The ARA Weekly Newsletter

ARA newsletters are now available on line. Recent issues are uploaded directly to this website. Issues published prior to July 2021 are held in a Dropbox folder of pdfs. 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.

Recent Features in the Newsletter

October 06, 2021    The Chimney Swift Watcher

September 15, 2021    Remembering the Heroes of Howland

August 25, 2021    Tree Survey Redux

July 07, 2021    What's in a Name? (Chicora)

June 23, 2021    Downtown North Development Round Table

May 26, 2021    Stop Spadina: the Untold Stories

October 06, 2021 - The Chimney Swift Watcher

It’s been a long time since we’ve had something of note to report in this newsletter on wildlife in the Annex. But there’s news this week, and it’s no mere Note and Query. It’s the story of Walmer Road resident Wendy Hunter, a volunteer chimney swift watcher (more about that later), who led a most serendipitous path to life here in the ‘hood – a place she’s called home for almost 50 years.

The Dreamy Call of Canada

Originally from Yorkshire England, Wendy adventured into adult life by hitch hiking with a friend through Europe, eventually finding herself working in a scientific research institute in Switzerland. It was fine there, but one morning she woke up to the thought that she’d like to go to Canada. (There’s no explanation available – even to Wendy – about the source of this sudden whim.) She mused the ambition aloud at work that very morning at which a colleague suggested she “…talk to Jack. He’s Canadian.”

A chance encounter with Jack in the hallway, a quick agreement to lunch in the cafeteria, some basic known facts about the country put on the table – Winnipeg was cold, Montreal a mystery – but did Jack have any contacts in Canada she could reach out to? “Well,” said Jack, “Why don’t you come and work for me?”

Turns out that Jack, too, had had a call from Canada that morning (this one by telephone, of course, not from Morpheus) offering him a position in the Department of Pathology (moving later to Immunology) at the University of Toronto. And so it was that Wendy found herself working for 17 years with Professor Jack Hay (1942—2019), himself an Annexonian, resident of Howland Avenue.  

Early days in the lab at UofT, dressed for surgery

One Door Closes…

When grant funding dried up in 1990, Wendy was at another crossroads, and, again, the Fates were there to intervene. In the past she had dedicated her evenings and some weekends to volunteer work at the Toronto Humane Society's  wildlife rehabilitation department. Rather than being dismayed by her sudden release from full time employment, she was delighted by the prospect of spending even more hours with the animals. She launched right in. And wouldn’t you know it, barely six weeks later a staff member unexpectedly left and Wendy found herself hired as a full-time temp in a job she’d accepted for love, the position being made permanent a year later.

Over the next 17 years (yes – the same number!) Wendy tended to the expected parade of wounded squirrels and racoons, rabbits and skunks, robins and pigeons reported by kindly citizens. But there were also hummingbirds and great blue herons and meadow voles and even, once, a dragonfly that had collided with a window. (Ever resourceful, Wendy picked up the phone and called the ROM insect department to ask what she should feed the delicate creature. It was still alive the next day.)

Getting acquainted with a new client at the Humane Society's wildlife rehabilitation department

For the Birds

What was especially heart breaking about the job, though, was the number of birds maimed or more often killed from flying into tower windows. There were days during migration when the sky in the financial district seemed to rain dead birds – a horrifying yet preventable slaughter. So it was that Wendy joined FLAP whose advocacy for preventive measures like specially treated glass has resulted in a significant reduction (though, alas, far from an elimination) of the problem.

Closer to home, Wendy became aware of the roost in the chimney of the Baptist church located conveniently opposite her balcony on Walmer Road. Around dusk each evening from April until October, she’d watch, fascinated, as chimney swifts would circle rapidly above the opening, then finally zoom straight towards it at speeds above 100 kph, stall in mid air, and plummet down into the safety of their nighttime abode.

And that’s how she became a swift watcher – volunteering as a citizen scientist for Birds Canada.

Counting swifts outside Walmer Road Baptist Church

Chimney Swifts in the Annex

Swiftwatch is a loose organization of hundreds of citizen volunteers across Canada working to protect this rare and threatened species. They undertake to spend the two hours at dusk that straddle sundown, eyes glued firmly on the target roost as they count the number of birds that enter, taking care as well to note environmental conditions like temperature, cloud cover, and windspeed. Watchers are expected to devote at least three nights a week to this task – an activity that plays havoc with their social lives but yields valuable data for scientists who seek to understand and protect this threatened species.

You’ve got to love the chimney swift. It spends most of its life in flight working to catch insects. That makes it doubly sad that the swifts left the Annex so early this year (they were gone by late August). Not only did they leave the mosquitoes free to continue pestering us, but their early departure suggests that the Farmers’ Almanac is spot on in its prediction for a harsh and early winter. Above is just one of the spectacular images available at a web based photo gallery.  

