Letter of the week – Farmers Market

This week’s letter comes from ‘Anonymous’ and comes up with an excellent idea about the Weston Farmers Market that is obvious in hindsight.

As the new Weston Hub moves closer to opening day and its new facilities are taking shape on the ground rather than on paper, it’s becoming harder to imagine the Weston Farmers Market shoehorned into its future designated space.

The planned 2019 home of the Farmers Market.
The space that traders have enjoyed at the UP Express location. (file)

There are plans to have landscaping in front of the rental tower building and along the walkway to the footbridge that will eat away precious available space and although there has been a suggestion that the market be allowed to spill over onto adjacent John Street, it is clear that traders will have to scale back their stall space. This may make Weston’s market not worth the bother.

It has been proposed that the market spill over onto John Street.

Another factor is the noise. Traders begin setting up the market from 5 am. This is a noisy process and may disturb homes overlooking the site.

What’s the solution – well, that’s proposed in the letter of the week.

“I wonder if the folks at Weston Lions Arena were asked to share their lot for the neighbourhood market?

Way back in the olden days, was it not known as the Fair Grounds?

Wouldn’t that be a nice venue – right in the river valley, away from the very tired looking Main Street area.” – Anonymous

The Weston Lions Arena parking lot.

The idea is worthy of consideration. The space is huge,  further away from residences and as the arena is closed from April until October, it is a natural fit with the market. Adjacent to the parking lot is nature in all its glory, a splash pad, playground, tennis courts, soccer field and during July and August, the open air pool is open, there adding to the festive atmosphere. As an added bonus there is plenty of parking.

Discuss.

Weston Farmers Market nearly didn’t happen this year.

The Weston Farmers Market was promised that its brand new location in the Weston Community Hub would be ready for the 2018 season. Unfortunately, owing to construction delays, the site is not ready.

As a result, Weston Village BIA Chair, Masum Hossain requested the use of the UP Express parking lot for one more year. Metrolinx gave a firm no, stating that lower fares, have boosted passenger numbers and greatly increased the demand for parking. Compounding the problem, the Weston Park Baptist Church which leases its parking lot to Metrolinx on weekdays, closes its own lot to the general public on weekends.

Until three weeks ago, there was a standoff. Masum then asked local MPP Laura Albanese to see what she could do. Ms Albanese was somehow able to appeal to the better nature of Metrolinx and as a result, the market will occupy the UP Express lot for one more year. Without this intervention, Masum assures me that the Weston Farmers Market could not have operated in 2018.

The BIA has hired a new market manager. She is experienced and dynamic corporate event manager, Jennifer Forde who also happens to perform the same duties for Nathan Phillips Square Farmers Market. Jennifer is hoping to expand the customer and vendor base of our market so keep coming back to check out the new stalls in the weeks to come.

Brand new market manager Jennifer Forde with BIA chair Masum Hossain at the first Weston Farmers Market of 2018.

One familiar face was missing this week, that of Joe Gaeta of Gaeta Farms. Joe comes up from Beamsville every week but mechanical issues caused him to miss opening day.

Market stalwart, Joe Gaeta stands beside his favourite bougainvillea. (file)

Correction: In the article, I spelled Masum Hossain’s name incorrectly. This has been corrected and apologies to Mr. Hossain for the error.

Happy Birthday

It’s Shakespeare’s 454th birthday today, Shakespeare was born on April 23rd, 1564.

Weston will have a special connection to Shakespeare beginning in the fall. Youth education theatre company, Shakespeare in Action will be moving to Weston when the new Weston Common community hub opens. Check out their activities and summer programs here.

The latest take on the Weston Hub

The Farmers Market with lots of room on its old site back in July 2004. (File).

Churchill once said that, “History is written by the victors”. An article in  UrbanToronto.ca, (basically a public relations organ for the local real estate and development industries) tells a sanitized version of the background story of the soon to be opened Weston Hub.

The article’s author, Dean Macaskill, has been involved in Toronto real estate since 1980 and was with the company given the GO Station parking lot listing back in 2012. The land was put on the market by the Toronto Parking Authority and according to Macaskill, the 5 offers received on the 1.42 acre site were, ‘at rather depressed pricing levels’.

What’s not mentioned in the article are thoughts at the time that the land belonged to the old town of Weston and that it should not be sold. Also, unlike the wealthy Wychwood Barns neighbourhood which received close to $20 million from the City for their Artscape project, poor old Weston received essentially nothing.

The message seems to be that no one wanted to invest in Weston until this development came along and since that time, developers have been falling all over themselves to buy into our community. He neglects to mention that his listing stated, “Area Is Undergoing Significant Change With Other High Rise Condominiums Planned In The Immediate Area.” Also missing in action is any mention of the 370 rental apartments and 40,000 square feet of storage units that came as part of the deal.  The 8000 square foot space devoted to the cultural hub seems rather ungenerous by comparison. Another unmentioned issue of contention is the tight space given to the Farmers Market .

