By David Nickle
When Daniel Niszcz was looking for places to rent out for Echelon International, his fledgling business running a virtual firing range, he had certain criteria in mind.
It had to be fairly large — big enough to accommodate a projection video screen for the competition-style targets, and a row of shooters, using laser-assisted replica firearms. It had to be easy to get to — East York was ideal — and the price had to be right.
One thing that Niszcz didn’t do when he signed an agreement to rent the basement yoga studio at 371 Danforth Ave. for four Saturdays in December and January was look at a map.
“Honest to God, we were looking up places that were on a list and not on a map,” said Niszcz in an interview with Metroland Media Toronto. “It wasn’t until we arrived there and signed up for a month that we realized (where it was).”
As it turns out, the studio (which is underneath a hair salon) is situated west of Logan Avenue, across the street from Chester Avenue, where on July 22, 2018, 29-year-old Faisal Hussain opened fire with an automatic pistol, killing two, injuring 13 and finally taking his own life.
Ward 14 Councillor Paula Fletcher called the decision to operate the business there “highly inappropriate.”
“I think to open up a simulated firearms business across the street from where two beautiful young women died and so many others were injured is shocking,” she said. “I don’t know of any city bylaws against it but this is a little too real.”
While Niszcz said the shooting range is explicitly devoted to competitive-style sport shooting — and does not use real firearms at all — he didn’t have to be told to move on.
“After reserving the place for a month we did realize exactly the implications of it,” he said. “Even if it’s just for competition shooting, people associate shooting with violence. We put two and two together, and we said, just for honestly taste, don’t do it in a community that’s obviously very, very traumatized by what’s happened.”
And so it was that on Jan. 5, Echelon International hosted its final Saturday of target shooting in the yoga studio, with small groups aiming the guns — which offer a “realistic” recoil — at bull’s-eye and rotating targets projected on one wall of the studio. Later this month, the activity will resume at a new location at 1173 Dundas St. E., well to the south of where the shooting occurred.
It will also be located somewhat further away from its competition in the east end, Durham-based Chimera Firearms Training, which runs out of the Fight Club Russian martial arts studio at Donlands Avenue south of O’Connor Drive.
Like Echelon International, Chimera offers virtual firearms training only in its East York location — shooting ranges with live ammunition are not permitted in Toronto city limits. But in Durham Region, the company offers training for security guards and police on a live shooting range, with former police officers and military personnel providing instruction.
Co-owner Taylor McCubbin said while the East York classes are entirely for entertainment, he is aware of the sensitive nature of the sport.
“I can understand where the councillor is coming from — one of our instructors was actually one of the personnel who responded to that shooting,” he said.
Back on the Danforth, Eastminster United Church Pastor Sarah Miller said she was not that concerned that a virtual shooting range had been operating across the road from the church.
“I wouldn’t want to partake in it … but I’m uncomfortable saying it shouldn’t be here,” said Miller. “I think there was a lot of ‘not in our neighbourhood, we won’t have violence here.’ Well, we’ve got to draw a wider circle and not get into this tribal thing of protecting just what’s ours. Our neighbours are also in Jane-Finch, and they’re also in Damascus. Violence is either nowhere, or it’s just down the street.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version to remove a photo of Daniel Niszcz at his request. Jan. 10, 2019.