Quotulatiousness

October 24, 2014

The joys of public transit

Filed under: Personal, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

As you may have noticed, the pace of posting here on the blog has gone down a bit this week, as I haven’t had as much free time in the morning as usual: I’ve been commuting into Toronto. The good part is that my destination is quite close to Toronto Union Station, so I can take the GO train in rather than driving.

Yesterday, I just missed my train:

That's my 08:31 train departing the platform. I got to the head of the stairs just as the doors closed. Fortunately there's another train not long afterwards (although it's not an express, so it takes longer).

That’s my 08:31 train departing the platform. I got to the head of the stairs just as the doors closed. Fortunately there’s another train not long afterwards (although it’s not an express, so it takes longer).

October 15, 2014

60 years after Hurricane Hazel

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:08

John Stall marks the 60th anniversary of the devastation caused by Hurricane Hazel in Toronto:

On Oct. 15, 1954, the hurricane made landfall near Myrtle Beach, S.C. and ravaged islands in the Caribbean and Bahamas.

The effects of the hurricane pounded Toronto with winds topping 110 km/h, washing out bridges and homes.

Around 285 millimetres of rain fell in 48 hours, causing the Humber River to breach its banks, leading to destruction in the Toronto area. Bodies were also carried away as far away as Rochester, N.Y.

In Toronto, more than 30 people died on Raymore Drive — a street that runs parallel to the Humber River, just south of Lawrence Avenue, alone.

The storm claimed the lives of 81 people in southern Ontario and left thousands homeless.

Published on 7 Nov 2012

In October 1954 disaster struck the Humber Valley in Toronto when Hurricane Hazel came inland 960 km from the Carolina coast. Archival film footage and old photos reveal the tragedy unfolding as 10 metres of water came down the valley trapping people in their homes and cars and sweeping them down river. Emergency services were called in to help and volunteers perished as they were struck by a wall of water. Eighty-one people died, 4,000 families were left homeless and flooding rivers took out 20 bridges. Hazel changed the landscape forever leading to dams and water conservation, park and ravine management, and laws banning home building on flood plains.

October 6, 2014

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise a kid”

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 18:18

Kathy Shaidle on the decline of Toronto’s “Village”, once the second largest gay neighbourhood in North America:

I wasn’t exactly “the only straight in the Village” but sometimes it felt that way. Back then, the stretch of Church Street from Bloor as far as Gerrard was replete with rainbow flags, gay-owned/friendly establishments, and their sometimes disturbingly clone-y patrons. Alongside bars like Sailor and the Barn Stables, gift shops dealt in pink triangle lapel pins and Joan Crawford-themed birthday cards. Zelda’s, with its drag-queen-trailer-park-themed décor, was a beloved brunch destination.

On residential offshoots like Charles and Maitland, homes and gardens were lovingly, even competitively, tended. For Pride (which grew in length from a single summer day to a whole month during my tenancy) and “gay Christmas” (Halloween), festive decorations were hung early and often. “Any excuse for a party” was a phrase you heard almost as frequently as “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” Even the rare misanthropic gesture screamed “gay,” like the fellow who strung colored lights on his balcony to spell out “FUCK XMAS.”

Then, slowly, over the course of a decade, “pop and pop” neighborhood anchors like the Priape sex shop gave way to tacky “breeder” franchises, like fake British pubs and pizza joints. Perversely, the Second Cup demolished its famous “steps,” which had long served as the Ghetto’s 24/7 public square.

The Village took on the grim, grimy atmosphere of an off-season amusement park.

If you’re thinking “AIDS,” think again. I would have predicted the same cause once upon a time, as the 1990s saw more and more skeletal figures shuffling along the sidewalks, until they became names inscribed on the memorial in the same notorious park where the living still stubbornly cruised for sex and drugs.

But gay and straight observers alike agree: it wasn’t low T-cells but low interest rates that emptied out the Ghetto. Lifelong renters — like me — could suddenly afford homes of their own, but not in Boystown, where even a dilapidated house listed in the high six figures. Gays started colonizing (and, predictably, beautifying) new neighborhoods where buyers could get more house for their money: Cabbagetown, Leslieville, and even the once unthinkable Parkdale (now nicknamed Queer Street West).

