June 25, 2015
May 21, 2015
Despite having become the editor-in-chief of The Walrus, poor Jonathan Kay suffers the slings and arrows of all those who condemn and ridicule his
ridiculous choice of transportation ebike (especially from his own staff):
City planners think of transportation in terms of its logistical and infrastructural components. That’s also how the issue gets discussed in the context of, say, energy conservation and traffic management. But when it comes to the transportation products we actually buy, our utilitarian calculus is overwhelmed by our aesthetic biases. When the Segway scooter had its great reveal in 2001, few observers cared about its groundbreaking self-balancing technology. All they saw was a nerd standing upright, wearing a funny helmet.
It is a lesson I have learned again over the last year, at great cost in dignity and personal reputation, as I have motored around Toronto on an ebike — a zero-emission electric scooter that travels at speeds of up to 32 km/h. As I noted in an essay last year, ebikes combine the low cost and convenience of a bicycle, while allowing a user to get to work without an ounce of sweat or a stitch of lycra.
In a more perfect world, the streets of our cities would be humming with ebikes. But that is not the world we inhabit. After a year of evangelizing these fantastically useful, earth-friendly contraptions among my peer group, I’ve failed to gain a single new convert.
Just the opposite, in fact: I have become a figure of overt and willfully cruel mockery.
April 10, 2015
Well, technically it’s the CBC’s website, but still it’s nice to see the band getting a bit of exposure:
March 19, 2015
… but I hadn’t heard that Hell had actually frozen over. Because that’d be the only possible explanation for a headline like this one:
Is Scarborough, Ontario the dining capital of the world?
Wednesday night I was taken on a restaurant tour of Scarborough — four different places — plus rolls from a Sri Lankan locale, consumed in the office of the Dean of UT Scarborough and with the assistance of Peter Loewen.
After that eating, and lots of driving around and looking, I concluded Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude. I hope you all have the chance to visit Scarborough, Ontario.
Update, 20 March: The Toronto Star‘s Lauren Pelley reports on Tyler Cowen’s recent visit to Scarborough and his discovery of the area’s impressive range of high quality ethnic food.
Over the phone from his office at George Mason University in Virginia, Cowen noted that people in Toronto seem to perceive the new, hip restaurants to be elsewhere. “But it seems to me, you don’t come close to this part of town,” he said.
Rick Halpern, dean of UTSC and Cowen’s tour guide last Wednesday, agreed that most people are fixated on the downtown core. “No one goes east of the DVP,” he lamented.
Cowen’s post is making the rounds online, and sparking discussion on blogs and Reddit. Scarborough is “a foodie’s best kept secret,” as one commenter put it, though it’s no secret to locals.
“I would say that people who are into food, and who have a car, explore Scarborough and other suburbs,” said Jennifer Bain, the Star’s food editor, who has highlighted many of the area’s offerings over the years — including Uighur fare from Scarborough’s Chinese Muslim community, sweets from local Filipino bakeries, and the global flavours of Hakka Chinese food, to name a few.
March 15, 2015
In a post somewhat misleadingly titled “Narrow-gauge railways”, David Warren comments on Toronto’s still-extant streetcars:
We have trolleys still, in Toronto. For decades the bureaucrats have been trying to get rid of them, and replace them with “environmental” buses, but praise the Lord, He has always put something in their way. I mentioned gauge earlier, and I wanted to explain what makes the city so special. It is the unique gauge of our trolley tracks: four feet, ten and seven-eighths. Our new, articulated, “environmental” streetcars — high-tech and incredibly expensive, compared even to the last round of million-dollar cars — had to be specially adapted to this gauge. It was selected in the nineteenth century by the city fathers, and for good reason: so that no other train in Canada, or on the planet for that matter, could ride on our rails. They were prissy, these fine old Orangemen: they didn’t want freight trains shunting downtown, the way they then did in Hamilton and elsewhere, with their steam and coal-dust billowing everywhere. They wanted electric, “environmental” streetcars. The Greater Parkdale Area has been under the tyranny of the do-goods for a long time.
Actually, if I remember correctly, the streetcar gauge was adopted more to keep out the radial railway companies than to prevent freight from intruding into Toronto’s urban streets.
March 2, 2015
David Warren on the oddly named “Digby Chicken” and “Bombay Duck” along with a paean to the joys of food shopping in Parkdale:
Parkdale, which is to say, the inner core of the Greater Parkdale Area, in which the High Doganate is located, is a melting pot of innumerable overlapping ethnications. Among our most exotic immigrants are those from the far east: Nova Scotia, for instance, and Newfoundland. Shopping, at least for food in Parkdale, is a treat. We have every sort of specialist grocery, and in effect, groceries within groceries. One gets one’s Tibetan yak sausage, for instance, from a Serbian butcher whose store is cowboy-themed; ingredients for one’s Somali maraq from the Sinhalese grocery (via their Maldivian connexion); but the exhilarating, cardamom-infused gashaato instead via the Sikh Punjabis, as supplement to their Bengali sweets. Note, this culinary cross-dressing is the opposite of multiculturalism. Rather I would call it, “downmarket fusion.”
