Annual toy drive in Corner Brook could end because of civic centre eviction notice

A firefighters' union has 60 days to move its toy drive supplies out of a storage room at the Corner Brook Civic Centre.

Organizers say they have nowhere to set up toys and shelves

Gord Hamlyn has organized the toy drive for 41 years and doesn't want to move the toys and shelves out of the civic centre storage room. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

A firefighters' union in Corner Brook has 60 days to move its toy drive supplies out of a storage room at the Corner Brook Civic Centre, amid worries that the annual drive could fall apart.

Members of Local 1222 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who each year hand out Christmas toys to more than 200 children, have been storing toys at the centre since 2014.

"It's the working poor that we are helping," said toy drive organizer Gord Hamlyn, reacting to an eviction notice that arrived from civic centre management last week. 

"It's the moms and dads that just can't afford Christmas anymore. That's what this is all about. It's sad that it's got to come down to storage of chairs." 

Mayor Jim Parsons says the toys and shelves should have been out over a year ago. He says he city has nothing to do with the toy drive. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The civic centre, which is run by the City of Corner Brook, needs the space to hold equipment for conventions and other events. 

"This facility relies on conferences for revenue," said Mayor Jim Parsons.

"We have [to find storage for] things like lights, chairs, pipe and drape, flooring that covers the ice surface for conferences and events." 

Until now, such items have been stored underneath bleachers. However, that practice is not up to fire code.

Parsons said the civic centre costs taxpayers more than $900,000 annually, and that council has to look at the bigger picture.

No space, no toy drive

Hamlyn, who has run the toy drive for 41 years, is worried that the charitable event may collapse without free storage space.

"If I have to turn around and spend [$5,000] to $10,000 on rent on the money we have been given, now instead of doing 256 children, I may only be able to to 50 children," Hamlyn told CBC News. 

The small storage room at the civic centre holds toys for next Christmas. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

"I'm not willing to do that."

Hamlyn said people in the Corner Brook region have stepped up for decades to help the toy drive. 

"Unfortunately, if I have to spend the money in rent, then it's unfair to them, it's unfair to us," he said. 

Hamlyn said the union needs a free year-round space that is dry and appropriate for storing toys and electronics.

Toy drive seen as 'squatting' at civic centre

Staff at the civic centre have already started to store hundreds of chairs in the toy drive storage room.

Parsons says the union was supposed to be out over a year ago.

The firefighters' union has used this storage room to store and bag toys since 2014. The free space has been used year-round. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

"There was an agreement the toy drive would move out of that space. It was put in place over a year ago before this council that they would move," Parsons said.  

"But they have essentially been squatting for the last year." 

Parsons said the city is sympathetic and would like to help. 

Hamlyn proposed a shared space to staff at the civic centre a few weeks ago. If that plan falls through, Hamlyn said, the union hopes someone else can offer an alternative solution. 

About the Author

Colleen Connors

CBC News

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.