A Walk Down
By Donald Blair June 5, 2005
Back in April, I was in the McDconalds at Jane Finch Mall, scarfing the McDeal of the day. The last time I sat here and had a meal at this McDonalds, it was 1988, the Mall was very different, the McDonalds was very different, and I was living just a couple blocks south at Eddystone and Jane.
I was just a kid back then. I was a student at Yorkwoods Gate Public School (or, by the time I left, it was simply known as Yorkwoods Elementary School - YES for short), and was looking forward to going to Oakdale Park Junior High (or, Oakdale Park Middle School - what a little bit of time will do to everything you once knew!). I had never set foot on the property of Oakdale Park; all I knew was that the girl I had a big crush on, who coincidentally lived on the same floor as I did at 2775 Jane Street, went to that school.
As I took the bus across Finch from Finch Station, I passed by all the landmarks I remembered from a time long ago: Branson Hospital didn't have an emergency ward anymore. That hospital was one of two my dad spent a lot of time in his later life, just before his death 10 years ago in September, 1995. Sentinel Road was where the 10th Downsview Beaver Colony and Cub Pack Scouts met, and I was in both.
Downsview Dells, which, according to my mom, was the same park she strolled through with my dad while she was still pregnant with me. Yorkwoods Library, I never knew existed. The only library I ever needed was the one at school. The presbyterian church a block east of Jane still looked exactly the same, only a little less "1980's" and a helluva lot smaller. And of course, the biggest change of all: the Mall.
I got off at Jane and Finch, and stood and looked around. I never knew how big the intersection was, how big the area was: as a child, I hardly ever ventured this far with my parents, let alone on my own. My father lived in
Palasades, the large tower at 10 San Romanoway. He spent his last years at Davisville and Yonge, but it was here where my dad was only really a short walk away. My mother, two younger brothers and I lived at 2775 Jane Street, on the 9th floor.
The first thing I noticed was that the large Jane Finch Mall sign was missing. Replaced for a paltry excuse of an identifying sign for the mall. I figured, "times change, so do signs", and that large concrete tower - which was visible for several miles away - must have been on it's last legs. No matter, the pub that has been at Jane Finch Mall was one I always wanted to go to, now that I could legally drink. Not only was the Dominion now a
Price Chopper, but the pub was gone, and the entire mall - now much smaller to me as an older man - was very different. In fact, the only things that remained constant, were Reitmans, Shoppers Drug Mart, the MedCare health clinic (even that's different now!), and Sketchley Cleaners (and I am taking a guess that it still exists). Tobacco Row isn't even there anymore! That was a staple - I used to gaze at the candies and chocolates on one side, and snicker at the cigarettes and cigars on the other, and begging my mom or dad to buy me a chocolate or candy from the stand.
And of course, McDonalds was still there. In fact, most of the stores on that end of the mall were still there. What I was shocked to see: in the place of the old Food City (which was probably the best food shopping
experience anyone could ever have had: all the checkout lanes were labeled with street signs, such as Firgrove, Yorkwoods, San Romanoway, Grandravine, Eddystone, Jane, Driftwood, and other streets in the area), was now a large, el-cheapo discount flea-market Wal-Mart knockoff (Walia Discount). I don't remember the name of the store, but when I stepped in, it not only occupied the former Food City, it also occupied what was once Towers (turned Zellers), and both real estate made for one large store.
No matter. I can live without the pub, the Dominion, the Food City, Tobacco Row, Open-Window Bakery, the Italian-owned ice cream shop, the concrete sign, and the large orange and black mall maps in the main areas of the mall. There needed to be one thing in the mall to remain, and if it did not, I'd be infuriated: the large "JF" on the wall, near the ramp leading to the McDonald's "wing" of the mall. I walked around, past what was the old
entrance to Towers, and turned the corner. Gasp! It's gone! The signature memory of this mall, next to all that I had mentioned, was gone. I had enough. I promptly left the mall and walked south on Jane Street.
The plaza across the street was still there: Pizza Hut remaining the staple of the plaza. The Blockbuster (which was formerly Canada Post Station "D" - Downsview) is still there. Firgrove Public School (where I had summer
school once way back when) off to the distance. The apartment buildings still there. Then I get to Yorkwoods Gate. The best Chinese food outside of China is located in the Yorkwoods Gate Plaza: Jade East Takeout. It is the greasiest, most unhealthy Chinese food, and it is simply the best. I would have had some, but, as they have been for decades, they were closed Sunday. (This little store probably existed at the time dinosaurs roamed the earth!)
The Yorkwoods Community Centre is no longer: now, the unique "circle building" is a Salvation Army church. The pool that I used to play in as a child with my younger brother, my friends, and the girl everyone had a
crush on (but none as close to her as me), now filled in with concrete and grass.
