News

Past ARA newsletters are now available on line. The newsletter archive is a Dropbox folder that holds pdfs of issues published from October 2014 to July 14 2021. More recent newsletters published from July 21, 2021 onward can be accessed directly from this website. However, if you wish to stay up-to-the-minute and have the most current issues delivered straight to your inbox, then by all means, join us.

 

Recently from the Newsletter

 

August 25, 2021 - Tree Survey Redux

When a developer advertises new homes for sale in the Annex, you can be assured that one of the key selling points is the pleasure of living in a heritage neighbourhood with “tree-lined streets.” Indeed!

According to the comprehensive tree survey undertaken ten years ago by the ARA, a full 70% of these trees are private: it is individual citizens who are largely responsible for nurturing the immensely desirable tree canopy in our community. And it’s a canopy that at last official count comprised a full ten thousand trees.

The Value of Trees

As most readers recognize, the importance of these trees cannot be exaggerated. We know they are the lungs of the planet. But closer to home, studies have proven they can reduce household energy bills by 8%. And apparently neighbourhoods with an abundance of trees also have statistically better health outcomes and lower rates of heart disease.

That last claim might strike you as far-fetched. But our Chair of the Environment Committee, Terri Chu, assures us that it is well proven in the literature. Researchers suggest that people who live near trees are simply more likely to get outside and walk further.

But our tree canopy has been under severe stress for the past decade. The 2018 wind and ice storms were especially brutal. And as developers move in and buildings grow higher, trees are proportionally compromised. That’s why the ARA has committed to once again undertake a comprehensive survey of the Annex trees. 

The Scope of the Survey

A survey of 10,000 trees, plus or minus, does not come cheap. Terri estimates it will cost approximately $15,000 for each of four years. The committee will need to hire a Master of Forestry student, while technical work and data analysis are also significant expenses.  

But the results will be well worth the cost. As Terri says, the survey will give us tools to save trees that people want to cut down. It will help us target where to plant trees. And it will help us hold the City to account on their promise to increase the tree canopy by 40%.

Your Support is Critical

So where does this money come from? As long as we raise half the funds ourselves – that’s $7,500 per year – we can apply annually to MITACS to cover the other half. Already Terri has secured a $2,000 donation from Cohen and Masters to support the coming year’s work. But that leaves us with a $5,500 shortfall for this year alone.

So …… If you’re interested in helping to nurture the urban forest that’s so vital to our community, please do consider making a donation. Our new website is ready to facilitate the transaction. Just click here and you’re off and away. And if you want to read more about our trees, then click on the “Environment” tab on our home page.

https://www.theara.org/trees

You can find the interactive Annex Tree Map from the previous survey on our website by clicking here. Check out a particular street or a particular specie of tree. Has anything changed in the past ten years?

One of the oldest, if not THE oldest, tree in Toronto is in the Annex. A bur oak that is perhaps 400 years old, majestically shelters six private properties.

 

July 7, 2021 - What's in a Name?

There’s much debate in the news about re-naming streets like Dundas and institutions like Ryerson in order to rebuke the values and actions of their namesakes. Whatever side of the debate you’re on as to whether these changes should be made, this movement does lead to curiosity about the origins of place names across our city. And we in the Annex are no less inquisitive.

We thought to start with Chicora Avenue because it was on this very day – July the seventh – 83 years ago that the famed and long-serving vessel Chicora (at this point re-built as a barge and re-christened Warrenko) sank in Lake Ontario after a maritime collision. No one can say for sure, but it has been assumed by multiple researchers that it was this particular vessel after which our Annex street was named.

The Chicora Legend

But let’s go back to the beginning and the origins of the name “Chicora.”  The word comes from the indigenous peoples who inhabited the coastal area near Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Spanish explorers first encountered these natives in June of 1521. They befriended the Chicora, accepted their hospitality, and admired the prosperity of their land.

But the Europeans’ true mission was to capture slaves for labour in Española in the Galapagos. So a matter of weeks after their first encounter, they hosted a party on board their ship, raised anchor, and then hastily set sail for the Spanish colony with sixty unwilling captives on board.

One of the captives, Francisco de Chicora, ingratiated himself sufficiently with his “hosts” that he became a domestic servant in the household of the explorers’ backer back in Santo Domingo. His tales of the prosperity, beauty and wealth of his homeland contributed to what became known as the “Chicora Legend,” a kind of North American version of El Dorado.

