The ARA Weekly Newsletter
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Recent Features in the Newsletter
February 08, 2023 Annex Dentistry: 50 Years and Counting
October 05, 2022 Thanks to the Earth Helpers
June 22, 2022 Wiener's Hardware Turns 100
February 02, 2022 Therafields in the Annex
January 12, 2022 Developing Davenport Road
October 27, 2021 The Annex Underground
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)
May 26, 2021 Stop Spadina: The Untold Stories
March 24, 2021 Snowdon's: A Neighbourhood Treasure
At a time when the Annex is being deluged with proposals for new condo developments, it is only fitting to celebrate one of the very first to be built in our community: the 12-storey structure at 190 St George. Rising gracefully from its spacious grounds at the corner of Lowther, the building was designed by architect Joseph A. Medweki and completed in 1972.
This is one condo that has more than stood the test of time with its generously sized suites and solid construction. A National Post article from 2006 cited it as one of the top ten residential towers in T.O. with its “wraparound balconies with see-through metal railings and floor-to-ceiling windows.” According to the authors, Mr. Medweki, who was also an amateur painter, was so proud of the building that he featured it in the background of his self-portrait.
A Hidden Community Service
One of the original owners in the building was a local dentist, Dr. Willard Kerr, who also happened to be a friend of the builder, Mr. Lempicki. Together they worked meticulously to design a purpose-built, full-scale dental office located conveniently off the main lobby and with a floor plan that accommodated a reception area, examination rooms, office, laboratory, and washrooms.
Fast forward fifty years, and Annex Dentistry is still in operation providing dental services to the community. Sunlight still floods the unit through generously- sized glass windows that look out onto Lowther. And but for a discreet sign recently installed, the suite continues to blend into the building appearing to unaware passers-by like a private residential unit.
Of course, there have been changes: Dentistry has come a long way since 1972 when Dr. Kerr took possession of the unit. But a sign of its ideal design and location is the fact that the suite has had only two occupants in all this time.
A Home of One’s Own
While Dr Kerr was easing towards retirement in 1999, Dr. Amy Antzoulatos was in the early years of her career. Dr. Amy – as she is affectionately known to her hundreds of Annex patients – had graduated from the UofT Faculty of Dentistry in 1994. She won top honours that year for root canals – a specialized service in which she was ironically completely uninterested. Rather, she chose to pursue general dentistry as it gave her a chance to accommodate her artistic side (she paints and plays the piano and flute in her spare time) as well as her scientific skills (her undergraduate degree being in bio-chemistry).
Even a medical mask can't hide Dr. Amy's megawatt smile.
Dr Amy had begun her career by purchasing the dental practice of another retiree in the erstwhile medical building at 99 Avenue Road. She poured thousands of dollars into refurbishing the unit before word unexpectedly came that the building was to be demolished to make way for a condominium. So after only six short years she found herself evicted and searching for a new home for her small business.
Determined not to fall prey again to the same uncertainty of leasehold, she leapt at the chance to buy the facility and practice at 190 St George. She and Dr. Kerr worked companionably in the space for the next two years before the senior dentist put down his instruments for good.
Serving the Community
At a time when the majority of her colleagues are bound to dental corporations, Dr. Amy has been able to remain independent, in large part because she is secure in the ownership of her suite at 190 St George.
It’s not easy – the economies of scale and administrative assistance make joining a corporation remarkably attractive. But such agreements come at a cost. And Dr. Amy resists losing her autonomy to an entity that polices the amount of time spent on each discrete procedure.
The freedom from corporate financial targets allows her to donate services to new immigrants, most recently to Ukrainian refugees. And it also permits her real passion – what brings her the most professional joy – selecting one person in need each year and gifting them with a complete smile makeover.
To the lay observer, this is nothing but the most off-putting of smiles. But to Dr. Amy, it was a canvas on which she could create a work of art.
It took a full year to transform that smile. But the results were nothing less than life-changing for the patient -- and extraordinarily gratifying for Dr. Amy.
An Annex Gem
Dr. Amy is, in sum, all about people, about getting to know her patients and watching families grow as she welcomes new generations into her practice. It doesn’t matter what their circumstances or where they’re from. In fact, between them, she and her staff can welcome patients in any one of six languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Greek, or Tagalog.
Like Wiener’s Hardware and Snowdon’s Pharmacy whose milestone birthdays we’ve previously celebrated in these pages, Annex Dentistry is one of those local businesses that defines and enriches our community. With warm wishes for a happy 50th birthday . . . and counting.
