Roots/Routes

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I moved into Brockton 8 years ago, 4 months before my daughter was born.  To be honest, it wasn’t our first choice in neighbourhoods; it was what we could afford.  Since then I’ve watched our neighbourhood grow as my two children grew.  I’ve walked the streets with strollers, scooters and bikes, seeing houses change hands and new stores, restaurants and galleries take up empty store fronts along Dundas, College and Bloor Streets.

I realize now how lucky I was to land here.  There is so much about this neighbourhood that is interesting.  It’s such a mix of people of different cultures and ages with so many different interests and professions.  There is a lot going on here.

Now Brockton feels like home.  The sidewalks and park benches are familiar friends.  Strangers are now neighbours. But even though I’ve been living here 8 years, I feel like I just scratched the surface.  There are decades of history to explore, there are stories in every kitchen, and with a turn on every street corner there are new faces and new experiences to discover.  Starting this magazine, the Blok, I hope to find out more about this wonderful place and its inhabitants and share it with anyone that wants to spend time with it.

For this first issue, I chose the theme Roots/Routes.  I wanted to focus on the history of the neighbourhood and highlight how the area is defined by the routes that border or run through it.  There are some fantastic personal stories to explore and some other surprises along the way.  This issue only touches on the some of the history here and the thousands of years of history before European contact is sadly not included, but I hope that this is a starting point for conversations between friends, family and neighbours about this neighbourhood.  Please enjoy!

Jason Bomers

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Dundas Street in 1852

Excerpt from “Landmarks of Toronto” by J. Ross Robertson 1898

After Marshall’s houses (at Dovercourt) there were no houses at all until Dufferin street was reached. Then there was a large driving shed belonging to Collard‘s tavern. Then came a second licensed house kept by Joseph Church (the building still remains), known as the Brown Bear, and then followed a noted hostelry, the Queen Street Hotel, of which the proprietor was one Robert James, known far and wide as “Bob” James. He was famous for his horses and for his love of sport of all kinds, and few men of his class were more respected by both his customers and the general public. At this period (1852) the whole of the north-eastern side of Dundas street, from Ossington to Brock Avenue, was known as Denison Terrace, the name given to it many years previously by the first owner of the land, G. T. Denison, of Bellevue, Toronto, father of Richard L. Denison, of Dovercourt, and G. T. Denison, of Rusholme.

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The locality where Collard’s, Church’s and James taverns stood was popularly known as Appii Forum or the Three Taverns, and there on fine days, both in summer and winter, were wont to assemble racing men, eager to arrange contests to test the capabilities of their various trotting horses. Past the Three Taverns were no houses on either side of Dundus Street; for about one hundred yards, until the toll gate was reached, which was kept for many years by James Kerr. The gate house was on the north-east side of Dundas street and rails extended across the road on the opposite side to the fence, so when the gate was closed it was impossible for conveyances to get through at all until it was opened, and pedestrians were compelled either to wait its opening or climb over.

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Close to the gate, on the south-western side of the street, was a small general store, kept by a Mrs Larkin, who was also post-mistress. There was no letter-box at this time (1853), and every one called for their correspondence. Such a thing as delivering a letter never crossed the mind of anyone. There was but one collection a day and sometimes in very bad weather not that.  This post-office was first known as Dennison Terrace office, then as Lippincott and finally as Brockton. There were two or three other houses close to the post-office, and then the road now known as Brock avenue was reached, and there the houses finally stopped on that side of the road.

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Coming west through the toll-gate on the northern side of Dundas street were no houses until Brock avenue was passed, then standing back a little way from the road were four log shanties built for the use of the lumbermen and known as Stoney Batter Village. The name pleased the fancy of the residents in these cottages, and so long as they remained standing they bore no other. They finally disappeared about thirty years ago. From this point, crossing by what was known as the White Bridge, the line of the then Northern Railway, Dundas street ran through the bush, without house or residence of any kind on either side of the road until it reached what was then a concession, but which is now Bloor street.


The drawings in “Landmarks of Toronto” by W. J. Thomson inspired artists in the early part of the 20th century to create paintings of the quaint Town of Brockton.  See them below.

Watercolour by John W. Cotton, ca 1913?

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Watercolour by Owen Staples? ca 1912?

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The Buildings of Brockton

Digging Up Roots

brocktonsealSearching around online for information on the history of Brockton proved challenging.  There are bits and pieces of information here and there but nothing definitive.  It did feel a little bit like digging for treasure without a map and I found that there wasn’t necessarily a treasure box but definitely a few gems here and there.

The first obvious place to look is Wikipedia where I found the following basic information about Brockton Village:

Brockton was named after Sir Issac Brock’s cousin James Brock.  After the war of 1812 James was parcelled land west of Dufferin from Queen St. (Then Lot St.) to Bloor St.   When Brock died, his wife Lucy commissioned a road in 1850 which is now known as Brock Ave and began selling off this land and this settlement began to be known as Brockton.

By the time Brockton was incorporated as a village in 1876 it stretched as far as High Park in the west and bordered on Bloor to the north, Dufferin to the east and the rail lines to the south.  In 1881 is was incorporated as a town but only lasted 4 years until it went bankrupt and was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1885.

I also learned about the Brockton Town Hall still exists at the corner of Brock and Dundas, the first stop on our walking tour of the buildings of Brockton.

markerThe Brockton Town Hall

1617 Dundas Street West

The Brockton Town Hall was designed in 1881 by Joseph A. Fowler (1850-1921), still stands at the corner of Dundas and Brock and now houses Elite Plumbing Supplies.  When it was a working town hall it had a fire department and jail cells in the basement.  It was also known as Worm’s Hall for the builder and owner of the building.  Later it was known as Fire Hall No.13 & St. Mark’s Hall.  In the picture below taken in the 1950’s looks as if it was a mechanic shop before it became a plumbing store.
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Brockton Town Hall – 1952 | Photo by James Salmon


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St. Helen’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

1680 Dundas Street West

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W.J. Thomson, 1914 Postcard before the steeple was complete.

