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!

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!

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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).

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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.

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.

Your Roots Are Showing

This weekend my husband found a folder of images on his computer of a trip we took to the east coast about four years ago. Our oldest daughter was three and our youngest was about six months. She was past the honeymoon phase of happy gurgling baby and entering the wailing siren of misery stage that is teething; which for her, and for us, lasted another 12 months. However, this is not about the delights of a twenty-eight hour road trip with a couple kids under the age of four, spearheaded by a raging postpartum wife, and supported by a capitulating but reluctant freelancing husband with a deadline. That’s for another time. This is about the photos of that trip.

My husband pulled up the images and wandered off to cut something with his chop saw. I sat down to peruse.  A couple things hit me. First I saw the kids, now a leggy four and half and seven years old, respectively, in their previous incarnations as cherubic, roly-poly toddlers. I looked at their shining faces and at my haggard face and wished I’d been more tender and less sleep-deprived. But then I looked passed the haggard expression and saw something wonderful. Something that is now lost forever.

I saw my dark, shining, uniformly black hair. That’s right. In under four years I went from naively unconcerned about the odd surprising strand of white to nostalgic over pigment that will never, ever come back. Four years from the hair colour I was born with to what I believe is referred to in the business as approaching 30% grey around the temples and quickly colonizing other areas. It varies depending on what part of my head you are viewing. Maybe the back, still looks okay, in a certain dim light. Underneath, by my neck, the original colour remains, precious and hidden. If my hair is wet I can look in the mirror and pretend. But if I pull it back into a ponytail, I am faced with a chubby Morticia Addams.

Why not dye it? I can’t say why not exactly. When my colleagues harangue me, and they do, I cite the maintenance of my fast growing hair. I dread the roots, the constantly whitening roots. Secretly, I worry about losing sight of whatever my real colour is and ending up with that strange orangey-blackish colour that I see old ladies in my neighbourhood sporting. I wonder about not even knowing how white it is; I fear feeling a panicky desperation to keep up the face of my dark hair facade. Before it actually started to turn grey I had some idea that I would be one of those women in stock photos that is white-haired but has great skin and is fit. To reveal how far from this figure I am, let me relate a couple of work anecdotes (for the record I’m a high school art teacher):

1) With insistent knocking at my classroom door during a lesson, I pause, annoyed, mid-sentence to answer.  On sight of my lazily unmade-up face, combined with my laissez-faire hair (a look previous to this I considered the sartorial equivalent of “shabby chic”), these words are uttered, “Oh, I’m sorry, are you ok? Are you sick?” Seriously! I stare at my co-worker and say, “No, this is just my face,” and close the door. Then I realise what a missed opportunity, maybe I could have unloaded my class for the afternoon?

2) Another time, at the photocopier someone commiserates about the new job contract and then looks at me conspiratorially and says, “Well, we only have seven or eight years until retirement.” Nope. “Actually, I have about seven-TEEN years!” Cut to his expression of pure horror. I felt like cackling. (Could this be a by-product of the hair-colour change?)

I oscillate between deciding to try a semi-permanent colour and maintaining a stand-off to fuel my crazy fascination with how fast it will turn white.  The opinions range — “Leave it; dyeing will ruin the texture.” “Don’t let it happen; you’re in control.” “Do something funky.” Jeez, I almost feel I’d rather be bald than funky.

Finally, what does it matter? Or rather, why does it matter? I can afford to contemplate the situation because in the end it doesn’t really matter. Either way it will not make or break me. All in all, it is my favorite kind of problem. One whose solutions are almost equally supported and whose outcome is negligible. I could consider it endlessly, surveying strangers at parties and boring my husband after the kids are in bed.  It keeps me from considering weightier things like climate change and civil unrest, so stay with me as I avoid the hazards of rigorous thinking and instead pursue the origins of my own denial of my mortality…

I have some ideas about why it matters, in the way small vanities do.  I think, because it signals something. To me and to others. In this country, the aging of the body can be disguised, in most seasons, through shrewd clothing choices involving spandex content and ever higher waistlines. Not so the aging of the hair.  Initially it was not that noticeable but as my temples head north of the 30% grey, it is getting lighter and lighter.   It means that although I am not yet geriatric, I am no longer being mistaken for a student in the halls. As my brother says, “It doesn’t look old, but it doesn’t look young.”  Somehow that reality pinches in a way that I have never felt before. For now the stand-off continues, for how long I’m not sure. Does it matter? Not really.

