Around and About

Discover our neighbourhood:
Palmerston Boulevard

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene

Tree canopy net results

The Royal Theatre: grand old lady of Colle Street



The grandest street in the PARA area is Palmerston Blvd, known best for its large homes and Victorian lamp standards. Palmerston Blvd has inspired a number of feature articles on the internet. It even has its own Wikipedia entry and an historical article on the Torontoist web page.

Palmerston Blvd ranked as Number Two in a list by columnist Christopher Hume of “Ten of Toronto’s Best Streets to Live On” in the June 29, 2009, issue of The Toronto Star. Hume writes: “The houses are impressive, but more than that, there are those wonderful street lights. They make Palmerston one of our most memorable streets.”
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The Anglo-Catholic Church of St Mary Magdelene at 477 Manning St is notable for two reasons. Completed in 1908, the building was designed by one of Canada’s most famous architects, Frank Darling. The eminent organist and composer, Healey Willan best known for his liturgical music, was director of music at the church from 1921 until his death in 1968.
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Net trap captures insects

by Ed Jackson

If you’ve walked around the residential streets of the PARA neighbourhood over the last twoyears, you may have noticed some odd looking net-like contraptions high up in trees and wondered what on earth they were for.

The traps are part of a study by Eric Davies, a PhD student in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto. He is looking at whether native or non-native trees species are better for attracting different kinds of insects or birds, commonly called “urban biodiversity,“ which results in greater resilience for the trees. One set of tree species in his study is surveying insect biodiversity and another set of test trees is surveying bird biodiversity.

A recent City of Toronto report on the state of the city’s tree canopy (for details use this link: Every Tree Counts: A Portrait of Toronto’s Urban Forest ) determined that currently 20% of Toronto is made up of forest, estimated at 10.2 million trees, which contribute significantly to ecological services such as absorbing carbon, shading buildings, blocking winter winds , improving air quality, and mitigating storm water run-off. Most of those trees are in ravines or on private property, while only 6% are what we would call street trees, planted along the street by the city. Many of these street trees in downtown areas like PARA were planted in the early 1900s and are beginning to reach the end of their life span.



The City report uses Palmerston Blvd as an example to illustrate the dramatic evolution of the tree canopy since 1908 (see left image). The City report estimates that 69% of the 144 species identified as street trees in Toronto are non-native to Ontario and of the top ten most common street trees, only four are native. Davies is only part-way through his study but so far he is finding that native trees have 50% more pollinator insects in them than non-native trees. He is also finding that native trees tend to be more supportive of the diverse group of parasitic insects which naturally control invaders like the Emerald Ash Borer (an effect called “bio-control”) and also offer a habitat for all the many other insects that make up biodiversity in the city. Final results of Davies’ study will help to determine the preferred trees to replace the endangered tree canopy over our streets. “In terms of street trees, it’s actually quite a dire situation,” says Davies.

For more information on the study, contact Eric Davies at
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The Royal Theatre: Grand Lady on College Street

by Fernanda Pisani

If the Royal Theatre could talk it would regale us with a fascinating and sometimes precarious history of itself and the neighbourhood which it graces. I have a very strong emotional connection to the theatre. My parents have told me of how they would line up around the block in the Fifties in the middle of winter to see blockbusters such as “Ben Hur” and the “Robe.” For decades, it was the main source of entertainment in the neighbourhood. Along with my own family, I have been a regular at the Royal, which used to be known as the Pylon. The theatre was renamed the Royal by the McQuillan family when they purchased it in the mid-Nineties. Before the McQuillans bought the cinema, there were those that wanted to rip the theatre down and turn it into a parking lot. Fortunately fate dealt the Royal a favourable hand. Thanks to those with foresight and an appreciation for heritage buildings and their contribution to culture and quality of life, the Royal endures. In fact the theatre’s interior and exterior were designated by the city in 2006 as having cultural heritage interest and included in the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties.

The Pylon was built in 1939 as a state-of-the-art Art Deco theatre. It was one of several cinemas in the area and showed matinees as well as evening programming. Part of the excitement of the opening of the Pylon was the appearance of British actress Anna Neagle, whose footprints cast in cement have been installed in the theatre lobby. Her well-known film “Victoria the Great” was among the first features to play at the Pylon. In the Sixties the theatre was taken over by the Lester family and mainly served the Italian community. Still later, the theatre became the Golden Dragon and screened Asian films.

Both the outside and the inside of the building are wonderful examples of Art Deco architecture and design. I remember a fountain in the lobby featuring a mermaid similar to the mermaids over the doors at the Eglinton Cinema, also an Art Deco building. The fountain has since disappeared but telltale signs of it have remained.

Current building owner Geoff Pickering, along with Dan Peel and Carlos Herrera, owners and operators of the businesses Theatre D Digital and Royal Theatre, had their sights on the Royal as an extension of their successful ventures long before the building was put on the real estate market. They were finally able to purchase the theatre in 2006. Dan Peel and Carlos Herrara are experts at using older cinemas to full advantage. Also owners of the Regent Theatre on Mount Pleasant Rd, Theatre D Digital was able to apply the same successful business model to the Royal: a film and television post-production studio during the day and a second run/indie art house cinema in the evenings.

Because of its size and design the Royal adapts itself well for post-production film work in the 21st century. The auditorium is just the right size for viewing work on the large screen during the editing process. In addition, the acoustics are excellent. There are four state-of-the-art editing suites. Clients include local filmmakers and PARA residents such as Bruce MacDonald, Astra Burka, Don McKellar and Sarah Polley. The success of the production facility is due in no small measure to its boutique atmosphere and its location on a vibrant main street with local eateries that allow for a quick bite at break time.

Renovations and upgrading to bring the building back to its past glory are a long-term commitment for the owners. Terrazzo floors have been restored and cleaned, historical panelling on the ceilings have been repaired, and we will soon see work done to the outside of the building,

Film programming at the Royal is diverse and at times downright quirky. Documentaries from all over the world as well as commercially produced films are selected by programmer Stacey Donen. The Royal has partnered with festivals such as CineFranco, the European Union Film Festival, Planet in Focus, and the Greek Film Festival, to name a few.

Patrons of the Royal have also enjoyed live performances such as the Ukelele Festival and performances by Cuban performers such as Eliades Ochoa and Las d’Aida. In fact, there has been a strong Cuban connection to the Royal due to the generosity and passion of Geoff Pickering for Cuban culture. Cuban performances will continue to be an ongoing feature of the Royal’s programming.

The Royal has also played host to many famous actors. I recall the day that “Running the Sahara” was screened and the excitement of the crowd hanging around outside the theatre waiting to catch a glimpse of Matt Damon. Performers and directors such as Liam Neeson, Bruce Springsteen, Atom Agoyan, and David Cronenberg, (who was raised on nearby Crawford Street), have enjoyed the hospitality of the Royal.

We look forward to more eclectic and entertaining programming at the Royal. See you all at the shows!
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