Residents of condo tower where woman threw chair off balcony say short-term rentals are not a problem


A video of a woman throwing a chair off a downtown highrise balcony sparked immediate anger and outrage, but long-term residents of the building where it happened say such a display of recklessness is rare and has little or nothing to do with the proliferation of short-term rentals in the area.

Kevin Gaston moved into his one-bedroom condo at Maple Leaf Square nearly 10 years ago, and he remembers his neighbours then being mostly owners or long-term tenants.

Today, he says a number of units in the two towers at the corner of Bremner Blvd. and York St. have been turned into short-term rentals. There is also a large number of young students who save on housing costs by sharing condos, he says.

So when he saw the viral video, Gaston assumed it was “one of those scenarios, like a drunk teenager throwing a chair off the balcony. Crazier things have happened.”

Over the years, the behaviour of short-term renters has raised concerns in Toronto, but most residents at Maple Leaf Square were indifferent or expressed only mild concern over it.

The woman alleged to have thrown the chair, Marcella Zoia, turned herself in last week. She was charged in the incident and released on $2,000 bail, and will return to court next month. Her lawyer said she acted under “peer pressure.”

Police said they were looking into whether the unit where the “reckless” incident took place was a short-term rental. Airbnb said there was no evidence the woman used its platform, but confirmed it had suspended the account of a guest at the building as the service reviews the incident, and it is co-operating with police.

The apparent proliferation of short-term rentals at the twin towers near Scotiabank Arena has never been a cause of concern for Gaston. He said he doesn’t feel unsafe and has never been disturbed by noise from nearby units.

“If anything, it’s funny, because I just feel like a tour guide sometimes,” he said about the many confused people who ask for directions to navigate the path between two towers, get to the Longo’s or LCBO downstairs, or find the best place to eat nearby.

“The only thing is, I have seen more people using the swimming pool, because they’re on vacation and in Airbnb, so it gets crowded. Other than that, I’ve had no complaint, no problem at all.”

He’s not alone. On Thursday, the Star spent four hours in the condo’s lobby and at the two main entrances, speaking to residents and observing as individuals and small groups of people entered and exited, some with suitcases. About a dozen people, including a couple who said they had just landed from Paris, said they were staying in Airbnb units.

Dozens of residents who spoke to the Star said they know a large number of units in their building are used as Airbnb rentals. But they said disturbing incidents are rare and that people staying in short-term rentals are generally polite.

“Honestly, it doesn’t bother me,” said Stella Cabrera, who has lived at the building for nearly a year. Two units next to hers are used by short-term renters. She said she understands the convenience of Airbnb in the area, which lies near entertainment venues. Nearby hotels are expensive.

She said people can do irresponsible things even if they own the places they live in.

“That girl would probably have done the same if she was at another place that is not Airbnb,” she said about the chair-throwing incident.

Christina Wang said a unit across from hers is rented on Airbnb, and sometimes people leave the door open and noise spills out. She said some short-term renters don’t take care of things they don’t own, such as the chair in the video.

“It’s a case-by-case, I guess, but generally people who do Airbnb are nice,” she said. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal in terms of living conditions.”

Ivonne Flores, a recent graduate and a resident of Maple Leaf Square for the past two years, sometimes feels “uncomfortable” seeing strangers strolling in the building, which happens especially on weekends. Apart from the drinking and partying that tend to happen in Airbnb rentals, major incidents of concern are few, she said.

“That chair thing was the first, and it was surprising that everyone was making such a big deal about it,” she said.

Alex Wong, who has lived at the condo for the past five years, said the building has security guards who usually ask people for their names if they don’t have keys, and there’s a computer screen at the reception on the 9th floor where those staying in Airbnbs are supposed to log in.

“I’ve seen some bad ones, like people leaving pizza boxes in a hallway. But I’ve heard worse from other buildings. I think we’re OK here,” said

The chair-throwing incident did “freak” him out though, he added.

“That’s a crazy thing to happen, but Airbnb-ers don’t usually do that. Now I basically hug the wall when I walk home, just in case,” he said.

Fairbnb, a coalition that advocates for stricter regulation of short-term rentals, has repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of residents in highrises with large numbers of Airbnb units.

Speaking to the Star after the chair-throwing incident, Fairbnb spokesperson Thorben Wieditz said there have been incidents of short-term renters vomiting in swimming pools, leaving garbage in the hallways and stairs, and making life miserable for residents by partying and making noise.

At Maple Leaf Square, an office administrator confirmed to the Star there are units in the building that are used as Airbnb rentals. But property manager Lubko Belej declined to offer any further details, saying “police told us not to comment.”

“Right now, we’re working very hard with the police on this, and trying to keep our profile as low as possible, as you can imagine.”

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo


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Regent Park residents say they can’t access their neighbourhood pool. City data backs them up


“Where is our pool?” read one of the signs held aloft by children who had waded into the reflecting pool in Nathan Phillips Square on a summer day in July 1969.

Their protest was over the lack of recreation space in their Regent Park neighbourhood and their demand was for a wading pool for those hot days.

Mary Ann Scott, left, typically lines up overnight to register her children for programs at the recreation centres in Regent Park, and often still can’t get them in. She is pictured here with her children Tessa, 13, Selam, 12, and Abyssina, 7, outside the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre.
Mary Ann Scott, left, typically lines up overnight to register her children for programs at the recreation centres in Regent Park, and often still can’t get them in. She is pictured here with her children Tessa, 13, Selam, 12, and Abyssina, 7, outside the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

It would take several more decades for their request to be exceeded by the state-of-the art Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre, which opened its glass doors in 2012 with a 25-metre lap pool, hot tub, water slides and more in the heart of a neighbourhood in the midst of revitalization.