Root Vegetable Poetry

For this issue on Roots, I really wanted to do some printmaking paired with poetry.   I ended up doing some old school “potato prints” with my children, simply by cutting these vegetables in half, painting them and stamping them down.  I’m really happy with the minimalistic, almost abstract quality of the prints.  For the poems, I was inspired by Douglas Florian, who’s animal poetry is some of my children’s favourites.  I’ve been reading Omnibeasts (pictured below) since my first daughter was 1, and now she can recite some of the poems by heart.  Florian’s clever rhymes and paintings hold the interest of children and parents alike.  See more of his work at douglasflorian.com

Product Details

 


 

beet

 

 

THE BEET

For flavour, you can’t beat a beet,
But if you cut it in half, you can make it bleed.

 

 

 

carrot

THE CARROT

Care for a carrot?
Of course!
I’ll take it for the first in a super soup.
Maybe with melted butter as a side in a second.
Or for dessert I can make
it into a delicious carrot cake.
Oh heck, give me a raw one and I just might
Give in and give it a great big bite!

 

 

 

 

 

 

sweetpotato

SWEET POTATO

They say it’s one of the healthiest foods
It really packs a whack of goods
Full of Vitamin A and Vitamin C
And extremely low in calories.
It’s characteristics are so fine,
And to your body it’s very kind,
But the biggest reason I like it to eat
Is that this chubby lump is very sweet.

 

 

 

 

ginger

GINGER

You sure make me feel less queasy
and your superb taste is so easy
Your flavour is so versatile
hanging on my tongue for quite a while
Put me in your favourite curry
or blend me up in a soupy slurry
Ginger’s flavour never fails
Especially when drinking Ginger Ale.

 

 

 

parsnip

PARSNIP

Spicy, slicey, dicey, dip
A bulbous top with a skinny tip
A special flavour in a soup
Or roasted, shaved, a unique root
What I’m talking about here, I’ll let it slip
Let me introduce you to the lovely parsnip.

 

 

 

 

 

radish

RADISH

It’s never sadish or badish.
It makes me gladish; it’s radish.

 

 

 

 

potato

POTATO

Oh Pota- to, potato oh
How much I love you so
You make me turn a smile
With all your different styles
Mashed, roasted, scalloped, baked
So many ways, so many takes
But for my favourite delicious sin
I first peel off your velvet skin,
Then scrape out those little eyes
and turn you into french fries.

You’ve Been Serv’d

When I first moved into this neighbourhood, I had heard about the mysterious local Brockton Neighbours Listserv and managed to get myself on it. Now I receive emails daily from my neighbours looking to borrow something, announcing local events or any other random thing that neighbours might want to broadcast to each other.  I caught up with Farzana Doctor, a local author (her book Six Metres of Pavement was a finalist for the 2012 Toronto Book Award and won many other accolades) who also happened to start the Brockton Listserv.


■ : When did you start the listserv?

Farzana Doctor: It was August 2006. A few neighbours organized an informal potluck at the Shirley Street schoolyard and 20 people came. I circulated a sign-up sheet and the listserv was born.

■ : How many people are now on the listserv?

FD: 576

■ : Bring us back to when the listserv was first started. What needs prompted you to create it? What were you hoping to accomplish?

FD: I moved to the neighbourhood in winter 2003. I didn’t know many people, and had a sense that I’d probably stay here awhile. I wanted to know my neighbours and I’m less shy online. I hoped that people would begin conversations online that would extend to the sidewalks.

■ : I like the fact that living in a city you can be somewhat anonymous. There are so many people living out their different lives and most of the time they don’t care what you’re up to. But I think it’s natural when you settle down, you want to find out about some of the people around you. I feel like the listserv allows for connection between neighbours as well as the movement of goods or information, do you find that people have made friendships via the listserv?

FD: I think so. I have and others talk about having made these kinds of connections as well. Sometimes we create deep friendships but I think most neighbour relationships are about mutual support and assistance—keeping keys, sharing lawnmowers, watering plants when we’re away, keeping an eye out for the kids and pets. That being said, a listserv is a limited way of connecting. The people I know best are those who I stop to talk to on the street, the people with whom I’ve co-organized events, the other dogwalkers.

