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April 19th, 2014
Celebrating 75 Glorious Years of the Toronto Beaches Lions Club

Q2. What is the connection between Kew Gardens and Central Park, NYC?
Q3. When did female Lions start becoming official members?



Celebrating 75 Glorious Years of the Toronto Beaches Lions Club

By Sandra Williams-Herve

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At the heart of every healthy community is a strong support system. This support system consists of men and women from all walks of life who do not hesitate to offer a helping hand. Or help put a smile on the face of the young and the young at heart. For 75 years, the Beaches Lions Club has served as a strong foundation and support system to these East Toronto streets.

In August of 1931, members of the Toronto Central Club and the East York Danforth Club discussed sponsoring a club in the "Beaches District." And despite some reservations held by members, optometrist and Toronto East Lions Club member Jack Dee forged onward and founded the Toronto Beaches Lions Club in 1935.

A Beloved Beaches Tradition

Every spring, the Toronto Beaches Lions Club puts on a fun-filled, colourful and entertaining Easter parade. The parade was conceived in 1967 by the East Toronto Community Association to mark Canada's Centennial year.

In 1973, the Toronto Beaches Lions Club started to take an active role in the organization and supervision of the parade because members John Bradshaw and Alex Christie were also members of the East Toronto Community Association. By 1981 the Toronto Beaches Lions Club became the official organizer of the parade.

When the parade first began, the route was along the boardwalk. Then in 1974, due to its increasing popularity, the parade was moved to Queen Street. Some of you might remember the Lions wowing audiences with elephants brought in from the Bowmanville Zoo, stylish convertibles, marching bands, and amusing floats. Over the years word about this parade spread across the city and it has become a traditional "go-to" Easter attraction for many Torontonians. In 2010 an estimated 50,000 people enjoyed the parade.

Carnival Time

The Toronto Beaches Lions Club Carnival was a memorable spring event that ran for 70 years in the parking lot of the former Greenwood Racetrack. During the late 1940s the carnival became very popular - so popular that the Lion's Club published its own carnival newspaper.

The two-week carnival was a potpourri of exciting activity. Events included Dr. Ballard's Mutt Show, a wrestling demonstration by Whipper Billy Watson, broadcast of a live radio show, professional dancers, comedians, magic shows, a live orchestra and a street dance on Kew Beach Avenue.

In contrast, the Children's Christmas Carnival of 1948 was not a triumph for the Club. For 3 months members of the Toronto Beaches Lion's Club worked enthusiastically to create an extraordinary event. As part of the entertainment line up, the Club hired one of Canada's most popular entertainers, Mart Kenny and his Western Gentleman, however his fee was $10,000 (a small fortune in 1948). Due to their feverish planning and quest for superior quality, the expenses far exceeded the Club's means.

The Club ultimately assumed full responsibility for their financial losses. Aided by the generosity of other Lions Clubs, companies and individuals they paid off their debt of approximately $40,000 by 1952.

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New York's Central Park comes to Kew Gardens

In July of 1949, members of the Toronto Beaches Lions Club attended an International Convention in New York City and were inspired by a fountain in Central Park. After seeing children cheerfully splashing around in the water, members knew they had to bring a similar wading pool home to the Beaches.

In September of that same year, "Penny Banks" were placed in many local shops to help raise funds for the creation of the Kew Gardens Wading Pool. The ground turning ceremony, presided over by former Mayor Allan Lamport was held on July 6, 1953. Despite the Club's good intentions they managed to displease some local residents of Kew Gardens because of an 8 feet by 16 feet advertisement of the pool construction. Fortunately, the Parks Commissioner and the Mayor intervened and allowed the sign to remain in place during the construction. In less than two months, on September 2, during a 100-degree heat wave, the Kew Gardens Wading Pool was officially opened.

It was the first pool of its kind in Toronto. Today, if your children are in need of cooling off, they can still enjoy the Kew Gardens wading pool.

Location, Location, Location

The clubhouse, Jonathan Ashbridge Community Centre named after the first family to reside in the Beaches in 1796, is located at the foot of Coxwell Ave., south of Lake Shore Blvd. The club purchased the rustic cottage from the Sea Scouts. The clubhouse has held many events from art shows to birthdays to weddings. In 2004, Beaches Living Guide launched its premiere issue at the clubhouse.

In 1935, meetings were held at the home of Mary England, located above the Mountain Dew Restaurant (1972 Queen St. E.), later at the Georgia Villa at the N.W. corner of Silverbirch and Queen. For many years the Club met at the Orchard Park Hotel, now the Days Inn, at Queen and Kingston Road.

One of the Club's proudest achievements began in 1962 - the creation of a senior citizens' residence at 50 Norway Ave. A former swamp area, they spent over $1 million to build the 43 unit Lions Centennial Apartments (opened June 1, 1966).

A Changing Face

Behind every great man, is an even greater woman. In the early years of the Club, membership was limited to men only, although women were always involved - albeit in the background.

In 1987, the official Lions International Constitution was amended to allow women to become members. However, it wasn't until 1989 that the first three women officially joined the Toronto Beaches Lions Club. Today women make up more than half of the Lions membership. Since the involvement of women members, the Club has become more dynamic and inclusive.

Giving Back to the Community

For 75 years the Lions have touched every corner of the Beaches. 100% of their fundraising dollars go to sports teams, many non-profit organizations and even saving the life of a child. Their clubhouse and general operation expenses are paid by membership fees.

Regardless, of age, gender or generation, the Toronto Beaches Lions Club members share one common goal - to serve the community and help those in need.


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