Marking our #DECAde, Part 1: That was then

For this series of blog posts marking our 10th year, (our DECAde) we are looking back on where DECA started, how far we’ve come and where the next 10 years might take us and our neighbourhood. We are including interviews with some of DECA’s founding and earliest Board members along with other info and tidbits from DECA’s “archives”. 

That was then

Ten years ago, the stretch of Danforth from Monarch Park to Main Street was bleak. Walkability had been in decline since the introduction of the subway in 1966. Storefronts were empty, parks were sketchy and unsafe and residents were disconnected. Back then you had to leave the neighbourhood to buy things, go for coffee or enjoy a night out. We had no smartphones or social media. There was no path forward to get the neighbourhood closer to its potential.

Check out this Globe & Mail article from August 2006 about Danforth East called The rougher end of the Danforth.

In 2007, a group of neighbours started meeting around dining room tables, eventually forming DECA. Among that group were Peter Schmiedchen, Catherine Porter, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Natasha Granatstein, Alison McMurray and Mary Vallis. This is what the neighbourhood was like when they moved here.  

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PS: My wife and I moved here in 2002. We had been renting at Danforth and Greenwood, and when we decided to buy, we told our Real Estate agent we didn’t want to look anywhere East of Pape. Knowing our own area, we didn’t think that the areas further east were going to be places we would want to settle down. However, after realizing that Pape was waaaay out of our price range, and looking at 60+ houses around East York and Leslieville, our agent finally talked us into showing us an area near Woodbine. We were wary, but agreed as we were weary of house hunting. She took us to a house on Keystone Avenue and we fell in love. At once, we knew that this was the neighbourhood we wanted to remain in. The downside was the lack of great restaurants and shops on our stretch of the Danforth.

MV: I moved to the neighbourhood in 2006 with my husband. The decision was based solely on the fact he wanted a house with a basement high enough to stand up in, and easy access to the subway line. At the time, we got little else. But after forging friendships with our neighbours and connecting with colleagues in the neighbourhood, we saw its potential and both dedicated what spare time we had to helping make it a great place to live.

NG: We moved here in 2004. Our real estate agent did not want us to buy on the east side of Coxwell and REFUSED to sell us anything east of Woodbine. When my oldest son was born in 2006, I spent a lot of time pushing a stroller around the neighbourhood. I got very thin because it was a LONG walk to even get to a coffee shop that I was willing to enter into with my infant son. It was so puzzling that people were spending a whack of money on houses in the neighbourhood, but there were no shops that catered to them on the Danforth. People obviously had money to spend, but there was nowhere local to spend it.

CP: My husband and I moved into our house on Keystone in September 2004. What was it like? Grungy, I’d say. It felt desolate. We had a daughter in Feb. 2006, who was very colicky. The only way to calm her down was to tie her onto our bodies and walk briskly around. So, I saw the neighbourhood at all hours. I started to look at it in ways I hadn’t before, because I was always nipping in and out. I saw the boarded up storefronts. Mostly, I noticed young girls getting picked up for tricks outside of Sobeys in the early hours of the night and I worried that no one was on the street to watch out for them.

MMM: We were renting an apartment in the Beach Triangle and put an offer in on a dirt cheap house on Cedarvale in 1994. We weren’t super keen on the neighbourhood and figured we would only stick around for a few years – 5 max! There were many derelict empty shops. The Danforth had a filthy feel to it and we had a neighbour who used to pee on our lawn.  It wasn’t till we had kids that we actually started exploring the parks in the neighbourhood and were shocked to see how many we actually have in a such a close proximity! 

AM: My husband Patrick grew up in the east end so when it was time to buy a house, a small East York bungalow fit the bill. The neighbourhood had a few gems on the Danforth like Monte’s, Biway and Royal Beef but overall it was quite desolate. There were lots of young families moving into the area and we met daily in East Lynn Park.

CP: I had worked at City Hall as a reporter, and had witnessed the power of community organizations, mostly to say no to developments. But I thought — maybe we could work together to change our neighbourhood, and bring some life into it. I asked neighbours over to my house for wine and cheese and conversation. That’s how we got started.

Fact: There was no Business Improvement Area (BIA) along our stretch of Danforth in 2007. The Danforth Mosaic BIA was formed in 2008. 

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DECA memberships are only $10/household to support our community initiatives including our weekly Farmer’s Market, Diversity Scholarship, annual Arts Fair, Pumpkin Parade, Tree Lighting Festival, #DanforthEast Yard Sale, DECA Pride LGBTQ+ group and more! Sign up here.

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