An Historical Overview of the
Muriel Collins Housing Cooperative
Author: Barbara Mills
Founding Board President and Past President
FORWARD – A FEW WORDS FROM THE AUTHOR
The events described on the following pages are not about me, but about my responsibilities of being the Founding Board President and the associated duties related to that position and the accountability of the Board to oversee the project.
The intent of putting the history of our co-op to paper with accompanying photos has been to provide our members and interested readers an insight into how our co-op was built and to be a part of our historical archives.
As CUPE Local 79 was our sponsor, it will show that unions can do more than collective bargaining. They are part of the community in which it serves and where its members reside.
Throughout the text, I have acknowledged numerous individuals who assisted the Founding Board during the nine years it took to make this co-op the home of our members past, present and future.
Unfortunately, not all could be mentioned, but their continued efforts and dedication to the project is very much appreciated. The fact that they may have inadvertently been left out of written credit does not diminish the importance of their involvement and to our success.
The following pages are a sampling of the high-lites and events of the many years it took to take a vision and make it into a reality, and how an architectural design turned into brick and mortar. More importantly, it is about the many ‘first’s we established and how the co-op continues to be recognized as a template for other co-op’s.
It is about building a community we can all take pride in.
It is my hope that the readers will take pride in our co-op’s history and enjoy their homes for years to come.
The Co-op Sponsor
In 1985, CUPE Local 79 who represents inside workers for the City of Toronto submitted a proposal in response to a Provincial request for interested parties to sponsor a housing co-op. This was to my knowledge the second endeavor for the union as they had previously sponsored the David B. Archer Co-op on the Esplanade.
The proposal was expertly crafted by Lynn Spinks who at the time was a consultant to Local 79. The application for the project was the Municipal Workers Housing Co-op and was submitted on Local 79’s behalf by Labour Council Development Foundation. One of the conditions of the proposal was the applicant would be prepared to support / partner a special needs group.
The process was long and tedious as all the applications had to be processed and reviewed to ensure that they met the specific requirements set down in the proposal criteria.
Local 79 was the first proposal to be accepted by the Province as it met all the requirements. On March 20th, 1988 at 4 p.m. (then) President Steven David issued a Press Release announcing Local 79 had been given the go ahead to develop a housing project on the first provincially owned site offered for sale for the purposes of housing.
Pilot Place became the successful candidate for the special needs component of the proposal. It was to our knowledge that we were the first co-op to take on such an initiative.
Three years had passed from the time of submission to the proposal being approved. In the press release Mr. David stated that 15% of the housing would be set aside to serve the handicapped and persons with special needs. The remainder for singles, mixed families and seniors. As a footnote, Steven mentioned that at one time Lombard Street housed the offices of Local 79 and therefore it was fitting that we should build on the same street.
During our research of the area it was discovered that Lombard Street in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s was known as the ‘Red Light District’ and was composed of mostly rooming houses. The morgue on Lombard Street was built in the early 1900’s to meet the needs of the city. However, when we began lobbying for the site, the morgue had long since closed its doors and was relocated to its present location on Grosvenor Street. As a footnote: In 1994, the morgue became a squat for homeless youth who were forced out by the police upon discovery of them accessing the building unlawfully.
Forming the Founding Board
Previous to the proposal being approved, I was elected to the Board of Directors for the Local 79. Prior to a Board meeting, Steven David asked me if I would consider taking on the project as the Founding Board President and for all intents and purposes represent the union throughout the process. I was pleased that he felt I had the capabilities to take on this assignment and his recommendation was passed by the Board.
By all accounts it was a formable task to take on, but at the same time an opportunity of a life time. With the support of the union executives and the Labour Council Development Foundation it turned out to be a positive venture and a great learning experience.
The first order of business was to familiarize myself with the proposal, seconded by learning the responsibilities of the position and thirdly by forming the required Founding Board.
Among the first persons that I enlisted to sit on the Founding Board was Muriel Collins, Donna Hamilton, Darlene McMillan, Rowena Guerra, Peter Marcelline and Ken Clark. The Board was chosen from the many divisions within the City such as Homes for the Aged, Social Services, Children’s Services, City Planning and Ambulance Services. All were Local 79 members and eventually we formed a Board of nine.
Muriel agreed to be V.P. with the understanding that her presence at meetings and input would be limited due to her various other union responsibilities. Over the years, the Board’s composition changed many times due to waning interest because of unforeseeable and constant delays. There were a couple of times that we felt the venture would not survive, but we remained tenacious in our intent not to give up on the project. Donna and I were the steadfast members of the Board from its inception in 1988 until our official opening on December 01, 1994.
