Friday, November 30, 2012

Downsview Park taken over by federal land management agency

The future of Downsview Park has been thrown up in the air now that the urban park has been moved under the umbrella of the Crown property management corporation.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose announced Thursday that the massive park at Keele St. and Sheppard Ave. W. and the Old Port of Montreal are being placed under stewardship of the Canada Lands Co.

“We believe it is imperative that Canadians have confidence in how Crown corporations operate and use their hard-earned money,” Ambrose said.

According to its website. Canada Lands “manages, redevelops and/or sells” federal properties “that are no longer required for program purposes.”

City Councillor Maria Augimeri called the announcement a massive betrayal of Toronto residents.
“I’m so offended,” she said. “Once the community hears about this . . . they will be angry and insulted.”

“We’ve been betrayed. . . . We’re now in the process of being overrun by highrises and midrise apartments and thousands of townhouses that no one in the community wants.”

No decision has been made on the park’s future, said a Canada Lands spokeswoman.

“We have to get our due diligence done and take it from there,” said Manon Lapensée.

An operational review isn’t expected to be completed until early in the new year, she said. “We’re starting at a blank slate.”

In the late 1990s, the federal government declared the surplus military base “Canada’s first national urban park,” and yet for many years it was not much more than empty space to accommodate large gatherings.

It was at Downsview Park that Pope John Paul II and 800,000 young Catholics gathered in 2002. In 2003, the park was the site of the SARStock benefit concert, featuring the Rolling Stones.

After years of deliberation, planning and work, the 145-hectare park officially opened in July. Hills, valleys and a large “lake” — a stormwater retention pond ringed with paths and trees — were created in the massive development.

And yet Downsview is still a work in progress. Plans include several new neighbourhoods, a possible aerospace/educational hub and sports facilities. A subway station will open there in 2015.
In the middle of the site, Bombardier continues to manufacture airplanes that fly from here around the world.

The federal decision comes as the Old Port of Montreal has been mired in a financial scandal. In contrast, Downsview Park has been hailed as an urban oasis and a triumph of community involvement.

Former Downsview Park board chair David Soknacki said he wasn’t surprised by the move. Ottawa “let all of the board members lapse to do this,” he said.

Soknacki said the park was created as a result of numerous meetings in churches, synagogues, union halls and basements. “We had an excellent opportunity and we used it. Nobody can take anything away from what the board has created.”

Asked to predict the park’s future, Soknacki said: “It’s very much the call of the minister.”

A Canada Lands statement said its objectives are to leverage its expertise “in real estate development and property management, strengthen accountability, ensure continuity and the long-term financial viability of Downsview Park and Old Port of Montréal while offering the best possible returns to Canadians and the Government of Canada.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vindictive leftists show their pettiness going after Rob Ford

