Change of plan for Somerset Square Park

By Neil McKinnon – 

Some local residents have been discussing ways to commemorate a former Kitchissippi city councillor.*

Originally a request made three years ago by the Hintonburg Economic Development Committee (HEDC) and the Hintonburg Community Association (HCA) to rename the Square at 2 Spadina Ave. after the late Shawn Little, community groups and the Wellington West BIA recently decided “Somerset Square” is already too widely used as a place-finding and way-making name for Wellington Street West’s commercial strip.

Wellington West BIA Executive Director, Zachary Dayler, says using the Square’s space to symbolize Hintonburg’s community achievements is a good idea.

Bayview Avenue resident, Cheryl Parrott, moved into the area over 35 years ago and the square was unnamed. In the 90s, Cheryl frequently picked up used drug syringes tossed into overgrown bushes. A few years ago, the bushes were trimmed to deter illicit crimes. She recalls how Shawn took Hintonburg’s safety concerns seriously.

“Shawn represented us during difficult years and he was very helpful in making significant changes in the community,” says Cheryl.

Councillor Jeff Leiper recognizes how some people may find it hard to overlook the fact that in life Shawn Little was a controversial figure. In 2001, he was charged under the Municipal Election Act after an audit showed $2600 overspending in his 2000 campaign. Charges were later stayed when it was found the City’s prosecutor withheld evidence. Shawn was cleared of wrongdoing but he was left with a big debt from legal bills.

Community groups and the Wellington West BIA have decided not to rename Somerset Square after former councillor Shawn Little. 
Community groups and the Wellington West BIA have decided not to rename Somerset Square after former councillor Shawn Little. Photo by Neil McKinnon

Jeff also notes that “if we only ever considered renaming things after perfect people nothing would be renamed.”

“Shawn put pressure on police and city staff to act (on the drugs and prostitution issues in Hintonburg). At the community association level and with the BIA there’s now cohesiveness, energy and a do-it-yourself approach to community building,” he says. “That community legacy is still around today and it’s partly a legacy of Shawn’s. I think what the most engaged people in Hintonburg are asking for is that a piece of geography be used to symbolize the community’s challenges and be named after a community leader who did really, really good work at a certain point.”

Twenty years ago, retired police officer, Jean Lamothe, was a street constable in Hintonburg and Mechanicsville, an area he remembers as “a war zone” for crime.

“Cheryl Parrott always backed [Shawn Little] up. Shawn was forthright in reaching goals and with his help we formed a partnership and cleaned up the area,” says Jean, adding he did most of his arrests around the Square.

Business owners around the Square’s vicinity remember Shawn Little’s work in the community.

Greg Horner, owner of Yen’s Bridal & Designs, recalls one summer Shawn sent him a letter saying how the flowers outside his shop made the area look nice.

“Shawn went to bat for the little guy. He rocked the boat when everyone else was saying ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full.’ And he said what he said. He wanted things done. He put everything on the table. You don’t see that in too many politicians anymore,” says Greg.

Albert Saikaley, owner of Dirienzo & Saikaley Automotive, says Cheryl Parrott should be honoured for her work in the community.

“Shawn was a decent guy who cared about the community. But this area wouldn’t be what it was without [Cheryl and husband Vance Fandry],” says Albert.

During his tenure as councillor, Shawn worked closely with HCA and police. Together they helped form a Landlord School to tackle concerns with several problem rental properties and drug issues that had plagued the community for almost 20 years. HEDC’s first community event was held at Somerset Square. Both Shawn and Cheryl encouraged people to feel safe walking outside their homes and to enjoy the parks.

Known for his campaign slogan “Think Big Vote Little,” Shawn represented Kitchissippi from 1997-2006. In 2003, he was seen as a weak incumbent and faced six challengers. He was re-elected, receiving a 27% plurality. He left politics in 2006 and ran unsuccessfully in Bay Ward in 2010. In 2012, he passed away at age 48 while vacationing in Cuba.

Calls to Shawn’s mother and an email to his brother were not returned in time for publication.

* An earlier version of this article – which was also printed in the March 31 issue of KT – erroneously indicated that a plaque was already approved for installation. This is not the case.

A reader asked us if Somerset Square has ever had a different name. Find the answer, as well as a bit of historical context, right here.

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