And what's this? The school I spent the first half of my life in, no longer looks like a prison! Anyone who remembers Yorkwoods, will remember the lower brick face and the upper black panelling (I believe evidence of this still exists in the quadrangle of the school - a feature that itself is unique to a public school). It's now a light, beige colour. I walked around the school to the back - the side where only the "seniors" hung out. I went through the covered area of the school - it still smelled like piss after all these years. Kids are playing basketball, and I approach the playground - renovated and brand new (compared to the one I used to play on, which was
far bigger than the one that exists now. Perhaps if I still saw that old playground, it might be the same size, and it's I that has become bigger). I walked toward the fence, expecting to walk through the opening that I used
to walk in and out of as a child, only to discover that it had long been "fenced" in, itself. That made me very angry. I walked toward the bottom of the field and out the opening, next to the apartment building I spent half
my life in. Looking off to the distance, I expected to see more of Oakdale Park, instead I saw a building: a community centre. Probably to replace the one that used to exist on Yorkwoods Gate. It looked so unusual and out of place on the park grounds. And there was Oakdale Junior High. Still, after all these years, I had not stepped foot on the property, and I don't think I ever could now. I looked up at the apartment building, and walked over to the lobby. I was able to get into the building - something which was vehemently denied
according to the sign ("Do not let strangers into the building!" it declared. I'm hardly a stranger!). I walked into the front lobby and it appeared so much smaller than it did in the past. The furniture, mirrors and
tables in the fenced-off area had not been cleaned since I last left back in 1990. The elevator lobby was not humming with the usual activity. I took the elevator up to the 9th floor: the one on the far right, which I was happy with, because it was the only elevator I felt safe with when I lived there.
I disembarked on the 9th floor. The walls were a bare, bland cream colour. Not like what I remember: when I left, the walls were white with this decorative grey pattern. When I was a child, they were painted yellow and
gold, and the carpet was a dark red. (There was no concept of what looked good in the 70's and 80's). I walked over to 912: the apartment I spent so many years in. I remember looking out my bedroom window many nights,
looking out at North York. I could see the bank towers and the CN Tower, vowing one day that I'd work in one of those buildings. I could see the lights of Downsview Airport, when it was still used as CFB Downsview. "Jake and the Fatman" would be on in the living room at night, or I'd hear the station identification for CFMT or CBC, and I'd be looking out the bedroom window every night. It was never boring. The large red fire-alarm bell right next to the door was replaced with an electronic red box. I remember those fire drills like they were yesterday. Loud, annoying, ringing sounds. I loved it as a child. I knocked on the door to find out if anyone resided there, and hey - maybe there was mail to pick up! Of course, no answer - and that could be for so many reasons. I walked back to the elevator lobby, pressed the down button, and noticed that the smokers ash box was replaced and covered up. I prayed that I would not get the large service elevator on the left, because that scares the bejeezus out of me. Of course, it arrived promptly. No trip to my old apartment building could be complete without a scare. However, it operated better than the elevator in my new apartment building (where I live on my own - well, with a roommate).
I walked out the building, across the front driveway (which used to have a large grass centre - it was removed and paved over, evidently). I walked up the once-tiled path (now ashpalt), and through the trees immediately
outside the building (which was once an outdoor pool, but was filled in long before I ever remembered it was a pool). And then, I came up to the one thing that has yet to change: the slide.
The story behind this slide makes me very sad. It reminds me of so much. It's in between the two buildings at Jane and Eddystone, right next to the fence at Yorkwoods Public School, in the middle of "nowhere". There also
used to be a teeter-totter, but that thing was such a safety hazard even when I was a child, I'm not surprised to see it disappear. But the slide...
I have a picture from many, many years ago of me and my younger brother standing in front of that slide in the middle of winter. My father took that picture. He would take us out there as little children and we'd play on
that slide until the cows came home. It's still standing there, unaffected by all the change in the area. The Gulf gas station that was at Eddystone and Jane? It's now a car wash. Commisso and Racco Bakery? I think it's still there, but I never set foot in it then, and I wouldn't attempt it today. But that slide, remained the only constant.
Jane and Finch was a great community. I loved every minute of it when I last lived there, and I'd move back in a heart beat if it were not for my political committments to Scarborough, where I live now. As for what happened to me after I left? Well, I grew up. I ended up working for Scotiabank - in Scotia Plaza, the very same building I pointed to and said "I will someday work there" as a child in my 9th floor bedroom window, and now I work for another company. I ran for city council in 2003, and I'm planning on running for provincial office in 2007 (although if I told my father that I became a conservative, he'd probably have my head!).
I hear time and time again the negative connotation that Jane/Finch is an unsafe place to live, work or play, and that its dangerous to even walk down the street. I remember as a little child back in 1985, walking out of my house in the dead of winter, while my parents were out shopping. I found an old bus transfer somewhere, and stood out at the bus stop at Yorkwoods Gate and
Jane, waiting for the northbound bus, because I wanted to find my mother. I didn't like that I was waiting all by myself, and wasn't going to take it. I boarded the packed maroon and cream-coloured bus, and showed the driver my transfer - which was at least a week old. The driver laughed and said, "go home, son. It's cold outside."
My mother was not impressed. But, it was always safe. I was always safe. Jane and Finch was my home. And even though I'm what feels like a world away from it now, I still feel like it's home.
That day, I was out in the area to meet with someone in planning an event through City Hall, and then to meet with the woman I was dating at the time. Jane/Finch was just a location of convenience for both these meetings, but it turned out to be an emotional walk through memory lane. One city block, where the street lamps used to be white instead of yellow, where a car in 1986 was modern and new, and CKEY was playing Ian Thomas and the Bee Gees, has changed entirely. That slide still remains, though.