Dawnmarie Harriott’s Flemingdon Park
Money was scarce, but Dawnmarie Harriott had friendships in abundance. “Flemingdon Park,” she reflects, “leaves a lifelong impression on you.”
Dawnmarie Harriott moved to 1 Vendome Place with her family when she was seven years old. Back then, she went by “Dawn”. A few years later, the family relocated to 6 Vendome Place. Her mother, a single parent, worked and went to school.
In retrospect, Dawnmarie would describe herself as a loner. Nonetheless, she had numerous connections to the neighbourhood. “There was always something happening, in the field or in the big park.”
The big park is how she and her best friend Charlette, who lived in the courtyard at 61 Grenoble, described the park next door at 75 Grenoble Drive.
The little park was within the 1 Vendome Place complex.
On Sunday afternoons Dawnmarie watched soccer games from the sidelines in the field beside the plaza. It was a community event. Entrepreneurs in the crowd provided home-cooked food for sale to spectators. She looked forward to attending block parties, or blockos, and performances by Sunshine Sound Crew at the arena. She recalls in the mid1980s Toronto Police Service staging raids in her Vendome apartment complex but was too young to comprehend the purpose of the police actions. The police service countered negative opinions in the community by hosting neighbourhood barbeques. Dawnmarie looked forward to these cookouts.
Elementary school — Dawnmarie attended Gateway Public School — wasn’t easy going. Getting to class was a struggle, especially in winter when the hydro field became a slushy mess. Between bullies hounding her, unleashed dogs pursuing her, and boys harassing her, she says, “There were always obstacles. I didn’t know if I’d make it to school or not.”
Dawnmarie was resourceful. She mapped out four alternative routes from home to class.
Additional obstacles eventually contributed to chronic truancy.
Dawnmarie is thankful educators never gave up on her. “The teachers in Flemingdon Park were awesome.” Her educators devised ways to encourage the student struggling with low attendance. “They really tried everything to engage me.”
An intervention by her late sister Jacqueline partially resolved the bullying issue. Jacqueline was fearless. On this occasion, she strode into a bully’s classroom mid-lesson, took the tormentor by the collar and demanded, “Leave my sister alone.”
The bully did as instructed.
Incidentally, Dawnmarie later befriended this individual when both enrolled in Valley Park Junior High.
Dawnmarie attended VP for seventh and eighth grade. Her favourite teacher was Mr. MacArthur. She still can’t forget the one-and-a-half-kilometre endurance test in gym class, a running course following Don Mills Road north, descending the Science Centre hill, south along the asphalt path to the base of the incline behind the junior high. The final challenge was ascending torturous Dead Man’s Hill to the plateau where George Bell perished (Is his death the source of the slope’s moniker?) before crossing the finish line exhausted.
“It was brutal. Dead Man’s Hill was practically perpendicular and muddy. You couldn’t climb it!”
Regardless of what life served up, Dawnmarie found solace in reading. The best collection of books was available from the Bookmobile, and the library at the Flemingdon Park Resource Centre rebranded The Dennis R. Timbrell Resource Centre in 2006.
Financial circumstances initially led Dawnmarie here. Sometimes there weren’t enough funds leftover in the Harriott household to permit Dawnmarie to attend a class trip. While other students enjoyed a day away from class, she remained behind, passing the time in the library. “As I got older, the library and the resource centre became my favourite place.”
One time in fifth grade, Dawnmarie did join classmates on a field trip. This required selling chocolates door-to-door at a buck apiece. Having one too many doors slammed in her young face, Dawnmarie found solace in eating the merchandise instead of selling it.
Seventy-five dollars in the hole, she nonetheless made the excursion to Quebec City while avoiding a trip to the dentist’s chair.
Her life changed dramatically in ninth grade when Dawnmarie transferred to a new school outside the community and moved. Not only that, Charlette departed for the east coast. The transition was difficult for the teenager. Dawnmarie felt cutoff. “My best friend wasn’t here, and I didn’t have a community. I lost my home.”
It took some doing to regain her footing, but Dawnmarie is resilient. Today she works in the not-for-profit sector advocating for marginalized members of the community. Can she connect her lived experience in Flemingdon Park to her career choice? Dawnmarie is concise, “Definitely. There’s a connection, a huge connection.”
Dawnmarie continues to hold dear friendships forged decades ago in the neighbourhood. She and Charlette, besties since second grade, remain close. Memories run deep, so deep she gets goosebumps reminiscing. “It was a multicultural place. I really enjoyed that. I loved the culture.”
Dawnmarie Harriott’s Flemingdon Park? “A great community. It was my center, my home.”
Thank you Dawnmarie Harriott for her contribution
The Dennis R. Timbrell Resource Centre photograph by Shaowei Chen used without permission
Edward Brown lived in Flemingdon Park at 58 Grenoble Drive from 1969-1991
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