Weston Village: A Story of the Neighbourhood

The Weston Historical Society would like you to know that

Mary Louise Ashbourne and Cherri Hurst from the Weston Historical Society will conduct a lively talk on the history of Weston accompanied by a slide show.

The talk will be on Thursday, Apr 28, 2011 from 7:00 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. at the Weston Public Library. If you have any questions, call (416) 394-1016.

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.

Politicians, What Have You Done For Weston Lately?

Weston has had a raw deal in the past few decades. Our ‘village’ has lost nearly all of its industry, historic properties have been demolished to make way for unattractive developments, and the area has become depressed. The once attractive main street has been infiltrated by payday loan/cheque cashing companies, dollar stores, and other detritus of hard times.

Weston gets no respect. The airport link as originally proposed was never intended to stop in Weston. When the TTC wants to save money, Weston services are cut. When Metrolinx needed to expropriate properties as part of the airport link, the way they dealt with homeowners was reprehensible and high handed. Drug related gangs of criminals seem to operate freely without much fear of capture. There is apprehension on the part of many people about being a victim of crime. While there are many beautiful homes in Weston, there is a large amount of ugly low-income housing both public and private.

Throughout all of this process, federal, provincial and municipal politicians have collected their generous salaries and tut-tutted about the sad state of affairs: “What a shame and we’re doing all we can; by the way, don’t forget to re-elect me as I’m really concerned about unemployment—mine.”

With one election under our belts and two more on the way, perhaps it’s time that the citizens of Weston asked our politicians: what have you done for Weston lately? Sitting on committees and attending conferences in glamorous places doesn’t count. What really counts are results bringing prosperity and hope back to Weston and eliminating the conditions that encourage crime, namely unemployment and lack of opportunity.

Here are some of the things that Weston could benefit from:

  • Improved education and workforce training
  • Decent housing
  • Help for struggling retailers and small businesses
  • Doing something about empty commercial properties
  • Police on the ground, not in cars
  • Politicians actively working on our behalf.
  • Encouragement and support for local initiatives such as the Farmers’ Market
  • Community facilities such as an indoor pool
  • Better communication by politicians about what they are doing for the community

There is no desire to malign individual politicians by lumping them together as a group. Perhaps everyone is doing the best they can. It would certainly be appreciated if our individual representatives would take the time to outline plans for Weston to their employers, the people.

You may wish to contact them individually, here are their contact details:

Federal MP Alan Tonks,
2534 Keele St
Toronto ON  M6L 2N8
Phone: (416) 656-2526
Fax: (416) 656-9908
Email: [email protected]

Provincial MPP Laura Albanese
Unit 102
2301 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M6M 3Z9
Tel: (416) 243-7984
Fax: (416) 243-0327
Email: [email protected]

Councillor Frances Nunziata
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West, Suite C49
Toronto, ON  M5H 2N2
Phone: (416) 392-4091
Fax: (416) 392-4118
Email: [email protected]

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.

Another shooting on King St

But relax! It’s a good kind of shooting! MTV shot part of the TV show Skins in Weston today. Trucks lined King and Pine Streets, as one of the nearby homes was used for filming.

Skins, which has yet to air, is set in the eastern US but shot in Toronto. It is based on an English teenage drama aired by the BBC. The original is edgy and authentic—it’s written and performed by teenagers, and it contains nudity, drugs and swearing. So, no, it’s not Brangelina.

Shooting started in the morning, and was to continue until after midnight. Neighbours signed a release to allow the crew to work into the wee hours.