What to Do in Toronto Before Going Into Labour (Day)


by Roxanne Tellier

It’s June of 1968, and Marymount High School has only recently gone co-ed. Before that, the girls wore kilts and giggled in the west end of the building, overseen by nuns, while in the east end of the building, the boys wore ties and had chalk thrown at them by priests or lay teachers whenever they acted up.

It’s sweltering, and there’s no air conditioning. Most of us are trying to catch a whiff of summer through the huge windows that have been cracked around the room. A friend covertly palms me a lyric sheet .. it’s from the new Crosby Stills and Nash album. “Wooden ships, on the water, very free and easy!” And another “ Guinevere  had green eyes.. like yours, lady like yours.”  

My eyes are brown. My lip curls.

There’s this long haired guy in some of my classes who has a vibe midway between Jim Morrison and Charles Manson, and he’s got a ‘following’ because he’s the coolest guy in Montreal and he’s always got access to the best pot. His name is Gerry. One of the hangers on to his crue is a guy who eventually becomes a drummer for a rather famous Montreal band.

(The three of us get busted on the next April Fool’s Day for performing a half-assed attempt at a Black Mass, complete with virgin and stolen communion wafers. But that’s a story for another day.)

And Gerry hands me a poem he wrote, that is terrible even by 1968 standards, and then intones, from his perch in the back of the class … “Summer’s almost gone… “

Flash forward ….. it’s 2019, and it’s been 50 years since Woodstock and my school days. I look at the calendar and realize that summer IS indeed almost gone, and for people of my age, that means the dread of six to a hundred months of snow and ice.

But for most Torontonians, the start of the Canadian National Exhibition – aka The Ex – is the shock that tells them that another year is drawing to a close. Soon the kids will be back at school, and before you know it, we’ll be choosing costumes for Halloween, and making our Christmas lists. The funny thing about a year is how quickly the back end runs away from us.

My grandson is involved with something that has to do with watching other people play video games in one of the buildings at the Ex. I’m not sure I will go this year. I don’t like walking the miles necessary to get from one side of the site to the other, trying to find my friends who scored a nice paying gig at one of the little band shells. I don’t gamble, so the Casino is out. And I’m pretty much over the need to score a .99 cent bowl of spaghetti, if that even still is a ‘thing.’

But – you should go! If you have kids, and if going to the Ex is the way you mark the parameters of your life, you should go! Because the Ex is whatever it means to you, whatever ritual you need to do to put a comma in the summer of this year before trotting on to the Fall. Go. Shoot an air rifle at a booth manned by fast talking carnies! Play your birthday at the Birthday Game tent, or toss a ring over a glass and win a doll. Eat a corn dog or something that should never have been covered in chocolate before being fried. You’d never eat it if it wasn’t ‘just this once!’ Do it! Do it NOW.

I’ll soon be making my own little tour of places that won’t be as much fun in a month or two. I want to join some friends who regularly loll at Sugar Beach, which is down at the foot of Lower Jarvis Street adjacent to the Redpath Sugar Factory, for an afternoon of music and margaritas. I want to enjoy the park’s brightly coloured pink beach umbrellas and candy-striped rocks. It’s part of Toronto’s waterfront, and .. it’s free!

One of my fave things to do in summer is to jet down to the easternmost end of the Beach, past the Balmy Beach club, where a lot of the locals gather to exercise their dogs. I miss my dogs, and this is a nice way for me to get a little sun, and to try to steal a little affection from some of the dogs who race across the sand, and throw themselves madly into the water to fetch the sticks or balls their owners toss in for their entertainment.

I’m a water baby.. I need to be near water. But sometimes I need a little more excitement than that caused by the  passive eyeing of the hind ends of dogs and the Lake Ontario horizon. That’s how I found myself one afternoon drifting through the harbour on a one hour tour of the Islands.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a tourist in your own city, there’s a ton of ways to explore. I recently took to Groupon to find the cheapest tickets to a few attractions.

The boat tour I mentioned was only one of a half a dozen different ways to sail off, at any time of the day. The boat I chose was a bit low end, but at $12, was what I needed at the time. There’s also a ‘pirate’ ship you can book, a Great Lakes schooner, and lots of ‘party’ boats with music and booze. Maybe you and your main squeeze could take an evening cruise, and sail off into the sunset together!

Feeling a little more adventurous? Why not try a two hour tandem kayak down the Humber River! You can give that a try during the week for as little as $23 dollars.

Or how about indulging your inner child, with a game of mini putt golf! There’s a new  entertainment complex that just sprang up downtown that combines food, booze and nine holes out of a choice of three different courses of 27 unique themed holes. Fulfill your dream of golfing drunk!

