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

Our lunch at Lick’s had been the perfect time to get to know Gene a little better before we headed off and continued our walk west on Queen Street. Back on the street we ran into a colourful local personality: Harold Weisfeld, a.k.a. “Zoltzz”, owner of “Ends Designerwear Boutique”, a famous designer label discount store near Queen Street and Elmer Avenue, a place where I personally have found many a bargain over the years. We headed further west and Gene pointed out the former Bank of Toronto Building, which today houses the “Lion on the Beach”, a popular local pub. Just a few steps further west we briefly went into “Morguet”, a jewellery shop that offers hand-crafted jewellery, custom gold and silver smithing, where we said hello to the owner Sergio who had come to Toronto years ago from Latin America.

Sergio from the Morguet jewellery shop flashes a friendly smile

Just across the street, Gene pointed out a convenience store that used to be the childhood home of world renowned director Norman Jewison, one of the prominent (former) residents of the Beach. We then admired the Kew Beach Firehall No. 17, a historic masonry building in the Queen Anne architectural style dating back to 1905 / 1906.

Norman Jewison’s childhood home

We continued on and turned south at the corner of Woodbine and Queen where Gene showed me what he refers to as the “Psychedelic House”, a brightly painted Victorian house with interesting ornaments. On our way back towards the Beaches Library Gene explained that several churches and the local synagogue offer drop-in services for the homeless. This program is offered at a different location every weekday and gives street people a chance to come in from the cold.

The historic Kew Beach Fire Hall No. 17

Our official tour had concluded and Gene dropped me off at the Beaches Library, where I thanked him for his time and all the interesting stories he had shared with me. He left me with Barbara Weissman, the librarian who helped me put together books and articles about the Beach.

It was only after reading these articles that I realized that Gene has been the recipient of the first “Citizen of the Year” award, given out by Community Centre 55. Not surprisingly, Gene in his modesty had not even mentioned this important fact. In 2001, a stone was unveiled in the “Walk of Fame” located in the Millenium Gardens at Coxwell and Eastern Avenues, commemorating Gene and the various other Citizens of the Year that have followed into his footsteps since then. A major article in the Toronto Star featured Gene’s accomplishments and his dedication to others and referred to Gene Domagala as a “human convenience store for people with problems” in the words of Glenn Cochrane, another prominent resident of the Beach.

Gene with Barbara Weissman from the Beaches Library

It was a real privilege meeting Gene Domagala and spending some time with him getting to know his neighbourhood and his way of thinking. The dozens of people whose faces lit up when they greeted him during our walk attest to the fact that Gene is one of the true heroes of the Beach.

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