‘It was a different life’ but some parts of living here haven’t changed for senior East Yorkers

91-year-old reminisces about life in the area since the 1940s

Catherine Staples and Mary Staples (she is in a wheelchair) are smiling for the camera in a park before talking about their lives in East York.
Catherine Staples and her mother, Mary, look back at their early lives in East York and how the area has changed today. Sergio Arangio/Toronto Observer

It was a summer day in 1945 when Catherine Staples’ late father, Ed, returned to his family in East York after six years at war.  He was greeted by a “Welcome Home” sign on his front door and attended a party to celebrate his friend Ted’s return, also from the Second World War.

Ed, in full army uniform, would meet Catherine’s mother, Mary McManus, at that party. That would become one of Mary’s fondest memories of her life in East York.

“It was a different life,” Mary, 91, said in an interview, her daughter sitting beside her.

Mary recalled feeling homesick the last time she drove along Danforth Avenue. All the old houses connected to the Staples are still standing, even the building on Dawes Road where one of her father’s shoe repair shops used to be. It’s since become a café.

But a look at their old neighbourhood brought Catherine a flood of memories about the East York of old. She speculated on how things have changed while still remaining the same at its core.

“Danforth was really a hub,” she said. “We could go to a general store and we could buy anything we wanted there. If I wanted to buy some thread or socks right now, I couldn’t do it [immediately].”

Both Mary and Ed and all of their nine children, of which Catherine is the oldest at 69, were born and raised in East York. They all lived in the pre-amalgamated borough until about 1997, when Mary and Ed moved to Vancouver Island. They returned to Toronto two years ago to be with family in their old age.

Ed died on Jan. 19, 2017 at Sunnybrook Veterans Centre.

During her high school years, Mary was in the cadets. She made bullets for the war, she said, while her mother made fuses and bombs at the GECO munitions plant in Scarborough.

Mary also acted in school plays at the high school, fondly remembering the “not too fancy” costumes she would wear. She had nothing but good memories of life in her hometown.

“We had lots of fun,” Mary said. “We had enough places in East York to take care of us.”


While Catherine feels there’s still a sense of community, she said there used to be more of neighbourly connection throughout East York.

Doug Duncan, an old family friend, agreed. Having only moved out of East York two years ago, he’s certainly noticed a shift when it comes to knowing your neighbours.

“Everybody seemed to know everybody,” said Duncan, 66. “I lived in one part of East York but I knew a group of people in Broadview, which was like 10 miles away.

“East York was kind of unique that way.”

Doug Duncan sits in a wheelchair in front of a bookshelf.

Doug Duncan has spent most of his 66 years in East York. He had a brief stint in the Beaches before moving into a nursing home.

A similar sentiment can be said for other aspects of East York. For example, while some old shops, buildings and houses have been replaced with franchise stores, condos and so-called ‘monster homes,’ the Staples think the heart and soul of the area is very much alive.

“It’s still East York,” Catherine said. “Whenever I go down there, I get a pang. This is my home.”

Duncan says given the first opportunity, he would gladly move right back to East York from the west Toronto nursing home where both he and Mary now live.

“It’s such a unique pocket in Toronto,” Duncan said. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

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Posted: Oct 31 2018 8:40 am
Filed under: Features Profiles