For $43, you can sign up for 10 salsa & bachata classes at Steps Dance Studio in Rosedale. Spice it up with a little hot sauce! 

“At her studio, Jennifer aims to make Latin dance accessible to all people, even those who have no previous dance experience. Beginning with basic step patterns and technique, lessons progress through more advanced skills such as partner turns, syncopations, styling, and more complex turn pattern combinations. To add a little variation to the mix, Steps Dance Studio also runs monthly workshops and studio parties.”

Who knows? there may be a  Latin lover in your future!

When it comes to music, we Torontonians are really spoiled. Through the week there are jams at the Black Swan, Grossmans, The Tranzac, and so many other locations.

But Saturday afternoon is when you can hear some of the finest jazz, by some of the finest musicians, that I’ve ever heard  – at The Pilot, on Cumberland, just west of Bloor. From 2:30 to 5:30, you’ll be blown away by the chops of the likes of Chris Wallace, Dave Hutchinson, Steve Koven, Aaron Davis, Bernie Senensky, Nick Morgan, and Jeff King. The last time I was there, I was completely knocked out by drummer Mark  Micklethwaite. Watching him play is like auditing  a master class. Awesome sauce!

Outriggers Saturday matinee, 3:30-6pm

Or maybe you’re in the mood for a trendy Beach brunch while being serenaded by Toronto R&B and soul vocal icon, Johnnie Wright at Outriggers, on Queen at Beech, across from the venerable Garden Gate Restaurant, aka The Goof. Johnny has had a regular Saturday afternoon matinee gig there forever, accompanied by master keyboardist Michael Fonfara, and the ever-entertaining, versatile Robbie Rox on congas. Can you think of a better way to while away a summer’s day from 3:30 to 6pm?

In my east end hood, August is when the Danforth Village BIA takes over Stephenson Park (between Westlake and Main St, one street south of the Danforth) every Wednesday night, from 6 pm to 9 pm. There’s bands, food, a beer tent, and lots of run around room for the kids.

I missed the first two Wednesdays, but hope to catch at least one of the next two scheduled. On August 21,  Little Magic Sam aka Sam Taylor will hold court, and on August 28, The Stephen Stanley Band will rock the joint..

There’s only two more Kensington Market Pedestrian Sundays left as well. On the last Sunday of the summer months, the streets are given over to the people. Enjoy music, local vendors and art on streets that are closed to traffic from noon to 7 pm. Always a great place to people watch!

So now you have several ways to have fun with the last two weeks of August, beyond the venerable CNE, and at prices ranging from zero dollars to ‘the sky’s the limit!’

YOLO, babes. Enjoy!

Mid August


Mid August, and most days I feel like, this year, summer never really got started. Maybe it’s the weather, or the political climate, but something feels off-kilter. My potted veg and herbs are in shock; it’s been either torrential rain or temps in the 90s – sometimes in the same 24 hours – every day since they were planted. Sodden pots sit cheek by jowl with containers so arid they threaten to burst into flame. There won’t be much of a harvest this year.

Mid August, and the back to school sales have started. Being an eternal student at heart, I always get really excited about 3 ring binders, coloured pencils, pencil cases, and the like. Which is probably why I have about ten boxes in storage of said items. I’m a victim of stationery covetousness.

The kids playing on the block look like they’re done with summer. Perhaps they are apprehensive about returning to the restrictions of another year of school, of seeing if their old friends have changed, and of having to meet new people who may be friend or foe. Or maybe they’re just caught their parents’ malaise. Either way, the little girl that pushes the doll stroller up and down the street while wearing her mother’s high heels just doesn’t seem to have as much enthusiasm for the task these days.

Mid August, when we postpone the reality of the coming chill with a two week, overheated, ExTravaganza! Yes, the CNE began on Friday, with Burton Cummings and the boys kicking it off with their usual flair.

CNE midwayThe Ex holds less appeal for me every year. I’m still mourning the loss of the Alpine Way, and my ears still keen to hear the dulcet tones of the barker demanding that we come to see the “Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla GURL!”

It’s all downhill after the Gorilla Girl leaves. I can’t even be motivated by fried chicken feet.

Mid August, and news that the legendary recording studio, Le Studio, in Morin Heights (about 90 kilometres north-west of Montreal,) has been destroyed by fire, possibly arson. This, coming just a week or two after news that a successful GoFundMe project had enabled musician Richard Baxter to begin renovating the old girl with a team of volunteers.

Founded in 1974 by Quebec record producer Andre Perry, the studio and residence was once the ‘go to’ spot for Canadian and international artists, including Rush, the Police, the Bee Gees, Sting, Roberta Flack, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, April Wine, Keith Richards and the Ramones.

