For this series of blog posts marking 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 founders and other info and tidbits from DECA’s “archives”. Like this photo from the 2008 AGM at the Earl Haig Library. 👇🏼
How DECA formed
So how did DECA get started? The story is best told through the memories of some of our earliest Board members. You heard from them in Part 1 of this series about what the neighbourhood was like back in 2007. Here’s how Peter Schmiedchen, Catherine Porter, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Natasha Granatstein, Alison McMurray and Mary Vallis did something about it.
AM: East Lynn Park was starting to be more of a meeting place for the families in the neighbourhood but at that time, the playground was a mishmash of leftovers and the swings had 11 coats of paint on them. We desperately wanted new equipment and a shaded sandbox, however funding for parks was a challenging post-amalgamation. I started a dialogue with Parks and Rec and they were able to bring some equipment over that had been languishing in their storage shed. The neighbourhood sent 2 petitions to the Councillors over the years but nothing more was done. The park was being used for a bike theft ring and as a drug dealers’ paradise and the community felt that a better more usable park would make the illegal element feel exposed and force them to move on. In around 2006 after 10 years of asking, we finally got word that we would get our new playground. Two things happened: the drug dealers moved out and the community came together and wanted to form a community association.
CP: At first, it was just people on my street and a few friends. Then, someone told me about Mary-Margaret. And someone else got me in touch with Alison McMurray and they came. We had some small group meetings first and then decided to hold a community meeting at Gledhill. We made some flyers — nothing fancy like the ones DECA has now — and put them up. We figured 15 people might show up. More than 100 came. We realized, the neighbourhood was looking for many changes and hungry for ways to help start them.
PS: I remember Catherine Porter stopped me on her bike one day in the alley behind our houses, and we were opining about how we’d love our area to grow into a thriving ‘scene’ like what Leslieville was experiencing. It was evident that, even if we couldn’t open 20 cool restaurants, we could be a huge part of encouraging that growth. Catherine said she’d been thinking of a community group that could help push the neighbourhood forward – I was definitely in. A few months later, we had the first meeting in her dining room to talk about the formation of such a group. I remember that we drank a lot of wine, and talked about things we wished for in the neighbourhood.
NG: I got on board after the initial meeting at Gledhill, once the original crew decided to expand west to Coxwell. My first meeting was at Cath’s dining room. I meekly raised my hand and said I would write a little newsletter. After a few meetings, many of original people at that meeting had fallen away and it was just the core group. We took turns hosting at each other’s houses while we drafted the charter and by-laws, drank wine and ate chocolate. I don’t remember how I became the Chair to be quite honest. But Cath said she would be vice-chair and we would be a team!
MMM: I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable Miracle” and getting freaked out about food security. So at our 2nd meeting I said, “I want to start a farmers’ market!” Alison said, “Well if we do, it has to be in East Lynn Park!” Cath leaned over and wrote on my paper, “I want to help!” Never met these powerhouse women before in my life and here we were embarking on one of the original catalysts that would transform our neighbourhood!
NG: We spent a lot of time talking about whether to call ourselves a residents’ association or a community association. I advocated for “community” because I liked the idea that residents, businesses and other organizations like schools and churches could all see their place in a community association. It was symbolic of the approach that DECA took in its infancy to be a positive, collaborative force to bring people together. We didn’t form to fight something. We formed to improve our neighbourhood. I think that gestalt is still what draws people to be involved in ways big and small.
MV: I joined DECA’s board in 2008 and was on parental leave at the time. I needed a project. Someone came to a meeting and mentioned the neighbourhood needed an arts event and the creaky cogs in my brain started turning. I’d been in a few craft fairs and knew how they worked. So I started a committee and a whole bunch of interesting people turned out. Together we founded the Danforth East Arts Fair. It had about 31 tents its first year in East Lynn Park; these days, that number is more than 60. The people who founded DECA were some of the most motivated I’d ever seen. Something would need doing, and they’d do it. The results are all around us, in our beautiful parks, in the community events advertised on bulletin boards, in the air as people say hello to each other and in the beautiful storefronts that now line our strip.
Fun fact: At the 2008 AGM, pictured above, there were 22 members there, and each one was given an apple to use for voting. (Spoiler alert: The apple voting system did not catch on.)
DECA memberships are $10/household to support our community initiatives including our weekly Farmers’ Market, Diversity Scholarship, annual Arts Fair, Pumpkin Parade, Tree Lighting Festival, #DanforthEast Yard Sale, DECA Pride LGBTQ+ group and more! Sign up here.