Celebrating Thorncliffe Park

Challenged neighbourhood has colourful past, future potential in pop-up exhibit

Don Valley West MP Rob Oliphant visits the "Thorncliffe Park's Stories" exhibit at the Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre on March 19.
Don Valley West MP Rob Oliphant visits the “Thorncliffe Park’s Stories” exhibit at the Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre on March 19. (Jody Anderson)

To celebrate the life and times of Thorncliffe Park, “Myseum Intersections” collaborated with two Thorncliffe community leaders, Geoff Kettel and Sabina Ali, to present “Telling Thorncliffe Park’s Stories: From First Story to New Story” at Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre on March 19.

Myseum Intersections was a three-week long initiative to highlight the cultural achievements and historical developments of Toronto communities. It’s another project of “Myseum of Toronto,” a non-profit collective of professional and amateur historians, archivists and other activists who maintain a website — myseumoftoronto.com — and who put on pop-up historical and cultural events across the city.

“I think it’s really important for the people living [in Thorncliffe] to know the history of the place they live in so that they can make connections and feel a sense of belonging to the community,” Ali said of the March 19 event at the community centre on Thorncliffe Park Drive.

The exhibit featured photographs and a video documenting moments as far back as when Native American tribes lived near the Don River, and relatively recently, when Thorncliffe Park Raceway was operating.

The video was created by Anna Louise Richardson and her production company, Tree of Life Video. It was posted to YouTube on April 14 and is accessible at https://youtu.be/z3xxsBVTAao

To symbolize the community’s gradual transition from rural lands to an intricate bustling neighbourhood, designs of what Thorncliffe Park could look like in the future were displayed across the auditorium walls.

In recent years, Thorncliffe Park has been distinguished mainly by the economic and social challenges faced by lower-income people in a dense neighbourhood characterized by aging apartment towers and a lack of public space and services. The city had prioritized Thorncliffe as one of its so-called Neighbourhood Improvement Areas — along with neighbouring Flemingdon Park.

The Liberal MP of Don Valley West, Rob Oliphant, attended the event and spoke with the University of Toronto students who designed the futuristic landscapes.

“We have two challenges. Finding [more] indoor space and finding more outdoors space,” said Oliphant. “We need a banquet hall. One of the problems is we have no large banquet hall that is accessible. We have to have accessibility.”

Graduate students from the university’s urban planning program worked with community members and organizations, like the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, to focus on different areas that needed attention.

“Our colleagues have imagined different community centre spaces or park space that’s currently not being accessed by the community members and increasing access to those areas,” said student Lauren Haein An. She added: “There’s currently a former Target space that’s just lying without any activity… so that [could be] a new community centre that’s bigger.”

Even children took time to write their hopes for the community, suggesting there should be “better access to the park” and that the city should “add more benches, playgrounds and washrooms.”

During the exhibit, members of the community participated in a story circle, offered henna tattoos and organized a mini indoor market. The circle gave residents an opportunity to tell stories about their neighborhood, discuss changes they’d like to see and improvements of which they were fond.