John Smee

Birch Cliff Says Farewell To a Community Voice      May 2022

By John Smee

To you from failing hands we throw the torch be yours to hold it high” ~ John McCrae

Or, as Hedy Korbee would say “There’s an old saying that when you’ve been fortunate enough to succeed, you have an obligation to send the elevator back down to pick up the next generation.”

On June 14, Korbee announced the retirement of the Birch Cliff News website. In her own words: “Today marks the tenth anniversary of Birch Cliff News. A time to look back, move ahead, and begin a new chapter. It’s hard to believe that a full decade has passed since June 14, 2012, when I hit ‘publish’ on the website’s first story—a multimedia piece on the history of Birch Cliff. It also seems like a fitting time to announce, with mixed emotions, that Birch Cliff News has come to the end of the road. In the last two years, I’ve retired from the paid workforce and am now spending more time at the cottage than I am in Birch Cliff. My deep connection to the community that I’ve called home for 29 years is changing.”

Committed community activism has always been a defining feature of the Birch Cliff neighbourhood. From the Phylis Griffiths Neighbourhood Centre morphing into the Birchmount CC to the rebuilding of Taylor Memorial library. This very newspaper —originally called the Birch Cliff News—founded in 1983 by Lee Graves and a host of volunteers as a response to proposed changes to the neighbourhood. Korbee’s activism started just after the turn of the century with the formation of the CCQLD, Concerned Citizens for Quarry Land Development, which she was a member of until 2012 when she launched the web- site. A true professional she knew she couldn’t report on an organization she was a member of and so she resigned from CCQLD.

Korbee discovered “hyper local” news while studying for her master’s thesis in online journalism at Manchester City University in 2010. Korbee said “I discovered that there were almost a thousand websites in the UK, where communities were essentially covering themselves.” was born in 2012 because “if the Birch Cliff News and the Bluffs Monitor don’t tell our stories. No one else will.”

Korbee was also well aware that there are a significant number of journalists who live in Birch Cliff because “most of them were former colleagues and friends and I relied on them a great deal.” Ian Harvey was one such colleague. “Well, one thing that sticks out in my mind there was a very rare murder in Birchcliff and (Korbee was working full time in the Journalism department at Humber College at 427 and Finch Ave.) I just gave Ian a ring and, you know, old journalists never die they just keep filing stories. Ian was a terrific collaborator.”

She was also a proud mentor to young journalists. Her Humber students often contributed stories to the website. Ashley Ashby and a Carleton journalism student named Chelsea Davido who spent a summer with Korbee and actually wrote one of the most popular stories on the website The Mistake on the Lake, about the big monster home, at the bottom of Birchmount which was listed for sale for $3.8 million.

An avid local historian, the stories she enjoyed writing the most were about the history of the community. “I learned right when I started writing the website, that there is a book in what they call the vault of Birchcliff public school. And it was presented to the first principal in 1916, when the school was started by the first solicitor of the township of Scarborough Henry Redmond. And he gave her the journal and said, ‘you know, it is my hope that you keep a social history of our community, not just facts about the school, but a social history of the entire community.’ And Mrs. Reese did that. And so I found the journal.”

The recent article about the 100th anniversary of RCL Branch 13 (celebrated June 4 2022) is a testament to her passion and tenacity. Not to mention hours spent on unpaid, research and writing.

Those she spent years covering had kind words for her. “Hedy Korbee represents the qualities of a true and respected journalist,” said Councillor Gary Crawford. “Integrity, a relentless commitment to sourcing the truth and, most importantly, a genuine care for every story that she covered. Her strong community voice will be missed; however, the legacy of her work will have a lasting impact.”.

The stated goal of the website was “to help strengthen our community by giving residents an online voice. An informed community is a stronger community.” Hedy Korbee will always be a big part of the strength of Birch Cliff.


Allotment Gardens       May 2022

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By John Smee

Poor Rosetta McClain, of garden fame, must be spinning in her grave at the situation that’s developed around the community garden on Glen Everest Rd.

Brief History

Thomas McDonald West purchased the 16.2 hectare Rumph Farm, which overlooks the Scarborough Bluffs, in 1904-1905. He and his wife Emma then divided it among their four children, including Rosetta (nee West) McClain.
McClain died in December 1940, and in 1959 her husband donated their property (about 4 hectares) to the city of Toronto in her memory. In 1977, this land was conveyed to the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (now TRCA) and combined with portions of the J.M. and H.T. West properties.

10 Glen Everest Road was originally a senior-designated building, but in 1993 it was re-designated a family building after a legislation change. First operated by Metropolitan Toronto Housing Corporation, it became a Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) building in 2002. The lease of the conservation land (the community garden) across Glen Everest Rd. was originally held by Metropolitan Toronto Housing and was transferred to TCHC in 2002. This garden was an outlier in TCHC communities, being one of only two that are not on TCHC lands. TCHC tenants are required to self-organize and curate garden space in a way that worked best for their needs. TCHC chose not to renew the lease and the land reverted back to City of Toronto as of 2022.

