The people, events, movements and stories that left an indelible mark on the city
Everywhere you look across the country – and globally – Indigenous peoples are leading change in their communities. Idle No More changed everything.
Of all the events that have defined the last decade, the rise of the historic Idle No More movement would have to rank at the top of the list.
The movement not only catapulted Indigenous issues into the media spotlight, but it helped rally countless Canadians to the cause of saving the planet.
At round dances, rallies and teach-ins, a fire had been lit.
Indigenous women and their allies from all over Canada went out into Native Friendship Centres, the country’s urban areas, universities – anywhere that would have them – to talk about what was happening in Indigenous communities. The issues varied according to region: lengthy omnibus bills being pushed through Parliament targeted funding cuts to First Nations advocacy groups the vilification of leaders and community members defending their rights growing socioeconomic crises on reserves and the weakening of laws to protect our waterways.
And then there was Bill C-51. Stephen Harper’s so-called “anti-terrorism legislation” was used to justify increased surveillance of the activities of environmentalists and other social justice activists. The government’s legal and policy moves were attacks on not only native rights but on the core democratic freedoms of Canadians. This is where we found unity, and Idle No More came to symbolize the importance of the relationship between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.
Like a wildfire, the teach-ins, information sessions and rallies grew exponentially. Within weeks, there were hundreds of Indigenous peoples organizing under the Idle No More banner. There was no organizational chart. There was no body of elected officials. Idle No More was an organic movement. While some in the group focused on teach-ins and round dances to draw attention to their concerns, others engaged in protests and blockades. While some spokespeople were appointed, others rose naturally.
Idle No More left federal officials scrambling to adjust. It also shook the foundations of national and regional Aboriginal organizations.
The Assembly of First Nations had long fallen out of favour with grassroots Indigenous peoples for its increasingly cozy relationships with government and its failure to advocate for First Nations peoples on the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care and the alarming increase in murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. They were all issues being neglected by the AFN and other regional organizations in favour of joint announcements on legislation loudly rejected by the majority of First Nation leaders and grassroots citizens.
While the very public phase has largely passed, Idle No More can be found firmly rooted in strategic resistance and revitalization efforts in communities across the country. The next decade will likely be the fight of our lives as we battle the climate crisis and the spread of fringe right-wing governments. This is a fire that can’t be put out now. Pamela Palmater
In May 2017, a mix of torrential rain storms and record runoff around the Great Lakes caused Lake Ontario water levels to raise a metre above normal, the highest it had been in 100 years. Flood waters overwhelmed Toronto Islands, where ducks swam in newly formed ponds on front lawns and fish flopped in the waterlogged roads. The flood closed the islands to the public for three months and cost the city at least $8.45 million.
Over the last decade, severe flooding has become the norm in Toronto. In July 2013, drivers on flooded streets ditched their cars for higher ground, including a $200,000 silver Ferrari stuck under a swamped underpass. In August 2018, a “ninja storm” – named for their sudden appearance – slammed parts of Toronto, nearly drowning two men stuck in an elevator.
The climate crisis is not only lapping at Toronto’s shores – it’s flooding our basements and turning our streets into rivers.
While the city is getting wetter, it’s also getting hotter. Toronto will have 2.5 times more extreme hot days per year as there is now.
But it’s not too late to improve our prospects. Earlier this year, the city released its first ever resilience strategy, an action plan that includes flood-mitigation programs and building a sustainable food system. The city is also making strides toward its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the former provincial government’s shut-down of Ontario’s coal-fired power plants.
Most of the inspiring change is happening at the grassroots level, like the neighbourhood groups that are working toward ending plastic waste and youth-led climate actions. But the next decade needs to be defined by political will. Samantha Edwards
In an ideal world, Rob Ford would never have been the mayor of Toronto. He’d have remained a reactionary conservative city councillor who voted against programs and policies he didn’t like, and who coached football on the side. He was a nuisance, but we could have managed.
But Rob ran for mayor in 2010, and he won. And Toronto is still recovering from four years of chaotic mendacity. Worse, his particular brand of red-faced populism served as a test run for the rise of other blundering incompetents.
There’s no point in printing the legend: Rob Ford was a disastrous mayor and a pretty awful person besides. His catchy campaign slogans were empty promises: there was no gravy train to stop, no fat to trim. Enabled at every turn by his brother Doug, who assumed Rob’s former position on city council, Rob immediately steered Toronto into stagnation, cancelling the ambitious Transit City project on his first day in office and wasting months (and millions) looking for “efficiencies” that didn’t exist.
As a councillor, he was one whiny, occasionally racist voice among dozens, and his behaviour could be overlooked as mayor, he was thrust into a spotlight he just couldn’t handle. Clearly miserable once council started pushing back against his bullying tactics, Rob started to act out: showing up drunk in public, getting caught on video doing crack, ranting in patois at restaurants, groping women at events (or making obscene propositions), attacking reporters (sometimes literally) and so on.
His bad behaviour made the city a global laughingstock, not that it stopped him. With Ford there was no ceiling or feeling shame. And, as he was quick to demonstrate, there was no bottom, either.
Whenever bad news broke, he’d just deny everything, hide behind friendly media, eventually declare the controversy old news and insist we all move on. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Donald Trump did the same thing on the U.S. campaign trail in 2016, and Doug Ford did it all over again when he ran for premier in 2018.
And Rob was prepared to do it all again, but he was forced to abandon his re-election campaign in September 2014 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer. Doug took his place on the ballot, losing to John Tory’s promise of bland stability. Rob and Doug’s nephew Michael Ford ditched his own campaign for council so Rob could run in his place and reclaim his old seat. He won.
Ford spent most of his final term in and out of hospital. He died on March 22, 2016. But his long shadow still looms over Toronto. Norman Wilner
There are countless metrics to track the housing crisis in Toronto over the past decade.
Average rent for a one bedroom in Toronto has increased from $950 in 2010 to $2,320 in November 2019, the highest in the country. There are some 100,000 households on a wait list for social housing. The vacancy rate hovers around one per cent. Predatory landlords, renovictions and other shady tactics are on the rise, with a recent report from Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario finding that personal-use evictions have nearly doubled since 2015.
But it’s not like most renters can realistically transition into home ownership, either. Based on current housing prices, it would take a median-income renter household between 11 and 27 years to save for a 10 per cent down payment.
And while renters face bidding wars over barely legal basement apartments, developers have built around 80,000 new condo units in the last 10 years. Most of those units have been in CityPlace – the area between Bathurst, Blue Jays Way, Front and Lake Shore – which has become one of the densest neighbourhoods in the city. These high-rise communities have become a hotbed for Airbnb rentals, much to the ire of actual residents. Insufficient planning foresight also means that the current neighbourhood lacks adequate green space, parks and schools.
The rise of the condo illustrates that the city’s housing crisis isn’t a simple supply-and-demand problem. Toronto is building thousands of units a year, but none are truly affordable and are not built specifically for rental. And as Leilani Farha, the Ottawa-based UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, told NOW earlier this year, even if more affordable housing is built, that wouldn’t necessarily solve our crisis. There need to be legal protections in place to keep it affordable.
