Colleen O’Marra – see Comments at the end of this post – has added details about Police Chief Smythe that I read with much interest.
I had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours on the morning of Dec. 1, 2013, speaking about local history with David Webster, who grew up in the area starting in the 1940s.
In time I will have the opportunity to transcribe the sound track and edit the video of our conversation. For now, I will outline where we met and where we travelled.
We began our conversation at the Fair Grounds Organic Café and Roastery, which David Webster remembers from the time it was a local butcher shop. He pointed out where the security safe was located, at the south east corner of the main floor, and where the counter was located. It’s great to have a sense of the layout of the building at an earlier time in its history. I look forward to getting further details about the past uses of what is now a great coffee house.
David Webster has travelled some ways from Long Branch, experientially and physically, since the time that he grew up in the community. In that regard, he reminds me of Mike James, who grew up in New Toronto and now lives in Brampton.
Mike James, who plays a key role, along with this writer, in the organizing of the annual Jane’s Walk in Long Branch, has remarked, as David Webster has remarked, that some local residents have lived their lives more or less exclusively in the neighbourhoods where they grew up, and some have travelled, in the course of their lives and careers, a significant distance – figuratively and literally – beyond where they spent their early years.
And then there are people like myself, a relative newcomer to the local community where we now live – we’ve been here close to twenty years – who previously have grown up and lived elsewhere.
Such details are of interest, as they can help a person to understand some features of the perceptions and ways of seeing of Long Branch residents. One can say that, to an extent, we shape our experiences, and our experiences shape us.
James S. Bell School
We began our drive – a local history tour – going east from the corner of Fortieth Street and Lake Shore Blvd. West. Our first stop was the site where the earlier version of the James S. Bell School had been located.
I was delighted to learn, in our recorded conversation in David Webster’s black truck, some additional information about Jim Bray, who has himself shared information with us in the past, and who used to live on Villa Road. I was interested to learn that Jim Bray used to compete in stock car races and later raced in the CASCAR series, (Canadian Association of Stock Car Racing), a predecessor to today’s Canadian Tire NASCAR series in Canada. That’s a part of Ontario history that I’ve learned bits and pieces about, in conversations with a wide range of people over the years. It’s a topic I look forward to learning more about.
Long Branch Hotel
From Lake Shore Blvd. West we drove south along Thirty First Street to the area where the Long Branch Hotel had been located, and visited a wide range of buildings on Lake Promenade and nearby streets.
I was interested to find the exact location of Police Chief Smyth’s house on Thirty Sixth Street, a detail that had escaped me in the past. An addition has recently been added at the back. As we drove in the area, I was reminded of a history tour, in this case conducted by Mike James a few years ago, of the New Toronto area. I look forward to transcribing and editing Mike James’ tour as well.
I’ve been informed in the past that, when Police Chief Smythe moved to his new home from Villa Road, Thirty Sixth Street was considered by some Long Branch residents to be the street where people with money and influence liked to buy property. David Webster remarked in passing that Thirty Seventh Street took on that role in subsequent years.
David Webster pointed out details related to the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead property, including the location of the barn facing James Street, which Bernice Law had also talked about in a previous interview.
Like Jim Gill, who has commented on this topic in the past, David Webster believes that the barn in the background of the mid-1920s photo taken near the mouth of Etobicoke Creek is likely some barn that was located closer to the mouth of the creek than the barn that was located on the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead property.
David Webster showed me his printout of the November 1949 Ontario Archives photo of the Smith homestead site, and pointed out a wide range of details – including “Pop” Anderson’s house, and the nearby laneways, and details of the Anderson property that I had not been aware of. I had learned about Anderson’s life and life circumstances from several sources, in previous interviews. In many people’s recollections, he was an interesting local character, with an element of tragedy associated with his life.
Dave – I’ll just refer to David Webster as Dave from this point on – filled me in on details – for example, the flowers and foliage on Anderson’s property, on the location of what is now the former Parkview School – that I had not been aware of.
He also described the configuration of the property – there had been an elevation of about eight feet, which is echoed in the current configuration of the Parkview property.
As well, Dave described a local restaurant, on what is now the site of Aquaview Condominiums, where local teenagers liked to congregate with souped-up cars in the 1960s. Mike James has also described the restaurant, and the souped-up cars, that were a part of community life during his adolescent years in New Toronto.
Dave also indicated where the extensive parking lot for the Dominion store was located, and where the front of the store was situated on Lake Shore Blvd. West across from the TTC Transit loop.
