Where exactly DO we live? #longbranchto

Twenty Seventh Street is in Toronto, or at least it has been since 1998 when the former City of Etobicoke and other municipalities were amalgamated into the greater City. Anyone around here would never say Etobicoke though, but rather South Etobicoke. Some people would call that Lakeshore, and that really means three communities along Lake Ontario, known as Mimico (on the east), New Toronto (in the middle) and Long Branch (to the west – that’s us). Go west of Long Branch and you’re into Mississauga, or you might say, Lakeview, Port Credit and Clarkson.

The Community of Long Branch stretches from Twenty Third Street (beside the R.L. Clark Filtration Plant) west to Marie Curtis Park (and Etobicoke Creek. Most people I know who live here self identify as living in Long Branch. It isn’t that we don’t consider ourselves part of Toronto or the former Etobicoke, or should I say South Etobicoke, but we do definitely identify with Long Branch. This may be because the Lakeshore communities are isolated in a way, squeezed between the lake to the south the the tracks and the expressway to the north.

We’re members of the Etobicoke Historical Society, and along with our membership we receive their publication, The Aldernews. In the April edition, Denise Harris has a piece about Etobicoke street name origins.

According to Ms Harris, in 1935, the Village of Long Branch changed the names of 35 streets to facilitate postal delivery by eliminating confusion with similar street names in other municipalities. Twenty Seventh Street used to be Teak Avenue. Lake Prominade was Beach Road, not to be confused with Beech Avenue, which became City Road. In a transition from tree to flower, Spruce Avenue became Iris Road. Balsam Avenue became Ramsgate Road. The numeric naming of streets from Twenty Third to Forty Third continued the protocol that had been adopted by New Toronto to the east around 1900. I had no idea until reading this article that so many street names had changed around here.

I suppose you could say our identity has been somewhat fugitive with both changing street names and municipal designations. I wonder if identification with Long Branch rather than Etobicoke or Toronto has intensified since amalgamation?

The Elmo lives!

I was very pleased to read that Michael Wekerle (new guy on Dragon’s Den) has bought the El Mocambo with the intention of keeping it running as a music venue. The very first time I went to a bar to hear live music it was at the El Mocambo.

I don’t recall exactly what year it was or how old we really were, but I remember the evening – it was Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. As some of you know I was a teen-aged blues-freak and Sonny and Brownie were legends to me.  There we were, seated at the Elmo, not 20 feet from these guys, drinking the foulest draft beer you could imagine, and having the time of our lives.  Sonny Terry made sounds on his harmonica that were impossible and perfect, mixed in with whoops and hollers along the way, punctuated perfectly by Brownie’s Piedmont guitar.

At some point much later – in the 80s – some friends and I would go on Tuesday evenings to see Washboard Hank and the Honkers. Hank had an elaborate washboard – I think it included a tin hat and he did tunes like Polyester Polly lit a tire fire in my heart (all about a girl in Hagersville) and the Midnight Ride of Red-dog Ray about the great Ontario beer strike.

The Elmo was part of an older Spadina, from before the dedicated street car deal that sucked the character off the street. Those were the days when Downchild played Grossman’s across the street and Gwartzman’s was THE place to buy your art supplies – and let’s not forget Chinese food at that joint just south of Grossman’s – does anyone remember the place I’m thinking about? They had a special in the window for deep-fried gobi fish and I think there was a yellow sign….

Who knows what the future for this old joint holds, but it feels good to know it has been saved and will to continue to be a place for live music.

House down

There’s a house coming down on Lake Promenade, just west of 27th Street. I wonder what’s going to go up in its place? Will it be a giant monster home – there are some – or perhaps they’ll try to cram a couple tall skinny houses there, dividing the property and squeezing every last greasy buck they can from the land.

Here in Long Branch we’re witnessing a lot of change right now. Lots of homeowners who have been here for 40, 50, 60 years are moving to condos or retirement homes, or for some it is the last stop. Land values have been rising quickly – we couldn’t afford to buy our house if we were looking for a place to live today, that’s for sure.

In quite a few cases, developers are grabbing up the properties, severing the lots, trashing the old and building two houses on a lot that previously held one. Ours is an eclectic neighbourhood with big and small homes. Some are original cottages from the days when Long Branch was cottage country to Torontonians.  There are other homes that are tremendously opulent.

No doubt plenty of older homes around here need to be refreshed somehow or another. No doubt also the neighbourhood is changing. How should it change? How should that be decided. What’s happening in many cases is developers are deciding. I see quite a number of examples now where they have bought the land and applied to the Committee of Adjustment to sever it. If they fail there, they go to the Ontario Municipal Board and try again there. I think our community should have more say in the future of our neighbourhood. The Committee of Adjustment/OMB process is simply no way to plan the future of a community.