It goes to show just how petty the left-wing faction in this city can be when their mouthpiece — the Toronto Star — lauds, on their front page yet, the nasty piece of work behind Mayor Rob Ford’s ouster as a “hero.”
 I’m talking about professional leftist Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, who brought Paul Magder and Clayton Ruby together to bring down Ford in a conflict-of-interest court battle, and whose tentacles with the left-wing at City Hall and the leftist press are far-reaching and downright cozy. The labour relations specialist for the association representing Ontario civil servants claims on his Twitter feed he’s a “non-profit exec” and “an advocate for strong communities and accountable government” — although with all of the plotting he seems to have done behind the scenes in the past two years, one wonders how he manages to earn a living.
 (He IS a union employee, mind you.) A self-important girly-man who is the first to whine when someone dares attack him, Chaleff-Freudenthaler was a regular fixture around City Hall when David Miller was in power. Efforts to reach Chaleff-Freudenthaler were unsuccessful Tuesday. (Guess he didn’t think I’d give him the same treatment as the Star.)
 He actually learned his activism at the knee of NDPer Olivia Chow as part of her Toronto Youth Cabinet. But he really thrived under Miller, not only regularly and openly lobbying his left-wing friends on council but cosying up to pal Janet Davis, who sat with him on the Toronto Public Library Board. He also used his bully pulpit at Spacing Magazine and on Twitter to attack anyone who disagreed with his view of the world, most especially the Fords. In 2008, he wrote in Spacing that Councillor Mike Del Grande used me as his puppet to “plant” a budget question — forcing my then comment editor Rob Granatstein, who regularly interacts with the activist on Twitter, to correct the record. His self-righteous submission to the May 2011 edition of Spacing on why he petitioned for an audit of Ford is worth a read, if only to see how much this guy thinks of himself.
 In 2010 when he ran for school trustee in my ward of St. Paul’s, (a race which he thankfully lost) he counted would-be and former councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam, his old mentor Chow-Chow, Joe Mihevc, Maria Augimeri and Howard Moscoe as contributors to his campaign. Mihevc and Chaleff-Freudenthaler go way back, seeing as the activist presides over a drop-in centre located in Mihevc’s Wychwood Barns pet project.
 He also got sizable donations from four unions, most of them representing teachers. But what really stands out is that Magder and his partner Fern Mosoff both donated to his campaign. Magder, the v-p of operations at Iris Power LP, and Mosoff, a federal civil servant — who live on tony Rushton Rd. where houses go for more than $1 million, gave $100 and $400 respectively.
 Max Reed, who with Chaleff-Freudenthaler launched that compliance audit of Ford, also donated $250 to his failed campaign. Chaleff-Freudenthaler was bounced from the Library Board last year and I’m convinced he never forgave Ford.
 It wasn’t bad enough that Ford sidelined the activist’s pals on council and his union friends. But for heaven’s sake, Chaleff-Freudenthaler could no longer heave himself around the halls of City Hall pretending someone actually gave a hoot what he thought. That’s when the payback began — the compliance audit of Ford’s election expenses, the conflict-of-interest court case and a complaint to integrity commissioner Janet Leiper last July that Doug Ford said an “intimidating and bullying kind of phrase” to him. Leiper, who runs in the same circles and has made a mockery of the “integrity” function at City Hall, was only too happy to give the petulant little crybaby some air time — forcing Doug Ford to apologize three times before the leftists agreed they had their pound of flesh.
 There’s no doubt in my mind that Chaleff-Freudenthaler used Magder as his cover so as to not seem vindictive towards the mayor (not that it worked).
 There’s no doubt in my mind either that the Great Man, Clay Ruby, was starved enough for attention as of late to want to take on the conflict-of-interest case pro-bono. If there’s one thing about vindictive leftists like Chaleff-Freudenthaler and his network of friends on and off council, they have the staying power, a willing left-wing press and the time (because most live off the public teat) to connive and plot.
 They were united in their collective mission to get rid of Ford. They were also petty enough to follow through on their mission, democracy be damned.

Council throws out plastic bag ban bylaw

toronto bag banToronto city council has voted 38-7 not to adopt a bylaw banning the sale of single use plastic bags, instead opting for further study into alternative ways of discouraging use of the shopping containers.
The result, which can be considered a victory for embattled mayor Rob Ford, essentially kills off any chance of the city preventing supermarkets handing out carrier bags to customers in the new year as planned. Instead, a study looking at different solutions will be presented in 2013.
Two separate interest groups, the Ontario Convenience Stores Association and the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, filed lawsuits against the city this month in protest at the way the ban was enacted earlier this year.
During a debate on the nickel checkout fee, a surprise motion by councillor David Shiner to ban plastic bags entirely passed 24-20, much to the anger of the mayor. Both plastic bag groups taking legal action against the city claimed the prohibition was enacted without proper consultations. It's not clear what effect today's decision will have on the intentions of the OCSA and CPBA.
Speaking before the vote, Councillor Gord Perks told Rob Ford "congratulations Mr. Mayor, you won, but the city of Toronto lost." Shortly after, councillor Doug Ford questioned the sense behind preventing the sale of cheap plastic bags, saying "What are you going to do? Walk out with grapes and fruit in your hand?".
Several other councillors, including Giorgio Mammoliti and deputy mayor Doug Holyday, said this was a chance to go back and re-examine the process that led to the ban, not an indictment of the idea itself.
As it stands, there will not be a return of the 5-cent bag fee either. It's possible the ban or another form of prohibition will be discussed again next summer with a possible return of the ban discussion.
How do you feel about the result - will it change the way you pick up groceries? Do you already bring re-usable carriers to the supermarket?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rob Ford removed as mayor of Toronto

toronto rob fordRob Ford is on his way out as mayor of Toronto. Justice Charles Hackland ruled this morning that Ford breached the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act with his actions at a council meeting earlier this year. He has 14 days to organize a transition to a new leader.

The case, brought by Toronto resident Paul Magder and handled in court by lawyer Clayton Ruby, stemmed from $3,150 in corporate and lobbyist donations to Rob Ford's private football charity that council's integrity commissioner Janet Leiper found were wrongly solicited using the mayor's official letterhead.

Council initially voted to make Ford return the money out of his own pocket but later had a change of heart in a later ballot on the matter. Instead of abstaining, the mayor voted to allow himself to keep the money the second time around, breaching the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The cash was never returned despite several reminders.

Ford has a chance to appeal as Justice Hackland declined to block the mayor from seeking re-election. It's not clear at this stage whether Ford can run in a by-election - if the city decides to hold one - to fill his vacant seat.

