In the Beach, every memorial plaque tells a story

Hundreds of memorial plaques on trees and benches along the lakefront in the Beach pay tribute to and tell the stories of those they were intended to honour. Erwin Buck recenly decided to find out more about some of the people who are mentioned on those plaques, and to photograph them. Photos by Erwin Buck.

By ERWIN BUCK

For years I’ve walked past the memorial plaques on local benches and at the foot of trees without really paying much attention to them.

Last year, one of the tree plaques caught my attention – Dorothy Adams: “Dorothy Has Left The Party”.

I know Adam’s daughter, Cynthia, so I asked her for the back story.

Her mother loved parties, and after a stroke, she held a “Thank God I’m Alive Party”.

Some years later when she passed away at age 82, her family discovered that she had planned her own wake, complete with guest list and a caterer. She wanted it to be called “Dorothy Has Left the Party”.

I started looking at other plaques.

A bench dedication, along the Boardwalk near the Balmy Beach Club caught my attention – Daniela Withers: “She never missed a deadline” made me want to know more, so I did some digging.

Daniela, or Danny as she was known, was a journalist in Johannesburg.

Although apartheid had ended and there were free elections, the country was still plagued by violence and crime. She and her husband Gary decided, along with their two young children, to move to Canada.

Soon Danny became one of the first employees at the about-to-be-launched National Post. She became a Canadian citizen and was proud of her new home with its peaceful multicultural society.

These two plaques piqued my curiosity enough to start a project of photographing every plaque between Silverbirch and the far western end of Ashbridges Bay Park.

There are more than 500 plaques and I probably missed a few.

After photographing them, I was able to read them more closely at my leisure. And then with the help of the internet, I began to fill in some of details of the lives of those memorialized.

In the outer part of Ashbridges Bay Park is a memorial plaque to Donald Peter Kerr: “Geographer, Scholar and a Gentleman”.

Kerr was indeed a renowned geographer who had the distinction of being one of the first babies delivered at the new Women’s College Hospital. Among other positions, he was chairman of the department of geography at U of T where he co-authored many academic papers and books on climate and urban studies.

Close to the Balmy Beach Club are several memorials to former club members – Frank “Ike” Commins, who played in the 1927 and 1930 Grey Cup, and “Colonel” William John Worthy who was the War Canoe Champion and, in his own right, a “Legend by the Lake”.

Also, long-time Beach residents may remember Larry “Hot Tub” Hayes, a long standing BBC member, to whom “every day was Christmas” according to his memorial plaque.

Larry is well remembered for his “infamous” annual charity hot tub event.

The entire age spectrum from infancy to old age is celebrated by these plaques.

A dedication for Eadgar Isaac Gradek-Szabunio reads: “Imagine a love so strong that saying hello and goodbye in the same day was worth it.”

An unsigned plaque reads: “Though we never held you in our arms, we will forever hold you in our hearts.”

Beside the Silverbirch Boat House, grandmother Theresa Kelly is remembered with “The Gramma Tree” while at the other end of the Beach, grandfather Ronald Forshaw, known as “Craggy” to his five grandchildren, has a plaque that reads “May the 4th be with you”.

The back stories of some memorials are well known because they touched the Beach community deeply.

At the foot of Lee Avenue is a well-tended memorial to 18-year-old Reese Fallon, a victim of the Danforth Shooting in July of 2018.

Jane Creba is memorialized near the volleyball courts. She died on Boxing Day of 2005 on Yonge Street at the age of 15, also a victim of gunfire.

As tragic is Dominic Parker who was the victim of a random act of violence while sitting in a cafe on the Danforth. The 45 year old father of two is memorialized on a bench and a tree.

Along the boardwalk by the snack bar at Kew Gardens Park is a plaque dedicated to Reed Curtis Burmingham.

Affectionately known as “Batman”, Reed was a lifeguard at the Leuty Lifeguard Station and a student at the Centennial College’s Police Foundations program. At age 21, he was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin lymphoma. He succumbed to the disease eight months later.

A plaque in the same area is dedicated to Jamieson Kuhlmann, a 15-year-old player with the Toronto Beaches Lacrosse team. During a game, there was an on-field collision and Kuhlmann died of his injuries.

Further along the Boardwalk are two plaques dedicated to Alex Gillespie, a teenager who died on Lake Shore Boulevard East while trying to cross to catch a bus.

Family relationships are often celebrated with plaques.

Nana and Pop Campbell are remembered on a bench which reads: “Jay sat here, and Johnny sat beside her.”

Ken and Vera Ainsworth “fell in love walking the boardwalk and watching the boats.”

Pauline and Alf Best “met at this boathouse in 1940. Lived, loved and served The Beach.”

In front of the Donald D. Summerville swimming pool, are eight tree memorials in a row dedicated to Con and Eithne Carrol and their children.

At the bottom of Hammersmith, there is an older bronze plaque dedicated to Earl Seymour who died in 1999. Earl was a well known saxophonist who played with Blood, Sweat and Tears, among others, and toured with Neil Sedaka. You can still find him on YouTube, playing Gimme that Wine.

Another musician I came across was Richard George Tait, a trumpet and keyboard player, composer and producer. “Not bad for a kid from the Prairies” he used to say.

Leonard Cohen’s lyrics turned up on two plaques: Hershel Russell’s has a lesser known verse of Hallelujah and an unsigned memorial reads: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

Between Leuty and Lee avenues is a lane named after Peggy Delaney.

Lovingly called the “Matriarch of the Irish Community,” she played an immense role in many Irish cultural and aid organizations over the years including the annual Bloomsday Festival held in The Beach on June 16.

There’s a bench at the foot of Fernwood Park dedicated to “the Eternally Elegant Peggy Delaney” and to her husband, “the Eternally Charming Cormac O’Shea”.

I was pleased to rediscover a tree dedicated to a former neighbour and friend – Irene Taylor.  A mother of four, Irene and her family were well known in the halcyon days on Leuty in the 1980s when there were many young families and the neighbourhood was teeming with children. Sadly, Irene lost a battle with cancer in her mid-forties.

Every plaque has a story to tell.

I have only scratched the surface of some of the back stories of the lives of the people to whom the memorials are dedicated.

No doubt there is a story for every plaque.

If you have a back story that you would be willing to share, please email me at erwinbuck@hotmail.com.

And finally, here are some words of wisdom to live by, found on the plaques:

“As soon as you forget yourself, you’ll find yourself” (Liisa), and “Live well, laugh often, love much” (Ed & Vicky Jacko).


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