So what can be done in this decade to quell the current affordability crisis? All levels of governments need to build deeply affordable housing that is protected from financialization, reinstate rent control on new rentals and crackdown on private-equity landlords who turn housing stock into tradable commodities. SE
Toronto hip-hop existed and thrived before the 2010s, but this was the decade when the world started paying attention. All it took was the rise of a former Degrassi kid savvy with an ear for trends and a talent for brand-building. It also helped that his brand was totally inextricable from his home city.
Drake’s rise to A-list status coincided with the city’s reputation: he played like he was a big deal until people started believing it. Soon he had packed festival and stadium crowds all over North America screaming about the 6ix – a goofy nickname that only Drizzy could have made stick. By midway through the decade, he had turned his annual OVO Fest into hip-hop’s Super Bowl, bringing superstars like Jay-Z, Kanye West and Stevie Wonder. Critics from the Guardian and the New York Times started booking an automatic yearly trip to Toronto for a hip-hop concert. Imagine that before Drake.
In 2011, a pair of local releases defined a sound that soon became synonymous with the city. The Weeknd’s shadowy debut mixtape House Of Balloons and its spiritual successor, Drake’s Take Care, introduced a dark, emotional “Toronto sound” that was soon everywhere in hip-hop and R&B: a chemically numbed mix of bravado and vulnerability that everyone wanted to try their hand at. Some of these artists are from the city and its suburbs. Others want you to believe they are. Again, imagine that. Richard Trapunski
Left to right: Idle No More, Drake, rental crisis, The Weeknd, Rob Ford by Ralph Steadman, flooding on the Toronto Islands.
The #MeToo movement didn’t fully gain steam until fall 2017, but the trial of Jian Ghomeshi was the first sign a reckoning was on the way.
In 2014, he was fired from the CBC and charged with four counts of sexual assault and one choking-related offence. The charges felt like a vindication, a signal that finally society and the criminal justice system would no longer turn a blind eye to sexual harm when it involved powerful men. So when Ghomeshi was acquitted of all charges in 2016, and Justice William Horkins’s verdict described the witnesses’ testimony as “outright deception,” the backlash was immediate, with hundreds of protesters assembled around the courthouse chanting, “We believe survivors.”
In a self-aggrandizing essay for the New York Review Of Books in 2018, Ghomeshi called himself a “#MeToo pioneer,” referring to the men whose downfalls came after: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., etc. He’s not a pioneer – the 28 brave women who came forward are – but he did inadvertently help usher in a new era where sexual assault victims take to social media to share their stories, realizing that they can’t count on the courts to make their abusers accountable. He inspired Robyn Doolittle’s Globe and Mail series Unfounded, about the widespread mishandling of sexual assault cases by Canadian police, and the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported, started by Canadian journalists Antonia Zerbisias and Sue Montgomery.
But more importantly, his trial was a catalyst for conversations around consent, power and misogyny in Toronto and across North America. SE
The country plunged into the worst public health emergency in years as thousands overdosed and died after consuming tainted opioids. In fact, so many people fatally overdosed between 2016 and 2017 that life expectancy for Canadians has stalled for the first time in four decades.
Despite a dramatic increase in the death rate in Ontario – 1,261 people in 2017, up roughly 45 per cent over 2016 – the provincial government was slow to heed activist calls to fund supervised safe-injection sites. So a group of harm-reduction workers took action and opened an unsanctioned site in a tent in Moss Park in August 2017. They moved into a trailer during the winter months and operated with help from more than 150 volunteers, but it would still take over a year before the city’s first sanctioned site opened. (There are now 20 legal sites province-wide.)
The activists spent 11 months in Moss Park, monitoring 9,000 injections, responding to 251 overdoses, according to the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society. Life-saving naloxone kits are now available for free at parties and kept on hand in bars and clubs.
And still, 1,475 died in Ontario in 2018. With the majority of deaths attributed to a drug supply increasingly tainted with fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, activists are calling for legalization so doctors can prescribe a safe supply. It’s time for the government to wake up, listen to front-line activists and workers and end this senseless crisis. Kevin Ritchie
For the first time in our city’s history, homeless encampments have sprung up on main streets. New to the wish lists of outreach and shelter workers are tents and tarps.
It’s been a brutal decade for homelessness. Approximately 3,000 more people are homeless today than 10 years ago.
The city’s shelter system is in crisis and now consistently runs at 100 per cent capacity, forcing administrators to place thousands in motels. The volunteer, faith-based Out of the Cold program was supposed to be a stopgap. It is now in its 33rd year of operating winter space for shelter.
A spate of homeless deaths in the winter of 2015 forced the city to turn two warming centres into 24/7 operations, but with lower standards than the city’s main shelters.
When those are not enough, the city scrambles for respite locations that include dome structures, empty buildings at the CNE, empty hockey arenas or program space in a drop-in. It continues an approach that does not recognize homelessness as a year-round risk, or shelter as a human right. This year city council cancelled the cooling-centre program despite declaring a climate emergency.
Women vulnerable to sexual assaults were provided some reprieve through the opening of two 24-hour women’s drop-ins about five years ago. The women sleep on the floor or in chairs.
Deadly new disease outbreaks such as Group A Strep in shelters have emerged. Meanwhile, bedbugs continue to rage and lice has re-emerged with a vengeance.
In the last 10 years, 379 names have been added to the Homeless Memorial at the Church of the Holy Trinity beside the Eaton Centre. The names no longer fit behind its glass enclosure. The city’s public health department has also begun tracking deaths.
But the political climate toward the emergency remains cold at all three levels. The failure of Canada’s so-called National Housing Strategy is apparent in the sky: not one crane represents a social housing project. Cathy Crowe
The last decade was a time defined by burgeoning activist movements across the globe. Among the most impactful and inspiring is the latest iteration of the centuries-old Black liberation movement, in which Toronto became a significant confluence for organizing whose influence spread far beyond the city limits.
The 2010s was a time of courageous, fierce and unapologetic activism from communities of Black people tired of waiting for what had been promised for decades. And while I was involved in what was among the most visible movements – as a co-founder of Black Lives Matter–Toronto – activists and advocates were working in spaces seen and unseen across the city.
We organized against police brutality and carding until the city of Toronto and the province of Ontario could no longer ignore us. We intervened in anti-Black racism experienced in schools from primary school to post-secondary education. We supported the arts in our communities. We built educational opportunities for children and adults that would teach us what had been taken away from us in the formal education system. We brought attention to the detention of Black asylum seekers and supported families reeling from the violence of anti-Black racism.
The Black liberation movement of the 2010s was visibly organized and led through the brilliance and scholarship of Black queer and trans people to whom countless organizers in movements everywhere owe the deepest debt. When Pride named Black Lives Matter–Toronto as the honoured group in 2016, we refused to be used by an organization who simply wanted to benefit from proximity to our cause. We demanded that which would genuinely honour us: a commitment to structural change within Pride that focused on stripping away the anti-Blackness our communities had experienced from Pride for years. That action, built by Black activist and queer and trans groups beyond just BLM-TO, sparked a shift in how Pride organizations engaged with Black and marginalized communities across the globe.
Most importantly, we changed the way mass culture discusses and engages with Blackness. At the beginning of the 2010s, anti-Black racism was an idea most people in power refused to acknowledge. Now, the world cannot claim ignorance in any discussion of anti-Black racism.