But now that there is plenty of pool right in their backyard, Regent Park and nearby residents say they are consistently struggling to access the new space and that most of the people signed up for the popular swim programs are coming from other parts of the city, a claim backed up by City of Toronto data.

The data provided to the Star shows that only about a quarter of the registrations at the aquatic centre for the most recent fall/winter session of city-run programs were for registrants whose home address was in Regent Park or the area immediately surrounding it.

And while there continues to be a waiting list tens of thousands of people long for recreation programs across the city, the Star has learned that the most recent budget recommendations would significantly delay the council-approved goal of creating 70,000 new spaces in three years. Instead of 25,000 new spaces council had approved for 2019, the latest budget includes just 7,500 spaces and stretches the plan over five years instead of three.

Read more:

Regent Park community reflects and regroups as final chapter of rebuild begins

In response to questions about proposed delay, Mayor John Tory’s spokesperson, Don Peat, noted Tory’s earlier push to increase the number of recreation spaces funded in 2018.

“This is just the beginning of the 2019 budget process,” he said in a statement. “The budget committee will be reviewing the staff recommendations in the coming weeks and will make further recommendations.”

In the case of Regent Park, nobody is abusing the system. The city has a policy that allows anyone to access any centre regardless of where they live or their income level. Someone who lives in a suburb but works downtown might prefer to use a centre en route. Across the city, there are just not enough recreation spaces for those who want them, creating a competitive environment during registration and the long waiting list.

Mary Ann Scott, a mom of three in the Church and Dundas Sts. area and member of the group Access to Recreation, which was created by Regent Park parents over these types of concerns, knows how it feels to be missing out.

Scott said she typically lines up overnight outside a local community centre at 8 p.m. ahead of registration that begins 7 a.m. the next morning in hopes of getting her children into the programs they helped pick out — swimming at the aquatic centre as well as gymnastics and other programs at the nearby Regent Park Community Centre.

That’s because she’s competing with other parents, some who are using multiple devices and high-speed internet to get through the city’s often cumbersome online system in hopes of getting the spaces they want.

Hani Afrah, also mother of three who grew up and still lives in Regent Park, met Scott waiting in line to register. As a member of the Access to Recreation group since its inception, she said they have no issue with the aquatic centre attracting people from across the city. They just want priority to ensure local residents can use the space.

“We know that if youth know to swim, how to skate they’d rather be doing those things than getting into trouble,” she said, adding she feels sad to see that her children’s friends miss out on programs.

“They feel disadvantaged and the community centre is right there.”

The gleaming aquatic centre, with windows overlooking the park under a cedar-panelled roof, has been celebrated for its sleek and welcoming design. On a recent weekday, moms pushing strollers traded recipes in the warm, chlorine-scented lobby. A meeting was being held in a nearby multi-purpose room that’s sometimes used for kid’s birthday parties.

The Regent Park Community Centre was also rebuilt as part of the revitalization, featuring a gym, indoor track, dance studio, weights room and more.

Both centres in Regent Park — which the city still officially designates as a priority neighbourhood based on low income and other factors — offer free programs for children and adults, and they are both “at or near capacity with extensive wait lists,” according to recently-posted city budget documents.

Scott said their community has also been squeezed every time there are local emergencies. Recent cold-weather alerts and a fire at the 650 Parliament St. apartment building have seen the community centre taken over for shelter, cancelling programs for residents.

On one such day in September of last year, Mackai Bishop Jackson, who had just turned 15, was shot and killed up the street from the centre while outside an apartment building with his friends. He often attended the after-school programs at the community centre, which was closed at the time because of the 650 Parliament fire. His death has left friends and neighbours wondering if his fate would have been different had the centre been open that day.

“What’s the logic in closing down a recreation centre in a community that needs places for children to be?” Scott asked. “It should have never been closed in the first place.”

The aquatic centre replaced an existing recreation centre and outdoor pool in what was once an insular Toronto Community Housing complex of interlocking lowrise apartments and highrise towers. The long-term revitalization of Regent Park, still underway, has seen TCH units demolished and rebuilt alongside market condos and townhomes surrounding a park and the new aquatic centre.

The site is one of 38 city-designated free centres, which are selected based on their proximity — within 1.5 kilometres — of census areas where at least 30 per cent of families are classified as low-income.

However, the city has a policy that allows anyone to access any centre regardless of where they live or their income. City staff say participants “typically travel within 3.5 (kilometres) of a recreation centre” for registered programs.

The city also has what is called a “welcome” policy that provides a limited amount of funding to low-income families to access programs at paid-for centres.

The city provided data for all fall/winter registrations in Regent Park by “forward sortation area” — the first three digits of a postal code. The area for Regent Park also includes neighbourhoods including Cabbagetown and St. Lawrence.

That means it is likely that of the 326 sign-ups in that immediate area captured in the data provided to the Star, not all were made by Regent Park residents, meaning even fewer than 25 per cent of all registrations came from Regent Park.

The data shows residents living as far away as the Kingsway and Malvern are accessing the centre for programs. And there are more sign-ups from East York, The Danforth, Riverdale, Leslieville and the Beach combined than from the Regent Park area.

At the Regent Park Community Centre, which is also a free centre, registrations from the immediate area made up 40 per cent of all sign-ups.

Both recreation facilities also offer free drop-in hours.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the Regent Park area, said the data confirms what those in the community already knew — that the majority of those signed up for swimming programs live outside the community.

After advocates recently organized to demand Regent Park residents be given priority access, Wong-Tam moved a motion at committee earlier this month to have staff explore a pilot project to increase recreation availability at local schools. Staff say a pilot could be launched in the fall of 2019 but the $160,000 cost is currently unfunded.

