Best Of Toronto – Cityscape

Rating: NNNNNBEST BRIDGE TO CONTEMPLATE THE PASSAGE OF TIME: Queen CROSSING THE DON Photo: David LaurenceThe city's bridges.


Rating: NNNNN


BEST BRIDGE TO CONTEMPLATE THE PASSAGE OF TIME: Queen CROSSING THE DON

Photo: David Laurence

The city’s bridges span our links to the past. The majestic Prince Edward marks the beginning of Toronto’s ambitions, its growth across the Don. The double-arched Humber River forms a gateway along an aboriginal trading route that used to link Lake Ontario to the north. But only on the Queen overpass, which features artist Eldon Garnet ‘s installation Time: And A Clock, can one connect with the imperceptible movement and rhythm of time. We’re coaxed first by the words in big letters flowing like a wave of water over a clock atop the steel girders: “This river I step in, is not the river I stand in.” Then by meditations on time sunk into the concrete at Broadview (“Distance = Velocity x Time,” “Too soon Free from Time.”) And finally by the steel banners at Empire that stand frozen but flapping — “Coursing, Disappearing, Trembling, Returning” — even when there is no breeze. And the Don rushes on.

BEST NEW BUILDING SHARP CENTRE FOR DESIGN: 100 McCaul

Photo: David Laurence

More elegant developments are soon to be added to the city’s skyline. The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts , the Royal Conservatory of Music TELUS Centre , by Kuwabara Payne McKenna and Blumberg Architects, and the National Ballet School ‘s $90 million expansion, as well as a number of recent additions on the campuses of our colleges and universities, come to mind. But for sheer bravado, Will Alsop ‘s internationally recognized “flying tabletop” on stilts is quite simply out of this world — it looks like a just-landed giant spaceship. And it gets our nod for revolutionizing the way staid Toronto, with its cookie-cutter designs, thinks about architecture and urban form. Approach from the north and marvel at the way the siding-clad underbelly looks like it’s taking off over the top of the CN Tower in the distance. Walk the corridors inside and feel the illusion of flight. And it does all this while providing pedestrian access — and not blocking the view — to Grange Park. Toronto hasn’t seen anything like this since Viljo Revell’s City Hall 40 years ago. Simply sensational.

BEST COMMUNITY PARK: Dufferin Grove 875 Dufferin, 416-392-0913, www.dufferinpark.ca

Photo: David Laurence

It has a clay-and-straw structure built by locals and a newletter that rivals the neighbourhood papers. Dufferin Grove is one patch of green you can chalk up to community. So much is going on here, from bread rising in the communal oven to the weekly organic farmers market, that you can easily forget it’s right across the road from a mall. Besides a grassroots open-air theatre, it’s got the sort of playground we all wish we’d had as tots, including a huge sandpit with running water, and toys for anyone to use. The Grove is like the Internet with trees — it connects to everything.

BEST USE OF A DEAD TREE: carving of three fates on stump Kew Gardens Park, Queen

East and Lee Sculptor Shane Clodd , whose works include a sculpture garden carved from recycled hydro poles in Pickering, got the idea to carve the three Fates of Greek mythology — Clotho (past), Lachesis (present) and Atropos (future) — in Kew Gardens Park after the city was forced to fell 25 oaks for safety reasons. Clodd thought the oaks should be transformed into works of art “to compensate for the loss of these great trees and to enrich the experience of attending Kew Gardens.” Parks and rec was slow to agree but eventually provided light and electricity so he could complete the work. The result is a detailed masterpiece incorporating mythological signs, symbols and figures into the faces of the Fates. Clodd has proposed other sculptures, including two 3-metre totems containing mythological figures “to act as a reminder of [our] commitment to bettering [ourselves] physically, mentally and spiritually.” We love it that these trees offer beauty and tell stories long after they’ve fallen in this forest.

