Unfortunately, the best days of local service clubs appear to be behind us. But from the 1940s into the 1980s the Leaside Lions Club was a major force in our community, with nearly 200 members at one time.
It was organized in 1938 by then Leaside Mayor Howard Talbot with the help, among others, of town solicitor Stan Schatz, later the Honourable Mr. Justice Schatz of the Supreme Court of Ontario. In 1938 Leaside had only 3,000 residents, one school, muddy streets, very few sidewalks and no organized recreational activities for kids.
The next year the Lions opened the town’s first playground at Millwood Park, not only providing the equipment but also paying for the supervisors to run the playground. The first summer supervisor was Bert Keene a teacher, later the principal of Bessborough school.
Millwood Park was renamed for Mayor Trace Manes, another prominent Lion. The arch at the southeast corner of the park was erected by the Lions Club as a memorial to him.
In 1941 the first peewee hockey game ever played in Canada pitted a Leaside Lions’ team against one from Etobicoke. The following year the Lions organized a boys’ hockey school and house league that played on outdoor natural ice at Millwood Park. Later, of course, the Lions and the Leaside Rotary Club initiated the efforts to raise the funds to build an artificial ice rink, the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens.
The original kitchens and later the tennis courts at both Rolph Road and Northlea schools were donated by the Lions. Before the Leaside Gardens pool was built the first swim classes for Leaside kids were organized and paid for by the club, bussing grade 5 students to the pool at the Glenview Terrace Apartments (now condominiums) on Yonge, south of Lawrence.
Between 1941 and 1963 the Leaside Lions boys marching band and girls majorette corps achieved a national and international reputation winning Canadian championships, preforming in the Grey Cup and Santa Claus parades in Toronto, as well as parades in Atlantic City and New York City. In the mid 1960s the Leaside Lions majorettes won the US open majorette corps competition.
During those years the club sponsored hockey teams at the Gardens, baseball teams at Talbot Park, the 131st Cub and Scout group, an air cadet squadron and the Sateen Club. Initiated as a weekend dance for teenagers, the Sateen drew kids from all over the city. After a live band replaced the record player and the site was moved from Rolph Road School to Leaside High, Sateen grew to almost 1,000 members.
Community spirit develops and grows in many ways, but Leaside old timers will agree that the Lions’ annual carnival held every June between 1940 and 1961 at Trace Manes Park was instrumental in developing our great community spirit. First organized as a fun and sports day for the kids, it grew into a professional week-long operation with 25 booths, food, games of chance, a rummage sale, a dog show, a car raffle plus five or six rides. One year there were two Ferris wheels.
The carnival always opened with a parade led by the Lions marching band and majorettes followed by Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Girl Guides and numerous floats. It proceeded west along Eglinton, south on Bayview, then along McRae to the park.
Long time Leasiders will also recall the musicals staged by the club as fundraisers, such as Take it Easy, Button Busters and the Wizard of Oz. These were all written, produced, directed and performed by club members. In the beginning they were performed in the auditorium of a local school but as their popularity grew the productions moved to the Bayview Theatre (now Shoppers Drug Mart) and then during their last five years for a weeklong run downtown at the Royal Alex.
In 1944 the club held a giant raffle. The first prize was the house at 172 Donlea. Earlier, 107 Bessborough had been the first prize in a raffle held by the Toronto Kiwanis Club. Later, a house on Richlea Circle was raffled by the Town of Leaside to help pay for the construction of the Leaside Gardens.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the club by Mayor Howard Talbot. The Leaside Lions Club still exists but because of changing life styles, for years now, it has been difficult to recruit new members from Leaside. Just ask the Leaside Rotary Club.
A number of years ago the Leaside Lions twinned with the Central Demerara Lions Club in Guyana. Today the membership of the Leaside Lions is made up largely of Canadians of Guyanese origin or descent, many of whom are former members of the Central Demerara Club, living mainly in the west end of the GTA where they now meet.
Next year the Lions International Convention will be held in Toronto. Thousands of Lions from all over the world will be here. Before that happens, Leaside resident and past Lions Governor Raija Rosenthal wants to bring the Leaside Lions back home. She is looking for a young man or woman who believes in the Lions’ motto We Serve to reactivate the Leaside Lions here in our community.
(If you are interested, please contact Bill Allison, 905-827-7219, .)
Alas, unless that happens the Leaside Rotary Club’s Community Corn Roast appears to be the sole survivor of the great events undertaken by the several Leaside service clubs in years gone by. But the community spirit generated during those years is still with us and hopefully will last forever.