Lions’ Christmas tree lot moving to Woodbine Beach

Steve Watson and Pete Conroy at Woodbine Beach, the new site of the Beaches Lions Tree Lot. PHOTO: Anna Killen

“The smell of the Sunset Grill, the sound of the streetcar.”

Pete Conroy and Steve Watson, better known to many in the Beach as two of the four men behind the Beaches Lions Christmas Tree Lot at Kew Gardens, are getting nostalgic touching upon the seasons of memories they’ve amassed over the last 25 years. The tree lot began in 1992 on a porch with four friends looking for a way to stay connected and raise money for the community – it’s now a central part of the Beach holiday season, and the Beaches Lions largest fundraiser.

Snowball fights, celebrity sightings, wedding proposals – speaking with Conroy and Watson for a short while on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it seems they are the type of gregarious guys who would have stories to tell no matter the year or occasion. They are the type of guys who, at 18, would say “Hey, why don’t we start selling real Christmas trees?”

Pete and Steve with a particularly large tree at the Beaches Lions Tree Sale at Kew Gardens in the '90s.
Pete and Steve with a particularly large tree at the Beaches Lions Tree Sale at Kew Gardens in the ’90s.

But this year, there’s a real reason to reflect on their time at Kew Gardens – 2015 was the crew’s last at the Queen East spot. This year, the group moves to the park at Woodbine Beach, east of the parking lot off of Lakeshore Boulevard. The lot opens November 25.

The move comes as a result of the recent changes to Kew Gardens, explained Watson, speaking on behalf of the group, which also includes David Godsoe and Derek Miller, noting that the city does not want any extra-ordinary wear and tear on the new landscaping and the space has been modified so that it is no longer suitable for the tree lot.

Staying in Kew was not presented as an option for the tree lot, he said.

“The only location presented as an option was Woodbine Beach, and we have agreed to give it a try,” he said.

City councillors, city staff, and Boardwalk Place, which has agreed to let them use their power supply, have been helpful at accommodating the tree lot’s needs at the new location, they said. They are trying to see the positives in the new location: free on-site parking, an easier loading and unloading space, and the opportunity to build new memories and maybe even one day expand, but it is hard for the group to say goodbye to Kew and Queen Street East.

“After more than 25 years in Kew Gardens, the thought of having to rebuild in a new location is a challenge in itself,” said Watson. “We’ve had to ask ourselves, and our families, if we still have the energy that we had all those years ago and can devote the time to try and rebuild in a new area? While the new location does have the benefit of ample free parking, we will lose that Queen Street sidewalk traffic and the more direct contact with the community.”

Dave teaches school children about trees at Kew Gardens.
Dave teaches school children about trees at Kew Gardens.

From a business standpoint, they have ordered less trees than they normally would to make sure that they don’t get stuck with too much product on account of the move.

“Most people in the industry have agreed that moving locations will likely cost you 20 to 25 per cent of your customer base,” he said. “It will take a number of years to build this back.”

But they are determined to build it back – and build upon the memories and traditions which began at Kew.

“Without a doubt Kew Gardens will always be a special place for us. We have all grown up in and around the Beach, and Kew was always at the heart of it all,” he said.

The group specializes in premium, quality trees – and was one of the first to do so, they say, so they have a loyal customer base. A significant portion of the business is through home delivery, which should take some of the edge off and benefit from the parking situation at Woodbine Beach – perhaps the silver lining.

“It will be nice for us and for our customers not to have to fend off the relentless Queen Street East parking ticket officers,” he said.

Nevertheless, reflecting on the last 25 years brought up special memories for the lot.

“We all found special moments to cherish spending the month leading up to Christmas every year, watching the last leaves fall and listening to the flag near the Cenotaph flap in the crisp breeze, waiting for those first snowflakes to appear,” said Watson.

“And on delivery day in late November, with a hardy crew unloading all of the trees we would always hear the excitement from the children as they passed by on the way to the play area, asking their parents when they could come for a candy cane and to pick out their tree.”

They always felt embraced by the community.

“People walking along Queen Street would tell us how much they loved the smell of the trees coming from the park. We often heard, ‘We know Christmas is around the corner when the boys arrive in the park.’ We have two-and-a-half decades of memories we share with all the people that have worked with us over the years, and also with many of the business operators that have come and gone. We are committed to doing our best to create new memories at Woodbine Beach, but it won’t be the same.”