A tribute to Donna Hamilton:
Donna was a truly remarkable woman, a good friend and a trusted colleague. She was foremost dedicated to the social housing movement. Her philosophy was that social housing was a need for those that required financial assistance and a helping hand. She believed in the co-op sector and was strongly opposed to polarizing those with housing needs. Donna’s cancer did not deter her from being active on the Board. She had remarkable courage and determination to see the co-op through to the end. By the fall of 1994 she became very ill. As per her wish the Board kept her involved in the progress of the buildings being completed. I would take cheques to the hospital for her to sign as it made her feel she was still contributing to the success of the project. She lived to see ‘her dream’ become a reality and sadly passed away on our official day of occupancy December 01, 1994. Her son Kevin remains a member of the co-op. Her daughters Kelly and Tracy were former members.
If Steven David was frustrated with the 3 year delay to get the proposal approval, the Founding Board took another 6 years before we completed the project. We were faced with multiple delays for various reasons including Ministry of Housing (MOH) and city by-law requirements.
One such drawn-out delay was the Province’s inability to decide if they wanted to lease the land for 99 years or sell it outright. Eventually in 1991 it was determined that a purchase of sale would be the choice of the government. It was an interesting undertaking as we entered into an offer to purchase the first Crown Land referred to as the Provincial Homes First Initiative. The agreement to purchase was between the vendor HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN and the purchaser the Church-Lombard Housing Co-operative. I was privileged to sign the document as the purchaser although much to my feigned dismay Her Royal Highness was not there to sign off as the vendor.
From the time of purchase and throughout the construction process Donna and I as (President and Treasurer) signed our names on cheques totally millions of dollars.
Deputations and various meetings
From 1988 through 1994 and beyond, it was my responsibility to attend various meetings with provincial representatives, MPP’s, City Councillors, lawyers and architects to name a few.
In 1990 and 1991 were very busy years for the Founding Board, LCDF and our architects. The Board reviewed Pilot Places requirements, their lease and our construction budget. We also had to address the various changes required from the City to build to the specifics of the proposal. Under advisement of LCDF we considered various sub-contractor proposals e.g. excavation, concrete provider, electrician, plumbing, locksmith, elevator installers, bathroom and kitchen providers, painters, glass installers, forming and drywall installers to name only a few. Eventually contracts were entered into and signed by Donna and myself. We also signed all the cheques to the contractors on a regular basis. It was an overwhelming experience but one that was interesting as we moved forward.
I attended meetings at the City with several departments that were required to approve the architectural design and the construction phase. It was multidimensional to say the least. We sometimes attended in groups or me as a stand-alone based on the requirements.
As President, I made several deputations to City Council and relevant Committees such as Committee of Adjustment, Land Use Committee, City Planning, Rezoning and Public Works seeking approval to proposed variances or existing bylaws, codes and city restrictions. I also became active in lobbying City Councillors for support in advance of our deputations when we had to attend City Council where fortunately they voted in favour of the various committee decisions and amendments.
The first time I made a formal deputation was particularly stressful. I was advised I would be speaking at 7 p.m. although it was 10:40 p.m. before I was called.
My gratitude always to Jack Layton who thought it amusing that I was so nervous. He chuckled as he noticed my knee’s knocking and hands shaking. He gave me some words of wisdom that I maintain to this day and encouraged me to speak directly and plea to the need for the co-op to be built. At that particular meeting our request for a variance was approved on the proviso that we provide retail space on Richmond Street.
It is interesting to note that between the time of that requirement and the time of our construction, the downtown core had for a significant time became a ghost town for office space. It took the co-op about 5 years to find a suitable and interested tenant and to which we had lost revenue.
It was also pre-amalgamation so we often had to deal with Metro Toronto as well as the City of Toronto. E.g. Richmond was a city street, Lombard was a Metro street. During construction and in accordance with bylaws, on Richmond we only needed a flag person during the time of excavation and concrete being poured as they exited Richmond Street. Whereas for the dump and cement trucks to enter the property from Lombard St. we required paid duty police officers.
City Council also played a significant role in the architectural designs of the co-op. They were specific to certain requirements and one being that we could not build more than 8 floors as we would obstruct the corridor view from Dundas Street looking south on Dalhousie Street to the St. James Church Steeple. Therefore, we could only put 2 extra floors on the south building to the west of the corridor. We also had to meet density requirements. John Cowle and Ken Chow (our architects) did various designs to meet all the needs set upon us. We had little latitude in the building placement on the parcel of land. It was decided that instead of giving more frontage to both buildings, we could build to the street and provide our future members with a courtyard. We also had limited options regarding the driveway. It had to be open for emergency vehicles as per city requirements. We were not allowed to entertain the thought of gating either entrance of the driveway. One of the options we did have was the cosmetic appearance of the buildings and we were clear we wanted solid brick on the exterior. We were also clear that we did not want a ‘cookie cut’ design and asked for a variety of unit layouts.