Here's the full text of the decision:
Rob Ford conflict-of-interest decision Rob Ford conflict-of-interest decision
Update 11:25
Here are some of the key quotes from the ruling.
"In my opinion, [Ford's] actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to wilful ignorance."
"[Ford] has failed to show his contraventions of the MCIA were the result of a good faith error in judgement."
"Accordingly, I declare the seat of the respondent, Robert Ford, on Toronto City Council, vacant."

Update 11:28
It's still not clear whether Ford can run in a by-election immediately upon his removal. The City of Toronto Act suggests anyone who did take over as mayor would have a two-year term and have to run again with other members of council in 2014.
Clayton Ruby, the lawyer who represented Paul Magder, is due to speak immanently.

Update 11:45
Clayton Ruby, speaking at a press conference, says "nobody is above the law, Rob Ford included," continues that "he should have played by the rules of council."
"While we are pleased to have won this case, we are also deeply saddened by it" .... "Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford." Paul Magder, who brought the case against Ford, says "this is a sad day for Torontonians."
No word from the mayor's camp yet.

Update 12:30
Rob Ford still hasn't released a statement or addressed the media about his removal from office but, we hear, he's still scheduled to launch his Christmas toy drive at 1 pm. This could get weird.
Meanwhile, an ad for a "used Ford" has appeared on Craigslist. A bargain at a $1.

Update 12:35
Rob Ford has just spoken to the media. "I'm a fighter," he says "I've done a lot of great work for the city. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose." He also says he will "fight tooth and nail" to keep his job as mayor.
There's going to be an appeal too. Ford calls the decision "left wing politics." The CBC's John Lancaster notes calling the judge's ruling "a political decision" is risky, advises there are rules in place about discussing decisions of the court.

Update 1:21
Launching his second annual toy drive in the rotunda at City Hall, the mayor appeared visibly stressed and his voice broke several times. He congratulated the Argonauts on their Grey Cup win and said the campaign that distributes presents to toy drive programs "means a great deal" to him.
No mention of the court case, though he did scrum with media shortly before going before the cameras. Ford still says he will appeal the decision and stand in a by-election, if he's able.

Update 1:48
Things starting to settle a little now. Doug Ford says supporters of the mayor should head to the Rogers Centre tomorrow and cheer the Don Bosco Eagles to victory in the Metro Bowl. Looks like the mayor, if he can still be called that, will be missing the council meeting scheduled for that day.
Meanwhile, legal experts continue to discuss the ruling. According to Global's Jackson Proskow on Twitter, those in the know say Ford has grounds for a stay while he appeals but that he's ultimately unlikely to get the judge's decision overturned. Elsewhere, the Ford story has reached the frigid shores of Iceland (via Daniel Dale - @ddale8)

Update 2:53
We've had first movement on city council as a result of this morning's decision. Giorgio Mammoliti, a recent staunch Ford ally, says he's resigning from the mayor's executive committee, saying "some are suggesting that we rethink the political approach, and I have to start thinking about that."

Update 4:41
Here's something a little more considered on what lies ahead for Rob Ford to wrap up.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A brief history of the Ford Hotel's fall from grace

toronto ford hotel
In the early 1920s, R.T. Ford & Company was busily building near-identical hotel buildings in the state of New York and here in Ontario. The company's founder and president Richard T. Ford clearly believed in his business model: he named the luxury chain and every hotel in his empire after himself.

In Toronto, the Ford Hotel was finished in 1929, a year before the Royal York, on the northeast corner of Bay and Dundas at a cost of $2 million, including land. Its location on the site of a former church next to the open-air bus terminal made it extremely convenient for inbound visitors to the city. Unfortunately, the owners' dedication to low prices didn't translate into a glamourous reputation.