August 24, 2014

200th anniversary of the only foreign occupation of Washington DC

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

In History Today, Graeme Garrard tells the tale of the burning of Washington in 1814:

When James Madison, fourth President of the United States and ‘Father of the Constitution’, signed a declaration of war against Britain on June 18th, 1812 he could scarcely have imagined that two years later he would be fleeing from his burning capital before the invading enemy. At the start of the ‘War of 1812’, the first the US had declared on another nation, his friend and predecessor as president, Thomas Jefferson, had smugly declared that the war against Britain’s colonies in what is today Canada would be ‘a mere matter of marching’. As Madison abandoned the White House on horseback with his entourage and raced towards Virginia on August 24th, 1814 he stopped and looked back as he beheld the ruined city of Washington. The smoke from flames that engulfed it could be seen as far away as Baltimore, Maryland. Although he left no personal account of his feelings about these shattering events, the normally imperturbable president must have been deeply shaken by the turn they had taken, as were most Americans. What his many domestic critics had derisively branded ‘Mr Madison’s War’ had led to the only foreign occupation of the US capital in its history. Soldiers and marines under Major-General Robert Ross and Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn put Washington’s public buildings, including the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, the Treasury building, the State and War Departments, the historic Navy Yard and the President’s House (as the White House was then known), to the torch. Exactly two centuries later, few people in the United States or Britain are aware of this national humiliation, the ‘greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms’.

Why were the British so determined to burn the government buildings in Washington? Revenge for the Americans having done the same thing to York the previous year:

The Americans were as dejected and enraged as the British were elated by the effects of the occupation. The reserved and stoical Madison returned to Washington as soon as the British had departed. Unable to live in the President’s House, he took up residence at the home of his brother-in-law. His wife soon joined him, exclaiming when she saw the ruined capital: ‘Such destruction, such devastation!’ The secretary of state James Monroe, Madison’s successor as president, cursed the British troops as ‘all damn’d rascals from highest to lowest’ for torching the capital. He seems to have forgotten that American troops had done much the same in 1813 when they occupied the undefended city of York (now Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada (now the province of Ontario). Then they had burned the colony’s legislative and judicial buildings, plundered its public library and destroyed private property. Indeed, the Governor General and military Commander-in-Chief of British North America during the war, Lieutenant-General Sir George Prévost, wrote that, as a ‘just retribution, the proud capital at Washington has experienced a similar fate’. When the news reached London a month later of the British retaliation, guns outside Parliament and the Tower of London boomed a joyous salute, a reaction echoed throughout the colonies of British North America, particularly in York.

August 22, 2014

QotD: More similar than different – Rob Ford and Justin Trudeau

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Over the last year, as Rob Ford’s stock has fallen and Justin Trudeau’s has soared to new media driven heights, your humble correspondent has been fascinated. These men are not, as they seem, polar opposites. They are in fact quite similar. It’s only the surface features that are different. Let’s review:

Neither man is especially bright. Ford has a BA in political science from Carleton which is, only technically, a university. Trudeau did, in fairness, attempt an engineering degree so we’ll give him the edge when it comes to smarts. Perhaps he is one of those men who is cleverer with numbers than with words. Whatever their actual differences in raw intellectual power both men are surprisingly inarticulate.

This is obvious with Rob Ford who treats the English language like a sailor treats a Marseilles whore. With Justin it’s a bit harder to detect because he doesn’t actually sound dumb, he merely says dumb things. It’s a clever trick managed by many practiced politician; the ability to sound more intelligent than you are while disclosing nothing in particular. He speaks mostly in platitudes and when he is forced off the Buy the World a Coke routine he fumbles badly. This suggests that he has been well rehearsed. By whom is a matter of debate.

Then there is the vision thing, to borrow from the Elder Bush. Rob Ford’s vision is to stop the Gravy Train. What is the Gravy Train? As far as can be made out it’s over the top spending at Toronto’s City Hall. This he has mostly accomplished. Beyond the Gravy Train we get a little lost. There is little in the way of a comprehensive program of reform. It’s a kind of inarticulate rage at government that never coalesces into a clear goal. Once the minor privatizations and ritual sackings are done with, what’s next? What is Rob Ford vision for Toronto? Subways are nice but a big city needs more than tunnels to Scarborough.

If Rob Ford is angry at something he can’t really explain, Justin is optimistic about something he has no clue about. This is one of their few real differences. Rob Rages and Justin Soothes. Neither is saying much of anything, but the latter sounds very nice while doing so. The former rants about Fat Cats and the latter about how cute kittens can save the country. Both men are, in sense, speaking in platitudes. The questions is what kind of platitudes do you prefer? Angry or vapid?

Richard Anderson, “Rob vs The Raccoons”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-08-20.