“They had already said quite eloquently and with a lot of urgency that we needed to reform the system so that people who had championed these facilities, who had borne the brunt of construction impacts, who had waited patiently, could have access to their own swimming pool,” Wong-Tam said. “It reconfirms what communities are feeling, is that they’re struggling to get their children and themselves and families into recreation programs.”

The city has 123 community recreation centres, 119 splash pads, 61 indoor pools, 59 outdoor pools, 68 outdoor artificial ice rinks from Etobicoke to Scarborough, serving 10.7 million programmed visits each year, according to the most recent budget documents.

But not all neighbourhoods are treated equally. While there are a number of recreation centres, not all have the same amenities. For example, there are large areas that are not served by an indoor pool, such as most of Etobicoke North and large pockets of Scarborough. There are only four indoor pools in all of northern Scarborough, where staff have had to scramble to find temporary program spaces after one centre in Agincourt caught fire Thursday.

There is a concentration of free centres in or near the eastern part of downtown, including the aquatic centre, Regent Park Community Centre, Wellesley Community Centre, John Innes Community Recreation Centre and the Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre. Another free centre, Secord Community Centre, is near Danforth Ave. and Main St.

Of those, three have pools. The Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre provides more than twice the number of time slots for swim programs than both the Jimmie Simpson and John Innes pools, offering a total 208 options for swim classes during the fall and winter registration.

Across the entire city there are 11 free centres that have pools, two in the Etobicoke and York district, two in North York, one in Scarborough and six in the Toronto and East York district.

The Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre has features including a lap pool, hot tub and water slides.
The Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre has features including a lap pool, hot tub and water slides.  (Tom Arban)

According to a staff briefing note provided to council during the 2018 budget process, there were more than 600,000 recreation spaces across the city and more than 198,000 wait-listed spaces representing more than 62,000 people on the waiting list. Those are 2016 numbers, but said to be the most recent, verified data.

To try to address the waiting list, city staff proposed a growth plan in 2017 to add 60,000 new spaces over three years. During the 2018 budget process, council increased the number added in that first year, bringing the total new spaces planned to 70,000 at a net cost of $2.4 million.

City staff say both Regent Park recreation centres directly benefited from that growth plan, with the total number of registered recreation spaces increasing 22 per cent in 2018, creating more than 1,500 new openings.

But after staff were asked to bring forward budgets this year that froze spending at last year’s levels, the 2019 recommended budget from staff only plans for 7,500 new spaces to be added in the second year of the growth plan — 17,500 fewer than the 25,000 council approved. It will now take five years, staff say, to reach the goal of 70,000 new spaces. The budget process continues for the next month and will be finalized by council in March.

Responding to the Star late Friday evening, city staff said they “misrepresented” council direction in their budget notes, saying council had decided to “fast-track” the plan and that council never intended to actually expand the plan from 60,000 to 70,000 spaces.

“There is nothing we can find in council’s decisions and direction that indicates council’s intention to expand the plan from 60,000 to 70,000, but rather that they wanted staff to implement more spaces in the first year,” a city spokesperson said, adding they would be correcting a budget note.

A 2018 budget briefing note from staff outlined how adding an additional 10,000 spaces in the first year of the plan would increase the total number of spaces to 70,000. Council later voted to “further increase” the number of spaces funded in 2018 to 20,000.

The original three-year plan would have seen 35,000 spaces approved by the end of 2019. The current budget plan would see just 27,500 approved even with the increased number of spaces council added in 2018 — still 7,500 short on the original growth plan.

Asked about stretching the original plan over five years, the city spokesperson said: “Given our experience in the accelerated implementation of the first 20,000 new spaces in the first phase of the program, we have recommended a more gradual implementation of the remaining 40,000 spaces.”

Wong-Tam said the city should be able to set a target and then allocate the resources needed to make it happen.

“Clearly there’s a disconnect there,” she said.

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags


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For weeks, Kingston residents watched a ‘mystery plane’ flying at night. It was RCMP, sources say


For weeks, Kingston residents noticed a “mystery plane” flying around over their homes — but no one could quite figure out what it was up to.

There had been hundreds of plane sightings since Jan. 4, and there were a few guesses as to what it could be.

The plane was flying around at night; one aviation enthusiast in the city heard a buzz over his home that lasted for about a week.

WATCH: Jan. 23 — Kingston mystery plane solved?

Royal Military College Prof. Christian Leuprecht surmised that the plane belonged to a “government entity.” Plane tracker Neil Aird suggested it was an RCMP plane, based on a flight path.

The RCMP at the time only offered a statement saying its “primary concern is the safety and security of Canadians. We have multiple aircraft that support our mandate in Ontario and elsewhere in the country. To maintain the integrity of our investigations and operations, the location of our aircraft is not disclosed.”

On Thursday, Kingstonians received some clarity as to the plane’s origin. It was related to two raids executed in the city that resulted in the arrests of two people linked to a national security investigation, sources told Global News.

READ MORE: Kingston’s mystery plane likely belongs to ‘government entity,’ say local experts

The raids happened at two homes: one on Kingsdale Avenue, the other at 430 MacDonnell Street.

One of the two people arrested was a minor, sources said.

Speaking to Global News Radio’s Charles Adler on Thursday, Leuprecht, an expert in defence and security, said he was not sure this operation was “run in an optimal fashion for a national security investigation.”

“When the RCMP is flying a plane here on a regular basis at night, it’s a good tip that something may be up,” he said.

READ MORE: 2 arrested in Kingston raids related to major national security probe

The plane, Leuprecht said, had been “raising eyebrows” within Kingston for weeks “because it seems to show up in the middle of the night, usually after midnight, then it circles for several hours on end, so it didn’t seem to be moving particularly far.

“And if you’re familiar with the ways plane traffic works, there was concern this could pose a security issue.”

