Archive | June, 2017
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The official Grand Re-opening of YOUR Berczy Park

15 Jun

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A bit of Berczy history: Meet Berczy-backer Marie Day

14 Jun
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This parking lot occupied the site of present day Berczy Park in the 1970s.

If you think a few people can’t move City Hall, you should talk to Marie Day. After all, she deserves a lot of the credit for creating Berczy Park, despite tough odds.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Marie, was one of a handful of concerned citizens who banded together to insist that the City convert a parking lot at Church and Wellington Streets into the Berczy Park we know today.

A long-time Toronto resident, whose career included writer, illustrator and stage director, Marie got her spirit for civic involvement from an early age. As the daughter of Mayor Ralph Day (1938-40), Marie remembers being just a little kid when she had to present a bouquet of flowers to Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) during a ceremony at Old City Hall.

Observing her father’s political life, Marie notes that, “I would never go into politics, but I felt we all had to pay our taxes, speak up and participate in our City.” (She later became a key organizer in the Bring Back the Don Task Force in the 1980s.)

While Marie admits some of the details are a bit fuzzy from 40 years back, when she was busy raising her children, she definitely recalls meeting with four other community-minded citizens who felt an injustice had occurred on the present site of Berczy Park. After the City had demolished more than 18,000 buildings* between 1965 and 1975, Day and her friends discovered that the block behind the Flatiron Bldg was listed as ‘parkland’ when in fact it was serving as a commercial parking lot.

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Site of Berczy Park, pre-1980 after the commercial parking lot was removed.

The group prepared a petition and lobbied the nearby businesses and City officials to make the block an actual park as the City Plan had designated the plot. Marie recalls a lot of back and forth discussions with the parking lot operator, who initially agreed only to add a few trees and grass at one end of the parking lot. This ‘mini-fight’ continued for some time before the commercial and civic interests relented to Marie’s group.

Marie remembers fondly the day the City finally bulldozed the unsightly parking booth that occupied the Berczy site: “We all went down to watch the demolition with a big grin on our faces and we shouted ‘Horray’ that the days of the parking lot had ended.”

While Marie is sad at the destruction of so much of the neighbourhood’s historic architecture, she’s proud of her ‘small role’ in bringing Berczy Park to life: “I’m also happy to see that people speak up a lot more these days and that young people have so many ways to get informed and join together for causes they care about.”

Thank you to you, Marie.

* The Toronto Story, Claire MacKay, Annick Press Ltd.

A bit of Berczy history … Boxing-in Berczy

11 Jun

While many people think Berczy Park dates back to the era of Old Town Toronto, they would be surprised to discover that the original park, prior to its 2015-2017 renovation, was only constructed in 1980.

berczy-park-2016_1980-aerial-shotThe park was part of an urban renewal project to redevelop many blocks of the St Lawrence Market neighbourhood. Countless blocks of historical structures were bulldozed and left as desolate parking lots until City officials determined new uses for the prime land.

But what stood on the Berczy Park site before it became a parking lot? Among the occupants of this irregular-shaped city block was the original factory of the Progress Paper Box Company (a predecessor of a company that celebrates its 100th birthday in 2017).

Progress Paper Box#1 copyToronto resident Marla Lukofsky recalls that her father’s father Morris Lukofsky, a new immigrant from Russia with no English and little money, came to Canada in 1914. Once settled in Toronto, he and his wife started a small storefront hatbox company on Spadina that turned into Progress Paper Box. Co. in 1917. When business grew, they moved the company to 31-37 Wellington St. East near the Flatiron building and stayed there for decades. They made boxes for everything from games to candies, from toys to clothing. Marla’s father, Lou Lukofsky later took over the company and made it even more successful.

Marla notes that “In 1967, the City of Toronto forced my father and Progress Paper Box Co. Ltd. out of his landmark building and property. The City gave him the standard rate allowed and Lou eventually found property on a barren lot near Keele and Finch.” The company went through a few name changes since then, including Progress Packaging and ProgressLuv2Pak, but it marks its 100th birthday in 2017.

As Marla points out, “This is a Toronto Story. This is a Canadian Story. This is an immigrant’s story. This is my father’s story.” And it’s an important part of the Berczy Park story too.

What else existed on the Berczy Park site? Claire MacKay’s history book, The Toronto Story (Annick Press), gives some clues, since each chapter illustrates the corner of Wellington and Church Street through the years (See the images below).

According to MacKay, the Berczy Park lot was a wharf-side pasture back in 1818 and by 1840 a stage coach office and The Wellington Hotel occupied the site, adjoining a tented circus and livery stable. By 1930, a handsome block of office buildings dominated the vista, including the Gooderham & Worts/Flatiron Bldg (1892), located close to the Stock Exchange at Wellington and Leader Lane. By the late 1960s, only the Flatiron Bldg survived, with a parking lot occupying the rest of the block, before Berczy Park was constructed in 1980.

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A bit of Berczy history… Who is ‘the Berczy Family’?

8 Jun

IMG_2889If you’ve ever stopped to inspect the ‘Berczy Family’ sculpture now located prominently in the south-east corner of the park, you know that our park history is tied to the Consumers Gas Company, the founding politicians of Upper Canada and Toronto, and several talented artists.

The sculpture of a mother and father sheltering two infants in their arms was donated by the Historical Society of Mecklenburg Upper Canada Inc., with financial support from The Consumers’ Gas Company and the Council of Metro Toronto in memory of Johann Albrecht Ulrich Moll, better known as William Berczy.

IMG_2888See our ‘About’ page for a few more details, but basically, Moll/Berczy, born in Germany, was co-founder of York (Toronto) in 1794. His younger son, Charles Albert Berczy, was the first president of The Consumers’ Gas Company, from 1847 to 1856, and Postmaster of Toronto. His older son, William Bent Berczy, was a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada and, like his father and mother, a gifted artist.

As an aside, during recent park renovations, Friends of Berczy Park was contacted by a nephew of the artist who made the Berczy Family sculpture, Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey , a well-regarded, German-born sculptor who emigrated to Canada. Her nephew recalls watching his aunt work on the sculpture in her studio more than 30 years ago.

Official Re-Opening of Berczy Park

4 Jun

fountain4At long last, Friends of Berczy Park is excited to announce that the City of Toronto will officially re-open Berczy Park on Wednesday, June 28, from 3-7pm (with the ceremony occurring at 5pm sharp).

Join us to celebrate the grand opening of our beautiful revitalized park in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood. Watch for more details here in the coming weeks, but in general you can expect fun for practically everyone, from families and pet-owners to design and culture fans, to history buffs and music lovers. *You can also track up-to-the-moment City plans for the event at toronto.ca.

Come admire the spectacular new pet-themed fountain, public plaza, lush green space, mural garden/on-leash pet area,  and many other terrific park features. And enjoy the opportunity to meet civic officials, members of the design and construction team, and your fellow neighbours and community members.

See you then to kick off a great summer – and many seasons ahead – in YOUR new Berczy Park.

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