The "Fightingest" Ratepayers

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This logo of three adjoining gabled houses which used to appear on ABC correspondence and newsletters was drawn for ABC by the celebrated Toronto artist Albert Franck (1899-1973) at the request of his neighbour Ellen Adams. These three houses are 77, 79, and 81 Hazelton at the south-east corner with Berryman, not far from 90 Hazelton where Franck and his wife, artist Florence Vale, made their home. Franck loved old houses and tried to capture Toronto neighbourhoods in his art before, he explained, they turned into parking lots.

ABC and Its Beginning

In the 1940s, a teenager envisioned tall buildings marching up Avenue Road north of Bloor Street. Naively delighted at the thought, she constantly mentioned these future high-rises to her mother and to her neighbours. But her announcements had an unforeseen effect: Her mother, Ingeborg Rorvik Fogelberg (Mrs. George) a Scollard Street ratepayer as well as an Elgin Avenue resident, realized that tall buildings would overshadow the nearby residential areas and alter street life forever. A few years later, Fogelberg was instrumental in founding the ancestor of ABC, the Bay Avenue Road Ratepayers' Association. Residents remember her dashing door-to-door and enthusiastically engaging neighbours in local issues. Along with this impressive energy and her tenacity and desire to improve life for residents, she was blessed with the ability to relate to almost everyone, no matter the age, status or political view.

Fogelberg's milieu, Yorkville, a working-class district at that time, was already reeling from the destruction of the Victorian houses on Cumberland Street to make room for the Bloor-Danforth subway line. The danger of other buildings being razed to provide not only parking for Bloor Street but land for high-rise developments that would tower over the Yorkville-area houses seemed real. The village would also soon experience the famous teenage/hippie invasion that brought unexpected challenges. In those early years, working together were residents and small business owners who remodelled their existing houses in harmony with their character and who were led by Yorkville's “unofficial mayor,” interior designer and antique shop owner Budd Sugarman - in 2018, he was honoured with a Heritage Toronto plaque in the little park named after him on Yonge Street at Aylmer Avenue. The two groups shared a common desire to protect the village atmosphere with its coffee houses and galleries from the encroachment of invasive development and unsuitable change. However, by the mid-1970s, this alliance had dramatically changed with ABC and the Village of Yorkville Association, that had been co-founded by Budd, battling over the right mix of residential and commercial. The members of the latter group were concerned, of course, with the survival of their businesses.

1957: This was the year that Fogelberg and her son-in-law Roger Jackson, then a Scollard Street resident and now the only surviving member of the inaugural group, attended the first meeting of the Association with about 10 other residents in the home of Mae and G. Ronald Mayne at 37 Hazelton Avenue. Ida Jackson, that naive and eager teenager, remembered her mother declined the presidency believing that, in the late 1950s, a man would have more authority; the Jacksons think that a plumber on Hazelton, probably Frank Soule at no.10, agreed to be the first president. The initial resolution of the Bay Avenue Road Ratepayers' Association stated that, as taxpayers, tenants had the right to be members, not a commonly held belief then. Membership was free although supporting memberships were welcome. The Association aimed to protect the rights of small home owners and to improve community life. The new organization benefited from the considerable assistance of Louis Duncan, a lawyer active in the long-established Annex Ratepayers’ Association. It seems Fogelberg was finally convinced to take on the role of president or chairman and she did so from 1958 to 1964.

Fogelberg was joined in a year or two by another influential and high-energy resident, Ellen Adams, 51 Hazelton, who served the Association for 20 years before moving away in the fall of 1979. Her archival files at York University reveals she emigrated from Germany in 1948 and later changed her name to Adams for her run (unsuccessful) for a seat in the provincial legislature in 1963; her wide interests and involvements included those with the CCF and then the NDP where she was assistant to the provincial leader, Donald C. MacDonald and then Stephen Lewis. Admired for her common sense, good humour and steadfast persistence, she proved a strong opponent of both the Spadina Expressway which would have carelessly destroyed neighbourhoods in order to funnel suburban traffic quickly downtown as well as the proposed Greenwin apartment development next to Ramsden Park.

Honouring Fogelberg and Adams: ABC was finally able to honour these two activists publicly, but only after several years of lively discussions with the City: On June 21, 1989, at a ceremony in Ramsden Park chaired by ABC past president, architect David Freeman, two benches and two Kentucky Coffee Bean trees were dedicated to Inga Rorvik Fogelburg [sic], 1898-1987, and Ellen Adams, 1925-1982. Budd Sugarman, who had worked closely with both women, and another ABC past president, historian and author Jack Granatstein, commemorated their outstanding contributions to the community and to the City. In 2018 and in the previous year, two new benches with plaques were  installed in the park.

Name Changes: In 1968, partly because of the threat of that Greenwin development on land just west of Ramsden Park (see below), Bay Avenue Road Ratepayers joined with residents to the north of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) tracks to form the Avenue Bay Cottingham (A-B-C) Ratepayers' Association. This liaison lasted only several years because, in December 1971 or early 1972, the residents south of the CPR tracks and those north of them agreed on an amicable separation and Cottingham withdrew, but the letter C remained - now referring to the CPR tracks. In February 1972, following the fashion, the Executive voted to change the word “Ratepayers” to “Residents” to exclude non-residents, i.e., absentee landlords and business owners who lived elsewhere, thus making it a true residents' association. In April 1976, the Name Committee recommended dropping the street names because they were no longer descriptive, and this suggestion was approved. A vote at the 1984 AGM rejected a new name, North Midtown Area Residents' Association, and confirmed ABC as the Association's name - as have further discussions.