Leuprecht was also puzzled as to why they used this particular plane “if two high-altitude planes they could have used, that do not make the amount of noise that this particular plane does.”

This particular plane was brought in from Montreal “for this particular purpose,” he said.

Flight plan

Since 9/11, Leuprecht said, there isn’t much that happens in the sky that authorities aren’t aware of.

Any plane flying at this one’s height — estimated at 6,000 feet — would have had to file a flight plan with Transport Canada, he said.

“Nobody just flying a private plane would be able to get permission from Transport Canada to fly their plane with no lights on in the middle of the night, in relatively close proximity to our own little airport here, if this wasn’t a government priority,” Leuprecht said.

“I think people had already drawn the inference that there was government, and likely law enforcement, involvement and investigation under way.”

In a statement on Thursday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale didn’t provide further details on the investigation.

“The Government of Canada has no greater responsibility than to keep its citizens safe,” he said.

“Earlier today, the RCMP and other police partners took action in Kingston, Ont., based on credible information, to ensure public safety. Any comments on operational details will be made at the appropriate time by the RCMP.”

  • With files from Mercedes Stephenson, Alexandra Mazur and Jessica Vomiero

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Amid provincial review, Simcoe County leaders and residents want to chart their own course


Nadine Woods, a business owner in the Georgian Bay town of Port McNicoll, doesn’t mince words when discussing the notion that a provincial review encompassing 82 municipalities and millions of people will result in improvements to her small community.

“I don’t think they know enough about our area to be able to butt their nose into our area and say that they know how to fix everything,” says Woods, the owner of Port McNicoll Barbershop. “I’m wary of the whole thing.”

Woods wants her local representatives to address the issues themselves.

County leaders couldn’t agree more. They say they intend to get ahead of provincial reviewers by coming up with recommendations of their own for reform.

The government’s announcement this week that it will review the governance of eight regional municipalities and the County of Simcoe has sparked a mix of speculation, concern and hope across the large part of the province that’s affected, which includes the highly-populated GTA regions of Peel, Durham and York. The consequences will also be felt in areas with more rural residents like Oxford and Simcoe counties.

The province says its goal is to cut red tape, find efficiencies and improve services, but some residents and municipal leaders worry the exercise is more about trimming the provincial deficit and getting rid of politicians.

“I think Queen’s Park is hemorrhaging money and they need to find some,” says Woods.

Her town of Port McNicoll is part of Tay, which has a population of roughly 10,000 and is represented by five ward councillors, along with a mayor and deputy mayor, who serve on county council — translating to an average of about 1,400 constituents per representative.

“They’re looking for things to cut here but we don’t have enough already,” she says.

Simcoe County politicians say previous attempts to slash the 32-member regional council (the largest in the province) have failed and the county must address representation across the board — at ward and regional level — that isn’t optimal, and improve service delivery. Made up of 16 member municipalities, all of which have two representatives at the regional council table, the county is a vast patchwork of jurisdictions ranging in population from 8,962 in Penetanguishene to 36,566 in Innisfil.

Spanning from York Region boundary in the south, up to the southern shores of Georgian Bay in the north, it’s also home to Barrie and Orillia, cities that function independently and don’t have a seat at county council, but share county-provided services like paramedics, long-term care and social housing. A county statement boasts of being one of the largest counties in Ontario, with combined population expected to surpass half a million this year.

Considering the looming review, county politicians are urgently developing their own plans for reform.

Anita Dubeau, deputy mayor of Penetanguishene, says the province’s unexpected move last spring to slash Toronto council in half during an election was “a wake-up call” for those in her region.

She says she and her colleagues must be proactive, considering past failed attempts to chop county council.

“I have supported downsizing our council for many years,” she says.

“There has been attempts to try to downsize that house (county council) for some years, but it’s very difficult when you bring it to the floor.”

Past efforts fell through because, among other reasons, the deputy mayor and mayoral representative from each of the 16 townships couldn’t agree on who should concede their seat, Dubeau says.

“I think there is more of a flavour for that now,” she says. “There is a lot of work to be done in the next six months.”

But she says an arbitrary cut like that inflicted on Toronto, would do more harm than good.

“We need to try to come up with a plan on our own,” she says.

Consolidation has been an ongoing evolution for Simcoe County, which once consisted of 32 municipalities — until a rearrangement of boundaries in the mid-’90s.

Tiny’s Mayor George Cornell, who also heads the county council, says “now that the province has come forward with a request for review, that definitely puts (municipal reform) front and centre for the county.

“We don’t want to be waiting.”

He wants to look at representation across all 16 communities to address set-ups that “aren’t optimal,” for a region he describes as “somewhat unique” due to its municipal makeup.

Cornell says it will be on the agenda for the next meeting.

“I don’t get the sense at all that it will be anything like the process used with Toronto,” he says, of the province’s review. “This will be more collaborative.”

Cornell and Dubeau agree the review could be catalyst for how to better deliver public services.

“We (Penetanguishene) do have some shared services with Midland and that’s a good beginning,” Dubeau says. “We have fire services that have been amalgamated.

Simcoe County residents and business owners the Star spoke to expressed a range of opinions about the provincial review, with some saying there is plenty of opportunity to find efficiencies, while others worrying about losing political representation or the province simply bungling the process.

Shanta Cadeau, co-owner of the Old Corner Store in Hillsdale, is among those who support the province.

“I think there is lot of wastage,” Cadeau says.

Across the street Evan Nelson, the owner of Hillsdale Truck and Auto Supply, is also on side. He says he supported the Ford government’s unprecedented move to slash Toronto city council by nearly half, but hopes Premier Doug Ford doesn’t take a similar rushed approach in Simcoe County.

“They should consult with us,” he says.

Missy Edwards, who resides in Tay Township but works as an accountant in neighbouring Midland, fears the review will result in municipalities being amalgamated and residents losing their political voice.

