• Ed Brown

Tonnette And Steve Kosloff’s Flemingdon Park

In the mid1960s antiwar sentiment in America over the country’s incursion into Vietnam spilled over to college and university campuses. Two young American students caught up in the protest fled north to Canada. Tonnette and Steve Kosloff arrived in Toronto and had the good fortune to fall in with a supportive, like-minded community and briefly took up residence in Flemingdon Park.

Steve and Tonnette met in New York City. Tonnette arrived from Los Angeles to study at Hunter College. Steve completed twelfth grade at a Philadelphia high school, followed I-95 north to the Big Apple and enrolled at RCA Institute in midtown Manhattan. Steve began to oppose his nation’s military involvement in Southeast Asia in his senior year of high school after taking a course titled, Problems With Democracy. Aware of the direction the conflict was headed, Steve’s hand was forced when he received his draft notice: Participate in what he considered an unjust war or resist the draft.


Too late to seek a deferral, he consulted a local peace organization and settled on opposing the draft. “I was pretty young back then. I didn’t really understand how things worked,” Steve says today.


The couple boarded an airplane bound for Canada. In 1965 their connection to Toronto was tenuous. Steve had a friend who had a sister living here. Tonnette didn’t know a soul. Touching down at Toronto International, the asylum seekers informed officials of their intent to remain in Canada, get married and work. This decision would likely require them to cut ties with family, friends, and the life they knew in the United States.


The Canadian government was not enthusiastic about the plans of the draft dodger and his girlfriend, who didn’t even have a place to stay. The sister of Steve’s buddy wasn’t keen on having strangers in her home but recommended crashing with people she knew with a place in the Annex. A month later, they moved to a co-op apartment.


Their new circle of friends included social activists, university professors, lawyers, social workers, writers and the like. With their future in limbo, New Democratic member of the legislature, MPP Jim Renwick, championed Tonnette and Steve’s cause with the appropriate ministerial department and were granted permission to stay under the condition they found employment. A friend with a business quickly hired both.


The grateful couple married in a civil ceremony at city hall.


They lived in the co-op when Tonnette became pregnant and delivered twin boys in the spring of 1966. Their mouse-infested apartment was no longer suitable. Memories of how the Kosloffs landed in Flemingdon Park differ. Tonnette said friends and MPP Renwick (who lived at 20 St. Dennis Drive with wife Margaret Renwick, also an MPP, and their daughter, Margo) likely suggested the community. Steve remembers differently. “Toni was amazing,” he says today. Tonnette led a one-mother sit-in at the Ontario Housing Corporation’s University Avenue headquarters, desperate for appropriate housing. Steve remembers, “She sat in the office and said, ‘We’re not leaving until we get in.’”


Whoever’s memory is accurate, the outcome was the same. The Kosloffs moved into apartment #221 at 1Vendome Place in 1967.

Steve Kosloff and sons in their Vendome Place apartment

A writer friend of Steve’s pitched the couple on writing a Toronto Star article about their journey out of the US. Steve and Tonnette agreed. Interviewed and photographed in their Vendome apartment, Steve got called into the boss’s office and canned after the story was published. He had never been fired before and wasn’t unemployed long. He doesn’t remember his wife’s reaction but knows he remained friends with the writer. “He didn’t fire me,” he quips today.

Tonnette’s memory of the neighbourhood is positive. “People supported each other. People were very supportive of us. People got along. I thought it was a great place.” She remembers a close-knit neighbourhood consisting of a significant number of immigrants. “It was a clean community,” she recalls, “The apartments were nice and roomy. It was affordable.”


A neighbour’s act of kindness has remained with Tonnette.


Steve had a good union job as an electrician. Tonnette’s days were busy caring for the twins. She established a friendship with Rose Tucci, a neighbour from down the hall. Rose and Frank Tucci had kids of their own. When Tonnette became pregnant again, she had concerns about watching the toddlers when the time came to deliver with no family in Canada. In her time of need, Mrs. Tucci from apartment #201 was a godsend, caring for the boys during the five days Tonnette was in the hospital. She doesn’t know what she would have done without the assistance of this “loving and kind” neighbour. “I’ve always wanted to reach out to her,” says Tonnette. Attempts to locate Mrs. Tucci and thank her have thus far been fruitless.

The Kosloff twins at play in Vendome Place park

The Kosloffs stay in Flemingdon Park was brief. By 1969 they had saved enough to buy a small house on Brunswick Avenue.


When President Carter pardoned draft dodgers and welcomed them home, Steve stayed put in Toronto, reasoning, “Canada was an amazing place compared to the United States.” Tonnette, however, missed family in California. The couple separated amicably, and Tonnette returned to California with the children. Since then, she’s moved a few times but still recalls the period the Kosloffs lived in Flemingdon Park among the most positive experiences in her life.


Tonnette Kosloff’s Flemingdon Park? “It was a blessing because it fulfilled our needs at the time. It was a great place to live.”


Steve Kosloff’s Flemingdon Park? “I thought it was amazing that public housing could be so spectacular.”

 

Thank you, Tonnette Kosloff and Steve Kosloff for their contribution

Photographs courtesy Tonnette Kosloff, Toronto Public Library


Read the entire series here

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


edbrownwriter@gmail.com