I’ve seen posts recently on social media celebrating Toronto’s 183rd birthday. In the scheme of things we really have a young city, don’t we? It seems in recent years Toronto has been undergoing accelerated change, and that is something we can all see in so many parts of the city.
We live in Long Branch, which has been part of Toronto since amalgamation. Previously it was part of Etobicoke, which had its own mayor and the whole works. Our community is undergoing rapid-fire change these days, some of it for the good, some of it less so. The growth, the increasing density along Lakeshore, has been inviting new businesses, and the long Lakeshore strip has been in need of some revitalization. It’s a double edged sword though, as we’re also seeing density pressure on our residential neighbourhoods and the phenomenon of lot-splitting and soldier homes, designed to mine the most possible wealth from each lot. This has had the unfortunate effect of reducing green-space and sucking away some of the character of the community.
There used to be a motel strip along the Lakeshore east of Mimico. I remember this well because I had a summer job in one of those motels back when I was in school. At that time, developers were buying up the motel properties and those who hadn’t sold, were stalling in the hope of reaping bigger gains further on down the road. I worked at a motel at the tail end of its active life. The owners kept it as nice and clean as possible, short of making any big investments in renovation. Most of the guests at that time were still families, but the whole motel strip was on the downturn. I remember the gold plastic sofa in the office, and the switchboard which must have been from the 50s. It’s all condos down there now.
I had a studio in the Junction for a while, way back before the area was a hip and artsy kind of place. I knew that area well because my father and his father had businesses there. My father made aluminum windows in a shop on the north side of Dundas, east of Runnymede. His father ran the Queen’s City Leatherworks across the street for many years, a place that made gloves for the railwaymen back when the Junction was a rail town.
Later I had a storefront painting studio on Ossington Ave, north of Queen, north of the drunk tank, but south of the fish mongers. In those days, there were quite a few artists around in among the Portuguese kitchen shops. Queen West too had a healthy population of artists. That was before the Goth bar The Sanctuary became a Starbucks, which kick-started the gentrification of Queen. Ossington changed quickly too – many of the storefronts, including ours, became Vietnamese coffee joints. These days, the street is known for trendy restaurants, something I never expected to happen.
The next painting studio I had was in the old casket factory down on Niagara Street. Nobody was supposed to live in the building but almost everyone did. I remember when I rented my studio, the superintendent said, “you know it’s not legal to live in this building” and I responded, “I’m a painter.” Every year or so, the City of Toronto Department of Buildings and Inspections contacted the landlord. They wished to satisfy themselves that nobody was living in the building and they made an appointment for an inspection. We would get a notice from the landlord. They will be looking for beds and stoves and we are confident they will not see any. Then the day before the inspection another notice was delivered, a reminder. Be prepared, be cool. Of course they never found any evidence that anyone was living in the building. We had a remarkable community at that time. Each year there would be a “zone of our own” party in the parking lot with a huge bbq and loads of musicians. It was fantastic.
When I left Niagara St I moved out to the burbs to stay with my father. He was aging and had various medical issues and increasingly he needed someone around to help out, make sure he had everything he needed, take him to appointments and so on. I liked my situation on Niagara and was sad to leave it, but in the fullness of time I’m really glad I had the opportunity to spend more time with my dad, listen to his stories for the umpteenth time, play him games of gin rummy, listen to his jazz records, and offer him some company and security when he needed it most. The area around King and Niagara is unrecognizable to me now due to the proliferation of condo buildings.
After Tuffy P and I got hitched we lived in a little house on Blackthorn Ave in an area often referred to as Little Portugal. There were in fact many Portuguese families there, from the Azores mostly, but it was quite a cultural mix. This was something which became obvious at World Cup time, when all the flags came out. We left Blackthorn during the time they were constructing the street car right of way, a development which split the community.
I struggle with some of the changes I see happening in my city, but still I think Toronto is a great place. We have so many wonderful neighbourhoods, and fantastic cultural diversity. We can’t begin to keep up with all the new restaurants. Toronto has to be as good a city for food as any at this point. Toronto used to be a very car-friendly city. I can recall a time when I knew free places to park a car all over the city, and most of them have all disappeared. Transit improvement hasn’t kept pace with traffic congestion and I think it’s going to be a number of years before we get the kind of public transit system in place we really need.
I’d say my biggest concern for my city these days is housing prices, which have been spiraling skyward. I don’t know how a young couple can afford to ever buy a home in Toronto now, and the high prices have been putting increasing pressure on rents too.
Question for fellow Torontonians – what do you think about the ways in which our city has been changing? And for those of you who live elsewhere, is your city transforming underfoot or is it remaining stable?