The tree lot at Kew Gardens attracted many characters over the years. Here, the group reflects on some of those people.

“During one setup weekend, probably 15 years ago, we were short staffed and struggling through a difficult day with multiple trucks to unload. A gentlemen wandered down from the sidewalk asking if we needed help. He was obviously more than a few years our senior and turned out to have stories from a lifetime of commercial fishing off the Newfoundland coast. This gentleman worked tirelessly for several days, showing us all up. He had mentioned he was working for money for a hostel and food and to help him figure out his next stop in life. He never said good-bye, just didn’t come back one day, but we all remember the older gentleman that made a difference and showed us all up in the process.”

“Then there was the year Mike, local Beach legend, came back from one of his cross-Canada walks (that’s right, he walked from Toronto to Vancouver, or was it Halifax? I believe he did both…) and spent the season sharing his amazing stories.”

“Tagziev joined us one year, an elite level wrestler who went on to compete for Canada. He seemed to have the strength of three of us, moving the largest of trees like they were a 3’ table-top.”

“Hunter should have won a ‘best spirit’ award with tales of his cross Atlantic sailing voyage. His unwavering positive outlook brightened all of our spirits on the coldest, wettest days.”

“I should also mention that a younger Ryan O’Reilly, on his way to the NHL stardom he enjoys today, was also part of the crew many years ago.”

Do you have a special memory from the Beaches Lions tree lot at Kew Gardens? What do you think about the move to Woodbine Beach? Leave a comment or email anna@beachmetro.com.

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32 comments

The heart of The Beach is Kew and The Boardwalk. To push one of the last heartfelt traditions of The Beach out to Woodbine is foolish. Our family tradition is to walk from our home to the park and pick out a tree then have dinner at a local restaurant. We spend $100 for the tree and $100 for dinner. Supporting local business! By the time we get home our beautiful tree freshly cut is on our porch. A tradition started long before our sons were born. The preservation of the overpriced ‘refresh’ of the park is ridiculous. One festival will take care of that! Not too late to rethink this!

Us too… we are sad it has to change… we will still be loyal and wish we could so something to support its move back… let me know… i can be pretty persuasive 🙂

What a shame you have to move. It has been my family tradition to walk over and then walk home with everyone helping to bring our tree home. Can we not problem solve this? There is a new get together spot made of stone that could lead to the park? Why did we renovate and lose the spirit of Christmas in the Beach? The tree lighting could be done just before they set up. Really saddened by this news.

While I like new new work done on the park, I am very unhappy with this change. Wandering around a parking lot outside of the community is not the same. It is disappointing and annoying and demonstrates that those people making decisions on behalf of Beach residents really do not have a clue about our community. I am sure that with a little effort an alternate location within the park could have been found. However the argument that the city does not want extraordinary wear and tear on the new landscaping is nonsensical. The Christmas tree sale is not an extraordinary event, it is an ordinary, recurring and appropriate event and the need to enable it to continue should have been considered in the design of the new space. If this is the cost of the new landscaping then the project and those responsible for it get a failing grade.

This was more than a place to buy a tree or garland, this has been an integral part of our Christmas tradition in the Beach. The pure delight in walking by and enjoying the fragrances or stopping to watch fellow residents and kids picking out trees is a cherished part of living here. Moving them off Queen to some parking lot by Woodbine is not at all a ‘solution’. As the guys themselves have stated, they’re worried enough about the dent in sales they’ve ordered less trees. But even worse, the City has taken away huge enjoyment for this community. To suggest the million dollar brick job couldn’t stand up to a few weeks of tree sales is ludicrous. And where is our Councillor in all this? Right. She led the charge to take out our long time gardens which included chopping down dozens of trees, for brick and benches. It’s all quite ugly in my opinion. I prefer parkland. This is very bad news.

This is ridiculous. The community did not ask the City to re-landscape Kew Gardens. Many of us liked it just the way it was.
And now we can’t have our traditional tree lot? Why? Are the paving lots that frail? Or poorly installed? Surely there can be a space found in Kew Gardens for the tree lot.

Once upon a time, I came across a single parent Beach family with a child who had a serious disability. Their house was robbed just before Christmas and the miscreants took all of the kids Christmas gifts with them. The single mother could not afford a Christmas tree, and put her money into the gifts.

