Nunziata wants to dry out south Weston

 

Femi's Place, 1812 Weston.

In a town plagued by illegal after-hours bars, is legal liquor a problem or a solution? That’s the question at the heart of a brewing conflict in Weston. Frances Nunziata would like a restaurant in a troubled part of town to stay dry, but being dry would hurt the struggling establishment.

Femi’s Place, at 1812 Weston Rd, is quiet, spacious, and attractive. There is a piano and a stage, and the tables and bar (there are no bottles behind it) are clean. In the back, there are newspaper articles about the owner, Femi Abosede. He is an accomplished saxophone player and, according to the Harbourfront Centre, “the King of Afrobeat in North America”.

Abosede applied for a liquor license earlier this year, but Nunziata wants the license application rejected. Her report to City Council says that she received several complaints about noise and illegal sales of alcohol, which she directed staff to investigate. According to Nunziata’s report, when “inspectors visited Femis [sic] Place… violations of the Liquor Licence Act were observed.”

Residents of Weston Village, within which this establishment is located, are already troubled by the number of licenced establishments in the area which frequently violate the conditions of their liquor licences but still remain in operation. The noise and disruptive behavior caused by the clientele that frequent these establishments has been an ongoing cause for concern; if this establishment obtained a liquor licence the existing problems would only become worse.

But Terri Thompson, the manager, said “It’s not a bar. It’s not a nightclub. It’s a family place. It’s not the kind of clientele who’s going to sit there and spend their last dime drinking.”

While we visited, there were no other customers, but Thompson was upbeat. She said, “business is OK. It’s decent. I can see it booming with a liquor license. In a day, I turn away three of four couples; they want to have a beer, but because we don’t have a liquor license, they don’t want to come in.”

The stakes are high. If Frances Nunziata has misjudged the establishment, and if she gets her way, the business will suffer, perhaps close. And that neighbourhood, just south of Lawrence, needs all the help it can get. Two young men, Courthney Facey and Mike James, were shot to death near Femi’s Place late last year. Some early reports and rumours placed the men in an illegal bar before their murders, though Facey was not old enough to drink. Another young man, Jahmelle Grant, 26, was shot to death in 2009 while trying to break up a fight outside an illegal bar just down the street, at 1764 Weston Rd.

Thompson said that she had never heard from Nunziata about the application. She said, “I never got a phone call from her. I would like the opponents to show how it would be [against] the best interests of the community . I would never allow any trouble. This is my place of work.”

Artscape bullish on Weston

Artscape released the results of their feasibility study last month, and they have good news. Artscape thinks Weston would be a good place for a community arts hub.

Tim Jones, the President and CEO of Artscape, spoke to Matt Galloway at the CBC. He said that Weston–Mt. Dennis has very few creative workers now, and this dissuades creative workers from coming: “The area doesn’t have the critical mass of creative people. Nor does it have the services and amenities that would attract creative people naturally.” This is a problem, he says, because creative people “breathe life into a community”.

The problem, then, is how to attract the first few, so rest of the flock will come along.

The solution, according to Artscape, is a “cultural and creative hub”. According to Jones, a hub “will bring together a smaller mass of people in one facility.” A combination of retail and affordable live/work space will “create the anchor and the critical mass of  creative people that will help energize the neighbourhood.”

The presentation on January 26 explained some of the things that make Weston attractive to an artistic venture like this: we’re receptive, engaged, and have good local political leadership. We also have a number of suitable sites:

  • Weston Park Baptist Church Land
  • The new GO Station,
  • Kodak lands
  • The former  Price Chopper
  • Weston Federal Building
  • Green P on John Street.

(The presentation slides mention neither the farmer’s market at the Green P, nor GO’s plans around the church and the Price Chopper.)

Artscape does identify some problems, however:

  • Lower than average employment in the Creative and Cultural Sector
  • Very few Creative Businesses located in the neighbourhood
  • Lack of a single clear vision
  • Fragmented neighbourhood
  • No clear project leader
  • Representation of & perception within the neighbourhood that the area is unsafe
  • Significant economic challenges

Artscape has had considerable experience revitalizing communities. They played a significant role in turning around the Distillery District, and have built facilities similar to what they propose for Weston–Mt Dennis in Queen West, Parkdale, and other places around Toronto. Recently, Artscape transformed the Wychwood Barns into a community and art centre.

Arstcape to report findings about hub in Weston/Mt Dennis

Artscape, an arts group that played a large role in refurbishing the Wychwood Barns and the Distillery District, has something planned for Weston and Mount Dennis. They will be revealing some of the details on Wednesday, January 26, at 6:30 pm at the Legion in Mt Dennis.

The City of Toronto asked Artscape to undertake a “feasibility study” for an arts hub in our neighbourhood. The meeting this month will reveal what they found.

According to Liz Kohn, Director of Communications, the plans are still in an early stage. But given the great success Artscape has had in the past, Westonians might reasonably hope for something big.

Weston Treasures: Weston Public Library


The original library entrance; not enhanced by Toronto Hydro, Bell and Rogers!

Just a little to the north of Shoppers Drug Mart at Weston and King is a gem of a building that sits quietly in its own regal splendour. This Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau style building is almost 100 years old.