Donna and I, in the company of LCDF representatives conducted and hosted several community meetings to involve the neighbours as there was ongoing and growing opposition to building the co-op. The focus of their unease was that the street that was primarily privately owned condos and a co-op would jeopardize their resale value. They had a skewed perception about Pilot Place and their tenants. We brought not only refreshments, but a sense of good will along with our architect, the architectural designs, various Board members and held Q & A sessions. It was at that time we discovered through the City Clerk’s office that 22 residents on the street signed a petition against us. We needed to win them over to put their concerns at rest.
Many of the issues were around Pilot Place residents. Along with Pilot Place Board Members, Donna came to the rescue to speak on behalf of those residents and the project. She gave a heart wrenching speech that P.P. residents were deserving to live in the community. Ironically, one of condo owners acknowledged her son suffered from schizophrenia and asked all those present, was her son a threat to the community? The collaborative effort relieved the fears of those opposed. Their other concerns were they envisioned a ‘Regent Park’ environment. Donna took issue with that as she had resided in the park and was very clear of the project got a bad name by a few and that for the most part the residents of Regent Park were responsible tenants as she was and most employed as she was and in jobs like she had. She was very candid in her belief that people in housing projects get ostracized by those that are less knowing of the need for assisted housing.
My role was to inform the neighbours of the value of having unionized workers in their neighbourhood. I cited the positions they held within the city, such as hospital workers, social service providers, city planners, ambulance drivers and city hall clerks to name a few. Many admitted they didn’t know what the unionists did and were grateful for having more insight into how they make our city a better place to live in.
To appease them we did make minor changes to the building architecture. E.g. the condo to the east of us on Lombard St. asked that the balconies and solariums be curved versus jutted out. The residents didn’t want balconies facing Lombard Street and we complied with only having one row on the east wall. Small changes for us, but by showing we were willing to work with the community were earned their support.
As an act of good faith, we also invited them to both the Ground Breaking Ceremonies on Lombard Street and also the Official Opening.
Moving time for the Ontario Liberal Party
In 1990, the occupants of 70 Lombard began the process of relocating. It gave us the opportunity to see the size of the property from the interior. For those of us that are not used to having a perception of space, it was hard to believe two buildings and a court yard would fit onto the parcel of land that was currently a one story building. We prematurely thought that shortly after we could begin excavation, but it took until the spring of 1993 before it actually happened.
Changing the co-op name
In 1990, I learned that we would have a window of opportunity (in the future) to change the Church-Lombard Housing Co-op to one more fitting. Co-op’s such as Jarvis-George chose to maintain their project name whereas our Founding Board thought otherwise.
Many names and ideas were tossed around. We thought it unique that the Richmond Street address would be numbered 79 and therefore appropriate to name the building after the sponsor, Local 79. Other suggestions were considered such as many of the people (now deceased) that contributed to the city or the union movement.
By this time, I became more aware of Muriel’s hard work in the union sector. What personally impressed me was her determination to change the conditions for seniors in the City’s Homes for the Aged and their quality of life. Muriel’s work with CUPE National on the Rainbow Committee to end racism in the workplace was also impressive.
I asked the Founding Board if they would consider naming the co-op after her. With our Board approval, I then took the recommendation to Stephen David and to the Board of Directors at Local 79. After minimal discussion Steven David and the full Board sanctioned the Motion and Steven David advised the membership in his monthly report.
We filed a formal application for the future name change in the spring of 1990.
Muriel went on to receive the much coveted Woman of Distinction Award.
Naming the Buildings
It was much later and as an after-thought by Founding Board members that it was recommended and approved that instead of naming the buildings north and south, or Lombard and Richmond that they would become the Hamilton and Mills buildings.
This came about because of Donna and me often having to reference the architectural designs with significant confusion. As we had already decided which buildings we would prefer to live in, it became a way of understanding the plans when Donna figured out the laundry room would be in ‘her’ building. It became a running joke with us, the Board and the architects.
On a spur of the moment suggestion a Board member suggested that since we were the only two members from the original Board we should be recognized for our efforts. It was a very nice gesture of gratitude from the Board. I was very pleased for Donna as by then she knew she had limited time as her cancer was progressing. It was a just reward for her to know she would never be forgotten. I was also very appreciative for the honour of being recognized for the efforts put into the project. It also served to continue in our belief when naming the co-op after Muriel we were being consistent in our belief to recognize people for their outstanding work in the community at a time when they were aware of the appreciation.
