Hedy Korbee

RCL Branch 13 Celebration ~ 100 Years Strong     July/ August 2022 Edition

By Hedy Korbee

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 people gathered on Saturday June 4 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Branch 13 of the Royal Canadian Legion at 1577 Kingston Road.

The combination of fellowship, warm weather, cold drinks, a barbecue, and good music made for a lively party at the Scarboro Veterans Memorial Hall, which was built in 1922 after the First World War.

“This is one of the best branches in the City of Toronto and you’ve been here for 100 years. Congratulations,” said District D Deputy Commander Richard Viles to a round of applause during the formal ceremonies. Viles also presented Branch 13 President Dan Burri with a lifetime membership to celebrate Burri’s 25 years with the Legion and eight consecutive terms as the local President. In an interview, Viles said that Branch 13’s success is a result of a strong executive and robust support from the Birch Cliff community.“It’s well run. It is financially sound. And it works a lot within the community. I know Dan and the rest of the guys. They’re doing a good job. There’s never, ever a problem with Branch 13, ever,” Viles said in aninterview.

“I feel blessed”

The crowd included many community members as well as several veterans who have served all around the world.Notable among them was John White, 89, who was a member of the Royal Air Force in Britain from 1951to 1954.
He’s been a fixture at Branch 13 for 54 years and is the local Legion’s longest-serving member. “I feel blessed that I’ve been allowed to live long enough to see it. I really do. It’s amazing,” said White. “100 years and no condos. Let’s keep it that way,” White said, in reference to Branch 13’s determination to remain financially viable and out of the clutches of condo developers.

Legion serves younger veterans

Ken Thompson, first vice president of Branch 13, said it’s important that the Legion perseveres because itspurpose is not limited to veterans of the First and Second World Wars.“There’s a lot of younger folks that are veterans, maybe from Afghanistan, or Bosnia, different places, and when they come back, a lot of them need help transitioning back into the city. And that’s what we’re there for, to provide that help. It’s not necessarily financial, it could be support. There’s a whole raft of services that are capable and willing to provide to those vets,” Thompson said.

One younger veteran at the party was Gord Roy, who served in the South African army and has been a member of Branch 13 for 15 years.
“I can talk about things. I’ve got something in common with whoever’s been in the military. And also thereare functions that we do here. We play darts and snooker,” Roy said.“Originally, this building was actually for the soldiers when they came home. If you got PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) this is a place to come to where you can affiliate with your fellow soldiers. Because you can’t go back into society, right? This is what this was all about originally.” During the formal ceremony, Ward 20 Councillor Gary Crawford, an associate member of Branch 13, congratulated the Legion for 100 years of important service.

“When you look at this building, when you look at all of the people here today, in many respects, althoughit was different 100 years ago, in some ways, it’s almost identical to what the purpose was 100 years ago. It is to serve, it is to honor, it is to recognize those who not only gave their lives, but to those who today arecontinuing to fight for this country continuing to serve,” Crawford said.

~ Hedy Korbee is a journalist who lives in Birch Cliff. You can read more local stories from Hedy at http://www.birchcliffnews.com/

Onward Birch Cliff Soldiers: Legion Branch Celebrates 100th Anniversary     June 2022 Edition

A milestone celebration will take place in the heart of Birch Cliff on June 4 as Branch 13 of the Royal Canadian Legion commemorates 100 years of service to veterans, their families, and the broader community.

The centenary event at 1577 Kingston Road will bring together former service members, dignitaries, and local residents for an open house, barbecue, drinks, speeches, and music by local artists. The historic Scarboro Veterans Memorial Hall, renowned for its colourful mural of soldiers marching off to war, was built in 1922 and has welcomed veterans of every Canadian conflict since the First World War.

When the cornerstone was laid on Dec. 5, 1922, it was described by the Globe and Mail as “an important event in the history of the veterans’ organizations in Toronto’s suburban district.”

“I feel very, very proud to belong to such an outfit as the Royal Canadian Legion,” said John White, of the organization he’s belonged to for 54 years. “We’ve had tough times and we’ve had good times and we’ve had easy times and hard times, but we’re still going.”

While membership has ebbed and flowed over the years, what’s never wavered is the local Legion’s tradition of service. Last year, Branch 13 raised $30,000 through its Poppy Campaign. The money was distributed to the Sunnybrook Veterans Program, service dog programs, and Veterans Left Behind, an organization that helps unhoused veterans, according to Dan Burri, president of Branch 13. Another $8,000 was raised through other means to support Variety Village, the Bluffs Food Bank, and the Shepherds of Good Hope.