“Even with the councillors we have now it’s still hard to get your voice heard,” she says.

“When they get rid of red tape, it just seem to create more red tape.”

Jason Miller is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Reach him on email:


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Revitalize Ontario Place but don’t raze it, residents say at rally for waterfront park


A theatre showcasing the work of local playwrights. A giant organic vegetable garden. A series of art studios. A world-renowned research facility.

The blue-sky ideas for Ontario Place abounded Saturday during a standing-room-only event at Metro Hall, where non-profit group Waterfront for All hosted a rally to share ideas for the park’s future and reflect on its unique importance to residents.

Amid the positive tone and memories associated with the waterfront public space — first dates, open-air concerts, movies at the Cinesphere — was an acknowledgment that Ontario Place is “at a critical decision point,” as urban designer Ken Greenberg put it.

“Let’s not underestimate the vulnerability of this particular moment,” he said, noting the recurring suggestion that the entire park needs a “big bang” revamp, rather than simply an improvement on what’s already there.

A razing of the park does not appear to be off the table, according to comments made by Jim Ginou, the new Ontario Place board chair and a friend of Premier Doug Ford. Ginou, who will oversee the park’s redevelopment, told QP Briefing this month that the park’s current state is “disgraceful.”

Opinion | Keenan: ‘Nothing can be saved’ at Ontario Place? That’s simply not true

Since the 155-acre park opened in 1971, Ontario Place has been celebrated as a beloved waterfront public realm that showcased Lake Ontario and drew crowds for concerts, movies at the Cinesphere and more. But when low admission led to financial problems, the previous Liberal provincial government in 2012 closed its main attractions, including its storied movie theatre.

Recent years, however, have seen improvements, including the reopening of the Cinesphere after renovation and the opening of a parkland section that features a 1.3-kilometre trail named after Bill Davis, who was premier when Ontario Place opened its doors.

For these reasons and more, it’s a “myth” that nothing’s happening on the site, Greenberg said. He emphasized to the crowd that improvements should build on existing assets, and should strengthen the idea of the park as a waterfront public realm, accessible to all.

“There’s a whole array of things that could happen … with clever use of what we find on the ground, taking inspiration from the original creation,” Greenberg said.

Mark Mattson, an environmental lawyer and president of water charity Swim Drink Fish Canada, called Lake Ontario “the most valuable” body of water in Canada, with nine million people drinking from it. There is more industry, business and real estate development happening on the lake than anywhere else, he said.

“People downplay Lake Ontario. Well, let me be very clear: this is the most important water body in the country, and we need people to …connect with it, to understand it, and this is an opportunity for that type of experience,” Mattson said.

He cited as an example Kingston’s newly opened Gord Edgar Downie Pier, which was unveiled last year and has unlocked the city’s waterfront for residents and visitors, enabling them to wade, jump or even flip — “a Canadian thing to do” — directly into the water.

“The same thing could be done here, which would ultimately get more people down to Ontario Place,” he said, noting the water samples done on the site show it’s clean.

Suzanne Kavanagh, a director of the newly created Waterfront for All organization, said Saturday’s event was intended to be proactive.

“We’re not militant. We don’t have a petition, because we don’t know what we’re up against,” she said.

However, Ginou’s recent comments about Ontario Place set off “alarm bells,” she said, and served as an incentive to organize those who support the park and want to enhance it.

“We’re saying, don’t blow up the gem — polish the gem,” she said.

The bigger picture concerning the future of Ontario Place is about access to the water, said city Councillor Joe Cressy, who represents Spadina—Fort York. Over two generations the city lost the waterfront to industrialization, the railway and the Gardiner Expressway, “but we are finally starting to reclaim the waterfront,” he said.

“If you want to build a great city, you invest in waterfront revitalization. And what’s the opposite of waterfront revitalization? Mega-malls and casinos,” Cressy said, referencing concerns about what the Ford government might propose for the site.

Attendee Beverley Thorpe said she is concerned about the future of Ontario Place, a park she walks through regularly for “spiritual rejuvenation.”

“I think Toronto is sitting on a gem, the lake itself,” she said. “I would love to see how we could celebrate the lake more here.”

With files from Jennifer Pagliaro and Edward Keenan

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis


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Residents living in Regina’s older homes warned of lead pipes and water line connectors – Regina


Some Regina residents are voicing concerns after receiving letters alerting them of water connections to their homes containing lead and the potential health risks.

Dena Hudson has lived in her early 20th century home in the Cathedral neighbourhood for 21 years. She received her letter in late November 2018.

While lead is nothing new, Hudson is just one of nearly 4,000 residents who received letters as part of the city’s push, prompting residents to take action.

Stantec Consulting recommended to remediate contaminated water lines

“We can’t replace 4,000 services immediately so what we need to do is make sure public health is protected,” director of Water, Waste and Environmental Services for the city of Regina, Pat Wilson said.

The city started replacing its lead pipes nearly a decade ago, a common issue in neighbourhoods built before the 1960’s, but it’s not replacing pipes on private property.

“The city is responsible for the portion from the property line, the curb box or the valve box, out to the main and then the owner is responsible just like anything on the property for the portion that goes from the curb box to the house,” Wilson said.

Classes to resume at Robert Thirsk High School Wednesday after frozen water line issue

Because the heavy metal is linked to neurological effects, the city is paying for those at risk to get their water tested.

“We provide two options for testing, we can come in and do a full test which involves leaving the water stand for six hours and then we take the first draw of water and test that. We can also provide an opportunity for folks to take a sample themselves,” Wilson said.

Adding, it can sometimes be difficult to know what material might be in the home because there may have been repairs or partial replacements in the past.