Constructing a co-op
After so many years of planning, it was very exciting when the plans began to become a reality. Amongst my many responsibilities was to attend regular site meetings along with LCDF representatives, the Construction Supervisor, the architect and various sub-contractors. I learned about the quality of concrete, shoring, hoarding, conduits, caissons, winter heat and many more factors of constructing a building. I was enthralled at the coordination of excavation and concrete trucks working on precision time schedules.
I did regular site inspections and wore a hard-hat and construction boots, which were fashionably not in vogue. I became aware of the location of all the components of the co-op two buildings. E.g. electrical, sump pumps, heating and air exchange units, plumbing etc.
We made an agreement with Mr. Lopresti regarding his future building plans on the north east corner of Church and Lombard. On the south / west corner of our underground parking there is a portion that is cinder blocks versus poured concrete. We also had to enter into an agreement with him for the time we needed to use part of the parking lot to raze the old building.
The site meetings were exciting as each phase began. I was mesmerized the day the crane was being installed. The most exciting day was when the crane operator accidently hit the site trailer with a steel beam. The trailer only moved slightly but enough to scare all of us for a split second. We laughed afterward but at the time, all in the trailer together yelled “What the h*ll just happened?
Regrets are that we didn’t have enough time to put a time capsule into the foundation but in the centre of the basement concrete is a loony which if memory serves me correctly was a donation from Vito Ferri, the construction supervisor.
As I referenced earlier, Board members waned in interest, and from time to time there might only be Donna and I, or a couple more members in attendance for meetings. Regardless, we became quite productive as it gave us time to be a more hands-on Board where we discussed what we would like to see implemented to the interior of the buildings which included the units, common areas, party room, office and laundry area.
It was at such meeting that Marilyn Proutt discovered that the south building had a back door (move in door) where the north building did not. We contacted the architect and the construction manager and the plans were modified for the north building to have a second door but on the side of the building based on our architectural design. Our timing was impeccable because had that been identify later, the construction crew could not have accommodated it.
Other ideas were formed such as not having painted cinder block hallways as they gave the building a sense of non-completion. We wanted carpet and wallpaper in the hallways to give it a homey appeal. We insisted on parquet floors throughout the units and had to prove they were in the original specs.
It was at the Board meeting of June 19th, 1991 that we raised the issue of wanting cameras for security purposes as well as lobby inter-coms and key access only to the underground in the elevators.
The camera issue became a bone of contention and a three year debate between the MOH and me. The Province stated they were a luxury item and not necessary. Where I argued they were a necessity for the present and certainly the future. The Province was adamant that ‘they did not want to see camera’s’ with the finished product. They were firm in their decision that they were not required and definitely not in the budget. In an effort to come to an impasse that we could both live with they allowed us to run conduits as the cable and electrical wiring was about to be installed. However, they made it very clear, it was only for future use.
Near the end of construction, I was able to secure a donation for 4 cameras. The Province was not impressed with my tenacity and determination regardless if they were donated or not.
At the official opening ceremonies, the external courtyard camera was nicely wrapped in a BIG black plastic bag to which we attached a nice big red velvet bow.” It didn’t take much time for the MOH to be drawn to the decorated spectacle for all to notice. When asked, I replied “My understanding was that you did not want to see cameras and I have respectfully honoured your request”. Regardless of the fact that I informed them they were donated, the representative was not amused, but I certainly was. I have always been grateful to our ‘donator’.
While addressing the budget, the co-op provided an additional amount of our budget to enhance the needs of Pilot Place as their original specs did not allow for individual washroom facilities for each unit. Regardless, we handled our funds well and were able to meet all of our buildings requirements. MOH actually commended us when they did a budget review. All the credit goes to LCDF, the construction crew and the architects.
We also fought long and hard for units to not have individual electrical meters for hydro, heat and air-conditioning. The Provincial plan to offer free cable instead was effectively argued and won.
Small enhancements became the norm when everyone put their thinking caps on. We asked for electrical plugs in storage rooms, neutral kitchen cupboards in white versus the standard dark wood. We asked for refrigerators and stoves to be on casters. We asked for key fobs as we have now, but were turned down, again because they were yet to be proven successful and perceived to be too costly. We asked for door handles that one could use more easily instead of round ones and a lot of other small but useful recommendation to make living more easy right down to the knobs on the kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
This is only a sampling of how much thought and effort were put into the project. More than once we were informed that where other Boards seemed to be a ‘rubber stamped – go with the standards’ Boards, we were committed to being hands-on all the way.
