Arcadian, ar-kad’ian, adj. of Arcadia   (poet. Arcady, ar’ka-di), a district in Greece whose people were primitive in manners and given to music and dancing;  pastoral: simple, innocent.

– Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary


  1. To establish a permanent arts community in Toronto where artists from all disciplines and their families may live in good quality, affordable housing;
  2. To ensure that the housing provided contains appropriate work space for the artists;
  3. To provide a congenial and supportive community for people who work in the arts, and for their families.



In 1979, I was living in a co-op in Cabbagetown with my husband, Andy Krehm.  I greatly admired the concept and objectives of cooperative housing (particularly democratic control of the business by the resident members), and looked forward to wholeheartedly participating and contributing to ensure the continuation for years to come of good quality, low cost housing.  I assumed that all my neighbours and fellow members would be equally committed.

Consequently, as I became involved, I was stunned by the animosity, bickering and nit-picking that happened in discussion of our various co-op issues at, Committee, Members and Board meetings.  Some of the decisions made were downright dim-witted, targeting the person living in a unit, and ignoring the maintenance issues which would have long-term detrimental ramifications that would cost at least twice as much to repair the unit if not done immediately.  One member explained to me after a meeting that the co-op was ignoring all maintenance requests from that unit as they were trying to force the residents to move out.  Apparently, they were not “our type.”

During our first year of living in that co-op, we were both freelancing, and eventually it happened that we were both waiting to receive payments, and did not have enough money to pay the whole housing charge at the first of the month.  We informed the office manager of the problem, how much we could pay immediately, and when we would be able to pay the balance.  We were asked to attend the next Board Meeting to explain our circumstances and request approval for our proposed “payment plan.”  We anticipated a brief, civil exchange of information between ourselves and the Board members, and were utterly astonished at the lengthy and hostile interrogation to which we were subjected.  (We were both in our forties, had worked for more than twenty years, and both had good credit ratings).  When we were able to speak, we presented a cheque for ¾ of the amount due, and gave a firm date for submitting the balance.  The Board agreed that this was acceptable, but advised us not to let it happen again and suggested that we should perhaps get “real” jobs to ensure that it wouldn’t.  We were totally shocked.

After observing a few more incidents of this kind, it occurred to me that running the business of the co-op only was perhaps not a strong enough bond for a group of people to work together harmoniously, and that the residents needed something else in common.  So, the idea of Arcadia was born – a co-op for people who work in the arts and thus a group with two things in common.

Andy and I went to talk to the Co-op Housing Federation of Toronto (CHFT), a co-op housing development group.  We met with Mark Goldblatt and Alexandra Wilson who were very encouraging and told us how to start, but cautioned us to expect some resistance and roadblocks as this would be the first attempt through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp (CMHC) program to create a co-op for people working in the arts, or for that matter, any “special interest” housing co-op.


And so we started.  We invited people to work on the project with us, trying to provide representation of various arts disciplines:  Mary Bell (performance artist),

Barb Grace (graphics artist), Maggie Keith (actor/writer), Andy Krehm (musician),

Glenn Priestly (artist), Bob Stacey (art curator), DJ Stover (writer/arts administration) and Paul Wiggins (musician).  Amongst us, we also represented singles, couples and families with children.

1981, 23 June, we officially became Arcadia Housing Co-operative Incorporated; in August we held our first Members Meeting and formally elected our First Board of Directors (same 8 people as listed above); in November, we sent a Letter of Interest to Harbourfront Crown Corp requesting a site, and in December we received Phase I of start-up funding from CMHC; and CHFT was retained as developer.

1982, January we were made aware of a group of visual artists called CATCH (Community Artists of Toronto for Co-op Housing) who were also vying for a site at Harbourfront, and suggested that they join us rather than compete against us for a site.  Thus Gail Geltner, Arlene Mayer and Bina Smith became Arcadia Board Members; in March, we retained Bruce Lewis (the granddaddy of co-op housing law) as our lawyer; in April, Jack Diamond was retained as architect;

(Aside: Jack was almost as well known for his caustic sense of humour as he was for his innovative designs, and he was well aware of the stringent budgets that CMHC allowed for co-op housing developments.  When he looked at our budget, his remark to us was “Well, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but I promise you that you are going to get the best damned sow’s ear that your money can buy.”)

May, Arcadia allocated a site at Harbourfront provided that it encompasses 2 group homes managed by Ceci Homes (alternative supportive housing for children, adolescents and adults, with severe and multiple disabilities)

1984, January Bradsil Construction selected as builder;  November, CHF (Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada) lends $88,000 emergency aid to Arcadia to assure the project’s survival.


In 1981, our application to CMHC for start-up funds was rejected.  However, under the guiding hand of Alexandra Wilson, we re-wrote, and re-applied after becoming an incorporated company, and this time (Dec. 1981) received the start-up funds which we needed to pay retainers and for any services already rendered.

The Board (who were not, never expected to be, and never would be paid) kept meeting every week or two to carry on the business of becoming a co-op.  Normally, the process from incorporation to move-in, took about 3 years.  It took us and the other two Harbourfront Co-ops 6 years which was one heck of a lot of volunteer time.

In 1982, the second problem was overcome when CATCH agreed to join us, rather than compete against us for a Harbourfront site, even though their original aim was to create a co-op for visual artists only.

Then, all hell broke loose.  Harbourfront had broken the terms of its agreement with the city by building several buildings that far exceeded the height limit set out in the agreement.  Also, there was supposed to be mixed income housing on each quay.  Harbourfront had ignored this stipulation also, and all housing developed to that date was for middle to high income people only.  The federal government who had given the land to Toronto as a Canadian Centennial Year gift was as furious as the city over the arrogance displayed by Harbourfront Corp., and put a freeze on any further development on the remaining land.

Additionally CMHC was re-evaluating the success of the housing co-op development program, and finding that it not quite meeting the goals that they had set out for it, and was considering dropping it, or making dramatic changes to it.

How did all this affect the 3 Harbourfront Co-ops?  Would they go ahead as planned?

Oh, for sure.  Umm, well, maybe.

Members from all 3 co-ops got involved politically.  We had to really, or give up, or try to find another site.  Each of us had been recruiting new members through holding information meetings and interviewing applicants; moving forward by working with the architects on design; establishing an organizational guideline by creating by-laws for later approval by members, etc.

Finally, some issues got resolved and construction was slated for September 1984.  Then, alas, another problem with CMHC which got resolved in December and in May 1985, construction began.  Then Ceci Homes withdrew from the project, and the first floor had to be redesigned from its group home set up to Arcadia units.  Also, after many months of negotiation, an agreement is signed by Arcadia, CMHC and Harbourfront Corp. (representing the Crown).  In May 1986, electricians, tilers and sheetmetal workers go on strike, delaying occupancy date from July 1 to August 1st.

But we finally moved in.  Each household had 2 hours to move their stuff in, and then had to give up the elevator to the next household moving in who in turn had their two hours.

And it was a mad house, a scramble, a clamber, a mix-up, a jumble and lots of fun!

For sure.