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Chill out, residents tell co-op on eve of Pride weekend

Apartment complex secures perimeter as one million descend on Church-Wellesley neighbourhood

Earlier this week, Dennis Darnley spotted notices posted along the perimeter of the co-op where he lives, a leafy complex with apartment towers in the heart of Toronto's gay village. The notices are a series of don'ts: don't lock your bike to the fence; don't drink alcohol on the premises, and don't trespass.

By the morning of June 26, as many as 100 signs had been posted. While Darnley walked his dog, he watched as a security guard taped rows of them to trees on the property.
 
City Park Co-operative Apartments Inc, one of Canada's largest cooperatives, stretches along Church Street from Alexander to Wood streets. As the city prepares to cordon off Church for pedestrians from Friday night to Sunday, for Toronto Pride, the co-op is battening down the hatches.
 
And that goes beyond signs. City Park and other residential complexes in the neighbourhood regularly retain extra security guards to make sure residents feel safe. But that can become excessive, Darnley says. During last year's festivities, security guards hired by City Park spent the weekend hustling passersby off the premises. They even stopped and questioned Darnley's 85-year-old grandmother.
 
"Security is important, and it's important for residents to feel safe. [But] there's never been any problem during Pride," Darnley says. "They need to back down with security. If people want to sit on our lawn, let them sit on our lawn. What's the big problem?"
 
Dennis DuQuette has lived at City Park for 33 years. He says that when he moved in, the Pride parade was a much smaller affair. Participants travelled down Church Street from the 519 Church Street Community Centre to Gerrard Street back then, and there were no fences to keep people from joining the march. City Park was part of the hustle and bustle of Pride, even then, with lots of parties where visitors were welcome.
 
But the warnings posted around the complex send a negative message, that City Park and its residents are hostile to Pride, he says. "It's almost like putting a skull and crossbones on the outside of the building, more like scaring them off rather than inviting them in."
 
Jeff LeDrew, another long-time resident, agrees.
 
"I'm absolutely mortified. It's embarrassing," he says. "It's not homophobic, it's just bad decision-making."
 
And it's not just about visitors. All three say that it's not fun living at City Park during Pride weekend — not because of disruption from the festival, but because security is a buzzkill. Darnley calls it a "compound." LeDrew says it feels like "a prison."
 
DuQuette wants people to know that, contrary to the messages outside his co-op, City Park is a welcoming place, a "community within the community."
 
Darnley has asked the co-op to take down some of the posters, especially those on the trees. And he hopes the security staff will let people wander across the property and stop to catch their breath over Pride weekend, rather than chasing them off the premises.
 
Heather Moyer, chair of the City Park Co-op's board of directors, did not return Xtra's calls for comment. But Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of Pride Toronto, says organizers recognize that the festival takes place in a mixed-use neighbourhood.
 
“It is important to remember that while the festival is very large, it's also home to a lot of people. We try to be very respectful,” he says. “Safety is important. We work very hard with the city to make sure we are able to respond to situations quickly. In addition to putting out messages about sunscreen and hydration, we have up to 1,200 volunteers on the street to make sure that things go smoothly.”
 
Beaulieu says also that Pride Toronto is working with the City of Toronto and the Church-Wellesley Business Improvement Area to make sure that the neighbourhood is returned to its original condition by 6am on the Monday after the festival. He says that most residents appreciate Pride, even if there is a little inconvenience.
 
“There are some incidents or some complaints, and we take them very seriously, and we try to make sure they are addressed. But on the whole, people in the neighbourhood are very happy to host such a meaningful festival, and we get just as many thank yous, and we try to pass them on to our volunteers who are working so hard this week,” he says.