“We still have veterans that served in Afghanistan and Bosnia and in peacekeeping missions around the world. And that’s why we have to carry on, being here and having the Poppy Campaign every year, so we can support the veterans. In a way, it’s false to think that veterans are only from the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean War. Everybody who serves in the Canadian Forces and the RCMP are veterans too,” Burri said.

A century ago, Scarborough First World War veterans were originally organized as the Returned Men’s Club as well as the Great War Veterans Association. They merged and worked together to help those returning from the battlefield in search of camaraderie, employment assistance, health services, and pensions. There were about 15 such organizations in Canada and what emerged was an ineffective patchwork of groups and services that eventually united in 1926 as “The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League.”

In 1960, Queen Elizabeth granted royal patronage and the organization became known as the Royal Canadian Legion. A highlight of the early years was a visit by Governor General Lord Julian Byng, the Vimy Ridge war hero, who attended a ceremony at Branch 13 on May 27, 1923. Lord Byng received an enthusiastic welcome from the Birch Cliff community, according to an account in the Globe and Mail. “The Canadian Corps was founded on a spirit of comradeship,” Lord Byng told the crowd. “It meant a great deal to us in those days. And I am certain there is use for the same spirit today. This hall is an expression of it, and one in which we can all take the greatest pleasure.”

Newspaper archives indicate that Branch 13 faced early financial difficulties from 1926 to 1928, however, members triumphed to save Veterans Memorial Hall from the auction block over mortgage difficulties. By 1930 the local legion was out of the red and raised $2,000, along with two other Scarborough branches, to help pay for the Scarborough Cenotaph at Kingston Road and Danforth Avenue where Remembrance Day Ceremonies are still held today. 

Not only did local Scarborough veterans provide funding for the war memorial, but they were also heavily involved in the construction, which was unique at the time.

The cenotaph was officially unveiled on August 30, 1931 by Premier George S. Henry and Admiral John Jellicoe, Admiral of the Fleet, the highest-ranking officer in the Royal Navy. 

According to the Globe and Mail, Admiral Jellicoe noted that the Township of Scarboro “contributed men in a usually heavy proportion to their population when the call to arms came in 1914.” Ontario’s Minister of Public Welfare, H.G. Martin added that the cenotaph was deliberately designed to face east “from which comes all our hope.”

“Canada’s best have come from the East, and it was fitting the memorial should face their native soil,” Martin said. Rapid expansion after the Second World War led to the construction in 1956 of an addition on the east side of Veterans Memorial Hall. It’s not difficult to see why more space was needed when viewing the Second World War service plaques that hang at Birch Cliff Public School and St. Nicholas Church.  

The plaques include long lists of names of Birch Cliff residents who volunteered to fight, with stars denoting those who died at war. According to a 2005 article in the Bluffs Monitor, 31 out of 40 students in the Birch Cliff PS class of 1935/36 joined the service during the Second World War, including Julette, who received his 60-year membership pin along with John White. White, who joined Branch 13 in the 1960s, said post-Second World War membership rose to 700 people and that they enjoyed euchre, cribbage, snooker, and Saturday night dances where people “lined up at the door on Kingston Road because there were no corner bars on Kingston Road in the 1960s and early 70s.”

In 1991, almost 80 years after it was built, Veterans Memorial Hall got a facelift that transformed it from a squat brick building into a Kingston Road landmark. The Legion collaborated with Karin Eaton and what was then known as the Scarborough Arts Council to create a colourful mural by artist John Hood that helped mark the beginning of Scarborough’s Heritage Trail. The mural depicts members of the Scarborough Rifle company marching along Kingston Road to the Niagara Frontier in 1866. They were rushing to defend Ontario from the Fenians, Irish-Americans who staged a series of raids to try and conquer Canada in the hope of trading it for Irish independence.

By 2019, dwindling membership in the Legion led to financial problems once again and developers started sniffing around in search of prime real estate for their next condo project. In order to help the Legion remain viable, a community campaign was launched to recruit Birch Cliff residents as affiliate members. Membership grew 20% in one year as a result and, despite the pandemic, membership has continued to grow by 10% in each of the last two years. 

The community responded yet again during COVID lockdowns by participating in bottle drives to help the Legion raise $12,000 to pay its monthly bills. “There is a growing groundswell of local pride and support for Scarboro 13 for both its support of veterans and non-profit organizations, as well as its rental hall increasingly becoming a destination for events and celebrations,” said Membership Chair, Dr. Gerard Arbour. “We hope for the hall to remain a vital community hub and to hold off the condo developers for another 100 years.”