July 2, 2014

Toronto transit map, with real-world station descriptions

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:56

Tyler Snowden tweeted this last year and Andrew Coyne retweeted it today:

TTC map in real life

June 10, 2014

Andrew Echevarria uses Tinder to connect with Trinity-Spadina voters

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:45

Liam asked if I’d covered the innovative voter reach-out campaign being conducted by Libertarian candidate Andrew Echevarria in the Trinity-Spadina riding:

Andrew Echevarria Libertarian Tinder postMuch like love, wooing voters sometimes requires dabbling in the art of seduction.

That’s how MPP hopeful Andrew Echevarria sees it. The Ontario Libertarian Party candidate for Trinity-Spadina is using Tinder to connect with young people in the downtown riding, hoping to score votes the same way others score dates.

“I catch their eye,” said Echevarria, who joined the online dating app recently. “Tinder is a great moment to catch someone when they’re just hanging out.”

Toronto Tinder users may recognize the dark-haired, well-suited Echevarria as they swipe left and right through the app’s GPS-enabled library of potential romances. He set his search limit to the scope of the riding and has already been inundated with love connections.

However, he keeps his intentions up front.

“Tired of dating the same old politicians who lie just to get your ballot? Hook up with Liberty!” he teases, listing his age as 24. Those interested can “swipe right to debate or learn more.”

About 50 people — 60 per cent men, 40 per cent women, Echevarria guesses — have swiped right.

While it might sound like a gimmick, the neuroscience grad from the University of Toronto said he genuinely believes Tinder is an effective way of enticing students and young professionals who are unfamiliar with libertarian politics, which he says are defined by “the protection of individual rights and freedoms.”

May 28, 2014

QotD: The voters

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

There is, so to say, good news and bad news for democratic European Unionists. The good news is that, for the first time, voter turnout actually increased from the previous election to the European Parliament. Just over 43 percent of the eligible bothered to vote, up 1/10th of 1 percent. The bad news is that so many of these voters selected parties devoted to the destruction of as much of the European Union as possible.

We are laughing, up here in the High Doganate. Or rather, no, we are not laughing, it is all a pose. Still, there is a glint of recognition, gleeful in its own way. The voters, especially in England and France — the pioneer “Nation States” from the later Middle Ages — appear to have been motivated by something akin to the feist that came over the municipal electorate in the Greater Parkdale Area, the last time we voted. That was when we chose the notorious drunkard and drug addict, Rob Ford, to be our mayor. As polls since have repeatedly confirmed, we knew what we were doing. We had a task for him. It was to destroy as much of the vast municipal bureaucracy as possible. Our instruction was: “Keep smashing everything you see until they take you away.” Finesse would not be required, and the licker and crack might be an advantage.

One may love “the people,” without being especially impressed by them. They are stupid, but as the stopped clock, there are moments when they are stupidly correct. These are very brief moments, but let us enjoy them while we can.

David Warren, “Hapless Voters”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-05-26.

May 13, 2014

Nash the Slash, RIP

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:51

CBC News reports that Nash the Slash has died:

Nash the SlashHe started the independent record label Cut-Throat Records, which he used to release his own music. Among his albums was Decomposing, which he claimed could be listened to at any speed, and Bedside Companion, which he said was the first record out of Toronto to use a drum machine.

His biggest hit was Dead Man’s Curve, a cover of a Jan and Dean song.

More recently, he played at Toronto’s Pride Festival and toured up until 2012. In 1997 Cut-Throat released a CD compilation of Nash the Slash’s first two recordings entitled Blind Windows. In 1999 he released Thrash. In April 2001, Nash released his score to the silent film classic Nosferatu.

Plewman retired in 2012, bemoaning file-sharing online and encouraging artists to be more independent. “It’s time to roll up the bandages,” he wrote.

In the last few years, Plewman also became a vocal supporter of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

He will be remembered for his experimental ethos as well as his unusual stage presence.

“I refused to be slick and artificial,” Plewman wrote of his own career.

There has not been word on how the musician died.

H/T to Victor for the link.

Update: Kathy Shaidle has more.

April 21, 2014

Toronto subway delay due to “graffiti on exterior” of one train

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:27

No, I don’t really get it either:

April 14, 2014

You can tell it’s really Spring in Toronto

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:10

The weather forecast for today and tonight contains a little bit of everything:

Update: The rest of the story:

With spring now well over three weeks old, the snow tires are off, the yard work has begun, and the boots and parkas are already at the back of the closet

However, winter weather is expected to make a comeback on Tuesday, as much of the province will see a major swing in temperatures and a mixed bag of precipitation.

