Condo boom strikes down another Toronto bowling alley

Amid skyrocketing property values, taxes and declining profits for bowling centres, re-development means fewer and fewer lanes for bowling leagues. The Toronto Historical Bowling Society, which started as a gay men's league in the mid-1980s, is looking for a new home.

Bowlerama West, home to LGBT league founded in 1983, will need to find new home

Joyce Frost., 97, has been bowling since she was 13 years of age. Most recently with the Toronto Historical Bowling Society. Founded in 1983, it's one of the city's oldest gay men's league. Both Joyce and her league will lose it's lanes when Bowlerama West closes in January. A condo will go up on the site. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

Toronto is losing another bowling alley to make way for a condo development, leaving an LGBT bowling league without its home lanes and its matriarch wondering where she will be able to play 10-pin.

Bowlerama West at 5429 Dundas St. W. near Kipling Avenue in Etobicoke will close its doors on Jan. 31.

"Where we gonna bowl next?" asked Joyce Frost, 97. "I've been bowling for so long — since I was 13 years of age." 

Frost says her mother taught her to bowl five-pin, which she played until 1971, when her brother introduced her to 10-pin bowling, which uses a larger, heavier ball.

Joyce Frost is still bowling at 97. She's wondering where she and her league can go to drop some pins in the New Year. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

She's never looked back and has played in competitive leagues with impressive results. 

As recently as 2008, Frost took home the National Classified Ladies title at the Canadian Lakehead 10 Pin Bowlers Association.

"I love my bowling. I still throw 10-pin, but my ball isn't as heavy. It's a nine-pounder," she said, adding that she still bowls some respectable scores in the mid-100s.

Frost joined the Toronto Historical Bowling Society league about two decades ago after her husband died and she was looking to keep active.

"She's sort of a mother figure to a lot of people in the league," said David Wilson, the league treasurer.

David Wilson, treasurer of the Toronto Historical Bowling Society. The league began 35 years ago founded by gay men, but has become diverse and inclusive over the years. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

The league started in 1983 around the motto: "Friendship, fellowship, unity and sportsmanship" and all gay positive bowlers of all bowling averages are welcome.

"It's been a very inclusive league; whether you are gay, straight, bisexual or transgender, whatever. We've had everybody. We're actually attracting a lot of straight people to our league," said Wilson.

He said that back when it began 35 years ago, there were few places for gay men to participate in sports. There was a big bar scene, but for gay men who weren't into that, bowling became a thing. 

The Toronto league is affiliated with the International Gay Bowlers Organization, which has member leagues throughout North America and Australia and holds annual tournaments.

Wilson said the Toronto league boasted as many as 300 bowlers at one time and there were waiting lists for people who wanted to join. While interest has waned, the league still has about 130 members who bowl as often as three times a week.

Danny DeFrancesco, manager of Bowlerama West says skyrocketing property value has meant higher taxes and more interest from developers in land where the city's bowling alleys are located. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

"The younger people aren't as interested. And it's become expensive for landlords," said Wilson.

 Danny DeFrancesco and his wife Beverley run Bowlerama West. He said bowling is in his blood.

"This is my 45th season in bowling. I started in 1973," he said.

While in high school, DeFrancesco would clean ashtrays after school at a bowling alley in Scarborough so he could play for free. He then became a pin chaser, then worked the counter and finally has been a manager since 1977.

He said it's sad that Toronto is losing so many bowling centres, but he said with real estate prices skyrocketing and property taxes and rent taking a toll on profits, large properties like bowling alleys are ripe targets for redevelopment.

Located on Dundas West near Kipling in Etobicoke, Bowlerama West is the latest bowling alley to face closure due to Toronto's condo boom. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

"You need so much land for a bowling centre. A lane is like 60 feet long (18.3 metres)," said DeFrancesco, who doesn't own the property where Bowlerama West is located.

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He said it's a loss for the bowling community, which is very much like family. He actually met Joyce Frost about 20 years ago. 

"She was bowling in a league and it was around the holiday season and she told me she was having Christmas dinner all by herself because her kids were out of town, So I invited her over to my house for dinner," said DeFrancesco.

"She and my mother hit it off right away. And then my mother passed away a month later and so that's why Joyce tells people she adopted me as her son."

DeFrancesco said that since then, he has looked forward to seeing Frost bowling with the Toronto Historical Bowling Society every Friday night.

That league will complete its shortened season at Bowlerama West this weekend, but a last hurrah is planned at the alley in January.

DeFrancesco hopes to help his extended family find a new place to bowl in the new year.