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Fulfilling mother’s last wish, Scarborough farmhouse’s Norway spruces protected by heritage designation

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Tree of the Week showcases some of the biggest and most beautiful trees in the GTA, as told to Megan Ogilvie. Here, Sheila White tells us about the eight Norway spruce trees that have been standing tall for more than a century in Scarborough.

These eight Norway spruce trees were planted as a windbreak for a pioneer farmhouse that was built in 1888. This property, located on Murray Ave. in the Agincourt area of Scarborough, was once part of the Harris Farm, which my parents purchased in 1951.

When Toronto city council amended the city’s tree protection bylaw in December 2015, these towering trees, more than a century old, lost all previous protection they had enjoyed under the old bylaw.

In 2017, when our family decided to sell the property, I took the extraordinary measure of seeking a heritage designation on the property to stave off speculators and prevent any future owner from cutting down the trees, which are a spectacular feature of the neighbourhood. When my mother died in 2016, one of her last wishes was for the house and trees to always remain standing.

Given the historical significance of the pioneer farmhouse — and my parents’ association with the property — council approved the heritage designation in October 2017.

My father was Bill White (1915-1981), a teacher, musician and social justice activist who, in 1949, was the first Black Canadian to run for federal office in Canada. As a musician, my father was best known for his ability to get all manners of people singing together in four-part harmony in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes, which made him a sought-after motivational speaker. He received the Order of Canada in 1970 for his civic service and humanitarian work.

My mother, Vivian (1925-2016), was an environmentalist who advocated for composting and recycling before there were names for those types of activities. Many years ago, she stood in front of city workers to prevent a stand of trees from being chopped down in a nearby Scarborough park. Because of her efforts those trees remained and the surrounding area was turned into a wildflower garden. She received a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 for her work as a community volunteer and environmental activist.

The old photo of our trees is from 1959 and the branches of the trees are so weighted down with snow; I remember they made fabulous snow forts for me and my siblings to play in. I have wonderful winter memories of skating around the farmhouse’s circular driveway, which circles through this stand of trees.

These eight Norway spruce trees represent the last piece of farmland in this vicinity and are emblematic of when this community was surrounded by trees and wilderness and majesty.

I have a storehouse of memories of these trees and the contentment and satisfaction of knowing the property is protected, which was my mission. The new owners take possession in February 2019 but I won’t have to say goodbye to these trees. I live just up the street and so I can blow them a kiss from the road.

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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