In good old fashioned Beach tradition we, as a community mobilized to help this family. I called Peter Conroy and explained to him the circumstances of this family. A fresh cut Christmas tree was delivered to her door within an hour or so. This kind of compassion is rare. I doubt a retailer would have been as responsive.

I have a feeling there may be more to this issue than relocation and the impact on Kew Gardens.

Death by a thousand cuts. The annual Christmas tree market is important to so many people — it’s an enjoyable part of the community even if you don’t buy a tree. So many times we have got our tree on the spur of the moment, because we’re out shopping or strolling anyway. Now if we have to drive somewhere specifically to get a tree, we maybe don’t have such loyalty to the Lions market, and can get a tree somewhere more “convenient.”

So much a part of our community spirit, this tree sale should have been grandfathered in to any agreement about commercial use of the space, and the $2-million “renovation” should have been able to accommodate local people walking around buying Christmas trees once a year. Disgraceful on so many levels!

The renovation was not $2million, that’s gross hyperbole. You can chop that number in half. Whether or not the sales would have damaged the new reno, the way it is set up would not allow for fencing to sit there, there’s too much variation in elevation now.

Another shove to a vacant and vast, unappealing park that is neither convenient or inviting. The new Kew Gardens was never ratified by its residents. While it may look nice to some, it’s very intent to make it amenable to a better meeting place, the removal of simple community gatherings and purpose like the tree lot and music, contradicts this. Making the park in the heart of our neighbourhood it’s own vacant wasteland.

The City’s statement of no vehicles in the park is an interesting one. I guess the employees of the Park will no longer be using the vehicles to pick up the garbage and get from point A to point B with all the tools, as well various other items needed to do their jobs. Little red wagons perhaps?

This is absolutely ridiculous. Kew Gardens was the heart of the Christmas season for Beachers. The councillor is to blame for 1) wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on this park revamp and 2) pushing the Lions tree sale out of the Beach. I continue to be stunned at how Beachers were not broadly given the ability to vote on whether they wanted this park revamp. And now we are continually seeing repercussions from this hasty and misguided decision.

To the best of my recollection there were at least two community consultations and I think they were mentioned/advertised in the Beach Metro News. There was also a community working group.
I didn’t think the community consultations were well attended. Sadly people always complain about the lack of notice or the lack of consultation etc. Sometimes the real issue is indifference. I attended these meetings and voiced concerns, where were all the people who now have issues with this development? The Councillor is not to blame, its the residents who are to blame and I am talking about those who knew about the proposals and did nothing. Ms. Stimmell and Ms. Cochrane could have used their help as they put up resistance to the development. As for me, I did take time out of my business, to attend these meetings, provided input and did my residential duty,

The development was neither hasty nor misguided. I did feel it was architect – led and I didn’t like that.

Why haven’t the Lions said anything about the relocation? Maybe they like it?

This is what happens with the rule of acquiescence.

As an aside, the design was to attract and support local business. The BIA put up a lot of money. Why aren’t they running Christmas Market events in the park? Also if the BIA put in the money, or a significant portion of it, then why would they support the commercial use of the area by non-BIA members. You don’t hear any comments from them either.

The BIA did not put up “a significant part of the money”. They offered up $200k of the $400k budget, but this abomination came in at $2 million! And the “community consultation” was a charade as are all of the Counillor’s “consultations”. The project was a fait accompli – the architect had already been chosen – no consideration was given to higher priority items in our parks which remain unaddressed.

Well, I was there. Where were you? Do you have anything to offer rather than accusations. The BIA doesn’t have a lot of money so $200k-as you suggested, is a lot.

Why don’t you run in the nest election, you seem to know quite informed and I am sure can make a big difference.

I do believe the process was architect driven- I WAS THERE! I guess the other 99.9% of the residents who aren’t complaining, either like the changes or don’t care. We could have used your help. I didn’t see you at any meetings.
Oh and by the way, I knew the late Joe McNulty very well.

It did not come in at $2million, where is everyone getting this inflated figure from? Last I checked it was around $1.2 million, $160K of which came from the BIA.

Where is the $1.2 million figure from. Remarkable the influence that $160k can buy. Shades of the Trudeau government!