Now that the Hub is nearing completion, we’ll all have to make the best of it and hope it’s a success – but it could have been so much better no matter what shine is put on it.

Just to cheer you up, here’s a Metro Morning  interview with Artscape’s Tim Jones talking to CBC’s Matt Galloway recently on the same topic.

Hub News: Weston Common partners announced

UrbanArts and Shakespeare in Action were announced this week as being program partners for the Weston Common  community cultural hub coming on John Street.  UrbanArts develops the creative assets of artists and residents and has worked locally for years from its two locations on the other side of John Street and in Mount Dennis.

Shakespeare in Action is a non-profit professional theatre company dedicated to spreading knowledge of the characters, language, and the stories of Shakespeare’s works through a variety of one-off school workshops or longer term internships.

Both groups will bring a positive and youth oriented vibe to the Hub while promising benefits for the whole community.

The two organizations hope to be installed in their new location this fall.

Artists interested in the Live / Work studios may add their name to a waitlist here.

 

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 5.

5. Planning and Development

Adapted from MasterMaq.ca

Council needs to listen to the experts.

Toronto Council consists of 44 councillors and one mayor, each of whom has a single vote when making decisions. There is a huge staff at City Hall which gathers information and makes recommendations to council on topics to be discussed. Smaller committees of councillors, generally appointed by the Mayor, study the issues, receive input from staff and the public and then make a recommendation which is forwarded to a general council meeting. Unfortunately many councillors have varying axes to grind; sadly for the people, the biggest priority of many councillors is getting re-elected every four years. As a result, fact-based decisions often happen by accident rather than by design. For example, the unnecessary Scarborough Subway, panned by experts both here and around the world, will be a costly blunder that Mayor Tory and many suburban councillors (including our own) fully support.

We need to make plans and act on them with support from the city and in conformity with the Toronto Official Plan.

Weston is still only in Phase 1 of its Heritage Conservation District status granted in 2004. Phase 2 was to be studied that same year. ‘Study’, in the language of Toronto politics means delay, in the hope that the issue will go away quietly (which it did). Apparently getting to phase 2 requires time, money and a huge volunteer effort. Rich areas have no problem raising money and help but a district like Weston / Mount Dennis naturally struggles.

There was an official set of plans drawn up around 2005 for some of the more historic Toronto communities. In Weston, developers were supposed to keep future building heights to around 8 stories in our area out of consideration of the historical context and the river’s proximity. Outside of special areas, the Tall Building Design Guidelines should apply but often don’t.

In 2009, plans for rehabilitating the Kodak lands were discussed. Former Toronto Chief Planner Paul Bedford held a planning exercise with his University of Toronto students to explore Weston’s potential and reported on his findings in 2010. That led to a Weston planning ‘charrette‘ back in 2011. The Mount Dennis Mobility Hub Study in 2012 was another planning session.

Some of the ideas that came out of these planning sessions were excellent but somehow the execution has been lacking; for example:

  • create a pedestrian walkway along South Station Street that would connect Weston Village with the GO / UPX station.
  • create generous and clearly defined pedestrian and cycling routes to the station
  • create more accessible access points to the parks along the Humber
  • Fix the uninviting streetscape along Weston Road

BTW, the Charrette didn’t get everything right. One of their key messages was that “Public investment will need to be provided by the private sector.”

It seems that many development deals are worked out in the back rooms before they reach the public. Public commentary then serves to make only minor adjustments. When the 30-storey Weston Hub was in the public commentary stage, people were told that the height was non-negotiable.

in 2016, more planning studies for Weston and Mount Dennis were announced that should have seen the light of day in 2017 but nothing seems to have transpired.

Weston and Mount Dennis are not less worthy of support than more affluent areas of the city but that’s not what happens. The Artscape project at Wychwood Barns received millions in funding from three levels of government. Our own Artscape development at the soon to be opened Weston Hub received a much smaller investment.

As mentioned previously, Europe has car free zones, attractive streetscapes and limits on building height. Our planning in Toronto seems to be centred around strictly regulating development and then accepting relatively small amounts of money to break the rules.

Finally, we have a mayor and his team who deliberately keep city coffers empty because they cannot see beyond keeping taxes at or below inflation. The mayor worries about millionaire homeowners becoming homeless because of property tax hikes:

“a lot of older and younger people counting on us to be disciplined will be forced from their homes, or find it unaffordable to live in the city, if we start taking 5-per-cent-a-year” tax hikes. – Toronto Star December 27, 2017

He’s conveniently ignoring the fact that older and disabled residents can apply for property tax relief. But that’s our current political environment. Facts mean nothing, there’s no money for the public good and it’s all about protecting the rich.