“Folks can have a copper system inside all of their pipes inside may be copper, but they still have some lead in the service connection,” Wilson said.

VSB vote to re-pipe and install water refilling stations after lead concerns

Upon receiving the letter, Hudson collected a sample of water herself and took it to the provincial lab for testing, and within a week she received her results.

The test showed 14.4 micrograms of lead per litre of water, which is above the accepted standard of fewer than 10 micrograms per litre.

“I think what I was more concerned about was my children,” Hudson said. “Because they grew up in this home- they arrived here when they were one and three years of age and they’ve been drinking that water for 20 plus years.”

Hudson has since installed a water filtration system which is eligible for a rebate and the city is also giving away filters to anyone who has a city service connection that is lead, or test results which show high levels of lead.

EPCOR attempting to get ahead of new guidelines regarding lead in Edmonton’s drinking water

So far, the city says it’s handed out 350 filters and is replacing around 100 connections per year, hoping to be lead-free by 2050.

“Many cities have this issue, some cities have considerable more services that they’re needing to replace, we’re interested in any opportunities we have to accelerate that pace,” Wilson said.

Still, with a portion of the pipes left up to the homeowner to replace, which could cost thousands, Hudson says it’s a harsh reality.

“Who can pay for that? A lot of people can’t, it’s a very difficult economic reality.”

Anyone with questions can call the city at (306) 777-7000.


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Why Toronto residents’ kitschy Christmas light displays are a gift to the city


From my window I can see the narrow house across the street decorated with a single strand of icicle lights loosely hung from the eave. One at a time, the icicles “drip” with light. It’s slow and melancholy, the visual equivalent of one of those sad Christmas carols about hardship or longing.

It’s kitsch, but I love it and look each evening to see if they have turned it on. I don’t know them, but I know they’re there, and that they’re offering something back to Toronto.

Single strand lights, like basic Lego sets, often offer the biggest opportunity to get creative, writes Shawn Micallef.
Single strand lights, like basic Lego sets, often offer the biggest opportunity to get creative, writes Shawn Micallef.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

As the nights get longer we feel compelled to fight against the darkness with light. As late November rolls into December, Christmas lights begin to appear on porches and in windows like warm little flames. Never mind the shops that started decorating too early; the domestic displays are signs of life and individual acts of creativity.

There are hundreds of thousands of amateur lighting designers in action across the city whose decisions have determined how our streets look. Are the lights clipped to the eaves in a perfectly straight line like a laser beam of festive cheer, or do they hang from hooks, crooked and ever so slightly haphazard, like a lovable person who’s always in slight disarray?

There are folks who take this job very seriously and go all out, like the wee house with its postage stamp lawn on Brock Ave., two blocks south of Dundas St., that’s entirely covered in Christmas ornamentation. Lights, wreaths, Santas, snowmen, bells, polar bears and an entire menagerie of other electrified animals and characters. I think they must have a second house to store it all in and their hydrometer must spin like a top.

A house on Brock Ave., near Dundas St. W., takes Christmas displays seriously.
A house on Brock Ave., near Dundas St. W., takes Christmas displays seriously.  (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star)

Another house by the corner of Indian Grove and Glenlake Ave. in the Junction neighbourhood is covered in LED lights that are programmed with elaborate patterns worthy of a discotheque. There’s even a sign out front with an FM radio frequency so you can tune in to hear an accompanying soundtrack.

A few blocks east along Glenlake Ave. at Dorval Rd., a large house is covered in lights and the yard even includes a recreated Christmas tree lot, as if their lawn is a stage for a Christmas pantomime.

These are the superstars that get all the attention and Instagram snaps, but don’t overlook the humbler displays. I’m particular fond of the single string of lights that might run down a handrail and out onto a bush, or a window lit up with blinking lights on the third floor of a house, or a balcony shining high in the sky. All of them are public gestures.

For those driving at night on Hwy. 401 away from Toronto for the holidays, perhaps while it’s snowing, a house lit up in the countryside is a welcome sign, too, on a lonely drive.

When we were young and being transported in the back seat of our parents’ car around Windsor, Ont., my sister and I would rate the displays. “There’s a 6” or “That’s a 10.” I still do that in my head, though I’m more generous with my ratings.

Living in Toronto, I see things mostly on foot now. Speeding by in a car it’s a bit of a blur: a highlighted roofline, a sense of depth if there are lights on trees around a yard, and perhaps a glimpse of those ever-present inflatables that are around today.

A house on the southeast corner of Glenlake Ave. and Dorval Rd. does modern lighting with an inflatable Rudolph.
A house on the southeast corner of Glenlake Ave. and Dorval Rd. does modern lighting with an inflatable Rudolph.  (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star)

On foot you see all the finer details you might otherwise miss. You can also hear the whirl of fans from the inflatables, perhaps breaking the winter wonderland illusion ever so slightly. There are views inside, too, as curtains are left parted to show off a decorated tree, so our gaze is invited into homes for a moment.

Technology has changed things. Now you can buy lights you can control with an app on your phone. There are those ready-made icicle strands that go up fast, and light nettings you can instantly wrap a tree with.

Maybe I’m nostalgic for my own childhood Christmas displays, but the houses that use the simplest materials, lights on a string, get the highest ratings in my mind. They’re artisanal, handmade rather than simply purchased. Like the basic Lego sets that were little more than multicoloured bricks, they’re the ones that allow for the most creative freedom.

Some people hire cherry pickers to do entire trees, while others will put lights just where they can reach. Much respect to those who went up precarious ladders to reach the highest peaks on their houses. All of it, even those inflatables, is appreciated.

The city is at its brightest this week, especially on Christmas Eve. Soon we’ll plunge into the January darkness, so don’t rush to take down your lights. If they’re efficient LEDs, maybe keep them up a little too long.

