Republic of Rathnelly to celebrate 50 years

The ballots are in: local laneway names a nod to neighbourhood’s rich history


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The late Eileen Robertson, dubbed Queen Eileen of Rathnelly in 1986

The Republic of Rathnelly (ROR), a Midtown neighbourhood and pseudo-independent state, has a colourful history dating back to 1967. Now, just in time for its 50th anniversary, residents have undertaken a laneway naming initiative to pay homage to local lore. 

The Rathnelly Area Residents Association (RARA) gave residents the option of voting for one of two naming schemes in late 2016. One was based on the area’s history and the other on local artists. RARA sent out voting ballots to 250 homes in the area bordered by Macpherson Avenue to the south, Poplar Plains Crescent to the north, Avenue Road to the east and Poplar Plains Road to the west. By mid-December the votes were cast. Out of 94 residents, 53 voted in favour of the historical scheme.

“It was a close call, but people chose the history option,” said Pym Buitenhuis, a member of RARA, who spearheaded the initiative. “It’s an unusual and fun story. It’s a wonderful thing to remember what brought us together,” she added. 

When the proposed Crosstown and Spadina expressways threatened to destroy much of what locals loved about the community in the late 1960s, the ROR cheekily declared its independence from Canada. This inspired today’s generation of residents to christen two laneways north of McMaster Avenue: Rebellion Lane and Stop the Spadina Express Way. 

According to Buitenhuis, another lane will be named for the late Eileen Robertson, dubbed Queen Eileen, who lived on Rathnelly Avenue from 1924 to 1986 and presided over each biannual Rathnelly Day with her trademark sense of humour. Penny Lane will be named for Robertson’s longtime companion Penny Nettlefold as well as the famous Beatles song released the same year as ROR’s conception. The north-south lane just east of Rathnelly Avenue will be named after one of RARA’s early founders and author of the ROR constitution, Robin Fraser.

Local resident Colleen Baldwin was one of 41 residents who opted to vote for the artist naming scheme, which would have honoured several local artists, many of whom are still alive today, including Buitenhuis’ husband James Lahey. Jack Bush, David Cronenberg, Michael Snow and Katherine Govier were other nominees. “I just happen to personally know some of the artists, so I really liked that idea,” said Baldwin. 

RARA hopes to have the chosen lane names approved by Toronto City Council for their 50th anniversary and biannual Rathnelly Day in June.

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