When it was eventually demolished in 1973, The Star rightly crowned it the "Queen of Dumps." Its story might be sleazy and blighted by horrific violence and terrible sadness but the history of the Ford Hotel is anything but boring.
toronto street agnes church
When the Old National Theater was gutted by fire in the winter of 1924, the former Agnus St. Church building it was housed inside gave up a 51-year-old secret. A copy of The Globe, tucked inside the cornerstone of the building, dryly discussed economic news from England and the benefits of a new municipal waterworks. The building that would replace the church would make headlines for entirely different reasons.
toronto globe paper
In 1928, the 12-storey Ford Hotel became the latest in an expanding empire of near-identical buildings popping up in the Lake Ontario and Erie region. The chain was headquartered in Rochester, NY.
James Suydam, a director of the Toronto hotel, hoped to have a portion of the brick building open for a race weekend that was expected to draw a big out-of-town crowd. In the restaurant downstairs, Lou Scholes, champion rower and part-owner of the old Scholes Hotel on Yonge Street, feverishly prepped the kitchen and dining room. Construction also hadn't gone entirely to plan: a worker, Jack Holton, accidentally got banana oil (a common ingredient in varnishes and lacquers) in his eyes. Half blind, he had to be escorted to the hospital but was able to return to work a few days later.
toronto ford hotelThe opening reception on May 31st 1928 featured Toronto mayor Sam McBride, Ontario Premier Howard Ferguson, a delegation of MPPs, and a group of the company's top brass from Buffalo. McBride was given a golden key that he used to ceremonially unlock the hotel doors and register as the first official guest. According to The Star, "the rotunda of the hotel was profuse with flowers, gifts of local and international hotel associations, and private well-wishers."

The 500 guests ate in the main dining room and toasted the city, Buffalo, and Lou Scholes, a man still held in high regard for his victory in the prestigious Diamond Challenge Sculls at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. Scholes became the first Canadian to win the men's singles event when he beat Arthur Cloutte to victory in 1904. Cloutte would be sentenced to hard labour in 1913 for stealing from his employer, Barings Bank.

On its first day, the Ford Hotel advertised rooms for between $1.50 and $3.50 and boasted a valet, barber, cigar store, newsstand, public stenographer, and laundry service. Guests had access to circulating iced water and reading lamps. The beds, apparently, induced "vigor, ambition, and charm." It wouldn't last.
toronto ford hotelDown on Front Street, the Royal York hotel was opened on the site of the old Queen's Hotel - a former employer of manager Scholes - in 1929 and immediately snatched the title of Toronto's most luxurious hotel from the Ford. Despite the competition, the hotel at Bay and Dundas continued to peddle affordable splendor.

All manner of dances, dinners and galas were held in the restaurant space in the lower levels. Ironically, one of the early conventions was put on by Seventh Day Adventists who railed against modern evils to a group of young women. "Young people were urged to eschew erotic literature and to shun the evils of stage, film, and dancehall," according to newspaper reports.
toronto ford hotelIn what appears to be the first in a series of tragic events, a 30-year-old Montreal woman, "Mrs. Richie," dressed in a red dress, fur hat, and fawn coloured coat, requested a room with a view at the Ford. Once inside, at 11:40 am precisely, she pushed a chair against the window, opened it wide, and jumped to her death onto the roof of the second-floor restaurant. Her fair hair was gently blowing in the late summer breeze when police reached her lifeless body minutes later.

The Ford's decent into seediness was gradual. Attempts at reworking the venue into a swinging performance venue were optimistic but never gained traction. Various themed rooms, hopelessly tacky by today's standards, and a reworking of the existing bar were in place when it was taken over by group from New York in 1954.
toronto city hallIn 1955, all hell broke lose. Zarano Borg, an itinerant Maltese laborer, checked into the Ford Hotel claiming he wanted to be closer to the hustle and bustle of the city. His old place on Broadview Avenue was too quiet.

Clearly unstable, Borg paced the hotel wrapped in a bedsheet until management ordered him back to his room. In the confined space, Borg became increasingly agitated and distressed. Then things took a nasty turn. The laborer pulled a 12-gauge shotgun from his suitcase and began firing shots into the walls. The night manager, who believed Borg had firecrackers, had to jump out of the way when the door to the room exploded into splinters as he arrived to investigate.

Police quickly commandeered a nearby room, which, thanks to the design of the hotel, had a window facing Borg's. In a moment, after a brief scare, cops tossed a tear gas capsule inside the room to temporarily blind the crazed man. When the gas cleared and Borg appeared to be still, police ventured inside to find his lifeless body slumped on the bed. He had shot himself.
toronto ford hotelDespite minor renovations during its brief spell in the Sheraton chain, the Ford Toronto was increasingly dilapidated in its final decades. Not only were some of the old fixtures defective, one would prove deadly.

A serious fire killed one man, Edwin Paterson, and injured three others on the seventh floor in 1969. Paterson, a 77-year-old resident of the hotel, died from his injuries in the fire which started in the room of another elderly resident, C. H. Villiers. The damage to the building was around $16,000.

The next year, Mohammad Ashraf, a 34-year-old engineer recently arrived from Pakistan, left his 12th floor room to explore the city and called an elevator. When the doors opened, Ashraf, without thinking, stepped through. He fell to his death down the empty lift shaft and crashed through the roof of the car, which was still at the lobby.
toronto ford hotelThe final chapter in the Ford Hotel's history was similarly tragic. On July 26th, 1973 the lifeless, mutilated body of 9-year-old Kirkland Deasley was found on the bed of a ninth floor room by Nabir Cassir, a clerk. Deasley had left home that day to earn money carrying groceries at a Parliament Street supermarket and had seemingly been lured inside by a man later identified as John McBeth Finlayson, a 37-year-old drifter and part-time baker. He had been sexually assaulted, bitten, and strangled.