We were also security conscious from day one, thus the request for the cameras. We worked with TPS (Sgt. Baldissara) who was impressed with our key plan for the underground and in the elevators as well as our intention to have lobby cameras. He tested the garage door timing and again commended us on how we had given serious thought to our safety concerns and especially because we intended to house women at risk.
Also to be factored in was at the time of our construction there were limited community concerns on our part as there were no shelters in the area. It was only in the late fall of 1994 did the shelter open at the old morgue site. It was opened without any community input, advanced warning or fanfare. Other shelters then opened such as 60 Richmond and Gateway based on our Wards’ bylaws to allow group homes and shelters within its boundaries.
Major obstacles during excavation
The first obstacle we ran against was that the soil was contaminated. I still have a sealed jar with some of the soil that was extracted. It took days for the soil to be treated and to be approved as safe to excavate.
Then an even more serious concern. While excavating, skeletal remains were found and the digging came to an abrupt halt. The fear was if they were human remains, it very might be we were digging on sacred aboriginal burial grounds. It was interesting to witness men and women covered head to toe in white suits carefully removing the remains and taking them to the Coroner’s office for official identification. We knew that if the results were human then the project would be shut down for a significant time if not permanently. Within days, the fossils were identified as animal remains and the excavation continued.
First there were the sewer rats running wild. They were so big you could put saddles on their backs and they all seemed to have long whiskers and tails and extremely nasty dispositions. They actually stayed on the site until after we formally occupied the building. Carla will be able to attest to the size and speed those rodents could travel.
The second was the loveable (to some and a nuisance to others) the pesky ‘Rocky’ our resident raccoon. It was his home before ours and he had no intention of being evicted. He not only stayed while the construction was going on, he had a nasty habit of stealing the construction workers lunches. He was quite apt at opening lunch pails much to the dismay of Mario. Mario’s wife then packed Rocky a lunch daily of a peanut butter sandwich and Oreo cookies.
Rocky also liked to sleep in the hoist in the evenings. One morning, Pat Turcos entered the hoist, fired up the motor, woke up Rocky, Rocky wailed and Pat screamed. Pat got little sympathy as he proclaimed Rocky bit him. Sympathy was on the side of the sleeping fella who was awoken unexpectedly.
After construction we had a family of pigeons who decided to call the co-op home and build nests in the underground. They were clever enough to wait for cars to enter the garage and then they would follow them in before the door closed. They would often wait by the door patiently till a member needed access to the garage. They were equally smart when leaving the underground as they would fly by the garage sensor to open the garage door for them to scavenge for food.
Interest in the co-op
As Local 79 had promoted the success of the co-op proposal, we received hundreds of requests for membership prior to construction. What is more interesting was that word got out that we would be setting aside units for battered women and we received numerous calls from shelters.
When the time came to begin the interview process we were overwhelmed with hundreds of applications. Local 79 members had a 30 day window of opportunity to apply before the applications went out to the community at large. We were insightful enough to not only date stamp the day we received them, but the time which proved to be beneficial when unit selections were being conducted.
Being on the Board of Directors, I / we were allowed to use Local 79 offices to conduct interviews. We had four or five teams of two interviewers per team to interview 4 times a week for about 5 weeks. It was a very long but very fair process. In the end, we filled the co-op, many times over and were able to redirect our applicants to two other co-ops. It was a lot of hard work, by a lot of dedicated people, but we also had a lot of fun in the process.
We then conducted several information sessions at the Yonge Street library for interested applicants and continued that practice here when we had several vacancies available at one time.
When all the applications had been processed and we had the units filled, we then held unit selection meetings. Perspective members could choose their unit depending on the size required and their seniority in the application process. This proved to be advantageous and avoided disputes over priorities of applications especially when they were date and time stamped.
Market Value Rent – Comparators
The closer we got to occupancy; the Province set the rates for market value. I was strongly opposed to MOH making a comparison with condo renters. In reality, they had little option to do otherwise as there were no rental buildings in the immediate area. Based on the high end for market value, we lost a few Founding Board members who had worked so hard to build the co-op and also applicants who could not afford to pay the assessed market value.
The Official Ground Breaking
The day finally came for the official ground breaking ceremony. It was well attended by Provincial representatives, Toronto City Councillors, such as Jack Layton, Olivia Chow, and Kyle Rae, Local 79 Board Executive members, LCDF staff, friends and family. Many speeches were made by the Provincial representatives, City Councillors with both Muriel and me going to the lectern.
Everyone spoke to the success and need for social housing and particularly co-ops. We had a reception at the Flat Iron Bldg. at Church and Front. For the Union and the Founding Board it was a monumental day based on all the years of hard work bringing it to the phase we were now entering into.
The common phrase being spoken from all those involved was “We never thought we would see the day”.
