to be factored into the permitting.

How sad that the “powers that be” did not take a page out of the Distillery District’s Christmas Market planning book. Thousands of individuals visit that Market without a whisper of “extra-ordinary wear and tear”.

I have a question: Who works for who here? James Dann’s tone seems like we (Beachers) work for him and he “commands” us. My hope is that he understands that he is a civil servant and that he should not be commanding residents. Rather, he should be listening to us and consulting better.

The only way you can get anything done is to speak to and get support of the Municipal Councilor. Sometimes there is no point in dealing with staff. If the Councilor doesn’t support an issue, it won’t get resolved.

Then the obvious and tiresome question is: Who does the Councilor work for?

The previous Councilor is a perfect example of a politician taking care of herself and never had the best interests of the community in mind. The current Councilor is a different breed-proof-she has stated she will only run two terms.

So now we need leadership. Who is out there? So far its obvious who is setting up to run and I wouldn’t vote for either of them.

“The previous Councilor is a perfect example of a politician taking care of herself and never had the best interests of the community in mind. The current Councilor is a different breed-proof-she has stated she will only run two terms.”

To say Sandra Bussin “never had the best interests of the community in mind” isn’t exactly true. She got six incinerators that were directly responsible for increased asthma rates in the east end shut down, got funding for the Beaches library expansion/renovation, Kimberley Public School addition and the building of the Main Square rec centre, had pedestrian signals and traffic lights installed at two very dangerous intersections on Queen (that the previous councillor never did anything about) and acquired the Gardener’s Cottage for public use — hardly “taking care of herself.” But then she blew it big time with the Tuggs deal, which is all anyone remembers.

What will we have to remember McMahon by? A pile of “visioning studies” that never amounted to much, more butt-ugly condos on Queen than attractive, blending-in ones (and no regulations to prevent further ugliness), and a “refurbished” park we’re now basically being told we can’t use for anything.

Oh yeah, and was instrumental in getting the stinky Ashbridges Bay sewage treatment plant updated. Okay, so maybe there wasn’t much left for McMahon to do. 🙂

Solution? “She said the Beach Village BIA, which is a non-profit, will now be able to start holding events by applying to the city directly.”

Step 1. Lions approach the BIA
Step 2. Lions ask BIA to get a permit to hold a special Christmas Tree Sales event. Vehicles restricted.
Step 3. The BIA applies.
Step 4. If they get a permit, they sublease it to the Lions
Step 5. Sell trees and keep vehicles off the property.

Eezy Peezy Lemonsqueezey

Subleasing worked for Foulidas.

Permits for special events in any Toronto City park or facility can be hosted by a not-for-profit or charitable organization. The Lions Club is a registered charitable organization and as such can apply directly to the City. In the past, Kew Park/Gardens could only be used for an event affiliated with a registered charity – Jazz Festival (Toronto East General Hospital), Arts and Crafts (Senior Link) and so on. As Sherlock Holmes would say “something is afoot my dear Watson”.

Problem solved then. The Lions apply for the permit. But, I haven’t seen, or heard one comment from the Lions about the issue. One would think then, they don’t care that much about it.
Anyway, I guess people who care enough, have to fight the city for a policy change and the 5 or 6 people who have commented on this issue, on this website may indicate its a non issue.

It says: “In fact, the rebuild of Kew Gardens means that the newly refurbished portion is no longer beholden to Tuggs’ lease, explained ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, speaking yesterday.”

It all depends on what the lease says, and I don’t think this is anywhere in the lease… and so Foulidis cold take the city to court. McMahon is often wrong about things like this.

And frankly, if Lions is there or not should really be up to the community and not up to some bureaucrats. The whole project lacked proper community input about if we wanted these changes or what type of commercial activity might be ok, and in turn, the choice of paving materials etc. should have been appropriate to whatever we wanted.

Many of the people I have spoken to are outraged by the changes, and/or the cost of over $1 million when the initial budget was half that.

Agreed, but its not up to the bureaucrats. They follow policy. It needs a policy review at the political committee level with subsequent deputations. Also I WAS at these consultation meetings and as far as I could tell these meetings were met with a lot of public apathy. I think maybe the largest gathering have been 60 people. There were some notable appellants there-Jean Cochrane and Carole Stimmell and a Ms. Perry. They were rather vocal and could have used support.

Anyway, I am turning the page because its done. The Lions and the BIA haven’t even commented.

Quite right Brian.

The fact that the space was refurbished did not change its location and/or cease the fact that it is part of Kew Park.

Perhaps the most contentious part of this is moving events to areas that are not easily accessible by those that do not drive and/or have mobility issues.

I have been reading these comments for awhile now and they really don’t lead anywhere other than complaining. It would be better to do what one of the commenters said and approach this politically. if you have the time-considerable time.

With respect to accessibility, this issue is pale in comparison to the fact that most public buildings and agencies and businesses are inaccessible. My understanding is these Christmas Trees can be and have been delivered so I don’t think you should trivialize this . In addition I cant afford a $100 tree, I prefer to use the money to feed myself.

By the way, the new surface in the Kew ‘refurbishment’ is easy for me and my walker. Up until now it was a trip and fall area. So as far as I am concerned I like it and people should stop their belly aching.

I go through Kew Gardens every day at least once with our dog….I love the gazebo, the gardens and every Christmas, the Lions Club Tree Lot which added an old timey, traditional feel to the hood…..we would get our tree there and one of the young gaffers would trim it or wrap it up for us to carry home. I loved walking by and hearing carols playing while people browsed….made me smile!
For the past six months, I have seen the entrance to the park become a cement slab…you can’t even see the gardens from the street as they slope down behind these slabs. I have also watched them chop down the huge evergreens that were there and now, to add insult to injury, the powers that be have decided that the Lions Club Tree Lot should also be removed. Booooo!!! Not a happy camper. (I have other issues about no one seeming to be responsible for picking up discarded litter in the park and on the beach, but that’s a different story!)

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