■ : From what I’ve realized a listserv is a very different form of communication. It’s like a classified ad you can have a conversation with and sometimes it even becomes a public forum. What are your thoughts on the type of communication a listserv offers?

FD: I think the listserv is best for sharing goods and information. It’s also good for inviting people to get together to talk about an issue. It’s not a very good forum for discussion. People miss tone in written communication and a few members have been careless or rude with their neighbourbours in discussions. My co-moderators, Gretel, Carina and I hate moderating the rude folks!

A side note—there is now a Facebook group for our neighbourhood. I’m not sure if discussions happen more smoothly there or not, but it does seem like a better (at least technologically) forum for longer conversations.

■ : The listserv also allows neighbours into an electronic form of theatre. Like when someone loses their cat and someone else finds it. We’re all witnesses to that. It’s a collective awareness of what’s happening in the hearts and minds of the people living around you. It can also be a call to action or like a flashmob when someone asks neighbours to come and lift something heavy out of their apartment. Is there any specific post or email that you remember really effecting you either emotionally or as a call to action?

FD: There have been so many message that make me feel like I have a a little bit of a sense of what’s going on with the people who live near me!

Here’s a personal anecdote: a few years ago I was going through a break-up and needed help moving furniture. It was a sad time for me and while I didn’t share that on the listserv, I did ask for help and received a number of kind offers. It feels good to know I can rely on the people around me if I need help.

■ : I think the most meaningful thing the listserv has done for me was to connect some of the residents in order to oppose the diesel trains running through our hood. (Arguably, it was this that allowed our neighbourhood to join others along the rails and really put a strong case together for electric trains in Toronto. I mean, GO transit / Metrolinx went from posting on their website about how bad electric trains were, to then the study for electrification, to (hopefully) implementing electric trains in the near future.) Did you ever think that the listserv would ever have the capability to make political change?

FD: I agree with your assessment that the listserv helped to mobilize us to get involved in the Clean Train Coalition. I think listservs are great for spreading information and bringing people together to organize themselves. On a smaller scale, we got speed humps on many streets by first talking about them on the listserv. We also organized an all-candidates about 8 years ago.

■ : Do you ever get tired of receiving email messages about people looking for apartments or lost cats?

FD: No way! These kinds of messages inspire people to help and connect. The only messages that tire me (and there are few of them) are from spammers or belligerent people.

 

farzanadoctorFarzana Doctor is the author of Stealing Nasreen and  Six Metres of Pavement and currently at work on her third novel.  Visit her site at farzanadoctor.com

 

Things That Roll on My Porch

valcoOur 1st Baby Stroller – the Valco (three wheeled large stroller) – This was the first thing that rolled that we put a baby in. It was an expensive stroller which was bought by our collective families as a shower gift.  It cost about $500 which now seems like a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a stroller.  This stroller was recommended by my brother.  It’s quite big for what it does — not exactly a cadillac, but big enough to feel uncomfortable and awkward when going into a store and also big enough to get some bad looks from the childless while walking on a busy sidewalk.  After the children were babies, this stroller lived in my backyard for 2 years growing moss on it.

macclaren The MacClaren Umbrella Stroller –  This stroller is an incredible feat of engineering.  We’ve got the model that reclines so a baby can have a nap.  You can fold it down with one foot and one hand to fit in the trunk of your car or bring it onto transit.  You can have a kid stand on the back of it when they are tired.  We bought one and then another so that we could each push one kid in a stroller.  For us this was the ultimate stroller, one that you can enter any store with ease.  Our youngest child eventually didn’t buckle any more as she was in and out of it all the time.  The worst thing about this stroller is that if your kid gets out of it and you’ve got a diaper bag or knapsack on the back, it’ll flop backwards causing swearing, sweating and bending.

smartcarThe Mec “Smartcar” – This trailer/stroller is extremely handy for 2 kids, although it can be trouble if you’ve got two grumps.  The kids sit side by side and can easily sit on each other, hit, knock each other’s snacks or drinks over.  But the smartcar is the champion of winter.  It handles amazing in snow and ice with its big wheels.  Our first Smartcar was bought on Craigslist from a family who claimed that it was left on their front lawn.  After trying to find it’s proper owner, they decided to make a bit of cash.