(This is, perforce, a much-truncated version of the legend. If you’d like to know more, click on this link to a scholarly article published some years back in the Florida Historical Quarterly. Otherwise, read on to get to why Chicora Avenue has that name. – Ed.)

The Chicora Affair

As the eastern coast was settled by Europeans over the ensuing centuries, the glamour of the Chicora name continued to blaze. It was, in fact, the first name given the Carolinas. It makes perfect sense, then, that one of the vessels built by the Confederacy in 1862 to run the Union’s blockade in the American Civil War was ultimately dubbed CSS Chicora. It was a sturdy ship – a seagoing battering ram boasting a four-inch-thick shield of iron backed by almost two feet of solid oak and pine. No wonder she saw service for almost 75 years before her ultimate demise in 1938.

Chicora acquitted herself brilliantly as a blockade runner on the Atlantic Coast, making at least twelve successful voyages across the Atlantic. In 1865 at the end of the war she was put up for sale in Halifax and through a serendipitous route and a sojourn in drydock in Collingwood, she was rebuilt and repurposed for collecting the mails from the Northern Railway to move westward on the Great Lakes (a sort of marine FedEx for her time).

Then in 1870 she became embroiled in yet another conflict – this one related to the Riel uprising out in Manitoba. The only way for Chicora to deliver military supplies for Canadian troops in the West was through the canal system and locks at Sault Ste Marie, meaning she had to depend on American cooperation to allow her passage. Not so easy, it turned out, as the politics at the time were complex. (Read this article just to grasp the complexity – Fenians, Irish, British, you name it.)

The US coast guards had a natural antipathy to the vessel given her confederate bonafides and did what they could to thwart her progress – machinations which have been rightly characterized as a showdown with Uncle Sam. The affair was an eye opener for Canadians who realized they had to build their own canal in order to preserve national security.

Chicora Avenue

Consequently, Chicora became a symbol of Canadian pride and sovereignty, particularly as she continued to serve in Canadian waters. She was refitted and pressed into service for the Toronto-Niagara River passenger trade, her first trip after rebuilding being an excursion out of Toronto harbour (October 1878). There are still photos of her available online docked next to the Island Princess ferry.

So it is perfectly understandable to believe that Chicora Avenue was named for this famous vessel, especially given the timing of the avenue’s birth. The Goad’s Fire Insurance Maps of Toronto for 1884 show no development on the lands we now know as the Annex. But by 1890, they show Chicora Avenue named and perfectly laid out with building lots drawn and ready for developers.

Chicora has crept its way into American musical history. Pictured here is the cover page of sheet music by the “Ladies of the Southern Confederacy” celebrating the Chicora name. And from the more recent past, you can find a rather stirring musical tribute, “The Land Called Chicora,” by composer Paul Murtha on You Tube.

June 23, 2021 - Downtown North Development Round Table

It may be officially summer, but the ARA P+D committee hasn’t let up for a moment. Last Saturday the team hosted an afternoon roundtable for representatives from residents’ associations across Downtown North – the sector roughly contained from Christie east to the Don Valley and from College north to the CP rail line.

Led by a powerhouse consisting of ARA planner-in-chief, Edward Leman, lawyer extraordinaire, Henry Wiercinski, HVRA community champion, Susan Dexter, and Bloor East association rep, Linda Brett, some forty participants spent three full hours on Zoom exploring key trends in our communities, assessing City Planning’s current work in response to the Province’s “Growth Plan Review,” and sharing useful practices in engaging with stakeholders on major development applications in their areas.

City Input

Sharing the e-stage were Councillors Mike Layton and Kristyn Wong-Tam, both of whom emphasized the importance of active residents’ associations, particularly after the cataclysmic halving of City Council by the Ford government. Also on the call were City staff who gave up a sunny Saturday afternoon to present their work-in-progress and to answer questions about everything from the Committee of Adjustment’s plans to reduce appeals to how the City is dealing with the Province’s mandatory density targets for Major Transit Station Areas – like ours!

Participants were particularly impressed with the ARA's Project Review Checklist. Recently developed by Edward, this checklist forms the basis for the official Position Statements the ARA now crafts in response to major projects. As we rationalize our responses and processes, and as we work to intervene early -- well before a formal development application is filed -- we hope to continue having a positive impact on projects within our borders.