Temperatures are expected to plummet from a high of 21 C on Monday to a low of -7 C on Tuesday night, with the potential for freezing rain and snow.

Ahead of winter’s reappearance, it will be a warm day for parts of southern Ontario on Monday as temperatures may reach the mid-twenties mark.

Environment Canada has once again issued a “special weather statement”, which they seem to do every other day recently. It’s not a storm warning or even a storm watch, but just a “hey, there’ll be some weather!” kind of thing. A communication tailored to the fact that weather is now treated like celebrity news in a lot of media markets.

March 13, 2014

Olivia Chow and the co-op housing controversy

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:44

In the Toronto Star, Bob Hepburn looks at how about-to-be-declared mayoralty candidate Olivia Chow will handle the renewal of the accusations that she and Jack Layton were living in subsidized co-op housing (despite earning very high salaries) in the late 1980s:

Chow fully expects to be under constant attack from Ford Nation fanatics and the more vocal supporters of candidates John Tory, Karen Stintz and David Soknacki as a “tax-and-spend” downtown New Democrat who is supposedly out of touch with middle-class and suburban voters.

But the nastiest attacks will centre on a 1990 story about how Chow and her late husband Jack Layton were living cheaply in a subsidized downtown Toronto co-op housing building designed for low- and moderate-income families.

Chow and Layton’s combined income at the time was about $120,000. The rent on their three-bedroom apartment was just $800 a month.

Because the story is now 24 years old, many of today’s voters have never heard of it. Others, though, have a long memory, are still furious about what they call “a scandal” and won’t let it die.

“You mean the Queen of Public Housing, sponging off of the taxpayer,” one reader emailed me last week after I wrote a column about how Chow was all set to enter the race. “I would call that theft,” he added.

“What annoys me about her is how righteous she can be,” a female reader wrote yesterday after Chow had resigned her federal seat, referring to Chow’s background fighting on behalf of the poor while at the same time having lived in housing predominately meant for lower-income families.

[...]

In June, 1990, the Toronto Star published a story inside the paper, not on its front page, about how Layton, then a city councillor, and Chow, who was then a public school trustee, lived in a three-bedroom apartment at the federally subsidized Hazelburn Co-operative at Jarvis and Shuter Sts.

At the time, Layton earned $61,900 a year as a councillor plus $5,000 as a University of Toronto lecturer. Chow earned $47,000 a year as a trustee. One-third of their salaries was tax-free.

Their annual income was double what was considered as a “moderate” family income in Toronto. Provincial co-op housing officials said they knew of no other couple in Ontario living in a co-op unit whose income was as high as Chow and Layton’s.

It may have been a “manufactured” scandal, but it certainly tainted Layton’s image in local politics and it’s no surprise to find that Chow’s opponents are eager to bring the issue back to the public debate. Colby Cosh is probably right here:

December 23, 2013

Induced aversion to a particular Christmas song

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media, Personal — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Earlier this year, I had occasion to run a Google search for “Mr Gameway’s Ark” (it’s still almost unknown: the Googles, they do nothing). However, I did find a very early post on the old site that I thought deserved to be pulled out of the dusty archives, because it explains why I can — to this day — barely stand to listen to “Little Drummer Boy”:

Seasonal Melodies

James Lileks has a concern about Christmas music:

This isn’t to say all the classics are great, no matter who sings them. I can do without “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example.

It’s the “Bolero” of Christmas songs. It just goes on, and on, and on. Bara-pa-pa-pum, already. Plus, I understand it’s a sweet little story — all the kid had was a drum to play for the newborn infant — but for anyone who remembers what it was like when they had a baby, some kid showing up unannounced to stand around and beat on the skins would not exactly complete your mood. Happily, the song has not spawned a sequel like “The Somewhat Larger Cymbal Adolescent.”

This reminds me about my aversion to this particular song. It was so bad that I could not hear even three notes before starting to wince and/or growl.

Back in the early 1980’s, I was working in Toronto’s largest toy and game store, Mr Gameway’s Ark. It was a very odd store, and the owners were (to be polite) highly idiosyncratic types. They had a razor-thin profit margin, so any expenses that could be avoided, reduced, or eliminated were so treated. One thing that they didn’t want to pay for was Muzak (or the local equivalent), so one of the owners brought in his home stereo and another one put together a tape of Christmas music.

Note that singular. “Tape”.