Brockton’s largest and most majestic building is St. Helen’s Cathedral. St. Helen’s was designed by Arthur Holmes who also designed Toronto buildings, St. Patrick’s Church, St. Michael’s College in U of T, and St. Francis of Assisi in Little Italy.   The church was built by Irish immigrants with Indiana limestone and Don Valley red brick in the french gothic revival style.  The building was finished in 1909 but the steeple wasn’t complete until after the 1st world war.  It still remains the second largest roman Catholic church in Toronto.  The rectory also designed by Arthur Holmes was finished in 1911.      .

The current building is actually a second version of St. Helen’s Church.  The first was built at the corner of Lansdowne and Dundas, where the No Frills stands today.  After St. Helen’s moved, the original building was used as an army barracks in WW1.  Then served as the first Ukrainian Catholic church in Canada before it was destroyed to make way for the National Register Company factory (see below). The confessionals from the original church stand inside the current building on either side of the entrance.


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St. Claren’s Methodist Church

110-112 St. Claren’s Avenue

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Nestled between the gas station, the Dundas/St. Clarens Parkette and an alley is an interesting shaped apartment building. This building was originally one of the first churches in the neighbourhood, the St. Claren’s Methodist Church. The steeple from the building is no longer there but the shape of the building remains the same. Here is a description of the church from  “Landmarks of Toronto: ; a collection of historical sketches of the old town of York from 1792 until 1837, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1904″ By J. Ross. Robertson

The First Methodist Church in the Old Brockton Suburb.

In 1882 a mission was begun by the Dundas street Methodist church in Worms Hall, at the corner of Dundas street and Brock avenue. The beginning was a small one, but it developed into a working congregation in a short time, and soon became independent of the parent church. So rapid was the development that it was considered expedient to purchase a lot and build a church. One of the very best locations in Brockton was secured, and a church was built on it on March 17th, 1887. The lot is at the south-west corner of Dundas street and St. Clarens avenue, measuring 128 feet on the latter and 107 feet on the former. The church is a small rough-cast, wooden structure, standing at the southern end of the lot on the avenue. While it is very plain, it is a neat building, surrounded by a white picket fence.


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The National Cash Register Company

222 Lansdowne Avenue

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The National Cash Register Company opened in June 1936 and it was according to it’s ad “one of the most modern industrial plants in the world”.  It’s facade was designed by Thomas Muirhead in the Art Moderne style at a cost of $300 000 and with the company’s growth the building was expanded between 1947 and 1950.  The building was taken over by Knob Hill Farms in the mid-70’s and stayed untl 2000 when they closed along with all the other Knob Hill Farms in Toronto.  The building was designated a heritage property before the current No Frills moved in.   A more in depth article about this building was published in the now defunct Grid magazine.

 


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School 1: Brock Avenue Public School

93 Margueretta Street

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Brock Ave Public school opened in January of 1887 as a result of overcrowding from Mabel St. School (Shirley Street).  The school started with 202 students and 4 teachers and the school’s first principal was Alexander Muir (author of The Maple Leaf Forever).  The land for the school was purchased for $2110.34 and the 4 room structure was built for $9222.35.

By 1919 the building was expanded to 12 rooms and had a 9 room annex and by 1938 the population of the school had grown so much that the original structure had to be torn down and rebuilt.  This is the structure that still stands today.  If you walk in the front doors of the school and up the stairs you will see a memorial for those that fought in the World Wars with an illuminated list designed by A.J.Casson of the Group of Seven.

 


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School 2: Kent Public School

980 Dufferin Street

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Kent opened in 1908 and it was named after Mr. H.A.E Kent, a Toronto trustee for 21 years.  It was designed by Charles Bishop, as Superintendant of Buildings for the Toronto Board of Education designed many of the schools of the Toronto School Board between 1882 and 1915. The school was built on land purchased from Captain John H. Denison who received it as a gift from Govenor Lord Simcoe.   For a time in the early part of the twentieth century Kent was the largest school in all of Canada.

This school as well as Bloor Collegiate next door have been deemed surplus by the Toronto District School Board and put up for sale.  Kent currently houses Toronto School of Art and a private German school.  Originally the corner was thought to be sold privately and turned into a massive condo development but a bid from the Toronto Catholic District School Board, who by law has the right to purchase it at below market value, may change that.  The Catholic School Board needs the space immediately, and with a growing population of Toronto, they say they will need even more space for students in the future.


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School 3: St. Helen’s Catholic School

1196 College Street

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St Helen’s Catholic school was established around the same time as the parish in 1852 and originally existed on the land at Dundas and Lansdowne.  When the Cathedral was built at St. Clarens and Dundas, the school was moved further north and east to the corner of Brock and College Street where it still stands today.  It was designed by Charles Read, who was appointed in 1909 as an Architect to the Roman Catholic Separate School Board and can be credited with the design of many Separate schools in the city between 1910 and 1920.  A new building was erected in 1994 and at that time the original building was refurbished.  On the west side of the building you can still see the signs for the separate Girls and Boys entrances.