For the Record

For those of you who are interested in doing a deep dive into the subject, Edward’s cut the video of the round table into three separate sections and posted them to YouTube:

Part One - Key Trends: https://youtu.be/CfqPTTdGkio
Part Two - City’s Growth Plan Conformity and Inclusionary Zoning: https://youtu.be/77IDqwqXf3c
Part Three - Engaging on Large Development Applications: https://youtu.be/Et5If3tVUiU

May 26, 2021 - Stop Spadina: the Untold Stories

Last week we recounted the early work of Annexonians Bobbi Speck and Lorraine Van Riet, leaders of the Committee of Concerned Citizens (CCC) formed in 1968 to stop the Spadina Expressway. After their cause was publicized in the Toronto Daily Star, they went full tilt in their efforts to reach out to politicians and to educate the public.

Together with representatives from the Kensington and Sussex associations, the pair even secured a meeting at Queen’s Park with Alan Grossman, the MPP whose riding encompassed the vulnerable community south of Bloor. But while lobbying politicians at all levels was important, getting the community involved was equally crucial. And so Bobbi and Lorraine organized two particularly significant public meetings, the first of which was in May of 1969.

The Kendal Meeting

This meeting at the Kendal home of Fred and Louise Field was focused on blockbusting techniques in the Annex. The biggest slum landlord was Metro, which was cynically letting its Spadina Road properties decline into shabby rooming houses, thus further devaluing neighbouring real estate for expropriation. Added to this injury, developers with visions of high-rise towers dancing in their heads worked the side streets, offering options to owners and spreading fear of plunging land values.

At the well-attended Kendal meeting was a woman who seemed extremely knowledgeable. When Bobbi approached her afterwards to ask if she would get involved, the woman replied, eyes twinkling, “That’s why I’m here.”  It was only when they later checked the sign-in sheet that Bobbi and Lorraine realized they had been talking with the formidable civic activist and urban thinker, the internationally famous Jane Jacobs!

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs had arrived much earlier in Toronto in 1968 with her three children – that would be our very own ARA Board member, Jim Jacobs, and his siblings, brother Ned and sister Burgin. According to Jim, the family hadn’t been in town more than a week or so when a young Peter Stollery, alerted to Jane Jacob’s presence, had ridden his bicycle to her house on Spadina just north of Lowther. His mission: to secure her help in delaying a vote on the expressway to be held the very next day at Toronto City Council. (Hard to credit now, but in those days members of the public could freely ask to address Council at its meetings.)

Legal circumstances required Jane to be circumspect – she was fresh, after all, from having been arrested for her activism in New York – so Burgin volunteered to accompany Peter in her stead. Since Burgin was tall for her age and strikingly attractive, the group decided that no one would realize she was only fourteen years old. The stratagem worked. Council thought there was no harm in granting the nice young couple’s wish for a month’s delay so they could learn a little more about this proposed extension. Alas, the vote went through the next month. But chalk one up for the delaying tactics so critical to urban activism!

Passing the Baton

So it was in the Spring of 1969, that Jane stepped out publicly to support the cause. And that very June, she agreed to speak at a teach-in Bobbi and Lorraine were organizing at the Spadina-Bloor JCC. She was now fully and openly invested in the fight.

Bobbi and Lorraine maintained communication throughout Metro, and, newly invited onto the ARA Board, continued urging the ARA to withdraw its support of the expressway (a reversal that didn’t happen until that November). They participated in the formation of federations uniting City and Metro residents’ associations (CORRA and METTRA), headed by their contacts in York, North York and south of Bloor. However, at the end of the summer it was time to prepare for the arrival of two new babies and turn attention to their families and their professions and their own lives.

Bobbi and Lorraine happily passed the baton to Jane but didn’t by any means retire. They continued to participate in the activities of the new and ultimately successful Stop Spadina movement, begun exactly one year after their first CCC meeting on Brunswick Avenue in September 1968.

The Bad Trip

The story of the fight against Spadina with Jane Jacobs at the fore of SSSOCCC (Stop Spadina Save Our City Co-ordinating Committee) has been told and re-told – first and perhaps most famously by David and Nadine Nowlan who wrote and published in 1970 with House of Anansi Press the seminal book, The Bad Trip. Their short volume (used copies of which are still to be found online) thoroughly debunked the myths behind expressways as solutions to urban development. 

There were sit-ins and demonstrations, mild acts of civil disobedience, and persistent pursuit of attention in the media, some of which we will regale you with in next week’s newsletter when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the official halt to the Spadina Expressway – June 3rd, 1971.

-- With grateful thanks to Bobbi Speck and Jim Jacobs for sharing their stories.