In 1911, the Weston Library Board applied to the Carnegie Foundation in New York for a $10,000 grant for construction costs. The Board had changed from a subscription library to a public one in preparation for the grant. The Foundation approved the board’s plans and the village of Weston purchased a 140 x 60 foot site for $1950, agreeing to pay for books and library staff from tax revenues to the tune of $1000 annually (quite a burden for taxpayers). The librarian’s annual salary was $300 while the custodian was paid $60.

Original hours of operation: Daily 3 – 5 pm, evenings 7 – 9 pm except Wednesdays.

The Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau style was popular at the time and Toronto architects, Lindsay and Brydon were selected to design the building. Their previous collaboration in designing small churches seems to have carried over to the library design as it has a chapel-like appearance with stained glass windows. The design was approved by the community and, common to all Ontario Carnegie libraries, incorporates mosaic lettering over the doorway.

Detail of the original entrance showing the porch archway and mosaic.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a Scottish-American steel baron who became a philanthropist in his later years (think rich like Bill Gates). His story is a true rags to riches one and he credited some of his success to the availability of a library when he was a young man working twelve-hour days, six days a week as a telegraph clerk. He donated money through one of his foundations for 125 libraries in Canada, and about 2400 in the U.S. the U.K. and other English-speaking countries. The Weston Library is testament to his belief that libraries are a benefit to all of society and are a great tool to help people better themselves. He is famous for stating that the first third of a person’s life should be spent acquiring an education, the next third acquiring wealth and the last third giving away that wealth.

Carnegie Libraries pioneered the idea of browsing and selection of books directly by patrons rather than by requesting a book from the librarian. Remember when the LCBO was like that?

Weston Public Library is one of seven remaining Carnegie libraries still functioning in Toronto. It was declared a heritage building in 1979 after an attempt to have it replaced in 1975 (sound familiar?) and an addition, which tripled the floor space, was completed in 1982. Incidentally the attempt to demolish the library sparked the founding of the Weston Historical Society.

Other (now in) Toronto Carnegie Libraries:

  • Yorkville – 22 Yorkville Avenue – still in use; opened in 1907
  • Queen and Lisgar – now used by Toronto Public Health opened in 1909
  • Central Library – 214 College – now used by U of T., opened in 1909
  • Riverdale Branch – 370 Broadview; opened in 1910
  • Birge-Carnegie Library 73 Queens Park Crescent East; 1910 – 1961 now used by United Church of Canada
  • Wychwood Branch – 1431 Bathurst Street; opened in1916
  • High Park Branch – 228 Roncesvalles Avenue; opened in1916
  • Beaches Branch – 2161 Queen Street East; opened in1916
  • Mimico Public Library 1915 – 1966 (demolished)

Next time you go to the Weston branch, be sure to check out the original stained glass windows. They are beautiful.

Do you have a suggestion for coverage of another Weston treasure? Let us know through the comments section.

Arts organization looking to build in Weston

According to InsideToronto, Artscape, which usually serves those richy-rich artists downtown, is looking to build a cultural and creative hub in Weston-Mt Dennis. It will need to be funded by City Council, however, after the new arts-averse mayor has taken over—and Ford recently promised that there will be no new money for the arts.

Along with preparing a map of existing creative sector jobs and facilities in the area, Artscape staff have been interviewing local artists and sought feedback from the public at a meeting earlier this month, including on where such a hub might be located and what it should offer.

“Is it for performing arts, is it for artists’ work studios, is it for artists’ retail, is it for visual arts, is it for dance?” asked Artscape’s Liz Cohn.

The answers to those questions will have to wait, however.

Artscape plans to present its report to city staff by mid-December, said Cohn. After that, staff and Artscape will prepare an action plan to implement the hub and submit it to the economic development committee in 2011.

Whether there’s support, and funding, from the new council for such a project is unknown.

New Christmas store on King St

A new store has opened up in Weston. The aptly-named Locally Crafted Holiday Gift Store is beside Olympic Variety on the corner of King and Elm.

Reanna Niceforo opened her store on Sunday, and it will remain open until Christmas Eve. She is selling her handmade jewelry and art.

“I have been making jewelry for about seven years now, but this is the first time I’ve taken over a store”, Niceforo said.

She says she’s not the only quiet artist in town; many others are around, waiting for another opportunity to showcase their work. Niceforo suggested that another Art in the Park event would be a great way to bring them out—the last one, she says, was several years ago.

UrbanArts announces Winter Expo

UrbanArts has announced the dates for their annual Winter Expo. It will be held on Thursday, December 9, from 6 – 9 pm at George Harvey CI,  and will feature performances from local artists.

UrbanArts is a Weston arts group that offers programs to local youth. They have after-school and summer programs, and produce exhibits and performances several times a year.

The Winter Expo is a spin-off from the After School Arts Program (ASAP), which is for young people from 11 – 18. ASAP runs five days a week from 3:30 until 5:30 and gives instruction in visual arts, music, drama, dance, and improvisation.

The event will be hosted by Baby-G from CHRY radio and Weston CI’s student president, Devante Burey.