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Archive for the ‘decade’ Category

For this series of blog posts marking our #DECAde, we are looking back on where DECA started, how far we’ve come and where the next 10 years might take us and our neighbourhood. We are including interviews with some of DECA’s founders and other info and tidbits from DECA’s “archives”.  Like this photo from the 2008 AGM at the Earl Haig Library. 👇🏼

How DECA formed

So how did DECA get started? The story is best told through the memories of some of our earliest Board members.  You heard from them in Part 1 of this series about what the neighbourhood was like back in 2007.  Here’s how Peter Schmiedchen, Catherine Porter, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Natasha Granatstein, Alison McMurray and Mary Vallis did something about it. 

AM: East Lynn Park was starting to be more of a meeting place for the families in the neighbourhood but at that time, the playground was a mishmash of leftovers and the swings had 11 coats of paint on them. We desperately wanted new equipment and a shaded sandbox, however funding for parks was a challenging post-amalgamation. I started a dialogue with Parks and Rec and they were able to bring some equipment over that had been languishing in their storage shed. The neighbourhood sent 2 petitions to the Councillors over the years but nothing more was done. The park was being used for a bike theft ring and as a drug dealers’ paradise and the community felt that a better more usable park would make the illegal element feel exposed and force them to move on. In around 2006 after 10 years of asking, we finally got word that we would get our new playground.  Two things happened: the drug dealers moved out and the community came together and wanted to form a community association.  

CP: At first, it was just people on my street and a few friends. Then, someone told me about Mary-Margaret. And someone else got me in touch with Alison McMurray and they came. We had some small group meetings first and then decided to hold a community meeting at Gledhill. We made some flyers — nothing fancy like the ones DECA has now — and put them up. We figured 15 people might show up. More than 100 came. We realized, the neighbourhood was looking for many changes and hungry for ways to help start them.

PS: I remember Catherine Porter stopped me on her bike one day in the alley behind our houses, and we were opining about how we’d love our area to grow into a thriving ‘scene’ like what Leslieville was experiencing. It was evident that, even if we couldn’t open 20 cool restaurants, we could be a huge part of encouraging that growth. Catherine said she’d been thinking of a community group that could help push the neighbourhood forward – I was definitely in. A few months later, we had the first meeting in her dining room to talk about the formation of such a group. I remember that we drank a lot of wine, and talked about things we wished for in the neighbourhood.  

NG: I got on board after the initial meeting at Gledhill, once the original crew decided to expand west to Coxwell. My first meeting was at Cath’s dining room. I meekly raised my hand and said I would write a little newsletter. After a few meetings, many of original people at that meeting had fallen away and it was just the core group. We took turns hosting at each other’s houses while we drafted the charter and by-laws, drank wine and ate chocolate. I don’t remember how I became the Chair to be quite honest. But Cath said she would be vice-chair and we would be a team!  

MMM: I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable Miracle” and getting freaked out about food security. So at our 2nd meeting I said, “I want to start a farmers’ market!” Alison said, “Well if we do, it has to be in East Lynn Park!” Cath leaned over and wrote on my paper, “I want to help!” Never met these powerhouse women before in my life and here we were embarking on one of the original catalysts that would transform our neighbourhood!

NG: We spent a lot of time talking about whether to call ourselves a residents’ association or a community association. I advocated for “community” because I liked the idea that residents, businesses and other organizations like schools and churches could all see their place in a community association. It was symbolic of the approach that DECA took in its infancy to be a positive, collaborative force to bring people together. We didn’t form to fight something. We formed to improve our neighbourhood. I think that gestalt is still what draws people to be involved in ways big and small. 

MV: I joined DECA’s board in 2008 and was on parental leave at the time. I needed a project. Someone came to a meeting and mentioned the neighbourhood needed an arts event and the creaky cogs in my brain started turning. I’d been in a few craft fairs and knew how they worked. So I started a committee and a whole bunch of interesting people turned out. Together we founded the Danforth East Arts Fair. It had about 31 tents its first year in East Lynn Park; these days, that number is more than 60. The people who founded DECA were some of the most motivated I’d ever seen. Something would need doing, and they’d do it. The results are all around us, in our beautiful parks, in the community events advertised on bulletin boards, in the air as people say hello to each other and in the beautiful storefronts that now line our strip. 

Fun fact: At the 2008 AGM, pictured above, there were 22 members there, and each one was given an apple to use for voting. (Spoiler alert: The apple voting system did not catch on.)

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DECA memberships are $10/household to support our community initiatives including our weekly Farmers’ Market, Diversity Scholarship, annual Arts Fair, Pumpkin Parade, Tree Lighting Festival, #DanforthEast Yard Sale, DECA Pride LGBTQ+ group and more! Sign up here.

