Watertown Music & Arts Festival

Media Personality, Author and Expert Fundraiser

Media Personality, Author and Expert Fundraiser

At that time, Glenn adds, the Beach was really a forgotten neighbourhood. During the 1970s the Beach had an aging population and the area was not nearly as pristine as it is today. Glenn explained that the boardwalk was located about half an inch below the lake, and routinely in the spring, shards of ice would lift up the boards and big gaping holes would appear in this treasured waterfront promenade, regularly requiring expensive repairs.

When Glenn and Jean first moved here, most of the commercial activity on Queen Street was concentrated between Woodbine and Lee Avenue. As a matter of fact, Kingston Road further north was thriving much more than Queen Street. According to Glenn’s research for the book he is currently working on (his new book will be about the Beach), Queen Street was not a particularly exciting destination in the 1930s and 1940s as it was mostly characterized by gas stations and discount stores. These so-called “junk stores” were frequently visited by the police, until their owners decided to call them “antique stores”. With the name change, the image of these stores changed as well and the frequent police visits stopped.

Glenn really credits the revival of this neighbourhood to the rebuilding of the Balmy Beach School. The school was old and cramped and in a public hearing with the local residents, an expert demographer proclaimed that the school would need to be rebuilt in order to attract young families. And so it happened, the school got rebuilt and the entire Beach neighbourhood became attractive to families with young children. Large houses that were originally built in the 1920s for large families were filled with life again.

Referring to the transitions in his neighbourhood, Glenn mentioned that the Beach has never really been known as a primary destination for fashion shopping although there are several established retailers selling men’s and women’s fashions. He indicated that the demolition of the race track in the early 1990s had a big influence on the neighbourhood. While the race track was still in existence, local residents experienced significant problems with race track customers parking in their driveways and front lawns. A shortage of parking is a common refrain in the Beach.

That does not prevent the neighbourhood from throwing major parties throughout the course of the year. The most well-known event is the Beaches Jazz Festival held over four consecutive days every summer. Although a delight to the revelers and music fans that descend on Queen Street East every year, the residents were affected by the increased traffic, congestion and crowds at that time. Many of these concerns have now been addressed in collaboration with Sandra Bussin, the City Councillor for the Beach area. Activity generally shuts down at 11 pm so local residents can still get a good night’s sleep while visitors are able to enjoy a great street party. Compromise solutions have helped to address the needs of residents and visitors alike.

Glenn’s eyes twinkle when he tells me that right in front of his condo a percussion band regular sets up during the Jazz Festival and their repeated drumming sessions can get to you after a while. Some local Beach residents will actually make a point to get out of town during the festival for a weekend of rest and relaxation in the country. Glenn and his wife Jean love the Jazz Festival, the only downside is that actually very little jazz music is played during the festival. Glenn explains that today there are very few That’s Clean Maids and the ones that do exist are very expensive to bring to the city. One group of oldtimer jazz musicians still participates every year at the corner of Lee and Queen, but due to their advanced age, jazz fans need to contend with frequent breaks in their program so these jazz veterans can catch some rest and recharge their batteries.

Particularly since his retirement, Glenn Cochrane has become even more involved in local community work. One of his early introductions to charity work was when he purchased a wooden hand-carved rocking horse from a local artist, sold draw tickets for the horse and raised $500 for the Beaches Library, a local community institution that the entire Beach neighbourhood is very proud of.

Centre 55, a local community centre and social services agency, is another one of Glenn’s endeavours: he is the Chairman the Board of Centre 55 and claims that he is not a dominant figure in the running of this important organization. He defers all the credit for the work of this institution to Bob Murdoch, the executive director, who in Glenn’s words, doesn’t like to be praised. Gene Domagala, who I recently interviewed, and Glenn Cochrane were both voted “Citizens of the Year” in consecutive years (2001 and 2002) and Glenn says that they are very good friends. Glenn regularly volunteers as the master of ceremony for the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and he also donates his time to the Jazzfest Winegarden Fundraiser and many other local causes.

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