A major asset to the community, Leaside Memorial Community Gardens (LMCG), is a gem, hosting an average of 5,000 Leaside community members and their associates each week. Yes, 1073 Millwood Rd. is a place uniting Leasiders – a place where you can witness triumph and defeat, cheering and consoling, lessons learned, veterans honoured, dreams being made, and friendships forged each and every day.
For those new to the community, LMCG was originally built with fundraised dollars and a $200,000 loan from the City. It opened its doors in 1951 and hosted its first hockey game on October 6, 1952. The pool opened in 1958. A registered war memorial, LMCG was named in honour of our war veterans. The plaque outside reads: “In memory of the men of the Town of Leaside who gave their lives for their country in the Second World War – 1939-1945.” Full disclosure: I’m an exceedingly proud LMCG board member.
Gender diversity on full display
In addition to 50 city arena facilities operated and managed by the Parks, Forestry and Recreation division, LMCG is one of eight arenas in Toronto operated by Arena Boards of Management. The board’s mandate is to operate the facility on behalf of the community and the City of Toronto; ensure the arena is safe, well-maintained and accessible for use; manage the use of the arena facility in a way that balances the needs of the local community residents, organizations and user groups; and allocate ice time to users in consultation with the City.
This year, the LMCG board of management welcomed five new members and held its first meeting in September following the summer break. At a time when less than 20 per cent of board directorships in Canada are held by females (Statistics Canada, 2016), the LMCG board was pleased that 60 per cent of its members are now women. The infusion of new, highly capable individuals to the board ushers in an era of renewed enthusiasm and new ideas necessary to tackle the challenges ahead.
Unleashing the power of the Leaside community
From its initial founding and at other times (e.g. in the 1970s when $500,000 was raised to replace the roof), the community has rallied in support of LMCG to ensure that we as a community have access to the facilities we need. For example, the fundraising model was the only way a desperately needed second rink could come to fruition. In fact, the Dr. Tom Pashby Play Safely Rink was the first new rink built by the City in 40 years. Just as in 1951, without the Leaside community jumping in to fundraise, the second rink would never have been built. Jane Pitfield in her book about Leaside wrote, “Leaside Memorial Community Gardens is considered to be a model for other facilities with community involvement at the local level.”
The National Post ran a story at the time acknowledging the indomitable force that is Charlene Kalia, who led the community campaign that raised about $2.25 million towards the project from 839 individual and corporate donors. The Post reported that “under the proposal, the city will front the arena management board $7.5-million (called “recoverable debt”) and contribute $1-million; Ontario will loan the project $1.5-million…the board plans to pay back the loans over 25 years. [Thus] Toronto gets a new public rink at minimal cost to taxpayers.” So yes, taxpayers were spared, but the fact remains that LMCG was built with a “down payment” and a commitment to repay a loan with interest on behalf of the community.
Outwardly, it is undeniable the pride that Leasiders feel when they visit Leaside Gardens and see all the championship banners on display (intimidating for our competitors too), or when a young swimmer finally hoists that 20 lb brick for the required time or a group of elder adults makes new friends while playing bridge in the William Lea room. Behind the scenes though, fiscal responsibility remains one of the biggest challenges facing the board today, but not the only one. In addition to paying back the recoverable debt, the board must also (1) meet the rising demand for ice time, (2) work to stay competitive compared to newer arenas in neighbouring 905 communities that have more customer amenities, and (3) where possible, modernize and repurpose underutilized space for the benefit of the broader community. The new board is confident it will be up to the challenge!
Oh yeah, please save the date: Nov. 22 for LMCG’s “Leaside On Ice” annual fundraiser – featuring snacks, skates, smiles and hot chocolate.
What can LMCG do to reach more groups in the community? How can LMCG pay down the debt to the City faster? How would you like to see Leaside Gardens evolve and grow over the next 10 years? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arena Facts: Did You Know?
• Mission to be one of the safest facilities in the country
• 5,000 average weekly visitors to the facility
• 2,500+ members with our major user groups
• 50 per cent of current users are girls
• 60 per cent of the board of management are women
• 7 NHL players got their start here
• Home of the Leaside Sports Hall of Fame