Acquiescence? Casting aspersions does nothing to resolve an issue and/or promote conversation. At no time, during the community meetings was there any mention that the refurbishment would result in the loss of community events – I WAS THERE! The issue at hand is the relocation of the Christmas Tree Lot. In this day and age, there is a focus on accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The move of the tree lot prevents accessibility for many of us.
On so many occasions, Steve and Pete not only donated trees, but delivered them as well to help needy families have a good Christmas. They deserve better than to have their altruism questioned.
Commerce is essential for a vibrant, thriving community.

The tree lot is a lovely community tradition that will be missed. It makes no sense that the park can’t accommodate this event. Moreover, it the lot must move why not move it to one of the other spots in the park or to another park that is closer? Like the bottom of the Glenn Manor Ravine? This would still be walkable for most and not require getting into a car.

Really concerned about decisions being made that take out community traditions that breathe life into Queens street at this time of year. With so many empty store fronts and tired facades, this year without The Kew Gardens Christmas trees, the area seems even more desolate.
I have been reviewing the output of the workshops to rejuvenate queen street in the Beaches focusing in on innovation. Maybe a shift in thinking is needed? Holding meetings, asking people to be present is a tough ask…social media may capture more input? I think the Beaches is all about nature, healthy living and family. It’s not about protecting what we have it’s about developing the Beaches Queen Steet store fronts to represent and serve a vibrant healthy nature loving family centric community.
The Lion’s Christmas Tree Lot in Kew Gradens should have been developed not moved! The concept of Christmas in Kew Gardens should have been expanded ..imaging hot chocolate cabannas, a Santa mailbox manned by elves, a winter picnic station, a Christmas market in the beach with ginger wine and scandi crafts and skating on the baseball field.

This is literally a 10 minute walk away from Kew………. Calm down – support the community by supporting minor changes. Grab a hot chocolate on the walk out, hit the boardwalk, or enjoy the waves crashing into a quiet winter beach as you and your dog enjoy the enormous off-leash. It’s a lovely lot and worth the extra 10 minutes.
As someone who arrived in the beach only a little over a year ago, I was so happy to see (and smell) this festive little place right out by the water last weekend. The best part of the beach afterall, is the beach, any time of year.
It’s not up to the community to keep family traditions alive, it’s up to the people to be open to minor modifications to keep their own tradition.

Start a new tradition by joining in the Share A Christmas Program on Main Street. Teach your kids the true meaning of Christmas. Help get food and toys to those who need help. I suggest that is a tradition that matters more than a Christmas Tree Lot. But that’s just me.

So many individuals purchase a tree and/or greens during the festive season. Purchasing the tree from the Lions Tree Lot provides a welcome contribution to the coffers of the Beaches Lions Club, a Registered Charity, that gives so much to this community and many other global projects. A feel good purchase in every way that has been a tradition for so many of us over the last twenty-five years. For those of us with mobility issues, the new tree lot location is accessible via the 92 Woodbine South bus. The stop is located just south of Queen Street East on the west side of Woodbine Avenue and the bus goes right into the Ashbridges Loop, the parking lot beside the new tree lot location.

I might be wrong, but I thought I read somewhere that the Lion’s don’t receive as much of the $ from the sales of the trees as most people think. There is a middle man here that takes a sizeable chunk of the revenue. The City does not want to promote this type of activity on their property.
Vehicular traffic is not the issue apparently, as there have and continue to be numerous vehicles driving on the new surface. We, the public were told that there will not be a proper foundation built to support vehicular weight. If there was to be no vehicular traffic allowed on the new surface, then why are the bollards(vertical steel posts), removeable?

Funny thing. Over 57.000 people in our community and maybe 12 are upset about the Tree Sales and the Lions have not once posted anything to complain or defend their Kew Gardens position.
Guess it’s a non issue. Time to move on…………………..Oh and about less than 100 people out of 57,000 expressed issues about the Kew refresh.

Funny thing. Not absolutely everyone who has a grump about something in the community registers it on this website. Conversations on the street, in stores and restaurants and among neighbours don’t show up here. In my own conversations with locals, I have not heard one single person say they approve of the move or like the new location. Remember that saying about how one formal complaint represents 26 unhappy customers? Or how 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t complain? I wouldn’t be so hasty in declaring this a “non-issue” based simply on numbers of comments here.

And they are doing what about it?
It’s done unfortunately.
Maybe the BIA could do it. I don’t see anyone jumping off their chair with any enthusiasm.

That entire revamp is cold, and not appealing at all. The tree lot there was a tradition that should have been upheld. Complete waste of money, that did not bring any value.

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