Allotment vs. Community

Parks Forestry and Recreation (PF&R), is the city agency that manages Allotment and Community Gardens throughout the city. The difference between the two boils down to mangement. Allotment gardens are managed by PF&R with an extensive set of rules and guidelines. (available at Community Gardens are managed and organized by an individual community group and they are generally responsible for maitaining their own wait lists and fee structure and set rules. There is some support from the city but the day-to-day running of a community garden is the responsibity of each individual group.

And Then it Got Ugly

“There are always some petty politics that go on in these things of course. There’s always somebody who’s accusing somebody of… stealing their tomatoes… or somebody didn’t lock the gate when they came in,” said a gardener who has had a plot in the Leslie Steet Allotment gardens for the past 5 years.

If the only problem facing the Glen Everest Community Garden was a stolen tomato or two, they’d have no problems. Sadly, that’s not the case.

From gardeners who live as far away as Oshawa and Stouffville using the garden to BBQ’s, kiddy pools, carpets, and artificial turf littering some plots, neighbours who live on Wynnview Court, directly across the street from the garden, get a front row seat to the night life that’s manifested over the years.

The garden isn’t mismanaged if it isn’t being managed. Trash has littered the site for years. It isn’t fenced, so there are no hours of operation.There is no formal fee structure or set of rules. There’s no parking for gardeners who don’t live at Glen Everest, so they park illegally on Wynnview and Glen Everest Rd. This was after parks department staff had to install boulders at the street entrance because gardeners were driving their cars right into the park. After hours, it’s routinely used for “other purposes.”

The situation devolved to the point that 3 TPS neighbourhood officers were on hand at a March 30 meeting of residents of 10 Glen Everest and anyone else rightfully using the garden.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of the garden, and to let everyone know that change was coming.
Change is hard. In the case of the community gardeners at 10 Glen Everest Rd., it may not even be a case of people losing what they had. It’s people losing what they think they deserve.

Residents of the Glen Everest apartments, out-of-towners, the residents of Wynnview Drive, and the self-appointed Guardians of the Gardens pointed fingers and made accusations–with excessive passion. An organization with a clear mission and strong management skills was clearly needed to supervise the garden.

As of 2022, Feed Scarborough and the Scarborough Food Security Initiative will manage the property. Their objective is to create a Community Garden with equitable allotment to the Glen Everest residents and their neighbours.
“All the current lot holders who live in the community are gonna stay,” said Suman Roy of the SFSI. “We did the application process, and 95% of the people who were successful live within (a) one kilometer radius, so the other 5% is two kilometers.” Yearly priority will go to those residents who live within a 1 km radius of the garden and currently have a plot. Second priority will go to new gardeners in a 1 km radius, primarily people who are suffering from food security and want to grow food. Space has also been set aside for residents of Thunder Women Healing Lodge to grow Indigenous crops.
Other changes include proper inside and outside fencing, establishing hours of operation, on-site SFSI staff, a kids’ training centre, benches, tables, garden tools, and equipment.

Back to the Future

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, the garden can be returned to its former glory. “It was an idyllic place to have a vegetable garden. I couldn’t believe my good fortune that there was this beautiful piece of property overlooking the Scarborough Bluffs at Lake Ontario,” said Hedy Korbee on what the garden was like from 2008-2010. “And that for, you know, just a few dollars I could grow my own food all summer long. It was magnificent. I loved it.”

The 5 Page City of Toronto Contract for Those Wanting an Allotment Garden Plot

Feed Scarborough Proposal for Community Garden at 10 Glen Everest Rd.

MPP Begum Sponsors Bill 98 for Improved Health Care       April 2022

Our healthcare professionals have been working tirelessly to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic. Scarborough Southwest MPP Doly Begum is working to straighten the path of those healthcare professionals who have been trained internationally and would like to qualify to work in Ontario.

            Begum has introduced a Private Members Bill, Bill 98, the “Fairness for Ontario’s Internationally Trained Workers Act, 2022.” The Bill is calling for the Ministry of Health to establish an Internationally Trained and Educated Healthcare Professions Advisory Committee that shall make recommendations to the Minister regarding the employment of internationally trained and educated healthcare professionals.

            The advisory committee’s main role is to bring the stakeholders in healthcare to the table. For physicians, that refers to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Royal College), and the Ontario Medical Association (OMA)–and that’s just physicians. There are also licensing and regulatory bodies for the nursing, dentistry, and optometry professions that need a seat at the table. The Provincial Government is going to need a bigger room.

Taking a page from Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act which is most notably known for the “disconnecting from work” Bill, an amendment of Bill 27 also included subsection 10.2 (1):

A regulated profession shall not require as a qualification for registration that a person’s experience be Canadian experience, unless an exemption from the prohibition is granted by the Minister for the purposes of public health and safety in accordance with the regulations.

