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History of Variety Village

smiling faces at Variety

Smiling faces at Variety Village

Variety Village Sign

Our sign 

Fun and games

Fun and games

Learning trades

Learning trades

Welcome Blue Jays

Welcome Blue Jays 

Pool construction

Pool construction 

Unveiling pool - Princess Margaret

Unveiling pool – Princess Margaret

Lieutenant Governor Games

Lieutenant Governor Games

Variety – The Children’s Charity

Variety International

It began simply, as many stories do, and has become a source of inspiration and dedication for charitable men and women around the globe.

On October 10, 1927 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, eleven young men affiliated with show business met at the William Penn Hotel to form a social club. The gentlemen decided to name their group “The Variety Club” because they represented all the facets of this business. The men of the Variety Club helped their friends in show business and made contributions to many different civic organizations.

After a year, the Variety Club hosted its first banquet on November 11, 1928, “under the big top” in the grand ballroom of the Will Penn Hotel complete with circus acts, sideshows, popcorn and cotton candy. The insignia for the affair was a mustached “barker” wearing a high silk hat. This enormously successful event was the beginning of Variety’s circus tradition: the Barker was the Club’s official logo, the Club was called a “Tent,” its members were “Barkers” or “the Crew,” the president, the “Chief Barker,” the treasurer, “Dough Boy” and the secretary, “Property Master.”

Variety’s focus on helping children began on Christmas Eve 1928, when the manager of the Sheridan Square Theatre in Pittsburgh found an infant abandoned in the theatre with a note saying: “Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. My husband is out of work. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. I have always heard of the goodness of show business people and I pray to God that you will look out for her.”

Taking Care of Catherine

A thorough search by the police with the help of the local media found no trace of the mother, so the Variety Club members agreed to act as her godfathers and underwrite her support and education. In honor of the Variety Club and the Sheridan Theatre, the baby was named “Catherine Variety Sheridan.” After five years they came to the conclusion that Catherine should have a permanent home with loving parents. After considering over 300 applications, Catherine was adopted to a couple living away from the Pittsburgh area, and her anonymity was preserved throughout the years.

The publicity from her story, which was front-page news across the United States, motivated other men in show business to help the needy children in their communities and was responsible for the development of this small group into a multi-national children’s charity with 52 chapters in 14 countries around the world.

Today, Variety International is actively providing assistance to countless children of all ages regardless of race, creed or color in Australia, Barbados, Canada, Channel Islands, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. With over 14,000 members and volunteers, Variety International has raised over US$ 1.5 billion to benefit children.

Variety Comes to Ontario

Here in Ontario, the Variety Club, Tent 28, Toronto, came into being through the energetic enthusiasm of an American, the late John J. Fitzgibbons, who came to Canada as president of Famous Players Theatres. He brought the inspiring Variety story and, along with it, the strong sense of personal values for which it stood.

Ten men joined him to form an initial Toronto eleven similar to the Pittsburgh group. Their names: W.P. Covert, L.M. Delaney, B. Freedman, O.R. Hanson, G. Lightstone, H.L. Nathanson, P.L. Nathanson, B.D. Okun, E. Rawley, and N.A. Taylor. Swift recognition of their fledgling activities came when they received a charter from the Variety Clubs of America, recognizing an organizational date of July 11, 1945. This was followed by official sanctioning on September 5, 1945.

Variety Village

A Vocational School

In 1948, Canada’s only Variety Club at that time undertook, among its many works, the building, equipping and maintenance of a vocational guidance and training school and residence for youth. It was a project designed to provide an open door to a new life and more abundant opportunities for boys with physical disabilities between 16 and 18 years of age.

Naturally, along with Variety, there were other valued participants involved in launching and making this dream a reality. The Ontario Society for Crippled Children and the Provincial and Federal governments both gave with expertise, land and grants. As a result, in December of 1948 the cornerstone was laid on land donated by the province of Ontario by Premier George Drew. In the fall of 1949, Variety Village opened its doors, situated in Scarborough, near the junction of Kingston Road and Danforth Avenue, on a site of high land on the rim of a valley overlooking Lake Ontario.

With the co-operation of field nurses from the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, the students were chosen from applications received from all over the province. Each student was selected on the basis of being considered most capable of benefiting from the courses. To look after the initial 40 students the school required a staff of fifteen people including a school principal, two trade instructors, a commercial teacher, an academic teacher, a matron, two house mothers, a recreation director, a caretaker, a secretary, a bookkeeper, a cook and an assistant cook and a kitchen maid.

The training school began with three main areas of endeavor: shop, watch making, and the commercial departments. The shop courses included mechanical drafting, heating and air conditioning designing, blue printing, electric and oxy-acetylene welding, sheet metal work, small electric appliance repair, and other related work. The watch-making course was as its name implies. The commercial course offered specialization in office training, typing, bookkeeping, handling of business machines and other related subjects.

Hobbies too played a major role in the student’s life at the Village, with photography, leather crafting, etching, plastic crafting and stamp collecting high on the list of leisure-time favourites. Recreation needs were filled with arts, physical education, swimming, and target practice at the local police rifle range.

