Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has proposed that Cawthra Square Park, site of the Toronto AIDS Memorial, be renamed after former mayor of Toronto – and current head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission – Barbara Hall.
Last week, the Toronto and East York Community Council rubber-stamped her motion, and it goes to the full City Council for a final decision in June.
Cawthra Square Park wraps around The 519 Church Street Community Centre, half a block north of Wellesley, with Church on the west, Monteith on the north, and a short residential street called Cawthra Square connecting it to Jarvis in the east.
The park is currently undergoing a $1.4 million refurbishment thanks to Section 37 funds – community-benefits cash negotiated from developers of nearby buildings in exchange for more height or density than would otherwise be allowed. It is slated to reopen ahead of WorldPride in late June. It will play host to the annual AIDS candlelight vigil on June 24 and again be transformed into the open-air Green Space nightclub on June 26-29.
So who was Cawthra?
William Cawthra (1801-1880) was “reputedly Toronto’s richest man in the 1800s,” according to a family history compiled by Friends of the Cawthra Bush and Greater Mississauga Area. “Toronto’s first city hall (now the St. Lawrence Market) was mortgaged to him, and when the Jarvises lacked the funds to finish Jarvis street, they turned to him for assistance.”
He was the son of Joseph Cawthra, a landowner and proprietor of a successful general retail business, who passed on his wealth to William when he died. But the younger Cawthra closed the business and concentrated on real estate instead. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography surmises that the bulk of his income derived from the rents on the properties he owned in what’s now Toronto’s Financial District.
The Dictionary also notes that Cawthra served as an alderman on Toronto’s first city council in 1834 and later as a school trustee, as well as a financial contributor to the construction of the Toronto General Hospital’s infectious-diseases wing.
Barbara Hall (1946-) was the final mayor of the old City of Toronto and the second woman to hold the job.
A lawyer called to the Ontario bar in 1980, she operated a private practise in Cabbagetown until she was elected in 1985 to represent the area on city council. According to a biographical sketch assembled by mayoral historian Mark Maloney, who supports the park renaming, Hall “forged a close relationship with the then emerging gay and lesbian community.” She worked with a group of criminal defence lawyers and the Right to Privacy Committee to defend those rounded up in the bathhouse raids of 1981.
While on Council, Hall “led initiatives on homelessness, working with housing advocates for supportive and affordable housing, and housing for AIDS patients,” Maloney writes. “It was also the time when the very first public health budgets for AIDS were being put forward. As an active member of the Board of Health, Barbara championed those efforts, and helped to confront fear and misunderstanding in the community head-on.”
Hall held her council seat until 1994, when she defeated incumbent June Rowlands in the race for mayor. The following July, Hall became the first mayor of Toronto to march in Pride.
In 1997, Hall ran to become the inaugural mayor of the amalgamated megacity but lost to North York mayor Mel Lastman. She came in third behind David Miller and John Tory on her second try, in 2003.
Since 2005, Hall has been the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, where her priorities included the expansion of protections to trans individuals.
Living former mayors of Toronto and the spaces named after them
David Crombie (1972-1978)
David Crombie Park, 131 The Esplanade (between Jarvis and Berkeley)
Former name: none – the park was brand new
John Sewell (1978-80)
Nothing named after him (yet?)
Art Eggleton (1980-91)
Art Eggleton Park, 323 Harbord (west of Grace)
Former name: Harbord Park
June Rowlands (1991-94)
June Rowlands Park, 220 Davisville (at Mount Pleasant)
Former name: Davisville Park
Barbara Hall (1994-97)
Proposed: Barbara Hall Park, 519 Church (north of Wellesley)
Current name: Cawthra Square Park
Proposed renaming: 2014
Mel Lastman (North York mayor 1972-97, Toronto mayor 1998-2003)
Mel Lastman Square, 5100 Yonge (at North York Civic Centre)
Former name: none – the square was brand new
David Miller (2003-10)
Nothing named after him (yet?)
NOTE (5/27/2014, 3:45 pm): This article originally quoted a passage from Mark Maloney’s biographical sketch of Barbara Hall that stated she “worked with a group of criminal defence lawyers to found the Right to Privacy Committee following the bathhouse raids in 1981.” Though Hall supported the committee after the 1981 raids, the group was actually founded two years earlier by activists in response to a 1978 raid, and Hall was not among its original members.
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