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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I know it’s just an artist’s drawing but the image posted on Artscape Weston’s site does not give the impression of a big enough space available for the market. Will it be possible to shoehorn the traders from the 2016 market into the 2018 one in the new Hub location?
My suspicion is that the space will not be sufficient leading to either a loss of traders or the market simply moving to another location.
Here’s an overhead look at the old market.
The market was to have been an important component of the Hub. Traders cannot be forced to use the space if they believe that it won’t be worth the effort, or if there is no room to set up an adequate space. Additionally, in the past, stall holders were able to overflow their pitches without penalty. If space is tight, such flexibility will be impossible.
Rainy afternoons in October usually call for hot chocolate and Halloween movies; however, this October 1st, the Falstaff Community centre, and Urban Arts hosted a spectacular event. For almost a year, thirty dedicated youth from the York South-Weston area gathered together to create a phenomenal mural that is now covering the outer walls of the Falstaff Community Centre, located at 50 Falstaff Avenue. October 1st, 2016, was the official unveiling.
Over the course of over eight months, thirty students from the area worked with Adobe Photoshop, photography, silk screening, and even got trained to use a scissor lift, all to create a masterpiece that would soon become a landmark in the area.
I was told by Shah Ashraf Mohamed, a program manager at UrbanArts (and one the people who ensured this program did so well) that “the best part of this whole project was watching the youth transform from knowing so little about art, to finding passions and loving the work they did.”
All the students involved began their artistic journeys differently; Italia Santoyo and Dylan Kitchener, who were both involved in the mural’s creation, found out about the program from their art and photography teachers, whereas Jerlie Thorpe, who is extremely interested in the arts, was encouraged by the girl’s group club at her school. (which is also run by UrbanArts). Despite coming from different backgrounds, all the young artists were brought together by one thing: a love and passion for art.
“I’m so grateful for UrbanArts. I love art and all the time people tell you that art is so hard to get into and you’re never going to get a job if you want to study anything in the arts. But Urban Arts helped me see that it doesn’t matter if people don’t believe in you. If art makes you happy, make art” –Italia Santoyo.
The mural is composed of visual art, photography, silk screen and Photoshop work, all comprised into the masterpiece that is now complete. Students worked with various groups including Gallery 44, a non-profit center committed to photography, who taught them skills about their passions, which they then used to create the artwork.
UrbanArts is a community group dedicated to bringing arts programs to communities in the city of Toronto. Every program run by the group involves professional artists and helps develop and engage culture into communities in need. With partners including the Ontario Arts Council, Microsoft, TELUS, UrbanArts has been making a difference in the lives of many kids since they started.
With art being one of the most highly criticized and toughest paths anyone can take, many young people feel intimidated and scared about pursuing their passions. UrbanArts is changing that. From speaking to the young people involved, and seeing how passionate the program organizers were, I could tell that this project has made a difference. Being a creative person, I know how intimidating and worrisome perusing my passions can be. Seeing fellow creative people flourishing and doing something they are passionate about gave me hope. I am proud to say I live in a community that hosted such an amazing event, and I hope any aspiring artists that see all the amazing work that went into this project will be motivated to keep perusing their dreams.
This post was brought to you by: Maureen Lennon, who loves Weston and great writing.
The tiny building that was home to the Weston Farmers Market is to be demolished. The building stored essentials, housed a washroom and provided power and water to the old Farmers Market.
The application to demolish is from Kathryn Randle of 22 John Street Developments. Oddly, the building (and presumably the land where the Weston Hub will be built) still belongs to the Toronto Parking Authority. According to Council briefing notes, “transfer of the ownership is still outstanding at this time”.
Why the transfer delay? It could be a formality or perhaps a more serious problem but does explain why the site is so quiet in spite of a cast of thousands shovelling mightily at the June 2016 groundbreaking ceremony.