It’s your gift to the city.

Shawn Micallef is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @shawnmicallef


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Senneville residents block condo development but could lose trees to house construction – Montreal


It’s back to the drawing board for a residential real estate developer in Senneville, Que.

Residents in the small, rustic municipality on the western tip of the Island of Montreal recently stopped a proposed housing project from being approved.

More than 160 signatures were registered to oppose a developer who planned to build condominiums off of des Anciens-Combattants Boulevard.

The developer then withdrew the plan, which would have allowed more than 60 condominiums to be built in a village that is solely made up of single-family homes on large plots of land.

Senneville council votes to rezone area slated for controversial condo project

“Senneville is not a condominium community. It really isn’t,” Bill O’Brien, a longtime resident of the area, told Global News.

O’Brien lives on Elmwood Avenue, and his house backs onto the wooded area where the housing project was proposed.

“In the event that the condos had gone through, it could have set a precedent for the rest of Senneville so in the future, if a big piece of property had come up for sale, somebody might be able to say, ‘Hey, look, it’s been done before. Why can’t we do it again?’” he said.

WATCH: New Senneville Residential development proposal has residents voicing their disproval

The land is now zoned for eight single-family houses.

But the construction of single-family houses would risk cutting down even more trees than the proposed condominium project.

“This forest behind us acts as a climatic regulator for this town. It also shields this town from noise pollution (and) light pollution,” Senneville resident Martin Gauthier told Global News.

Though it’s a smaller town now, there used to be 1,400 people living in Senneville in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and the mayor argues the town could have handled an influx of people had residents supported the condo project.

‘I want nothing at all’: Senneville residents unhappy with potential housing project

“The town could absorb more citizens and still keep with the small-town feel,” Senneville Mayor Julie Brisebois told Global News.

Brisebois says the original project would have saved a majority of the trees, while the single-family home proposal puts a lot more of them at risk.

“I think it’s too bad,” she said.

“I think we were saving 80 per cent of that wooded area without having to spend a dollar.”

It’s now up to the real estate developer to decide whether to go ahead with the single-family home project, which would maintain the look of the village but potentially come at a huge environmental cost.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Roxham Road residents near Canada-U.S. border to be paid for asylum seeker disruption


Quebecers living by the Canada-United States border where thousands of migrants have crossed irregularly into the country since 2017 will be eligible for payments of up to $25,000, the federal government announced Wednesday.

Life along the previously sleepy Roxham Road — the main entry point for migrants entering the country on foot — has been disturbed, and residents deserve to be compensated, Border Security Minister Bill Blair said.

READ MORE: Quebec says Ottawa owes it $300 million for costs related to influx of asylum seekers

“I’ve been there. I’ve spoken to the residents. I’ve seen the level of activity of the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and other officials that has impacted what is otherwise a quiet, rural road,” Blair told reporters.

Roughly 96 per cent of all migrants who have crossed illegally into Canada since 2017 have done so at Roxham Road.

WATCH BELOW: Canada spent $166 million dealing with asylum seekers

The federal Immigration Department says 16,000 people crossed the Canada-U.S. border illegally into Quebec through the end of October this year, and about 19,000 did last year.

Bureaucrats divided the Roxham Road area into three zones based on proximity to the border. People living in the closest zone are eligible to receive up to $25,000, those in the next closest $10,000, and those in the third zone $2,500.

READ MORE: More than half of Quebec asylum seekers had some kind of ‘legal status’ in U.S. before crossing to Canada

A spokesperson for Blair could not say Wednesday how much the compensation will cost Ottawa.

Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer said in the House of Commons he worries irregular crossings will become a permanent problem.

“The prime minister needs to stop asking others to pay for his failures,” Scheer said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded by stating Ottawa is investing $173 million to improve border security as well as to decrease the time it takes to process asylum seekers claims.

READ MORE: Pamphlets circulating in Plattsburgh, NY, offer how-to instructions on border crossing


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A 51-storey condo tower proposed for densely populated St. James Town has residents concerned


Hassan Awadh says the last thing St. James Town needs is a 50-storey condo tower.

“I look out from my balcony and all I can see are highrises,” says Awadh, 50, who has lived in the area with his wife and four sons since 2008.

There are already huge lineups for TTC buses in the area, the local Food Basics and FreshCo supermarkets are overflowing in the evenings, says St. James Town resident Hassan Awadh.
There are already huge lineups for TTC buses in the area, the local Food Basics and FreshCo supermarkets are overflowing in the evenings, says St. James Town resident Hassan Awadh.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

There are huge lineups for TTC buses in the area, particularly on Wellesley St. just west of Parliament St., and the local Food Basics and FreshCo supermarkets are overflowing in the evenings — signs of how tightly packed the community is, Awadh says.

In fact, St. James Town is considered one of the most, if not the most, densely populated neighbourhoods in Canada.

That’s a key reason a new development application by Greatwise Developments Corp., calling for a 51-storey condo highrise, four townhouse blocks and two midrise buildings including a 10-storey rental building — 890 new units in all — has local residents, service providers and city planners nervous.

“I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. There’s not enough services in the area for the people who are already here,” says Vickie Rennie, 61, who has lived for 48 years near the 4.3-hectare parcel of land at the northwest corner of Wellesley and Parliament Sts. where the proposed development would unfold if approved by the city.

There are four rental highrises there already — 240, 260 and 280 Wellesley St. E. and 650 Parliament St., all dating from the late 1960s.

St. James Town seen in the 1960s when it drew a hip young crowd who enjoyed the amenities, such as the outdoor pool.
St. James Town seen in the 1960s when it drew a hip young crowd who enjoyed the amenities, such as the outdoor pool.  (Norman James/Star library)

An Aug. 21 fire at 650 Parliament displaced more than 1,500 residents, forcing them to local community centres, hotels, relatives’ homes and other Greatwise buildings in St. James Town.

