When I recently talked to several people about my Celebrate Toronto project, which starts with an article & interview series and a photo exhibition about the Beach, about 4 or 5 different people concurred that one person should not be missed: Glenn Cochrane.
When I approached Glenn, the former CFTO news personality kindly invited me into his beautiful condominium high above Queen Street and gave me a chance to sit down with a real veteran of Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood. After explaining my mission to Glenn, he was very forthcoming welcoming and willing to share his life’s experiences and his neighbourhood’s stories with me.
He first clarified that the true Beach area is bounded by Kingston Road and Lake Ontario, as well as Woodbine Avenue and Victoria Park Avenues on the west and east sides respectively. Particularly due to the increasing demand for real estate in this popular area, the term “Beach(es)” has expanded in recent years to include other adjoining areas. Beach residents are quick to point out that this is a real estate term.
Glenn himself was born in Hamilton and came to Toronto in 1964. He worked at Canadian Press and moved to the CFTO Television Station where he started out as a writer. His particular talent lay in light writing, and Glenn was often assigned to write the closing remarks for Ken Cavanagh, the anchorman at the time, who liked to close his newscasts with a light comment.
His career in front of the camera started accidentally when an assignment editor sent Glenn out with a cameraman to cover a local story as the regular television reporter was not available. Glenn’s talent in front of the camera got noticed and he received rave reviews from the audience and his peers. From that point forward he had a weekly feature in the news called “Our Man Friday” and later got a daily spot in the newscast, focusing on human interest stories.
Glenn fondly recalls this time as he was given free reign to interview people as he wished and to cover stories that he found interesting. One story that comes to his mind was about a life-long farm worker, an individual without a lot of formal education, but a lot of practical talent. This gentleman would turn disused farm machinery and implements into creatively re-functioned objects. Glenn mentioned a big tractor wheel that was equipped with flower pots that could be watered by turning the wheel.
For a practical example of this gentleman’s creative handiwork Glenn took me out onto his balcony and showed me a small round garden table, handrafted by this individual from a round heating grate while the feet were made from railroad spikes. Glenn fondly recalls this person as a quiet very humble individual.
Glenn demonstrates a very creative piece of art.
Glenn and Jean Cochrane have been living in the Beach for almost 40 years now. As a matter of fact, Jean was the one who discovered the neighbourhood when she did an interview with a local resident as the woman’s editor for Canadian Press. Right around 1970 the Cochranes moved into their first owned home on Beech Avenue.
At that time, Glenn adds, the Beach was really a forgotten neighbourhood. During the 1970s the Beach had an aging population and the area was not nearly as pristine as it is today. Glenn explained that the boardwalk was located about half an inch below the lake, and routinely in the spring, shards of ice would lift up the boards and big gaping holes would appear in this treasured waterfront promenade, regularly requiring expensive repairs.
When Glenn and Jean first moved here, most of the commercial activity on Queen Street was concentrated between Woodbine and Lee Avenue. As a matter of fact, Kingston Road further north was thriving much more than Queen Street. According to Glenn’s research for the book he is currently working on (his new book will be about the Beach), Queen Street was not a particularly exciting destination in the 1930s and 1940s as it was mostly characterized by gas stations and discount stores. These so-called “junk stores” were frequently visited by the police, until their owners decided to call them “antique stores”. With the name change, the image of these stores changed as well and the frequent police visits stopped.
Glenn really credits the revival of this neighbourhood to the rebuilding of the Balmy Beach School. The school was old and cramped and in a public hearing with the local residents, an expert demographer proclaimed that the school would need to be rebuilt in order to attract young families. And so it happened, the school got rebuilt and the entire Beach neighbourhood became attractive to families with young children. Large houses that were originally built in the 1920s for large families were filled with life again.
Quigley’s: an entertainment hub at Queen & Beech
Referring to the transitions in his neighbourhood, Glenn mentioned that the Beach has never really been known as a primary destination for fashion shopping although there are several established retailers selling men’s and women’s fashions. He indicated that the demolition of the race track in the early 1990s had a big influence on the neighbourhood. While the race track was still in existence, local residents experienced significant problems with race track customers parking in their driveways and front lawns. A shortage of parking is a common refrain in the Beach.
That does not prevent the neighbourhood from throwing major parties throughout the course of the year. The most well-known event is the Beaches Jazz Festival held over four consecutive days every summer. Although a delight to the revelers and music fans that descend on Queen Street East every year, the residents were affected by the increased traffic, congestion and crowds at that time. Many of these concerns have now been addressed in collaboration with Sandra Bussin, the City Councillor for the Beach area. Activity generally shuts down at 11 pm so local residents can still get a good night’s sleep while visitors are able to enjoy a great street party. Compromise solutions have helped to address the needs of residents and visitors alike.
Ed’s Icecream: serves delicious treats
Glenn’s eyes twinkle when he tells me that right in front of his condo a percussion band regular sets up during the Jazz Festival and their repeated drumming sessions can get to you after a while. Some local Beach residents will actually make a point to get out of town during the festival for a weekend of rest and relaxation in the country. Glenn and his wife Jean love the Jazz Festival, the only downside is that actually very little jazz music is played during the festival. Glenn explains that today there are very few New Orleans-style jazz bands left, and the ones that do exist are very expensive to bring to the city. One group of oldtimer jazz musicians still participates every year at the corner of Lee and Queen, but due to their advanced age, jazz fans need to contend with frequent breaks in their program so these jazz veterans can catch some rest and recharge their batteries.
The Balmy Beach Club on a cold January day