A personal reflection on a few changes in Leaside

The challenge in commenting on the changes I have noticed in our community since Leaside Life sprang into life 100 issues and nearly a decade ago is not so much in keeping track of the sequence of things as in confining my observations to the specified time line.

That’s why I begin with a year that I know about mostly from hearsay evidence: 1944. That’s when my mother and father settled in Toronto as the war was coming to a close.

The home they moved into was a carbon copy of the house in Leaside that my wife Beth and I moved into more than four decades later and which we have raised our family in. Same 1930s vintage, same floor plan, same steel beam in the basement – installed at a level guaranteed to inflict brain damage on anyone over five feet ten who forgets to duck when rushing upstairs to answer a knock at the front door.

Here’s the thing: In the era when Leaside’s original homes were built, that bump on the head was usually a risk only if you were doing laundry or shoveling coal into the furnace. Now it is likely to come if you are nestled into your home theatre, working in your home office, or resting in your extra bedroom. (What’s more, if you live in one of the houses being built these days, your washing machine probably isn’t in your basement anyhow, and there is a good chance you won’t ever see your furnace unless you open the secret door that it’s hidden behind.)

The house my parents moved into in 1944 was for them – and each of its counterparts in Leaside was, for many families that moved into them at the time – a starter home. The term “home renovation” was unknown. “Home improvement” meant moving to a bigger house in another neighbourhood – usually farther out – that reflected greater value and prestige. Which is what commonly occurred over the ensuing decades.

You want value and prestige today? You’re living in it. A look at any current Leaside real estate listing tells you that we are reaching the day when anyone who expects to find their starter home in Leaside had better have a freshly-signed playing contract with the Blue Jays in hand. Or a piece of the career of Justin Bieber or Drake.

Leaside is no longer a community a young family start out in and move on from as they advance in life; it is a place that people aspire to. (Just check the StatsCan economic demographic profile of our community and you will see what I mean. Look under “education level” or “household income.”)

These days, once a family arrives in Leaside, they dig in to stay.

Which is not to say that we are satisfied with the houses we move into here. Precisely because we have no intention to move out, living in Leaside activates a latent gene within each of us to seek out ways to upgrade things right now, right where we are. Leaside’s homes are becoming more deluxe. And bigger: roofs extend higher; rear walls extend farther back. Bungalows have become an endangered species. (The record of minor variance approvals suggests that the Committee of Adjustment is fully on board with all of this, it would seem.)

Some changes come from renovations and additions; some from demolition and fresh construction. Either way, our homes are getting larger and grander.

We also find a greater variety to the architectural styles you see as you walk up and down the streets of today’s Leaside. Some reno projects and some new homes fit in sympathetically with the original streetscape. Some bring an attractive diversity. Others…well, we do find occasional reminders that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I will note with unqualified approval, however, that no new homes built in Leaside these days have basement ceilings born of the practical jokesterism inherent in the above-mentioned low-altitude killer support beams that the original houses all seemed to be outfitted with.

John Parker is the former councillor, Toronto Ward 26 (now Don Valley West).