We reinvigorated what was possible not only for us as Black people, but for anyone who was willing to listen and learn from our work.
As we look toward the 2020s, we need to build a city (and a country) that refuses to take anti-Black racism lightly, and that refuses to accept politicians who don Blackface and disappear the Black community along Eglinton West in favour of a gentrified condominium corridor. We want to live in a place that builds permanent Black spaces a place where Black people who contributed greatly to Toronto and so much of its culture and its sounds are not pushed to the margins. This is the work that we all have ahead of us if we believe in justice for Black people. Sandra Hudson
It was 2011, and after years of unsuccessfully fighting the country’s medical marijuana regime in court, Stephen Harper’s reefer-mad government doubled mandatory minimum sentences for producing and trafficking marijuana. A few years later, the whole medpot system was privatized. Then came the charismatic Justin Trudeau in 2015, promising to legalize it all. Remember that moment of hope? Even the self-described Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, encouraged his stoner disciples to vote for Trudeau. Billions flowed into the country’s weed industry as huge grow ops sprang up across the country.
The economy boomed for potheads willing to don a suit and play the game. Never before had any country pursued such an industry-friendly approach to legalization, which made millionaires out of wandering entrepreneurs and corporate cannabis icons out of drug war generals.
Hope metastasized into broad cynicism about how quickly an outlaw culture can be brought to heel by a set of well-written rules. Canada’s first summer of legalization was a shitshow in Toronto, with the city siccing cops and bylaw enforcement officers on grey-market dispensaries. Those that wouldn’t comply had their entrances blocked with huge concrete blocks. But at least we had legal weed. Canadians responded with enthusiasm to new freedoms, turning their balconies and backyards into marijuana grows.
We’re probably no more or less stoned as a nation than we were a decade ago. But hundreds of thousands of Canadians still have criminal records.
For many, legalization changed nothing. The drug dealer economy is as healthy as it has ever been. But beyond that, legalization looks a lot like familiar consumerism. Canada may have changed the laws, but in the end it’s just one more thing to be marketed and sold. The good news is that Legalization 2.0 is just around the corner. Kieran Delamont
Left to right: Trans March, opioid overdose crisis, legalization, G20, Raptors victory parade, rising Islamophobia, Black Lives Matter-Toronto.
It still sounds surreal. The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions.
In their quarter-century existence, the basketball team had their dreams shattered more times than feels humane – many of those times by LeBron James, who so owned the city that people were calling it LeBronto. Long-suffering Raptors fans had watched the team bumble through inept management and players feigning injuries, blocking trades and complaining about playing for the only Canadian team because they didn’t want their kids learning the metric system. But we finally caught a break in 2018.
Team president Masai Ujiri took a big swing that year, trading DeMar DeRozan, one of the most popular Raptors ever, for an injured Kawhi Leonard, but those initial doubts seem silly now. Leonard only played one season here, but it was the single best season ever played in Toronto, a city without a title in any of the big three professional sports teams since 1993. Along with teammates like Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, the low-key forward/local folk hero gave us some of our biggest sports highs of the decade: blocks, dunks, a game-seven buzzer-beater that hit every part of the rim before finally dropping.
And, oh yeah, he also helped win a championship. In Toronto. For the Raptors. Seriously. RT
On a hot June weekend in 2010, the fourth meeting of the G20 Summit, hosted by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, made global headlines after an estimated 1,100+ protestors were arrested – in some cases violently and by officers who had removed their badges – detained in overcrowded conditions and, in most cases, not allowed access to lawyers.
On June 27, as most world leaders were leaving town, a group of protestors, bystanders and journalists at Queen and Spadina were “kettled” by police in riot gear – forced to stand in pouring rain and indiscriminately arrested. That weekend saw the largest mass arrest in Canadian history and one of the country’s worst civil rights violations.
But as the fallout from the G20 faded from the news, the ability of police to indiscriminately stop citizens – the practice known as “carding” – continued to define the decade. The results of the Community Assessment of Police Practices, which surveyed Jane and Finch residents in 2014, found a parallel in the portrait of public mistrust of police that emerged from the G20 fiasco. Activist/journalist Desmond Cole and Black Lives Matter took up the fight against carding and police racism in the decade’s latter half. As the reports and inquiries pile up, many in Toronto are still waiting for meaningful change. KR
It’s perhaps a testament to Jack Layton’s impact that although he’s been gone for most of this decade, his loss still feels raw. Part of that is because he was so very present in Toronto, first as a city councillor (and mayoral candidate) and then as the leader of the NDP from 2003 until his death on August 22, 2011. That was a little over three months after Layton led the party to its greatest election victory, becoming the official opposition to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. He could have been Canada’s next prime minister.
When the news of Layton’s death broke, supporters gathered at Nathan Phillips Square to leave flowers, share memories and cover the grounds with chalk testimonials and favourite quotes. (Even then-mayor Rob Ford grieved the loss of his former council rival, saying Layton had taught him never to take politics personally.) And Layton’s wife and partner, Olivia Chow, released his final statement to Canadians, in which he said goodbye with an optimistic message: “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear.” It’s a sentiment that sustains us at the end of this awful, dark decade. NW
The embattled Liberals under Justin Trudeau won a minority in October in an election in which race and racism loomed large. And Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who spent much of the election stoking right-wing fears, now faces questions about his leadership.
But Canada is far from being a liberal haven in a world turning to right-wing nationalism. The wacko People’s Party of Canada led by Maxime Bernier may have won zero seats, but it attracted more than a quarter-million votes.
Meanwhile, the most multicultural city on earth has become a hotbed for Islamophobic and white nationalist activism.
A string of demonstrations by anti-Muslim groups in front of city hall began taking place just weeks after gunman Alexandre Bissonnette killed six Muslim worshippers in a Quebec City mosque almost three years ago.
The protests were ostensibly held to target the Liberal Party’s Motion 103 (now passed), which commissioned a parliamentary study on how to address Islamophobia. But true to form, much of the far-right used the motion to argue that it could lead to an Islamist takeover of Canada.
More ominously, the rallies gave rise to strategic alliances between anti-Muslim groups like Pegida Canada, Soldiers of Odin, Proud Boys and Three Percenters, and far-right Zionist groups like the Jewish Defense League and Never Again Canada.
The latter have also held protests in recent years in front of city hall, albeit under the guise of opposing immigration. Their concerns for Liberal-led “mass immigration” (read “refugees”) sometimes clashed with that of the white nationalist, neo-Nazi movement in Canada, which see Jews (or “globalists”) as the enemy. All of these demonstrations have exhibited some degree of violence, particularly against journalists and anti-fascist activists.
The hate has spread to university campuses under the guise of free speech, where the White Student Union and It’s Okay To Be White Facebook groups and posters have been found stapled on campus bulletin boards.
Dangerous white nationalists with a loud social media presence continue to propagate hate online despite efforts by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The most prominent among them, Faith Goldy, ran for mayor in 2018. She finished third, with more than 25,000 votes. Steven Zhou
Clockwise, from left to right: TTC’s new streetcars, Honest Ed’s, Yonge Street van attack vigil, cycling deaths, Transit City, Pride Parade.
