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

14 Jun
berczy-park-2016_1980-aerial-shot

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.

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