BEST OUTDOOR BASKETBALL COURT: dixon park

Dixon Road between Kipling and Islington It’s regulation sized and the only outdoor court in the city whose claim to fame is that former Raptor Vince Carter sank the first basket. Carter’s Embassy of Hope Foundation donated the $130,000 it cost to build the facility in 2003. It’s hard to imagine a basketball court offering hope. That kind of story is only supposed to be writ in the urban tangle of the U.S. But for the enormous number of youths who call the nearby high-rises in this western reach of Etobicoke home, the square of asphalt and concrete provides more than just recreational diversion. It’s a stage on which life lessons are learned.

BEST CITY INITIATIVE: clean and beautiful city

The green bin composting program has, unlike any effort since the creation of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don in 1989, fired our eco imagination. And on a political level, the City Of Toronto Act is perhaps the most important political initiative undertaken by council since the founding of Toronto in 1834. But it’s vision that makes a city great. And on that front, the mayor’s Clean And Beautiful City campaign is about more than just cleaning up litter and graffiti and putting up horticultural displays. It’s about, as the mayor reminds us, fostering civic pride and public engagement. It’s about reshaping our urban landscape. It’s about despising mediocrity and thinking big. It’s about making Toronto spectacular.

BEST MEMORIAL: HOMELESS MEMORIAL, CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY 10 Trinity Square

We’ve built monuments to our war dead, canonized the famous who’ve changed the course of our city’s history and celebrated the lives of those who’ve died from the ravages of AIDS. But if a homeless person dies alone on the street, does anybody hear? On the steps of the Church of the Holy Trinity , the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee has been gathering on the second Tuesday of each month since October 2000, the year city council declared homelessness a national disaster, to say a prayer, sing a song and add names to a computer print-out in a display case that’s part of a makeshift memorial of a different kind — one for the mostly faceless and nameless. It’s not just so they can be remembered, but so they may prompt us to action to end homelessness.

BEST PLACE TO COMMUNE WITH THE DEAD: NECROPOLIS CEMETERY 200 Winchester

The Victorian Gothic peak that marks the entranceway to the city’s oldest cemetery casts an eerie shadow. And the gravestones of the 36,000 souls buried here are literally everywhere — perched precariously on what were once the banks of the Don, scattered in tiny vales hidden behind trees and in row upon row in corners overgrown with grass. Visitors must always watch their step lest they inadvertently trip and stir the souls of the ancients. Indeed, the lumps that have regrown over limbs cut down by wind or lightning make faces in the dark. Even in the clear light of a beautiful day, leaves twirl to the ground from the maples above as if being called by the dead to dance. Perhaps it’s because the ghosts of too many children who died too young lie here, or the restless souls of those wrongfully hanged for their part in the MacKenzie rebellion, but at the Necropolis not all the departed rest in peace.

BEST PLACE FOR BIRDWATCHING: LESLIE STREET SPIT

With a long shoreline and network of ravines, we’re blessed with prime birding real estate. But the Spit , a dump site turned inadvertent sanctuary, is a feathered wonderland. Every year, thousands of waterfowl congregate from late fall to early spring, and songbirds, shorebirds and waders splash through during spring and fall migration. In winter, look for black and white long-tailed ducks, common goldeneyes and small buffleheads, all of whom swoop down from Arctic and boreal regions to luxuriate in our ice-free waters. Wild swans, escapees from dull lives as ornamental birds on landscaped ponds, are stunning sights. Honourable mention to High Park , where in autumn, north of the restaurant, birders meet for the Hawk Watch, the best migrant raptor viewing in any urban location in the world.

BEST PLACE TO GET IN TOUCH WITH BLACK HISTORY: inglenook community school 19 Sackville, 416-393-0560

Few local sites remain that attest to the rich history of blacks in Toronto. Thankfully, some are still standing. St. Lawrence Hall was for a time the centre of the anti-slavery movement in Canada. Osgoode Hall , where in 1861 the case of John Anderson established a clear precedent against allowing former slaves to be extradited to the U.S., holds a special place in black history, as does the Broadview home of William Peyton Hubbard , a baker who was elected alderman in 14 consecutive elections. Yet Inglenook Community School in Corktown, where the home of former Kentucky slaves Thornton and Lucie Blackburn once stood, takes the honours. Excavated as part of a Toronto school board black history project in 1985, the site reminds us that 19th-century black Torontonians were able to find work, open their own businesses and become prominent members of the community. Thornton Blackburn waited tables in the Osgoode Hall dining room, started the first cab company in Upper Canada and was recognized with his wife in 1999 by the Canadian government as “Persons of National Historic Significance” for their contribution to Toronto’s growth. The couple are buried in the Necropolis Cemetery among some of Toronto’s most prominent historical figures.

