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Saving Canada Day: small-town Can-do ethic pulls off EY celebration miracle

EYCDC chair Shannon Timms addresses crowd at Stan Wadlow Park.

EYCDC chair Shannon Timms addresses crowd at Stan Wadlow Park (with Janet Davis at left).

When disaster strikes or an impending threat menaces a small Canadian town, the residents instinctively seem to know what to do: they put differences and everyday priorities aside and band together to deal with the situation.  That same Can-do attitude and ethic has been at work in East York —which while it technically may no longer exist is nevertheless in truth still the epitome of a small town— over the past several weeks.

A small alliance of residents and local leaders coalesced to miraculously save the former borough’s sixtieth annual sesquicentennial Canada Day parade and celebration at Stan Wadlow Park when it looked for a while like it might not happen at all.

In the end, while some were disappointed that there were no midway carnival rides as in some previous years, the efforts of the volunteers and politicians paid off in a parade and celebration that transcended the difficulties and shortcomings to make it a fun, memorable occasion for the thousands who took part in or enjoyed watching the festivities.

Sidewalks on Sammon Ave. were jammed with spectators.

Sidewalks on Sammon Ave. were jammed with spectators.

To a casual observer —and some media outlets such as the CBC and BBC television networks, both of which featured the parade in their reports on Canadian celebrations— the parade (which took about 20 minutes to pass any given point along a route that snaked from Dieppe Park along Cosburn Ave., down Coxwell Ave., across Sammon Ave. and back up Woodbine Ave. before jogging over to Stan Wadlow Park) and festivities at the park (that included ten hours of stage entertainment by several bands, local theatre/music schools and other performance groups, plus a spectacular fireworks show) would have seemed like a well-planned smoothly conducted operation.

Biking advocates were particularly colourful.

Biking advocates were particularly colourful.

In reality most of it was pulled together in just a few months by a tiny group of five volunteers headed up by long-time resident Shannon Timms, who has been attending the parades and park events since she was a child, after it appeared in early February as if the festivities might not go ahead at all.

Ms. Timms told East York Chronicle that when she agreed in January to take over chairmanship of the non-profit organizing East York Canada Day Corporation, she soon realized that “I had to do some serious forensic accounting to figure out what the past administration had done.”

Two proud former mayors of East York, Alan Redway & Michael Prue

Two proud former mayors of East York, Alan Redway & Michael Prue

She discovered that the previous organizers, who had bowed out following last year’s event after many years of service, hadn’t filed follow-up reports from last year that were necessary to get the customary $7,300 Heritage Canada grant and that it was now “way too late for us to qualify for this year.”  There were also still outstanding bills from the 2016 event and once those were paid, by the end of January “it left us with just over $1,500 to pay for the event,” in 2017, she said.

Even with anticipated parade and park booth revenues that would have left a shortfall of close to $15,000, she said, plus it was learned that the operators of the popular midway rides that had attracted families to the park in previous years were now demanding to be paid to be there rather than relying on ticket sales for their revenues.  That certainly couldn’t be added to the already critically limited budget, so the decision had to be made to forgo that attraction this year, she related.

“I won’t lie, I was totally freaking out so I started to put the word out that we need all the help we could get,” Timms, who operates a home daycare business when not organizing parades, told EYC.

Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts with his 'team shirt'.

Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts with his ‘team shirt’.

That is when Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts, community activist Michael Rusek and Ward 31 City Councillor Janet Davis stepped up to the plate, she recounted.

As Mr. Rusek recalled in a social media post to the Danforth-Woodbine Community group on Facebook he started and administers, “an SOS was send out back in February when the parade and event were on the verge of being cancelled.  I am proud to have been able to join the other amazing volunteers who stepped up to make sure that didn’t happen.”

It was decided to introduce a sponsors program to raise funds and Mr. Potts in particular, along with his office assistant Tom McGee, did a spectacular job in that respect, raising about $13,000 from a variety of local businesses and organizations to help save the day.

“When I heard that it might have to be cancelled it was a no-brainer.  I just got on the phone and started calling my contacts,” Potts told EYC in an interview at the park.

Ms. Davis was vital, too, Timms said, lobbying the city’s Parks, Forestry & Recreation department to waive permit fees for Canada Day events, which City Council eventually passed a motion mandating city-wide and working behind the scenes to facilitate other aspects of the affair.  “Janet’s office has been an amazing help this year,” she said.

Impressive precision riding from TPS's motorcycle squad.

Impressive precision riding from TPS’s motorcycle squad.

Between the savings and fundraising, for which Rusek also rallied support, the EYCDC ended up “doing amazingly well and will have a surplus going into next year,” when the organization will also once again qualify for the Heritage funding, Timms says.  [See full list of sponsors below.]

With a colourful, imaginative array of floats and rolling exhibits from more than 30 participants —from community groups, local businesses, politicians and impromptu last-minute joiners with kids in strollers, on bikes and on foot— no one would have been able to tell that the fate of the procession had so recently hung by a thread.  It ended up being “the biggest we’ve had in years,” Timms said.

