Turning 100

Not that long ago, it was easy to identify North York's long-time residents by how they referred to their local government.


"I called the township but couldn't get anywhere," they'd tell me, referring to their frustration with a government that increasingly wanted them to reach out online or through a call centre. People missed those township-like days when you dropped off your taxes in person and the guy or gal at the counter might recognize you.


I'm reflecting on North York's past today because it has a birthday coming up. On June 13, it turns 100.


The residents from a hundred years ago, apparently less complacent than we are today, successfully petitioned the Province to break free from York Township and its increasingly urban agenda. North York's farming community, which was providing 23% of York's tax revenue, got fed up seeing their money spent on sidewalks and street lights while requests for better roads to bring their products to market were ignored, according to an account by the North York Historical Society.


The township which began in 1922 lasted until 1967, when North York achieved loftier status as a borough. That changed again when Mayor Mel Lastman made it a City. Being Mayor of "the greatest borough in the world" wouldn't have had the same ring.


The "City with a Heart" was born on Valentine's Day in 1979, lasting until a forced amalgamation broke some of our hearts in 1998.


Thinking about those last 100 years, I'm struck by the thought that I've been alive for most of them, including 60 years as a resident, 40 of those representing the people who live here.


The Filion settlers arrived in North York in 1960, making the trek from Montreal in a two-tone Chevy station wagon. We were pioneers of sorts, moving into the recently-completed "model community" of Don Mills. It felt like the land of opportunity.


Although I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, I was part of a charmed generation, not so much because everything was handed to us but rather that success was more accessible (although I won't pretend it was more equitable).


Without having studied journalism I talked my way into a job at the North York Mirror. As a freelance journalist in his 20s, I was able to purchase a heavily-mortgaged home on Empress Ave. for the sum of $63,500.


When I decided to run for school board, I recruited campaign workers by sharing my vision of community schools at coffee parties. Before long, I was Chair of the North York Board of Education and, after that, part of Mel's North York Council. None of that was as easy as I've made it sound, but it would be a lot harder today.


I've had a front row seat to 40 years of massive change in Willowdale. Some has been positive, like the diversity of our population – other parts not so much, such as our children not being able to afford a home in the neighbourhood where they grew up.


Our hundredth birthday won't be marked by the same level of celebration as if we were still a city – or even a township. But a series of small events are planned.


There will be a special presentation at North York Community Council on May 24, Doors Open Toronto will have a focus on North York sites this year, and the North York Historical Society will be hosting a series of talks about local history. As we learn more about these and other events, we'll bring you the details.


I've written a bit about my personal history to encourage some of you to do the same. Send us your stories and we'll try to use parts of them in a future newsletter. I'll be rummaging through my trove of North York artifacts to send out to those who participate. And I might be persuaded to part with an anti-amalgamation button even for those who don't.


-John

On beautiful Friday evenings in July, there's nowhere I'd rather be than with you in Mel Lastman Square. For more than 10 years, it's been my joy to be there on those nights, satisfying my creative ur