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The Brockton Hotel

1555 Dundas Street West

Brockton Hotel, Sheridan & Dundas. - December 22, 1922

The building where the Brockton Hotel still exists at the corner of Sheridan and Dundas West (Kevin’s Convenience lives there today) but any details about the hotel is mystery.   Perhaps it’s a reincarnation of one of the early hotels of Brockton.  There is a post about Brockton on the BlogTO site with some comments from “Paul” who grew up in the neighbourhood and mentions the hotel and the connecting tavern:

Then there was the Brockton beer parlour which I believe was the hotel building that still stands on the south-west corner of Dundas & Sheridan. This was the local watering hole & gathering place for area residents and was a classic “dive”…similar to dozens of others that could be found in neighbourhoods all over the city. A glass of draught in those days was still probably a thin dime and provided much-needed entertainment & escape for the working-class men & women that populated the area. On Saturday afternoons, while my kid brother & I were at the Gem, and my parents had finished the weekly grocery shopping & other chores, they would patronize this joint for a few leisurely hours. I recall them telling me that one of the regular denizens of the pub was the once-great star of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 30’s, “Busher” Jackson. By that time he had sadly been reduced to the status of street bum & hopeless alcoholic…but he was still a colourful character and people would befriend him and buy him drinks just to have him sit at their table.


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The Dundas Playhouse / The Brock / The Gem Movie Theatre

1585 Dundas Street West

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Before Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas West had many different uses.  The building was supposedly built as a Chronicle office in 1862 (the only Chronicle I could find in Toronto at that time was the Trade Review and Insurance Chronicle which eventually turned into the Monetary Times).  For a stretch it became the Dundas Playhouse which had the first burlesque show in Toronto.  In 1936, it was renovated and turned into the Brock Theatre (706 seats) then in 1949 it’s name was changed to the Gem Theatre.  By the early 1960’s the Gem played Italian and Polish films and it eventually closed altogether in 1965 and turned into a banquet hall.  There are photos in the Toronto Archives with the signage “Club Canadiana” and then “Continental Brothers Catering” over the doors.  For a more in depth history of this building see this article.


 Take a tour of these buildings!

#SHOPTHEHOOD at Beadle

The Blok: When did you open your shop?

Cherie Lunau Jokish: Beadle opened its doors on October 14, 2006

■ : Why Brockton?  Tell me how you ended up here.

CLJ: I was just looking for a way to get my business out of our apartment and mainly looking for a studio. My husband was growing weary stepping on beads and of me using our sofa and a TV tray as my work space in our very tiny apartment. At about the same time, I was growing tired of doing shows and carting my work from place to place. The space I have is actually the first and only place we looked at. It fit the budget and was a very manageable size with loads of storage. And a few months after I opened Beadle, an apartment in the building became available. So this neighbourhood is also my home.

■ : It seems like Beadle was one of the first shops of your kind in our neighbourhood, before Dundas West became the trendy neighbourhood it is today.  How do you feel about that?  Do you think yourself as a trendsetter?

CLJ: I chose this area mainly because it was what I could afford. Eight years ago it was a very different neighbourhood. I have been told by others that they initially looked in this area because I had my shop here. Several ended up opening businesses and buying buildings because they gave this area a second look and also found it to be affordable (or at least it used to be). I have had people call me a pioneer or a trendsetter but it usually makes me blush. I’m really not comfortable with those titles. But I am very proud of my neighbourhood and all that I have gone through. It has been super interesting to see the neighbourhood change. Fascinating to watch it happen while also being a part of it. At times it has been a rough ride but I love this hood!

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■ : What kind of things do you sell in your shop?

CLJ: Beadle has a focus on finely crafted goods that are made in Canada.

■ : You seem to sell quite an eclectic mix of things.  Is there something that ties all of the items in your shop together or is it that you just have a lot of different interests?

CLJ: Beadle does offer a wide array of unique gifts. We like to think we have something for everyone from babies to that hard-to-buy-for person who has everything. The local/Canadian/handmade theme — that is the common thread. Beadle has over 40 different lines of products from Canadian makers, with a spotlight on things from the GTA . Many are created in small home-based businesses.

■ : Are you a craftsperson yourself?  If so, tell me what you make…

CLJ: I create our signature lines. Beadle jewellery and Beadle aromatherapy products.

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■ : Over the past 8 years we’ve had some major construction along Dundas, including streetcar tracks, watermains and sidewalks. We’ve also had the TTC shut down for long stretches of time and now it is happening again this month of November.  How does this affect your business?

CLJ: Construction has made it very difficult to keep things running and often extremely stressful. Most of the first five years there was major construction almost every spring/summer/fall. This had at times a huge negative impact on my business but also the other artists/creators that Beadle supports (over 40). Luckily I have earned a fiercely loyal customer base over the years. Without their ongoing support and their spreading the word, Beadle wouldn’t still be here.

■ : You mentioned a Shop your Neighbourhood event on November 29th. Can you let me know a little more about it?

CLJ: It’s a Yellow Pages initiative. They are in the works of trying to rebrand themselves away from the actual old school Yellow Pages paper listings and this is how they are choosing to start it. I think they have been doing this for over a year now.

It’s free for businesses and also free for customers. Both can win prizes. Customers can win $25 gift cards from Shop the Neighbourhood by posting pictures of their favourite neighbourhood places to eat, drink and shop. When they post them online using twitter, Facebook and instagram with the hashtag #shopthehood and tagging @shoptheneighbourhood, they are entered into the draw. Businesses are entered into the draw for $2000 towards businesses improvements when they sign up online to participate. For more details you can visit www.shoptheneighbourhood.ca/en

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■ : Shopping along a city street is something very different than say shopping at Dufferin Mall, or even driving around the burbs shopping at strip malls, as was my experience growing up. What do you think people gain by walking down a city street to shop?

CLJ:  I hope that people gain a sense of community and a sense of place and belonging; a human experience with personal connections that you just don’t often get when shopping in malls or dragging yourself from big box to big box shop. I’m not against big chain stores as they all have their uses. But when we choose to slow down, take a stroll and discover something new, it’s good for our mind, body, and soul. It’s more civilized and I believe better for our overall health and well-being.

