Women helped make the Beach, and still do

History, many say, is slanted to the fact that men are the ones that make history. I take this as an offence against women, especially those who live or lived in the Beach area.

Let us take a critical view of some women in the political, literary, educational and sporting aspects of life, to give them their due respect. There are many women who made the Beach what it is, and I can’t possibly fit them all in, so I will feature some from the past and present. Here are a few who have changed the Beach for the better.

Let us go back to the end of the American Revolution, as thousands were uprooted from their way of life, and headed for a new beginning – including a family from Pennsylvania by the name of Ashbridge. The person in charge of the family was not a man, but a woman, Sarah Ashbridge. Sarah came to what is now Canada, petitioned the Crown for a land grant and received it – a very rare grant to be given to a woman. The matriarch of the Ashbridges and her family settled on land between what is now Greenwood to the west and Coxwell to the east, from the lake to north of the Danforth. Without Sarah Ashbridge and her pioneer family, I don’t think that the history of the East End would be the same.

In the early 1900s, Ada Courtice came to the area with her husband, a minister, but Ada wanted to make her own mark in life, and she did in education. Ada was a person of great integrity and foresight, a person ahead of her time in the fields of politics and education. She was a teacher’s teacher, a person who would get what she wanted no matter what the odds.

Ada came to the Beach, but wanted to help all children in the school system. The only way to do this was to run for the school board, despite women in the board being few and far between. She persevered, and became what we now call a trustee in the Beach area. Her ideas and programs would be the basis for a new deal in the system, especially for girls. Ada fulfilled her dream as an innovator in schools, starting her own, Balmy Beach College, for which she served as principal. She led the way for future women in the education system.

Let us look at the sports world. We all know it’s a man’s game. Oh yeah? We had girls hockey teams in the Beach; we had girls rowing teams; we had ladies baseball teams, ladies lawn bowling teams, ladies tennis, track and field…in fact, ladies softball in Kew Gardens at times attracted nearly 10,000 fans – sometimes more than the men’s teams.

Myrtle Cook-McGowan jumped up from obscurity in the 1920s, becoming one of Canada’s greatest runners in the 20th century, one of the greatest Olympians the Beach and East End has ever produced. She broke numerous national and international records, and went on to champion women in sports for half a century.

In the field of opera, the lovely Teresa Stratus achieved stardom in the great opera houses of the world, acclaimed as one of the greatest divas of modern times.

How about a great artist, who achieved international fame for her paintings and interpretations of nature – the late, great Doris McCarthy?

My main objective in this article is to give credit to those on the Beach Women of Distinction list. The first among equals is Sheila Blinoff, a person who has distinguished herself in many facets of the East End – running the Ward 9 News, later Beach Metro News, as General Manager for more years than we want to know – right, Ms. Blinoff? Sheila is signing off from the paper only on her terms. She has been involved in the sesqui-centennial, history, the toastmasters; I just can’t name all the things she has helped with, without credit or cash. We will miss you at the paper.

Linda Blogg has been active on the Beaches Recreation Centre Advisory Council for 25 years, as well as with Ted Reeve Community Arena, Beaches Lacrosse, the Spring Sprint, and more.

Joan Brent, a life-long Beacher, Citizen of the Year, volunteer with the Beaches Lions Club – you name it, Joan has been and is there.

We just lost Marion Bryden, longstanding member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and one of the founders of the Ontario NDP party. She was one of the longest-serving women MPPs in Ontario, serving Beaches-Woodbine (now Beaches-East York) from 1975 until her retirement in 1990.

Sandra Bussin is a Beacher to the core. A member of city council for many years, Deputy Mayor and Speaker, she is a person who championed many progressive programs in the East End.

Anne Butler is one of the best actors in the city, well known for her Bard in the Park at Kew Gardens, as well as one of the Beach Citizens of the Year.

Sheila Cary-Meagher is one of the longest serving members of the Toronto District School Board, a person who always speaks her mind and follows her principles, always ready to help for a good cause.