            In a nutshell, if you were an internationally trained land surveyor, for example, you’d no longer need work experience in Ontario to be granted professional status. Naturally, there are other professional criteria (exams, certifications, etc.) that must be met.

            As above, the amendment does not apply to healthcare professionsals. Physicians, surgeons, registered nurses, RN assistants, RN practitioners, dentists, and optometrists all require work experience in Ontario as part of the accreditation process.

            The process is so arduous that many either give up or move away. “The current situation in Ontario is such that internationally trained physicians (ITPs) are not given official pathways to assimilate into the system, are left without a way to gain recency of practice,” said Dr Makini McGuire-Brown, Chair of Internationally Trained Physicians of Ontario. “And then this is used against them when trying to obtain a mathematically improbable residency spot in which 400 applications are sent in for 2 designated international medical graduate (IMG) spots.”

            The pandemic has exposed the shortfalls of the current system. With healthcare professionals being put through the wringer over the past 24 months, nurses are especially questioning their choice of profession. Many are just leaving altogether.

            Xenophobes aside, Canada is a country that prides itself on being able to attract well-educated, qualified professionals to this country. Some of those that have immigrated here are now working in the US health care system.

            Dr. Sayeeda Yasmeen, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY said, “I worked in cardiology in Bangladesh before coming to Ontario and making a home in Mississauga. After taking the licensing exams in Canada, I couldn’t get the hands-on training I needed here. It was easier to obtain the experience I required in the U.S., which is where I’m working now, in Surgical Oncologic Pathology… I broke down so many times in the face of all the negativity and lack of opportunity I experienced as I fought to get back into my chosen field, and I’m still not working in my home province.”

            There is no shortage of anecdotes about those who were trained internationally to work as healthcare professionals who come to this country and end up driving a cab–not that there is anything wrong with driving a cab. Most of us have heard stories about how a brain surgeon picked a friend up from the club last weekend. Maybe you’ve heard something along the lines of a nurse who had to return to the Philippines for a month to work because one of the hurdles for certification for internationally trained nurses is recency of practice. That is, you must have worked as a nurse in the last 12 months to qualify to be a nurse. However, you can’t qualify to be a nurse until you work as a nurse. It’s the ultimate catch 22 for the internationally trained.

            “Ontario is home to people from all over the world, many of whom come here seeking safety, security and hope for a better life, and Ontario desperately needs health care workers. Fixing the international credentials system is a win-win,” said Begum.

And it’s no surprise that at the root of the issue is political will and, of course, money. The province needs to fund more opportunities for the internationally trained to get the experience they need to get qualified and to get to work. The province desperately needs to support those front line healthcare workers they claim to care so much about by getting those ready and willing to work on the job.

            Currently, it is no yellow brick road.

Celebrating a Milestone at Cliffside Meats      March 2022

Gord Doucet; behind the counter at Cliffside Meats.

Gord Doucet of Cliffside Meats & Deli (2476 Kingston Rd.) in Cliffside is the kind of person that communites can’t live without.

He always has a warm smile on his face and he always seems to be in a good mood.

For the superstitious, “beware the Ides of March” wrote Shakespeare. But for members of the Cliffside community and beyond it’s a chance to drop by the shop and wish Gord a happy birthday. This one will be a milestone for the Butcher of the Bluffs, he’ll be turning 80 years young.

Gord has been operating his butcher shop in Cliffside for the past 10 years. He has in fact worked for himself since 1985 when he chose to leave the grocery store chain formerly known as Dominion Stores. He ran his own store (Bell Meats) for 13 years. A friend bought his current building in 1998 and Gord rented out the retail space and opened Cliffside Meats. In 2004 he moved the business to Port Union Rd for about a year when he sold the business. From 2006 to 2011 he helped the wife of a friend run Royal Meats on the Danforth after his friend passed away.

He then took a stab at retirement. “That lasted about 4 months,” he says with a characteristic chuckle. “I’m still here.”

He lives right in Cliffside just off of Chine Dr. “I’ve always loved the area.”
In fact he’s close enough to walk to work. “But I don’t, just in case it rains.”

Gord even contributed articles to the Bluffs Monitor, which is how he came to know former publisher Lee Graves.

Lee actually reached out to him after the recent snow storm at the end of January. He says she asked him “Gord can you deliver me something?” She was stuck in her house because her car and driveway had been plowed in by City snow removal crews.

So Gord became probably the only butcher in the city that makes house calls.

After taking Lee some meat, he went home to have dinner and got to thinking. “That poor woman, she can’t go do her shopping, she can’t go do her banking.”

So Gord returned to Lee’s house that evening and shovelled her driveway, cleared snow out from around her car and even scraped the ice off her car windows. “ By the time I was done it was after 10 O’Clock on a Saturday night.” To this day she still doesn’t know who did it. Well, maybe she does now.