It makes me wonder who would steal a kids stroller/bike trailer and what they would use it for.  I’ve used it to buy groceries; which is strange because once full of groceries it feels eerily the same weight as my two kids combined.  I also feel like it would be a great cart for the homeless to keep all their belongings in or for someone to collect beer and wine bottles with.  I’ve come close to returning beer bottles with this thing instead of the car, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  It’s just too depressing using something that you should be pushing your kids in to feed your alcoholism.

Thinking about it now, using this stroller as a way to return and get more booze makes perfect sense – forget shame, think happiness!  I should have used this on my way to pick up the kids from school.  Drop off the empties, get a few tall boys, and chug them back so that I’ve got a little buzz by the time I meet the kids.  My kids require booze. I’m wondering if I came to the school with some beers whether I’d be the most unpopular parent in the schoolyard or a champion.

I once left my kids outside of the beer store at Dufferin Mall in this stroller because it wouldn’t fit through the door and I couldn’t be bothered to get them out to come with me.  I just wanted to run in to get a few beers on the way to the park.  I came out to find mall security, asking me whether these were my kids.  I almost felt like saying “of course not, who would do such a thing?” and walking away.  After doing that, I realized how simple it would be for someone to come along and just roll them away.  My wife was not super happy when I relayed this story to her about my brush with Dufferin Mall police.

This first smart car has now made it to the family cottage where it rolls impressively on soft sand carrying kids, beach chairs, umbrellas, sand toys, food, tents, and crocs.  Much better than using a wagon.  Now we have a second smart car/trailer which i used when the kids couldn’t make it back from school because they were up in the night or the unfortunate combination of stayed up too late, got up too early.

wagonThe Wagon – Useful for a short period of time and for short distances.  The thing I don’t like about it is it’s loud hitting every bump on the sidewalk.  It has a little door that the kids like to try and open, even though it’s just as easy to step up and over.  The front and back seat is also something to fight about, especially if a bird poops on one seat and you don’t clean it off for almost the entire time you own the wagon.


trike

Trike with handle – Used for when kids are first learning to pedal, but are completely inept, so you do all the work.  Most of the time I’d have to pop a wheelie with this thing or my kids would just steer themselves into traffic.

 

scoot

Scoot bike – One of the best things that ever happened to us and our kids.  This is when they can first actually propel themselves without you pushing or pulling them.  Total freedom for parents and kids alike.  When your kid first tries it, it’s totally frustrating for them and terrifying for you. (Will they brake in time? or continue on into traffic?).  But it’s worth persevering.  You can actually feel human again as it’s your child’s first step to independence.

princessbike

Pink bike with training wheels, streamers, a basket and toy child seat – When girls are 3 years old they want to be as fancy as possible and need to accessorize, even on a bike.  The more pink the better.  I skipped the training wheels with the second child. They sound awful and cause anxiety when they hit the pavement.
twowheeler

Pedal bike – The only thing better than a scoot bike is a pedal bike your kid can ride.  Teaching your child to ride a pedal bike seems like a bank commercial or an episode from the Wonder Years but it’s impossible not to smile when you see them ride a pedal bike for the first time.  This bike means you can travel some distance, even means you might be able to ride your bike alongside as well.

scootersScooters – We’ve got 2 two wheeled scooters our first born received as presents.  One of them my eldest daughter smashed her face on the sidewalk with. There is a lot of potential for face injury with these.  Our second child has a 3 wheeled scooter and she can really fly on it.  The 3 wheels makes it stand up, which causes less bending (big +). The biggest bummer about the scooter is that you can’t lock it at school, so once you drop your kids off, you have to carry the scooter and helmet over your shoulder like a hobo.

carriageCarriage – Yes, at one point we did have a beautiful old school carriage.  It’s big wheels and suspension made it great to push. You could put the baby in facing you or facing out and completely enclose it with hood for a nap.  It fit a lot of groceries too, but in the end, way too Mary Poppins for me so it had to go.  I was getting enough looks in my Portuguese neighbourhood watching the kids all the time.  We passed this down to my brother in law and it was stolen from their porch by a homeless woman to keep all of her belongings in.  I know this because my sister in law saw her in the park and confronted her but couldn’t put up much of a fight.  I hope this thing is still being used out there somewhere.

It’s a good thing we have a large porch and we never actually use it to sit on.