As police released details of the shocking crime, vigilante groups began roaming the east end where men matching Finlayson's description had been seen. Meanwhile, Cassir, the clerk who made the gruesome discovery, received threatening calls telling him to keep quiet about the crime. He said an anonymous caller to the hotel has asked room 955 to be locked prior to the child's body being found. Kirk Deasley was buried in his baseball uniform along with his catching glove, ball, and prized hockey trophy on July 31, 1973.
toronto ford hotelThe day before, a man wearing blue workpants and shirt was spotted walking along a highway feeder road west of Burlington, his thumb out for a ride. A suspicious driver called phoned in a report and that afternoon cops picked up the wanted man and returned him to Toronto.

At his trial, John McBeth Finlayson pleaded not guilty but admitted he was responsible for the death of Deasley. The court heard how Finlayson attacked his sisters as a child and would watch them dress. In separate incidents, the troubled man attempted to throttle his older sister and bludgeon his younger sibling with a wrench. His family life was defined by fights, alcohol abuse, and screaming matches.

As an adult, he would regularly beat his wife and spend several months in the Don Jail for attacking the four-year-old son of a friend. In 1969, he lured two young girls to his apartment on Parkwoods Village Drive. He was sentenced to Millbrook Correctional Centre but later moved to a facility for alcoholics and sexual deviants. A 12-person jury found Finlayson not guilty by reason of insanity and he was admitted to a high-security psychiatric hospital.
toronto ford hotelThe case likely finished off the Ford Hotel's reputation. The business announced it would close in 1973 and workers would soon begin demolishing the building. Bar and bedroom furniture, TVs, pictures, and furnishings were snapped up by nostalgia buffs. Various grubby signs, bottles of bear oil, and even a barber's chair were hot ticket items at the sale.

Various papers eulogized the hotel but none seemed to believe it would be missed. "The Big F," as it had came to be known, was "a haven for prostitutes and homosexuals, a place for one-night stands, a hideout for cheating wives and husbands," according to The Star. A few indignant former customers sent letters to the editor in its defense, but when the Ford finally came down in October 1973, no-one really cared.

Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Wikimedia Commons, Bob Whalen, Robert Taylor, and Steve Munro

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The end of the Lakeshore Motel strip

Shore Breeze sign
The metal jaws of the excavator are tearing down the walls of the reception area of the Beach Motel while councillor Mark Grimes talks about the history of the Lakeshore motel strip, the last piece of which is coming down behind him. "It's a sad day, but it's an exciting day at the same time," Grimes tells me over the sound of crashing masonry, while TV news crews film the demolition and the media interview small groups of locals who've come to watch the Beach disappear. In the background men in hard hats wait around for the early morning show to end so they can get to work.
Beach Motel, April 2011:Beach Motel 
Beach Motel, November 2012:Beach Motel, after
The last time I saw the Beach Motel was in July of last year. It was already closed, and the owners were selling off the contents from the glass-walled room out front where guests once checked in. All the good stuff was gone, and all that was left were some old CRT televisions and bits of furniture and artwork from well past the Lakeshore motel strip's far more collectible '50s heyday. A few months before that the owners had left old mattresses leaning against the walls of the motor court outside, signs pinned to the striped mattress fabric: "Free Mattress & Box springs (mostly double beds)." Underneath someone had helpfully written in marker, "some more stained than others."
Beach Motel, April 2011:Beach Motel, before 
Beach Motel, November 2012:Beach Motel, after
Grimes, councillor for Etobicoke's Ward 6, sums up the history of the area in a nutshell - built beginning in the '20s and '30s, it had its zenith in the '50s before slipping into squalor and criminality in the '70s and '80s (photographer Patrick Cummins documented the area here and here in January of 1983, when its decline was terminal). Its fate was sealed thirty years ago when the province and Metro Toronto Council put a special interest on the property, with a view to having it redeveloped.
toronto cumberland motel
That development took a bit longer than anyone expected, and motels at the far end of the strip like the Beach, the Shore Breeze and Casa Mendoza's Mendoza Inn lived in a twilight state for decades while their neighbours to the east - the Cruise, the Hillcrest, the Rainbow, the Palace and others - closed and were plowed under to make room for the condo towers that have marched steadily west from the Palace Pier towers at the mouth of the Humber River.
Casa Mendoza, summer 2011:Casa Mendoza
I hung around the motel strip in its final days working on a story, never published, for a now-defunct local news website. While I was there I met Teresa Bodzan, who with her business partner ran the Casa Mendoza and its attached motel for over twenty years as the Lakeshore strip shrank around her. She complained that she'd just had to pay thousands to repair a broken water main in her parking lot; money out of her pocket as the owners of the property had put her on a month to month lease, and took no responsibility for any costs of running the restaurant and motel.
The Dutch Sisters and Lake Shore Boulevard looking east, 1951:Lake Shore Boulevard looking east to the Dutch Sisters, 1951
Teresa talked about the history of the place, beginning as a boatyard in the '20s that built Fairmile motor launches for the Royal Canadian Navy during World War 2. After the war the owners opened the Dutch Sisters Inn, a popular eatery on the then-thriving motel strip, which became Casa Mendoza in 1974. Reviews of the restaurant marvel at its almost comically overdone Latin American ambiance, which pulled at least as many tourists as locals.