There are almost 618,000 veterans in Canada today.  Fewer than 25,000 served in the Second World War and the Korean War and the average age of Second World War vets is 96. Not surprisingly, Branch 13 President Dan Burri said one of his immediate goals is to find more young veterans in Scarborough to pass the torch to the next generation.

Josh Makuch, 38, is one of those young veterans who became a member of Branch 13 just before the pandemic. Makuch spent 13 years in the military and served as a rifle platoon commander in the Royal 22nd Regiment battle group in Afghanistan. However, he doesn’t visit Branch 13 all that often because of COVID and the fact that he has a young child.  He said he’s unlikely to run into anyone he served with at the legion because modern recruitment is different than it was during the Second World War when large numbers of young men from the same communities shipped out together and fought in the same regiments. Nonetheless, Makuch said the Legion is a vital organization.

“I think it’s important that soldiers and veterans always have a place that they can call home, whether they know they need it or not. Politically, for instance, it’s not always top of mind for the government of the day to be thinking about the needs of veterans, especially the further you get from a conflict. To know that there’s an organization out there that has got its eyes on the ball a little bit, even if it’s not doing it perfectly, is a comfort, I think, because we never know what people are going to need various points in their lives,” Makuch said.

John White is 89 years old and plans to do his best to mark the centennial of Branch 13 on June 4, even though he’s a bit under the weather. “I’m very proud that the building is still there and hasn’t been demolished, like the rest of the area, with a condominium in its place. I don’t know what steps to go through to make it a heritage building, but I’m sure that would protect it from further development,” White said.

Celebrations will begin at 1:00 pm on June 4 at 1577 Kingston Road, east of Kildonan Drive, with the barbecue open as well as the patio and upstairs bar. The official ceremony will take place at 2:30 pm with music to follow.


Quarry Park Plan Unveiled      April 2022 Edition

With Development Comes Change; (Above) Monarch butterflies moving from wildflower to wildflower in this file photo from 2019. (Inset top & bottom) Artist’s rendition of the proposed park at the Quarry Lands site being Developed by Diamond Kilmer and the City of Toronto. Maintaining some natural space was discussed at the community meeting.

By Hedy Korbee

The long-anticipated community park slated for the Quarry Lands will be larger than originally envisioned and include a splash pad, children’s playground, unprogrammed green space, and naturalized areas.
Plans for the proposed six-acre park east of Victoria Park at Gerrard St. East were unveiled at a virtual community meeting on Tuesday, March 8.

The meeting was hosted by Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation as well as Diamond Kilmer, the developers of the 19-acre mid-rise, mixed-use subdivision with a total of 1,052 new housing units.
The size of the park has increased approximately 34% from previous iterations dating back to 2012, in part because funding has fallen through for a proposed elementary school in the centre of the development.

In the inset image above, the school would have been located in the green space that now says “North Park”. Leorah Klein, development manager at Diamond Corp, told the meeting that plans may change if the school gets funded but they’re going ahead with the park.
“Our plans that were approved in December were approved to include either a residential mid-rise and a park or a school. So both options are still feasible. But based on the information that we have today and the fact that funding isn’t available at this point in time, we are moving forward with the north park as part of the park design process,” Klein said.

Land Use Breakdown

In addition to amenities geared to children, the park will include open lawns, naturalized buffer areas, an outdoor fitness area, picnic tables, and sculptural lighting.
The land use breakdown is approximately 33% for naturalized plantings, 33% for open green spaces, and 33% for programmed activity areas, according to an estimate by Gus Maurano, a landscape architect with The MBTW Group.
Examples of the park’s features can be seen in the two inset images above.

Community Consultation

Mark Lowe, project coordinator and landscape architect with Parks, Forestry & Recreation, said the design relied heavily on two community consultations.

The first was a neighbourhood meeting in 2014 attended by about 50 people and the second was an extensive consultation process with students from Blantyre Public School, described by Lowe as a “very important and often under-utilized user group”.
The students were asked to design their ultimate park and Lowe said many of their ideas were very similar to the priorities identified by the adults in 2014.

“A lot of that was to make sure that we maintained and integrated the natural elements that were present on the site, to be able to create some water-based features, whether that be a play space, whether it be engaging water into the environment….as well as being able to provide for some cultural interpretation. And some built features things like gazebos, and picnic tables and shade structures and patios, were important to them,” Lowe said.

Question and Answer Session

The purpose of the meeting was to present the design concept and receive community feedback in order to refine the design and inform future iterations of the park.