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For this series of blog posts marking our 10th year, (our DECAde) we are looking back on where DECA started, how far we’ve come and where the next 10 years might take us and our neighbourhood. We are including interviews with some of DECA’s founding and earliest Board members along with other info and tidbits from DECA’s “archives”. 

That was then

Ten years ago, the stretch of Danforth from Monarch Park to Main Street was bleak. Walkability had been in decline since the introduction of the subway in 1966. Storefronts were empty, parks were sketchy and unsafe and residents were disconnected. Back then you had to leave the neighbourhood to buy things, go for coffee or enjoy a night out. We had no smartphones or social media. There was no path forward to get the neighbourhood closer to its potential.

Check out this Globe & Mail article from August 2006 about Danforth East called The rougher end of the Danforth.

In 2007, a group of neighbours started meeting around dining room tables, eventually forming DECA. Among that group were Peter Schmiedchen, Catherine Porter, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Natasha Granatstein, Alison McMurray and Mary Vallis. This is what the neighbourhood was like when they moved here.  

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PS: My wife and I moved here in 2002. We had been renting at Danforth and Greenwood, and when we decided to buy, we told our Real Estate agent we didn’t want to look anywhere East of Pape. Knowing our own area, we didn’t think that the areas further east were going to be places we would want to settle down. However, after realizing that Pape was waaaay out of our price range, and looking at 60+ houses around East York and Leslieville, our agent finally talked us into showing us an area near Woodbine. We were wary, but agreed as we were weary of house hunting. She took us to a house on Keystone Avenue and we fell in love. At once, we knew that this was the neighbourhood we wanted to remain in. The downside was the lack of great restaurants and shops on our stretch of the Danforth.

MV: I moved to the neighbourhood in 2006 with my husband. The decision was based solely on the fact he wanted a house with a basement high enough to stand up in, and easy access to the subway line. At the time, we got little else. But after forging friendships with our neighbours and connecting with colleagues in the neighbourhood, we saw its potential and both dedicated what spare time we had to helping make it a great place to live.

NG: We moved here in 2004. Our real estate agent did not want us to buy on the east side of Coxwell and REFUSED to sell us anything east of Woodbine. When my oldest son was born in 2006, I spent a lot of time pushing a stroller around the neighbourhood. I got very thin because it was a LONG walk to even get to a coffee shop that I was willing to enter into with my infant son. It was so puzzling that people were spending a whack of money on houses in the neighbourhood, but there were no shops that catered to them on the Danforth. People obviously had money to spend, but there was nowhere local to spend it.

CP: My husband and I moved into our house on Keystone in September 2004. What was it like? Grungy, I’d say. It felt desolate. We had a daughter in Feb. 2006, who was very colicky. The only way to calm her down was to tie her onto our bodies and walk briskly around. So, I saw the neighbourhood at all hours. I started to look at it in ways I hadn’t before, because I was always nipping in and out. I saw the boarded up storefronts. Mostly, I noticed young girls getting picked up for tricks outside of Sobeys in the early hours of the night and I worried that no one was on the street to watch out for them.

MMM: We were renting an apartment in the Beach Triangle and put an offer in on a dirt cheap house on Cedarvale in 1994. We weren’t super keen on the neighbourhood and figured we would only stick around for a few years – 5 max! There were many derelict empty shops. The Danforth had a filthy feel to it and we had a neighbour who used to pee on our lawn.  It wasn’t till we had kids that we actually started exploring the parks in the neighbourhood and were shocked to see how many we actually have in a such a close proximity! 

AM: My husband Patrick grew up in the east end so when it was time to buy a house, a small East York bungalow fit the bill. The neighbourhood had a few gems on the Danforth like Monte’s, Biway and Royal Beef but overall it was quite desolate. There were lots of young families moving into the area and we met daily in East Lynn Park.

CP: I had worked at City Hall as a reporter, and had witnessed the power of community organizations, mostly to say no to developments. But I thought — maybe we could work together to change our neighbourhood, and bring some life into it. I asked neighbours over to my house for wine and cheese and conversation. That’s how we got started.

Fact: There was no Business Improvement Area (BIA) along our stretch of Danforth in 2007. The Danforth Mosaic BIA was formed in 2008. 

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DECA memberships are only $10/household to support our community initiatives including our weekly Farmer’s Market, Diversity Scholarship, annual Arts Fair, Pumpkin Parade, Tree Lighting Festival, #DanforthEast Yard Sale, DECA Pride LGBTQ+ group and more! Sign up here.

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