Right from the start, frequent visits from show business and sports celebrities, noted international and Canadian men and women, and members of royalty were constant assurance to the students of the importance of their journey toward their goal of graduation.

Over the years, hundreds of young people graduated from Variety Village and proudly set forth to become valued and leading citizens in their communities. Their pride and satisfaction was matched only by the dedicated staff and volunteers at Variety Village, and the Variety Club Executive, Crew and members who had watched the school grow.

But as time passed, the need for such a vocational school was to diminish as provincial health care came into being and inclusion and integration became more important. So the format of Variety Village needed to change and new projects became the focus of the club’s activities in the late 1970s.

Variety Village Opens Doors

In 1978 the Variety Club of Ontario accepted the unique challenge of creating a centre where “every youngster would have the opportunity to be physically fit and the chance to participate in competitive sports.” In 1981, Variety Village, a world class indoor sports facility, opened its doors. Since then, athletes, instructors and coaches have focused on developing skills, strategies and attitudes that reflect a competitive spirit.

Right from the start, there was adapted physical education, swim classes, track and field, archery, fencing, basketball, and a three-tiered Children in Motion activity program. Over the years, other sports such as rhythmic gymnastics, sledge hockey, synchronized swimming, kayaking, rock wall climbing and Taekwondo were added to the extensive list of programs offered at the Village.

Variety Village also became a strong supporter of reverse integration. It is one of the few facilities where fathers, mothers, siblings and friends who are able-bodied can borrow a wheelchair and get involved in a game of wheelchair basketball. There are also the many Outreach activities that promote access, diversity in ability and inclusive environments. An entire school will get a chance to try specialized equipment, feel a braille book, use a sports wheelchair and learn a little about communicating with a person who is deaf.

A Timeline

1949 to 1977: Variety Club of Ontario opened Variety Village for the purpose of educating boys with physical disabilities living within the province of Ontario.

1978: Variety Ontario embarked on the most ambitious project in its history. With a budget exceeding $8 million for the establishment of a unique sports and fitness facility for young people with disabilities.

Summer of 1979:  Variety Ontario began a special physical conditioning and fitness program for the benefit of young participants from the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre.

February 1981: Variety Village Sports Training and Fitness Centre officially opened.

Mid-1980s: Membership opened to the general public.

May 1989: All eyes turned to the opening of the new $5.7 million aquatic wing, which had been dedicated by HRH Princess Margaret the previous July. Great Lakes marathon swimmer, Vicki Keith Munro raised over $600,000 towards the construction of the state-of-the-art pools.

1992: The annual cost of operating the Village was over $2 million with 2500 children passing through its doors each week.

1996: Several Canadian Paralympic Athletes, who trained at Variety Village, competed in the Atlanta Paralympics.

1999: The Fitness Friends program was introduced in schools in the Durham Region and Peterborough County. The program partners a student with a disability with a peer to engage in adapted physical activities outside of classroom hours.

2001: The LINKS Adult Day Program was inaugurated. This program is designed for individuals 21 years of age and older with a physical and/or developmental disability.

2007: Variety Ontario introduced its Children in Motion™ and Aquatics for Everyone™ programs.

2008: Variety Village co-hosted the Ontario Summer ParaSport Games.

2010: Capital injected into long-needed projects such as the roof replacement, window replacement and new boilers.

2011: Variety Village Director of Access and Awareness, Archie Allison inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame for more than 30 years of work on behalf of individuals with disabilities.

2011: MLSE Team Up Foundation refurbish centre basketball court with FIBA regulation hardwood floor.

2011: The Variety Village Drama Club received a performance space with the opening of the Barall Performance Centre, thanks to a generous donation from Mrs. Hiroko Barall.

2012: The Canadian Men’s Wheelchair Basketball team bring home GOLD from the London Paralympics. Team members, Adam Lancia and Abdi Dini call Variety Village their home court.

2013: Variety Village hosts its very first Open Water Swim at Boshkung Lake in Haliburton, raising awareness of its mission outside the GTA

2013: Five Variety Village staff members received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for their work on behalf of people with disabilities

2014: Launch of the enterprise-wide database project (ABLE) that paved the way for a more targeted and beneficial way to communicate with all stakeholders

2014: Launch of the Centre for Inclusive Sport Development (CISD). Variety Village is assisting children and youth with disabilities by providing opportunities for regular physical activity.

2014: Facility renewal continued with upgrades to IT and phone systems.

2015: Variety Village named as part of the legacy of the Pan Am/Para Pan Am Games of Toronto 2015.

Both Men’s and Women’s Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Teams achieve SILVER medals at the Games

2015: Complete renovation of the Variety Village lobby thanks to a gift from the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO)

July and August 2015: Variety Village was the site of two Torch Relays for the Pan Am/Para Pan Am Games

2015: Variety Village pools undergo major upgrades

BUS: We have a bus stop right outside! Take the 12A from Victoria Park Station.

FREE parking onsite.

Wheel-Trans accessible.

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