Bernadette Warren, a local resident and long-time advocate for a naturalized space, proposed the elimination of the paved walkway on the east side of the park in favour of a “tiny forest of naturalized plantings.” That was immediately endorsed as an excellent idea by Lowe, who noted that the Quarry, at one time, had one of the last remnants of an oak savannah in the GTA.
“I think the idea of creating a forested edge is worth looking at, from our perspective,” Lowe said. “We would still be able to integrate a pathway…that would be a little more natural in surfacing. And could meander through, you know, a treed area, that would be an extension of both the naturalized buffer that we’re proposing just north of that, but it would also act as a buffer up against the existing open space. For all intents and purposes, that little swamp area is is always going to stay. It’s a registered wetland space with the Conservation Authority so I don’t think that that’s going to be able to be developed at anytime soon.”

There were several questions at the meeting about the lack of an off-leash dog area in the park, which is not surprising because local residents have been running their dogs in the Quarry for decades.
Lowe explained that the city no longer designs new parks with off-leash dog areas. He said they have to be installed in existing parks through a community application process and public sponsorship.
Diana Gakov, who represents a large group of Blantyre area dog owners, said in an interview with Birch Cliff News that she’s disappointed and confused.

Gakov’s group has participated in formal consultations with the city since 2019 about creating an off-leash dog area at Blantyre Park.
Despite two public meetings, a petition with almost 600 signatures, and a private meeting with Councillor Gary Crawford, the off-leash area was not approved by the time discussions were temporarily halted due to Covid.

Gakov said Crawford told them in March 2021 that an off-leash area would be going into the Quarry instead.Crawford said in an email that he was caught off guard as well.“I was both surprised and disappointed that an off-leash dog park was not included as part of these preliminary designs.

After meeting with City staff and the Blantyre Park Dog Owner’s Association, this site was identified as an alternate space for a new dog park. I have followed up with City staff and hope to meet with the association to discuss next steps,” Crawford said.
Despite reassurances that an off-leash area could be installed later, Gakov is worried there’s no room now.
“On the east side of the Quarry, they’re building all those townhouses. So it can’t be there. There are wetlands to be preserved, we have to make sure that (sic) not disturbed. The splash pad, or whatever. And at the time, curiously he (Crawford) said that there was a splash pad going in at Blantyre. It’s just really interesting is all,” Gakov said.

Dangerous street crossing?

Another thorny issue that’s still outstanding involves access to the park from the Blantyre and Hunt Club neighbourhoods south of the new development.

The stretch of road from Victoria Park to Warden along Gerrard St. E. and Clonmore Drive has been plagued with speeding problems, car crashes, and a tragic fatality.
The speed limit has been reduced to 40 kph but there’s currently only a crosswalk at Blantyre and Gerrard and crossing can be tricky even at the best of times.

Crawford told the meeting that it’s a “very dangerous crossover.”
Attempts by the city to improve the crosswalk have been tied up in legal wrangling with RioCan Holdings, the owners of the shopping mall at the corner of Victoria Park and Gerrard.
The matter is under appeal at the Ontario Land Tribunal and a win by the city could allow for a signalized intersection.
In the meantime, Crawford said he will be instructing Transportation Services at the next Scarborough Community Council meeting to report back on implementing improved safety measures.

Timeline and next steps

Local residents who would like to participate in the community engagement and design development process are being encouraged to fill out a survey about the park that can be found at https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/planning-development/construction-new-facilities/new-parks-facilities/new-park-at-411-victoria-park-avenue/

The detailed design phase of the project will begin this spring. Construction of the project is anticipated to begin in the fall of 2023 with the park opening scheduled for fall 2024.

~ Hedy Korbee is a journalist who lives in Birch Cliff. You can read more local stories from Hedy at http://www.birchcliffnews.com/

(Left) Off Leash Dog Walking Area ; is still an area of concern for some local residents, (centre) access to the new park will still require navigating Gerrard St. East of Vic Park and (right) how the area proposed for the park apears today–still a long way to go to reach the goal. bluffs monitor photos; John Smee

Birch Cliff Fights at Ontario Land Tribunal      March 2022 Edition

An Overview; of the parcel of land Altree is looking to develop, highlighted in yellow (above) and (right) Lenmore Court apartments where 32  affordable apartment units now stand.

continued from home page…

Participant status was granted to all 89 residents who applied, which means that their written statements will be considered by the OLT but they don’t have the right to speak at hearings.

One of the participants, Brian McConnell of Kildonan Drive, is in favour of development but upset that new projects don’t adhere to the principles of the Kingston Road Revitalization study.