BEST PLACE TO realize we’re on native land: tabor hill ossuary Memorial Park, Bellamy north of Lawrence

Every day we quite literally stomp all over what was once native land. “Toronto” in Huron means fish weir, a place where people gather to harvest fish. But few sites of native significance are memorialized like the Tabor Hill Ossuary , two pits excavated in 1956 that hold the remains of about 470 natives, believed to be 15th-century Iroquois. Archaeologists from the ROM who discovered the site say the graves show signs of being part of an ancient ceremonial reburial that followed the relocation of a native village. Some area villages date back to the 14th century. The bones were reinterred in 1961 in a special ceremony held by the city of Scarborough attended by several First Nations reps. It’s also one of several stops in the semi-annual Great Indian Bus Tour , organized by the Native Canadian Centre . Centre spokesperson Monica Bodirsky says the purpose of the tour is “to show what’s under the concrete and steel in terms of where the First Nations foundations are.”

BEST DEVELOPMENTAL PROPOSAL: regent park redevelopment Bordered by Shuter, Parliament, River and Gerrard

Most of the the dozen-odd waterfront redevelopment proposals currently in the planning stages have the potential to redefine our cityscape . But aside from the West Don Lands and East Bayfront projects, they’re more likely to be mired in bureaucratic infighting than to become reality any time soon. The ambitious 28-hectare Regent Park redevelopment being spearheaded by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation is not only breathtaking in scope but rights a decades-old disaster in social housing planning. Its proposals for open spaces, mixed use and environmentally sustainable neighbourhoods (rainwater will be collected to irrigate trees) and art celebrating the area’s cultural heritage will revive and reintegrate an isolated neighbourhood.

BEST SITE DESERVING OF A HISTORICAL PLAQUE THAT DOESN’T YET HAVE ONE: Yorkville

For its legendary place in local rock lore Yorkville had its own Town Hall and coat of arms until 1883. And the Rock, a huge piece of granite trucked hundreds of miles from the Canadian Shield to Yorkville Park, has taken its place in local lore as a resting place for drunken stars in town for film shoots. But why isn’t there a plaque or piece of art to honour great homegrown rockers Neil Young , Joni Mitchell , Gordon Lightfoot , David Clayton Thomas and other musical forces who blew through Yorkville’s coffee house and club scene during its hippie heyday? Perhaps a hippie walk of fame is in order.

BEST LOCAL TOURIST ATTRACTION you’ve never heard of: swing between buildings Alleyway behind Queen west of Portland

The alley running along Queen West from Portland has been dubbed Rush Lane. And it is a rush taking in the walls covered in dreamy spray-painted graffiti. But the object that most intrigues the odd tourist floating by to admire the artwork or those on Graeme Parry ‘s laneway tours is a lone swing on chains tucked behind iron bars in a narrow space between two buildings. The bars are bent back to permit entry, but only the brave dare venture in — the tight confines and garbage piled beneath make a ride a shoulder-scraping proposition. How did it get there? It’s the work of local artist Corwyn Lund , who erected the swing in 2003 as part of a group show on guerrilla projects at YYZ Gallery. He also produced a video documenting how he had to make like a rock climber to install the swing’s anchor high above the alley floor.

BEST HIKE: ROUGE PARK George Pearse House, 2262 Meadowvale

There are so many great nooks and crannies to get lost in, but avid hikers will tell you you haven’t hiked in T.O. until you’ve roamed in Rouge Park . Breathtaking trails wind through 12,000 acres of forests, meadows, wetlands, beach and, of course, rolling glacial Oak Ridges Moraine hills. Perhaps the most scenic is accessible by jumping on the Scarborough 86 bus to the Zoo, then setting out from the historic Pearse House, near the entrance, through wooded brush that yields to gorgeous cliff-top views of the Rouge River, followed by a riverbank stroll among noshing beavers hard at work. Too far? Our runner-up follows Highland Creek from Colonel Danforth Park at Kingston Road north of Lawrence all the way to the Scarborough Bluffs. For details on both these urban escapes, check out www.torontohiking.com.

