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.