Sue Choi is one of those unheralded  women who have made their mark in the Beach by starting her own produce store, and helping the less fortunate, always giving to others.

Jennifer Cline is one of those gifted people who is one of the Beach’s best artists, always helping with charity events with her renditions of the Beach.

Jean Cochrane is an author, activist and Citizen of the Year, ready to volunteer any time, anywhere. She is a quiet woman, who has done much to make the Beach a great place to live. Hats off to you, Jean, and Glenn – what a twosome.

Kathie Collins Williams has a heart of gold, helping the less fortunate; a true Beacher.

Nancy Culver personifies what a volunteer was, is and should be.

Amy Gaudaur, one of our younger personalities, has in her brief career so far done more than two women twice her age.

Evonne Hossack has a long career helping individuals and organizations needing stability. Helping girls and boys, she brings out the best in the young and old.

Edna Houston passed away, but left us her legacy, everything from the Spring Sprint, to line dancing, to the Beaches Rec Advisory Council. She was a beacon of generosity and hope to us all.

Helen Iliodimitis is a woman who cooked her way into history, cooking for thousands of seniors at Christmas and special events, giving her time and expertise.

Dianne James is a person who has given most of her adult life to charities and her place of worship.

Angela Kennedy is a nurse and politician who has endeavoured to treat everyone special, and make the school system a better place for children.

Joanne Knox is one person seen at every event. She gives from the heart, helping with the Spring Sprint, seniors programs and fitness for years.

Frances Lankin is almost a legend – politician, charity volunteer, head of the United Way, she has helped with many sports and been on many committees. Frances, the Beach isn’t the same without you.

Angela Miller is one of many unheralded Parks workers. She gives her heart and soul to making our Kew Gardens the greenest and cleanest in the city.

Maria Minna was one of our longest-serving MPs. She has done so much and touched so many lives in the Beach and has the people at heart.

Barbara Myrvold is a historical icon, who has written two books, with Mary Campbell, on the Beach. Without Barb we wouldn’t have so many historical resources in the library.

Marie Perotta exemplifies all that is good. She has been described as the ‘wheelchair wizard’, and has done much for people with disabilities. A Citizen of the Year, there are few places and organizations Marie and Pegasus have not touched, and she is an example to us all in the Beach.

Caroline Pitre is a bank manager who spends money with her heart. She has helped many charities and organizations.

Margery Plummer has devoted her life to bringing up children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, into her 90s.

Charlene Provan is one of two dynamic personalities who have helped run the Balmy Beach Club so well.

Paris Quinn is one of the quiet stalwarts of the Toronto Beach Rotary Club, who has for years helped out with Christmas dinners, movies and lunches for seniors, and worked to preserve Kew Williams Cottage.

Carole Stimmell was the inimitable editor of Beach Metro News for years, helping out with many charities, working to preserve Maple Cottage and Kew Williams Cottage, helping on historical walks and still going strong.

Debbie Visconti is a breath of fresh air for Community Centre 55. She has become the executive director of this great establishment, but for 15 years served on the board as well.

Yvonne Walmsly has been one of the rocks for the Beaches Rec Centre, always smiling, talking and offering advice to all she meets.

Leslie Woo, one of the quiet people in the Beach, has been involved in many school projects in the area.

Lisa Rochon is a  writer covering architecture for the Globe and Mail, involved in many activites in the Beach, including forming the Friends of the Beach Parks.

Our present fireball councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon is making her mark on the Beach scene politically.

The late, great Dorothy Thomas I worked with for many years, stopping the Scarborough expressway, saving houses, and helping the needy.

There are many, many others who haven’t been covered here. I apologize that I don’t have enough time or space to include everyone, but to those who were left out, you know who you are and what you have done.


Did you enjoy this article? If so, you may consider becoming a Voluntary Subscriber to the Beach Metro Community News and help us continue providing the community with more local content such as this. For over 40 years, our staff have worked hard to be the eyes and ears in your community, inform you of upcoming events, and let you know what and who’s making a difference. We cover the big stories as well as the little things that often matter the most. CLICK HERE to support Beach Metro News.