GECO in a Time of Peace

 

Don Walton and his friends at GECO

Don Walton and his friends at GECO

GECO’s story didn’t end with Germany’s surrender. It didn’t end when the Hamilton Brothers locked the door for the last time and walked away. In fact, GECO was built so well, its buildings have survived their expected lifespan by over half a century.

Someone within the levels of the Canadian government decided not to raze GECO’s 172 buildings after the war, but, instead convert a small portion of buildings at the northern end, or “dirty side” of the property, into suitable post-war housing for needy families. The remaining buildings would be sold to local small businesses interested in pursuing peacetime work.

At the north end of the plant, bordering Eglinton and Warden Avenues, several buildings were taken by the City of Toronto, and were renovated into apartments to serve as emergency housing. The GECO housing community would serve its residents from 1946 to 1954. There are conflicting reports as to the number of residents housed within the compound, with numbers ranging from between 2,000 and 6,000 men, women, and children, or over 800 families.

Scarborough Police Dept at GECO

Scarborough Police Dept at GECO

Hundreds of families—including retired GECO workers and returning GIs—hoped the undulating countryside of Scarborough would be the perfect place to raise a family. For the most part, they were right. From wide open spaces to the gentle sway of wheat and corn in a slight wind, from the fragrance of rich earth to the soft moos of contented cows nearby – it was all good. The roads leading and leaving the housing complex were quiet – mostly farm vehicles making their sleepy way home, or going to market. A posted 30 Miles per Hour speed limit spoke to both the close proximity of children and to the area’s bucolic surroundings.

GECO residents fondly recall a unique time in their young lives where, due to humble economic circumstances caused by the fall-out of the World War, lived in rare conditions never to be repeated in their life-time, perhaps never again in Canada’s history. Memories of using communal wash rooms, noisy small apartments with “paper-thin” walls, the kind “blind man” who ran a small store, and the excitement of discovering the police cruiser of GECO’s police station (destined to become Scarborough’s 41 Division) riddled with bullet holes after the capture of the infamous Boyd Gang. There were sad stories too including the tragic death of eight-year old Kerry Taylor who fell to his death when he and his buddies tried to climb Scarborough’s new water tower at Civic Drive and Warden Avenue, and the equally tragic death of seven-year old Reginald “Butch” Halliday who was struck by a car when he tried to run across Eglinton Avenue.

 

35 comments for “GECO in a Time of Peace

  1. douglas hanlon
    March 28, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    would some one known were to obtain famldy names of all the children between 1946 1954 emergency housing farther and mother geco long branch army camp and staff house litte norway caladonia rd and all other emergency house toronto school board wellfare assistant office army pension first world war

    • March 28, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      Hi Douglas, thanks for your post. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there is no list that contains the names of families who lived in post-war emergency housing in Toronto. My only thought is perhaps searching the 1951 Canada Census. Good luck! Barbara

  2. gayleclarke@gmail.com
    March 21, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Barbara,
    My younger sister, Judy, gave me your contact info, as she doesn’t have a computer. We’re both interested in your book, as we spent about 3 years growing up in GECO (Judy was only a baby, and I was 7 when we moved there). I have many memories of those years, including taking tap and ballet lessons in the big hall attached to the school. We also had square dances taught to us. There were also entertaining competitions held in the summer where the kids would either sing or dance, etc., and money was collected from the audience who sat outside to give the winners, 2nd & 3rd place. My girlfriend and I came in second one time singing a song my mom had taught us, and we got about $3 for that! 🙂

    We lived in Bldg. #3 and our next door neighbours were Marg & Tony D’Amato – Marg was our mom’s best friend. For a little girl, those buildings were huge, and I wasn’t a fan of the central showers and washrooms. Thanks very much for your time, and I’ll look forward to hearing back from you.