■ : Tell me about some of the things you like to do or places you spend your time at in our neighbourhood.

I really enjoying walking around our hood. I have a dog so I tend to take him with me while I run all my errands before opening Beadle. Most often I stop in the mornings at either Full of Beans or Bivy (which is also my unofficial office for meetings) for a latte; Multiple Organics is my go-to grocer for lunch and dinner supplies. For special occasions or treats, I love going over to OMG baked goodness. Have you tried that focaccia bread or those cupcakes? Often my husband and I enjoy take away from This End Up and Pho Phung or pizza delivery from Albany Pizza. And I recently bought the most amazing vintage plaid cape from Life of Manek. Plus they always have the best window display!  Aside from that my time is mainly spent in my shop. I love my job!

At night I truly love walking around St. Helen’s Church. I’m not an overly religious person but it’s magical to see the stained glass windows glowing in the dark. I don’t often linger for long but when I have time to sit, I do enjoy hanging out in one of the parkettes, usually on St. Clarens or Brock.

■ : Any suggestions for holiday gifts I can buy at Beadle?

I’ve stretched my wings a bit and found some new products from two different provinces this holiday season.

I predict the hottest item this season will be the Maple Syrup candles in the vintage style tin. It’s a new product I just got in last week and they are selling fast. They are hand poured by a company in Quebec. They have a (responsibly harvested) wooden wick that crackles like a fireplace and smells extra divine. At $18, it’s a great gift for guys or gals and perfect for a secret santa or a teacher’s gift.

We also have some amazing pure beeswax candles in the shape of a large pine cone. They are from a small company in British Columbia that has been in business for over 30 years, a  husband and wife team with a small employee base. I suggest pairing the beeswax candles up with the beehive screen-printed tea towels and the 2015 How to Help the Bees calendar both by Christine from Art That Moves. Plus a portion of the sales for these  products goes towards saving our bee population from colony collapse. So we all win!

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Be My Neighbour: Kathleen Byers

Everytime I walk my children to school and get to the corner of Gordon and Dufferin I feel sad.  Kathleen “the Dancing Crossing Guard” no longer belongs to this post and I miss her smile, her positive energy, her stories about her day to day life and her reflections on the neighbourhood.   I caught up with Kathleen at Bivy to find out what she’s been up to since her crossing guard days are over (for now).


■ – Do you mind if I ask you how old you are?

Kathleen Byers – Not at all, I’ll be 66 at Christmas.

■ – How long have you been living in this neighbourhood?

KB – This December the 5th will be 27 years.  When we moved in, the neighbourhood it was all Portuguese. My daughters, I had 3 when we moved in and then had 3 more later. They all wanted to be Portuguese and march in the parades.  Isn’t that adorable?

■ – What year was that?

KB -That happened in 1987, our first spring and summer here.

■ – And at that time it was all Portuguese?

KB – Oh yes! My next door neighbours at the time, Lucy and John raised chickens and rabbits.  Our kids grew up together and my girls got first hand experience in the preparation and cooking of their foods.  We learned about Portuguese culture in many ways, it was different and refreshing.  We still see Lucy and John on occasion, they are grandparents now too!

■ – Well I guess that’s the definition of Toronto. All sorts of cultures learning from each other. You said you have 6 girls?  How was that, raising 6 girls?

■ – Well I loved it.  I think I’m still a kid because I’ve always been about the arts and crafts.    I still have 2 daughters at home.  One of my daughters is a brilliant artist and my other daughter is a recent graduate; she’s an ECE teacher – she’s fabulous!  Anytime she has to do something for the daycare I take part in it.  I say “Let me make this or do that!” It’s kind of fun.  It’s therapy!

■ – It is fun.  For me raising my kids, I try to get in there as much as possible to play with them but I find it hard sometimes to focus on playing because we’re so busy doing other things.

KB – Oh yes, there is always so much to get done!  I homeschooled my three youngest for 2 years and I used to load up the double stroller with the 3 of them; we would have tents and dress up clothes; we would have bonfires in the backyard and play pretend all day.  It was crazy. There are memories of different ways of parenting but I always thought, how am I going to have fun today?

■ – That’s great. I should try to have more fun; I find it hard to let go of the little things sometimes.

KB – Well the tantrums are never fun. I don’t miss that. But I empathize because I know that now if a kid is having a tantrum on the street, and I stop and say hi, the tantrum stops right away.  It takes someone else other than a parent to stop it.  I try to help wherever I can.

■ – Thanks for that, Kathleen. You’re like our neighbourhood superhero or guardian angel. Can I ask you how long were you a crossing guard?

KB – Ten and a half years.  I walked into 14 division to sign up to be a crossing guard and I met Nick Scarangella.  Nick was like an old friend, singing, dancing, a beautiful spirit! That certainly wasn’t like any interview I ever had.  I think we just clicked… I’ll never forget him. I started guarding at Parkdale school from October to December 2003.  I just signed up to be a crossing guard and I got a permanent crossing in 9 days! This happened because the crossing guard at Parkdale had an operation and died. That was so sad.

How I ended up crossing at Dufferin Street was that I knew the crossing guard at Bank and Dufferin because she crossed my older girls.  She said “I’m retiring at Christmas, do you want this corner” and I said “Yeah!, It’s a lot closer than Parkdale.”

■ – What made you decide to start listening to music and dancing while you were helping people cross the road?

KB – Music fills me up like nothing else.  If there is music, I’m going to dance.  I’ve always danced my way through life.  But the dancing at the crosswalk didn’t start until 2010. Prior to that  I did all the lazy things, I brought a chair but I started having problems with my knees because you can’t sit and then jump up without getting up wrong.

People enjoyed the music and would wave… it was fun (and funny)!

■ – I remember crossing with my girls and you would get all sorts of honks from truck drivers.