The Construction Phase
As previously stated the Labour Council Development Foundation were the developers of the project. I cannot speak more positive about the professionalism, integrity and dedication of the construction crew under the supervision of Vito Ferri.
All those involved from Larry Domenici the Construction Manager to Van Luz, the accountant were dedicated to the quality of the workmanship. Although I can’t thank each individual here their collaborative efforts were appreciated. Special thanks go to Tony Pollsonelli, Bob McDonald, Brent Witty and Jan Griffiths who worked long hours with the Board and forfeited many of their evenings. Also to be remembered fondly are Pat Turcos, Mario and of course ‘Leaky Joe’ who were onsite. All were remarkable in ensuring we had the best support and expertise available to us.
Housing Victims of Violence
When I proposed the possibility of housing victims of abuse in high risk situations, the Founding Board approved unanimously. I then turned to Jan Griffiths to see if it was legal and feasible and she did the research. To the best of our knowledge we were the first housing co-op to provide priority housing status to victims of violence prior to construction and written into the original co-op bylaws.
Through her research Jan found a co-op in the Lake Simcoe area that had just developed a similar approach to helping provide women with a safe haven who were current members of their particular co-op. She contacted them and they generously shared their information. From there we developed our own bylaws to not only give priority but to ensure that our bylaws would allow victims to stay in their units versus having to use the shelter system as a safe haven.
The Roof Top Party
In the world of construction, putting the roof on a building is a major celebration. In early spring of 1994 we held the event on a bright and sunny day, where we got the first inkling that the roof was going to be hot in the summer. It was a sight to watch our construction workers turn into B.B.Q experts. Donna was receiving chemotherapy and regardless of her suffering the side effects she walked up all 9 flights of stairs to the roof to share in the festivities. She had a smile on her face for all to see and everyone to admire her courage.
Labour Council Development Foundation
About the time that we were preparing for full occupancy, Labour Council without any warning to us advised me that they were folding immediately.
It left us in a position not to have the final training we were entitled under the contract. We were left to our own business knowledge and experience to resolve any issues that arose on a day to day, issue by issue basis.
Fortunately, regardless of the fact that Vito Ferri, his staff and Van Luz our bookkeeper were out of work, they still did not abandon the co-op until they were satisfied that their responsibilities had been fully completed and to their professional standards and satisfaction.
To our credit, although we made some errors but for the most part we managed to make sound judgments that are to this day in effect.
Staffing the Co-op
There is much reference to and a fine line between hiring competent staff and nepotism. None of our staff were employed based on favouritism but on competency, ability and knowledge of the co-op sector.
Carla came to us early in the project as on-site admin staff to the construction crew during her university years. She knew the building and the trades as well as all the dynamics and complexities we overcame. She was hired as the admin support to the newly hired coordinator. Unfortunately, the new hire was found not suitable for the position and a job call went out. Carla applied through the job call process along with many others in the co-op sector. After several interviews with perspective applicants, both John Bowes and I felt that she was the appropriate person at that time to be in the position.
That left us with the need to fill the admin support person. As we had just gone through a long process of interviews and we were speaking of having to repeat the process, Vito suggested that his wife Nina would be appropriate.
When I asked if she was looking for a job, he stated: ‘Not yet…she doesn’t know she should get out of the house now the girls are grown up”. That brought us a much needed chuckle. He then stated he would then go home and convince her.
We agreed that if she was willing she could apply for the job on the proviso that both she and the co-op would have the option of deciding if she liked the job and if we felt she fitted the job description. Needless to say, another smart decision on the part of the Board.
When we employed our first maintenance person, the building was new and required only day to day minor repairs and the person hired met those requirements. However, as time passed there were some issues that the Board could not ignore and therefore they once again had to do a job call.
Tony Mandarino came to us on a referral by Pat Turcos who felt that he was qualified not only to meet the needs of the present but of any future issues that might arise as the building aged. Tony has also met up to the expectations of the position and well beyond.
Van Luz, was the bookkeeper for LCDF, and since he was unemployed and had to start up a business on his own, he was the logical choice for us to maintain our books.
Day of Occupancy -December 01, 1994
As the days approached for full occupancy of both buildings and Pilot Place, the plans put into place for move-ins were proficient and extremely well organized. Timing was set at two hour intervals and members arranged with their movers for the times assigned them. However, we had a major glitch at the very last minute.
The city inspectors upon reviewing one aspect of our fire panel / alarm system wanted a + b to = c. Although our electrician showed them that b + a still = c, they wanted it rewired. That meant that members could move in their personal effects, but not stay here.
