Presenting: Sheila Blinoff and Carole Stimmell from the Beach Metro News – A Nerve Centre of Information Gathering and Community Involvement in the Beach
Around that time Sheila had her second child; the grant meanwhile had run out of money. Sheila continued working on the paper for six months from home without pay. Finally a fundraiser generated $7000 which enabled the paper to pay two staff members – Sheila, and Joan Latimer who was the editor for 22 years. Advertisers came on board, and the Beach Metro Community News finally had a viable economic base. Several more employees were hired over the years.
In the early years the entire production of the paper was a community affair. Several interested neigbours would come together and jointly handle the manual cut and paste layout of the paper. They would also decide which stories should go into the paper, and opinions would often diverge widely. Sheila concedes that trying to reconcile these viewpoints was often tough going.
Several years into the publication the name was changed from the original name ”Ward 9 News” to “Beach Metro Community News”. The official administrative name of the Beach neighbourhood had changed from Ward 9 to Ward 32, so the original name of the newspaper was no longer applicable. For Sheila and many other “oldtimers”, however, this publication will always be the “Ward 9 News”.
With years passing by the paper became more professional, and specialized employees were hired to take over advertising sales, accounting, photography, and news and entertainment reporting. Since the 1980s the organization has been doing its own typesetting. Sheila’s eyes light up when she says that she has met so many wonderful people through her work with the Beach Metro Community News; she adds that she has truly seen “the good side of human nature”.
One of her favourite experiences has been her opportunity to participate in the selection committee of a contest to name five streets in a new housing development that went in on the former Woodbine Race Track premises, just west of Woodbine Avenue and Queen Street. The new street names were to have a local or historical connection with the area. As the secretary of the contest committee, Sheila had the best job of all, inputting all 660 suggestions into the computer and then verifying the accuracy of the historical background of the submitted names. Sheila chose the name “Sarah Ashbridge” in honour of the Quaker widow and United Empire Loyalist from Philadelphia who settled in the Beach in 1793 and obtained a Crown land grant in 1799 for a farm. “Northern Dancer” honoured all the horses that ever raced at the Woodbine Race Track. “Boardwalk Avenue” was chosen for the area’s proximity to the famous East Toronto waterfront promenade.
Both Carole and Sheila love their neighbourhood, and they proudly told me that Queen Street East in the Beach was chosen the Best Main Street in Ontario by TV Ontario. One of the judges summarized it like this: “The Beach is an all-round winner. A fantastic inner-city neighbourhood with a great retail market, a great place to visit and a fabulous festival”, referring to the Toronto International Beaches Jazz Festival, one of Toronto’s largest music and entertainment events.
Judy Doucette works in the Accounting Department
The importance and influence of the Beach Metro Community News cannot be understated. After all, the individuals running the paper had a major hand in stopping the Scarborough Expressway. Extensive coverage of dredging in Lake Ontario at the foot of Beech Avenue also resulted in an outcry in the community, and the government cancelled the project. Coverage of the Ashbridges Bay Incinerator also mobilized many concerned citizens in the neighbourhood, and their collective action resulted in the closure of the unwanted incineration facility. Stories of important local issues are kept in the public eye, and the community starts rallying around these issues.
What makes this neighbourhood really special are the people and organizations that donate so much of their time to the community. Sheila and Carole recounted a multitude of community initiatives that illustrate that the spirit of charity and neighbourly assistance is strong in the Beach. One example includes a major fire a few years ago at the eastern end of Queen Street where two people died and several others were rendered homeless. Several fundraisers were held for the affected families, and money was raised to help them pay for their first month’s rent and furniture in their new apartments.
When the big Indian Ocean Tsunami struck in 2005, Centre 55 immediately set up a fund to collect money for the victims and thousands of dollars were sent to the affected areas. The local Balmy Beach Club raised money for school computer labs when the government cut back its educational budget. Together with strong parent volunteers at each school in the area, initiatives like these make a huge difference in the community.
In the Beach community spirit manifests itself in many different ways. The annual “Carolling in the Park Event’”, held at the local Glen Stewart Ravine, attracts more than 2000 people for a holiday sing-along. Flashlights and candles in the ravine create a magical atmosphere and an event that the community loves.
Carole adds that there are so many interesting people in the Beach; a collection of media people, artists, actors, entrepreneurs and other eclectic people provide a lot of fodder for interesting and inspiring stories. Sheila mentions the example of a local man who owns the world’s largest typewriter collection. Another young man from the community, a gifted musician, had attended the Julliard Music School in New York City and recently debuted in a big concert at Carnegie Hall. The Beach Guild of Fine Arts is a large group of artists who hold shows twice a year. Musicians, actors, painters and artists of all kinds are well represented throughout the Beach community and provide many story opportunities throughout the year.
Bill MacLean coveres entertainment for the Beach Metro News
The philosophy of the Beach Metro Community News is to provide news of interest to local residents and businesses. All revenue comes from advertising, which is kept affordable so that local merchants and tradespeople remain able to advertise their products and services. Sheila and Carole are selective as to which advertisements they accept, and sometimes advertisers have to wait to get into the paper.
One of the key community initiatives of the Beach Metro Community News is the “Citizen of the Year” award which is a joint initiative with Community Centre 55 and the Beaches Lions Club to honour volunteers who have made a significant difference in the community over a number of years. The Citizen of the Year is honoured with a plaque on the Beach Walk of Fame in the Community Garden in Woodbine Park. They also get a special space in the Beaches Lions’ Easter Parade. People such as Gene Domagala, Glenn Cochrane, Arie Nerman and Marie Perrotta have all been honoured with this exclusive distinction.
But not only does the Beach Metro Community News bestow awards upon others; its contribution to the community has also been noticed and gotten recognition. In 2002 Sheila and Carole were themselves honoured with the Queen’s Jubilee Medal as part of Queen Elizabeth’s 50 year anniversary as the Queen. At this occasion every Canadian riding awarded medals to its top volunteers and community builders, and Sheila and Carole were honoured together with other prominent Beachers.
As a non-profit organization, the Beach Metro Community News donates some of its excess revenues right back into the community. In 2006 the organization donated more than $14,000 to a wide range of organizations, including the Arthritis Society, the Beaches Easter Parade, the Churches by the Bluffs Food Bank, the Share-A-Christmas Program run by Community Centre 55, the Glen Rhodes Food Bank, Malvern High School Scholarships, the Pegasus Community Project, Senior Link, the Toronto East General Hospital Foundation, the Woodgreen Red Door Shelter for Women and many more.
Dianne Marquardt, the Advertising Manager of Beach Metro Community News.
The Beach Metro Community News not only covers the local news, it also makes news: as a volunteer organization that acts as the virtual glue of the community, as a champion of important neighbourhood causes, as an organization who identifies and honours volunteers who make the community work, and as a significant donor that contributes much-needed funding to important neighbourhood organizations.
The Beach Metro Community News is much more than just news.