KB – I had a transport driver from the chocolate factory who would honk and throw me a chocolate bar.

■ – There were many times that you stopped my kids from crossing Dufferin Street when I was behind them.  I always thought that the dancing kept you more alert!

KB – I believe I was more agile and more alert because I watched the road constantly.  I would notice that drivers would slow down so they could have a look; so in essence it was a good safety feature.

■ – Can you tell me the first time you were reprimanded for dancing?

KB – Yes it was onDecember 4th, 2013, the day before my 26th wedding anniversary. I had danced at the crossing 3 ½ years prior to that.  It was a shock and also confusing since the police had made a safety video with me as the dancing crossing guard.  After that I toned back my music and my dancing to a minimum, but still wanted an element of fun.  The beat police loved my energy and cheered me on.  I thought it had all blown over and was no longer an issue.

■ – I remember the day you told me when you were asked to be in the video for The Born Ruffians.  How was that experience?

KB – That was such a surprise to be asked to be part of that!  I got an email from their manager late one Saturday night…the shoot was the next day. It was close by near Ossington and Dundas, then, I asked if I should bring my vest and sign and was told, bring them just for fun.  The music video would be a bunch of dancers, one was the head dancer at Lula Lounge, we’d all dance individually and then they’d put it all together.  I loved the song immediately, so no need for a rehearsal or any choreography, I just winged it!

■ – I was surprised because I thought that you would be a small part of it, but when I watched it, it was just you.

KB – Yes, I didn’t expect that at all, and I was somewhat surprised.  It made me laugh…imagine…a grandmother as the focus in an Indie Music Video.  When I told Damian Abraham (of the band F’d Up) he loved it…he’s one of the parents at The Grove Community School…I crossed his family too.

■ – Well we all miss your energy on the corner.

KB – I miss being there too. I miss the kids…

■ – I’m sure you saw a lot of them grow up.

KB –  I miss the daily interaction and seeing everyone in my community, every day!  I’ll miss the babies who would bring a different toy to show me every day, and the spontaneity of people who would dance it up.  You know, it never really was about me, or the music, or the dancing, it was about connecting with community through fun!

■ – I feel like you saved me last winter because it was so cold and you were a bright spot on the corner.  It must have been really cold for you.

KB – It was the worst winter guarding I’d ever experienced!  I never stopped dancing even in the cold – my boots weighed 7 pounds…each boot was 3 1/2 pounds!  It’s funny, but I would use those boots as part of my workout, LIFT, KICK BACK, LIFT, KICK BACK.  The boots were wonderful and kept my feet toasty warm, like little condos for my feet.

■ – How have you been spending your days since you stopped your gig as a crossing guard?  Are you still dancing?

KB – Well…I have been doing a lot of power walking all over the neighbourhood.  I want to stay healthy and active.  I also have grown to love the fact that I don’t have any schedule, although I am still an early riser!  You know, I never had a break my whole life…about 46 years!  Now I am on my own timetable.

■ – I guess that’s a change from such a strict schedule being at the corner for the morning, then back at lunch, then back in the afternoon for when the kids get out of school.

KB – I made it into a routine.  Even though there was a 2 hour break, I would never really have more than an hour; I would eat and rest, make a playlist…it never felt like work!

■ – For the magazine, I was hoping that you would make a playlist so we could get to hear some of the music you like.

KB – I hope I’m good at that…

■ – Of course you would be. I’ve heard all of your music on the corner.  You seem to really like music.

KB – I love listening to music.  My husband wanted pie one day, so I said I’ll make three apple pies, why make just one?  During the baking, I listened to one of my  brother’s albums.  He was a very successful blues musician, Johnny V. Mills.  I thought…wow, this album is great, but that’s because I really listened.  Sometimes I feel like we often don’t have the time or take time to really listen.

My brother loved making music, he passed away one year ago.  He made a little vignette about the love of the blues and what it meant to him.  At the end of the video he said what he loved was, how he could connect with people through playing music, without physically touching them.  I get that, it makes me cry because it’s so true!  Some performers get so emotional singing you can see what the song means to them. John said it was never about the success of money, but about the honour and the thrill of playing with other musicians!  Isn’t that just great?  I loved this because I learned something new about my brother.  Love what you do!

■ – How is your mother doing?

KB – She’s doing pretty good.  She just turned 91!  Mom often forgets…she’s living in Newmarket now.  My sister-in-law, Mary, made me laugh when we talked about how Mom forgets and how it frustrates my Mom.  Mary said, “Come on Kathleen, we were only ever meant to live to 50 and she’s 91!”

There is an interesting old Portuguese lady who we find to be the funniest person on our street.  She’s tiny, and cute, and full of piss and vinegar!  She will say to my husband, “Are you going to come over for lunch”, and then point to me and say, “Not you!”  She always says “If I don’t come out and laugh, I would die!”

■ – So what’s the future look like for you?

KB – Well it’s nice having this break.  Yes, and I mean break, because I don’t know where the next stage of my life will take me.  My sweetheart is retiring in the New Year and we plan to do some travelling and also spend time with our grandkids.

Anything I do decide to get involved in would have to to be an absolute passion… that’s just the way I am!

kathleen1

Immigration: Brockton in the 1960’s

Luigi (Louie) Naccarato is my father in law. When we bought our house 8 years ago, we walked down the street and he told me that this was the first neighbourhood he had moved into when he immigrated from Italy in the 1960’s. I wanted to find out what Brockton was like back then for him in his teens.


The Blok: Where was the first house you lived in when you arrived from Italy?

Louie Naccarato:  Our first home when we arrived from Italy in September 1960 was at 255 Brock Avenue. We rented the main floor and the second floor.

■: Who else lived with you?