On his first day as mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford met with Gary Webster, general manager of the TTC, and declared that Transit City, the complex light-rail expansion project spearheaded by previous magistrate David Miller, was dead.
This was not something he technically had the power to do, but as Rob and his councillor brother Doug would repeatedly demonstrate over the course of Rob’s mayoralty, rules were for other people. And Rob had made ending “the war on the car” a key part of his campaign, along with building more subways, so there it was. Everyone else could just lump it.
Never mind that Miller’s light-rail plan was already paid for, and would have been up and running by 2015 the Fords preferred subways, which wouldn’t block them in traffic. And so Rob and Doug turned their attention to expanding the city’s underground network – and, after years of back and forth, turned the seven-stop Scarborough LRT into a one-stop subway that will cost the city billions, assuming it’s ever completed. (And it’ll cost us a bundle even if it isn’t.)
Looking back, we can now recognize that the end of Transit City was just the first salvo in the Fords’ politics of spite, which Rob employed at every turn and which Doug continues to use today. Libraries, public services, mass transit: if the Fords didn’t personally use something, it had no business existing. And so a project that would have made the city more accessible, more efficient and more appealing to tens of thousands of people was terminated for cheap political points, and replaced with empty promises.
Not that the next administration did any better: SmartTrack is no closer to reality now than it was when John Tory introduced it during his 2014 mayoral campaign. And now that Doug is (somehow) premier of Ontario, he’s surely dedicating himself to hampering it in any way possible… when he’s not idly adding new lines to the TTC just to see whether he can complicate things further.
The only bright side is realizing Doug’s Ontario Line has just about as much chance of arriving as promised as the Scarborough subway. Which isn’t much of a bright side at all, really. NW
Pedestrian and cycling deaths have long been part of our car-centric transportation system.
When city hall adopted a Vision Zero road safety plan in June 2016 in response to record deaths on our roads, it may have expected the public’s concern to be fleeting. Instead, that concern has turned to outrage as fatalities keep mounting.
The failure of the Vision Zero plan to address the carnage in a meaningful way represents one of the worst examples of political foot-dragging of the decade. Our city has changed. A recent EKOS poll found that 59 per cent of residents identify walking, cycling and transit as their main modes of transportation.
Spending $20 million per year on traffic lights and speed cameras pales in comparison to the billions invested every year in road design to move as many cars as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, plans that could transform major streets like Yonge into pedestrian- and cycling-friendly communities continue to be shelved.
In the coming decade, city residents will become more vocal in demanding safe streets. And that will mean reducing motor vehicle traffic – no buts about it. Albert Koehl
It’s been a transformational decade for trans activism in Toronto and across Canada.
Trans and gender-diverse people are challenging social and cultural norms and binary notions of male and female like never before. We refuse to be invisible anymore and live our lives in secrecy.
While there is still much work to do to erase stigma and discrimination, trans and gender-diverse people are gaining legal recognition.
Overcoming prejudice, gaps in awareness and bureaucratic barriers remains a reality for trans and gender-diverse people navigating the health care system in Ontario. But institutions are also acknowledging their rights. In June of this year, Women’s College Hospital officially launched its trans surgical care program, the first of its kind for a publicly funded hospital in Canada.
And while LGBTQ2S youth continue to be disproportionately represented among young people experiencing homelessness across Canada – up to 40 per cent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ2S – decision-makers are beginning to understand the unique challenges and needs of this population.
One of the biggest challenges that LGBTQ2S youth face in shelters and housing programs are issues regarding safety.
I have witnessed a major shift in people’s understanding and willingness to discuss and address these problems over the past decade. A major milestone was the opening of Canada’s first LGBTQ2S transitional housing program in February 2016. YMCA Sprott House is a 25-bed facility that provides LGBTQ2S youth with a safe, affirming and inclusive place to live. This has been an important step in the right direction and has inspired more programs to open and other organizations to rethink how they deliver their services.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with all levels of government and develop policies and strategies that address the needs of LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness.
An important lesson that I’ve learned is that even the most resistant people and organizations can change.
However, we still have a long way to go. It is not enough to respond to this issue only in some parts of the country, but not in others. As we begin 2020, let’s make a commitment to prioritize LGBTQ2S youth and create inclusive and supportive environments where young people can bring their full authentic selves and learn to celebrate who they are. Alex Abramovich
Underneath garish flashing light bulbs that were visible from a block away, a sign in red letters read: “There’s no place like this place, anyplace!” Honest Ed’s was unlike anything else – a sprawling discount store where a new immigrant could buy his first winter jacket and broke university students could stock up on kitchen supplies a living artifact where spectators could get lost in the maze-like floors, gawking at the Elvis busts and kitschy souvenirs. Opened in 1948 by Ed and Anne Mirvish, it was the first property in what would later evolve into Mirvish Village in the 1960s, home to artist studios and indie shops in the old Victorians along Markham.
In 2013, the site was sold to a real estate developer and three years later, it officially closed on New Year’s Eve. Currently, sky-high cranes point to its future as a massive master-planned neighbourhood featuring five rental apartment towers. But until then, it’s just a giant hole in the ground, and when you pass Bloor and Bathurst, you’re hit with a wave of nostalgia and nervous anticipation. SE
When journalist-activist Desmond Cole published his searing essay The Skin I’m In in Toronto Life in April 2015, a whole people’s lament concerning their long and sordid history of discrimination and harassment at the hands of police was poignantly distilled.
Its truth and personal pain got everybody’s attention and shifted the conversation – once again – about racism in this city.
There was little in Cole’s article that Black people didn’t already know. Its primary focus on carding – the disgraced police practice of stopping and questioning people for no apparent reason – remains a common feature of the Black experience in Toronto.
But Black people were not Cole’s only intended audience. His article set out to rattle the collective conscience of privileged white folks. The article achieved the desired effect. Shock and embarrassment followed. Cole’s bare-knuckle account of being stopped by police more than 50 times for daring to walk the streets with skin the colour of a “well-worn penny” hit hard.
Others had written about carding before Cole. The Toronto Star’s 2012 Known To Police series tracked police data as far back as the early 2000s. Hundreds of residents surveyed for a report commissioned by the Toronto Police Services Board shared similar experiences.
But Cole’s narrative has proved the most enduring. After his essay, it became impossible for Torontonians to say they “didn’t know.” Neil Price
Clockwise, from left to right: Street art in Regent Park, author Margaret Atwood, Soulpepper artistic director Weyni Mengesha, journalist/activist Desmond Cole, refugee and Ugandan LGBTQ+ activist Dennis Wamala, a food deliver app worker, missing poster for Bruce McArthur victim Andrew Kinsman, the revamped El Mocambo sign.
What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, the number of women in the top creative spot (artistic director) at medium-to-large Toronto theatre companies was two: Kelly Thornton at Nightwood, a feminist company (so, of course), and Yvette Nolan at Native Earth Performing Arts.
Now there are at least half a dozen.
Nina Lee Aquino, after being appointed interim artistic director with Nigel Shawn Williams in 2013 following Ken Gass’s ousting, solely heads up Factory Theatre. Evalyn Perry has been successfully leading Buddies in Bad Times since 2015. Jennifer Tarver headed up Necessary Angel from 2013 to early 2019. Julie Dumais Osborne has been doing great things at Bad Dog Theatre for most of the decade.