I became involved in an argument in front of the OMB last year. We appealed a Committee of Adjustment decision to allow a severance on our street to the Board. I led the charge representing a loosely knit group of folks living in the immediate area. Our argument was that any change should respect the character of the neighbourhood – that’s in the official plan. So what does that mean? Around here it seems there is not one neighbourhood but a dozen or more micro-neighbourhoods. The character changes from street to street and different parts of the streets around here all have their own character. I think if you’re going to measure character, the benchmark should be everything within sight of the property in question. In this case, the developer’s experts argued that South Long Branch is the neighbourhood so all use within that broader definition is OK anywhere in the area. I think that’s just wrong, but the adjudicator with the Board ruled in favour of the developer.

I sought advice and help from my Councillor, who was unresponsive. I even emailed the mayor, expecting he would come down here like the cavalry to assist, but no. His office sent a form response and that was the last I heard. For sure in the upcoming municipal and provincial elections I will be supporting candidates who care about how our community is redeveloped and are willing to do something about it – if I can find some. The OMB liaison officer told me they encouraged lay people to get involved, but it soon became clear that it is the land of lawyers, and I was made to feel foolish and inadequate because I did not know the procedural ins and outs. I left feeling like I would never participate in that process again.

Meanwhile, I have no idea what is going to replace the house that just got ripped down. Time will tell.

Old City Hall

Old City Hall is the first of four novels by Robert Rotenberg featuring the character Detective Ari Green, along with a few other recurring characters. I gobbled them up in more or less reverse order. Like the others, this was a highly readable mystery with a well considered plot, likeable characters and plenty of Toronto references. Rotenberg is a criminal lawyer so you get a glimpse at our justice system through experienced eyes.

I read lots of different types of books, all varieties of novels, non-fiction on various topics that interest me, and even the occasional biography. Sometimes a page-turner like this is just what the doctor ordered. Being a Torontonian, it was fun reading a story set amidst landmarks of our city. Old City Hall is a burger and fries with a chocolate shake kind of novel, but it was a tasty burger, dressed up with a good selection of toppings.

Old City Hall is an entertaining and highly readable light mystery.



I don’t recall how I found out about Stranglehold by Robert Rotenberg. Maybe I heard an interview with the author or read a review. I do know that whatever it was caused me to write down “Read Stranglehold Robert Rotenberg Toronto mystery” in my trusty notebook. I came across that notation last week and read the book over the weekend.

Rotenberg writes mystery thriller type books based in Toronto. It was fun reading a book set in my city for a change. Rotenberg quotes Robert Traver from Anatomy of a Murder early on in the book:  “Despite all the rules and objections and soft illusions of decorum, a trial was after all a savage and primative battle for survival itself.”  It’s an apt quote as much of the book focuses on a trial. With that quote, Rotenberg places himself in some heady company. Stranglehold is not in the same league as Anatomy of a Murder, which is among my favourite books in any genre. It’s good though, very good.

I enjoyed the way the story unfolded, and I thought the characters were drawn out well and believable. As well, I enjoyed the way the book was firmly placed in a Toronto context. It’s a fun read and it’s a page-turner. I was on a long bus ride Saturday and Stranglehold was just what the doctor ordered. I’ll get around to reading the others in the series down the road.

What’s this?

Check out this article in The Star.

The existence of places like Kensington Market, places that don’t look like everywhere else, places that have some special identity in the City are Toronto treasures.  But things are changing fast in Hogtown. Condo developments are going up so fast, there are areas of Toronto, areas I lived in for years, that I no longer even recognize. Will Kensington be able to survive box store development on its fringes? I worry that we’re homogenizing our downtown neighbourhoods to the detriment of the broader City. Will people flock to a new box store to save a few bucks or will they remain loyal to the small independent businesses that give Kensington its character? How would you feel about this if you lived there?

I have a soft spot for Kensington Market. I used to busk there on button accordion sometimes, right outside Tom’s Place. It was so much fun. I’d meet a great assortment of characters every time I played there. It’s changed quite a bit over the years, but still it has remained a unique pocket in the City. I sure hope this old neighbourhood is going to be OK.

Here’s a delightful video my friend Candy Minx shot in Kensington Market. That’s me playing the squeezebox…

And here’s another one…I’m playing a Newfoundland tune called The Star of Logy Bay. This video gives a bit of a taste of the atmosphere in the Market. It was early and still fairly quiet.


It started snowing not long after we returned from the cinema and it’s still coming down. We just shoveled about 5 cm of fluffy and if it keeps up we’ll have that much more by morning.  The dogs enjoyed a walk in the snow, although they were getting little snowballs jammed up in their paws and had to make a number of stops to pull them out.  I don’t recall getting this much snow at any one time last year.

UPDATE: Morning
Plenty more snow overnight….fluffy and beautiful.

Lakeshore Santa Parade

Each year there is a Santa Parade along the Lakeshore in Toronto, through the communities known as Mimico, New Toronto and Long Branch. The parade took place this morning and it was a perfect day for it.DSC01733

Near the start of the parade Canada Post volunteers collected letters to Santa from kids along the route. Canada Post elves have been volunteering to help Santa Claus with his mail for over 30 years. Since Canada Post has been counting, Santa has written back to over 20 million children in close to 30 languages including Braille.