LN: Well, there were nine of us including my three brothers, four sisters, and my parents. We had to move at least once a year because the landlords kept bringing over their own relatives from Italy who then needed a house to live in. Our second house was a row house on Dufferin Street just south of Dundas. There we had at least fifteen people in the house because my cousin and his family came over from Italy. Every year we moved until we finally bought a semi-detached house on Palmerston Avenue near Dundas for $8000. Of course my brothers and I had to contribute our pay cheques to help cover the mortgage payments.

■: Wow.  Prices are a little different nowadays. Do you remember some of your first jobs?

LN:  Well, as a matter of fact, I worked right next door to your house. Back in the 60s, that apartment building used to be a perfume factory. They made perfumes, cologne, soaps, shaving cream, stuff like that. For 35 cents/hour, my job was to fill the perfume bottles, label them, and pack them. We used to steal a few bottles to take to our favorite fish fry restaurant. The owner’s wife would give us fish and chips in exchange for the most expensive perfume that the factory sold which name was Black Magic. It was a good deal for both parties!

■: I would agree. Any other interesting jobs?

LN: I worked for a while at a men’s clothing store which was located on Dundas near Brock close to where Brazil Bakery is now. I was paid in clothing, not cash, but I was happy with that because I looked pretty cool going to school in my nice shirts, sweaters, and trousers.

■: Where did you go to school?

LN: When I first arrived, I was 14 years old and I was put in Grade 5 at Shirley Street Public School. When I learned the language, I was quickly moved up the grades to match my age level. There were no formal language classes back then, but it worked fine for me. In the classroom, two brothers who were also Italian were assigned to help me to catch up. They lived on Sheridan and I wish I could reconnect with them as they really helped me during that time.

In Grade 7 and 8, I went to Alexander Muir Public School, and for high school, it was Central Tech on Harbord Street, which was all boys at that time.

■:Were there a lot of Italians in the neighbourhood back then?

LN: Well, yes, there were quite a lot of Italians, but there were also Portuguese, Polish, Ukrainian, Irish, and Anglo-Saxon, and we were all living in the same community. The biggest Italian population in those days was centered around College and Grace, right where the Johnny Lombardi Grocery Store used to be.

■: Any other memories about the neighbourhood?

LN: Well, I remember the plumbing supply on the southwest corner of Dundas and Brock. It is amazing that it is still a plumbing store doing business today. Lula Lounge used to be a movie theatre (called the Gem and previous to that the Brock Theatre) and there were lots of movie houses in the vicinity back in the 60s). I remember how gangs used to get into fights during a movie and they would break up the seats and just raise hell! Too bad for the folks who came to watch a film…
We went to church at St. Helen’s on Dundas, which is still there and is a beautiful church. For sports, we went to Shirley Street Park, but there wasn’t a lot to do. It was pretty bare bones back then. We could play ping pong inside, and in the winter, they made an outdoor rink to skate on. That’s where I first learned to skate – with an old pair of girl’s skates that someone gave me. In the summer we played baseball and soccer. Of course, we didn’t have cars so the parks were a great place to find a private spot with the girlfriend, if the weather was warm enough (well, heck, even when it wasn’t).

thegem2

I remember a large pool room right on the southeast corner of Dundas and Dufferin and I spent many hours playing pool with my buddies. I notice there is now some kind of shop there that looks as if it could have been there for decades… On the corner of Brock and Marshall, there was a variety store where I used to watch other kids buying ice cream sandwiches. I never had any extra money to spend on stuff like that.  We never ventured much further south than McCormick Park, but used to go north to College where most of the Italian action took place. Lots of pools halls….kind of like the Portuguese sports bars on Dundas now.

■: Any final thoughts?

LN: Well, it’s funny, as I think about all of this, it is kind of ironic. First, my parents emigrated from Italy and settled in this neighbourhood. Their kids and their brothers’ and sisters’ kids (I and my cousins) emigrated up to Woodbridge and the suburbs northwest of Toronto as soon as we could afford to buy a house (the bigger the better), and now so many of our kids are emigrating back to the city. It has come full circle. I like that it is so lively and vibrant again. Just like when I was growing up, only much more traffic now. That is not a good thing….

 

The top photo was taken from the site http://transit.toronto.on.ca/. The photo was taken by R. Hill in the late 1960s and was donated by R. Hutch.  The photo of the Gem theatre is from City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, fl. 60.

Root Soups

Since the days are getting colder soup seems like a really good idea.  Here are a number of different soups made from root vegetables.  These soups are all dead easy to make.  I love soups and chile, because you can’t really overcook them!  All of these soups follow the same simple steps; they all start with an onion and garlic base, then add stock and roots, boil, simmer until soft, blend. Serve and garnish.  Eat and feel warm…


Southwest Sweet Potato Soup

southwestsweetpotatosoup

Sometimes I feel as though sweet potato, squash, and carrot soups all look and taste the same — something like baby food. I wanted to try a something new and I found a number of recipes online for a “Southwest Sweet Potato Soup”.  A soup flavoured with the same spices you might put in your chile.  I made some guacamole to go with this soup, because I don’t need much excuse to put guacamole on anything.  The recipe I found from Michael Smith called for rolled up and baked tortilla as a garnish, but I decided to add some more crunch instead and topped it with some tortilla chips.

Ingredients
1 tablespooon of butter (I used Ghee or clarified butter)
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 red pepper
1 teaspoon of dry or fresh oregano (if you’ve got some)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
a sprinkle or two sea salt
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
some tortilla chips
4 – 6 sprigs fresh cilantro, for garnish  1 Avocado and 1/2 lime for guacamole

How-To
Heat pot with medium heat.  Throw in oil, onions, garlic and red pepper.  Cook, stirring until soft.  Add spices. Pour in chicken stock, add chopped sweet potatoes and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and cook until sweet potatoes are soft.  Puree in batches in a blender or with immersion blender.  Ladle into bowls and top with guacamole, yogurt, chips and a few sprigs of cilantro. Enjoy!

