Glenn Cochrane – Media Personality, Author and Expert Fundraiser – A Champion of the Beach for almost 40 years

Particularly since his retirement, Glenn Cochrane has become even more involved in local community work. One of his early introductions to charity work was when he purchased a wooden hand-carved rocking horse from a local artist, sold draw tickets for the horse and raised $500 for the Beaches Library, a local community institution that the entire Beach neighbourhood is very proud of.

Centre 55, a local community centre and social services agency, is another one of Glenn’s endeavours: he is the Chairman the Board of Centre 55 and claims that he is not a dominant figure in the running of this important organization. He defers all the credit for the work of this institution to Bob Murdoch, the executive director, who in Glenn’s words, doesn’t like to be praised. Gene Domagala, who I recently interviewed, and Glenn Cochrane were both voted “Citizens of the Year” in consecutive years (2001 and 2002) and Glenn says that they are very good friends. Glenn regularly volunteers as the master of ceremony for the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and he also donates his time to the Jazzfest Winegarden Fundraiser and many other local causes.

One of Glenn’s important causes is architectural preservation, and along with Gene Domagala they almost singlehandedly saved the famous Leuty Lifesaving Station from sure destruction. Glenn explains that when the city no longer deems a building useful they bestow it with “benign neglect” which sometimes results in the destruction of a historic building. In this case a committee of concerned citizens led by Glenn Cochrane and Gene Domagala started a major fundraising drive to save the Leuty Lifesaving Station. The campaign was called “SOS” (“Save Our Station”) and through the sale of mugs, t-shirts (“by the truck load”, as Glenn says) and a wide variety of special events, the group raised tens of thousands of dollars and the Leuty Lifesaving Station was saved. He even organized several harp concerts as fundraisers. The historic structure was completely saved in all its glory; the only difference to the original version was the installation of a female change room, reflecting the fact that times had changed and that lifesaving today was no longer an exclusively male domain.


The Leuty Lifesaving Station

Another fundraising event involved a replica of the Leuty Lifesaving Station: slightly bigger than a garden shed, the “Little Leuty” would be given away in a draw to the lucky winner, and the funds raised went to important local causes. A woman finally ended up winning the draw and the “Little Leuty” found a welcome spot in her backyard as a playhouse for your young daughter. Creative fundraising has long been one of Glenn Cochrane’s strengths.

Community action kicked into high gear again when the Greenwood Racetrack lands were closed in 1993, and demolition was set to start. Glenn and a group of concerned citizens lobbied to turn the former race track area into parkland. Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprising considering this was prime real estate, the lobbying effort failed, and the developments of new townhouses and condos on the former race track lands went ahead. However, the developers were open to the idea of integrating some space for the community, and according to Glenn, this sent an important signal that Beach residents were not just going to be pushed around.

We discussed that residents of the Beach are very protective of their neighbhourhood and would like to keep it the way it is. Currently, the neighbourhood is experiencing some degree of controversy over a new proposed program called “Come in from the Cold” which would have homeless people pend one night in a local church in the Beach. The program has already been operational in other parts of the city. A small group of local residents has expressed concern about this initiative, and there has been some negative media attention, accusing Beachers of having a certain NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) attitude.


The Boardwalk facing east

On the other hand, a drop-in program that is open to homeless people and various disadvantaged residents, has been successfully in operation for the last 6 years. Four churches in the Beach and the Beach Hebrew Institute each open their oors once a week from Monday to Friday, welcoming anyone off the street to a healthy and nutritious lunch that is run by local volunteers. Glenn’s wife Jean regularly volunteers for this program and helps prepare the meals for this drop-in program.

Glenn further explains that it is a common misconception that everyone who lives in the Beach is wealthy. There are a significant number of low-income families in the Beach and a variety of community programs is dedicated to helping impoverished residents. One of the most important ones is Centre 55’s Christmas program which delivers food and toys to hundreds of low income families. Glenn’s wife Jean has also been very involved in the Neighbourhood Link Support Services, a ommunity organization that helps seniors, newcomers, unemployed and homeless individuals and provides transportation services to seniors. Many businesses in the Beach are ongoing supporters of Neighbourhood Link Support Services – the spirit of charity and neighbourly help is alive and well in the Beach.


Historic apartment buildings in the Beach

In addition, both Jean and Glenn Cochrane are highly respected authors: Jean has penned a book about Kensington, one of Toronto’s colourful neighbourhoods. In 2005 Glenn published his book “Glenn Cochrane – Tales of Toronto” which features a history of Toronto that won’t be found in travel guides or city archives. Glenn is currently working on another book, as yet untitled, which will be about the Beach and hopefully will be available later this year.

What I really enjoyed about meeting Glenn Cochrane (and his wife Jean) was that they so graciously opened their home to me and so freely shared their stories and insights. Glenn and I share a passion about Toronto, our respective chosen home towns, and he most willingly shared his stories and experiences with me, another writer who loves to celebrate Toronto and its neighbourhoods. When I mentioned that to Glenn he simply said “The more the merrier”. Toronto can probably use as much support from as many different people as it can get.


The Balmy Beach Club: 100+ years of history in the Beach

After our conversation we put on our heavy winter coats and headed out for a nice walk in the neighbourhood. We emerged on Queen Street near Beech Avenue where Glen pointed out Quigley’s Pub, a neighbourhood institution for good food and entertainment. A few doors down is Ed’s Ice cream, a real success story in the Beach, and a place that I have visited many a time for a sinfully sweet treat. From there we walked south towards the Balmy Beach Club where Glenn invited me into this private members club which, in his words, has the “best patio in all of Toronto”. Talking about Toronto and our mutual observations, we then strolled further east on the boardwalk, past the “Legend of the Lake” mural that adorns the south wall of the Balmy Beach Club.


The Balmy Beach Club: “Legend by the Lake”

Having reached the end of the Boardwalk we turned around and headed back west to the former location of the Scarbourough Beach Amusement Club that is marked today with a historic plaque. Just across the street are some older apartment buildings with a long history (including the Ramona and the Hubbard Street Apartment Buildings, named after one of the first black City Councillors in Toronto’s history). Up we strolled on Wineva Avenue, named after daughters Winnie and Eva of one of the Beaches early residents and then headed back east on Queen Street.

There is no doubt that Glenn Cochrane is an expert on the Beach, and he gives a lot back to his beloved neighbourhood. I for one can’t wait to read all the stories in his upcoming book on the Beach.

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