    • Karen Vangennip
      December 6, 2016 at 11:56 am

      I am Paula’s daughter. My grandmother was Margaret D’Amato. (1920-1996) My grandfather Tony passed in (1969). Only 2 of their 4 children are alive today. Paula & John. Marie passed 2009 & Tony 2011. I understand my Grandfather was quite a singer for the community. It warms my heart to see his mention in the book.
      Thank you
      Karen

  3. Ken Dudley
    March 16, 2015 at 12:13 am

    I lived in Geco at a very young age. I remember the water tower which is still there, and the firehall.
    Ken Dudley

  4. Joan Langis{Altena}
    November 18, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Hello Barbara
    I use to live there as a very young child and I am looking for info,I would love to buy your book.I remember a tower, is that were sears was?I was only 3 or 4.Remember going to Sunday school in the basement of these homes. your site is very interesting. would love to see more pictures,thanks in advance,

  5. JACKIE EDEN
    November 1, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    HELLO BARBARA I HAVE NOT HAD MY COMPUTER WORKING FOR AWHILE AS I WAS HIT WITH A VIRUS SO I HAVE GOTTEN ON ANOTHER ONE. I AM VERY SORRY TO HEAR OF YOUR DAUGHTERS ILLNESS MY THOUGHT AND PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU ALL. SINCERELY JACKIE EDEN

    • November 13, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      Thank you Jackie, for your note and kind concern. It is very much appreciated. Take care and stay well.

  6. JACKIE EDEN
    August 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Hello Barbara I have not been on here for a while I have moved and now living in Keswick Ont I did not want to loose touch with you.. How is your book coming? now that I am closer I would like to go to one of your speaking engagements.I will check for your next one hope you are doing well take care JaCKIE

    • August 13, 2013 at 12:20 am

      Hello Jackie, nice to hear from you. Thanks for your post. I’m a bit behind in updating the website with my upcoming speaking engagements — attribute it to the ‘take a break’ attitude that comes with the less busy months of summer. 🙂 I’ll be in touch re: attending an upcoming GECO presentation. Take care! Barbara

  7. Bob Silverburg
    April 3, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Hi Barbara just to let you know me and the family spent our early years in GECO @ Long Branch, staff House @ Little Norway. The picture of the girl is my sister,next to Don Walton please keep in touch. Myself and my brother Bill would love to get to-gether

  8. mary conroy
    January 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Hi Barbara

    you can call me. I’m still in contact with several friends from Geco.
    some say it was the best time of their life.

    • jim hardy
      October 30, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      Mary,

      The picture of you with Jeanie S., Bill and Jack G., Chester O., Don W. and I think Tom W. in back has brought a lot of memories for me! I have been in touch with Don on the phone and via e-mail but can’t find a way to get in touch with you or others.

      If by chance you see this, call me at 705-738-1396

      Jim Hardy

  9. mary conroy
    January 11, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Mary Conroy (girl on left)would love to hear from friends and anyone interested to make contact….

    • Barbara
      January 16, 2013 at 9:13 pm

      Hi Mary, Thanks for your recent post concerning making contact with other past residents of GECO. If you live in the Toronto area, would you like to meet for a coffee to talk about your days living there? If not, would you be available to answer some questions via an e-mailed questionnaire? If this is something you’d be interested in, please let me know and we’ll either set up a time and place to meet for an hour, or I’ll send along the set of questions. I look forward to hearing from you. Take care, Barbara

    • jim hardy
      October 30, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Mary,

      Remember me – – – – – -last talked to you about 60 years ago. It’s time we talked again!

      Jim Hardy

  10. Connie Stewart
    December 21, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Hello Barbara, I too am very interested in the date your book will finally be published. I lived on Pharmacy Ave. near Eglinton and as a teen ager went to to community hall dances in GECO. I also had girl friends who lived in there and still remember my awe at those many buildings and long hallways. I used to wonder “how do all the people find their way home to the right door”. I was born in 35 and have many memories of GECO.
    Connie Stewart (nee Orr) currently living on Vancouver Island.

    • Cathy Mullen
      March 21, 2013 at 1:59 am

      Connie, my Mother lived in Geco, and she remembers you very well.
      Her name at the time was Isobel McLeod, now Mullen. She has often talked of her time there, and has prompted me to try to do some research on Geco. I know some of the other names I have found on here she remembers also. She had two sisters, Betty and Jean, and a brother, Jack. It was her mother that use to run the movie nights, and helped run the dances.

  11. jim hardy
    November 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Our family lived in GECO 1949/1954 and several of the people in the snapshot posted by Don Walton were good friends of mine. There are a lot of memories for me from that place!

  12. Diane Siggens
    November 10, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Hello Barbara, I too would like to know when your book regarding GECO is published. I lived there with my family. Although I was about 4 or 5 when we moved it must have been a pleasant time in my life because I surprisingly remember several events from that time. Bye for now.