 


Caldo Verde

caldoverde

Living within Little Portugal, there is no way I couldn’t include Caldo Verde or “Portuguese Greens” soup in this list.  Caldo Verde is one of Portugal’s signature dishes. It’s very simple and very delicious.  There is also very little variety in recipes I found for this soup, so you don’t need to worry about getting fancy.  The same recipe from my Joy of Cooking, can be found all over the internet.  I’ve made a vegetarian version of this soup with white beans before, or you can throw a can of beans into this meat version too for extra protein.  I find beans always go well with sausages.  If you go veggie, add some smoked paprika with your onions and garlic if you’ve got some to give it a nice smoky flavour.  The kale in this soup tastes delicious with the sausage and potatoes and adds a whack of vitamins to your meal.  It’s a very hearty soup and with some crusty bread from the Brazilian Bakery, this is a great lunch or light supper.

Ingredients
2 onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
4 cups of chicken broth or vegetable broth, 4 cups of water
4 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
½ teaspoon of pepper
1 chorizo sausage, sliced
4 cups of kale, stems removed, thinly sliced

How-To
In a large pot on medium heat, cook onions and garlic until soft.  Add stock, water, potatoes, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for 20 minutes.  While the potatoes are getting soft, slice your chorizo and cook with a little oil in a frying pan.  Rinse kale and remove thick stems and slice it up nice and thin.  Once the potatoes are soft, blend half of the soup and throw in your sausages.  You can dump a cup of the blended soup back into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits of sausage and return to the soup for added flavour.  I like to add the kale and simmer 5 minutes before serving as you get a nice bright green colour in your bowl.

 


Carrot Ginger Apple Soup

carrotgingersoup

My daughter is served soup at her school on Tuesdays for lunch and her favourite is Carrot Ginger.  Here is a version that includes an apple for an extra bit of sweetness.  The spice of the ginger (really just a hint – it’s not too spicy at all) balances the sweetness of the carrots and apple.

Ingredients
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + more for garnish
1 small onion, diced (1 cup diced onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 large apple
1.5 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped (~5 cups)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
salt, freshly ground black pepper, to taste

How-To
In a medium sized pot, cook onions, ginger and garlic until soft.  Add chopped apple, carrots and stock.  Cook until soft.  Blend.  Serve up with some yogurt and chopped dill or parsley for a little bit of colour.

 

 

American Roots

As the end of November approaches Dylan (my husband) and I prepare for our traditional American Thanksgiving dinner party.  At this party, we move our kids out for 24hrs and spend the day hauling most of our furniture up to the second floor so we can seat the close to 40 adults in our small Brockton Village house.  How did this crazy tradition begin?  Here’s a recap of our many years of hosting American Thanksgivings.

2001

2001 – Foodie Newbie
Concord Ave. Apartment, 15 guests

In 2001, Dylan and I were just friends and roommates.  He was an amazing cook and I was not at all an adventurous eater or much of an eater in general.  But I learned to love food while living with Dylan. I used to tell him I was allergic to things because I was too embarrassed to tell him that I’d never tried olives, calamari, lamb or anything spicy!  We lived in a small upper level apartment on Concord St. just north of Bloor in an apartment I adored.  Dylan liked it too but he always complained about the tiny kitchen and how useless it was. I thought the kitchen was fine. It had a toaster and a frying pan and a fridge. What else did we need?  He was always complaining that we couldn’t host a dinner party. It had never occurred to me that you could even host a party where dinner was involved.

We had amazing neighbours living below us and one of our best friends and her two roommates living right next door. One day in October, we discussed the idea of having Thanksgiving together, but as it turned out we all had other places we had to be for the holiday since this was back when we went “home” for Thanksgiving. However, we were convinced that our Thanksgiving dinner idea was going to be a big hit, so we decided to push our dinner forward a month and make it an American Thanksgiving Dinner (since Dylan has American roots). We used our collective tiny kitchens to pull the meal off and invited a handful of friends we considered to be part of our family. We were of the belief that sharing food is an expression of love (even in my case if was a peanut butter sandwich) and we were all eager to spread the love.

This is how it all began. That first year, we had about 15 guests. Our menu consisted of turkey, potatoes and some salads. We made everything and guests brought wine and desserts. The meal itself was traditional and very simple but delicious all the same and we felt like we achieved culinary greatness. The tradition was born!  It seemed that every year afterward was in a different location because this was back in the day when we moved every year; a thought that exhausts me to no end today. But that’s what young people do, right?

2002

2002 – Growing Closer and Growing a Palate
Ontario St. Warehouse – 25 Guests

The following year we lived in a big warehouse space on Ontario St. in the east end.  Dylan and I were now a couple having moved beyond just being friends. My palate was evolving every day and under his tutelage now knew what good food really was. Hosting was something we were both getting fairly adept at; we were a great team and I could now see that having parties where good food was served was very satisfying. We had learned from the previous year that we could not afford to buy all the food, so this time we asked guests to bring a side dish and we made turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes. Of course we all had plenty of wine.

Guests brought sweet potato dishes and beautiful salads which we served on paper plates on laps. How fancy!  This party was unique in that we all left at some point to go drinking and dancing at a bar down the street, the Dominion Hotel.  But the party was not over!  When we were done at the Dominion, we went back to the warehouse loft to devour leftovers and continue to drink and dance until we passed out. Our initial group of 25 guests dwindled to only about 8 by the end of the night. There were many memorable moments from this night but the most vivid is our ham. It was a spiral cut ham from Saint Lawrence Market, steamed for 2 hrs in a coca cola brine and then roasted for another hour in the oven with a mustard, brown sugar, and bourbon glaze that was to die for. We chased that ham for many years.

