Seeking information: Wartime and postwar housing at Small Arms Ltd. in Lakeview and elsewhere
Please note that subsequent posts include:
Where will the people go: Toronto’s Emergency Housing Program and the Limits of Canadian Social Housing Policy, 1944-1957
Ted Long shares photos from the Long Branch army camp in the 1950s; with comments from Ted Long & Garry Burke
Life at the Long Branch Army Camp, long, long ago! – Garry Burke shares additional comments
Toronto’s 1950s emergency housing: An informative, comprehensive overview by Kevin Brushett (2007)
First comment from Garry Burke
At a post entitled Long Branch Rifle Range(s), Small Arms Building, and the Arsenal Lands, Garry Burke has added the following comments, which I read with much interest. Comments from site visitors are so interesting to read, and are of such tremendous value; I am pleased that this website can serve as a resource enabling us to share such great stories, that are truly worth preserving:
“Interesting. As a child, I spent 7 memorable years at the Army Camp and Staff House. The former were barracks used by troops during WW 2. The Staff House was a large wooden apartment complex housing the hundreds of young women who worked shifts at the Small Arms during the war. We lived at both sites. I probably romped over every square foot of those fields, and the rifle range to the west; great swimming spots in the summer down at the lake. There were even schools in both locations, since the ‘residents’ did not pay taxes to Peel County. They were, in reality, Toronto’s first venture into subsidized/emergency housing. Many of my friends eventually relocated to Regent Park. I could write a book about those times, and the many amazing folks who lived in those two locations. During the Korean War, my mother had a part-time job at the Small Arms. During the summers we got used to the sounds of Bren guns being test fired. I would love to hear from anyone who shared those experiences. There were hordes of kids who grew up in the AC/SH.”
Second comment from Garry Burke
At another post, entitled David Webster, who grew up in Long Branch (Toronto not New Jersey), has a great recollection of local history dating back to the 1940s, Garry Burke writes:
“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.”
Comment from Cairine Johnson
As well, I read with much interest the following comment, from Cairine Johnson at a previous post entitled A History of Long Branch:
“I agree with Jean about the dance hall (we used to stand near the band (outside the fence) and they’d give us some money to buy the pop or smokes (keep the change ) probably a nickel or so , also the ball field down in the hollow, you could just sit on the hill and watch the games. We enjoyed the water, swimming from one pier to the other. Yes, good times, children could be children (go outside and play), no TV, computers etc. I went to the Long Branch Continuation school, I even remember some teachers names and how we got the rest of the day off when the war was over. Used to swim in the creek as well and catch the small crabs, memories. What a great read, I lived on 33rd st. in a house with lots of trees and a big veranda. Happy times, but short lived..”
[End of comments]
Comment from Jaan Pill
I am starting to work on an overview, at this website, of wartime and postwar housing at locations such as the Small Arms Ltd. munitions plant (at Lakeshore Road East and Dixie Road) in Mississauga and elsewhere in Canada.
If you have an information, regarding primary or secondary sources, and contact information for people who have memories of such housing, etc., can you please contact me through this website. For example, you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve learned of some good leads, for information, and will follow up on those leads.
I want to thank Douglas Hanlon for contacting me, to ask for my help in putting together some information regarding the history of such wartime and postwar housing in Canada.
In the course of Jane’s Walks that I’ve organized in recent years, and at Doors Open events at the Small Arms Building, where I’ve talked with a wide range of people, I’ve picked up bits and pieces about such wartime housing, but I look forward to learning much more. I’ve also come across information (some of it decidedly anecdotal and subjective) from time to time in my readings, and in reporting and interviews over the years.
Any help that you can provide, by way of sharing any leads or further, detailed information will be much appreciated.
Click on images to enlarge them; click again to enlarge them further
Why is Long Branch associated with the Long Branch Rifle Ranges, even though the rifle ranges were not in Long Branch?
The answer to this interesting question is available at a post entitled:
When you put things in the correct context, you get a better idea of what you are dealing with. The growth of wartime housing came about out of need. Young men in WWI left their family homes and were accepted into the Canadian forces to the tune of some 620,000 young men. Of that number some 67,000 died in WWI and an additional 250,000 were wounded. That left 603,000 returning soldiers who did not want to move back home but rather, find a wife and start a family.
Eventually, the 250,000 would also return, some in better shape than others. Of those many would eventually recover and they too would want to start a family. Keep in mind that the young man of 18 was now the battle-worn older man of 23. The thoughts turned away from war and towards peace. Hence the country would expect some 700,000 young men or so getting married and wanting to start a family.