Yelp! featured a reminiscence of Casa Mendoza written just after Teresa closed her doors for the final time at the end of last year. A former bartender now living in Calgary recalled the place at the end of the '80s, when it was run by "a big, scary Argentinian guy named Sandro" who was chummy with the owners of the House of Lancaster, a nearby strip bar.
toronto lakeshore motel strip
"Often times at around 1am," he writes, "I would be asked to close the bar and get everyone out quickly because we were going to reopen to private invitees that included many of the House of Lancaster's exotic dancers. Conveniently, many patrons ended up in the seedy attached Motel." Not long afterwards the bailiffs arrived to take over the mismanaged Casa and its motel, and the owners turned it over to Teresa, its last proprietor.
toronto lakeshore motel strip
As the excavator pulls down the Beach, Mark Grimes recalls the strip's low point, when the police would look for fugitives and suspects by cruising the Lakeshore strip and running license plates. He tells me that the area's renewal was probably guaranteed thanks to its prime location and lakefront views.

"I used to call it the million dollar view but it's the billion dollar view of the city of Toronto. I think behind here is the best view of the city of Toronto skyline, bar none."

Standing on the patio of the Casa Mendoza in July of last year looking at that million dollar view, Teresa Bodzan said that if she had the money she'd buy the property and keep the place open forever, but that she didn't think that was remotely possible. A petition was organized by locals regulars to keep the place open, but it didn't do much, and she said it was a struggle living with the insecurity.

There was a desperate atmosphere at the Casa Mendoza in its last days, and it underwent the mixed blessing of a Restaurant Makeover in 2006. To be sure, the dining room smelled of rancid fat and the motel had gotten some scathing online reviews, but it still packed a crowd on weekends and was full for its New Year's finale. Last week all that remained was the sign, now advertising the Monarch Group's Lago development, and a huge hole.

Casa Mendoza, July 2011:casa mendoza toronto 
Casa Mendoza site, November 2012:casa mendoza toronto
Even before Casa Mendoza closed, Teresa knew that her motel was fated to become a road linking Lake Shore Boulevard with Marine Park Drive to the south, as part of the design guidelines sketched out in The Humber Bay Shores, a plan published in January 2008 by the city. The study stated the city's intention that developers eschew low, squat buildings in favor of podiums and tall, slim towers that would preserve the "view corridors" to the lake and, not incidentally, the billion dollar views that residents were paying for.

The long dismemberment of the Lakeshore strip probably had to do with the collapse of the markets at the turn of the '90s, and the time it took for developers to assemble the long, thin motel properties into viable plots. "That's happened over time," says Grimes. "It was kind of expedited over the last few years. But everybody knows where their buildings are going to go before they come in with their applications. People don't have their view and then another developer puts another one in front of it."

David Golino of Empire Communities is one of the developers building the new Lakeshore strip, and his Eau du Soleil towers, the tallest on the strip at 45 and 66 stories, will rise where the Beach Motel stood until last week. In addition to the towers, Empire will be following the lead of other developers by making public park land part of their project.

"Basically on behalf of the city of Toronto and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, we've taken that on," Golino tells me, "because it's at the tail end of the strip and we're the anchor project. As with most city parks that have been developed in the last 20 years, they've been developed by developers, because the city doesn't have the money to develop them."

lake shore motel strip toronto
With the demolition of the Beach, the last evidence of the motel strip disappeared, so I ask Golino if Empire has any intention of preserving or referencing the area's past in its design. He says that they didn't (not even in their promotional literature) since other developers had evoked the old strip, and Empire didn't want to follow their lead. He said he'd welcome someone who leased ground floor retail and did something with the motel strip's history, but that they had no plans.