We spent a simultaneously relaxing and eye-opening few hours this past week catching up with head gardener Paul Richard and the ongoing revitalization of Paul Martel Park.
Conceived and championed in the early 1980s by Paul Martel as Ecology Park, by 2020 the space had become as battered, neglected, and derelict as the park plan pictured above. But as our newsletter reported at the time, through the leadership of ARA Chair Rita Bilerman and the financial support of Miziwe Biik, Paul and his team of Aboriginal workers were able to sign on for the multi-year restoration project.
Paul spent an hour with us explaining the quiet miracles he and the Earth Helpers – as an Elder has named the team – have achieved in the past two years.
We toured the emerging pocket wood with thriving individual specimens like red and silver maple and oak and basswood and locust. Invasive plants have been replaced by scores of different native species with enchanting names like gentian and columbine and coreopsis and purple aster. And the planting of the four natural habitats has been done with an eye for colour and height to enhance the permanent features of the park such as Joseph Sagaj’s mural celebrating Indigenous creation myths.
That was then. This is now.
Paul noted that these flourishing botanicals were made possible only through long hours of soil preparation and irrigation as well as extensive propagation of seedlings and plant material.
Ian Corbiere can be seen most weekday mornings labouring in the park. Just this year alone, he and his fellow Earth Helpers have installed 12 yards of topsoil, 20 yards of screening, and 24 yards of mulch to protect the walkways and beds.
Paul carries a plate of some of the ceremonial tobacco grown by the Elders in custom-built cedar planters. You can see the leaves behind him, harvested and hanging to dry in the back service yard.
Abuse of the Park
Unfortunately, while the park brings great joy to residents and passersby, it also suffers from significant human abuse. And the lack of respect and understanding can be dispiriting.
Recently a callous truck driver wreaked irreparable damage to the newly seeded lawn after first deliberately moving the guardian post, of course never bothering to return it to its proper position.
Vandals have come many nights this past summer and displaced the ceremonial stones in the circular seven rocks garden, in spite of their substantial weight. Still others have blundered in the dark into the tall flowering beds, breaking stems and irrevocably crushing roots. Most disturbing of all, Joseph Sagaj’s mural was defaced with spray paint that the Bloor Annex BIA hastily had removed.
No wonder Paul advocates fencing of some kind to protect the delicate plantings, or even gates that could be locked at night – the time when almost all the damage occurs.
But for the moment Paul is determined to somehow muster the resources and permissions to build a proper greenhouse in the back service yard in order to allow for year-round propagation. Also part of the dream would be a gazebo to protect the healing circle and provide a base for educational talks. And there is hope for a second wall mural, this one celebrating early Indigenous life on the land.
Paul has dreams bigger even than these. He wants to link this botanical garden with the one at Spadina Museum (which he and his team also cultivate) weaving them with exhibits at the ROM into a tourist route focussed on Indigenous culture and lifeways. He imagines a hop-on hop-off bus tour going as far as the waterfront and original mouth of the Taddle. And Paul Martel Park would be the ideal midway stop.
An hour’s conversation with Paul is not only educational but also inspiring. What he needs now is help in realizing his dreams. It could take the form of something as simple as building a website to give his Earth Helpers an electronic presence. It could take the form of grants and donations. But most important Paul needs the help of the community to champion his vision of an organic Indigenous exhibit and to steer it through the inevitable hoops and hurdles of our bureaucratic world.
Last week we promised you a peek at Joseph Sagaj’s artwork wrapping the TORONTO sign at City Hall. Tobacco sourced from the plants at Paul Martel Park was in the ceremonial pouch Joseph presented to Mayor Tory as part of the official opening Thursday morning.
Last Saturday the stars were in alignment, the weather cooperated beautifully, and the community came out in droves to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wiener’s Hardware.
We may as well tackle it straight from the get go: Wiener's is properly pronounced "
winer" (as in the alcoholic liquid), not "
weener" (as in the edible solid). But if those mnemonics don't help, not to worry. The staff are always happy to serve you no matter what you call the store.
Photo Courtesy Wiener’s Home Hardware and The Annex Gleaner
Wiener’s Hardware was opened in 1922 by Ida and Hyman Wiener who lived in the back two rooms of the building before the business expanded. You can just barely spot Ida in this family photo from 1923: She’s presiding over the merchandise from the rear, posed behind the counter with her oldest boy, Murray, standing in front.