Christmas season started somewhat later in those distant days, so that it was really only in December that we had to decorate the store and cope with the sudden influx of Christmas merchandise. Well, also, they couldn’t pay for the Christmas merchandise until sales started to pick up, so that kinda accounted for the delay in stocking-up the shelves as well …

So, Christmas season was officially open, and we decorated the store with the left-over krep from the owners’ various homes. It was, at best, kinda sad. But — we had Christmas music! And the tape was pretty eclectic: some typical 50’s stuff (White Christmas and the like), some medieval stuff, some Victorian stuff and that damned Drummer Boy song.

We were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts over the holidays (extra staff? you want Extra Staff, Mr. Cratchitt???), and the music played on. And on. And freaking on. Eternally. There was no way to escape it.

To top it all off, we were the exclusive distributor for a brand new game that suddenly was in high demand: Trivial Pursuit. We could not even get the truck unloaded safely without a cordon of employees to keep the random passers-by from snatching boxes of the damned game. When we tried to unpack the boxes on the sales floor, we had customers snatching them out of our hands and running (running!) to the cashier. Stress? It was like combat, except we couldn’t shoot back at the buggers.

Oh, and those were also the days that Ontario had a Sunday closing law, so we were violating all sorts of labour laws on top of the Sunday closing laws, so the Police were regular visitors. Given that some of our staff spent their spare time hiding from the Police, it just added immeasurably to the tension levels on the shop floor.

And all of this to the background soundtrack of Christmas music. One tape of Christmas music. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

It’s been over 20 years, and I still feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck with this song … but I’m over the worst of it now: I can actually listen to it without feeling that all-consuming desire to rip out the sound system and dance on the speakers. After two decades.

December 18, 2013

“For a while, I thought it was just Mayor Ford, but what I‘ve realized is Canadians are much, much weirder than any of us had any idea they were”

Filed under: Cancon, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:27

Uh-oh. I think this Kimmel guy is finally on to us…

It had been a while since the late night talk show hosts zeroed in on Rob Ford, but at least one of them poked fun at the Toronto mayor and city council Tuesday night.

On ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host played a video clip of Ford and other councillors dancing during their council meeting earlier in the day.

“What the hell is going on?” asked Kimmel. “Are they all on crack?”

Ford and several councillors danced to a performance by a local jazz trio in a rare moment of fun in what has been a highly charged venue of late.

“One minute they’re yelling at each other and the next they’re dancing all around the room,” joked Kimmel, who added that the “Mayor Ford experience” has been very educational.

“For a while, I thought it was just Mayor Ford, but what I’ve realized is Canadians are much, much weirder than any of us had any idea they were,” joked Kimmel.

December 16, 2013

It was thirty years ago today

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:27

York County Court HouseElizabeth and I got married in Toronto on this date in 1983. It was a bit of a race to get to the courthouse on time — my so-called best man decided that he had to go back to Mississauga “for a shower” that morning, and was quite late getting back into Toronto. Trying to get a cab to hurry in downtown Toronto traffic was a waste of effort, so I very nearly missed my own wedding. Elizabeth was not pleased with me holding up the show (even though I could rightfully claim it wasn’t my fault). The rest of the day is rather a blur to me now.

Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara-on-the-LakeWe had the reception that evening at a lovely house in the Playter Estates (during which my father tried to pick a fight with Elizabeth’s uncle), and then set off for our very brief honeymoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake the next day. We could only afford two nights at the Prince of Wales hotel, and because we got married on Saturday, we were in NOTL for Sunday and Monday nights. Back in 1983, Ontario still had fairly restrictive Sunday closing laws, so there was very little to do — almost everything was closed. (And that was probably for the best, as we had almost no money to spend anyway…)

Chateau des CharmesOne of the few businesses we found open in the area was the original Chateau des Charmes estate winery (not the huge, imposing facility of today: a small industrial-looking building a few kilometres away), where the only person on duty was Mme Andrée Bosc who gave us an exhaustive tasting experience and showed us around the winery. Neither of us were experienced wine drinkers, so this was wonderful for both of us. I’d love to say that we started our wine cellar that day, but that would only be partially true: we bought about a dozen bottles of various Chateau des Charmes wines, but we couldn’t afford to restock after those had been opened. We visited the winery every year on our anniversary for about a decade, until we got out of the habit of going back to NOTL (which was around the time our son was born).

After our brief honeymoon, we both had to go back to our jobs. Very shortly after that, my employer (the almost-unknown-to-Google Mr Gameway’s Ark) went bankrupt, which was financially bad timing for us, having just spent most of our tiny cash hoard on our honeymoon.

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