BEST PLACE TO PEOPLE-WATCH: Trinity Square Park Behind the Eaton Centre

The labyrinth marked by pavers in the middle of this little-known green space is what makes it a great place for curiosity seekers. Inspired by the 13-century stone labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France and designed to resemble an urban medieval park, Trinity Square’s “walking meditation” offers a different kind of people-watching — a glimpse inside the minds of those on a spiritual path to healing or just looking to escape into their thoughts from the buzz of the city. Go any time of day and you’re bound to find everyone from Yorkville types in high fashion to punks in nose rings contemplating the twists and turns of life in the dozens of hairpins that make up the maze.

BEST DAILY NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST: christopher hume, Toronto star

It’s slim pickin’s in a city crowded with dailies but overrun with conservative scribblers or columnists who are just tired. The Toronto Star’s architecture and urban affairs columnist, Christopher Hume , is the best in town. His work is well-researched and -written, and he’s an aesthetic realist, unafraid either to dream or to piss off all political camps. The Globe’s John Barber would be a closer second if this one-time star weren’t guilty of succumbing to grumpiness, cynicism and self-important smugness. He’s still pretty important, but not as essential as Hume.

BEST OLD BUILDING: ST. LAWRENCE HALL 157 King East

Designed in the neoclassical style by architect William Thomas and opened after the Great Fire in 1850, St. Lawrence Hall is without a doubt the most prestigious of our old buildings. In its heyday, the Great Hall was Toronto’s social and cultural centre, playing host to some of the 19th century’s greatest performers. It’s also one of only a handful of places left in Canada where the Fathers of Confederation first pitched the idea of a Dominion of Canada. Indeed, it’s on this site that the city’s first City Hall stood and where the papers were signed that turned Muddy York into Toronto. Less known is the huge role the Hall played in bringing an end to slavery in the U.S., by hosting the North American Convention of Coloured Freemen in 1851 at which leading
abolitionist Frederick Douglass was a keynote speaker. After a period of decline, the building was almost destroyed, only to be saved from the wrecking ball and restored by architect Eric Arthur as part of centennial celebrations in 1967.

BEST SWIMMING POOL: Riverdale pool Broadview, south of Danforth

The multi-purpose Riverdale pool edges out long-time fave Sunnyside , the deco delight with the beautiful Lakeshore setting. Riverdale , once a frigid Olympic-sized beast, was then reinvented but still boasts a huge adult swim area with clearly marked lanes. Besides its great view of the city and cool concrete bleachers that are great for sunbathing, the re-pool also features a huge shallow children’s play area that’s safe and goofy, with oversized sprinklers. A healthy contingent of easy-going gay men has staked out a sunning area at the adult end of the immense pool, and an easy co-existence prevails. Not nearly as spectacular but still a great downtown dip is hidden atop the hideous Holiday Inn on King Street. The ugly Inn features a pleasant rooftop pool with a breathtaking view non-guests can use it if they order food from the pool snack bar.

BEST Human Rights Activist: Matthew Behrens

This guru of non-violent resistance has spent over two decades fomenting fun and frenzy while campaigning against corporate greed and militarism. His latest org, Stop Secret Trials, is the main source of solace to five Muslim victims of overwrought post-9/11 security measures, four of whom are still incarcerated on secruity certificates following a process we should all be ashamed of. Shockingly, Beherns’s group is the only org doing full-time monitoring of a state leaning toward deporting for torture. But this is just the latest in his rebel resumé, which includes hurling fake blood at the Legislature, protesting war toys while dressed as the Easter Bunny, taking on Loblaws as one of Santa’s elves for an anti-hunger campaign, and pressing to turn Moss Park Armoury into digs for the homeless. The best news is that Behrens, who has had the most arrests of any Toronto activist at any time, does resistance training for all who would learn his craft. It’ll be a better world with a raft of Behrens clones out there in demoland.