Husband Hyman was a plumber who travelled about the city servicing hot water radiators, and Ida had decided that selling hardware was the perfect
complement to his job. As Ida’s granddaughter Fayla told us on Saturday, “It’s really cool that a woman started the store and now a woman’s taking it over 100 years later.”
Photo Courtesy the Wiener Family
Pictured above is Hyman and Ida's son, Gerry Weiner, the second generation of the family to run the business at 432 Bloor West. More senior readers of this newsletter will note with nostalgia the phone number on the car which begins with an alphabetical exchange: KI for Kingsdale. In 1954 KI merged with WA -- Walnut -- the defining telephone exchange of the Annex back in the day.
This screenshot of Might's City Directory from 1940 confirms that for a time there were competing Wiener visions of the enterprise with a second business at 390 Bloor closer to Yonge.
Photo Courtesy Neiland Brissenden Bloor Annex BIA
It’s all in the family. Marty Wiener (the third generation owner of the store) stands proudly with his three children: Melanie (centre) who is assuming
ownership, and her siblings, Gillian and Adam. Marty spent more than five decades at Wiener’s starting when he was a boy of thirteen working part time on weekends. He figured the 100th anniversary celebration was the perfect day to choose for his retirement. Big thanks are due to Wiener’s for providing cake for the crowd.
Photo courtesy Micky Fraterman ARA
Wiener’s current staff take a break at the Victory Café. From left to right seated are Gary, Aidan & Mark. Standing behind from left to right are Aaron, Tony, Marty, Melanie, Howard & Murray. Howard was emcee for the event and one of the chief planners. The empty plates? They’re courtesy of the Victory Café which provided pizza slices gratis to everyone who attended the celebration. Thank you, Victory! The pizza was delicious.
Photo Courtesy Neiland Brissenden Bloor Annex BIA
Four generations of the Wiener clan gathered for a family photo-op. In the centre front is 92-year-old matriarch Dorothy, wife of Ida and Hyman's son,
Gerry. As a young bride (she and Gerry married in 1949), Dorothy would come down on Friday nights to bring him his dinner and keep him company until store closing at nine.
Photo Courtesy Neiland Brissenden Bloor Annex BIA
Councillor Mike Layton was on hand to present Marty with a testimonial acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the store. Visible in the background is
Brian Burchell of the Bloor Street BIA who worked behind the scenes to secure the official approval, permits, and signs as well as to ensure the City's
participation in the event.
Visual artist and ARA member Lynne Dalgliesh takes a break with ARA Chair Rita Bilerman. Fellow members of the organizing committee report that Lynne "did much of the heavy lifting" which included, ironically, wrestling the celebratory balloons into her car in the face of Friday’s insistent winds. Not for the faint of heart!
Lynne also worked the actual party creating a memory board featuring peoples’ stories about Wiener’s. She sent us a photo of the finished project below.
ARA newsletter readers will be familiar with Lynne’s work from back in the early stages of the pandemic when she created that uplifting billboard – Everything Will Be Alright! – prints of which were sold to help the Avenue Road Food Bank.
The James Ervin Trio kept the crowd humming for much of the afternoon. Thanks to Anne Fleming and Rory ‘Gus’ Sinclair of the Harbord Village RA for organizing their appearance.
Adam Seelig and Brunswick’s very own Horn on the Cob are pictured below setting up at noon to play the “Happy Birthday” honours. Afterwards they
treated us to a lengthy set that included tunes aptly selected for a hardware store celebration.
You can catch a bit of the concert by clicking here and listening in on “Super Freak,” by Rick James, the source for MC Hammer’s hook in Can't Touch This.
(Hammer . . . get it?).
Balloon Maker Jung kept the kids happy with fanciful creations. You can see him at work by clicking here – but you’ll have to rotate your screen 90 degrees if you want to watch him fashion a monkey climbing a palm tree. (We confess to not being the greatest of videographers.)
Overall it was a wonderful celebration. A hearty shout out is due to all who worked so hard to make the day possible – including the Wiener’s clan who have held that spot for 100 years. Just another indication of why the Annex is such a splendid place to live.
