Tuesday, April 14, 2009

West Hill's "Main Street"

By a strange quirk of nomenclature, West Hill stands as the eastern most gateway to the City of Toronto. Most visitors entering the city via the Kingston Road exit from the 401 have their sights set on the massive towers of the downtown core.

Lets take a moment to see what they may be passing by in their haste.

Today, as always, West Hill has much to offer---

From the West, reaching out toward the very centre of the community is the "Main Street" of West Hill, the Kingston Road. The view here is from the railroad bridge at the Guildwood train station, looking toward where Kingston Road forms a triangular intersection with Lawrence and Morningside to form the Commercial Centre of the community. The City of Kingston was, for a time, the capital of Canada and West Hill was one small community along the long route there from the City of Toronto. The commercial backbone of the community, Kingston Road changes its personality several times as it moves through the heart of West Hill.

Where the major thoroughfares of Kingston Road, Lawrence and Morningside Avenues intersect, the commercial centre of West Hill has grown. Here banks and stores, supermarkets and hardwares, florists and department stores have all found a home. The West Hill Shopping Centre is situated on the north east corner of Lawrence and Kingston Road.

The heart of the triangle is inhabited by a major supermarket and its adjacent plaza. Now a No Frills, the supermarket was for most of its life, a Loblaws. It was here that I and many of my friends got our first jobs and worked our way through high school on Thursday & Friday nights and all day Saturday. The plaza is also home to a drugstore, Brewers retail, Chick'n' Joy, McDonalds and a Pizza Pizza among others

The new Morningside Crossing was completed on the site of the former Morningside Mall. The Mornigside Crossing proper was opened in the summer of 2008, anchored by Shoppers Drug Mart and a Food Basics Supermarket.

Then commerce gives way to trees and lawns, churches, restaurants and motels. This is near the traditional centre of the community where the first homes in the area were constructed and where the West Hill Hotel provided the only social life for miles around. The hotel was torn down many years ago and, after remaining a vacant lot for decades, was replaced by a modern housing development in 2001. West Hill is the first glimpse of the City of Toronto for travelers from the east. Its motels provide an opportunity to rest up from the drive, while its restaurants offer a wide selection from elegant dining to fast foods.

The Kingston Road bridge across Highland Creek is the most distinctive feature of the eastern most entrance to the City of Toronto from the 401 highway. And here our Main Street reaches its Easternmost end and we leave West Hill behind us, with a sad farewell.

But maybe you'd like to stay and party with us a bit longer? Here is a little video I shot of the opening ceremonies at Morningside Crossing last summer.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tips For Joining Fitness Clubs

Tips on Joining Fitness Clubs
By Howard Buchin

Spring is here and many of us think that it’s time to get into better shape. Have you thought about joining a fitness club? Every day we receive flyers promoting numerous kinds clubs, with different kinds of fees, facilities and classes to entice you. Most clubs will need you to sign some form of a membership agreement.

There are clubs tailored to adults only, or other clubs which allow children to attend.

All fitness clubs are governed by the Consumer Protection Act, which means they must disclose any “hidden charges” before you sign with them. As the name hidden charges implies, you need to look closely at any membership agreement. There is usually an extra charge for towels, access to saunas, or exercise mats, or other specialized equipment areas. Make sure you prepare a list of questions ready to ask, in order to find out what your membership fees will include.

Most Clubs have lots of fitness machines such as stationary bikes, rowers, treadmills, weight training nautilus-type machines designed to improve fitness. These machines also help with strengthening and conditioning. You’ll need to decide if you require a fitness evaluation, or the assistance of a personal trainer. There are usually costs involved with testing, as well as fees for personal training sessions, which are sold in packages.

Fitness clubs use various levels of personal trainers & instructors. Ideally the trainers are geared towards helping you to get to the fitness goals set for yourself. A personal trainer can get his/her qualifications from several places. Certification courses are offered by community colleges, and other training courses are offered via the Internet. Obviously, the Internet doesn’t compare to a college level of study. A question to ask might be: “How do your trainers/instructors get their qualifications”? If you’re involved with competitive level sports, you’ll want to work with a higher-level of trainers.

Clubs have varying hours of operation, depending on their clientele. Be certain to enquire about what hours your club is open. Take the opportunity to visit the club at various times of day before you sign up, when you expect to be working out there. Check out if there is sufficient space to allow for the number of people there. Are the change rooms big enough to allow you to be comfortable when you attend?

The Consumer Protection law gives you the right to:
*Change your mind about joining (within 10 days after signing a contract).
*To cancel your agreement within the first year, if you believe you’re a victim of
unfair business practices.
• The right to choose to sign a membership for one year, or renew on a monthly, or bi-monthly basis.

Remember there’s always a possibility of unforeseen scenarios developing. A club can slip down with maintenance and upkeep of the premises.
What if unsanitary conditions do not get addressed? What are the terms and conditions if you want to cancel your membership?

Clubs sales people will likely try to use pressure tactics with statements such as, “You can cancel at anytime for any reason” or “Don’t worry your not bound by the agreement should any unforeseen events such as injury or pregnancy occur.” Clubs generally do their best to protect the clubs own interests, and not yours. I asked to take the club agreements home to read, but the staff refused at both clubs I attended. Remember there are good reasons why the fine print is so difficult to read, quite simply, they acted as if, it would better appreciated if I didn’t read through the contract, or understand what it said. To me, this appears to be an unfair business practice, but it’s not necessarily ‘illegal.’ Remember that anything that requires you r signature, signifies that you have agreed to it.

Initially a club offered a four-month free membership. They wanted me to sign on for a complete one-year membership, which I would have had to pay bi-monthly (from my bank account). They didn’t seem very interested in my paying in advance for the year. One club policy said it would suspend the fees for the time a member was unable to attend, but then tacked the time back on once the member was healthy and attending again.

I noticed that the staff at the clubs I visited made many verbal claims about what would happen in the case of having to suspend my membership, but these weren’t backed up by their contract. Anything you agree to needs to be included in writing, within the membership agreement that your signing.

The agents at the clubs I spoke with inferred that I had no worries by telling me, “You can trust us. We’re your friends.” In fact, the agreement wasn’t too friendly. The terms included late-payment penalties. ‘Failure to pay within 3 days would result in late payment charges.’ Another club had terms included which stated a ‘member would be given a 10-day window in which to pay his fees.’ How the clubs deal with late payments is often left up to the discretion of the club.

If you do intend to join up with a fitness club, I advise the following,
- Do some serious research before hand, are there many complaints about the club.
- Read carefully any contract that you are expected to sign. If any verbal promises are made to you, then these need to be in writing, into the contract.
- Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.

If you have any consumer issues you might need help with please email me at howard.buchin@sympatico.ca