The seven-year-old girl above, Amal Syed, came to Canada three years ago from Abu Dhabi. Her father is a computer analyst who left everything behind to give his daughter a first-rate Ontario education. Like many new immigrants, they settled in the inner suburbs, and he enrolled his daughter at the local public school. He was bitterly disappointed to discover what long-time residents of Toronto have known for years—that many of the buildings where we send our kids to learn are old, overcrowded and in desperate need of repair. Amal’s school is an extreme case. Her Grade 2 class is held in a portable—one of 14 at her school that were meant to be temporary but have been there for two decades and are falling apart. Parents complained to the school administration and the TDSB, but to no avail.
All stories by Sarah Fulford
Rishabh Kumar, a Grade 12 student at Earl Haig, is one of those geeky 17-year-olds who love to
wear ties and live to participate in Model UN conferences; he’s already done one at McGill and another at Harvard. This year, he’s the chair of the City Youth Council of Toronto, an association of overachieving students elected from the city’s 44 wards. His Facebook photo is from a meeting with the provincial finance minister, Charles Sousa, displayed as though it were a souvenir of an encounter with a Hollywood celebrity.
Recently, he launched a contest to generate a new name for the proposed downtown relief line, because he thought the word “downtown” made the idea of the subway line unpalatable to suburbanites. Kumar believes Toronto is in big trouble if we can’t get moving on a transit strategy and that a downtown relief line would be good for the whole city. He sees how hard it is to put the best interests of the city forward when Toronto is divided into hostile regional camps. I’m not sure I share the faith he has put in the rebranding effort, but I admire him for trying. Someone has to do something.
My new favourite spot in the city is the rooftop patio of the Corus Quay building, the headquarters for Corus Entertainment, at the foot of Jarvis Street. The building, which opened in 2010, was designed by Jack Diamond and bears his firm’s signature understated elegance. Back in the fall, on a gloriously mild October night, I stood on that deck, and the view was spectacular: dozens of pleasure boats to the south, a vast collection of glistening urban towers, many of them new, to the northwest.
A container ship was unloading barrels of raw sugar at the Redpath refinery—a last gasp of industry in the downtown. The overall impression was of a bustling, densely urban, multi-purpose waterfront.
I was there for a lecture by Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institute, who was in town to promote her book The Metropolitan Revolution, in which she explains how cities can save themselves from urban collapse. She is a compelling speaker, but her message didn’t seem relevant to Toronto. Our big urban problem is the opposite of collapse; it’s rapid growth. We are building at a ferocious rate, attracting 100,000 new residents a year, erecting new buildings on any scrap of land we can find. Our aging infrastructure can’t cope with the robust development.
Editor’s Letter (November 2013): Will stay-at-home dads feel as marginalized as stay-at-home moms once did?
Forty years ago, this magazine published provocative, trend-defining pieces about women entering the workforce. The stories depicted women in business suits—a novelty costume—looking tough, like the characters from the 1988 movie Working Girl. I have a blow-up of a 1970 Toronto Life cover in my office for kitsch value, showing a woman arm-wrestling a man with the headline “The feminists are getting stronger.” At the time, the presence of high-ranking women at the office was disruptive and destabilizing.
Overwhelmingly, the battle for equality fought by the women of my mother’s generation has been won (though women continue to be under-represented in the upper echelons
of power). In certain sectors, women have even surpassed men.
Today, more working-age women in this country have post-secondary educations than men. There are more women than men in Canadian medical and law schools. And, because education has a direct impact on income, the earning power of women in Canada has never been higher.
Before the cronut burger arrived at the CNE and poisoned 200 people with the staphylococcus aureus toxin, the cronut—sans beef patty—was the apex of artisanal baking. It is, essentially, a deep-fried croissant, conceived by a French chef in a lower Manhattan bakery last May. People are still lining up for hours to buy them for $5 each. The bakery makes just 350 of them a day (each batch requires three days to prep) with a two-cronut limit per person. The whole thing sounds made up, like a Seinfeld episode or a skit from Portlandia, but not only is it real, it’s at the centre of the cultural conversation. Mid-summer, the apron-clad cronut inventor appeared on Jimmy Fallon demonstrating how he injects his pastries with
I myself have not had a cronut. Nor have I had a crookie, the croissant stuffed with melted Oreos, baked in Toronto at Clafouti on Queen West. But in the last couple of years, I have eaten some exquisite culinary treats in Toronto, made so lovingly, innovatively and in such small quantities that they attract lineups. The $6 peanut butter milkshake at Rose and Sons diner on Dupont, for example, sounds disgusting (like the cronut) but is a subtle, surprising delight. Rose and Sons is small, and you must show up before the place opens at 9 a.m. to get a table.