We also spent a lot of time on Forty Second Street, where Dave pointed out which areas had gained in elevation in the years when a garbage dump was a primary feature of the area in the years following Hurricane Hazel.
I have often looked closely at the indentation in the ground when you look toward Etobicoke Creek, at the termination of James Street at Forty Second Street. The indentation identifies where James Street used to run prior to the arrival of Hurricane Hazel. Dave pointed out the location of trees where property lots were located. He shared many interesting and evocative stories about the families who had cottage properties in this area along Forty Second Street.
His descriptions provided much additional detail that we will be able to share at the May 3 and 4, 2014 Jane’s Walk in the area.
I was interested to learn that, in the past, Forty Second Street did not extend all the way north to Lake Shore Blvd. West. It stopped a ways south of Lake Shore. The land in that area is much higher in elevation that in used to be, thanks to the garbage dump – euphemistically referred to as a Sanitary Landfill in some historical accounts – that existed in the area for some years after Hurricane Hazel.
The south end of Forty Second also stopped short of Lake Promenade, Dave noted. I had often wondered what accounts for the elevation of the land at that end of Forty Second Street. Now I know: That area was a garbage dump as well.
We travelled further west where Dave pointed out how the alignment of trees serve as landmarks for an army camp, used by the military. After the Second World War, the camp was used for housing, to relieve the shortage of accommodation in the Toronto area. The “Staff House” at the northwest corner of Dixie and the Lakeshore Road was used until about 1960 as accommodation.
As well, when we visited Marie Curtis Park, on many occasions Dave would point out specific trees, and clumps of trees, that served as landmarks for streets, a baseball diamond, a football field, and local buildings serving the cottage community at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek.
I am reminded that Doreen Durance has remarked, in a tour of Marie Curtis Park prior to the May 2013 Jane’s Walk, that some willow and white trees – which even now remain standing – served as landmarks for the Long Branch cottage community at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek.
Dave, who for a time lived at 80 Forty First Street, pointed out some details regarding the Colonel Samuel Smith house that we have discussed in earlier posts. He recalls that before the house was demolished, there had been a utility vehicle on the property that was used for transportation purposes. In Dave’s recollection, however, it wasn’t a military surplus Bren Gun Carrier.
I look forward to further research regarding this interesting topic. A question that arises for me is: Were there possibly two utility vehicles on use at the property in those years, one of which was indeed a Bren Gun Carrier?
Dave noted that in the years before the demolition, in 1955, there was an impressive library, and a great deal of fine furniture, stored at the Smith house. One of the features of the library was that the books were neatly stacked on shelves, as contrasted to being strewn across a floor. Dave mentioned, as Bernice Law has also noted, that in those days the farm property was fenced in, so that neighbourhood kids as a rule did not have ready access to it as a place to play.
Dave also mentioned that the original log cabin was well constructed, of squared off timber and was, relatively speaking, of substantial size. The logs, that is, demonstrated evidence of high-quality craftsmanship. I much enjoy learning these kinds of details about this historic building, constructed in the forest in 1797.
I’m very pleased that I was able to meet David Webster as a result of his visit to the Preserved Stories website. Online communications are a great way to arrange for face to face meetings focusing on local history. It’s a delight, as a relative newcomer – we’ve been here only twenty years – to the area, to be learning all of these great details about the history of Long Branch (Toronto not New Jersey).
Having written this post, which I am pleased to have the time to write today, I’m now back to work on a sound editing project, which I much enjoy attending to, for a video and sound editing course that I’m taking at Ryerson University.
In the early 1970s, I spent a couple of years devoting most of my time to the making of a couple of animated films at the Simon Fraser University Film Workshop at the university’s Burnaby campus, designed by Arthur Erickson.
I’ve been pleased to learn, recently, that the editing skills that I picked up, in the making of the films, are highly valuable now that I’m learning to edit sound and video using software programs such as Adobe Preniere Pro and Adobe Audition. Until now, I’d pretty much forgotten about the years that I spent learning filmmaking at Simon Fraser University.
In those years I drove a used convertible Austin-Healey Sprite sports car. It was the model introduced after the “bug eye” version of the Sprite was phased out. I was reminded of that when David Webster mentioned that Jim Bray used to race stock cars. Sports cars aren’t stock cars, but the concept of racing as a sport is similar.
In the years I drove a Sprite I learned, as any sports car enthusiast will learn, that the low centre of gravity and other technical features of such cars gives rise to a form of handling that is unique to them. The Sprite also had a feature that it took me two visits to a repair shop for axle replacement to learn to respect. The feature can be summed up as: “Pop the clutch and break the axle.”