Earlier this year, Marjorie Chan was tapped for the top job at Theatre Passe Muraille, Aislinn Rose was appointed general and artistic director of the Theatre Centre, Tanisha Taitt was chosen as A.D. of Cahoots and Thornton handed the Nightwood torch to the very capable Andrea Donaldson. And, in 2014, indie success story Coal Mine Theatre opened with two “chief engineers” – Ted Dykstra and Diana Bentley.
But the most high profile switchover in the community came in fall 2018, when Weyni Mengesha was announced as the artistic director at Soulpepper after the Albert Schultz scandal (see #35) jeopardized the future of the company.
Working with executive director Emma Stenning, Mengesha announced her first season three months ago – and the future looks great: diverse, dynamic, exciting, not full of plays by dead white males.
Right after Mengesha was hired, she told me that she was initially coming in to assess things: “meet people, build relationships and then see what unfolds. Right now I’m here to listen.”
These hires, along with the openly queer Brendan Healy at Canadian Stage, amount to a seismic shift in the theatre landscape. No doubt the dialogue and stories around #MeToo and #TimesUp have been a catalyst for change. The dramatic effects will be felt for generations to come – both onstage and behind the scenes. Glenn Sumi
The 2010s were a confusing decade in local music. Just as the city started being recognized for the strength of its music scene, live venues started to disappear before our very eyes. Scenes need physical spaces to foster artists and share ideas, but as the decade progressed, more of those spaces started to vanish.
Both long-established venues like the Silver Dollar and the El Mocambo closed – the latter “saved” multiple times throughout the decade, and currently in a years-long “about-to-open” holding pattern while its re-lit sign shines on Spadina without an interior to advertise. Meanwhile, DIY stalwarts like Double Double Land, Soybomb, Holy Oak, Faith/Void and many more succumbed to skyrocketing rents, hard-to-navigate bylaws and NIMBYism, leaving many subcultural communities without a place to congregate.
When Toronto started branding itself as a Music City, it was a way to capitalize on international breakouts of stars like Drake, but soon DIY stakeholders mobilized to tell Toronto’s politicians there’s no Music City if there’s no place to play music in the city. The Toronto Music Advisory Council formed in 2013 and recently updated its membership to include many of those stakeholders. Solutions are being proposed and discussed, but progress is moving at the speed of city council, while the vanishing venues crisis is moving much, much faster. RT
In a decade defined by the death of empathy and the triumph of inchoate white-male rage, a new TV series – shot in a barely redressed Toronto – gave new life to local author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian vision of a patriarchal fundamentalist dictatorship. And then it moved beyond the screen, as handmaids started appearing in the real world to protest injustices. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, after all. NW
The fenced-in basketball court on Regent Street is still there. As is the community garden next to the distinct yellow brick of St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church. But the squat, post-Second World War row housing that used to dominate Canada’s most notorious social housing experiment is almost all gone. Stylish walk-ups, glass towers and all the amenities of a modern neighbourhood now dominate Regent Park. The transformation that began under David Miller to reshape a public housing complex that had fallen into disrepair – economically as well as socially – has come full circle once again. It’s not the first time Regent Park has been remade. Its first revamp took place in the 1930s when it was known as “the worst slum in Toronto.” But unlike that Depression-era revamp, it was anxiety as well as optimism that met Miller’s plan. Not everyone was convinced of the plan to leverage city-owned land to rebuild the neighbourhood. Many long-time residents would be displaced. But a new sense of community has also taken root with every addition to the neighbourhood over the last decade, with the Daniels Spectrum – opened in 2012 – as its cultural epicentre. Most important, the grit and caring of Regent Park’s people lives on. At the very least there are lessons to be learned for city planners as Alexandra Park in the city’s west end emerges as the next big proving ground for 21st-century social development.
Queer and trans Torontonians had been raising alarm bells about disappearances of South Asian and Middle Eastern men from the gay village since 2012, but Toronto Police continually denied that a serial killer was preying on gay men. Though Bruce McArthur, the self-employed landscaper who would eventually plead guilty to murdering eight men between 2010 and 2017, was on the police’s radar since 2013, he would not be arrested until January 2018. McArthur was sentenced to life in prison 13 months later, but Church-Wellesley Village community members have raised questions about missteps and negligence in the investigation. Many feel police only took the disappearances seriously after a white man, Andrew Kinsman, went missing. Chief Mark Saunders made things worse by blaming the community for failing to aid investigators. Meanwhile, the cops were already on shaky ground after Black Lives Matter-Toronto stopped the Pride Parade in 2016 (see #9) to protest police discrimination of racialized LGBTQ people, leading Pride’s members to ban uniformed officers from marching in the parade – twice.
We’ll have to wait until 2021 for the results of an independent review into police handling of the McArthur case. KR
Toronto’s legalization of Uber in 2016 was a capitulation to a dominant competitive force in the transportation and tech. But it also recognized a new era of self-employment. Full-time jobs are becoming more scarce. More employers hire on a part-time basis to avoid paying toward benefits and pension plans. Even full-time employees need a side hustle to keep up with Toronto real estate and a disintegrating middle class. Freelance is becoming the norm, with workers gigging for apps like Lyft, DoorDash, SkipTheDishes and so on.
The app that encapsulates the times – and perhaps the future – is Hyr, which is developed in Toronto and connects employees with gigs. Restaurants and retail stores post openings for hospitality work to the app and Hyr users can jump on shifts. The app even collects points for workers to earn a paid vacation day.
Meanwhile, the precedent-setting battle waged by Foodora couriers for unionization still rages. Foodora argues that couriers are contractors rather than employees, which is how Uber defines drivers to avoid adhering to labour laws. The push for unionization could be a defining moment for the decade ahead, forcing low-wage-paying apps to treat workers like employees.
Meanwhile, a recent survey from the University of Toronto shows gig-economy contract work is connected to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. Working in an office with colleagues is being replaced by driving for Uber, where customers can select the “quiet” option showing up at a one-time gig never to see those fellow employees again or simply working from your condo. Like the isolating towers eclipsing our skyline, the gig economy is building a lonely city.
In 2015, the devastating photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach sent shock waves around the world. It hit especially hard here after reports emerged that Kurdi’s family had been trying to ultimately reach Canada as the Harper government had amassed a backlog of 7,500 applications from Syrian refugees.
In response, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that Canada would resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. Meanwhile, groups of friends and neighbours rallied together to privately sponsor Syrian families. New non-profits started up and gained prominence such as the Together Project, which pairs residents with newcomers to help them settle and homegrown organizations like Rainbow Railroad, which helps LGBTQ people who live in countries where same-sex relations are criminalized seek asylum in Canada. Thousands of Syrian refugees have since made Toronto their home, where they’ve opened restaurants like Aleppo Kebab in Scarborough, catering company Beroea Kitchen and Soufi’s on Queen West, which was temporarily shut down after the owners faced a wave of harassment and death threats. Soufi’s reopened, but it’s a reminder that resettling isn’t always easy, and that racism and xenophobia still exist in Canada. SE
It was an undeniable cultural touchstone: millions of Canadians gathered around the CBC broadcast to watch the final concert by quintessential CanRock band the Tragically Hip. Lead singer Gord Downie had revealed he’d been living with a brain tumour, and those last cathartic shows in 2016 were an emotional endurance test. Like a musical Terry Fox run, it was a widely watched display of hard-nosed Canadian fortitude.