Given its reach, its success, and its endurance for two full decades, it’s surprising how little Annexonians, let alone Torontonians, know about Therafields. True, the memories of some of its practitioners have kept the flame smoldering. Grant Goodbrand published a behind-the-scenes memoir in 2010. And there are one or two blog posts out there online. But generally speaking, a commune that at one point claimed close to a thousand followers and a movement that at one point owned more than 30 properties in the Annex has almost completely faded from contemporary memory.
And that’s a shame.
Owning the Annex
We’ll begin by listing the properties that were owned or leased by Therafields over the years, just to give you a sense of its footprint here in the ‘hood:
- Admiral Road (East side) 55, 59, 61, 63, 105, 123, 131
- Admiral Road (West side) 32, 74, 76, 82, 94, 98
- Brunswick Avenue 477, 479, 481, 483, 485
- Dupont Street 310, 316-18-20
- Howland Avenue 152
- Kendal Avenue 68, 72, 74, 98
- Walmer Road 73, 121, 123, 125, 133, 135
Most of these properties were houses. Some were apartment buildings. Others, such as those on Dupont, were office buildings. Regardless, all were home to practitioners and members in the Therafields psychoanalytic commune.
For those of us who remember them (were we really there?), the 60’s were a time of incredible social upheaval. If you want to be glib, you can reference the Beatles. But that and the ensuing decades were times of unparalleled freedom and exploration, a period of experimentation and celebration of the individual, of nature, of self. And Therafields epitomized that ethos with its foray into psychoanalysis and development of group work and communal living as fundamental forms of therapy.
At the heart of the enterprise was the charismatic Lea Hindley-Smith who had arrived in Toronto from London, England in 1948 together with her hapless husband Harry. She had briefly studied psychoanalysis in the home country, but initially made her way in Toronto by selling real estate and flipping properties (such as 101 Madison) which she ran as rooming houses during the time it took her and Harry to fix them up for sale. Still, by 1956 she had reclaimed her initial interests and begun practising as a psychoanalyst full time, gaining private clients purely by word of mouth.
But it was in the early 60’s – when Lea herself was in her early fifties – that she laid the foundations for what came to be known as Therafields and developed the earmarks of her psychoanalytic approach. She and Harry had purchased 477 Brunswick in 1962. But instead of selling their previous home at 152 Howland as was their wont, they renovated the detached semi, relocating the kitchen and dining room to the basement in order to house more comfortably the eight clients she had become convinced would heal only through intense group therapy.
Expanding the Practice
The results at 152 Howland were impressive – in no small part, Lea realized, because the clients were forced on a daily basis to face their own anxieties and work out how to live with other people. And from that point, the pressure was on to expand her therapeutic practice.
The next house to fall was 59 Admiral Road, ably suited to the task with its 16 rooms and two-storey coach house at the rear. Soon after Lea acquired five more Admiral houses as well as the small apartment building at number 32. By 1964 her core community consisted of 64 group clients, including 36 who lived communally in Annex houses, as well as a dozen or so other clients who came for individual sessions.
A central part of the house group therapy was the maintenance and renovation of their own homes. Annexonian Peter Dales, who joined the commune as a practitioner in 1969 and who still lives on Admiral Road, remembers fondly the sound of hammers and saws on weekends as clients collaborated in improving and reconfiguring their housing.
Peter also remembers in awe the house swaps that occurred every two to three years in the commune. It was an important part of the therapy to facilitate the renewal of groups – the injection of new blood and the creation of new bonds. On one single weekend back in the day, Peter remembers driving a truck to help 200 members change accommodation, some moving just next door, some across the road, some to houses on other streets altogether. The neighbourhood was in exhilarating chaos!
But the turning point in Lea’s venture was the rapid acquisition of a collection of farms in Mono Mills north of the city, beginning with a farm in 1967. According to Grant Goodbrand, as Lea walked the fields she said to herself, “There’s something therapeutic about these fair fields… Of course, Therafields. Therafields.” (p76). And so the name was coined. And the farms ultimately became the heart of the growing commune where the residents gathered regularly on weekends for extensive group sessions.
Unfortunately, the expansion meant that Lea’s practice was transformed from what had become a social movement to an institution, as Goodman says, “caught up in owning property.” (p 78) So while the commune grew and prospered through the 70’s, the seeds of its demise had been sown.
When interest rates shot up in the early 80’s (and, to be fair, when the initial enthusiasm for the movement waned) Therafields faced bankruptcy. It couldn’t meet its financial obligations and was forced to sell off properties at a loss.