BEST EXPORT TO THE WORLD’S POOR: Stephen Lewis

Where do old politicians go when they give up the hustings? Law firms and golf courses. Not the former head of the Ontario NDP, who took his social democractic principles and went to sit by the bedsides of the sick and dying in the poorest places on the planet. He may sport out-of-fashion specs, but the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS, who has seen way too much suffering, can make a stone weep with his lilting cadences and billion-dollar vocabulary. Good thing, too. Last year he pushed the feds to allow drug companies to export cheap generic AIDS drugs. “I want someone to explain to me why it isn’t called murder,” he said of Big Pharma’s unwillingness to share the meds. Send funds to the Stephen Lewis Foundation (www.stephenlewisfoundation.org).

BEST DEFENDER OF PUBLIC HEALTH CARE: DR. MICHAEL RACHLIS

It’s not easy to penetrate the Byzantine arteries of our medicare system. But who you gonna trust to fix stuff when right-wing crazies want to junk it all and go private? That would be policy wonk Michael Rachlis , author of Prescription For Excellence: How Innovation Is Saving Canada’s Health Care System. Armed with examples of patient-friendly care models, he thinks creativity and rationalization will rescue our public system, extra billing be damned. He pushes team medicine boosted by nurse practitioners and a greater role for non-pharma therapies and disease prevention. Charming that he sprinkles his speeches with Tommy Douglas quotes: “Courage, my friends, ’tis not too late to make a better world.” Honourable mention to the Ontario Health Coalition , which is dogging liar Dalton McGuinty over P3 hospitals. He says they’re public they prove they’re privatized and that $3.3 billion in public cash is drifting to for-profit medicine.

BEST QUEER ACTIVIST: George Hislop 1927-2005

He was first in so many ways: the first queer activist the first openly gay man to run for public office co-founder of the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT), T.O.’s first gay organization the first recipient of the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association’s Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Award, honouring his contribution to the advancement of gay equality founder of Gay Day, which eventually became Pride spearhead for the stunning rally against the 1981 bathhouse raids. Though he received hate calls all the time in those early days, he refused to take an unlisted number. He couldn’t, he said, in case somebody wanted to talk. Even as he was suffering from esophagal cancer, he led a campaign to get the feds to give survivor benefits to widowed same-sex partners. First in courage, first in changing the lives of T.O. queers. R.I.P.

BEST ADVOCATE OF MINORITY RIGHTS: Dudley Laws, black action defence committee 944A St. Clair West, 416-656-2232

We’re a multicultural city where most people get along. But we’ve also had a fiery history when it comes to race relations. Many individuals and groups have fought the good fight for racial harmony and challenged us to think about our own prejudices as well as systemic barriers faced by visible-minority Canadians: Karen Mock , Avvy Go , Tam Goossen , Zanana Akande , Lincoln Alexander . But Dudley Laws of the Black Action Defence Committee is a force who endures, not only in the area of police-black community relations, but in challenges facing blacks in the education system. BADC is one of a coalition of 20-odd groups calling for black-focused schools. Over more than a quarter-century in race relations, Laws has dared to to tell it like it is, even when the truth hurt and dried donations to the point that BADC’s ramshackle offices had to be temporarily closed. Laws’s radical pitch hasn’t always ingratiated him with the public or, for that matter, with more conservative members of his own community. Still, he’s been willing to suffer the slings, including attempts by police to discredit and silence him. Others fight for the cause. Laws has the scars to prove it.

BEST DEFENDER OF PUBLIC EDUCATION: Annie Kidder

Lots of parents join the PTA, but few keep showing up at meetings long after their kids graduate. Annie Kidder , on the other hand, had several hundred parents rallying at Queen’s Park as soon as the Harris cuts to education hit her children’s school in the 90s. And to this day People for Education , the org she co-founded back in 96, keeps slamming out report after damning report on skyrocketing drop-out rates, overcrowded classrooms and added stresses on urban schools. While Minister of Education Gerard Kennedy gloated about his new mandatory exercise initiative earlier this month, Kidder was there to point out that only 30 per cent of elementary schools still have a gym teacher. For all that and for eternally battling for fully publicly funded education for all, we commend her.

