Pages Navigation Menu

East York people, places, events & insights

OPINION: It’s time we got more use out of our East York Civic Centre

The East York Civic Centre has long been a cherished public space for East York.

When we were our own municipality, it was our East York City Hall.  Residents could often walk in, pay their bills and more often than not, the person on the other side of the counter was an East Yorker.

The Borough of East York had their council meetings every two weeks and they were always in the evening because the council had long believed that they should be at night to encourage residents to attend and offer feedback on the important matters that were before the Borough Council.

The Mayor of East York was a full-time position while the eight Councillors were part-time positions.  If you wanted to call your councillor at home, you could.  East York took great pride on customer service.

I understand that the East York Council was the only municipality of seven that allowed any resident to speak to the council directly if it wasn’t on the agenda.  In the other municipalities, if the resident wanted to speak, the item had to be on the agenda.

On January 1, 1998, just over 20 years ago, a forced amalgamation by the Government of Ontario saw seven levels of governments melded into one and East York, along with the five other municipalities and Metro Council, was absorbed into the megacity of Toronto.

The East York Civic Centre of today is a much quieter city building.  Community groups still meet there in the evening and, from time to time, the City of Toronto convenes a public meeting like the ones on January 10 for input into the city budget.

I believe that there are a number of steps that the city could take to improve greater participation from the people in our community.

When we were amalgamated in 1998 Mayor Mel Lastman saw it as a priority to keep the former municipalities as strong as possible.  Hence there were six community councils representing the six municipalities that made up the new Toronto.  The first East York Community Council, first consisting of then Councillors Michael Prue and Deputy Mayor Case Ootes, and a bit later Jane Pitfield, met monthly at the East York Civic Centre but those meetings started at 9:30 a.m., not in the evening, maing it difficult for residents to attend and speak out on the important issues.

In 2003, the city service models were changed and Toronto became a municipality with districts and East York was blended into the Toronto-East York area and that’s what we’re part of today.

Community Council meetings meet most months at Toronto City Hall and not at the East York Civic Centre.  They meet at Toronto City Hall at Bay and Queen.  Meanwhile the Scarborough Community Council meets at the Scarborough Civic Centre, the North York Community Council meets at the North York Civic Centre and the Etobicoke-York Community Council meet at the Etobicoke Civic Centre.

It’s quite clear from that the former municipalities of York and East York are being shortchanged as they have been absorbed by Etobicoke and the City of Toronto respectively.

But all that can be easily fixed by alternating the Toronto-East York Community Council meetings and having them meet in East York every other month.  There is also no reason why the community councils can’t meet, say starting, at 6:00 p.m.

Is there an added cost because of staff time?  Definitely, but as Mr. Lastman once said when he was criticized for having a by-election in 1998 to elect another councillor for East York, he said, “that’s the cost of democracy.” and I believe that to be the case here.

The many standing committees and the Budget Committee all meet at 9:30 a.m. at Toronto City Hall and I think they can also be moved around the city, on an alternating basis, to all of the major civic centres and former city halls that once made up Metro Toronto.

Naysayers might say it can’t be done, but it can be.  It would be a much needed and welcomed change for our local government to truly be accessible to the people that they serve and it would give our civic centres, like the former East York City Hall, a renewed purpose.

Justin Van Dette is a community organizer who serves as President of the East York Hall of Fame and on the Board of the East York Historical Society, the O’Connor Bermondsey Business Association and the Parkview Hills Community Association.  He can be reached at

Hey Listen Up!