This being Lent, I try to avoid fish on Fridays. There’s enough of that for the other days, beans on rice will do, or perhaps sinfully on the last two Fridays, I indulged a craving for sweet potato in a Siamese red sauce. I woke this morning with a craving for salt, as well as protein, and as God is merciful, recalled to mind a little platter of Digby chicks in my fridge — obtained some days before from the Maritime ethnic section of a cheap local supermarket.
Digby Chicken has long been Nova Scotia’s answer to Bombay Duck. The latter, also salty, and so powerful in flavour and scent that it requires careful packaging, is actually a fish, the bummalo. Gentle reader may already be trying to construct an etymology from that, but there is no hope for him. The fish is actually harvested from the waters off Bombay. It was transported from there by rail, in the good old days of British Imperialism, aboard the Bombay Dhak (i.e. the Bombay Mail), which gave rise to such expressions as, e.g. “You smell like the Bombay Dhak.” Surely, that will be enough to go on.
February 10, 2015
Richard Anderson supplies the appropriate level of disdain:
It’s always nice when a big important magazine notices Canada. It’s also a big important British magazine. Even nowadays it’s extra special when mother says we’ve done so very well for ourselves. Did we mention the solarium we’re having installed? The Americans don’t have a solarium. Just thought we’d mention that. We got a great deal with the contractor. Excellent references.
Torontonians are known through out our fair dominion for two things: Having a gigantic tower that is no longer the most gigantic in the world and being incredibly smug. The original logo for Toronto actually featured a very smug looking beaver carefully ignoring the rest of Canada. If you paid close attention it was obvious the beaver was looking at New York but in a very nonchalant sort of way.
I hate it when The Economist or the OECD or UN or the OAS or whoever the hell puts out these surveys. Like most rankings the whole thing is a bit of numerical legerdemain. A recurring example of how the easiest way to bullshit your way through life is to use numbers. In what real common sense way is Toronto better than Sydney? Did you talk to someone who has lived in both cities?
Didn’t bloody think so. That would be journalism.
As a native Torontonian I would like to ask the editors of The Economist, those non-byline using smug bastards, why they think Toronto is so wonderful? Yes I know you visited here one summer for a conference. You strolled down Bloor Street and bought something at the Roots Store or Holts. It was so terribly clean and the homeless people were so very polite. Have you lived here? Would you ever in your right mind move from Chelsea to the Annex? Exactly. You’d prefer to be cramped and gouged in London than less cramped and less gouged in Toronto. Why? Because it’s friggin’ London! The potholes are older and more historic than the whole of Toronto.
December 31, 2014
Many years ago, when we lived on “the Danforth”, we were occasional patrons of “The Big Carrot”, an early retail store for the self-consciously “alternative” set. If you wanted gluten-free, or dairy-free, or fair-trade, they were almost the only game in town in the late 80s and early 90s. The selection may not have been great at times, but they did try to provide a variety of foods that you couldn’t get at the mainstream supermarkets of the day. The employees seemed to be mostly good, helpful folks, but almost to a person the customers were incredibly self-centred, self-righteous, arrogant, and intolerant. I don’t know how the staff put up with the constant childish antics and unending whining from the customers. Whole Foods is a much bigger enterprise than Toronto’s Big Carrot … and they seem to have attracted exactly the same customer base:
The problem with Whole Foods is their regular customers. They are, across the board, across the country, useless, ignorant, and miserable. They’re worse than miserable, they’re angry. They are quite literally the opposite of every Whole Foods employee I’ve ever encountered. Walk through any store any time of day—but especially 530pm on a weekday or Saturday afternoon during football season — and invariably you will encounter a sneering, disdainful horde of hipster Zombies and entitled 1%ers.
They stand in the middle of the aisles, blocking passage of any other cart, staring intently at the selection asking themselves that critical question: which one of these olive oils makes me seem coolest and most socially conscious, while also making the raw vegetable salad I’m preparing for the monthly condo board meeting seem most rustic and artisanal?
If you are a normal human being, when you come upon a person like this in the aisle you clear your throat or say excuse me, hoping against hope that they catch your drift. They don’t. In fact, they are disgusted by your very existence. The idea that you would violate their personal shopping space — which seems to be the entire store — or deign to request anything of them is so far beyond the pale that most times all they can muster is an “Ugh!”
Over the years I have tried everything to remain civil to these people, but nothing has worked, so I’ve stopped trying. Instead, I walk over to their cart and physically move it to the side for them. Usually, the shock of such an egregious transgression is so great that the “Ugh!” doesn’t happen until I’m around the corner out of sight. Usually, all I get is an incredulous bug-eyed stare. Sometimes I get both though, and when that happens, I look them square in the eye and say “Move. Your. Cart.” I used the same firm tone as Jason Bourne, with the hushed urgency of Jack Bauer and the uncomfortable proximity of Judge Reinhold. From their reaction you’d think I just committed an armed robbery or a sexual assault. When words fail them, as they often do with passive aggressive Whole Foods zombies, the anger turns inward and they start to vibrate with righteous indignation. Eventually, that pent up energy has to go somewhere, and like solar flares it bursts forth into the universe as paroxysms of rage.
