Presenting: Gene Domagala – A Human Convenience Store of Charity and Community Involvement in Toronto’s Beach

The logistics of public events are sometimes underestimated, and especially in a popular and busy area like the Beach, seemingly simple questions of maintenance and garbage removal are of critical importance to residents and visitors alike. Gene and I headed back out into the cold and we briefly stopped off at the skating rink that was busy with a group of hockey fanatics. In the summer this facility is used for roller hockey and lacrosse.

Inglenook, a historic residence

We then walked up Waverley Road, and Gene pointed out one of the many historic homes in the Beaches: a residential property called Inglenook, which was originally the Charles Frederick Wagner House, built around 1900 and saved from demolition by a local petition. Just a few steps away is the John Wright House, constructed just 3 years later in the popular Queen Anne Revival style as one of the first mixed-use residential-commercial properties on Queen Street East. Today the building features a storefront that hides the original north façade.

Queen Street East: houses are set back behind storefronts

Gene pointed out that houses were originally set back from Queen Street and the front lawns were later filled in with commercial storefronts. We continued our walk westwards on Queen Street and entered the Beaches Mall, a large building that used to be called the Allen Theatre, one of several historic theatres in the Beach, all of which are still standing and most of which have been refunctioned. Only the Fox Theatre, Toronto’s longest continuously running movie theatre, is still used for its original purpose.

A few steps further west at the intersection of Kippendavie Avenue and Queen Street is a beautiful historic building that today holds one of my favourite restaurants in the Beach: Nevada’s. This is the former Home Bank of Toronto building, a financial institution created by famous Toronto entrepreneur Henry Pellatt, builder of Casa Loma. The name of the bank can still faintly be seen under the painted sign on the façade.

Nevada’s Restaurant, the former Home Bank of Toronto

A few steps south on Kenilworth is the former Kenilworth Avenue Baptist Church that was converted into a synagogue in 1920 and named the Beach Hebrew Institute. Often this building is referred to as the Beaches Shul. Sure enough, Gene had the key and we entered this historic building. The original church façade was considerably altered to more closely resemble the architecture of synagogues in small Eastern European communities. In the early years, during a time when local residents were not particularly hospitable to Jewish citizens, the term “synagogue” was intentionally omitted in the name of this place of worship. Today the Beach Hebrew Institute is a small welcoming institution without a rabbi whose members lead the prayers and are very active in the community.

The Beach Hebrew Institute

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