As Downie wept and screamed through the climax of Grace, Too that August night in Kingston, he left no doubt about the Hip’s place in the pantheon of national symbols: right there with double-doubles, a weekend at the cottage and Hockey Night In Canada.
But Downie was never comfortable being that emblem of jingoistic Canadiana, and he showed it with his actual final act. “Canada is not Canada,” he wrote a month after the concert, announcing his new solo album, Secret Path. “We are not the country we thought we were.”
Secret Path tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a boy from Marten Falls First Nation who was found dead in 1966 after running away from his residential school. With the whole country’s eyes on him, Downie diverted them to the country’s shameful history of Indigenous cultural genocide. He publicly held Justin Trudeau to account on reconciliation, instructing him not to abuse the country’s trust and optimism.
When Downie died in October 2017 (his final solo album, Introduce Yerself, was released shortly after), it felt like a long-standing version of CanRock died with him. No longer just the July 1 campfire singalong fodder, songs about dead hockey players and towns in north Ontario, the genre had already been broadening to reflect a more modern, more diverse Canada – one that includes a multitude of cultural voices, experiences and symbols. Those things were in Canadian music all along (and even in the Hip’s music, though many fans overlooked it), but now it’s a part of the sound and a part of the narrative. “Canadian music” no longer means what it used to mean. And that’s a good thing. RT
The worst mass killing in Toronto’s history was also a wake-up call for a city that no longer felt as immune to the random acts of violence so prevalent in the U.S. (The Danforth shooting would follow just months later.)
Alek Minassian claimed 10 lives and injured 16 others, primarily targeting women as he steered a white rental cube van down the sidewalk on Yonge Street in North York. Online and during the police interrogation, Minassian claimed to be an incel, short for “involuntary celibate.” He saluted Elliot Rodger, the perpetrator of a 2014 Santa Barbara shooting. He boasted his allegiance to an online society of sexless men who resent the “Chads and Stacys” of the world for getting on without them.
Minassian opened our eyes to the horror that is frustrated men who blame women for not living up to their sense of entitlement. We saw the violent ends that could result from toxic online conversations once dismissed as the work of harmless trolls on Reddit, 4chan and Twitter. That incel attitude has been connected sadly and uncomfortably to the culture-at-large in conversations about everything from mental health to Louis C.K. RS
Ins Choi’s funny and moving play about a Korean-Canadian variety store owner (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and his family was a sold-out hit at the 2011 Toronto Fringe before receiving an award-winning 2012 remount at Soulpepper and a national tour. And then came the CBC series (three seasons and counting) and an international Netflix deal that has made its cast – including Lee, Jean Yoon, Andrew Phung and soon-to-be-Marvel-superhero Simu Liu – recognized around the globe. Kim’s success obviously helped start the tidal wave of Asian representation in entertainment that continues today. GS
Left to right: Vegan food goes mainstream, Danforth shooting memorial, actor Simu Liu, musician Gord Downie, women’s march, van attack, big data comes to Toronto.
People still made “rabbit food” jokes at the dawn of the decade, when veg dining was dominated by the sleek-yet-crunchy Fresh and community spots like Udupi Palace, Buddha’s Vegan and King’s Palace. Hogtown Vegan helped ring in a new era in 2011 with a decidedly un-granola comfort food menu. Kupfert & Kim added a modern, desk-lunch-friendly spin in 2013 three years later, David Lee went luxe with Planta, a franchise so successful he cannibalized Nota Bene (a move unthinkable in the late aughts) for a second location. Most recently, Doomie’s attempted to launch a vegan empire in Parkdale (which the locals had something to say about), and a few trendy newcomers – Montreal’s Lov and New York City’s by CHLOE. – arrived for their slice of the vegan pie. Natalia Manzocco
On the night of July 22, 2018, two were left dead and 13 others were injured, some critically. The shooter, Faisal Hussain, would end up taking his own life in a nearby alleyway. And a city would be scarred for life. For a time, the Danforth shooting became the focus of Canada’s culture war. Amid the grief, the tragedy became a lightning rod for conspiracy theories and an excuse for anti-Muslim hate. An online free-for-all ensued, fuelled by plenty of Trump-inspired #MakeOntarioGreatAgain Joe Blows eager to turn the bloody rampage of a tortured gunman into a terrorist attack. Assaults against Muslim-Canadians spiked in the aftermath. But Danforth residents and the families of the victims rose above the fray.
When the horror had subsided, they turned their sorrow into direct action, advocating for a ban on the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Danforth residents rallied, too, around area businesses. #DanforthStrong wasn’t just a hashtag. It became a reminder of sober second thought on gun control. As Ken Price, the father of one of the shooting victims, wrote in NOW last year: “We are no longer bystanders in the debate. What life dealt us has provided a reason to become informed.” EDM
On January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, millions around the world gathered to protest the president, but also for gender equality and human rights. In Toronto, an estimated 60,000 people of all ages and backgrounds turned up – many in the pink knit “pussy hats” that became a symbol of the march. It was inspiring, inclusive and brought together diverse activists across generations. The subsequent Toronto marches in 2018 and 2019 haven’t captured those numbers, but the Women’s March has solidified that it’s a movement, not simply a moment. SE
After years of careful choreography under David Miller, it looked like some sense was finally being made of the planning mess on Toronto’s waterfront. The mandate of the Toronto Port Lands Company, which managed city lands, was changed to avoid the backroom wheeling and dealing that had characterized waterfront development for too long. But then along came Rob Ford to anoint his councillor brother Doug king of the waterfront in 2010. Doug took to the job like a carnival huckster, tearing up plans in the Port Lands that were years in the making.
The vision of a publicly owned waterfront with state of the art businesses (and architecture) was replaced by a plan to sell off tracts of land to private developers and build a playground of shopping malls and big boxes. There was also a proposal for a ferris wheel, monorail and yacht club. The plans proved a crucial moment for the Fords. Like their proposal for a privately funded Sheppard subway that went nowhere, the waterfront scream would thankfully collapse. Fast forward a decade later and the fight to preserve Toronto’s edge continues. Plans to tear down a crumbling section of the Gardiner to open up the eastern waterfront have been nixed under John Tory. And access by transit remains an issue.
But development spurred by the Pan Am Games and the additions of the Bentway, William G. Davis Trail and Trillium Park, to name a few, have brought renewal to the waterfront. Still, other pieces of the puzzle remain missing – chief among them are Sidewalk Labs’ controversial plans to remake the Port Lands into a “smart city.” Waterfront Toronto seems to be winning that tug-of-war with developers. But Ford, who has since moved into the Premier’s chair, is back messing with the program again. This time with plans to redevelop Ontario Place. Toronto’s waterfront could still be the envy of the world, if it’s not doomed by political meddling first. EDM
While the recession of 2008 sent a shock wave through the media industry, the decade that followed has brought a painful, protracted decline. The country has lost at least 250 news outlets between 2008 and 2018, according to the Local News Research Project – a number that has only risen in the past year. In Toronto alone, we’ve lost The Grid (2014), 24 Hours (2017) and StarMetro (2019), with every other outlet in town seeing significant cuts to staff and resources. Ownership has become more consolidated – see Postmedia’s purchase of Sun Media in 2015, or their swap-and-close deal with Torstar in 2017.
