Tears and hugs as as Beach crossing guard Paul Belyea says goodbye to Queen and Elmer

Paul Belyea shares high-fives with Phoebe and George on Friday, June 28, at the corner of Queen Street East and Elmer Avenue in the Beach. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

By ALAN SHACKLETON

Children and parents gathered around Beach crossing guard Paul Belyea last Friday to wish him a good summer and to say goodbye.

While most of the parents seemed to know, a lot of the students from Kew Beach Junior Public School were initially unaware that they were not just saying goodbye for the summer but instead having a final farewell with Belyea as he will not be returning to work as a crossing guard next fall after more than nine years in the job.

There were hugs, high-fives, handshakes and tears on the corner of Queen Street East and Elmer Avenue for Belyea on June 28.

“It’s going to be an emotional day for me,” said Belyea as he took time between talking with parents and students last Friday morning to also chat with Beach Metro Community News.

Cleary he is much loved by the community and will be deeply missed.

“The corner just won’t be the same,” parent Pam told Belyea as she and her husband Mike wished him well for the future.

Their children are now 21 and 17 but they wanted to thank Belyea for his work over the years keeping people safe as they cross the street and also for being such a positive part of the day for so many local students and families.

“He knows everyone, and year after year we’ve seen Paul here and he’s been a great support to our kids and others and really they’ve grown up with him,” said Pam.

“Paul knows the kids and parents not just by their faces but by their names, and we’re going to miss him a lot,” said Mike.

Another parent told Belyea: “You have had such an impact on so many people…we love you so much.”

Paul Belyea with one of the many cards he received last Friday. This card recognized the squeaky toy that he carries with him to brighten the day of the students crossing at the intersection of Queen Street East and Elmer Avenue. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

For Belyea, who started working as a crossing guard in April of 2015, the job has seen a number of changes and this year made him realize that it was time to move on from what had been work he had loved doing for years.

It’s been a challenging year as the contract for the crossing guard services for the Toronto-East York area was changed to a different private company and that has come with some issues, said Belyea. “Their values don’t align with my values…also the City of Toronto rolled back the hours and I can no longer make a living wage at this job,” he said.

Along with those realities, Belyea said he realized in late June that Toronto drivers were simply too much of a problem to deal with.

The final straw was being hit by the driver of a car while he was riding his bike home to the city’s west end after finishing his crossing guard shift.  That happened on Monday, June 24. Belyea was banged up and suffered a “light” concussion.

“Any lingering doubts I had about this (leaving the crossing guard profession), the car accident confirmed I cannot be around traffic anymore,” he said. “With drivers, it is beyond belief their negligence and they way they drive around the public.”

Belyea said he does not see a “resolution” to the issue of overall traffic safety in Toronto any time soon, especially since police seem too busy to be able to do anything about it. “I worry how it’s going to end.”

All of which would make many feel that trained and caring crossing guards such as Belyea are what Toronto needs more of. However, he is passing on the hand-held stop sign (sometimes referred to as a ‘lollipop’) over to others to do this critically important job. Along with helping people safely cross the street on their way to and from school, crossing guards also become a key component in overall community safety.

“Crossing guards are fixed points in the turning wheel of the community, they see the rhythms and patters of the people, and they become accustomed to the company” said Belyea. “We know who is new to the area, who is passing through; we are a form of community watch, protecting people as they cross and as they go about their day.”

He pointed out that the presence of a crossing guard in a community also helps many youngsters take their first steps of independence when they are allowed to walk to school alone.

“We are bridge builders and ambassadors to the communities we serve, we make our people’s days brighter, better and safer. Many parents will only allow their children to walk to school alone if they know their crossing guard is there to watch out,” he said.

For Belyea, the link to the Beach and the community around Kew Beach Junior Public school is especially strong since he grew up in the neighbourhood and actually attended the school himself.

He said a good crossing guard strives to be a “community ambassador” and takes the time to know the people they are helping to keep safe. That’s part of the reason why so many parents value their local crossing guards and often become upset when they are changed.

“The communities become possessive of their crossing guards, and we become even more attached to our people we serve,” said Belyea.

“We take the time to get to know not only the kids’ names but also little details like how their math test went, what are they dressing up as for Halloween, or what are they eating for lunch on Freedom Friday. Attention to the details on the street and beyond the crossing define the central importance of the crossing guard not only to community safety but also to the general level of community happiness.”

As a result of his concussion, Belyea was not actually working as the crossing guard at Elmer and Queen Street East the majority of last week but he still came to the intersection on Friday to say his final goodbyes to students and parents and to show his appreciation to the community for its support for the past nine years.

“There is neither the space nor the proper amount of words to express my gratitude to the Beach and the beautiful people who make up the community,” said Belyea.

“Your words and high-five and fist bumps and hugs have left me both speechless and completely filled with love. Most of my life I have ghosted my way through, but since April 2, 2015 (when he started as the Queen and Elmer crossing guard) I have finally felt accepted as a member of a community. And this is the greatest gift of all.”

Parents and youngsters gather around Paul Belyea to wish him well on Friday, June 28. Belyea, who has been the crossing guard at Queen Street East and Elmer Avenue for nine years, will not be returning to the job next year. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

Along with a parade of cards (and even a box of doughnuts) thanking him for his service, one grandparent also gave Belyea a copy of an old book of short stories including one about a local crossing guard.

For the future, Belyea will be expanding his work as wedding officiant with his company Rite Life. He is a certified licensed humanist officiant and more information about Rite Life is available at https://ritelife.ca/


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