BEST ACTIVIST GROUP: toronto public space committee www.publicspace.ca Of the many groups doing good works in our wonderful city, among them OCAP and others promoting the environment, the Toronto Public Space Committee has more than any other led the discourse on city-building and been a champion of creativity at a time when our public spaces are under siege. From beating back concrete culture, huge video screens, monster garbage bins and the proliferation of advertising on our streets, to beautifying efforts that include guerrilla gardening, TPSC sees protecting public spaces as a fundamental pillar of a healthy democracy. What a concept.

BEST ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATION: Toronto Environmental Alliance 30 Duncan, 416-596-0660

We’d hate to imagine what this city would look like if the Toronto Environmental Alliance hadn’t been formed back in 88. Its heavy-hitting research and persuasive lobbying efforts helped stop the dumping of toxic chemicals down our drains, ban pesticides on lawns and put green bins on every doorstep. They’re dynamo detectives when it comes to sniffing out loopholes that might be open to abuse and digging up dirt on things like Ontario’s plan to burn rather than recycle used tires. And where would we be without TEA’s annual Smog Report Card? (Hey, these are the folks who wrote Toronto’s original Smog Action Plan.) On air quality, energy, transit, waste, water and toxics, TEA has our backs.

BEST ENVIRO PROJECT: enwave’s deep lake water cooling initiative

We love our windmill and can’t say enough about the rooftop gardens bursting out everywhere. A huge number of businesses big and small also deserve credit for their conservation efforts. But it’s Enwave , which counts the city as a shareholder, that’s truly shown us the potential for energy savings by taking our largest resource, the lake, and turning its energy into a natural coolant for downtown buildings. Eight major office towers have been hooked up since 2004, including the TD Centre and Royal Bank Plaza. The eco benefits have been astounding. Besides reducing harmful A/C emissions, the system frees some 61 megawatts from the overburdened electrical grid and removes about 79,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air — equivalent to taking 15,800 cars off the road. The best news is that Enwave has barely tapped its potential. It has enough capacity to chill 100 buildings.

BEST SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY: Solar cells that run on infra-red energy

Professor Ted Sargent of the U of T’s department of electrical and computer engineering and his team have developed microscopic solar cells that run off the infrared energy of the sun. The particles can be painted or sprayed onto surfaces and used as portable electricity. Cars coated in the stuff could keep their batteries charged sheets unrolled in the desert could keep homes lit. The composite could even be sewed into clothing. Imagine: iPod running low? Just plug it into your shirt.

BEST GREEN BUSINESS: MONDIAL ENERGY 416-698-6190

This outfit not only created the fabulously groundbreaking Beach Solar Laundromat (2240 Queen East, 416-712-1488), but it’s also moved into funding solar water-heating projects all around town. Then, just this month, Mondial Energy announced North America’s first solar cooling project, to deliver hot water and air conditioning to a Ukrainian long-term care facility in Etobicoke. Got a renewable energy project you need funded and orchestrated? Give this innovative company a call. Honourable mention goes to BullFrog Power for being the first supplier of green energy we can all tap into. In fact, Beach Solar turned to these guys to fill the energy gaps it couldn’t generate on its own.

BEST ETHICAL INITIATIVE OF A MAINSTREAM BUSINESS: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts

We asked all sorts of ethical business savants who’d they’d nominate in this category, and again and again we heard something that initially surprised us. Turns out Fairmont , the Toronto-based chain of worldwide luxury hotels, is taking the green lead. Besides making sure every piece of paper, coat hanger and bar of soap from every room is reused or recycled, Fairmont Hotels has been retrofitting all its Canadian bathrooms, installing water-conserving shower heads, toilets and tap aerators for well over a decade now. More recently, it has ensured that all organic waste is composted and all golf courses are being accredited as wildlife sanctuaries. Every property competes for annual trips and prizes for being the greenest in the chain. The Lake Louise site even generates its own wind and low-impact hydro energy. And to help other hotels and businesses catch up, Fairmont put out a how-to greening guide with a forward by David Suzuki.

