The bland concrete structure at 5 Superior Avenue in Etobicoke may look abandoned today, but the building has been home to far more than its appearance suggests. Before sustaining significant fire damage 18 months ago, the building housed the toddler and preschool program of the Martin Luther Church Day Care – an organization with a rich history of volunteerism and community whose story begins at 5 Superior.
“It started with a lilac tree” reads the Toronto Star article published on May 8th, 1970, when the daycare first opened. The idea for the daycare originally came to the Martin Luther Church congregation under Pastor Eberhard W. Schwantes, with the mission to give the neighbourhood’s children a safe place to play. His son Michael Schwantes recalls that the idea came to his father as he was looking out the window from the church office. “It was because he saw the children playing in the parking lot, and they had nowhere to go” he explains “he said … they needed a place to go.”
Getting off the ground
After some discussion with the congregation and the council, and after drumming up financial support, it was decided that the church would buy the vacant house at 5 Superior Avenue and create a daycare. “The church must move out of the four walls of the building of worship,” Pastor Schwantes was quoted saying in support of the project, “we must be involved in the community.”
The building, much as it is now, was still a work in progress, and it would be a long year of work before the daycare could welcome the children of the Mimico neighbourhood – as the 1970 Toronto Star article puts it “Then came operation elbow grease.” “At the beginning, our people really helped a lot” says 93 year old Mrs. Stella Kakoschke, a long-time member of the congregation as she tells her story in German. “There were so many volunteers,” she continues “especially during the renovations; there were carpenters, painters… a lot of church members.”
In May 1970, the building opened its doors to the community at large, and started to care for 26 neighbourhood children. Although the renovations were finished, there was still ample room for volunteerism, and many of the seniors in the church can remember doing their part to get the daycare on its feet. Mrs. Ursula Pahnke, now 83, recalls cooking with other ladies from the church traditional German meals for the children and washing dishes between 10 am and 1 pm every day.
Before long the daycare was licensed to care for 76 children, grew to include a preschool, toddler, kindergarten and before and after school program, and even spread to the basement of the church at 2379 Lakeshore Boulevard West. Right now, the organization has 33 children in its care (90 percent of whom are on subsidies), and there is just as much, if not more, need in the Mimico community for a fully functioning daycare.
Keeping the spirit alive
Although no one was hurt in the fire in October 2013, the building at 5 Superior Avenue was badly burnt, the toddler program was suspended and the renters as well as the church caretaker had to move out. Now more than ever, as the daycare works towards a reopening of the facility on September 1st, it seems the organization must look back to its roots and ask the community to come together in support, just like members of the church did 45 years ago. Fortunately, the spirit of volunteerism still runs through the congregation, with many members dedicating the last 18 months to getting the daycare back on its feet, setting up fundraising and donation accounts, and overcoming construction hurdles. By reaching out to the neighbourhood, partners such as an Etobicoke graphic designer and local officials have offered their support to this essential part of the community.
“It’s been a long and difficult process, but it is rewarding in its own way when I see people coming together again to make this work,” says Iris Schweiger, the church’s president. In other words, although many things have changed throughout the years (the kitchen no longer serves sauerkraut to preschoolers) the daycare’s crisis 45 years later is once again proving that it is only the power of coming together as a community that can make a lasting difference.- Sonja Schweiger, August 4, 2015
Those wishing to make a contribution to the Martin Luther Church Daycare can do so at the BMO Bank of Montreal Mimico branch. Account number: 2435 8978 800 Purpose: 5 Superior Trust (GTA WIDE – or directly to church)
Reference: “Page 65.” A minister takes action: This day nursery became a church project. Toronto Daily Star (1900-1971): 65. May 08 1970. ProQuest. Database. Accessed 29 June 2015.