Most, according to Peter Dales, changed hands on the regular open market. Only a few, such as the one he still lives in, were purchased by Therafields insiders. Back in 1978 he and his wife Judy and a few friends took title to 123 Admiral, cobbling together sufficient funds to pay the mortgage owing despite interest rates of eleven and twelve percent. Their financial gamble paid off: More than 4 decades later, Peter and Judy still call number 123 their home.
Lea herself died in 1987 under the most tragic of circumstances, and, according to Grant Goodbrand, with her also died the name of Therafields. Yet there is no denying that hundreds of peoples’ lives were altered by her venture – a few, as they remember it, for ill, but most, it is clear, for good. Hers was a bold experiment that should not be forgotten. Nor will we let it be forgotten that its crucible was the Annex.
For such a profound and far-reaching movement, there is astonishingly little available in the photographic record. Grant Goodbrand’s book is the single source easily available.
While most Toronto streets form a prim grid, Davenport Road winds amiably through the city following the lines of the escarpment against which lake waters lapped in prehistoric times. Once a well-established aboriginal trail through old growth forests that connected a vibrant network of Indigenous settlements, it was gradually occupied, named, widened, and paved by European settlers.
Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 1A, Item 3.
This c1895 view of the Canadian Pacific Railway crossing at muddy Davenport Road is one of many historical images contained in the Torontoist History of Davenport Road. It makes for a great read. If you prefer, you can find the article right here in pdf form.
The Great Widening
The particular stretch of Davenport that curves through our patch between Avenue Road and the CP tracks heading north to Macpherson was transformed irrevocably in the 1930s when it was widened to accommodate increased traffic. Buildings were demolished or, in the rare case, moved to make way for impatient drivers.
Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, s0372_ss0001_it1015
In June of 1931, the Beaufort apartment building at 359 Davenport (still standing) was raised on blocks and moved back to allow for a second lane of traffic. Note the trees that once flourished to the south.
Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, f1231_it2080
Not so lucky was the building housing Scott’s groceries at the corner of Dupont. The site is now home to a low-rise commercial strip.
Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Senes 372, s0372_ss0041_it0293
A sure sign of the proliferation of automobiles: the gas station at the south east corner of Bedford and Davenport pictured not long after the widening of the roadway.
Plus Ça Change
Fast forward to 2022, and the turmoil on Davenport continues. Last month we endured intrusive excavations as Hydro crews worked their way down the strip to upgrade the underground electrical service. This allowed the Freed project at 342 Davenport to (finally!) reach for the sky. And the stage is also now set for the other five Davenport projects currently in the pipeline.
Of the 26 projects currently being monitored by the ARA Planning and Development Committee, nearly 25% are sited on the short stretch of Davenport Road between Avenue and Dupont. The chart above shows their various stages in the development process. To locate them exactly on a map and to read application details, go to the City’s Development Application web page and fill in the target address.
The Freed building is finally on its way up after more than a year since the luffer crane was installed (see our January 13, 2021 newsletter). Its impact on Admiral Road is finally making itself felt.
Site plan control having been finalized, the hoardings are up and foundation work is beginning for the “Vertical Jungle.” When finished, it will dwarf the recently completed AYC condo complex (at municipal address: 181 Bedford).
The Alterra project at 321 Davenport that caused such a public flap way back in the summer of 2017 has received the go-ahead. There is no word as to how many units have actually been sold.
Despite intense community opposition, Burnac won permission for its project (aka “the cruise ship”) at OLT this past summer. That 1930s gas station pictured earlier in this article occupied a small part of this site at 287 Davenport. The die is cast: Three of the four corners at Bedford and Davenport will soon sport high rise buildings.
Bianca Pollak hopes to bring cutting edge architecture to the vacant parking lot at 361 Davenport.
The newest project plotted for the corner of Ave and Dav can only be described as “shock and awe” at thirty-five stories tall.
Unfortunately, there is no mechanism currently in play at City Planning to allow for coordination across development projects. Each is assessed on its own merits rather than in the wider context of what else has already been approved for construction. This was very much on his mind when Councillor Mike Layton wrote to Council requesting a coordinated approach to development at the four corners of Spadina and Bloor. Of that area he noted:
While there are height restrictions and building envelope guidelines, coordination of the development proposals and understanding of the cumulative impact of development (human density) to infrastructure is an important piece that needs to be considered.
This comment is equally applicable to the situation on Davenport. All we know for sure is that life there is going to bring continued chaos for the foreseeable future.
