As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

The Cabbagetown Youth Centre Lives to See a Dream Coming

Today was just like any other day. Some things of varying importance didn’t happen.Some things of equally varying importance did happen or revealed the promise of coming about soon. One of those pleasantly awaited me when I stopped in to the Cabbagetown Youth Cenre (formerly known as the Cabbagetown Boxing and Youth Centre) to say hi.

The CYC has seen some renovation already.

The CYC has seen some renovation already.

It’s been years since I passed by the gym but one of the many memories I have is this promise that change would one day come. After such a long time coming it is now near enough in the future to inspire wonder. It culminates an audacious dream that Toronto boxing coaches Peter Wylie, the late Ken Hamilton, and a few others up and decided to have one day many decades ago when none of us realized how big and intractable the world was. ┬áKen and Peter, both eloquent, but nevertheless men of fewer words than action, they set about making it happen. Perhaps with more determination than political connections or resources with which to move the world at their command, their dream was to build a sports and recreation centre in the rough and tumble community of Cabbagetown.

Walking up the stairs to the gym. I had walked up those stairs so many times before.

Walking up the stairs to the gym. I had walked up those stairs so many times before.

This dream that was longer than the endurance of many men brings to mind a chinese cultural anecdote. Some villagers asked a man why he was digging on the side of the mountain. “A mountain cannot move” they said. He answered “I will do what I can, and my children will move a little more. And my children’s children … and so on. Little by little, the mountain will move”.

Peter Wylie

History is on those walls.

History is on those walls.

Moving a mountain is easier than having faith that it will. Years ago when I trained as a boxer at the Cabbagetown Boxing and Youth Center it was still visibly the shell of an old broken down auto mechanic’s garage. The wood of the large ramp that led from the lower floor was still slightly stained with motor oil. We would run up and down that ramp till our legs burned and we wanted to stop short. Ken invariably wasn’t having any of it and cursed, kidded, or just plain ignored our complaints till we were done. Sometimes with a twinkle in his eye he would talk about the planned renovations to the gym. That was so many decades ago.

Before my coach Ken Hamilton passed he and Peter Wylie put the dream to words and shared it. It was something they weren’t going to back down from. Many athletes, like me, passed through the doors of that gym. Some Canadian and Commonwealth champions, even world a champion or two along with some movie stars in search of the real gritty deal. I would guess that not one of them passed through without in some small way sharing that dream. Some took up the dream just as others moved on. Today Peter Wylie isn’t alone in making such an audacious plan. He sits on a board of directors for the Cabbagetown Youth Centre. And construction of the new central location at 2 Lancaster is scheduled to be completed in March.

The Cabbagetown Youth Centre has grown till it is now the biggest summer sports camp in the core of the city. There is even a performing arts segment called “The Studends of CYCs Performing Arts Summer Camp”. They’ve had this for years, Peter told me, so that now some of the former students who have become professional dancers have come back to run it. “They just had a show at the Bathurst St. theatre that was a big success” he noted with understated but very understandable pride.

With all the new coming there was still room for nostalgia towards the old. Peter walked me over to one of the remaining wall of photographs and with a smile showed me that one of my pictures from the old days was still hanging on the wall.

A picture of me sits in the middle of other familiar faces.

A picture of me sits in the middle of other familiar faces.

He looked good and it was good to see him. As we were shooting the breeze one of the boxers in the gym hollered at me to go get my car. Someone in the alleyway was either towing it or couldn’t get through. Mindful of potential consequences I said my goodbyes and left abruptly. Among the things that didn’t happen today was a less abrupt departure, but among the things that did happen, I have to be thankful for such enduring memories.

The battle starts in the head before you get it on in the ring. Mottos must be big in fighting gyms the world over.

The battle starts in the head before you get it on in the ring. Mottos must be big in fighting gyms the world over.

The Menagerie Pet Shop is across the street from the CYC. I got my first job there working for a dollar a day and five dollars on Saturdays. Being fascinated with the pets I would have hung out there for free.

The Menagerie Pet Shop is across the street from the CYC. I got my first job there working for a dollar a day and five dollars on Saturdays. Being fascinated with the pets I would have hung out there for free.

Regent Park (beside Cabbagetown) was one of the neighborhoods I lived in growing up. What was once North America's largest housing project is now thoroughly gentrified with swanky new condos sprouting up.

Regent Park (beside Cabbagetown) was one of the neighborhoods I lived in growing up. What was once North America's largest housing project is now thoroughly gentrified with swanky new condos sprouting up.

My buddy Asif Dar (former Commonwealth lightweight champ) used to live in the apartment that has been replaced by this admittedly nicer looking one. On hearing about the new apartment my mother asked "where did the people who lived there go". The people who lived there were all of very modest means. I told her "they must have bought the condos".

My buddy Asif Dar (former Commonwealth lightweight champ) used to live in the apartment that has been replaced by this admittedly nicer looking one. On hearing about the new apartment my mother asked "where did the people who lived there go". The people who lived there were all of very modest means. I told her "they must have bought the condos". Being West Indian she expressed her disbelief by making the gesture that West Indians call "sucking one's teeth".

Lord Dufferin is right across the street from my old apartment. Now well over a hundred years old it is beautiful but thoroughly unrecognizable after its renovations.

Lord Dufferin is right across the street from my old apartment. Now well over a hundred years old it is beautiful but thoroughly unrecognizable after its renovations.

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3 comments on “The Cabbagetown Youth Centre Lives to See a Dream Coming

  1. Marcus Priaulx on said:

    Thanks for the nice trip down nostalgia lane. I took myself to Cabbage Town Boxing Gym from Australia in 1987 to get the tuition I needed to to make the Seoul Olympics as I did not have a stack of natural talent. With Peter and Richard Guenette's tuition they helped me make a four-man Aussie squad and I often wondered how the Cabbage Town crew were doing. I never knew they had such big dreams to make the club so much more. What they did for me was immense and I'm sure heaps of other young people are now benefiting.

    Thanks for the story

    [Reply]

  2. Asif Kamran Dar on said:

    Very lovely Andy Williams just like the poetry you wrote…He stepped into the ring with elegance and grace/As he swiftly jabbed with every pace!

    [Reply]

  3. Andy E. Williams on said:

    Asif … I'm deeply impressed you remembered that from nearly thirty five years ago. All those years and we still both like to drop rhymes. Maybe it was Muhammad who inspired us … like he did a whole generation of fighters coming up against the struggles of every day … young men who took inspiration from audacious words and an attitude bigger than all the limitations of a rough world.

    [Reply]

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