David Webster, who grew up in Long Branch (Toronto not New Jersey), has a great recollection of local history dating back to the 1940s
Colleen O’Marra – see Comments at the end of this post – has added details about Police Chief Smythe that I read with much interest.
For additional comments about Toronto-area postwar emergency housing, click here >
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 also travelled west to Lakeview, where Dave pointed out where the transit loop used to be located during the war years when the Small Arms plant was in operation.
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.”
Colleen O’Marra has commented:
Chief Smythe lived at #63-36th Street. His son-in-law(who lived just
across from Smythe at #64) was the highly-decorated war veteran, Ernie
Scale.Ernie lectured at many local highschools about his war
experiences. He just passed away last year.Thirty-sixth and
thirty-seventh street homeowners were mentioned as “monied and
influential”.Not sure what kindof dough or influence any homeowner had
then. Thirty-seventh Street had a boxload of war veterans building
their first real homes in the late 40’s and 50’s.The government gave
them that chance to put down roots and train for a profession. One of
our neighbours was especially memorable. George Flint had barely
survived the Dieppe Raid.He’s actually mentioned in a history text as
taking a number of beatings by his captors after numerous escape
attempts.May I add here that German soldiers were treated very well in
Canada. My mother remembers seeing the P.O.Ws walking down Kipling
Avenue from the Mimico Reformatory to the old Lakeshore Psychiatric
grounds where they could farm, take a swim or pick apples.Many P.O.W.s
chose to stay in Canada after the war. Would to God the Germans had
treated their prisoners as well.( C. O’Marra)
I very much appreciate these further details. Having the exact street addresses related to Police Chief Smythe is highly valuable. The additional information about Smythe and his family gives me a much better understanding of their lives.
The comment about money and influence is well taken. It’s a good point. I would add that one of the delightful features of sharing information about local history is that one can choose to write from the vantage point that each person’s story is equally important and valid, whether the person has, or had, a lot of money or very little.
Local histories are about everybody, from my perspective as a storyteller and as a gatherer of stories. Among the best stories I’ve encountered, by way of example, are ones that concern families who lived on “The Flats” in the years before the Second World War. In some cases, people lived there, at particular points in the history of the community, precisely because it was a place where a small amount of money enabled a family to acquire accommodations. In other cases, summer-only cottages who had homes elsewhere were in other kinds of financial circumstances.
In my own life, I’ve had times where accommodations and income have been comfortable, and times when the source of the next meal wasn’t precisely defined. I also know what it means when families are displaced and strongly influenced by wartime experiences. Because I’ve had such a range of experiences, first-hand or indirectly, as things have turned out in the course of my life, I have a sense, that I otherwise may or may not have, of what matters in life. It’s a sense that may not be quite as easy to acquire without such experiences – although I would add that I cannot speak for people whose experiences may differ from my own.
There’s no one way to respond to the same life experiences, I would say. By way of example, harsh and stressful experiences may in some cases lead to a growth in understanding, empathy, and compassion. Or they may, depending upon the person and circumstances, lead to the manifestation of qualities that are not quite as helpful.
An underlying reality, as I see it, is that what matters is the present moment. It’s in the present moment that we talk about the past. As well there’s much to be said, I think, for the concept that learning can be a continuous process. We as human beings have the capacity to learn new things and ways of seeing at every stage of life.
The reference by Colleen O’Marra to the local Second World War POW camp is of interest. I learned about the camp when I was researching a blog post about the new local superjail.
With regard to other wartime military facilities in Canada, I was interested to read Eric Walters’ children’s book, Camp X (2002), regarding one such facility. The books that Walters recommends for further reading, which he consulted during research for this novel, are great resources.
Also of interest is the fact that, on rare occasions, soldiers, officers, and civilians on both sides in the Second World War made quick decisions that led to the sparing of lives in circumstances that otherwise would have ended in wartime tragedy. An act of kindness and wisdom, performed in extreme circumstances, can give rise to tremendously valuable consequences – extending far forward for many generations, and in many countries, benefiting and enriching the lives of many people.
