Former Vanek family resort to become a park

Members of the Vanek family of Toronto are upset because the town of Richmond Hill has erected an “eyesore” on property that had been designated as a park in honor of their mother, the late Jessie Vanek.

Three acres in size, the land sits along Bayview Avenue, on the eastern edge of the small, springfed recreational oasis known as Lake Wilcox. In 1928, Jessie Vanek and her family established a summer resort here and ran it until the mid-1950s. Featuring a bandshell, dance floor, 50-room hotel and several guest cottages, the resort drew a large Jewish clientele in an era when Jews were excluded from similar Gentile establishments.

Accepting $75,000 less than they might have received from another buyer, the Vaneks sold the land to Richmond Hill in 1986 on condition that the town build the park and erect a plaque in memory of their mother’s contribution to local history.

Seven years later, there’s still no official park and no plaque. “They’ve been putting me off from day to day and from year to year,” said retired provincial court judge David Vanek. “They’ve just done nothing and ignored me to boot. I’m contemplating suing them but I’m getting on in years and I don’t want to be harassed by lawsuits.

“The only thing they did do is they erected an eyesore right on the road — a little nondescript miserable building which is part of the sewage system. That’s all the park they’ve developed so far.”

Two years ago, Vanek’s nephew, lawyer Sheldon Vanek, complained in a letter to town officials that the municipal pumping station impaired the aesthetics of the land and restricted the view, contrary to the agreement. The letter described the delay as “excessive.” Town officials did not reply to this letter or to subsequent phone calls, Vanek said.

According to David Weldon, the town’s longstanding chief administrative officer, “There was no time limit” when Richmond Hill signed the deal. “The intention was to do the park as soon as we could afford it. We’d like to finish all our parks if we could. It’s a matter of where you put your money first. We’ve got to assign priorities.”

Funds have been allocated for the plaque to go up this year, Weldon told the CJN; there will be an official ceremony and the Vanek family will be invited. Workers have already commenced some fencing, planting and building a walkway, he said.

Weldon acknowledged that a municipal sewage pumping station had also been built on the land, but said it will eventually be “shielded” by vegetation. “From our view there’s nothing that’s been done that shouldn’t have been done,” he said, emphasizing that the Vaneks retain no rights or veto privileges concerning the property.

David Vanek’s initial reaction to this development was skepticism. “I’m not impressed if they say they’ve done a little planting. I was told that funds had been allocated at least three years ago. And I’m not satisfied with that pumping station. I think it should be moved.”

And he still regards the delay as inexcusable. “I’m one of a family of seven, originally, and there are three of us still extant. I’m 78 years of age and my brother is over 80. If we’re going to get this, it would be nice to get it our lifetime.” ♦

© 1993

Note: the park was long ago completed. David Vanek died in 2008. For a review of his book Fulfillment, please click here