    • Judy McCracken
      November 12, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      Hello Barbara: My family moved to GECO when I was 12 and we lived there for approximately two years so I would be interested to know when your book will be published. Thanks.

  13. Ken Olsen
    October 18, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Hi Barbara, I lived in Geco housing as a child, and I was wondering if your forthcoming book deals with the housing aspect in any way. I was delighted to come across your website, and would be willing to talk to you if I could be of any help. Also, it seems you have more stuff on Geco that you took down to write your book. Will that reappear at some time?
    Ken Olsen

    • admin
      October 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Hi Ken, thanks for your inquiry. Yes, there’s a chapter in the book dedicated to GECO’s post-war housing. I’d love to meet with you to talk about your memories living at GECO. I’ll get in touch with you shortly. And yes, I took down a lot of the GECO content until the book is published. When I have a release date, I’ll announce it on the site. Thanks again.

  14. ron littlejohn
    October 7, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    my mother was raisedin Geco. Can you tell it’s exact location?
    Has anyone read the book Corky, Peggy And The Goldfinch which takes place in Geko?

    http://www.amazon.com/Corky-Peggy-And-The-Goldfinch/dp/1418464899

    • admin
      October 9, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      Hi Ron, thanks for your query. The city’s emergency housing at GECO was located southeast of Eglinton and Warden Avenues in Scarborough. I’ve read “Corky, Peggy, and the Goldfinch.” How did you like it?

  15. Heather
    September 26, 2012 at 1:42 am

    My grandfather worked at GECO during the war, Donald John MacDonald. We are trying to find information on his connection to GECO. Would you be able to provide us with any information? We would like to come hear your talk on Oct. 10th, is it open to the public?

    • admin
      September 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      Hi, Heather, thanks for your inquiry. Usually I make presentations to community groups, businesses, and professional organizations, etc, which unfortunately are not open to the public. If you or a loved one belongs to an organization/business/charity/social club, perhaps there is an opportunity to set up a date for me to present to your group. Thanks, again. Barbara

      • Heather
        September 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm

        Unfortunately, I do not. Do you know where I may be able to find any information on GECO?

        • admin
          October 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm

          Unfortunately, the Canadian Government destroyed documentation of their war-time projects, including GECO’s files, after the war. The family of one GECO’s executives donated his personal records to the Ontario Archives when he passed away. That’s about all that’s available. My book is a very comprehensive account of GECO but it’s not yet available. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have. If you live in the GTA, perhaps you’d like to meet for a coffee. Let me know. Take care.

  16. Bill Russell
    August 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    When is your GECO book going to be published? Is there any website or groups on facebook of people who lived in GECO?

    I lived there when I was 5 years old and my sister would have been 12.

    • admin
      August 5, 2012 at 10:44 pm

      Hi Bill, thanks for your query. My book is in revisions — no firm publication date as yet. Patience is a virtue they say. When I learn more, I’ll update the website. There is currently no other place on the Internet for information about post-GECO residents, other than right here. I did have articles, pictures, and stories of people who lived at GECO on my old site but have not transferred the content over since I re-launched the site a few weeks ago. Sounds like a ‘to do’ for the fall.

      As a past GECO resident, would you be open to answering a few questions for me? Let me know if this is something you’d be interested in, and if you’re in the Toronto area we can set up a convenient time for a coffee, or I can send a set of questions to you. Thanks again. Take care, Barbara

  17. Robert Lettington
    July 18, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    I’m trying to locate some pictures I seen on a web page of yours My father George Lettington & mother Doris Irving(maiden name) grew up in Geco and we were looking at pictures of them and some friends ie: Don freeman,Corky Evans,Chick Cherry,Froggy etc & the news clipping of the kid who fell from the smoke stack. I can’t seem to find those pictures anymore if you could e-mail them to me I would really appreciate it.
    Thank-you Robert Lettington

    • admin
      July 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm

      Hi Robert, thanks for your post. I updated my website recently and removed most of my GECO pages until the publication of my book. I’ll contact you privately; perhaps I can send along some pictures and the article about Kerry Taylor you referred to. With kind regards, Barbara

      • Robert
        February 27, 2016 at 8:30 pm

        Hi it’s Robert Lettington could you email me some pics of old Geco and my parents and their friends.

        • March 1, 2016 at 11:47 am

          Hi Robert, thanks for your post. If your parents are in any of the photos on my website, let me know which ones, and I can email copies to you. Thanks for your interest. Barbara

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