Toronto

Metrolinx facility driving out community hubs in Thorncliffe Park, residents worry

Iqbal Malek has spent more than three decades growing his halal grocery store into a mainstay in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood. Now, he may have to move his business to make way for a new Metrolinx facility. 

Halal grocery store needs to relocate to make way for the facility

Owner Iqbal Malek says his grocery store served up to 20,000 customers per week before the pandemic. The store specializes in halal products that aren't easily found elsewhere. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Iqbal Malek has spent more than three decades growing his halal grocery store into a mainstay in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood. 

But he may have to move his business to make way for a new Metrolinx facility to service the Ontario Line, a 15-stop subway route slated to run 16 kilometres from the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place.

"It was very surprising and really shocking," said Malek. 

The transit agency is set to expropriate a lot on the north side of Overlea Boulevard, between Millwood Road and Thorncliffe Park Drive. 

The 175,000-square-metre site would force the entire plaza to relocate. A mosque also sits on the site but was already slated to move across the street to a property it purchased three years ago.

The new Metrolinx facility will store, inspect, clean and maintain trains for the Ontario Line. (Metrolinx)

When Malek got the news, his first thought was for his customers.

"It will be devastating," he said. "The community [has been] relying on me for more than 35 years. They [have] come to rely and depend on Iqbal foods for what they need on a daily basis." 

The store specializes in halal products and carries culturally appropriate items that aren't easily found in other grocery stores. 

Malek says his store also acts as a community hub for residents, serving up to 20,000 customers a week before the pandemic hit.

'We fully expect' to find homes for businesses: Metrolinx

Malcolm MacKay, the program sponsor of the Ontario Line at Metrolinx, says the regional transit agency is taking residents' concerns seriously and is working with the community to find relocation solutions that suit the needs of each business owner. 

"We fully expect to be able to find homes for every single business that wants to relocate in the neighbourhood," MacKay said. 

But community leaders like Ahmed Hussein, the CEO of a group called The Neighbourhood Organization, have their doubts.

"I don't know how that would be realistic. There is not much real estate in the neighborhood," Hussein said.

Metrolinx says it looked at nine candidate sites for the placement of the facility and landed on East York because it was "implementable and [minimizes] the impact to all the communities." 

Construction on the site is slated to start in 2022. 

The facility will be used to store, inspect, clean and maintain trains, and will accommodate the growing fleet of vehicles in preparation for the Ontario Line. 

'Go back to the drawing board,' councillor tells Metrolinx

The line will provide rapid transit for Thorncliffe Park and relieve congestion in the area, the transit agency says.

Hussein sees the benefits of the new transit route but doesn't want the new facility to cost the community its gathering places. 

"We're for the Ontario Line. We want the line. And I think it's great to have it. But I think the cost-benefit analysis, the impact to the community is significant," he said.

The Ontario Line will be a 15-stop route that's slated to run 16 kilometres from the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place. (Metrolinx)

Coun. Jaye Robinson, who represents Ward 15, Don Valley West, says if the facility comes to fruition, it will be like "losing the heart and soul of Thorncliffe Park."

Robinson calls the move insensitive and urges Metrolinx to rethink the placement of the site.

"Metrolinx needs to go back to the drawing board and revisit these decisions and include the community as part of the process," she said. 

Mosque pushing for Iqbal to stay close

The Islamic Society of Toronto also sits on Metrolinx's preferred site, but the mosque was already planning to move by the end of next year to 20 Overlea Blvd., a location it bought in 2018.

"We're lucky we got the other building. That's not going to be touched. So that's why our congregants are not too concerned about it," said Ilyas Mulla, secretary for the mosque.

In the meantime, Mulla says the mosque is pushing to keep Iqbal Halal Foods close by, saying residents often shop and attend the mosque at the same time. 

Malek says if Metrolinx is able to find a space that meets the needs of his customers, he would be willing to move.

Until then, he says he's just hoping for the best. 

"It's all in limbo, it's in the air right now and it's very stressful."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Cheung is a writer and producer at CBC Vancouver. Have a news tip? Email jessica.cheung@cbc.ca

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