2003

2003 – Married with a Sit Down Affair
Still in the East End, 25 – 30 Guests

Still in the east end but in a much smaller boutique loft we rented tables and made our third annual American Thanksgiving a sit down event. Mostly because the place was SO small that the only way to fit all the guests was to keep them seated. Clearly we had to go out dancing after this meal, well because, there was nowhere to move after we finished eating! This year I’m not so clear (too much wine?) on where we went or who all made it back for some leftovers and dancing.

Mostly what I remember from this meal is that we ate leftovers and soup for the entire month of December. We had spent all of our money in on a ham, a turkey and potatoes and booze. Our first December as a married couple was a lean month in a lot of ways, but it was completely worth it. Our friends were becoming incredible cooks and this meal went up a few notches with some very adventurous salads and sides.

2004

2004 – 2008 – The Lost Years (or the Baby Tunnel)
Tiny Apartment in Parkdale, 2 Guests (or maybe 2 and 2 halfs?)

By November the following year we were back in the West end in a tiny but beautiful apartment in Parkdale.  We sadly realized that we’d have to put our tradition on hold for the time being. We had a newborn this Thanksgiving and pregnant again the following year. So putting our dinner on hold we sat on our plans and dreamed big while we enjoyed American Thanksgiving dinners for two.

2009

2009 – Setting the Stage
A house in Brockton, 2 and 2 little ones

We bought our house in October 2009 and knew it would someday be perfect for our feasts but not yet. Some walls had to come down before it would be open enough. The house we bought in the Brockton Triangle was divided into two apartments as it was a rooming house and it had many walls and doors. The kitchen on the main floor was tiny, dark and enclosed.  That year we tore down a wall on the main floor to make one big room that would be suitable for a Thanksgiving feast even though we had a small horrible kitchen (again).

2010

2010 – Pregnant (Again) but Back in the Game
Brockton, 25-30 Guests

The following year I was pregnant (again) but we were game to get our event back up and running. We had a new rule – no kids. We didn’t have to have this rule before because no one we knew had kids, but in three short years our little community of friends had tripled. We also became very organized about our meal plan. In our Evite everyone could list the dish they were bringing for all to see, so the meal became very balanced, but I think it also it inspired people to up the ante. If you saw someone was bringing their famous scalloped potatoes, then you were inclined to bust out your family’s traditional beet salad.  More and more, the dishes our friends and family brought were special, unique, and made with enormous amounts of love and pride. This was no ordinary pot luck. Food sharing and gratitude had truly made its way into our Thanksgiving.

Now our meal was a formal sit down dinner that started at 7pm. We rented tables, chairs, place settings and everything!  We turned our entire main floor into a beautiful dining room. We made TWO turkeys, plus ham and garlic mashed potatoes. Dylan started to get very fancy with his birds as well; this year we had a brined turkey, a bourbon turkey and a ham that we hoped would be as delicious as our warehouse ham had been years earlier. The night was a huge success!  We ate a lot and drank a lot but we also worked A LOT!  We served, cleaned, served, cleaned, drank, drank, ate (I think) and cleaned. I was pregnant and sober and exhausted by the end of the night. It was very successful; however neither of us could actually remember the evening because we had been working so hard.

After that year, one of our amazing friends decided that everyone missed out on being with US at Thanksgiving so he suggested hiring a server and offered to put himself in charge of collecting from friends that night. Everyone was happy to contribute to this in order to have me and Dylan relaxed and enjoying the night. This was an incredible gift and my gratitude continued to grow as we realize how truly blessed we are to have such wonderful friends and to see how important this event had become to them.

2011

2011 – 2012 – Relaxed and Happy
Brockton, 32 Guests

The next year we completely found our groove. We had servers! – – Dawn and her teenage son who have been with us ever since. This proved to be the cherry on top!  We had 32 people to our sit down dinner but Dawn and Chris kept food warm and moving and packed up leftovers and got dishes stacked and put outside in crates. They got desserts warmed and served and when we were done eating they took tables down and folded chairs and moved everything out onto the front porch for us. For the first time ever, Dylan and I sat down and ate the entire meal with our friends. When the floor was cleared a dance party was in order and that’s how the night went from there. The next morning Dylan and I stayed in bed and listened to the rental truck come and take all of our stuff away from our front porch. Gone were the days of stumbling downstairs after only a few hours of sleep to fold tables and scrape plates and lug chairs out at 9am! Bliss!!

2013

2013 to Present – The Party and the After Party
Renovated House in Brockton, Maxed out at 36

The party continues to grow, but last year at 36 guests, we realized we’ve hit our max even after the renovation of our beautiful dream kitchen. Memories of terrible kitchens behind us, we are all about the future now. Those who are on the list and have been for years mixed with our new friends, who made it in under the wire before we reached capacity, are now the people who contribute to this event. What is emerging from the kitchens of our friends are divine dishes of harvest lasagnes, kale salads, stuffing and gourmet desserts. And finally last year we made a ham that was as good if not better than our market ham from years ago. The food is truly to die for and the party goes on and on into the night. Now we have what’s known as the after party, which includes people who don’t come to the sit-down meal but come after 1:00 am for the leftovers and the dancing. This is a tradition we knew had legs and we were so excited to have come to fruition. Our adults only, food and drink extravaganza for one night only. American Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving

On How We’ve Grown

It has become a very special night for us and everyone is grateful to have a beautiful evening of incredible conversation and laughter with friends both new and old. The food is enjoyed and deeply appreciated. We have come a long way and have learned a lot about hosting and I personally have learned a lot about food. Our love for each other and this particular tradition grows each year. I am truly thankful.