If ever it can be said that there’s a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s the fact that we’ve all been out strolling the streets, enjoying the ambience of the Annex as never before. The architecture, the gardens, the trees have been a source of solace and joy and escape. But rarely do we as pedestrians give a thought to the trains running beneath our feet.
Not so, at least recently, for those who live in proximity to the westbound cars of Line Two that rumble regularly along the rails from six in the morning to well past midnight. The existence of that subway line is a present reality for residents at the lower edges of the ‘hood. And the fact that the City offers a property tax easement to those nearby is proof positive there can sometimes be impact.
The Stress of 2009
That was the case in 2009 when residents along the entire Bloor line were up in arms protesting the constant shaking (in one west end home, a fireplace mantelpiece detached from the wall) the grinding and grating (at least one Annex resident simply moved, the stress was so great) and the lack of cooperation from the TTC (management refused to accept there was a problem despite engineering reports). Community meetings flourished, petitions were signed, Adam Vaughan waded into the fray, the press took up the cause.
In our own community, Anne Marie Maduri of Albany Avenue took on the challenge. A professional financial analyst, she’s skilled at researching issues, digging deep behind the scenes, and holding people to account. She became an expert in track maintenance and the different problems that can arise. The wheels can become misshapen, rails can be distorted or broken, sections of track can dislocate, shock absorbers can deteriorate. In truth, it takes some finesse to manage that small contact point between wheel and rail.
The problem is exacerbated when regular maintenance is abandoned. And the consequences multiply geometrically since a single piece of damaged track can end up distorting the wheels of an entire fleet of trains. Such was the situation when Andy Byford took over the system in 2009. He immediately insisted that crews dust the cobwebs off the wheel grinding equipment and establish a regular pattern of around-the-clock maintenance, three shifts a day.
Finding a Solution
Of course the problem wasn’t solved overnight. Anne Marie spent hours on the phone and meeting with neighbours from Howland and Dalton and Brunswick. She wasn’t above going down to the platform, flashlight in hand, to pinpoint the source of the sleep-depriving thumps, grinding, and vibrations. She developed her own scale out of ten to codify the noise level. And eventually she played host for hours to TTC engineers who sat in her basement coordinating data with personnel at track level as they worked to discover the culprit. And in 2009 they did.
Anne Marie sees a positive side to the struggle in that she got to know her neighbours, one of whom was Jim Jacobs who lives just a few doors to the north. Jim was on the Board of the ARA even then, and so he decided it was time to revive the moribund transportation committee. He encouraged Anne Marie to join the Board and she served for several years as committee chair.
A New Disturbance in the Peace
Another benefit of the crisis of 2009 was that Anne Marie also developed a sound working relationship with her personal TTC hero, Diego Sinagoga, Senior Community Liaison. That relationship was revived this past August 31st when, after 10 years of peace, there was a sudden crashing, thumping, and shaking erupting from the earth below. And it was relentless.
TTC Community Liaison, Paul Tran, (centre) came to visit Anne Marie two weeks ago to gather some preliminary diagnostic information. Also present was ARA Board Member, Jim Jacobs, whose own house further to the north is experiencing some of the same renewed shake rattle ‘n roll.
A call to Diego revealed that the TTC had been conducting a repair to a rail joint at a track signal in the area and that's what had precipitated the problem. He noted that the track between Bathurst and Spadina stations was included in the Fall rail grinding program, so he'd ensure that this section would be one of the first to be treated.
Alas, the September 26th grinding brought some, but by no means total, relief. Diego was on holiday, so his colleague Paul Tran came out to investigate. According to Anne Marie, “Paul and Diego have promised to work with residents on getting the noise and vibration back down to a minimal level in as timely a manner as feasible.” Fingers crossed.
But rest assured, Annexonians, Anne Marie will keep on the case – she’s not one to let things lapse. (Every neighbourhood needs an Anne Marie!). We’ll let you know how it goes.