Mark Grimes tells me that he managed to save the sign from the Hillcrest Motel, which is in storage, but that there were no plans yet for what to do with it. "Anywhere you put it people might think it's a motel, so you have to figure that out - I think it'd be a great piece of public art. We could only save one - we couldn't save them all - and put it away. This is an important part of our history."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Photos of the 2012 Santa Claus Parade

toronto santa claus parade
There's nothing quite like seeing jolly ol' Saint Nick hit Toronto streets to remind you that Christmas is right around the corner (and incite mounting panic about the imminent gift-giving season). The 108th Santa Claus Parade took place yesterday afternoon, and in addition to the generously-girthed, white-bearded man himself, there were 28 floats, over 20 bands, and a huge crowd of patient fathers sporting excited toddlers on their shoulders. The floats included a celebration of the Grey Cup's 100th edition, clowns, Oreos, Little Red Riding Hood flanked by wolves, and Barbie. It was a colourful, boisterous instalment of the largest children's parade in North America--and now we can look forward to a month and a half of holiday music.

Here are photos of the over-the-top cheer.

Photos by Brian Morton
toronto santa claus paradetoronto santa claus parade 2012toronto 2012 santa claus paradetoronto santa claus parade2012 toronto santa claus paradetoronto santa claus paradetoronto santa claus paradetoronto santa claus paradetoronto santa claus paradetoronto santa claus paradetoronto santa claus parade 2012toronto santa claus parade 20122012 toronto santa claus parade
Photos from the blogTO Flickr pool
toronto santa claus parade
Photo by owen_yeo
2012 santa claus parade
Photo by JY:) / J. Yeaman
toronto 2012 santa claus parade
Photo by JY:) / J. Yeaman

Saturday, November 17, 2012

That time when Toronto went stadium crazy

toronto exhibition stadium
Long before the Blue Jays and the SkyDome, Toronto earnestly tried to win a 1960 American League expansion franchise by proposing new civic stadiums in several diverse and quite frankly ridiculous locations.

The idea was that the city's existing ballparks - Maple Leaf Stadium and Exhibition Stadium - were either too small or poorly configured for big league baseball. If Toronto wanted a team of its own, it would need to build a new venue or significantly expand one it already had.

Locations like High Park, the Don Valley, Riverdale Park, Rosedale, the Danforth, Woodbine Racetrack, Liberty Village, and even one on new fill in Lake Ontario near the foot of Strachan Avenue were touted as suitable locations for a Skydome-like project, and several reports were produced discussing the viability of each. Officials even toured US stadiums to gather ideas.

kansas city athletics
As part of their fact-finding missions, Toronto sent questionnaires to the municipal governments of 19 American cities with their own franchise. Most responded with intricate details of average spends, pedestrian traffic figures, and gorgeous maps of their cities. Based on the facts gleaned from this survey, the city established its own set of stadium criteria.

It a nutshell, it needed to accommodate baseball, football, and other "sundry" sports, a horseshoe or bowl shape, have links to a subway and highway, and be able to hold 60,000 fans. The total cost was predicted to be between $3- and $6-million, depending on the location.

toronto mlb stadium
Major League Baseball had indicated it planned to expand the American League in 1960 into cities without a team of their own. It's likely plenty of towns in the US sent in applications - an MLB franchise was widely seen as a major boon to local economies. Toronto's formal proposal imagined a team named the "Toronto Canadians" that would play in a purpose-built stadium somewhere in the city and attract visitors from the US.

The pitch tried to dispel concerns about the local climate (ironically, the Jays' first game would be played on a snowy field) and boasted of Torontonians love for the bat and ball. You can read the whole thing below:

Toronto Canadians MLB Pitch
Meanwhile, in an internal report, the city weighed the pros and cons of various stadium locations. Very few open spaces were exempt from at least some kind of consideration and as a result several truly awful proposals came up (a Skydome in Trinity Bellwoods Park, anyone?)

The locations that didn't make it beyond the first elimination were: High Park, Earlscourt Park, Christie Pits, Dentonia Park, Ramsden Park, the air directly above rail yards at Hillcrest and Main Street and Danforth, Woodbine Racetrack and several other sites in East York, Scarborough, and Toronto. A few, upon study, merited more detailed proposals. Here are some of those:

GREENWOOD AVENUEtoronto mlb stadium
In late 1950s, two large patches of land either side of Greenwood Avenue just south of the Danforth was up for grabs. Disused gravel pits, roughly where Monarch Park and St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School stand today were listed as suitable for a major league ballpark.