Meanwhile, Google and Facebook command the lion’s share of the online advertising market, and Facebook has gone increasingly out of its way to keep news content out of users’ feeds, making readership – and revenue – even scarcer.
The result: fewer readers are being reached and fewer voices are being heard.
But an increasing number of Canadian outlets are relying on alternative funding models to keep newsrooms afloat. Some, like Canadaland and West End Phoenix, use donations and funding models like Patreon. In BC, the Prince Albert Daily Herald’s staff bought the paper in 2018 and now run it as a co-op. The federal government has unveiled a slate of tax credits geared at media companies and subscribers alike. But it remains to be seen what role innovations and new funding models will play in the industry’s murky future. NM
Canada’s first #MeToo story broke in early 2018, a few months after the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Four actors associated with Soulpepper Theatre Company’s early days – Diana Bentley, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan and Hannah Miller – filed civil lawsuits against the company’s artistic director, Albert Schultz, for alleged abuses that went back decades, and against the company itself, alleging Schultz’s actions were “facilitated by Soulpepper.” Several high-profile Soulpepper actors resigned immediately. Schultz stepped down, and the company cut ties with executive director (and Schultz’s wife) Leslie Lester. The suits were settled out of court in June 2018. But the scandal forced local and national arts companies to take a hard look at their power structures, rehearsal practices and accountability. And when Soulpepper hired artistic director Weyni Mengesha (see #20), it announced a new code of conduct to strengthen workplace culture and good governance. GS
Tanya Tagaq gave the performance of the decade at the 2014 Polaris Prize gala. If you haven’t seen it, go straight to YouTube. Backed by the Element Choir and her band, she stood in front of the scrolling names of more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. She stunned the roomful of critics and music industry folks with her performance – a mostly wordless, murmuring, screaming, elemental, sensual force of nature. You couldn’t ignore it.
When her album Animism was announced as the winner moments later, it seemed like that was the only possible outcome. It felt like the moment Canadian music hit its turning point and hammered in a truth that was becoming increasingly obvious: some of the most vital and important voices in the country’s music scene (as well as literature, theatre and visual art) are Indigenous.
“Canada, you are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance,” said Jeremy Dutcher as he accepted the same award four years later. “Are you ready to hear the truths that need to be told? Are you ready to see the things that need to be seen?”
Dutcher was the fourth Indigenous winner in five years, following Tagaq, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Lido Pimienta. And it wasn’t just that jury’s award. The more industry-focused Juno Awards have recognized acts like A Tribe Called Red, Elisapie and the Black Bear Singers. Projects like the New Constellations tour have united Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers and musicians.
Renaissance might not be the right word for it. There have been rich traditions of art and music in First Nations long before the land was colonized. But those voices have been silenced, overlooked or ghettoized – if they were recognized, they were in their own categories or festivals, treated as a self-contained niche rather than part of the cultural tapestry of this land. That’s started to change this decade, too, as compilations like Native North America and its gatherings have brought the spotlight back to rock and folk musicians making amazing music over the last half-century.
As movements like Idle No More and the counter-programming that met the Canada 150 celebrations have shown, Indigenous art is part of our past, present and future – it won’t be ignored. RT
TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema are just buildings downtown – one a new construction, the other a century old – but since the Lightbox opened in 2010 and the erstwhile Bloor Cinema reopened in 2012, they’ve had an undeniable impact on Toronto’s film scene… and not just when they’re hosting the film festivals for which they’re named. On any given week, both theatres screen a combination of new and classic programming, contextualizing what’s playing with post-screening Q&As, thoughtfully curated series and member exclusives. Plus, you might run into Margaret Atwood at the snack bar. NW
Global cities have been transforming spaces under elevated expressways into parks and markets for years. Toronto finally figured how to make better use of the Gardiner, an expensive eyesore that many critics argue blocks access to the waterfront. In 2012, Underpass Park opened under the eastern stretch, and the Bentway – named after the concrete trestles on which the expressway rests – opened near Strachan in 2018. The main attraction is the 220-metre figure-8-shaped skating rink, but the park has become a destination all year for public art, live music and community events. While we wait for Rail Deck Park to happen, the Bentway gives the 65,000-plus waterfront residents some much-needed public space. KR
In 2009, Tamil people stormed the Gardiner Expressway, an act of desperation as the civil war that would initiate their exodus from Sri Lanka wound down in genocide. The Tamil Eelam cause was snuffed out in 2009 with up to 100,000 killed. Canada was our only home now.
In the war’s aftermath, Toronto’s Tamil community felt like it began anew. And the following decade would see leaps in the community’s integration and achievements within Canada beyond your local kothu roti spot.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan became the first Tamil-Canadian MP in 2011. Folks like Neethan Shan, Parthi Kandavel and Gary Anandasangaree would follow her into politics. Anandasangaree, MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park, helped introduce Canadians to Tamil Heritage Month and is a regular at TamilFest. (In case you didn’t know, we have our own fest in Scarborough.)
Meanwhile, Suresh Doss would go from that guy giving food tours in Scarborough to arguably the city’s most prominent restaurant guide. And a new generation of musicians like Roveena and Shan Vincent de Paul would rise up. Then there’s teen actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. She was present as a young child during the storming of the Gardiner, barely cognizant of what was going on. Now she’s starring in Mindy Kaling’s upcoming Netflix series Never Have I Ever and representing Tamil-Canadians worldwide. RS
Left to right: Former Soulpepper artistic director Albert Schultz, Uncle Tetsu cake, brewery scene booms, drag queen Priyanka, musician Tanya Tagaq, Ekow Nimako’s Cavalier Noir Lego sculpture, Aga Khan Museum, Dheepan actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Hot Docs Cinema.
Tibetan families have been settling in Canada since the 1970s, but the recent and largest influx of refugees began arriving in Toronto in 2000. Many now live in the apartment towers of south Parkdale, forming a small but distinct hub of more than 6,000 that has grown influential in Toronto’s food, activist, political and cultural scenes.
From one restaurant at the start of millennium (Shangri-la) to nearly 10 within a few blocks of Queen West, Parkdale has earned the unofficial moniker of Little Tibet. In the last few years, momos have come to define the area the way pierogies once defined Roncesvalles – there are now four spots primarily serving the steamed dumplings at the start of 2010 there were none.
Beyond food, Tibetan Canadians have inserted their values into the fabric of the city. In 2018, Bhutila Karpoche became the first Tibetan elected to a political office in North America by winning the provincial Parkdale-High Park seat for the NDP.
Students for a Free Tibet Canada, a youth activist group based in Parkdale, have won many campaigns in the past decade, most notably in 2014 when they successfully pressured the Toronto District School Board to cut ties with the Chinese government-funded Confucius Institute.