BEST SOCIAL ENTERPRISE: FOODSHARE 200 Eastern, 416-363-6441

The frenetic non-profit entrepreneurs down at Foodshare ‘s Eastern Avenue hive show there’s no contradiction between feeding the people and fighting the power. Talk about a crowded agenda – these anti-corporate foodies pump nutrition, sustainable farming, social justice and self-help community institutions. They send out 4,000 boxes of fresh produce a week, set up salad bars in schools, provide cooking training for at-risk youth, open their industrial kitchen to would-be entrepreneurs and manage a catering, composting, seedling and beehive biz. World-wise exec director Debbie Field believes changing hearts and changing the system are simultaneous activities, so don’t expect her to peddle a junk food ban in high schools. Everyone, she says, chooses well when there are tasty options. P.S.: Can be applied to social change movements everywhere.

BEST CITY COUNCILLOR: Pam McConnell Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale

Council’s left wing is stacked with a number of impressive politicos, all of them hardworking. We haven’t always been taken with Pam McConnell ‘s more strident tendencies, but the 21-year veteran of Toronto Centre-Rosedale and former school trustee has really come into her own. Her work on the police services board, where she served as chair until recently, has been formidable, the best we’ve seen in these parts since the glory days of Susan Eng. Ditto for her work on the waterfront as a member of both the waterfront reference group and waterfront issues subcommittee. At the grassroots level, McConnell has continued to be a strong voice for women, youth and children living in poverty and for tenants. She was also instrumental in bringing the Wellesley Community Centre, the first built since amalgamation, to St. James Town.

BEST MODEL OF WHAT WE WANT POLITICIANS TO BE: FEDERAL NDP LEADER JACK LAYTON

It’s a dirty, dirty business up there on the Hill, where social policy is made by dealing and dodging. Lucky us – we’ve got a party leader up there who spent two decades as a city councillor honing his skills as a negotiator among neanderthals and pushing ecology, people’s power and peace. Fresh from the social movements, crafty Jack Layton is skilled at sneaking around obstacles – witness his spurring of projects like the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, deep lake water cooling, the first urban wind turbine, Don River cleanup and so much more. Now, with the NDP holding the balance of power, the intense-talking cyclist is using the same stealth. Last spring he wrested $4.6 billion in social service spending from the desperate PM, the first NDP federal budget in history. And he says he won’t play ball till there’s more. Watch while he strong-arms Libs over federal standards in health care. An election looms. Clue in at www.ndp.ca.

BEST COMMUNITY GARDEN: moss park community kitchen garden

Shuter and Jarvis Alex Wilson Community Garden on Richmond West, named after the late landscape designer, community activist and writer, is perhaps best known. But Moss Park ‘s, opened in 2000, was key to transforming a barren and troubled park into a naturalized oasis and gathering place. A separate children’s garden and fruit trees have recently been added. Providing more than tasty veggies and fresh herbs for new immigrants in nearby towers and a learning tool for underprivileged area youth, Moss Park’s gardening spot, which also features beautiful native grasses and flowers, is cultivating community spirit in a too-often neglected corner.

BEST DEFENDER OF OUR HERITAGE: THE COMMUNITY HISTORY PROJECT 719 Yonge

A number of individual citizens have played key roles in saving and restoring key heritage properties — Sheldon and Judy Godfrey (the Bank of Upper Canada) and Michael and Anne Tippin (the Flatiron Building as well as some of the oldest commercial buildings in the city). But very few have done as much as the Community History Project , this year’s winner of Heritage Toronto’s Community Heritage Award. Since 1983, CHP has been conducting walking tours and collecting historical material, and has been at the forefront of efforts to save older buildings in Yorkville, the Annex, Poplar Plains, Casa Loma and Wychwood Park, including the only known early Canadian tollhouse. CHP founder Jane Beecroft has herself spearheaded the study of some 250 lost historical sites as well as a project to provide books to native libraries throughout the province. She received the Ontario Medal of Good Citizenship in 2001 for her work.

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