THE CORRIERE CANADESE
August 4, 2017
I have been following with interest and
some concern the skirmish between Villa Charities/the TCDSB on one side
and the Dufferin & Lawrence Community on the other side regarding
the ill-conceived plan to demolish the Columbus Centre.
As one of the many financial contributors to the construction of
the Centre I wish to express and explain my own position on the matter.
In the fall of 1979, a few months after I opened my law practice, the late Emilio Gambin, Q.C., came to visit me in my office.
I had articled for his firm (Gambin & Bratty) and, out of
respect and seniority, I addressed him as Mr. Gambin,. He called me
“Chich” just like my old friend John Guido used to call me when working
together at Gambin & Bratty.
I still remember the conversation which went as follows:
“Chich” he says, “we are going to build a community centre at
Dufferin & Lawrence and we need you to help…. we’ve got you down for
a $10,000.00 pledge”.
“Mr. Gambin” I say, “you’ve got to be kidding me. In case you
forgot I opened my office in May” and I don’t think I’ll take home
$10,000.00 this year.
“Don’t worry Chich, you can pay in five yearly instalments of
$2,000.00 and you don’t have to pay your first $2,000.00 until the end
of next year. And by way, we’ll throw in a free membership for five
The $10,000.00 donated to the Centre are arguably the best and most significant donation I have ever made.
For over twenty years after the completion of the Centre, I enjoyed
its facilities, playing squash with the likes of Frank Soppelsa, Tony
Lecce, Rocco Russo, Bruno Bertolin, Robert Galati and many others. The
Centre also gave me the opportunity to strengthen my friendship with Con
Di Nino, Tony Fusco, Tony Pascale, Tony Di Poce, my old school buddy
Pal Di Iulio and many other regulars of the Centre.
I still remember the black & white picture taken on a flatbed
truck at Varsity Stadium hanging on a wall in the Caffè Cinquecento of
Pal and I taken in 1970. As members of the St. Michael’s College at the
University of Toronto, we came first in the Home Coming Parade with the
slogan “ Make Wine Not War”.
One of my friends I used to play squash with is now a member of the
Villa Charity board and tries to justify the plan to demolish the
Centre on the basis that it has not been self-sustainable for many
While this may be true I am not sure that demolishing the Centre is the only way to fix Villa Charities’ balance sheet.
Villa Charities should focus its efforts on how to make the Centre sustainable rather than seek its demolition.
The Centre was built, in large part, by the community and for the
community. I don’t believe that Villa Charities ( and certainly not the
TCDSB ) have the legal and moral right to demolish it!
Barrister and Solicitor
July 28, 2017
- Community anger to save Columbus Centre heats up. The association
’’Save Our Columbus Centre’’ delivered to the Corriere a copy of a flier
that will be distributed in many churches in Toronto. Corriere Canadese
decided to publish it.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Catholic Community:
We plead with you to help us prevent the demolition and destruction
of our beloved Columbus Centre, at the hands of Villa Charities and the
Toronto Catholic District S
The Columbus Centre is the heart and soul of the Italian Canadian
Community. It is a serene place. It was built with contributions and
donations from the entire Italian diaspora. It is a place that was built
by the Italian people for ALL people.
With the demolition of the Columbus Centre, Villa Charities and the
Toronto Catholic District School Board will be guilty of nothing less
than the cultural genocide of the Italian community.
We must point out that we were totally unaware of the tragedy that
was about to unfold. Villa Charities and the Toronto Catholic District
School Board, operating like thieves in the night, with no warning
whatsoever, unloaded this disaster on the community.
We are trying to understand the purpose of this disturbing alliance
between Villa Charities and the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
At the meeting of June 13, 2017 of the North York Community
Council, one of the speakers said, "the plan to demolish the Columbus
Centre is a monstrosity conceived by barbarians who have appropriated a
community asset for their own nefarious gains and designs”.
Brothers and Sisters, please visit the Columbus Centre while it is
still there. Walk the beautiful grounds. Visit the Rotunda and the Art
Gallery where artists from all backgrounds exhibit their work. Listen
quietly and you will hear its heart beating. Listen and be still and you
will feel its very soul. There is no place like it in our city.
It is beyond comprehension that the Trustees of the Catholic
District School Board would destroy this place. The most despicable
outcome of this tragedy will fall on the frail shoulders of those that
can bear it the least, the Seniors living at Villa Colombo, Cabot
Terrace, and Casa Del Zotto.
Their beautiful grounds, ideal for the use of walkers, will
disappear. The seniors will be confined in their units to live like rats
in solitary confinement. Why is it okay to treat people with such
cruelty? Of course, we know that your suffering means nothing to the
barons of Villa Charities and Toronto Catholic District School Board
trustees. In their plans, you are nothing more than collateral damage.
They do not give a fig about the mental anguish that will be your
Shame on you Villa Charities! Shame on you Trustees of the Catholic
Board! In the hearts and minds of thousands upon thousands of people,
you will forever live in infamy and shame.
Looking into the future, one can foresee tragic and frightening
consequences of traffic congestion on Dufferin Street, already
statistically one of the worst streets in the country for traffic
At the north-east comer of Dufferin and Lawrence, on completion,
the new condominium will house about 5,000 people. At the south side of
Lawrence a new project will take place. We do not have the statistics
for the population of this new place.