On the west side of the street, the TTC lands which had yet to be developed into a subway yard were also thought ripe for development. The city pitched the idea of a stadium above the subway yard with a spur line or second exit into the complex from the planned Greenwood station. Alternatively, parking would have been placed over the yard and a pedestrian bridge across Greenwood Avenue would link to a stadium in Monarch Park. The city balked when the TTC said an engineering study would be cost prohibitive.

One of two waterfront proposals, the planned stadium would have been built on existing fill south of Queens Quay between York and Yonge, the site of the present day ferry terminal. Good links to the Gardiner Expressway, Union Station, and the downtown core were considered major positives. The report suggested using the stadium's parking for nearby offices in the off-season. The plan was nixed because it was thought ramps to the highway would be too close.
KING-JOHN-FRONT-SIMCOEtoronto stadiumForeseeing the reduction in railway use in the area, a stadium was planned to cover the area south of King north of Front, effectively condemning part of Wellington Street to pass through a tunnel.
Though it had good transit connections, the idea of a stadium here wasn't considered viable due to its potential impact on local traffic. An alternative site roughly where the CN Tower is now is also mentioned but the cost of building over the tracks was thought to be prohibitive.
MAPLE LEAF STADIUMtoronto stadiumRefurbishing the former home of the bat and ball Toronto Maple Leafs made a good deal of sense. The site was big enough to accommodate expansion, the ballpark was already established, and there was a good chance of building links to the proposed Queen Street subway and the Gardiner Expressway.

What the Lake Shore Boulevard lacked, however, was parking. This was the 1950s and the car was the king. The nearest available land would have required (shock horror) a shuttle bus service. The proposal also suggested a rapid transit link to Union Station but died on the table. The stadium site is now occupied by apartments.

This one was probably the most ridiculous of all the stadium suggestions. Basically a proto-Ontario Place, the stadium in the lake would have required new fill close to the Western Gap against the advice of the Harbour Commission who wanted the space between the city and Billy Bishop airport open.

Unfortunately for render junkies the stadium didn't progress the diagram or mock-up stage. The massive cost of building a new stadium in the lake was the main reason why this project never garnered popular support.

RIVERDALE PARKtoronto mlb stadium
Believe it or not, this was actually the city's favoured location for the Toronto Canadians. The natural amphitheatre in the land north of the isolation hospital lent itself well to baseball and the links to the coming Bloor-Danforth line and Don Valley Parkway were a major draw for developers.

It's worth noting that the route for the subway hadn't been finalized in the above map and two possible alignments are shown: one over the Prince Edward Viaduct and one under the Don Valley further south. Had a stadium been approved for Riverdale Park it's possible the route of the Bloor-Danforth line could have been altered to accomodate the project.

toronto mlb stadium
An alternative site north of the Prince Edward Viaduct on the valley floor would have linked to the Danforth by a system of escalators and required a the diversion of the Don River.

During examinations it was decided that the land in the valley would have to be raised before construction could begin to prevent disaster in the event of a flood. Hurricane Hazel just a few years before had clearly demonstrated the dangers of building too close to rivers and the associated costs of keeping the stadium safe was likely a deciding factor when it came to eliminating this location.

ROSEDALEtoronto mlb stadium
Hoards of marauding baseball fans in one of the city's most upscale neighbourhoods? Sure, why not. The "ingenious" Rosedale Stadium was sketched at the top of Rosedale Valley Road directly over the top of the subway station and seemed to have some local support.

A 5,000-space parking lot close by would have served the stadium on game days and, apparently, boosted local shopping. The natural bowl shape in the land at the top of the valley would have allowed the ballpark to be submerged below the level of the surrounding neighbourhood in an attempt to cut noise.

One pamphlet distributed at the time by the Yonge-Bloor-Bay Association makes a passionate case for the project but then continues to state, bizarrely, that "there is not much place in society for beatniks."

EXHIBITION PARKtoronto exhibition stadium
Another stadium reno, the CNE grounds proposal suggested boosting capacity at the existing Exhibition Stadium as an economy measure compared to the cost of building a new arena on reclaimed or flood-prone land.

The report worried about scheduling clashes with football games and other Ex events but later it was agreed the stadium could get almost as much money from hosting Grey Cup games as MLB matches. The transit links weren't ideal though - just two streetcar lines served the site and the chances of a hookup to a subway line weren't great.

Though it wasn't the favourite, Exhibition Stadium was eventually selected as the site for the proposed new franchise. A south bleacher section was added in 1959 but, in the end, it was all for naught. MLB didn't feel like playing ball with Toronto or Canada at that time. The new franchises were awarded to the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators (now Texas Rangers).

The city would have to wait another 16 years for the Blue Jays to land at the CNE grounds.

Images: City of Toronto Archives