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Places to Live: Brooklin
Linda White, Special to Postmedia Network, Toronto Sun
It’s home to one of the longest-running agricultural fairs in Ontario and though the Village of Brooklin is no longer the farming community it once was, residents look forward to the fair’s truck and tractor pull, pie eating contest, nail driving and log sawing competition and other must-watch events, including beef, goat and sheep shows.The fair was a one-day event when it was first held in 1911. Today, it’s a four-day affair, held the first weekend in June. The hum of the midway and demolition derby echoes throughout the streets of this once-sleepy village, where attending the fair without parents is a rite of passage for most kids.
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Brooklin is located in the Town of Whitby but events like the fair and annual celebrations like Summer ArtFest, Harvest Festival and Christmas in the Village help it retain its charm and distinct identity. Along with Music in the Park, many annual celebrations are held in Grass Park, located smack dab in the middle of a historic downtown and within easy walking distance of many of the community’s 20,000 residents. “My formula for the worth of a town would be the sum total of how much its residents really care about it – how much it is their home, rather than the place they live,” says Mayor Don Mitchell, a lifelong Brooklin resident and business owner. If the number of people who attend community events and the number of businesses owned by local residents are any indication, Brooklin’s worth is high. Many community events were initiated by Group 74, a women’s service group established in 1974. “The group was formed to do things for families and especially for kids and seniors,” says president Sue Pitchforth. A Brooklin resident since 1994 and owner of Décor Therapy Plus, she has witnessed dramatic growth since moving into the ‘front porch’ subdivision – the first of several new developments to spring up over the past two decades. “We used to call it ‘Little House on the Prairie,’” Pitchforth says of her early days here, when wolves wandered near her home. Group 74 “very quietly” helps local families in need and partners with local businesses to offer events like Santa’s Workshop. Its Victorian Tea, held the day before Mother’s Day, once attracted five generations of the same family. Several events – including Harvest Festival – have gotten so large, the group has teamed up with the Town to run. The downtown is home to several home décor shops, including Endless Ideas Interiors and Lotus Home Interiors, as well as Brooklin Home Hardware. Restaurants like Corrado’s Restaurant & Bar, Harvest Brooklin, Baldwin Street Burger and a charming pink ice cream shop called Here’s the Scoop are popular haunts. There’s no shortage of yoga studios in this small community. But with Brooklin projected to double in size over the next 20 years or so, can it maintain its small-town identity? The mayor believes so. For starters, environmentally-protected lands south of Brooklin ensure there will always be open space between the village and the Town of Whitby. “The biggest way I think Brooklin will be able to maintain itself as a separate community will be through its downtown. It’s a unique downtown that people are proud of, connected with and attracted to,” Mitchell says. “I think downtowns are extremely important in community health, in connecting people and making people more engaged citizens as opposed to being consumers of municipal services, because there is a distinction.” His goal is to ensure Brooklin functions like a traditional community that emanates from the centre. “In the last official plan, we basically drew a big circle around the historic downtown and a large area to the south and said, ‘This is where all our commercial activities will be. Period.’ We’re not going to have malls popping up here, there and everywhere, which is a traditional sprawl community.” Neighbourhood design is also crucial. “Community design can promote walking and cycling and shared activities. This, along with a central gathering space, allows those connections and develops that sense of ownership,” says Mitchell. Already, the village is preparing for new development to the north and east. “There’s no shortage of demand for residential housing in Brooklin,” he says. “Our challenge is to make sure we plan it properly and get ready for the rush that’s going to come because it will be a rush.”