About John Bowker

John Bowker is the chair of the RVBIA Beautification Committee. He has operated She Said Boom! Records and Books on Roncesvalles since 1999.

Meeting to discuss Peace Garden at Dundas/Roncesvalles Feb. 28

Cross-posted from the Roncesvalles Village BIA website:

Please join the Roncesvalles-Macdonell Residents’ Association on Tuesday February 28th for a presentation and community discussion about the Dundas-Roncesvalles Peace Garden. This initiative aims to green and beautify the triangular space at Dundas and Roncesvalles, and to commemorate its role in the War of 1812 and the resistance of local aboriginal warriors to the landing of the American fleet in Humber Bay.

The BIA is very excited by this proposal. The beautification of this space was identified as a major streetscape priority under the BIA’s 2003 Streetscape Strategy, which considers this intersection be the northern gateway to Roncesvalles Village. The BIA is also excited at this opportunity to take part in the War of 1812 Bicentennial, which will take place over the next 2 1/2 years.

The Battle of York started just south of the foot of Roncesvalles, about where the Boulevard Club stands today. In 1813, Americans landed there and marched east. In preparation for the expected battle, Canadian/British engineers needed a road that connected Fort York to the west, near to the likely American landing point. As a result, plans showing a road running straight across what is now High Park had to be scrapped in favour of a road that could be built more quickly. In order to avoid all the creeks and marshes of the Humber/High Park system, the road took a sharp turn and then circled around the park. And that is why Dundas suddenly turns north at Roncesvalles. The entire layout of Toronto’s west end was determined by the expediencies of war.

Also, Canada would not have existed after the War of 1812 without the help of First Nations allies, whose local presence is remembered in street names such as Indian Road and Algonquin Avenue.

The Dundas Roncesvalles Peace Garden Group is a committee of the RMRA, in partnership with the Roncesvalles Village BIA and the City of Toronto. Other community partners include the Roncesvalles Village Historical Society, Roncesvalles Renewed, and the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto.

The meeting will be held on February 28 at 7 pm at Fern Avenue Public School, 128 Fern Avenue.

The Grid on Roncesvalles: “This is the most perfect corner of Toronto we’ve got left.”

Yesterday, the Grid published an interesting story about “the Roncesvalles revival.” On the surface, the article cheers the arrival of new restaurants to the street, specifically the Ace and the Westerly, but it goes deeper. It raises questions about the role of community in establishing stable, successful main streets, and expresses optimism that Roncesvalles will be able to avoid the excesses of other trendy hot-spots like Ossington or Queen West.

The Ace (PHOTO: Grid TO)

The Westerly’s co-owner, legendary restaurateur Tom Earl, says he was not looking for the latest hot-spot in order to make a quick buck. “We want to be here for a long time, we want to be part of a neighbourhood—we really want to be involved. And that’s what we were looking for and why ultimately we decided Roncesvalles would be perfect.” Ace owners Maggie Ruhl and Gregg Boggs similarly cite the role of community in shaping the direction of their business. Meanwhile, other new restaurants like Barque and Pizzeria Defina also balance a certain trendiness with a community-friendly vibe, welcoming local families along with younger professional couples.

And it’s not just restaurants; let’s not forget Scout, Stasis Preserves, Green Light District Design, Roncy St. Gallery, Ecotique, Mother of All, Grateful Head, Fresh Collective and the many other new stores and services that are broadening Roncesvalles’ diversity of businesses, and preserving a healthy mix of offerings.

Why has Roncesvalles managed to get this tricky balance right, when so many other neighbourhoods have faced difficulties?

“Roncey,” writes author Paul Aguirre-Livingston, “has a stronger, smarter sense of community more closely associated with a cultural identity that runs deep and rich. […] It’s that very pride in community—a blend of preservation and self-perpetuating drive—that becomes a powerful motivator for business owners and their patrons.”

Ruhl specifically mentions the role of community associations, including the BIA, in taking an active role in supporting and guiding the development of the street. This guidance is not adversarial or driven by suspicion. Rather, the Roncesvalles community has been able to express itself in a productive way, welcoming change as well as continuity, such that new businesses are better able to fit in. It is unlikely that a big box nightclub would be able to establish itself, says Ruhl. “What happens [in Roncesvalles] is that the associations are so involved that it’s always going to be small, little businesses.”

Let’s hope Ruhl is correct. I imagine everyone would feel better if they knew what was coming to the old Rogers space at Howard Park. But so far, I think this community can take a great deal of pride in how the street is taking shape since the end of reconstruction.

This community is why Roncesvalles remains, in the words of Aguirre-Livingston, “the most perfect corner of Toronto we’ve got left.”

A perfect day on Roncesvalles

Yesterday was a perfect day on Roncesvalles, and a great opportunity to capture the beauty of our new streetscape.

Ever since construction wrapped up in July, the new Roncesvalles has been widely praised. “The result is quite marvellous,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee, and the New York Times wrote: “the rejuvenated ‘Roncey’ now makes for one of the city’s most engaging strolls.”

Here are some examples of what they are writing about.

Passengers boarding a TTC streetcar on Roncesvalles Ave., Nov. 2011The new streetscape features several new trees, planted in healthy growing conditions. Instead of ugly concrete “tree coffins” that usually kill trees within 5-10 years, the trees are protected by attractive guards and grates. Soon, Roncesvalles will boast a lush green canopy that will cool our street, absorb greenhouse gases and pollutants, and provide natural beauty. The unsafe “two-step” sidewalk has finally been levelled, and unit pavers provide an attractive surface covering the underground soil trenches that give our trees access to uncompacted soil, air and water. The new tree guards are intended as multi-use street furniture that you can rest against or lock your bike to.

IMG_2025-sThe TTC stops are intended to be more than just places to wait for a streetcar. They have been conceived as “outdoor living rooms,” with benches, gardens, pedestrian lights, and room in some cases for displays or patios. An innovative, raised bike path allows cyclists to pass by the TTC stops without being caught in the streetcar tracks.

Multi-purpose TTC bumpouts on Roncesvalles Ave.Roncesvalles now has the most accessible streetcar stops in Toronto, allowing direct boarding from the sidewalk.  At 30 metres long, the stops have been optimized for Toronto’s new fleet of hi-tech LRV streetcars, which will begin entering service in 2014. These low-floor streetcars will be fully-accessible, air-conditioned, and will allow boarding from all four doors with the new Presto cards.

Two friends enjoy a walk up the tiled sidewalk on Roncesvalles Ave.The end result is a street that is full of vibrancy and life – not just a way to pass through, but a destination in itself. Roncesvalles is a pedestrian-friendly place where neighbours can meet friends, stop to chat, and yes, to shop.

Cross-posted with the Roncesvalles Village BIA website

Photos: John Bowker

Do you have a creative holiday idea? The BIA would like to hear from you!

Do you have a creative idea to help celebrate the upcoming holiday season? A fun public activity? A beautiful decorative display? The Roncesvalles Village BIA would like to hear from you!

The BIA has set aside funds to help facilitate fun and creative decorations and celebrations along Roncesvalles. If your celebration or decoration is open to all, and takes place on public space along Roncesvalles, then the BIA might be able to help bring your idea to life!

We are especially interested in activities and decorations that encourage broad participation and help strengthen the community’s ties to Roncesvalles.

If you would like more information, or have an idea to suggest, please contact John Bowker at info@shesaidboom.ca as soon as you can.