In 2017, theGlobe and Mailproduced asuperb feature articleon the nature and implications of the new signaling system which has been the cause recently of so many service disruptions. The report even embedsa short videoshowing how the system operates. For those underground, it means more trains and smoother starts and stops. For those above ground it promises less wear and tear on the tracks and thus less noise and vibration. That peace and quiet can’t come soon enough for the folks whose homes are near Line Two.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Snowdon pharmacy at Bloor and St. George has always been a trend setter. It was one of the first pharmacies in Ontario to stop selling tobacco as a matter of conscience – five years before the practice was legally banned and even though it meant a significant drop in revenue; it was the site chosen in 2016 by then Minister of Health, Eric Hoskins, to officially announced the licencing of pharmacies to provide select travel vaccines; and, just last week, CBC local news featured it as the location for its lead spot on rolling out the Astra Zenica jabs. So we have a star in our midst.
James Snowdon talks with then Minister of Health, Eric Hoskins. The mortar on the counter and those on the cupboards above had been in use in the family business for decades.
A Century of Compounding
Snowdon’s has naturally seen plenty of changes in the 115 years of its operation. It originally opened in 1906 under the care of Charles Snowdon in an establishment down on College at Grace. It was his son, Charles (Ted) Snowdon, who moved the community pharmacy to the Medical Arts Building in the early 1940s. And many of you will remember fondly the third-generation family pharmacist – James (Jim) Snowdon – who ran the apothecary until his retirement in 2018.
We’re using the word “apothecary” quite deliberately because one of Snowdon’s defining features is its role as a compounding pharmacy, one of only a handful left in the city. Back in the day it was the norm for druggists to concoct medications according to doctors’ orders. But as drug companies and Big Pharma came to dominate the field, and as the variety of prescription drugs grew exponentially, most pharmacists were reduced to dispensing ready-made products.
But patients aren’t always one-size-fits-all: some are allergic to certain ingredients, some can only tolerate minimal doses, some need gels or liquids instead of tablets. And sometimes the patient requires a specific combination of chemicals not readily available off the shelf. This requires compounding – mixing upwards of five and six ingredients together in precise proportions – and all three generations of Snowdon were exceptionally good at the task.
In an undated photo, James Snowdon’s father, Charles (Ted) Snowdon, puzzles over a doctor’s orders. Luckily for us, the arrival of computerized prescriptions has solved the age-old problem of trying to decipher a doctor’s handwriting.
A Lifetime of Service
By the time Jim Snowdon received a lifetime achievement award from the Ontario Pharmacists Association in 2017 to honour all he had done for the profession over 47 years of practice, he had weathered some exceptional tempests along the way.
Perhaps the most significant was the purchase of the Medical Arts Building by the University of Toronto in 2002 and the consequent eviction of all the medical practitioners to make way for administrative offices. Jim had to reinvent Snowdon to become a stand-alone pharmacy, but he managed to retain 80% of his previous business because, as he said, “The Annex has a tremendous sense of protecting their own.”
Still, it wasn’t surprising that Jim chose to retire in 2018 and sell the business. After all, none of his children had proven interested in carrying on the family profession and he was certainly deserving a rest. But he was careful as to whom he would deliver the care of his patients. And he found the perfect match in Mark Besada.
Plus Ça Change . . .
Like Jim, Mark comes from a family steeped deeply in the pharmaceutical tradition, his parents, brother, aunt and uncle all practicing pharmacists. A graduate of the Toronto French School, he went to upper New York State for the necessary six years of training to earn his Doctorate in Pharmacy before returning to Canada in 2014 where he was first employed – wouldn’t you know it – in a compounding pharmacy. So the move to purchase Snowdon was obvious.
Of course Mark has changed the model of business somewhat – bringing in staff like chief pharmacist Crystal Ng who has proficiently taken the reins as compounding expert and is currently the designated manager. And he’s done much to improve the pharmacy’s presence on the internet and social media. After all, the competition is challenging with three Shopper’s, a Rexall, and Konop Chemists among others within easy walking distance.
But the community has proven loyal. Within ten minutes of Doug Ford announcing last Friday that select pharmacies would be providing the Astra Zeneca vaccine to people 60 years of age and older, Snowdon’s phone was ringing off the hook. Available appointments were gone in an hour – with the next batch due to be posted soon. In fact, if you’re eligible for the vaccine and want to make an appointment, keep your eye on the website at https://www.snowdoncompounding.com/. Blink and you might miss your chance!
The community can be assured that the new owner, pharmacist Mark Besada, is totally committed to continuing Snowdon’s celebrated tradition of compounding prescriptions. Mark tells us improvements to the lab are already underway. “We hope to upgrade our fume hood and have purchased a new state-of-the-art mixer for creams and ointments that I’m sure the original Mr. Snowdon couldn’t have even dreamed of using.”