Carla and I worked rapidly to resolve the issue, and rented out almost all of the Holiday Inn at the end of the street. We were there for 5 days, and if you want to meet your neighbours that is the way to do it!!! The hotel was extremely accommodating, and not only were families housed, so were their pets. We had dogs, cats, birds, fish, and gerbils. You name it, it was there. All the members that were affected were so unbelievably understanding. Some said, they were just grateful they had the unit. Humour by all saved the situation from being more stressful than it was.
The co-op provided all members with a daily per-diem to cover the costs of meals and of course we paid for the hotel.
We looked like a sorry bunch on the 5th day when we all made the trek back to the co-op. It was a convoy of members with their personal effects in bundle buggies and again humour prevailed. Not one member complained and we managed to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the city inspector.
Prelude to the official opening
During the years that I had known and worked with Donna Hamilton I became aware of some of the highly respected politicians that she was associated with. Donna was a very unassuming person and was certainly not a name dropper. Her friends were her friends, regardless of their social status.
Days prior to her death, while at the hospital I was introduced to a Mr. Cork who was a friend and associate of the then Lt. Governor of Ontario, The Honourable Hal Jackman.
Mr. Cork advised me that ‘Hal’ would be there shortly to see Donna. I was asked how the co-op was progressing as Donna had told them how proud she was of being involved. I later informed both Mr. Cork and Mr. Jackman that the north building of the co-op would be named the Hamilton Building in her honour. Both were exceptionally pleased.
Although I wasn’t sure of protocol and at that very instance it appeared not to be relevant to the Lt. Governor, I asked Mr. Jackman if he would like to be involved in the dedication. He stated he would be privileged to be involved and provided me with all his contact information. I have been always been hopeful that Donna heard us regardless of being in a semi-coma and that she was pleased her friends was there for her.
Preparations for the Official Opening
The preparation for the opening events was multifaceted to begin with. In an effort to keep the costs to a reasonable amount and within budget we avoided costly caterers and prepared most the food ourselves. Many thanks to our members who assisted us in the preparation. I was also successful in obtaining contributions from both CUPE National and CUPE 79, which allowed us to provide an impressive reception for all the guests and members to enjoy. The Ministry representative asked me how we could afford the impressive festivities to which I again informed him I secured ‘donations’ and through friends in-kind-support.
Eileen Leishman was of course in charge of the decorations and room set up. Through the collaborative efforts of many, we presented a very professional buffet venue. We also had an open bar and the courtyard held over 300 chairs for our guests. The party room was set up with decorated tables.
I was able to obtain the City of Toronto Honour Guard for the raising of the Canadian flag and two legionnaires to assist in the honours.
What added to the stress was that since the Lt. Governor was to be in attendance protocol must be observed and without a flaw. I met several times with his Aide de Camp for instructions. One of the requirements was that we had to hire a piper as he must be ‘piped’ into the event. Another requirement was that I had to be waiting at the curb at the exact time of his arrival to greet him as our guest. If I was late, they just drove by. It was made very clear that neither the Queen nor her representative waits for anyone, we wait for them. As a footnote, I was so short for time, that I left skid marks running down the drive way but my timing was perfect with no seconds to spare. Whew!!!!
Protocol states that the Lt. Governor is not to be left alone with anyone but the host. It was very clear that since I formally invited him, I was the host.
Equally made very clear was that bathroom breaks for me were not the exception let alone a smoke break.
Protocol is very clear no one stands on the right side of the Lt. Governor. That position is restricted solely for the Queen. When pictures were being taken, I found myself on the right side and automatically stated “Oh no”. Being such a gentlemen the Honourable Jackman stated ‘It’s o.k., you can be Queen for the day”. One of many of the small infractions of protocol I broke that day.
Another clear message from the Aide de Camp was that once the ceremonies were over, I must escort the L.G directly to his limo. Did I mention good looking R.C.M.P. officers were there as well?
When I asked if I could invite him to attend the reception, I was told NO as it was not proper decorum, therefore not appropriate or proper to extend an invitation.
May 20, 1995
OPENING DAY CEREMONIES
The day turned out to be a beautiful sunny day to the point it was quite warm.
The guests were seated and some left to stand as we began the ceremonies.
The last one to arrive as per protocol was the L.G. where both the piper and I were waiting at the curb on Lombard Street for his arrival.
All guests stood as the Lt. Governor came down the lane with all his entourage and the piper. The sounds of the bag pipes were great especially the echo of them in the laneway underpass.
Ron Smith, a Board member acted as M.C for the day. Among the many speakers were representatives of the Province, MPP’s and City Councillors. Also to speak were Ann Dubas who was then President of Local 79, Muriel and me.