The largest migratory roost in Toronto is the one in the huge chimney at the back of the Moss Park Armoury on Queen Street. Close to three thousand birds use the chimney as a base in the Spring as they head further north or spread out to breed. Luckily, the roost opposite Wendy’s balcony is a breeding roost – that means she has a maximum of half a dozen birds to count at dusk during the breeding season from mid May to mid August. Still, they fly in so quickly the job requires extreme concentration – and she hasn’t yet managed to catch them on camera as they enter.

Perils of Development

There’s at least one other roost in the Annex – this one in the chimney at 149 St. George Street, next door to the building which is presently threatened with demolition. Long-time Annexonian Amanda Sandford who has observed those swifts for many years from the vantage of HER balcony, notes that there can be upwards of 50 birds entering there in a single night. Wendy tells us this roost is for non-breeding chimney swifts who will usually stay there until mid October.  

Amanda Sandford sent us this image of the swifts one evening as they began to gather near their sleeping quarters at 149 St. George. How good are you at counting their numbers?

There's a lesson here. It’s not only the human residents in the Annex who suffer displacement from development. Unfortunately, as property owners cap their chimneys, as renovators and developers create months of dust and noise, as trees are cut down, the chimney swifts are increasingly threatened, almost to the point of re-categorization as "endangered." That is why both Wendy and Amanda hope that this article will help broaden the debate over development in the Annex to include the impact on nature. There's more at stake than sheer self-absorbed human interest.


September 15, 2021 - Remembering The Heroes of Howland

We were sauntering down Howland the other day when we came to a halt in front of number 56. That’s the home of the street’s honorary ambassador, Damon  Pacheco-Perin, whom we featured in our July 22 2020 newsletter last year. It was then we recounted the incredible impact Damon has had on life on Howland, befriending all who pass by and offering a ready smile and helping hand to those who may be in need.

A Natural Garden

From an outsider’s perspective, the biggest impact Damon’s had on the street is in tending the garden in front of his multi-unit dwelling. The plantings have expanded considerably since our last report – but what caught our eye was a handsome boulder that has appeared midway on the lot. We’re nosy. So we texted Damon to tell him we’d seen it, loved it, and wondered how it had landed there.

Turns out that the boulder was a gift from neighbours Keith and Lori up the street who had unearthed it while digging out their rear garden. There was no room in their design for an ancient rock, but it was ideal for the natural garden Damon has been cultivating. And what’s more, it fit perfectly with an ambition he’d been nursing for the past while.

The Heroes of Howland

One hundred years ago, Damon’s residence at number 56 was the home of Eustace McGee, a graduate of the University of Toronto Schools where he’d been a star athlete. The moment World War I erupted, 18-year-old Eustace had rushed to join Britain’s Royal Air Force. But in a tragic twist of fate, he survived the war only to die in an air accident just prior to being demobbed. Sadly, he was just one of six young men in the first block of Howland to lose their lives to the conflict.

Damon had learned this story from an article by Paul Hunter in the Toronto Star based on a haunting parable written by the late Gregory Clark. Clark himself had lived just below Barton at number 66 Howland and had similarly signed up for service in WWI. He and his brother were the only young men on that first block to survive.

Eustace McGee's photo pegged to a tree outside Number 56

A Fitting Memorial

And so the gift of the boulder dovetailed exactly with Damon’s ambition to make a memorial to those lives lost.  The fact that it had been unearthed in the yard next to Gregory Clark’s boyhood home made it all the more apt a choice – dare we say even fated? Keith and Lori seconded their backhoe to deliver the memorial to its present position. And now Damon is ruminating on the wording for a plaque he’d like to affix to the stone. 

Of course he’s got to consult with his landlord first. But in the meantime, neighbours are in full support of the project. Even taken at face value, the boulder is a stunning addition to the garden. But as a memorial, it adds to the aura of the entire street.

Damon (with friend Tayla in his arms) and neighbours Libbie, Marten, and Christine admire the prehistoric boulder.

A Final Geological Note

Just what is it, we asked ourselves, about Howland Avenue and boulders? There's the magnificent, billions-year-old specimen that the BIA planted in the Howland Parkette down at Bloor. Then at 62 Howland there's a beautiful example of the species smack in the middle of the front lawn with younger siblings nestled against the hydro pole on the northern edge of the property. Clearly a glacier from eons past deposited those rocks as it melted its way north. Do we have any geologists amongst our readers who can enlighten us further?

The boulder at Howland Parkette 

One of several boulders that grace the front lawn of 62 Howland


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.

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:
Part Two - City’s Growth Plan Conformity and Inclusionary Zoning:
Part Three - Engaging on Large Development Applications:

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.