Almost two years ago, one of my neighbours proposed we have a block party. We’d close the road to traffic and all hang out together. Other streets in our neighbourhood did it, he said, and it looked like fun. Why not us? He called a meeting one weekend morning, handed out flyers and invited everyone on the block to come. I attended more out of obligation than enthusiasm. Frankly, I was a block party skeptic, put off by the organizational effort required. We would need to get insurance, draft a garbage collection plan, rent road closure signs and submit our proposal to the city for approval. Then, once we got the go-ahead, we’d have to decide on a social itinerary. A talent show? Organized games? A group meal? If yes, what would we eat? A block party planning committee has no natural decision-making hierarchy. What if we all disagreed? The whole thing sounded like a big headache.
I came up with a counter-proposal: a group picnic in the local park. It would achieve the same goals as a block party but with zero advance planning. Someone sends out a Facebook invitation, and next thing you know you’re swapping raccoon stories and gossiping about the monster home renovation on the corner. But I didn’t dare propose it; I didn’t want to be known as the lady who thwarted the block party.
Parkdale on a hot summer night is an exceedingly fun place to be. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat at Grand Electric, the boisterous Queen Street taqueria, you’ll have one of the city’s best fish tacos, in a room with the energy of a university house party. Nearby, there’s the sushi bar Kanji, with 14 types of sake. A few blocks west is Keriwa, the epicentre of the nouveau Canadian cuisine movement. A night out on the western fringe of Queen is a guaranteed good time, full of culinary adventure and people-watching.
Since 2008, more than 30 new restaurants have opened on Queen between Dufferin and Roncesvalles. Rents are low, and the spaces are small—ideal conditions for young entrepreneurial chefs to experiment. And diners can’t get enough, lining up for hours on the sidewalk for tables. Some come from outside the area; others live nearby—they’re the photographers, TV writers, designers and ad agency people who have been scooping up Parkdale’s attractive old houses for a decade or so. The area is creative class central, and real estate prices are rising accordingly; in 2002, the average Parkdale house cost $330,677. In 2012, it was $592,596.
One of the nicest ways to spend a summer afternoon is to go to Trinity Bellwoods Park, find a spot on the grass and people-watch. You see families picnicking with toddlers, cyclists with their dogs, and hipsters with guitars drinking not-very-well-concealed microbrews—all squeezed in so close they’re practically sitting on each other’s blankets. When I lived in the area a decade ago, Trinity Bellwoods wasn’t nearly so busy. Now, like many other downtown parks flooded with condo dwellers in search of green, it’s teeming with life.
There are 2.8 million people in Toronto, making it the fourth largest city in North America, and demographers estimate we could break three million by the end of the decade. Overwhelmingly, the population explosion has made our parks more interesting; they’re evolving into multi-use community hubs. They accommodate our growing roster of farmers’ markets. They host outdoor movie nights. They double as open-air galleries during Luminato and Nuit Blanche and as stages for theatre and dance performances.
We all have places in Toronto we like to show off to guests from out of town. In the summer, I take my visiting friends to Kensington Market or the Brick Works. If they have young kids, I take them to Centre Island. When it’s cold or rainy, I take them to the AGO. Now there’s a new destination on my list: Regent Park. The $1-billion transformation won’t be complete until 2019 (or thereabouts), but big swaths are already built. It’s not just a fascinating and unique experiment in mixed-use housing, it’s also a surprisingly fun place to hang out.
This year, in our fifth annual Reasons to Love Toronto package, we feature two buildings in the new Regent Park development—the ultra-modern, light-filled public pool (page 58) and the Daniels Spectrum cultural complex (page 72), which has, astonishingly, 10 performance spaces. The fact that the Regent Park revamp appears twice on our list is fitting: no municipal project quite as ambitious has happened in Toronto in my lifetime, and this is the year it has started to bloom.
Rob Ford has many fans. According to a poll conducted by Forum Research a couple of days after Sarah Thomson accused Ford of groping her, 43 per cent of Torontonians said they approved of the job he is doing as mayor. The pollster tried to explain Ford’s popularity to a Toronto Sun reporter. No bad press ever sticks to Ford, he said. “He’s made of Teflon.” I don’t think that’s exactly right. I suspect that Ford’s gaffes, his brushes with the law, his peculiar malapropisms and hysterical outbursts endear him to much of Toronto.
He’s unpolished and sincere—rare qualities in a politician. We live in an image-conscious age when even low-level public figures have press advisors. And yet Ford never seems fake. During the speech he gave after he won his conflict of interest appeal (the one in which he said the experience of being almost ousted was “very, very humbling”) he looked beaten down, sad and vulnerable. I wondered if he was perhaps a little disappointed that he still had a job. We know that he often sneaks away from the office to coach football. If he were unemployed he could coach full time, without fear of rebuke.