Janes Walk, Weston – May 6, 2017

Some of the 2017  Weston Janes Walk participants pose for posterity outside the new UP Express station. (Photo courtesy Cherri Hurst)

Close to 40 people braved chilly temperatures and cloudy skies to visit some key parts of our Weston neighbourhood. Organizers Cherie Hurst and Mary Louise Ashbourne led a well-attended Janes Walk today organized under the banner of the Weston Historical Society. The theme was one of renewal and there was a pervasive sense of a dynamic new Weston emerging after decades of decline and neglect. The tour started at the GO / UP Express station where local historian Mary Louise Ashbourne joked that Weston had suffered with lemons for years, but now, thanks to community activism, we were beginning to get some lemonade. Some of that lemonade takes the form of a fast, frequent connection to the airport or downtown for a cost comparable to the GO train.

Directly across the street is Frontlines where Executive Director Stachen Frederick welcomed us into the warmth of the clubhouse and described the large variety of programs for young people that are offered. These include a homework club, very popular cooking classes and a summer day camp. This year’s fundraising dinner at the Weston Golf and Country Club was sold out for the first time ever, raising over $20,000 that will help subsidize programming for the next year. Pizza from their cooking program was offered as an incentive to return following the walk.

Frontlines Executive Director Stachen Frederick talking about the extensive programming for youth. (Photo courtesy Cherri Hurst).
Cherie Hurst and Dave Bennett welcome walkers into the Weston Historical Society offices.

After visiting the offices of the Weston Historical Society (WHS) at 1901 Weston Road, Deacon John Frogley Rawlinson outlined the history of Weston Park Baptist Church. The church is involved in a new venture under discussion for several years that will combine church lands with the empty ScotiaBank building that will be preserved as part of the development.

Deacon John Frogley Rawlinson describes the Weston Park Baptist Church development. The mural behind him is of the old Eagle Hotel which once stood at the corner of Weston and Lawrence.

We crossed the road and walked north to 1976 Weston Road to Toronto’s longest running bookstore, Squibbs now celebrating 90 years of continuous operation and 84 years at number 1976. Co-owners, Mike Linsky and Suri Weinberg-Linsky greeted walkers and invited them inside.

At Weston Road and Little Avenue, Mary Louise stopped at the Carrying Place plaque (installed by the WHS) that marks the trail that ran along the Humber for hundreds of years linking Lakes Ontario and Simcoe, eventually hitting navigable water again at the Holland River. That would have been a tough portage as the navigable part of the Humber ended at the present day location of Bloor Street.

Mary Louise Ashbourne stops at  the Carrying Place plaque at Weston Road and Little Avenue. (Photo courtesy Cherri Hurst)

Weston’s old Federal / Post office building has been preserved and is now a medical building that has been equipped to serve the health needs of the community. Dr. James Crumney outlined the history of the building and some of its interesting occupants over the years including an RCMP detachment that kept an eye on postal workers via one-way mirrors.

At Fern avenue and Weston, Jessica Idahosa told the group about St John’s Anglican which is Weston’s oldest church having been in operation since 1856. It is now operated by the Victory Assembly under the leadership of Pastor Felix Ayomike whose congregation started out as a group of five people meeting in a private home. Incidentally, that’s exactly the way St. Johns began in 1856.

Moving along Fern Avenue, the Gardhouse home at 18 Fern and the LeMaire home at 57 George Street were occupied by prominent Westonians at the turn of the 20th Century. The Gardhouse home was saved from demolition as a result of WHS and community intervention.

Heading down George Street, Weston St. John’s School Community Social Planning Council co-chair, Dave Bennett outlined the huge amount of planning and work involved in rebuilding the school that will soon occupy the currently empty site. Because of expropriations needed for the UP Express, St John’s will be able to occupy a bigger site, hold more pupils and have a grass playground for the first time thanks to the Weston Tunnel cover.

Dave Bennett outlines the new St John the Evangelist school to be built on George Street. (Photo courtesy Cherri Hurst)

Heading down George to King Street, Artscape Research and Development Manager, Gil Meslin outlined the new homes and community facilities that will house artists and even the Farmers Market when the new Weston Common is scheduled to be completed in 2018.

Gil Meslin describes what the future holds for the Artscape Hub in Weston.

At the junction of King Street and Weston Road, our famous 103 year-old Carnegie Library still stands thanks to community involvement. It is a small but impressive building with is Arts and Crafts style and original detail.

The walk ended all too soon and was an exciting glimpse into the past, present and future of Weston, ending at the mural on the side of the Perfect Blend Cafe which like other such murals in Weston exemplifies the changes in our community over the past few decades.

The walk certainly illustrated that positive changes in Weston have been as a result of direct community involvement in the political process. Much of our history has sadly been lost but much has been preserved thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers.

We can only guess what future murals will look like but then, that’s up to all of us isn’t it?