Gail Goldfinch's Flemingdon Park
If you lived in Flemingdon Park through the 1970s and played house league hockey at the arena, bought a Curly Wurly from Gerry’s, attended adult or youth dances at the Community Centre, or if you are Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Angela James, chances are you owe a small debt of thanks to Gail and William Goldfinch.
A health crisis initially brought the Goldfinchs to Flemingdon Park around 1969. William and Gail Goldfinch had previously resided in the Beaches neighbourhood until their lives turned upside down when doctors informed William he required quadruple bypass surgery.
He was only 41-years-old. With daughters Tracey and Lori both under nine, Billy Jr. on the way and William unable to work, the young family faced uncertainty.
After Billy's arrival, the Ontario Housing Corporation provided the growing family with an apartment at 1 Vendome Place. Released from the hospital, William came home to heal. The environment wasn’t ideal for convalescing. The suite was stifling hot, and noise from the Don Valley Parkway disrupted recovery. Gail approached the property manager with her family’s concerns.
The Goldfinchs transferred to a townhouse at 22 St. Dennis Drive.
While on the mend, William expressed an interest in becoming active in the community. Gail remembers, “Bill wanted to get involved somehow to do something.” He approached the community council who suggested the hockey league organized by Bob Charity – Flemingdon Boy’s Club – could use a hand. The club was in the red, unable to purchase team sweaters and the like. “Bill decided to step in and help out.”
William was a natural organizer. Soon a cadre of people, including Gail, were pitching in. The club was rebranded Flemingdon Sport’s Club and appointed a secretary and a treasurer. The club flourished. Early success included negotiating with a company to provide house league sweaters.
The league grew. Because of William’s dedication and tireless effort, countless youngsters in the community enjoyed ice time. The league eventually merged with a larger North York hockey league. These teams became the Viking Hockey Club, consisting of five teams. William coached, was team president and operated a hockey school for kids. “He thrived on stuff like that. He really enjoyed it. It gave him a reason to live.”
William Goldfinch had an unwitting hand in setting a course for Canadian hockey history.
One cold winter day in 1974, a 10-year-old in hockey gear on the outdoor ice rink adjacent to the arena took shots and skated while William coached a game inside. At the game’s conclusion, she approached Mr. Goldfinch asking if she could play with the boys. Recognizing the youngster’s love for the game and evident skill, William replied, “Sure, why not. But you’ll have to change in the boys’ changeroom.”
The girl? Angela James.
Fundraising duties fell to Gail. She excelled at it. She organized successful Saturday night dances for adults but today is remembered for organizing dances on Friday nights for neighbourhood adolescence. Participants at dances hosted at the Community Centre at 150 Grenoble Drive were mainly Valley Park Junior High and Overlea Secondary School students.
Admission was reasonably priced. Young people in the community looked forward to attending. Gail says, “Kids took turns DJing. They’d get up there and play all the music, make all the announcements like regular DJs.” There were contests and spot dance prizes. If you tired of doing the Funky Chicken or The Bus Stop, pool, checkers, and card games were available to play in adjacent rooms.
Gail is quick to note she couldn’t have organized the dances without help. William taxied her to stores to purchase pop and chips. Gail highlights a pair of helpful community members, “Two girls that helped the most were Judy Simmons and Bev Chalaturnyk. Without them, we probably couldn’t have done it.”
Gail, Judy and Bev staffed the doors and chaperoned. Besides that, they stood aside and “Watched to make sure everything went smoothly.”
And it did. Dances grew in popularity to the point North York Community Council initiated a takeover. “Because of its success,” Gail recalls, “They wanted to put it under their umbrella.” Weary of the politics accompanying the weekly event, “I was starting to get a little tired, plus kids started to come from all over the city. Fights started occurring. It wasn’t working out.”
A victim of its success, after a five-year run, the disco ball lost its glitter. The fundraising initiative was shuttered but not before lifelong memories formed for those lucky enough to have attended.
In addition to dances, Gail was a familiar face at Gerry’s Smoke & Gift Shop, working evenings at the convenience store in the plaza. Almost every adolescent from a particular era in Flemingdon Park history has a Gerry’s story to share, but what was the view from the other side of the counter?
Gail: “I had a firm hand with a lot of the kids because they knew me so well. When I told them something, they knew I meant it.”
Over the years, the neighbourhood changed. The three Goldfinch children grew up, married and moved out. Gail and William didn’t feel as safe as they once did. They moved, too.
In the ensuing years after bypass surgery, William suffered additional heart attacks. He lived to the ripe old age of 89 and passed in 2016.
Today when Gail is asked her thoughts on impacting so many lives in Flemingdon Park, the grandmother of five is modest. “A lot of people made it successful. Without them, we couldn’t have possibly done it. Bill really was so proud of those boys. We really loved what we were doing.”
Gail Goldfinch’s Flemingdon Park? “Not what it used to be.”
Thank you Gail Goldfinch for her contribution
Photograph of Willliam Goldfinch courtesy Bill Goldfinch
Additional photographs from CONTACT used without permission
Ed Brown lived in Flemingdon Park at 58 Grenoble Drive from 1969-1991