Over the years, as I was growing up and later, I learned the details of one such decision, made by a German officer in 1944, regarding a young Estonian mother and her infant son who were seeking to escape from Estonia at the point where Soviet military forces were about to seal the borders during the second occupation of Estonia – an occupation that was to last for fifty years.
The escape attempt would have been thwarted were it not for a decision that was made quickly in extremely stressful circumstances. The sole benefit to the officer who made the decision was a sense of allowing two particular young individuals to escape, at a time when many lives had been and were being lost. The fact he had an infant son at home, as he explained at the time, likely was a factor in his decision. The decision was a matter of life and death for the Estonian mother and child.
I know the story well, because several subsequent generations of my own extended family were the beneficiaries of the officer’s decision, made quickly at the height of wartime.
Colleen O’Marra writes:
I wonder if that ‘compassionate’ German soldier would have been just
as merciful if Anne Frank and family were trying to get out of
Estonia. Anne really believed that all people were basically “good at
heart” just before the Germans broke through the hiding place and
annihilated the Franks. As you say on very rare occasions does the
enemy act mercifully.Very rare.Let’s remember what nation started two
World Wars and caused the deaths of millions.( C. O’Marra)
I’ve written extensively about genocide, the history of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, and related topics at the Military History category at this website. Among the studies that I’ve highlighted is James A. Tyner’s Genocide and the Geographical Imagination: Life and Death in Germany, China, and Cambodia (2012).
Soldaten (2011) is also a valuable reference regarding these topics as is Catastrophe 1914 (2013).
A relevant related study is Climate Wars (2012).
A contemporary photographer who addresses current ongoing issues related to brutality, refugees, migration, and the effects of warfare from a perspective that demonstrates wisdom and a clarity of vision is Sebastião Salgado. His photographic projects involve a frame of reference that warrants close consideration, in my view. Genesis (2013) and other photographic projects by Salgado are available at the Toronto Public Library.
The history of Long Branch and Lakeview is closely connected to the successful Allied war effort during the Second World War. Many returning war veterans settled in Long Branch right after the war, as did refugees, including children, who had encountered war in Europe and elsewhere.
A very large proportion of the Jewish citizens who had been living in Estonia were murdered during the Second World War. Evidence of Nazi-inspired atrocities in Estonia was uncovered following the retreat of German military forces, at the onset of the second occupation of the region by the Soviet forces.
I was interested in the discussion about Chief Smythe. I think his mother lived at the southeast corner of 35th St and Park Blvd. It was a long time ago and my memory might be faulty. Maybe one of your readers remembers.
yes Chief Smythe’s mother lived on that corner She was a teacher when my parents were in school at James S Bell I think.
That’s most interesting. I look forward to learning more about this detail. From the sounds of it, Chief’s Smythe’s connection with Long Branch goes back a long way.
I look forward to meeting with you to return one of the photos that I had scanned, which remained under the lid of my scanner when I left to drive back to Toronto. I look forward as well to putting together the video of our interview from some time back. Thanks to a course at Ryerson University, I’ve made good progress in learning how to edit the sound and picture for such interviews.
Wishing you and your family a great Christmas.
I recently learned, from a retweet by Eric Sehr, of a book entitled Into Exile: A Life Story of War and Peace (2013) by Elin Toona Gottschalk. It’s listed as a Book of the Year at the Economist.com website. It provides an overview of a particular experience of exile following the Second World War.
These topics are of interest. I’m really pleased that so much information is available about history related to Estonia and other small countries around the world.
The added detail concerning Chief Smythe from Sharon O’Brien (above) is a really great addition to the discussion.
Through comments from those who knew Chief Smythe, or knew his family, a much clearer image of the Village of Long Branch emerges in my mind than otherwise would be the case. The family had deep roots in the community. Their story is integral to the history of Long Branch.
What I’ve learned to date inspires me to try to find out more. If anyone has photos related to the Smythe family, that they wish to share as JPEG files, or would like to provide further details, please contact me or use the Comments section at this website.
