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Jane's Walk in East York documents community's long history with service and sacrifice

Jane's Walk in East York documents community's long history with service and sacrifice

Bill Lewis is well aware how enthusiastic he gets when the topic turns to the history of his beloved East York.

But the 89-year-old can’t help himself.

“I get really excited,” he said, his eyes bright.

The East York Historical Society member was one of about a dozen participants who braved the rain Sunday, May 8 for Jane’s Walk Victory on the Home Front: East York and WWII – which happened to fall on Victory in Europe (V-E) Day.

It was 71 years ago when Nazi Germany was defeated on May 8, 1945, ending the Second World War.

Lead by Evan McMurtry, a historical interpreter at Todmorden Mills Heritage Site, the 2.5 kilometre walk highlighted East York’s wartime experiences, support, and commemorations during the Second World War.

The first stop on the 90 minute walk was at William Burgess Elementary School, which opened in 1915. McMurtry noted patriotism was instilled in the students, adding the school’s cadet corps was lead by First World War veterans from the 80th Veterans Guard Cadet Corps.

Lewis, who jumped in with tales of growing up in East York when the group would pause at various sites, said he knew of 10 young men who never made it home from war.

“I walked into class and the teacher was in tears,” he said, adding someone the neighbourhood knew well had died.

Near Donlands and Torrens avenue, McMurtry pointed out Pie in the Sky Studios, the site of the former Donlands Theatre.

“They would show good patriotic movies during the war,” he said.

Close to Cosburn and Greenwood avenues, McMurtry noted quite a bit of East York land was settled by veterans, who were able to purchase homes without heavy interest during the war.

The walk paused at Dieppe Park on Cosburn Avenue, where McMurtry noted a plaque by the City of Toronto, which read:

On August 19, 1942, six thousand allied troops embarked on 250 vessels from southern England on a daylight raid on the German occupied French resort town of Dieppe. Almost 5000 of these soldiers were young Canadian men.

Of the Canadians who embarked on the raid, almost 4000 were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

Of the 1000 soldiers who returned to England, 600 of them were wounded.

On Jan. 11, 1943, East York Township Council renamed this site Dieppe Park. This plaque is a permanent memorial to honour the brave soldiers who fought and died for our country.

The final stop of the walk was near R.H. McGregor Elementary School, which was designated as an emergency hospital during the Second World War, McMurtry said, adding one classroom was used as a morgue.

The school also had a roll of honour – a record of students killed in action.

“I hope people took away my method of looking at traces of the (historic) city that are still here in the urban fabric,” McMurtry said. “It’s like when you look at a house that’s old and wonder who lives there.”

Jane’s Walks, which were held in Toronto Friday to Sunday, are free, locally organized walking tours, in which people get together to explore, talk about and celebrate their neighbourhoods.

The walks were held in honour of the late Jane Jacobs, an urbanist and activist who championed a community-based approach to city building.

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