Thursday, December 21, 2023

Wonderful life on Elsfield

I had lived in 16 different houses, apartments, rooms, and rooming houses, and had at least 16 part-time jobs and two reporting ones, before I ended at 92 Elsfield Rd. and my work as a writer.

Somehow I had always drifted west even though I had been born in the east end where streetcars ground past my father's house on Gerrard. He died there, overworked as a family doctor and school trustee, launching me on a dizzy round of relatives, homes and empty holidays.

When I came to Sunnylea nearly 60 years ago, where once there had been an orchard with an underground creek reeking havoc with construction near Glenroy, it was a decent haven of solid families. I knew it would be when the alderman-realtor talked me into buying the house of the TD bank manager just up on Bloor St. Changes came, of course, and not just humble ones. One of three supermarkets became the world's first adventure in cable TV where we paid to watch first-run movies by putting coins into a gizmo on top of the TV.

I covered politics. So I gathered there would be a subway line and station at the big corner. And three Metro Toronto giants lived just blocks away, with the works commissioner to the north, the planing commissioner to the west and the parks commissioner to the south. Famous for innovations like Tommy Thompson with his sign Please Walk On The Grass. 

Sunnylea was anchored by a school, and not just an ordinary one but one famous in architecture as the model for new elementary schools in the country with doors leading outside from every class. The architect, John Parkin, was a bit of a bon vivant who owned two big houses across from Royal York United Church and later designed unique buildings like the new city hall which was so different that the mayor gulped when the model was unveiled. The school had advancement classes where the brightest in the borough were bussed in but the rest of the kids walked while the parents worried about the lack of sidewalks.

The more ambitious parents played volleyball one evening a week at the school. Their children joined a legendary Scout pack that Audrey Jolley ran strictly in the church basement and fathers were dragooned into helping one weekend camp each fall. Once a year I would buy mounds of fireworks and fire them off in an orgy at the school yard, and the watchers would rate the rockets for a story I would write in the Tely. All the Sunnylea kids sang carols one noon at the church and there was a grand costume parade in the school yard every Halloween.

There are always blind spots when you slip into your anecdotage. Just what was the name of the minister at the church who became the moderator of the United Church? How many wives glazed  creche figures at the church? Who was the woman who edited the major astronomy magazine? What number was the house of the sister of the director of education?

Some evenings when the street lights bounce off the wet pavement and the kids are long gone from their zig zag splash through the puddles, I listen to the mutter of the city beyond the Humber and am grateful that decades ago I had enough sense to buy into this bit of peace.

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