I am guessing that the government of Canada did in the first war the same thing they did in the second war, ensure that the men that did return had their original job to go back to and eventually and over the years that followed they found themselves back at their old job or moving on as other opportunities seemed more attractive. Similar procedures were introduced in WWII where almost 1.1 million people went to war. Of that number 44,000 died and 54,000 returned home injured.
Every city had its special hospital for the long term care of veterans, those who would never get to go home. All veterans were supported when it came to buying houses because they had supported their country in a time of need. All that was really needed was a starter house for most of these individuals and those who were part of the working class did not aspire to more than their small community residence, quite happy to raise a family there and remain.
Long before the war ended, the government saw the need for cheap and simple housing in large numbers. Toronto was more prone to the working class than Montreal, the two largest cities so the areas that developed the most rapidly were those that contained the largest number of working class people. Hence all over Toronto, small areas were developed as communities and every house was the same. A young newly married couple would need little else for five or ten years and life went on.
If you take the area known as New Toronto you will see how the simple numbering of streets from First Street to Fortieth Street [in Long Branch] progressed as the need for additional housing was needed. You will also find houses that were originally built a hundred years ago, often updated with a second floor as time passes. At the same time, some communities did not change at all like the houses built after WWII that border on the Queensway just west of Royal York Blvd. A study of maps will quickly show the growth areas after WWI and WWII as new communities developed to fill the needs of the working classes returning home.
Communities were attracted to areas where large factories like Campbell Soup and Christie Biscuits with easy access by streetcars. The area known as the loop just east of the growth area was once the end of the streetcar line. The same applied up on St. Clair at the stockyards where the end of the line was the loop for the streetcar as well. Growth in Toronto has been a continuous thing.
What is today the area west of Royal York Road right through to Weston Road was once nothing more that a quarry where Con Smythe’s family made its fortune supplying gravel for Toronto roads. At the end of my own apartment building, old Toronto can be seen in the ancient columns that once held up a multi-storey building but now are used to extend the property over the lake. Growth comes in spurts. Both the 1920s and the 1950s saw baby booms when all of the other needs of a growing community showed themselves.
People were the same then as they are now, just living in a different era with different realities. We bury our dead and move on with our lives. If you think about all the high schools that are around, many of them go back to the period of the 1920s as do many old university buildings who were now catering to a whole new bunch of students, veterans of WWI and subsequently WWII who were able to get government grants to return to school.
If you have ever taken a train from Mimico station and stood waiting for it while looking around. You cannot help but notice a building called the Blue Goose Tavern just south of the fence. North of the same spot once stood the old railway station that was saved by locals in the early 2000s as an eventual museum as money permits. It was moved west to Judson and Royal York.
One has to wonder what it is that would make someone build a tavern on a back street. The answer is simple. It was actually built by the Grand Trunk Railway along with the original station in 1916 and dedicated as the Windsor Hotel which just celebrated its hundredth anniversary. It stood at the head of Mimico, a street that looks like what it used to be, the village main street of shops and businesses but today is nothing more than a great many homes that still look like shops on the outside but no longer are shops.
If you look closely in most communities you will find one old building that looks like it once stood as the farmhouse. As time passed the land was sold off and it disappeared into the back street somewhere having lost the former glory as a large farmhouse but having remained as a family home. We have to keep in mind that all things change with time.
The Blue Goose Tavern was once the proud hotel where travelling salesmen would take a room for the night while they tried to sell their wares to the local village the next day. The railway tracks consisted of one or two sets of rails back then and not the half dozen or so of today. Very simply you crossed the tracks in a north or south direction and reached your destination very quickly, the station building to buy a ticket or the hotel to take a room.
Considering that the first train station at that spot was built in the 1850s and replaced by the second building in 1916, in time a simple ticket office replaced the old station and now as building goes on in the lot it backs onto, no doubt a new ticket office will emerge over the next few years. Growth is something you cannot stop as long as someone can see a benefit in bringing it about. When Kraft Foods bought Christie Biscuits, it gained 27 acres of land and a lot of buildings. Plans are afloat to build another community on that land in time. Since highrise condominiums are the way to go these days, developers have been putting together parcels of land hoping that eventually, they will get all they need to start building.
Sometimes you just have to outwait the old guy who does not want to move and doesn’t care about the money he is being offered. These days, the small houses that were once the only standard in the area, are now turning into two-storey homes or homes with an extension added, sometimes in front, other times in the back. The community at the bottom of Fourth Street in New Toronto has what some might consider an eyesore of a two-storey building with large cement blocks stopping people from getting into the building.
