When Santa Claus glides along the route on Nov. 13 for the 32nd annual Weston Santa Claus Parade, his companions will be children from the local daycare. The tiny kids in their reindeer costumes will be riding through one of the most diverse communities in the country.
The parade is a fitting symbol for Weston today: This is a community that holds fast to tradition while striving for revitalization at the same time.
The area around Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West known as Weston Village was a genuine village back in 1796. In the 1800s, the settlement burgeoned into a town on the strength of mills established along the Humber River and the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway. Today the river and the railway remain the defining landmarks.
David McBride, chairman of the Weston Village Residents' Association, says the town's retail strip went into decline in the 1960s with the arrival of the Yorkdale Shopping Centre a few kilometres to the east. Another blow was the closing of the CCM bicycle plant in the 1980s.
"It's seen some changes, no doubt," Mr. McBride says of the village.
Weston will see a transformation again with the construction of the planned Air Rail Link from Union Station to Pearson airport and a new GO station.
"We're looking forward to that," Mr. McBride says of the renewal in the downtown. "It's going to draw people in from other areas."
Mr. McBride says more residents are beginning to realize the importance of shopping locally. According to Statistics Canada, York South-Weston is one of the poorest ridings in Canada.
For now the signifiers of gentrification – Starbucks, trendy cheese shops or a blow dry bar – are nowhere to be seen on the main drag, which is a good thing or bad, depending on your point of view.
Mr. McBride hopes a major coffee chain or two will come in with the rebuilding at Lawrence and Weston. Some locals are even envisioning a bicycle rental scheme that would let cyclists ride along the Humber all the way to Lake Ontario, then return on the GO train to Weston.
"There are lots of ideas percolating," he says.
In the meantime, Mr. McBride points out, the sense of community couldn't be stronger. And locals have noticed an interesting real estate phenomenon: People who live on the gracious older side streets will move to another house a block or two away rather than move out of the neighbourhood.
"We all know each other's kids," Mr. McBride says. "I can take the dog for a walk and end up talking to eight people."
The area gets high marks for …
Heritage recognition: Part of the old town has been designated a heritage conservation district and the area will soon be expanded. Weston Public Library was built in 1914 with money donated by Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Weston Lions Recreational Arena is a traditional old wooden hockey arena with a sand base under the ice.
Humber River trails: In 1830, a sawmill stood on the east side of the Humber River. In later years the Cruickshank family took over the mill site and made it Weston Wagon Works. In 1929, the family donated the land to the Town of Weston and it's known today as Cruickshank Park.
Weston Golf and Country Club: The club began as a gathering spot for four golfing friends on the east bank of the Humber River. Over the years, the territory expanded and in 1920, Scottish architect Willie Park Jr. designed 18 holes in the rolling landscape along the river. A statue of Arnold Palmer behind the first tee reminds members that the golf legend won the Canadian Open here in 1955. The course continues to be ranked among the best in the country. Of course, barriers to entry are high.
World Famous Peter's Barber Shop: You can get your hair cut, but this memorabilia-filled establishment bills itself as the second Hockey Hall of Fame. To celebrate its 50th anniversary last month, it summoned the Stanley Cup.
Weston Farmers' Market: Farmers from Holland Marsh, Bradford and the like set up on Saturday mornings in the GO Train parking lot on John Street.
Transit: At 5:30 p.m. on a weekday, Weston residents flood out of the GO Train and walk to their houses on the traditional side streets. The Georgetown South GO service reaches Union Station in 66 minutes. The area is well-served by TTC buses and, for drivers, Highway 401 is just a few minutes away.
Harbingers of change ...
Schools : Weston Collegiate Institute has come a long way since the time 200 kids were standing on the tables in the cafeteria, cheering on two girls in a fight, says a former teacher. The school now has an International Baccalaureate program within it and a police officer based on site. Other schools in the area include St. John the Evangelist, H J Alexander Junior Public School, C R Marchant Middle School and Weston Memorial Junior Public School.
Successive waves of new Canadians: Squibb's Stationers has remained in business in Weston for nearly 85 years partly because it caters to recent immigrants, proprietor Suri Weinberg-Linsky says. "The store has been kept alive because we've got this influx of people," she says. She has added a Bible section and workbooks for learning English to her traditional stock of textbooks. Customers come from Central and South America, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Vietnam. "It's really this interesting mix."
Welcoming attitudes: Frontlines is a community drop-in centre; Weston United Church is very active in reaching out to the neighbourhood.
Lower crime: Redrawn police division lines and community-based policing have both helped to keep incidents down, says Mr. McBride, who sits on the local community police board.
They're still working on…
The plan for transit giant Metrolinx to build an Air Rail Link from Union Station to Pearson airport has been a lengthy saga. Weston Community Coalition has been pushing for electrification of the line but it remains to be seen whether that will eventually happen. Environmental assessments have been called for and current plans call for the first trains to run on diesel.
Lovers of Victorian-era architecture seek out the original area farm houses. Grand Edwardian manses stand on streets with such anglophile names as Rosemount, Church, King, John and Elm. But confusion over whether the Air Rail Link will be diesel or electric could weigh on property values if buyers want to wait and see how it all plays out. Bungalows can be found for less than $400,000 and condo towers draw first-time buyers with units less than $200,000.