Activities

Over the years, ABC has been involved in many issues both in its own catchment area and in the City, including traffic, expressways, rail speed and safety, noise, heritage, development, parks and green space, and signage. Here are two memorable battles in which the Association was successfully involved in its early decades:

Fighting for Yorkville

Development has been an on-going concern for ABC residents. In the 1960s, the Association waged some of its best battles. The following headline and article appeared in the Toronto Telegram on June 13, 1969:
Ramsden Park – Yorkville, The Fightingest Ratepayer . . . [J. Gordon Gibson] is president of the city’s fightingest ratepayers group. It’s the Avenue-Bay-Cottingham Association and you’ll find it fighting for Ramsden Park, trying to save Yorkville and battling    against a parking garage on Cumberland St. . . . Mr. Gibson and his group feel the character of Yorkville will be destroyed if high-rise is allowed in the Village interior.  “This is a unique area,” he says. “People like to live here because it’s convenient. It’s close to stores, schools, the museum. Something really worthwhile could be done with this area if the City would only provide some zoning stability.”

The Globe and Mail, earlier on April 29, 1969, had published the article, “Yorkville heads will fight” in which Pierre Berton supported the residents by urging them to put every politician on the spot about Yorkville, since it was an election year, and to mount a strong public relations campaign to save the village. Berton continued, “Yorkville is of vital importance to everyone who uses this city. It is the hinge on which the future of this city depends.”

These and other articles, editorials, and letters to the editor in the Toronto newspapers, plus radio and TV coverage, were the result of a lively campaign and the formation in April 1969 of a “Save Yorkville Now Committee” which was “dedicated to the intelligent development of the Yorkville area.” The honorary chairman of this impressive Committee was architect John C. Parkin, and the chairman was ABC president J. Gordon Gibson, backed by ABC, South Rosedale Ratepayers’ Association, and the Village of Yorkville Association; the steering committee consisted of 23 stellar supporters. Their letter of May 23, 1969 to the Mayor, Board of Control and City Council protested the destruction of Yorkville, in general, and the proposed construction of a 21-storey apartment hotel at the north-west corner of Hazelton and Yorkville, in particular.

Toronto chief planner, Dennis A. Barker, had warned Council that the construction of this hotel would lead to many other high-rise proposals in Yorkville. That apartment hotel was not built and the York Row Victorian houses underwent an unfortunate re-clad; this site at Yorkville and Hazelton, these Victorian houses having been demolished, does now feature a hotel. The spirited fighting nature of ABC residents and their supporters at least bought some time for Yorkville. (“Save Yorkville” was revived in 2003 for the development at 100 Yorkville, site of the first Jewish hospital in Canada.)

Note: If ABC has not been able to stop all inappropriate development and hence the destruction of Yorkville, it has been able to negotiate improvements to many of them. Moreover, when projects affect more than one neighbourhood, ABC has joined with other residents’ associations, such as the Annex and South Rosedale: ABC supported South Rosedale in their successful challenge to development in the park next to the Rosedale subway station and also supported them on the working committee for the Marathon development on the east side of Yonge Street.

Defending Ramsden Park

The largest park in the ABC area was named after Alderman J. George Ramsden, a Yorkville Avenue resident, when it became a park in 1904, the brickyards having been closed for several years. This park survived an attempt in the 1950s to build a community centre and pool with the odoriferous and noisy work yard remaining; in 1960, a major league baseball stadium for 40,000 (no franchise appeared); and in 1966 and several years following, the Bay Street extension to the north. ABC members have always been tough defenders of Ramsden Park and when yet another threat appeared in the 1960s, they vigorously fought back.

In 1967, Greenwin developers had obtained Aura Lee, the three-acre former playing grounds of the University of Toronto in a trade with the University. This land abutted the west end of Ramsden, and Greenwin had accumulated enough land for two apartment buildings but decided to construct a 29-storey apartment building plus 17 townhouses, a project approved by the City since it would be receiving in exchange 1.6 acres of the northern section of Aura Lee for the park. Residents, including our Ellen Adams and Inge Fogelberg, and supporters such as Jane Jacobs, Colin Vaughan, the League of Women Voters, and Municipal Affairs Minister Darcy McKeough, vehemently objected. At the OMB, Chair Aloysius Kennedy listened to the outraged residents and overturned the City's decision. Greenwin offered another trade: Aura Lee for the Ramsden Park work yard where the developer would build two 34-storey apartment buildings.

Once again, furious residents objected. On June 5, 1969, ABC hosted a public rally, Save The Park, which was endorsed by surrounding residents' associations; it attracted more than 3,000 people. The City ended up buying Aura Lee which was then added to the park. In 1975, residents, led by the energetic and fearless ABC director Diana Midwinter Sharpe of Pears Avenue, who had earlier been captured by a newspaper photographer confronting a bulldozer over the Aura Lee development, also fought successfully for the partial closure of Pears Avenue. This prevented its use as a throughway between Avenue Road and Yonge by cars and trucks with most of the latter heading to the problematic work yard. Of course, the closure also dramatically improved everyone’s enjoyment of the park - as did the 17 cherry trees planted there by Mitsubishi in 1994.

 

A fuller version of the early history of ABC may be available at the 2018 AGM on October 11.

These notes by Dee Dyer, ABC Board member from 1986 to 2017, came from various sources, including ABC.