Slightly to the east, the Lawrence Heights project will house
60,000 people. The new high school will be surrounded by a jungle of
buildings. It will be like a small mushroom in a forest. In this type of
environment, traffic fatalities are bound to happen - actually they
Allow us to give you some highlights about what has been happening in this saga. the Yorkdale Secondary School. Upon learning that the Columbus Centre was destined for Demolition, people were horrified. They responded and made it abundantly clear that they wanted nothing to do with this proposal. Many people were actually screaming in opposition.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board and Villa Charities
presented the project to the public at
At the meeting of June 13, 2017 held by the North York Community
Council, the lawyer for the developer Villa Charities was not even able
to answer very simple questions.
Who owns the property? He did not know. Who is Villa Charities? He
did not know. How many members sit on the board of Villa Charities? He
did not know. Who is entitled to elect board members? He did not know. A
truly bizarre and embarrassing performance!
No less embarrassing was the performance of the Toronto Catholic
District School Board representative, Trustee Maria Rizzo, who was
unable to answer many of the councillors’ questions. But, she went on to
declare that the project was totally "botched up from the very
beginning’’. You really cannot make this stuff up!!
At the end of the meeting, council voted unanimously to oppose the
project and refer it to the full Toronto City Council. The full Toronto
City Council voted unanimously to oppose the project and has appointed
their solicitor to represent the city at the OMB hearing.
A word of thanks and gratitude must go to our MPP Mike Colle for
his courageous fight in order to save our beloved Columbus Centre.
We are grateful to the Minister of Education, Mitzy Hunter for
freezing the funds budgeted for Dante Alighieri and for taking a stand.
Trustees of the Catholic Board, please understand that with your
actions you have planted the seeds for the destruction of Catholic
Education in the City of Toronto.
The Columbus Centre was built with the blood, sweat and tears of
Italians. Trustees of the Catholic School Board, we ask you to abandon
this insanity. LEAVE THE COLUMBUS CENTRE ALONE!!! You DO NOT OWN IT! It
is not yours to destroy. CAPISCI???
HELP US SAVE OUR BELOVED COLUMBUS CENTRE!
Corriere Canadese reached out to Villa Charities for comments. We did not received any answer.
- Author: Corriere Canadese
- Category: English Articles
March 2002, when I joined the Columbus Centre (CC), it was a safe haven
and an important way for me to stay focused, calm and healthy. You see,
my Holocaust Survivor father had just had a major stroke, and I needed
all my strength to bear the unbearable, and weather the storms to come.
Our long-time athletic director Jan Sebek welcomed me with open arms,
and squash and our squash league became my immediate salvation. I made
new friends. I ate in the cafeteria. I enjoyed our art gallery. I went
to the gym. I built a tall, cat climber for my feline; two CC members
chipped in, and Tony, our maintenance manager who plays a mean
accordion, lent me a staple gun to secure the carpeting to the
structure. When our parking system was first introduced, and mayhem
prevailed, I helped direct members and guests for weeks to come.
CC became a second home to me, and I became an ambassador and advocate.
As I grew up with Italians at the corner of Briar Hill and Marlee
Avenues, the fit was seamless. I belonged, and I would add, so does
Our community is warm, diverse and accepting with members who come from
or have roots in Europe, South America, The Middle East, Africa, Asia
and Australia/Oceania. In other words, our membership represents the
For Holocaust Education Week 2010, I presented with an all-Albanian
team to a 400-strong audience at the elegant Sala Caboto. Our original
venue could not accommodate our multi-media presentation, so I asked our
then President/CEO for help. He graciously donated the venue, and
closed our spectacular evening. Many in our community attended.
In August 2013, I focused on Habitat for Humanity GTA, Women’s Build,
and the generous support I received from CC staff and members helped me
become that year’s Top Individual Fundraiser. Some of my most cherished
memories are of collecting loonies and toonies from nonnas; you could
hear my pockets jingling throughout the gym!
June 2017 saw the peaceful passing of 96-year-old Jacqueline Garsonnin.
She frequented Caffè Cinquecento every Tuesday night for dinner with
her son, Eric. To commemorate her life on Facebook, Eric posted a lovely
photo of his mother standing gently beside a luminous wall of art at
our main entrance.
My question to all of you is, do we need to change everything, and make
it new and shiny? Does new automatically equate to better? The answer
is a resounding no. And I am not alone in my desire to keep CC as is,
and to preserve, regenerate and rejuvenate the existing structure,
inside and out.
And let’s not forget about our glorious park. It’s sacred ground for
many, including wedding parties, and the birds and squirrels who drink
from our fountain and live in our trees. Our wildlife gratefully receive
food from a multitude of community feeders. In fact, our squirrels are
so tame, some eat out of your hand and follow you to your car!
Let’s venerate our prodigious history, and all of our important
experiences, friendships and shared memories. Let’s continue to
celebrate what we’ve built and nurtured over the years at the Columbus
Centre. For me, it’s simple. There’s no place like home.
Vera N. Held, M.Ed.,
President, VNH Communications