Shayne Hughes, the CEO of a California-based business consultancy called Learning as Leadership, recently put a moratorium on interoffice emails. He defended his experiment in Forbes magazine by explaining that he wanted to force his employees to communicate with each other in person. He’s the latest in a line of corporate leaders to encourage face-to-face interaction by prohibiting email. Over the last few years, executives at Intel, Deloitte and Veritas, among other companies, have all instituted versions of the same idea.
The trend is part of an ongoing attempt to address some of the alienating aspects of the digital age: the computer, an otherwise spectacular communication tool, often prevents us from actually talking to each other. Many open-concept offices have been rendered eerily silent as workers spend their days emailing back and forth. In my office, days go by when I don’t know if a colleague who works on another floor is even in the building.
In grade school, I was taught that Canada embraces multiculturalism, whereas the United States is a melting pot. The notion was drilled into me year after year: we celebrate our diversity and encourage the preservation of our ethnic heritage, whereas Americans assimilate. Boy, were my teachers wrong. Toronto is a melting pot if ever there was one. It’s true that this city hosts dozens of ethnic festivals every year, and that we like to trumpet our cultural differences, but we also assimilate within a couple of generations.
According to the 2006 census, interracial pairings are growing at a much faster rate than same-race marriages, leading to a new cohort of hyphenated Canadians. It’s a phenomenon I witness all around me. Friends of mine in their childbearing years struggle to come up with names for their babies that work in both the mother’s and the father’s cultures—because so often those cultures originate at opposite ends of the globe. They want to give their kids names that fit into the little segment that overlaps on the Venn diagram of their respective backgrounds: Japanese-Jewish. Dutch-Jamaican. Chinese-Norwegian. Iranian-German. Hence some unusual Facebook birth announcements: Boaz, Asher, Raya, Lev, Emine.
I myself have never had sex in public. As it turns out, I’m in the minority. An astonishing 65 per cent of Torontonians claim to have done it in public, according to our first ever survey of who’s doing what to whom. Where? Everywhere, apparently: the Casa Loma parking lot, the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies at U of T, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, to name just a few spots. In this special issue about sex, we reveal how, behind our buttoned-down exterior, we are exuberant sexual adventurers.
In the last decade or so, Toronto has seriously loosened up. Where sex is concerned, this city is remarkably open-minded, especially compared with many cities in the religious, moralistic U.S. Pleasure seekers have access to an ever-expanding array of options, thanks to legions of clever entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on our desires. We can instantly and secretly connect with illicit lovers online, or fulfill a fantasy in one of the countless massage parlours across the city, or spice up a relationship at a sex club like Wicked or Oasis Aqualounge. Our sex-focused shopping and entertainment guide on features several above-board ways to get it on, including a regular pop-up dance party with the irresistible name “No Pants, No Problem.” Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Over the past year or so, a particular breed of talented Torontonians made it big. Sheila Heti’s quirky semi-autobiographical novel How Should a Person Be?, about a bunch of Toronto artists struggling to live life authentically, became an influential bestseller, endorsed by Girls creator Lena Dunham. The music world gushed over the moody R&B artist The Weeknd, otherwise known as Abel Tesfaye, a 22-year-old of Ethiopian descent from Scarborough, who was discovered in 2011 by his pal Drake and is now filling stadiums all over
The music journalist John Norris called Tesfaye the best musical talent since Michael Jackson. And the filmmaker Sarah Polley recently released two movies: Take This Waltz, a much-admired romantic comedy set in Toronto, and Stories We Tell, a riveting, critically acclaimed documentary about her complicated Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
David Mirvish’s plan to tear down the Princess of Wales Theatre and build three 80-plus-storey Frank Gehry–designed condo towers on King Street isn’t very popular. When he announced his intentions, the city’s pessimists were quick to complain: the towers were too tall, too garish, too dominating, and would add way too many new people to a downtown core already straining from rapid expansion. I’m not sure the project’s critics are right. Global cities have giant, imposing towers that seem vaguely threatening. They have unusual skylines. They are impossibly dense. Skyscrapers can be exciting and dramatic, which is what the Gehry towers promise to be. At the very least, I admire the ambition of the project. David Mirvish, who already wields influence in Toronto as both a theatre impresario and an important collector of 20th-century art, is about to make an indelible mark on the cityscape. His father, Ed, occupied a significant role in the city, and now Mirvish is using the money and the position he inherited on his own terms.