Attempts have been made to demolish the building, alter the building but the city won’t allow this to happen. The building itself was a recovery home for WWI injured soldiers. as they died off or moved on it offered continual support to those who needed it. Located right on the lake, it filled a similar need at the end of WWII but now that all the veterans have gone, it serves no purpose and its future is unknown.
At the same time, you can identify the houses that first built around the area as more than a hundred years old and then the ones that were added as the community expanded west. Everything has its time. If you look west of Toronto along Lake Shore Blvd. you will see a large vacant white building that was once a very successful car dealership. However, as time and conditions in the automobile industry changed so too did this dealership.
It amalgamated with another dealership and downsized in the hope of surviving the recession that was taking its toll on the industry. I love Halibut and there is a new restaurant just opened at the end of my street that I want to go to at some point. It used to be a TD bank. In fact, since I began banking at the TD more than a decade ago, every single branch I have used has moved.
Today, if I need cash, I simply obtain it from my grocery store. What once was old is new again. The large expanse of land that was once a huge sanatorium for the mentally ill is now a modern college campus yet a number of the old buildings have been saved. “Times they are a changing!”
Your overview is of much value, Bob. The details about Mimico history, among your other great details, are fascinating.
I am reminded, as well, of our discussion of some time back about former farmlands, at a previous post:
Toronto and Montreal wiped out their farmsteads
Thank you for sharing the context with us. I like to think that, with all stories, context is a key part of the story. In fact, there are times when the context is the story, or we can say that the context drives the story.
The returning veterans who were able to buy small, one-storey houses in varied parts of Toronto were part of a particular demographic profile. They became a key part of what we like to call the middle class, which in the postwar years was a very large proportion of Canadian society. The shrinkage of the middle class, in the past 70 years, is part of the change in the context, in which people live their lives. That is part of the story of Mimico, New Toronto, Long Branch and many other communities that are now (after Amalgamation) part of the City of Toronto.
Still another part of wartime and postwar demographics are categories of people who, for a wide range of reasons, found themselves dependent on social welfare, of one kind or another. I was interested to read the comment from Mississauga Ward 1 Councillor Jim Tovey, in connection with the archival photo at the top of the current post. I was not aware of the connection between the housing that had been set up in what is now Lakeview in Mississauga, in the 1930s in the Depression years, and the social housing that was in place at the Smalls Arms Ltd. munitions plant during the 1940s.
My new awareness, of that part of the context, gives rise to an awareness that my readings about the topic of wartime and postwar housing will include a study of the history of social welfare policy in Canada. I have done some reading about that topic in the past. I now will be able to continue my reading, in a more focused way than would otherwise have been the case.
Among the Second World War veterans that I’ve had the pleasure to meet – in this case, only online, as I never had the opportunity to meet him in person – has been Phil Gray, a Second World War veteran who, as I recall, lived in New Toronto after the Second World War. As well as being a veteran, he was a journalist, who has written about his experience as part of a wartime Lancaster bomber crew.
Because he had an interest in the topics, related to local history, that I was sharing at my website some years ago, he contacted me, with regard to one of his concerns, as a citizen who had a keen interest in the well-being of his fellow residents. He sent me information about a wide range of door-to-door sales scams, that were going on at the time. One of the items that I posted, directly as a result of a message from Phil Gray, on the topic of door-to-door scams, turned out to be among the most widely read posts at my website.
Until Phil contacted me, I had had no reason to start writing about this topic.
Scams, fraud, and shady dealings take so many forms. My email conversations with the late Phil Gray come to mind when I think about recent news reports, in this case related to housing and senior citizens, such as the following:
A Jan. 6, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Real estate agent warns of ‘lowball’ offers targeting older Toronto homeowners: Some agents believed to be taking advantage of those without real estate market knowledge.”
The topic of social housing, meantime, gives rise to many links, that I can think of. By way of example:
A Jan. 10, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “US housing crisis: what can Ben Carson learn from radical 1960s ‘new town’ plan?: The US housing department’s ambitious initiatives of the 60s and 70s created urban communities that were both mixed race and mixed income. Though many didn’t last, are there lessons in them for Donald Trump’s new housing secretary?”
Some earlier Preserved Stories posts come to mind as well:
Ken Greenberg (2011) talks about early urban planning in Chicago
Framing Regent Park: The National Film Board and the construction of “outcast spaces” in the inner city – 1953 & 1994