The blaze caused “catastrophic” damage to the building’s electrical and mechanical system and the building owners recently said it will take at least six months to complete the repairs.

Corporate records indicate the proponent behind the development application, Greatwise Developments Corp., located at 333 Wilson Ave., is administered by Samuel Grosz.

Records show the buildings on the property are owned by a variety of entities including Parwell Investments Inc. and Lilsam Inc., all listed at the same Wilson Ave. address.

The application doesn’t call for the demolition of the four aging buildings.

The project is similar to the “reurbanization” of Parkway Forest, a subdivision near Sheppard Ave. E and Don Mills Rd. in North York. There, hundreds of new rentals and thousands of new condo units spurred by the Sheppard subway line are springing up alongside 1960s-era towers.

A photo of two children playing in St. James Town in 1969.
A photo of two children playing in St. James Town in 1969.  (Dick Darrell/Toronto Star)

Toronto’s planning department has sought input from local residents and community groups on the Wellesley-Parliament project, and the height and scale of the 51-storey condo tower has been mentioned as a key thorn.

Planning staff have suggested to the landowner that the height should come down.

“Our comment was fairly preliminary in the context of the existing buildings on site. They are in the range of 20s up to 32 storeys,” says Thomas Rees, a city planner on the file, who notes 51 storeys is almost double the existing buildings on site.

“That one is really going to stick out,” he adds.

But in a statement from Greatwise on Friday, spokesperson Danny Roth said the company believes the height will have a “minimal” impact on the pedestrian experience.

“Its height will fit into the range of heights that have recently been approved in the neighbourhood, particularly along Sherbourne St. and Bloor St.,” Roth said.

There will be other challenges for the landowner.

Prompted by the recent blaze at 650 Parliament, the planning department is demanding that before the new application can be approved, Greatwise do a health and safety audit of the existing towers on the parcel, including 650 Parliament.

The audit would cover items including the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems in the buildings, Rees says.

“We’re asking the developer to provide a building safety audit … to identify what needs to be fixed, and then we want that to be subject to a peer review to ensure it’s accurate and not missing anything,” he says.

The city wants to find ways to secure necessary improvements to the buildings as a condition of development, Rees adds.

The proposal calls for a 51-storey condo highrise, four town house blocks and two mid-rise buildings including a 10-storey rental apartment — 890 new units in all.
The proposal calls for a 51-storey condo highrise, four town house blocks and two mid-rise buildings including a 10-storey rental apartment — 890 new units in all.  (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)

Density issues raised by the application are also on the city’s radar, the planner said.

On behalf of the ownership group, Greatwise said it’s proceeding with an application “we believe meets existing policy frameworks, including the city’s official plan and the Growth Plan for the (Greater) Golden Horseshoe.”

The statement added that “more than just from a policy perspective, the applicant’s proposal brings reinvestment to a community that has seen little to no change since it was built in the 1960s.”

St. James Town is actually a larger neighbourhood bounded by Wellesley, Sherbourne, Bloor and Parliament Sts.

The four buildings in question are part of a cluster of crumbling highrises in the area — 19 in all — that are home to about 17,000 people, many of them new arrivals in Canada.

When first built, the ’60s-era towers became a magnet for hip young men and women who enjoyed the amenities, including an outdoor pool.

But the buildings have since fallen into disrepair.

In April, Greatwise submitted a joint official plan amendment and zoning bylaw amendment application for the Wellesley-Parliament project.

“The proposed development will allow us with hindsight to correct many of the site’s existing challenges including the current lack of public road connections through the site, undefined open spaces, an abundance of surface parking and outdoor garbage storage areas, and the monotony of the prevailing architectural forms, among other issues,” Roth said in his statement.

Proposed features include a new supermarket, a network of new streets and a new 0.1-hectare public park, though the city says the applicant’s park allotment needs to be bigger.

The developer also plans to take out the Food Basics discount grocery store on Wellesley and replace it with another unspecified supermarket.

The fear among local residents is that the new one will be a “high-scale” store, which is not appropriate for a low-income community, said Hanna Ahmed, who has lived in the neighbourhood for eight years, in an interview while shopping at Food Basics.

Resident Hanna Ahmed fears a "high scale" store will replace the discount grocers if the development is approved.
Resident Hanna Ahmed fears a « high scale » store will replace the discount grocers if the development is approved.  (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)

Rees, the city planner, notes the Wellesley-Parliament application comes at a time when St. James Town faces enormous density challenges.

For example, a school in the catchment area, Rose Avenue Junior Public, is already over capacity.

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The Wellesley-Parliament project and other residential developments approved or close to being approved along Sherbourne, Howard and Bloor Sts. mean the school will have to contend with many more students.

“We’re working with the school board to see how we’re going to deal with this. I don’t know what the answer is, but to me it’s a big concern. We don’t want to force kids to be bused when there’s a school right behind them,” Rees says.

Housing developments in the school’s catchment area since 2016 — within or near St. James Town — include a 32-storey tower already built at 28 Linden St.; another at 555 Sherbourne St. that is 43 storeys; two highrises — 38 and 46 storeys — under construction at the north end of Parliament St.; and two others on Sherbourne above 50 storeys each, at various stages of the city’s approval process.

Construction is nearly complete on the Selby, a 50-storey residential rental building also on Sherbourne.

Niv Balachandran, an executive member of the St. James Town Service Providers Network, a coalition of organizations serving the community, says residents feel their voices are being drowned out by a powerful landowner.

“Resident feedback has been that the process has been disenfranchising for people who want to be engaged, but do not feel they are on an equal footing to have their voices and concerns heard,” Balachandran says.

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent


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