Residents throng Woodbine Ave north of Cosburn waiting for parade.

Residents throng Woodbine Ave north of Cosburn waiting for parade.

Citizens thronged the sidewalks of all the streets along which the parade travelled, and as the sun came out shortly before the 10 a.m. start —defying the predictions of weather forecasters calling for rain— the glee on the faces of children and delight of adults of all ages all along the route was evident to everyone.

As honourary parade marshal and former EY mayor and MPP until 2014 Michael Prue (who travelled 400 km from his new home to participate) put it, as the sun beat down brightly at the park: “it never rains on the East York Canada Day parade!”

Despite the lack of carnival rides and not as many food vendors as some would have liked to see, the park was festooned with tents for local politicians, community groups and businesses featuring giveaways of free Canada and sesquicentennial flags and pins, a free bingo tent, a bouncy castle and fish pond game for the kids and, of course, the new water slide at the Kiwanis outdoor pool and various play areas that are permanent features of the park.

Arthur Potts, Nate Erskine-Smith, Mary Fragedakis, Janet Davis, Shannon Timms and Alan Redway reaffirming citizenship as Michael McCleery presides.

Arthur Potts, Nate Erskine-Smith, Mary Fragedakis, Janet Davis, Shannon Timms and Alan Redway reaffirming citizenship as Michael McCleery presides.

On the stage set up at home plate on the main baseball diamond, in addition to a wide variety of musical acts ranging from classic Rock group Canada Rocks to a Hip Hop group and Pop sensation Jenny James, presentations included performances by a theatrical troupe from S.P.A.C.E. (School of Performing Arts for the Community of East York), vocal acts from Lippert Music, a martial arts demonstration and many other acts.

The stage proceedings, over which professor of broadcasting Paul Cross of Humber College and former EY mayor and MP Alan Redway acted as masters of ceremonies, also included a solemn “reaffirmation of citizenship” ceremony conducted by Michael McCleery, chairman of the East York Race Relations and Multicultural Institute and presided over by a colour guard from a local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Beaches-East York MP Nate Erskine-Smith didn't disappoint with his sartorial display.

Beaches-East York MP Nate Erskine-Smith didn’t disappoint with his sartorial display.

(Another pivotal role in the day’s undertakings was played by Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who learned that Mr. McCleery’s EYRRMI had also been turned down for its annual grant to conduct the “Sunrise Citizenship Court” ceremony swearing in new Canadian citizens because the bureaucrats handling the process had been swamped with applications for the sesquicentennial year.  Mr. Erskine-Smith “read the riot act to the folks in Ottawa,” earlier in the week, Mr. McCleery told EYC and the money was found, allowing the ceremony to go ahead as usual at the East York Civic Centre.)

Amazingly, all of this was pulled off by a core organizing group of just five people, in less than five months time, Timms told questioners in a social media post.  Assistance from the city, mandated by the original Amalgamation Agreement of 1998 when East York was one of the “the Six” municipalities folded into the current City of Toronto, resulted in the local government providing funding and oversight for the fireworks displays and porta-potty washrooms, as well as covering the paid-duty costs of having Toronto Police Service supervision available.

Canadian Legion colour guard for citizenship oath ceremony.

Canadian Legion colour guard for citizenship oath ceremony.

(The TPS, btw, went above and beyond the call in providing patient, friendly monitoring of the park activities and the parade route, diverting traffic and escorting the procession as well as contributing rolling displays by its motorcycle squad and two vintage taxi-yellow cruisers from the 1960s and 1950s eras.)

Sponsors included: East York Foundation, Insurance Brokers Association of Toronto, Blue Goose foods suppliers, The Carpenters Union, Right Sisters Group realty company, Labourers International Union of North America Ontario Provincial District Council, Susan Gucci realtor, Ontario Motor Vehicle Council and the local Firkin on Danforth pub.

Started by True Davidson, then mayor of EY, in 1957, the parade is thought to be the oldest such event in the country and one of the few put on by local communities.

Several Scout troops participated.

Several Scout troops participated.

With a surplus going forward into next year’s event, Timms isn’t wasting time resting on her laurels and has already started soliciting new volunteers on social media.

“If you would like to see better come on out and help us plan for next year,” she enthused on one Facebook group.

“You can send me a message (on Facebook), send our page a message (https://www.facebook.com/EastYorkTorontoCanadaDayCorp/), send us an email through our website (www.eycdc.ca) or come on out to our monthly planning meetings that start back on September 20 at 7:30 at the East York Civic Center.

“I want to make this event as amazing as the ones I remember from when I was growing up,” she added.

Most people would agree that she’s off to a pretty good start in doing just that —or exceeding it.

-Gary Webb-Proctor, Publisher & Editor
PHOTOS also by Gary Webb-Proctor

 

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