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Sandy Bruce, the man behind the “dog park” THE PARKS OF LEASIDE

Sandy Bruce Park today.

Sandy Bruce Park today. Photo By Robin Dickie.

When Sandy Bruce was hired for the Leaside police force in 1929, his main job was traffic control: the town’s population was only 605, but there were 15 industries and thousands of workers arriving by car, bus, and train.

When he left the Leaside police department 17 years later, the job was different and he was the chief… so they named a park after him. Makes sense.

“Seventeen years later the population had grown to 11,000 with hundreds of commercial and industrial buildings and increasing crime. In 1946, it was time for the town to say goodbye to Sandy,” he added.

To reward him for his years of dedication and service, the Sandy Bruce Park was created in his honour, near the corner of Moore and Bayview Avenues.

It’s about 2.5 acres, has a children’s playground and a well-used off-leash area for the local canines. But despite its noted beginnings, it still remains something of a hidden gem, set behind some high-rise apartment buildings on Bayview Ave.

The naming of parks after prominent figures in the community is a well-established tradition. But beyond the big name there’s often a fascinating tale of a bygone era. Such is the case with Sandy Bruce and the years Leaside started growing up.

“He was a convivial fellow and well liked in the community, although his hard policing skills were limited,” says historian Naulls, whose father, Walter, was a constable under Sandy’s watch.

“Since the creation of Leaside in 1913, the town council directly ran the police department. Every chief was dismissed by the Council including the fourth chief, Sandy Bruce.”

Naulls added, “The police, fire and municipal offices were all set up in the basement of Bessborough School. As Sandy spent most of his time on motorcycle patrol without two-way communication, when police assistance was required the head caretaker at the school was phoned.

“He would then turn on the red light situated on top of the school’s flag pole, the highest point in town. The red-light signal was to alert Sandy that there was a message for him. At night, his assistant, Gord Naggs, would answer calls and pass them on to Sandy.”

It was a system one step removed from smoke signals, but it worked when Leaside was a small town. How much smaller could it be, with the police office in the basement of a school?

Eventually that makeshift office was replaced by an actual police station at the McRae Drive fire hall, including the town’s first jail cell. As the town grew, fighting crime began to be as important as fighting traffic.

The cell is still there today, but you wouldn’t recognize it. It is now part of a day care centre. Just in case the kids get out of hand.