In the late 1960s, Rathnelly residents sent a letter to then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau requesting some foreign aid dollars for a park swing set.
The prime minister’s office, Rathnelly resident Tony Phillips recalls, responded in kind with a polite “sorry, but no.”
“They thought it was a very good cause, but unfortunately all of Canada’s foreign aid was spoken for that year,” Phillips says with a straight face.
Can’t blame Rathnelly for trying. After all, it had been only two years since the leafy neighbourhood of red-brick detacheds and converted duplexes had seceded from Canada.
In a tongue-in-cheek response to the country’s Centennial celebrations, including the Montreal-hosted Expo ’67, the 250 or so area households declared themselves independent from the Commonwealth, and thus formed their own republic in 1967. Passports were issued, a queen was appointed and a parade held on what would come to be known as Rathnelly Day. The first was held on the Centennial: July 1, 1967. The Rathnelly Irregulars, made up of conscripted children and teens, were on guard duty, and streets were replete with decorations, food and good cheer.
Think this show of frivolity is from a bygone era of neighbourhood spirit? Think again.
Today, the Republic of Rathnelly is still going strong, celebrating its Independence Day bi-annually with a street fest that features breakfast, a garden tour, kids activities, dinner and cocktail hour for the adults.
Residential roads running adjacent to Rathnelly are pedestrian-only for the day, and most of the festivities take place behind the High-Level Pumping Station, a neighbourhood landmark.
“We’re proud of the history,” says Pam MacDonald, president of the Rathnelly Area Resident Association. “It is something that makes the neighbourhood quite distinct.”
It’s about to gain even more distinction.
While the feds may not have seen merit in funding a swing set back in the 1960s, present-day city council is happy to play along. In May, they approved a commissioning of branded street signs to bear the Republic of Rathnelly name and coat of arms. The latter features martini glasses (they really like to party here), railway tracks symbolizing the nearby CP Rail track onto which the neighbourhood borders, and the Expo ’67 insignia.
MacDonald said in late May she is expecting word any day from the city about when the signs will go up.
Though there’s been some younger families that have moved into the neighbourhood, 20-year resident MacDonald is still considered a relative newcomer to an area populated by many artists and academics.
“You get your roots down here and you don’t want to leave,” she says.
If there’s any hoity-toity attitude associated with living in an affluent area such as Rathnelly, you won’t find a smidge of it walking the streets and chatting with good-natured residents, many of whom hold spontaneous potluck gatherings year-round.
Dee Phillips, who has lived in the neighbourhood with husband Tony for more than 40 years, attributes the neighbourly goodwill to its geographical location. Bordered by the escarpment, CP Rail and downtown core, it naturally draws homesteads together, “with Rathnelly [Road] itself forming a sort of backbone for it and all the streets coming to it.”
There’s also a history of activism that goes back further than the succession. Residents in these parts were heavily involved in the Stop the Spadina expressway movement in the early 1960s.
MacDonald said the residents’ association still keeps an eye on development, as there’s always a project on the go.
She’s starting to prepare for next year’s Rathnelly Day, to be held in May.
MacDonald is also gunning for the title of duchess (the Queen title has been downgraded in deference to her Majesty in England). Some things have changed, she notes. There’s no longer a convertible that the duchess gets to ride in and wave from on parade day — she walks like everyone else. “Even royalty has to tighten its belt,” MacDonald says with a laugh.
Though some neighbours are starting to age, she’s expecting a large turnout next year. And she is pleased to see local teens getting enthusiastic about Rathnelly Day.
“There’s really a passing of the torch.”
Rathnelly really likes to party
Excerpt from a 1975 poster promoting a neighbourhood party to celebrate the Queen’s birthday:
Then let Laughter reign and Good Cheer spread, we’ll have a fine party and fall into bed! With visiting Royalty and friends from afar, Fish and Chips for supper and a bloody good bar!
A royal parade and a Double-Decker bus, we’ll play Soccer and Quoits, and kick up a fuss! And oh, we’ll have Dancing, and Street Painting, and a Royal Pavilion for each house!
And the Queen will dub Knights, and their Ladies, and her Majesty’s Souse! Three dollar Tax-levy (the poster is free). Is there any place but Rathnelly you’d rather be?
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