as chosen by Matthew Behrens, NOW's 2005 winner for Best activist
Willats's ubiquitous political presence in Toronto goes back to the 1970s. She is everywhere -- anti-war demos, Pride celebrations, police accountability meetings, cultural events. For many years an advocate and counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and a professor at George Brown's assaulted women's and children's counsellor/advocate program, Willats is also a proficient writer whose work is often seen on editorial pages and in letters to the editor. Her exhaustive Riseup! e-mail list promotes Toronto political events. Next on Willats's schedule is a project to help organize a women's squat for affordable housing.
Best activist campaign
TAKE THE TOOKER
This city may have lost its most dedicated bike and climate change activist when Tooker Gomberg passed away two years ago, but his legacy lives on in the fight to build a bicycle expressway in his name along the route of the Bloor/Danforth subway line. Take The Tooker advocates are passionately lobbying councillors along the transit line as well as taking to the streets in biweekly group rides that trace the Tooker trail to be.
Best activist group
For years, birders and naturalists fought a lonely battle to protect green space on our lake. Then along came CommunityAIR to take on the biggest waterfront battle of them all -- expansion of the hated Toronto City Centre Airport. Not your prototypical crew of motley placard-wavers, this no-nonsense non-profit brought together an unlikely assembly of business people, health professionals, recreational boaters and members of the arts community, not to mention late urban guru Jane Jacobs, to fight plans to build a bridge to the biggest mistake by the lake, the defining election issue in 2003. CommunityAIR is pumping an inspiring plan for the airport lands -- a park and cultural centre -- against a handful of private interests, a noble and important cause for the future of our city.
Best activist lawyer
You'll find him at peace demos for sure, but don't be fooled if the guy casually wandering through the placards looks like he has time on his hands. No one is busier than perpetual-motion Rosenthal. The jocular U of T mathematician/lawyer has defended OCAP, homeless campers at City Hall, Stoney Point natives at the Ipperwash inquiry, street youth targeted by the Safe Streets Act, suspended activist Dan Freeman-Maloy, sundry victims of police harassment and so many others it boggles the social justice imagination.
Best house of worship
CHURCH OF THE UNIVERSE
Trinity St. Paul's, 427 Bloor West, basement, 4:30 pm Sundays
Don't let the name of this church throw you off -- there are no space aliens, free stress tests or insane movie stars. The Church of the Universe is all about following Christian teachings, and more. The 'more' includes the sacrament cannabis, the 'ancient tree of life,' says Reverend Brother Bruce. The Old Testament, he says, provides evidence that the holy oil from the time of Exodus included cannabis. 'Jesus of Nazareth was healing MS, epilepsy, cancer, skin afflictions and arthritis. These are all things the Canadian government has given cannabis exceptions for,' he says. But you won't get in if you're just there to eat pot brownies and light up. 'We want to be sure people are actually true of heart.'
Best city advocate
MAYOR DAVID MILLER
Before you start thinking we're just shilling for the lefty mayor, ask yourself which chief magistrate in recent memory has elevated the political discourse above the empty, rah-rah boosterism of his predecessors and got us thinking about the idea that cities should aspire to greatness, not just provide hard services like garbage collection. It's no accident that under Miller's watch an architectural renaissance is under way. And for the first time in years, real progress is being made on the waterfront.
Best community garden
Swing by Don Mills past Sheppard Ave and there's not much around but concrete and giant apartment complexes. That is, until you notice this sunny green garden with 104 vibrant plots full of vegetables and flowers, and grandparents with young 'uns. Most are new Canadians finding peace in this little place where one of the few English words everyone knows is 'organic.' More than a mini farm, Peanut has yoga for seniors, Saturday-morning storytime and Friday-night tea in the garden to sip 'n' savour the fruits of all their hard work.
Best community project
CAR FREE KENSINGTON
Five Sundays a year
The city is so lead-footed when it comes to liberating us from auto rule. But for seven days a year, the Kensington folks lovingly offer a foretaste of what our downtown could be. The fact that their ruckus of homemade fun, costumes, clowns, bike nurses, free yoga, street tango and giant roadway chess draws such thrilled participants shows how much we crave community as an antidote to concrete and corporatism.