Lt. Governor Jackman gave a most memorable tribute to Donna, her children and provided us with his fond memories of her as he dedicated the north building in her honour.
Jeff Rose (Deputy Minister in the Rae Government) and a personal friend of mine dedicated the south bldg. and provided an overview of our friendship over the years and spoke of my work with the union and assaulted women.
The second last item on the program was the cutting of the ribbon.
Proudly Raising the Canadian Flag
When we purchased the building and because it was the Liberal Headquarters, the Canadian flag was flown on flagpoles both on Lombard and Richmond Streets. I asked the construction crew to save one pole so that we could re-install it upon completion of the building on Lombard St. That pole became a nemesis of the construction crew every time that had to move and preserve it during the excavation and construction phases.
The finale of the opening ceremonies was the raising the Canadian Flag by Larry Brummel a long time Local 79 executive and a Korean war vet. He was accompanied by the pipes playing and the Lt. Governor and legionnaire’s saluting the flag. Affixed to the wall is a plague stating “In honour of all those who fought for freedom. Probably another first.
The best part of the day
As directed, after we raised the flag and before the reception began, I returned to the limo with his Honour. We passed pleasantries, and I thanked him on behalf of Donna and her family for attending in her honour. At that point, I spontaneously said something to the effect of, “It is a shame you cannot stay for refreshments”. Much to my surprise, the Aid de Camp’s and the R.C.M.P., The Honourable Mr. Jackman jumped back out of the limo stating “I would love to”. Sad to say, I only wished I had a camera to capture the looks on everyone’s faces.
Again humour prevails at M.C.C. When I escorted the L.G. back the driveway to the reception and as we entered the room a hush came over the group. No one including myself expected him to join us. Our bartender (Bill Atkinson) had to be asked 3 times to provide him a refreshment as he was in awe of his presence. I know Donna would have been amused.
We had a delightful conversation about various subjects including abused women. He told me that his family had a foundation to fund many such projects for that specific cause.
As he mixed with the guests and spoke with many, I knew regardless of protocol the ladies room was awaiting my arrival. I left Muriel to babysit and made a mad dash much to the horrified look of the Aide de Camp. Within minutes I returned to my post, much to the relief of the Aide and much to my relief in general.
After about 30-45 minutes the L.G took his leave and once again I walked him to the limo. To the best our knowledge we are the first housing co-op to have a Lt. Governor attend our opening ceremonies.
As a footnote, a couple of years later the L.G. was at St. James Cathedral to attend a funeral, spotted me on the street, asked how the co-op was doing and again thanked me for inviting him. He was and remains a favourite memory.
Almost 20 years later
Upon reflecting back on the history of the co-op, there are so many happy stories and events to be told and remembered. Unfortunately, too numerous to mention, but a sampling is that we had two babies born here at the co-op as was the mothers choice.
Over the years we have also mourned the passing of many members. We grieved together for the loss of treasured friends and neighbours and supported their families during their time of grief.
To our credit and with the gratitude of their families, they will not be forgotten. The co-op has a Memorial Plaque in each building naming the members and their year of death. It will remain a symbol of our respect for all that have contributed to our community. We may be the first co-op to do so.
Over the years members have laughed and cried together. Our party room and various members have hosted dances, euchre tournaments, birthday parties, pot luck dinners, wedding and funeral receptions. The room has also been used for community meetings, movie production luncheons, election polling stations and a National Film Board documentary. Our property has also been used for movie, TV. and educational productions.
The court yard hosts The Social Committee’s regular B.B.Q’s. In addition, we have held garage sales and car washes to raise funds for various community efforts and charities outside of the co-op.
We have food and toy drives at Christmas and regular 50/50 draws to contribute to either recognized charities or support our in-house committee’s such as gardening and social.
Our gardens (street-side and courtyard) are well maintained and have won a CHFT award. Our lobbies have seasonal displays by the continued efforts of Eileen Leishman. Our buildings are well maintained by staff as is the state of cleanliness on a daily basis.
We have watched children come here as babies and grown into young adults, some now university bound.
We remember how originally we were one happy family and through the years that momentum has somehow changed as do people and the seasons. Regardless of the change, there have been many friendships formed and many that survived over the years.
That is a credit to us as a co-op. Members help members on an ongoing basis and caring about each other is a testament to our success.
Over the years the membership has changed as has the composition of the Board. Regardless of the changes, the co-op has fared well under the direction of the Board and the staff.
As we approach the 20th anniversary, it is hopeful that the momentum will continue and that members will enjoy what the co-op has to offer through the hard efforts of those that put forth the effort to bring it to the high standard of housing that it is today.
A co-op is only as strong as its membership and the membership should take pride by embracing the true meaning of housing co-operative.