Danforth East gets artsy as neighbourhood gentrifies: DECA

by Alina Smirnova

Sept. 24, 2009

Headbands adorned with bright feathers, shoulder bags made out of reused burlap coffee sacks and bags made out of bicycle tires.  This was the scene at East Lynn Park on the last weekend of September where the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) held its first annual arts fair. Over 35 artisans and exhibitors pitched tents in the park and sold their crafts, pictures, jewellery and clothes.

“We’re really trying to make our community a more vibrant and interesting place and we’re bringing some culture and excitement to our neighbourhood,” said Mary Cowan, who organized the fair and is also on the executive board of the association.

David Gardner, who is also on the executive board of DECA, explained that the community has been around for a long time, and recently has been undergoing changes.

“For years now we’ve been gentrifying – turning over,” he said. “A lot of young families are starting in the area.”

Gardner also said that older businesses are transforming and the community as a whole is becoming younger and “flashier.”

DECA’s website states that the community boundaries stretch as far west as Coxwell Avenue, east to Main Street, north to Mortimer Avenue and Lumsden and south to the train tracks. The idea of an arts fair was brought up at the annual meeting in November last year.

Part of the goal was to bring out some local artists and let them show-off their talent to the community.

“We know there are a lot of creative people in East York and that a lot of creativity goes on behind closed doors,” Cowan said. “I started handing out flyers and talking to some people, saying, ‘You know, we’re having this art fair,’ and they were saying ‘Thank you!… Thank you for having this!’ so we knew we tapped into something our community wanted.”

Then the work began.

Before the fair could take place a permit had to be obtained, insurance bought, advertising distributed, an application package written up and run by a lawyer, artists picked and port-a-potties rented. Cowan admitted that the permit was a bit stressful to obtain because of the Toronto public workers’ strike this past summer. The fair received an approval for their permit only a month ago, and the final paperwork arrived just a week before the event.

One of the local artists, Anthony Jim, greeted every visitor to his tent with a smile and welcomed them to his project.  Jim is a civil engineer by profession, but in his spare time, he sketches. Six years ago he began the Riverdale Historical Art Project.

“I spent many years there, and I love it,” Jim said, referring to the Riverdale neighbourhood.  His works are careful pencil drawings of local historical buildings which include the old Don Jail, churches, and houses in the area. He laughed at how people recognize the trees in his drawings. He says he hopes the project ends up being a collection of his works, other’s stories and facts that will educate people about the history of the area and drawing techniques. Jim learned his techniques from engineers when he was a teenager.

“Curve sketching in calculus is applied to drawing this,” he explained, as he pointed to a curve on one of the roofs in the building.

Cowan said that DECA intends to make the arts fair into an annual tradition.


Danforth East Community Association