Best free hangout
HART HOUSE, U OF T
Open daily 7 am to midnight
At the heart of Canada's largest university you'll find this majestic Neo-Gothic edifice opened in 1919. Here seekers of tranquility can sit outside on the patio, walk through the serene quadrangle, read quietly in the gracious sitting rooms or admire the $20-million art collection. Sure, the athletic centre and theatre costs, as do some special events, but most programming is free, including lectures, Sunday concerts, big-screen hockey nights and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery. Check out www.harthouse.utoronto.ca, and happy chillin'.
Best historical landmark
HUMBER RIVER PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE
More than just a key link in the Waterfront Trail system between old Toronto and Etobicoke, the Humber River Pedestrian Bridge connects us to our native past unlike any other landmark. The steel arches that weave into the sky like basket handles over the mouth of the Humber River repeat a thunderbird motif, an important symbol of the area's first inhabitants, the Eastern Woodland First Peoples. Panels depicting turtles and canoes and other native imagery remind us that the crossing marks what was once this area's busiest trade route linking Lake Ontario to the north. A structural marvel symbolically linking water and sky, earth and air, and present and prehistoric times, the archway has received several design awards.
The former CAW heavy who finessed a green car strategy her union bought into is showing remarkable spunk on our behalf up there on the hill. Besides her role in nixing the federal appointment of an ex-Encana CEO who insulted immigrants and several strong swipes at Canada's Kandahar mission, she wowed us completely following her fact-finding tour to Lebanon this summer. To howls from the media, she deftly declared that Canada needs to recognize Hezbollah in order to help broker a peace. It's what we put her there for -- to tell the truth.
It's mighty hard to fill the shoes of one of our fave MPPs of all time (that would be Marilyn Churley, of course), but only nine months into the job, Peter Tabuns is making the grade. The former Greenpeace director is one of the only voices in the legislature pressing for a provincial climate change plan. He's also waged war against the Portlands Energy Centre and nukes, while fighting for screen time for Canadian flicks, early childhood learning centres in his 'hood, same-sex parental rights and the Chinese head tax redress. Can't wait to see what he does in the next nine months.
Best new building
CANADIAN NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND
Overlooking the treed banks of the west branch of the Don, the CNIB's new home is truly a building with vision, a model of innovation in the truest sense. Mary Jane Finlayson's creation is not just captivating in its simplicity, but a living form that interacts with visitors, both sighted and non-sighted, with talking signs and elevators, changing floor textures and angled braille displays. A remote triggers guided audio messages throughout the building. Truly a building that helps us visualize a future without limits.
We love Moscoe, and not just because he was the ony councillor to stand up to Mel Lastman when he tried to ban NOW from North York City Hall way back when. A tireless advocate of progressive causes, from employment equity to transit passes for the poor, Moscoe' s flair for the one-liner has invited controversy over the years, as well as the wrath of his enemies, who've unsuccessfully tried to remove him as TTC chair more than once. Yes, Moscoe is a bit of a mischief maker -- he once had his office swept for bugs during one confrontation with the police union -- but it's testament to his untiring efforts that he's been able to remain an influential force in good political times and bad.
Best promoter of medical marijuana
Called the Mayor of Yongesterdam, Cramer is refashioning Canada's longest strip with his Toronto Hemp Company, Sacred Seeds, Kindred Café and Herb Collective. All that, of course, would merely make him a clever entrepreneur, but Cramer is also a key inspiration and financial backer of Toronto Compassion Centre, founded by friend Warren Hitzig. Credit Cramer for renovating the space with high tech security, med testing room and swank service bays. Have we mentioned he's a generous bong-hitter?
Best-kept city secret
CLOUD FOREST CONSERVATORY
Richmond, just west of Yonge
Tucked away in the cold concrete of T.O's financial core, this green space made up of interconnected terraces aims to lead folks on a three-storey journey inspired by South American cloud forests. Follow a path past a waterfall and you reach a tropical-plant-filled greenhouse open weekdays from 10 am to 3 pm. In this refuge from the rat race, plants flourish without pesticides, which should make the daily lunch crew and occasional meditator feel that much better for stopping by.