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YEARINREVIEW

December 5th, 2015 · No Comments

Grassroots activism marks annual review

In May, David Suzuki Foundation Neighbourhood Park Ranger Aidan Nolan (above left) guided volunteers as they transformed a canoe into a garden in front of Tollkeeper's Cottage at Bathurst Street and Davenport Road. Neiland Brissenden, Gleaner News

In May, David Suzuki Foundation Neighbourhood Park Ranger Aidan Nolan (above left) guided volunteers as they transformed a canoe into a garden in front of Tollkeeper’s Cottage at Bathurst Street and Davenport Road. Neiland Brissenden, Gleaner News

By Annemarie Brissenden

DEVELOPMENT DRIVES DENSITY DOWNTOWN

When was the Annex deemed downtown? Although the question — asked at a community consultation about one of the many “vertical rooming houses” inching up the midtown skyline — remains unanswered, it underscores the tension between residents, who see their treasured neighbourhood as uniquely historical and worth protecting, and developers, who see opportunities to raise condominiums, students’ residences, and big box stores. Westbank Corp. has submitted its plans to make Mirvish Village (including Honest Ed’s and adjacent stores on Bathurst Street) into a bustling mixed-use development with staggered building heights and innovations like a day care and bike valet, while designer Gregory Henriquez — a left-leaning architect with social activist bona fides — continues to connect with the community. But concerns linger about whether the area can absorb the increased density such development is sure to bring, particularly with so many other projects looming on the horizon.

BIKES ON BLOOR

Toronto’s formal cycling network continues to expand, even if it’s running at low speed. A pilot bike lane on Bloor Street West between Shaw and St. George streets will open this April, and two BIAs have commissioned a study on what impact the bike lane will have on the area’s demographics. It’s all part of the City of Toronto’s ambitious 10-year plan to make the city more palatable for cycling by connecting, improving, and adding to existing routes. Here at the Gleaner, we’ve been covering bike lanes and cycling networks for almost 20 years, so it’s a road we’ve ridden before. This time, we hope good intentions will lead to concrete results, and applaud optimistic developers like Westbank, who include such bike-friendly amenities as storage, showers, bike valet and repair shops in their proposed project designs.

HONOURING OUR HERITAGE

History in the Annex is ever present. Toronto Legacy Plaques and the Harbord Village Storyposts — both nominated for Heritage Toronto awards this year — mark where our everyday heroes lived, worked, and played. We’ve named laneways in honour of Canada’s first Black postman, boys who went to war never to return, and more recent favourite sons and daughters. This year, we celebrated the Harbord Bakery, which marked 70 years of baking bread with a beet borscht beverage, as well as the Toronto Public Library’s Lillian H. Smith branch, where the griffins have stood guard for 20 years. And, Madison Avenue became the fourth Annex area to be designated a Heritage Conservation District under the provincial Heritage Act, with two more areas under consideration. It all speaks to how our rich cultural and historical heritage continues to form — and inform — our neighbourhood’s character.

LIVING WITH LITERATURE

When Heritage Toronto honoured Gwendolyn MacEwen and Milton Acorn on Wards Island this summer, it reminded us of our area’s rich literary legacy, which continues to this day. Our neighbourhood is home to many writers whose work we endeavour to profile and uncover. We began the year with Catherine Gildiner, who closed her Bildungsroman trilogy with Coming Ashore, which balanced witty recollections of encounters with Jimi Hendrix, Northrop Frye, and Cecil Day Lewis with meditations on memory and philosophical treatises on the passage of time. Ismé Bennie’s White Schooldays chronicled growing up in apartheid South Africa, while The Ward captured the diverse, rambling nature of the city’s first immigrant ward, demonstrating how Toronto itself has evolved into a version of the Ward with the same diversity, the same challenges, and even the same obsessions.

 

Sugith Varughese (foreground) as Councillor Earwaxin in The Postman performed on Palmerstong Boulevard this summer. Neiland Brissenden, Gleaner News

Sugith Varughese (foreground) as Councillor Earwaxin in The Postman performed on Palmerstong Boulevard this summer. Neiland Brissenden, Gleaner News

DEMONSTRATING DEMOCRACY

The year began with our newly-elected provincial and municipal representatives committing to working together and calling for a federal partner in Ottawa. The federal riding of Trinity-Spadina was redistributed into University-Rosedale and Spadina-Fort York, and the Annex was as engaged as ever in the run-up to the October election. With Trinity-Spadina member of Parliament Adam Vaughan running in Spadina-Fort York against Olivia Chow, the University-Rosedale field was opened up to a strong crop of candidates from all four of the mainstream parties. The new riding of University-Rosedale has a new member of Parliament (MP) and minister in Chrystia Freeland, who previously served as MP for Toronto-Centre. We hope those calls for a partner in Ottawa will finally be answered.

GOING GREEN

As the now resolved debate over the dome at Central Technical School demonstrated, we treasure our green space. We revel in our parks, caring for them with regular neighbourhood clean-ups, not just on Earth Day but year round. The Bloor-Borden Farmers’ Market returned to the Annex for an eighth season this year, featuring 17 vendors, children’s kiosks, and musical performances. And a new canoe garden — courtesy of the Canoe Garden Network — beached in front the Tollkeeper’s Cottage at Bathurst Street and Davenport Road.

WAITING ON THE WATERFRONT

Toronto’s waterfront remains top of mind for many Annex residents. When the red wave pushed the federal Liberals into office on Oct. 19, it may have washed out Porter Airlines’ hopes to bring jets to the Billy Bishop Toronto City Centre Airport. Adam Vaughan (MP, Spadina-Fort York) has vocally opposed any expansion to the island airport, and seems to have the support of many of his Liberal colleagues from Toronto.

 

The University of Toronto community rallied on Bloor Street just east of Spadina on Sept. 14 after an announcement that online threats had been made against feminists. Brian Burchell, Gleaner News

The University of Toronto community rallied on Bloor Street just east of Spadina on Sept. 14 after an announcement that online threats had been made against feminists. Brian Burchell, Gleaner News

STAGING THE STREET

From protests to performances, the Annex was home to a diverse array of street theatre this year. Kaeja Dance once again bridged art and audience when it brought its popular Porch View Dances back to Seaton Village in August. The Postman delivered history in Harbord Village and the Palmerston area, depicting the life of Canada’s first Black postman from the porches of houses along his delivery route. Installations courtesy of Nuit Blanche and the Harbord Village Pumpkin Festival kept our streets artistic, while Bloor Street rallies decrying homophobia and misogyny reminded us of our activist roots. And of course, we capped our year with the granddaddy of them all: the Santa Claus parade, which starts at Christie Pits.

Looking back 10 years

Our annual review in 2005 illustrates how much things have changed, yet stayed the same. A decade ago, the top story was a July blaze on Robert Street that caused $3.5 million in damages to the houses from 54 to 66 Robert St. Many of the houses’ residents were at a meeting seeking a heritage designation for the street when the fire broke out. The review also covered the launch of heritage studies for Brunswick Avenue, Madison Avenue, and the greater Annex area, all of which have now borne fruit, as many of these areas are now Heritage Conservation Districts. We reported on a decision to tear down the Bloor Street United Church (it’s still with us), and the benefits of Section 37 to the community (we haven’t spent all the money yet). Patios on Harbord Street were a hot topic of debate, and we lamented the closure of the McLaughlin Planetarium, while celebrating the decision not to replace it with condominiums. And we said “enough already” to elections and construction. Some things never change.

—Annemarie Brissenden

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