“The city spent good money on the study and the planners recommended four to six storeys. But six goes to seven, goes to eight, goes to 10. It’s frustrating,” McConnell said. “This one crosses a line. Is Altree going to build something there? Absolutely. And that’s fine. Just keep it reasonable. But they’re not. It’s too big, it’s too dense. The encroachment on Birchcliff Avenue, in my mind, is just crazy.”

Notably, TDSB trustee Parthi Kandavel was granted participant status with the caveat that he must speak as an individual and not in his capacity as a trustee or as a representative of parents.

This may limit the impact of Kandavel’s opinion, expressed during a community consultation meeting last March, that the height of the building will negatively affect the health and safety of students by eliminating sunlight and casting shadows over Birch Cliff Public School.
Birch Cliff resident John Hartley was granted party status in a personal capacity by the OLT because he lives adjacent to the proposed ten-storey condo.

However, Taylor reserved a decision on whether Hartley could obtain party status for two tenant organizations that he represents: Tenants Have No Rights Association and SOS Save Our City Association. Both organizations were incorporated in the previous week and claim Hartley as the sole director.

One person who did not request participant status is Ward 20 Councillor Gary Crawford even though he was asked to do so by the community association.
Crawford has stated on many occasions that he opposes the development in its current form but said he’s received strong legal advice from the city that his participation could hurt the community’s case.

“The OLT or the tribunal does not look too kindly when you have what they would deem political influence. Because I’m still a decision-maker, I’m still part of the decision-making process, and to have me put my name in as a participant in fact would probably hurt the process. So I made the decision not to do that. I didn’t want to put politics into this.”

“Possibility for a settled outcome”

Led by OLT member, Blair Taylor, a consensus emerged among lawyers representing the various parties that mediation would be an appropriate next step in the process.

This means that the parties will have confidential discussions to try to come to a mutually acceptable settlement and preclude the need for a formal hearing.
Ian Flett, the lawyer for the Birch Cliff Village Community Residents Association, said disputes such as this one lend themselves to mediation because policies in Ontario generally support intensification.

“The application as it exists is very problematic. But I think most reasonable people could acknowledge that a mid-rise building could be built on that site at some point,” Flett said in an interview.

“There’s no question that my client is prepared to take this all the way through to a contested hearing, they’ve already hired a land use planner, they’ve identified issues to do with transportation planning, and the development in its current form, just won’t cut it. So if it’s needed, we go to a contested hearing for 10 days, and we hammer the table, we cross-examine the other side’s witnesses, and we will do that. If on the other hand, there’s a willingness by the applicant, to have a candid conversation, to make some concessions, and of course, it’ll require concessions on our part and concessions on the part of the city and perhaps other parties, then there is the possibility for a settled outcome.”

The Birch Cliff Village Community Residents Association hired Flett as well as a professional planner to put its best foot forward throughout the OLT process. In order to pay for professional representation, the organization raised $28,000 though local donations.

“When you go to the OLT process, it’s not realistic, in my opinion, that an association can represent itself well and really do it justice,” said Rob Carmichael, chair of the community association. “It’s a quasi-judicial process… you need a lawyer who can represent you appropriately in that scenario, who’s skilled in municipal planning. And then you can’t expect to go to a hearing with just a lawyer, you’re going to need some evidence, you’re going to need expert witnesses. So we’ve hired a planner as well, to represent us throughout the process, but particularly at the hearing to provide the evidence.”

Latest proposal includes changes

The development proposal under consideration by the OLT is slightly different than the version discussed at the public consultation meeting a year ago because the developer updated its submission in August.

The proposed condo is still ten storeys tall at the back, reaching a total height of 35.5 metres if you include the two-floor mechanical penthouse.
From the front, it’s nine storeys high and 32 metres with the mechanicals. The land is currently zoned for a total height of 20 metres.
The overall number of units in the development has increased from 264 to 279.

Significantly, the developer is now proposing a separate four-storey apartment building on the deep lot at 50 Birchcliff Ave., where a single-family house now stands.

Altree’s last submission to the city indicated the building will contain 32 affordable rental replacement units for existing tenants who are being displaced by the new condo.The tenants were previously told they would be rehoused in the ten-storey building.

The Toronto Official Plan doesn’t permit the construction of an apartment building on the footprint of a single-family dwelling because the land is designated as “neighbourhoods”.

This is why Altree is seeking an amendment to the Official Plan in addition to rezoning for the ten-storey building facing Kingston Road.
Early in the process, the developer scrapped a plan that would have required the tenants at Lenmore Court as well as 50 and 52 Birchcliff to be rehoused about 1.5 miles outside of the community in Cliffside.

The next one-day Case Management Conference will take place on May 18 to allow time for city staff to submit a report to Toronto City Council, which will take a vote on the city’s position.