Order and Tip
Sussex-Ulster Residents Association
One day in 1968, the residents of Robert Street, south of Bloor, woke up to find that a whole block of houses was being torn down. The zoning called for high-rise, like St James Town. Two 20-storey buildings were erected, but the residents fought another two to a draw. Eventually, the developer gave up and traded for the University of Toronto Aura Lee Field beside Ramsden Park. The University got a field almost on campus and the developer got two towers overlooking a park.
From that feisty beginning, the Sussex-Ulster Residents Association has taken on some big battles and scores of little ones. When issues arose, the residents of 1,300 homes, from Bloor south to College and between Spadina and Bathurst, have always had a committee to go to City Council or the Ontario Municipal Board. Early in the 1970s for example, we got a traffic maze even though the Works Department wanted faster streets. Council voted for one-way streets with a turn at every corner, which brought about a 30% decrease in cars and lower speeds that have reduced accidents dramatically. Despite ten years of successful experience with the northern maze, however, the residents south of Harbord had to fight for their maze for five years.
In the early 1980s we prevented a bank from tearing down a terra cotta gem at Bathurst and College. In 1987, we celebrated the Citys 150th anniversary by getting plaques for many of the fine century townhouses. We sent around a pamphlet explaining that your house is worth $10,000 more if it has the original facade. The neighbourhood has seen most of the older immigrant groups migrate to bigger lots in the suburbs, and new, younger families arrive and convert the student rooming houses to single-family homes. They strip the brick and rebuild the porch detail. At least two have rebuilt slate roofs. What were primary colours have retreated to subtle Victorian shades.
Perhaps our most dramatic battle was against Doctors Hospital. We fought for ten years, including three and a half weeks at the Ontario Municipal Board, against a half-block, 87-foot-high complex facing low-rise houses on both sides. The fight cost $12,000. We lost, but by the time the Doctors Hospital won, the provincial government had changed, hospitals were being amalgamated, and the project was cancelled. Now, another ten years later, they want to create extended care beds for nursing home care.
Most of our fights have been on the Spadina side where University proposals continue to intrude into the residential neighbourhood. There have been several plans to build in the playground on Robert Street. None have been built so far. It would be ironic to fight off a developers highrise, but get another from a humanistic institution such as the University. Just last year the University erected the giant O student residence. They brought in a famous American architect to erect what most old-time residents see as an ugly blot on the street. A herd of architects arrived at the public meeting to try to convince us that jarring is beautiful. What with Fort Book (the Robarts Library) and Fort Jock (the Athletic Centre) along Harbord, the lessons of history are slow to be learned.
Bloor Street has become what one might call a restaurant anthill. The bad old days saw us fighting off screaming music from open windows and wet-tee-shirt contests at local pubs. Who hasnt had their fence kicked in, listened to fights or cleaned up after party-goers? The Liquor Licence Board may have turned down an application for another dance hall, but we now have a photocopy centre open twenty-four hours. We beat off the bingo parlour, closed the rooftop patio, but succumbed to the betting shop. Nightclubs have brought generations of newest look teenagers. Cafes are found on every corner. After we reached 52 restaurants, the residents demanded and got a new by-law restricting restaurant size and ensuring that parking be built. Homeless folks have now decided that Bloor Street is a great place for getting change from wealthy diners.
The story of our neighbourhood would be incomplete without the tales of driving round and round looking for a parking spot. You give up and park on the wrong side. You get a ticket, just like the visitors who have taken not only the legal spots, but parking all along the other side. It is virtually impossible to get a fire truck through.
The homeless shelter, temporarily at Doctors Hospital, took a hundred people off the streets in the winter of 1998. Some folks thought the neighbourhood was doomed. Surprise we all got along. As we did when House Link built a low-rise apartment for former psychiatric patients. No problem.
We were told the neighbourhood was a slum in 1973. We couldnt get a mortgage because the houses were all run down and made out of wood. We were told the area would be redeveloped, just like St James Town, and wed make a fortune. But the mission of the Sussex-Ulster Residents Association was to restore to life our part of the inner city. And we have!