December 20, 2014
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”:
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 Gameways’ 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 trying to grab 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 [now 30] 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.
November 5, 2014
As I’ve said in posts during the election campaign, I probably wouldn’t have voted for either of the Ford brothers were I still living in Toronto, but I understand why a lot of Toronto voters feel differently. That much being acknowledged … I don’t think a Doug Ford campaign for leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party would be a good idea (and not just because the front-runner in the race is my MPP). Richard Anderson seems to feel the same way, but he bases his objections on reality rather than just inchoate feelings:
At the final tally Doug Ford captured 34% of the popular vote in the recent Toronto election. With more time he would likely have captured another 5% to 10% of the vote. It’s unlikely that any member of the Ford family would reach 50% in a three way race. In a two way race, against a half-way competent moderate, they’d almost certainly lose. But Toronto is not Ontario. Not even close.
While the Imperial Capital is certainly more Leftist than the rest of the province, it’s also more working class. That’s the Ford base, the low and semi-skilled workforce that can really only exist in a large dense city. In the vast sprawl lands of Mississauga and Markham the Fords are incredibly toxic.
A provincial premier is not a mayor. The Premier of Ontario is the second most powerful individual in the country. In a real and practical sense it is the ruler of Queen’s Park who acts as the Leader of the Official Opposition of Canada. The only thing Tom Mulcair can do is rant and rave at Stephen Harper. Kathleen Wynne can thwart a whole range of federal policy initiatives. That’s the power that comes from leading a province with 40% of the population and nearly half the national economic output.
Now imagine Doug Ford negotiating with Stephen Harper or Jim Prentice. You can’t really. Even if there is a bit of ideological overlap their styles are so radically different. For all his faults Harper is loaded to the rafters with gravitas and intelligence. Jim Prentice is a smooth old political operator. Either man can move with ease through the Petroleum Club or the Empire Club. They can deal with Obama, Cameron, Putin and whatever animatronic robot is currently ruling China.
October 27, 2014
I haven’t lived in Toronto for a couple of decades — and when I did, the city hadn’t been amalgamated so the role of the mayor was much more symbolic than real: the mayor had peers in North York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, East York and York. Now, the psychological stakes are higher even though the role of the mayor hasn’t changed all that much — still only one vote on council, but the advantage of the bully pulpit. That said, the voters in the former city of Toronto often feel that the mayor should “really” represent them more than those uncultured swine in the former satellite municipalities. The place is still called Toronto, but the sensibilities of former city of Toronto voters are affronted that the barbarians in the suburbs inflicted the Ford brothers on them. In a sense, Rob Ford was an over-sized middle finger gesture by the rest of Toronto directed toward those effete downtown snobs.
At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson mulls who Torontonians should be voting for (or against):
With days to go we are confronted with two choices here in the Imperial Capital: The polished millionaire non-entity or the white trash millionaire bruiser. It is in moments like these that the vasty fields of Saskatchewan beckon with unusual strength. What are housing prices like in Regina anyway? What’s the price for a Toronto-sized shoe box without the Toronto sized traffic and political idiocy? This used to be a boring city placed within a boring province. It’s gotten very interesting of late and in the very worst way. I miss Mel Lastman. Heck I miss Art Eggleton, if such an emotion is even possible.
The Toronto Sun, a usual bastion of populist common sense, has decided to endorse John Tory. Given the farce that has dominated municipal politics these last twelve months I can’t blame them. The Fords have become so terribly embarrassing. Vulgar, crude and probably violent as well. Respectable people can no longer abide by the Fords’ antics. John Tory could not be more respectable. He says all the right things in all the right ways. The Right respects him, the Left respects him and the Centre looks upon him as a long-lost lover miraculously returned. Who are we to oppose?
Then there is Team Ford. Rob, Doug and whichever brother is currently running the family business. I don’t think I’d ever invite any of them over for tea. They have a natural ability to alienate those around them. It’s almost a talent. They have a flare for screwing things up. Toronto has never seen anything quite like them and will likely never again. A god awful mess. They are, however, the only conservatives running in this election. A house trained Doug Ford would likely do more to trim municipal government than John Tory. The latter needs to be liked but the former doesn’t give a damn. Therein lies the difference. One is a carefully managed artifice and the other is a sincere disaster.
What I like most about the Fords is their lying. They lie like children. Attempts at deception, misdirection and deflection are so obvious they have a kind of charm. Beneath the trailer trash manners and the millionaire bank accounts they are actual, albeit deeply flawed, human beings. These are rare enough traits that they should be encouraged.
I don’t want a smooth mediocrity bankrupting Toronto, or striking half-baked compromises with the Left. If the Imperial Capital is going to go, let it go with a bang and not a well-heeled whimper. Let’s have Doug Ford’s fat blond figure standing right in the middle of municipal politics for the next few years. For sheer obstructionism he can’t be beat. A clear message to the great and good that there is a mass of people in this city who no have interest in being patronized to.
October 24, 2014
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:
October 15, 2014
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
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
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.