In a decade that saw a sharp rise in gentrification, Parkdale has been on the front lines of the push for affordable housing, and Tibetans – especially Tibetan women – have played significant roles in that fight. From community leaders like Kalsang Dolma, who ran for city council in 2018, to Chemi Lhamo, elected student union president of University of Toronto Scarborough campus in 2018, Tibetan Canadians are shaping the city around them.
Whether that manifests through momos, the weekly round dance (a Tibetan tradition) that happens every Wednesday in the Parkdale Collegiate Institute courtyard or activities at the bustling Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre in Etobicoke (which was a factory warehouse a decade ago), Tibetans are just beginning to leave their mark on Toronto. Gelek Badheytsang
Toronto got a major new cultural destination in the past decade: the Aga Khan Museum. North America’s first museum devoted to Islamic art opened on a 6.8-hectre site near Eglinton and Don Mills in 2014. Named after the spiritual leader to 20 million Shia Ismaili Muslims – who has many ties to Canadian political elites and is one of the world’s richest royals with an estimated net worth of $800 million – the $300 million complex exhibits work that highlights the connections between Islam and other cultures. It’s another example of the growing financial and cultural influence of the city’s immigrant communities. KR
The city and the TTC finally got something done with the King Street Pilot, as if taking mercenary action was the way to go while politicians flip-flopped on Transit City and the Scarborough subway. The decision to restrict traffic and remove parking from King between Jarvis and Bathurst made way for a smooth streetcar ride through the core, increasing daily weekday ridership by 16 per cent, and increasing overall traffic east-to-west through downtown by three per cent.
Drivers weren’t all that inconvenienced, their commute barely extended, despite Doug Ford’s “war on the car” bellyaching. And Kit Kat Restaurant owner Al Carbone is still in business despite fear mongering that the lack of parking would deter patrons. His cheeky middle-finger ice sculpture directed at transit riders served up little more than an amusing anecdote. RS
Who could have predicted that a musical set in small-town Newfoundland would break through internationally? The rise of Come From Away from a Sheridan College workshop to Broadway is as inspiring as the musical’s origin story about the residents of Gander coming together when 38 planes were re-routed there following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Opening in Toronto in 2016, in the same month Donald Trump won the presidential election, the feel-good musical was like a gleam of light and a much-needed reminder (even if only for 90 minutes) of humanity’s capacity for kindness. SE
Toronto has a long history as a beer town: the city’s first brewery dates back to around 1800, and mainstays like Amsterdam, Granite and Great Lakes have been producing since the 90s. But the past decade has brought dizzying growth to the scene, with the number of breweries in Ontario skyrocketing from around 30 at the start of the decade to more than 275 today (and 80 more in the planning stages), according to Ontario Craft Brewers. Aficionados pack craft beer festivals in droves and faithfully queue for limited-edition bottle releases, and a cracking craft list is a must-have for any establishment – from the crustiest pub to the upper-crustiest restaurants. Also, we have two Bar Volos now! NM
Remember when dating meant getting friends to set you up (or having to read through someone’s 50-page Plenty of Fish profile)? Tinder’s 2012 arrival ushered in a now-inescapable gamified approach to dating (swipe, get match, enjoy brief dopamine hit), and was cemented by competitors like Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel. (Worth noting: gay hookup apps Scruff and Grindr beat all of these to market.) Along with facilitating countless dates and hookups, and frustrating countless recipients of “hey whats up” texts, dating apps have given way to cultural events like the Tinder Tales storytelling series (started in 2014), spurred the creation of local matchmaking businesses (arguably the anti-Tinder) and funnelled countless first-date couples to downtown bars. NM
If you grew up in the suburbs, you’re probably used to heading downtown to get your arts fix. The end of the last decade saw the beginning of what we hope is the ongoing geographic decentralization of the arts. In 2018, the city expanded all-night art event Nuit Blanche to Scarborough, part of a growing push by locals to see their east-end neighbourhood’s creative contributions recognized and supported. Alyssa Fearon curated Nuit Blanche’s inaugural Scarborough section and Ashley McKenzie-Barnes curated the second.
Pop star the Weeknd, YouTuber Lilly Singh and authors David Chariandy and Catherine Hernandez have also put Scarborough on the arts map in Canada and beyond. Art is a public good that everyone should experience, and the best way to show that is to ensure everyone in our segregated “mega-city” gets to partake on a regular basis by making it easier for Torontonians to get around (i.e., better transit) and bringing art to where they live. Expanding Nuit Blanche to North York and Etobicoke in the years ahead is a step in the right direction. KR
A little show called RuPaul’s Drag Race launched at the end of the last decade. Ten years later, it’s a pop culture phenomenon that has turned drag from gay-bar entertainment into a pop culture juggernaut. Dovetailing with the rise of social media, growing awareness around diverse gender expressions and the commercial power of entertainment fandoms, drag is now a cottage industry and Toronto is all in. Queens are now regular fixtures at conferences, weddings, billboard ads, red carpets, brunch, comedy shows and more.
Canada will finally get its own version of the show in 2020. If drag’s popularity is more than a bubble, here’s hoping a wider variety of drag artists can share in the spotlight in the decade to come. KR
When Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake opened a tiny shop at Bay and Dundas in 2015, the lines didn’t die down for months. (There was even a Twitter account that posted regular updates of the lineup size as a public service.) Since then, dozens of Asian franchises, many massively popular on their home turf, have arrived to court homesick immigrants and curious new diners. To name just a few additions, we’ve got matcha sweets (Tsujiri), Chinese noodle soups (Dagu Rice Noodle), Filipino fried chicken (Jollibee) and more bubble tea than you can shake a giant straw at. NM
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a point in this decade where it felt like we were having a music festival revival. Coinciding with an overall North American festival boom, there was a brief, shining moment when events like TIME Fest, Riot Fest, Toronto Urban Roots Festival, Field Trip and Bestival joined mainstays like NXNE and Canadian Music Week to eat up just about every summer weekend. Now none but the last two are still standing.
If you were to narrow the boom-and-bust nature of this decade’s festival scene to one example, it would be WayHome. Launched in 2015 by Republic Live at Burl’s Creek in Oro-Medonte, it was something the Toronto area had been demanding for decades: a camping-style mega-festival on the level of Glastonbury or Coachella. Before the name was even final, it was being talked about as the Canadian Bonnaroo. In one early promotion, the organizers gave away lifetime passes.
It turns out that lifetime was three years. WayHome went on indefinite hiatus in 2018, battling the same problems as all those other now-defunct festivals: expensive overhead, juggling the interests of sponsors, NIMBYs, a collapse in government funding, unpredictable weather, fickle casual fans and competition from the city’s year-round live music landscape (although that last one is in danger, too). RT
In 2015, with one swing and one impossibly cool bat flip, Jose Bautista gave Toronto one of its all-time great sports moments. Triumphantly tossing away more than a decade’s worth of civic sports heartbreak, for that moment Bautista was the biggest badass in Toronto. And, at least for a while, the city swaggered with him. RT
Photo collages by Lulu El-Atab. Photos by Samuel Engelking, Tanja-Tiziana, Natalia Manzocco, Sean Tamblyn, Paul Salvatori, Ethan Eisenberg, Vanessa Samuel