In 1950 my family had to move from our rented home (the owner wanted to use it for himself) and my father couldn’t find affordable housing. So we lived in old army barracks in Long Branch for about six months – till we found a place to rent. I was recently in Toronto in Long Branch and was trying to remember where the barracks were – the street address – know it was near the lake and remember open fields – not built up like it is now – but, there was a bus or streetcar that would take us into Toronto. Thank you.
Good to read your message, Carole. David Webster and others have mentioned an old army barracks in the Lakeview area. if I correctly recall what they had said about the barracks, they were built not far from the Small Arms plant that existed in Lakeview during the Second World War. I will check with them to see if they have more precise details about where the army barracks were located.
Fascinating comments. Wonderful to hear from Colleen O’Marra, who attended Christ the King School in Long Branch, a few years behind me, during the early ’50s. I spent seven unforgettable years in those crowded, post-war accommodations, the Army Camp and the Staff House, jammed with families from Toronto unable to find housing. Amazing, did I see a reference to “SHEP?” We used that as our postal return when we lived at the Army Camp, 1948/49, and later at the Staff House, 1949 to 1955. Both sites had schools, since the “tenants” did not pay taxes to Peel County, but I walked every day over the Etobicoke Creek, up the hill past the Long Branch Loop, to Christ the King School. My mother was a die-hard Catholic, and wanted her brood immersed in that faith. I really envied my pals in the Staff House who could sleep in until 8:30 or so, and just walk down the hallway in the building to get to class.
My recollections of those years remain vivid. We romped over the fields just west of Small Arms, swam in the lake during the summer, and as young teens caddied at the Toronto Golf Club. That’s where I got to met Toronto’s so-called, business “elite,” and they were one tight-fisted group; tipping was not permitted. We were dirt poor, but so many experiences were wonderful. I recall the flats, now Marie Curtis Park, flooded every spring when the Etobicoke surged, and finally leveled by Hurricane Hazel. I shake my head at the memory of that garbage dump. More stuff was lugged back by kids from the AC and SH than was buried. What we “salvaged” was amazing. Can you imagine, today, a garbage dump on the shore of pristine Lake Ontario?
I have so much to ramble on about. What still stings is the shame I felt when telling people in Long branch where I lived. Even a kid, I sensed the stigma of living in what now is called, “subsidized housing.” Some of my chums, from both Camp and the Staff House, later relocated to Regent Park, hailed in the mid-’50s as the Taj Mahal of public housing.
Thanks to all for the very interesting comments of a time long ago. There is so much I’d like to say, but my keyboarding speed is terribly slow.
For additional comments re: Toronto-area postwar emergency housing, click here >
Thank you for letting me know about the research that Kevin Brushett has done, Douglas. I was not aware of his research about postwar housing, until you told me about it.
My name Norah Coyle Shaw. I lived in both the Army Camp, and the Staff House. Went to grade school in SH. No idea how poor I was till high school, in Toronto proper. I remember the dump, and how many treasures we brought home to our Mother’s. Take an old baby buggie fill it up with treasure and off you go. I remember Hurricane Hazel very well. I think I was about thirteen then. I remember the Etobicoke bridge was cracked. I was on the west side,
my uncle was on the east side, and neither could cross. Pleasant Valley trailer camp was there then, and so was the Dominion store, with all the carnival rides in the summer, and all the hay on the ground for walking. People smoking and throwing their butts on the hay, it’s a wonder we all survived. Although if you lived in the AC or the SH I guess you could survive
most anything. My memories of those days are sweet and innocent, groups of kids playing together, telling secrets, kissing boys, playing sports, dancing and just loving life. Total opposite of what I see today. When Pleasant Valley was gone for a few years, two condos were built on that site. I lived in one of those condos til 1996.
My brother was Ken Coyle also George Chiasson, Biff Butler, Ted Nesbit, Garry Burke, and many others. I better go, it’s late,and I’m rambling……..
Hi to you Jaan, when you read this…..Take care
Wonderful to read your message, Norah.
We owe many thanks to Douglas Hanlon who contacted me, quite some time ago now, and said that it would be great to have information at the Preserved Stories website about postwar emergency housing in the Toronto area.
It’s wonderful that so many people have been able to touch base with each other, and compare memories and share insights, after all these years!