Leaside – a perfect place for business 30 years ago and still today

The people who call this great neighbourhood home are passionate about their community. That’s a wonderful thing. But lately, talking with families, I’ve heard over and over again how worried people are. About the development. The traffic. The change. So much change.

And yes, I’ve seen the changes. Yet I’ve also seen what hasn’t changed. And that’s why I’m not worried — and you shouldn’t be, either. Leasiders still have so much to be grateful for — and I am so thankful for this community and what it has given me.

I came to Toronto from England in 1981. I was a teenager with a degree in teaching, specializing in young children — what we’d call an ECE (“early childhood education”) today — and found work in that field. The year or two I’d planned on spending in Toronto kept getting extended, and I began seriously thinking about making a life here.

My experience was all in education, and a friend and I began talking about opening a school. I knew right away the kind of school I wanted to open: professional, with trained and certified staff, but also a close-knit environment where we could know not just the children we’d teach, but their families, as well.

But there was more than just the academics — we wanted to teach the basics of community, too: knowing your neighbours, building relationships with them, and making sure that the children knew they could expand and grow in a place where they’d be challenged but also accommodated.

So that was the kind of school I wanted to open. But where would it be successful?

It was a big question — the success of the whole venture hinged on finding the right place. After researching this question very carefully, it became obvious that Leaside was perfect. It was an established neighbourhood, stable and proud. But it was also full of young families. Many of the young parents living in Leaside had grown up here. That told me a lot about this place.

So Leaside was it. We found an ideal spot, sharing space with St. Augustine’s Anglican church at Bayview and Broadway, and opened Children’s Garden Nursery School. The first advertisements went out, and then all there was left to do was wait and hope.

That was 30 years ago this fall. And I’m proud to say the school is still teaching the kids of this fantastic community.

A lot has changed, it’s true. My staff and I have kept up with the changes as best we can, of course. But we remain as focused as we ever were on those same core principles: the best place for a child to learn and grow is a place where professional educators can come together in a nurturing, family spirit. We continue to prioritize community, family and communication. We want parents to feel comfortable leaving their children with us, and the best way to do that is to make sure the children come to school every morning excited to play with their friends.

We’ve never wavered from that — and why would we? Building that kind of environment doesn’t require sacrificing academics. In fact, academics and community spirit go hand in hand. We’re proud of our students, who never fail to get into local private schools and read well beyond their age level, because their success shows my 30-year-old intuition was right: Leaside was, and still is, the perfect place to build the kind of school we could be proud of.

Yes, there’s more traffic than before, and new houses and towers are popping up all the time. But take it from me: in all the best ways, Leaside is the same place it always was. It’s a place where the kids who grew up here come back to raise their own children. It’s a place where families form life-long friendships after their children meet in our classrooms. It’s a place where one of my own daughters, now grown up herself, has just joined me as Children’s Garden Nursery School’s newest teacher.

Two generations of Foulkes women teaching at the same school is exciting, but as we mark our 30th year here in Leaside, I confess to a fond hope: soon, we may have the first child of one of my earliest graduates enrolled here. They’ll be about old enough now. What a thrill that would be.

Thanks for 30 great years, Leaside. And here’s to 30 more.

Pauline Foulkes is the owner and director of Children’s Garden Nursery School, 1847 Bayview Ave.