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  • Writer's pictureEd Brown

Cindy Charity's Flemingdon Park

There are times when life deals you a lousy hand. When Cindy Charity feels overwhelmed and needs a break from adulting, she lifts her spirits by recalling moments from her formative years growing up in Flemingdon Park. "Every adult was like a parent; every youngster was like a sibling. I had the best of times in Flemingdon Park."

When Cindy's parents, Joanne and Bob, first married, like other interracial couples living in Toronto, the newlyweds struggled to secure housing. To skirt the practice of racist landlords, Joanne told them her husband was out of town on business. After securing the key, Bob would sneak into his own home after dark, through a window or a back staircase.

This was no way for a family to live.

8 Vendome Place, 1962

A few years into marriage and a few children in the mix, Bob told his wife about a neighbourhood in Toronto that accepted couples like them, a community where a Black man wed to a white woman could live with dignity.

The neighbourhood was Flemingdon Park.

The Charitys set up home on Vendome Place around 1964. Not only were they welcome, but their arrival also enriched the neighbourhood. Among the first interracial families to settle here, there was an adjustment period. In one incident, a teacher had a concern regarding the eldest daughter, Roberta. According to her teacher, Roberta's left-handedness already placed her at a disadvantage, but the detriment of having a Black father may prove insurmountable.

Joanne was infuriated. Cindy said, "My mom told me this was the first time in her life she saw red," and expressed this to the school administration.

Joanne and Bob made friends quickly and became active in the community. Neighbours routinely visited their home, dropping in for coffee or tea, accompanied by a sweet from Joanne's oven. "We had a revolving door. People visited all the time. It was common for my mom to bake a pie for a sick friend."

Roberta was part of the inaugural class at Gateway Public School in 1968. An account in a Toronto newspaper notes she and schoolmates planted a flower garden to beautify the grounds of the new elementary school. In years to come, her mother Joanne would leave her mark on the school too, first as a volunteer then employed as a classroom assistant, where she would remain for about three decades.

Cindy's father, Bob Charity, contributed to the community, as well. Along with William and Gail Goldfinch, he petitioned the Borough of North York to construct an outdoor ice-skating rink accessible to the community beside Flemingdon Park Arena which opened in 1970 at the cost of $500,000.

Bob, a hockey fanatic, coached youth leagues for many years at the rink renamed Angela James Arena in 2009 in honour of the former Flemingdon Park resident and hockey superstar. Incidentally, another of Cindy's sisters, Kelly, played on teams with the future Hall of Famer.

Cindy, the author of six books, is the repository of her family’s history. “Tales of [Flemingdon Park] in the late ‘60s and ‘70s were my bedtime stories.”

Roberta Charity outside Vendome Place apartment

Like her five siblings, Cindy attended Gateway PS. She remembers a rather dangerous game she would play with friends on the way to class. After crossing the hydro field, the lot of them would pause on the rim of the hill above Gateway Boulevard. The challenge was to run full out down the hill then come to a dead stop to avoid running into oncoming traffic.

According to Cindy, no one got injured.

She reminisces about another stunt behind 8 Vendome Place. Older kids would secure a rope around a sturdy branch, à la Tarzan swing. They took it to the next level by attaching a discarded baby carriage or maybe a shopping cart. One kid would get inside the swinging contraption, and then hoisted into the air, the others would push with all their might.

Cindy and her pals pleaded for a turn. The older kids said no. "They told us it was too dangerous, that we were too little. They instead promised to take us to the swings at the park. That's how it was. The older ones looked out for us."

Joanne Charity looked out for the neighbourhood. She led by example. Cindy learned early on from her mother, "The world is more than who you are and your four walls." Along with other mothers, Joanne and her 'gang of girlfriends' as they were known, strolled courtyards at dusk to make sure youngsters were safe. Adolescents out after dark were told, "Court lights will be on soon. Better get home."

"She cared about her neighbours," Cindy recalls. "There was a network of support. If someone was down on their luck, everyone rallied around them."

Cindy Charity as a youngster waiting for the perfect pitch

This went both ways. In 1977 Joanne and Bob separated. Through these tough times, neighbours stepped up. "For a couple of years, when my mom was struggling, neighbours showed up with dishes of food and gifts for the kids and clothing."

The Charitys moved to St. Dennis Drive.

Eventually, Cindy went east for school and then married. Her siblings left the nest, too. Their mother downsized further to an apartment on Rochefort Drive. Both parents are now deceased. Roberta passed in 2014.

Cindy revisited the old neighbourhood once. "I got depressed. It was so different. It didn't have the same vibe as when I was growing up." In her memory, Flemingdon Park remains a close-knit neighbourhood, and that will never change.

Cindy Charity's Flemingdon Park? "It will always be home. It's what made me, what prepared me. In my mind, I always return to it."


Thank you Cindy Charity for her contribution

Photographs courtesy Cindy Charity

1962 photograph of 8 Vendome Place courtesy Toronto Public Library

Ed Brown lived in Flemingdon Park at 58 Grenoble Drive from 1969-1991

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