Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Terry Brackett
Meet Terry. Trying to pin Terry down for this story pretty much sums up her life – busy. A ‘do-er’ from way back, Terry, her husband Bruce and their kids have been active members of Leslieville since before it was named that. No surprise, they had a hand in that too.
Terry’s history in Leslieville goes waaaay back to 1919 when her grandparents came from England and set up house on Morse St. She hasn’t left the neighbourhood since. Terry started her life on De Grassi St. until the age of two, and when the brood got too large (Terry is one of 4) her family moved to a one bedroom house with shared facilites on the 2nd floor of a house on Bertmount Ave. “We were poor. Even with a $20/month rent, dad would disappear frequently leaving us to survive on pogey”. She grew up quickly. At the age of nine, she delivered groceries for 25 cents from the local IGA, then on the corner of Pape & Queen, allowing her to attend the matinee movie at the Joy Theatre (now Stratengers) for 10 cents, and spent her young summer years learning to swim and play card games like poker, euchre & cribbage at the Pape Recreation Centre (now Matty Eckler).
Terry went to St. Joseph’s school on Leslie St. and later to St. Joe’s Commercial High School (Bathurst/Queen). After high school she got a clerical job with Colgate-Palmolive on Carlaw (now the Colgate condos). “My dream was to get a BA and at the age of 37, I returned to St. Mike’s College at U of T, when the 3 kids were in their teens and graduated at 40 with a BA in English.”
In Nov. 1958, Terry met her soulmate, Bruce, at her girlfriends shop, Graziano’s, on the corner of Curzon & Dundas. “I was 15, he 19. We married in 1962 and started our family about 5 years into our marriage. First with an adoption, David, then Andrea, Derek and Brendan, who was our foster son. He came to live with us at the age of 14 until he married at 24. Our current brood includes the 2 kids (Brendan passed away several years ago of heart issues) and 5 grandchildren; Rachel & Joshua, Tyler, Wolfgang & Connor.”
As a Leslievillian from birth, Terry remembers when the area fell on hard times in the 70s. Places like Sullivan’s Jewellers, the ‘Grad’s Club’ (now Stratengers), Beeforth Meats at Leslie & Queen, The Duke of York – known back then as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, a place for weary travellers and blacks fleeing from the unrest in the US to rest/stay overnight, were thriving in the 50s & 60s. There was also the A&P at Queen & Pape, Dominion at Queen & Carlaw and Loblaws at Queen & Leslie. It was the building of Gerrard Square that started the demise of the ‘Mom & Pop’ shops in the neighbourhood. Then the manufacturing plants/factories started moving out and the storefronts became empty and downtrodden. Many of the houses were bought by investors and became rooming houses. “Our neighbours and friends started moving out – mostly to the suburbs of Scarborough or Markham – but we stayed put, even though the area was a shadow of its former self. The area south of Queen St. didn’t help. It was a haven of polluters; Canada Metal, the AR Clark Tannery, the slaughterhouse, etc. An eyesore and a nosesore.”
Terry and Bruce joined Citizens for a Safe Environment which worked hard to get rid of these places and had the city come and remove lead from the houses south of Queen St. Also, the Gardiner Expessway cut Leslieville (not known by that name then) off from the lake (until 1999 when those portions came down) and it had become a bit of a ‘ghost town’ between the Beach and the then Queen/Broadview Village (now Riverside). “That’s when we started an active Business Association (now the BIA). I started to research the history and discovered that George Leslie had established a nursery covering 150 acres of land and along with trees, fruits and vegetables, brought prominence to the area. I was also annoyed by some of the hoi polloi who would ‘look down their nose’ at us because we lived in what was then known as ‘down there’. I was proud of where I grew up and lived my whole life.”
Bound and determined to return some pride to the area, in the late 80s, Terry & Bruce, with the help of Mary Dobell, an old (she lived to be 105) family friend and Michelle Roch, from Upper Crust Bakery, made a personal commitment to resurrect a new identity for the area. On Nov 9th, 1987, the first Leslieville sign was erected at the corner of Leslie & Queen. “Our eldest, David, had designed it. A huge celebration. We were joined by over 200 residents, the local alderman, Fred Beavis and Tom Clifford.”
At the same time Terry and her family started a local newspaper, first called Leslieville and later ETC news. (East Toronto Communities), which they ran with their daughter Andrea for 20 years. Near the end they were circulating 25,000 papers a month. I remember that paper well. I received it at my own house up until it ended circulation in 2007.
Terry’s involvement in the community stretched into politics. In 1991 she ran for City Council (Ward 9 Danforth) but was defeated by Steve Ellis. Since then Terry’s life has been a whirlwind of doing, fundraisers, talks and ‘organizing’. “I should’ve been an event planner” she smiles. “But I couldn’t have done any of it without the help and support of Bruce and my kids.”
What goes around comes around. St. Joseph’s Church, which played a huge part in Terry’s youth and young life continues to play a role in Terry’s life. She and Bruce have returned to the community where they lived/went to school and married to live our their retirement years there in the Seniors residence on Curzon. Not surprisingly, they formed the St. Joe’s Social Club Committee where they hold weekly Bid Euchre & Bingo as well as holiday events.
Terry is exactly how she looks and sounds. A force to be reckoned with. And a fun one. How can you not love a senior who wears blue nail polish? To meet Terry and hear her story she will be doing a talk about her life and history in Leslieville at the Jones Library, Saturday Nov 19th.
~Old/Family Photos contributed by Terry Brackett