Presenting: Sheila Blinoff and Carole Stimmell from the Beach Metro News – A Nerve Centre of Information Gathering and Community Involvement in the Beach
One of the central organizations in the Beach is Beach Metro Community News, a non-profit, non-partisan community newspaper founded in 1972 that is distributed throughout major portions of East Toronto. The newspaper is available throughout the entire delivery area at various merchants and public access points, and more than 23,000 families receive the newspaper delivered to their front door for free.
My request for an interview was graciously answered by Sheila Blinoff, the General Manager, and Carole Stimmell, the Editor for the Beach Metro News. We sat down around a big table in their premises near the intersection of Gerrard and Main Streets. Sheila explained that the Beach Metro Community News originally started in 1972 when a group of volunteers got together to fight the Scarborough Expressway that was supposed to cut a swath through all of East Toronto. This issue galvanized the entire neighbourhood, and a group of volunteers started publishing a free newspaper from the offices of the East City YMCA at 907 Kingston Road.
The community had come together to rally against the construction of the Scarborough Expressway, and their collective efforts were successful. The dreaded construction of a major highway that would have destroyed over 750 homes between Coxwell and Victoria Park was averted. Today the Beach Metro Community News is a non-partisan paper that does not feature editorials. A copy of the paper goes to almost every business and residence in an area that extends from Lake Ontario to a few streets north of Danforth Avenue, and from Coxwell Avenue in the west to Midland Avenue in the East.
The Beach Metro News team: Carole Stimmell, Sheila Blinoff, Judy Doucette, Jon Muldoon, Dianne Marquardt, Melinda Drake, Bill MacLean
Of the 30,000 papers delivered, 7000 are delivered to libraries, churches and other public institutions while the rest goes out to private homes. An extensive network of about 400 volunteers looks after free delivery, with each volunteer donating their time and effort. Every second Tuesday just after publication a team of about 30 volunteer captains receives dozens of bundles of newspaper which they then distribute among their individual neighbourhood volunteers who in turn take the paper and deliver it street to street, house to house.
The volunteer stories are amazing. Sheila and Carole recounted so many fascinating tales of individuals who dedicate their spare time towards delivering the community news. The oldest of these volunteers is 96 years old and enjoys the opportunity to interact with neighbours and make a connection. Another delivery volunteer had a baby in the morning, and the same afternoon she delivered the Beach Metro Community News, just as she would any other second Tuesday. Another female delivery volunteer requested to get her papers early on Tuesday since she was going to have a Cesarean delivery the very next day on Wednesday. An elderly man once called in and said he would not be able to deliver the paper this time since his wife had just died, but he promised to be there to deliver the next edition of the Beach Metro Community News.
Sheila added that her co-workers and the volunteer carriers not only help with the production and distribution of the paper, they are also her eyes and ears in the community, resulting in a network of hundreds of volunteer news gatherers. Carole summed it up by saying that “not a leaf falls in the Beach without us knowing about it”.
I needed to find out more about these two women who are the driving force behind the Beach Metro Community News and asked them to tell me more about their own personal history and connection to the Beach. Carole admitted that she is a relative newcomer to the Beach as well as to the Beach Metro Community News: she has lived and worked here for “only” eleven years. Originally from Wisconsin, Carole Stimmell moved to Toronto in order to complete a Ph.D. in archeology at the University of Toronto. She and her husband had met at the Washington Post where Carole was completing an internship, and they decided to jointly move to Toronto to complete their postgraduate studies. Carole’s husband studied communications with Marshall McLuhan, the famous Canadian educator, philosopher and scholar who coined the expressions “the medium is the message” and the “global village”.
Carole Stimmell, the Editor of the Beach Metro Community News
Carole’s first impressions of Canada were that it is vastly different from the United States: Canadians are more accepting, more reticent to judge as compared to the more dogmatic and aggressive stance of people in the United States. She added that Canada’s liberal outlook suits her personally very well, and it would be hard for her to move back to her birth country.
After completing her doctorate Carole worked on archeology projects for 20 years; these assignments took her to Japan, the Arctic and the United States. Her archeology projects in Toronto included digs at Trinity Bellwoods Park, in Leslieville and at the Ashbridges House, the original homestead of the Ashbridges family who had come from Pennsylvania and become the first settlers in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood. For several years Carole was also the editor of the Canadian Journal of Archeology.
Her connection with the Beach Metro Community News came about because she was originally a volunteer carrier for the paper. When the long-term editor of the paper retired, a new editor came in and started taking the paper into a tabloid-like direction with a strong focus on crime and negative news. Carole and many others did not like this new slant and felt that the Beach Metro Community News was about positive news stories and an emphasis on the good things that were going on in the community. This editor did not last long, and Carole threw her hat in the ring for this position. In the process she beat out 50 other candidates and succeeded in getting the job because she understood what the paper was all about.
Today Carole still has an interest in history; she was vice chair of the Toronto Historic Board, and she now sits on the board of the Ontario Archeology Society. She also has an extensive collection of historic post cards of the Beach; these photos are sometimes featured under the heading of “Deja Views” in the Beach Metro Community News, juxtaposing historic streetscapes with a current photo of the same location.
Sheila Blinoff came to Toronto from Great Britain in the 1960s and married into a German-Canadian family. She and her husband moved to Balsam Avenue in 1969, making her a bona fide Beach resident for almost 40 years. In 1971 Sheila had her first child, and when the Beach Metro Community News started in 1972 Sheila connected with the paper since they were in need of a volunteer typist. Sheila offered her services and also started helping with the volunteer delivery of the paper. Several months into her assignment, the paper received three local program grants that enabled them to hire three people for six month. Sheila figured she could do the job and beat out 30 people who had applied.
Sheila Blinoff, General Manager of the Beach Metro Community News