But not me. I never even had the pleasure of visiting the place, which was a pity, because I spent some pretty formative years in the area as a teen. I’ve always liked to tell myself that Le Studio was built on the site of the old Alpino Lodge. I neither know nor care if that is true.

In the 60’s, my friend Marianne and I would camp by the little lake that wound it’s path around and about the Alpino, babysitting her younger brother, fishing for our food, and generally waiting for the weekend to arrive and the party to start. Those were the days when it was not only possible for a couple of 14 year old girls to be abandoned in the woods for a week at a time, near a lodge that catered to the wealthy and the jaded, with only an eight year old boy as companion and protector, but for said kiddies to not only survive, but thrive, and indeed have a very merry time.

true romance magWhat did we do all day, I asked myself recently. How did we fill all of the hours when we weren’t minding the brat, fishing, picking berries, tending the smoky fire, or reading soggy comic books and True Romance magazines? Mostly we talked, for hours at a time, about our dreams, hopes, and fears. Some days, I’d make Marianne laugh so hard that she’d pee her pants. If I was in a mood, I’d keep it up until her week’s worth of undies were all strung up on nearby branches.

And we’d wait for Friday night. On Friday night, Marianne’s mother and boyfriend would arrive from Montreal, bringing supplies, and freeing us from babysitting duties. On Friday night, we’d clean ourselves up as best we could, and present our under aged selves to the Lodge, where the full spectrum of Morin Heightians, converged for an evening of dancing and drinking. No one frowned on a young woman or man dancing with an older woman or man, or even a man dancing with another man. The point was the dance, the movement sparked by the music of a local combo giving it all they’d got. And no one asked for i.d.

When the night’s entertainment packed up, the teens that had been slouching on the lodge’s porch, smoking home rolleds and doobies that they would light with a wooden match struck on a boot sole or a pant zipper, would all pile into the back of some sixteen year old guy’s pickup truck. We didn’t need no steenback of pickupking seat belts! And off we’d go, the gang of us, with maybe a dog, and a musical instrument or two for company, headlong down the steep road, high as kites, heading for the dam so that we could continue the revelry, at least until the purple micro dots wore off and/or the sun came up.

(My daughter told me recently that she’ll not allow her eight year old daughter to walk the two blocks to school by herself until Kay’s about twelve. Or maybe thirteen. And then, only if there’s a friend nearby who’ll walk with her. In the daytime. Two blocks away. Different times.)

Mid August, and many of my friends are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love. I remember schoolmates who got caught up in the hoopla and abandoned the city for hippie dreams, disappearing in a puff of smoke and patchouli, heading for communal farms that put the lie to the middle class dream of suburbia and two car garages. hippies 60s communeI wonder what ever happened to Donna, the dreamy blue eyed beauty that loved the Monkees as much as I did, but chose a hardscrabble life mucking out barns instead, determined to stand by her longhaired, drug dealing, man. Is she still living in rural Canada or America, amidst macrame pot holders and peace symbols? Or did she wake up one morning and realize in a horror stricken panic that she could have been and done anything she wanted to, had she chosen differently?

Mid August, and my flabber is still ghasted when I contemplate the summer madness that allows some, in the U.S., and sadly, even in Canada, to agree with Trump that the removal of these ‘beautiful’ statues erected to honour Confederate generals would be a hardship upon those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see such ‘works of art.’

Can you hear the dog whistle in that observation?

ugly confed statueBecause, it is implied, even if the art is not Louvre-worthy, that people of colour, and the inner city poor, should at least have the opportunity to feast their eyes upon such statuary. That the monument honours a man in support of slavery and a slave trade that treated the park’s attendees ancestors as human cattle, is a mere peccadillo in their eyes.

A year ago, Zyahna, a young, African-American resident of the city of Charlottesville, petitioned for the removal of one such statue, and to have the park she and her friends frequented re-named from Robert E. Lee Park to Lee Park, saying, “I am often exposed to different forms of racism that are embedded in the history of the south and particularly this city. It makes us feel uncomfortable and it is very offensive.

When I think of Robert E. Lee I instantly think of someone fighting in favor of slavery. Thoughts of physical harm, cruelty, and disenfranchisement flood my mind. … I am offended every time I pass it. I am reminded over and over again of the pain of my ancestors and all of the fighting that they had to go through for us to be where we are now. Quite frankly I am disgusted with the selective display of history in this city. There is more to Charlottesville than just the memories of Confederate fighters. There is more to this city that makes it great.

Let’s not forget that Robert E. Lee fought for perpetual bondage of slaves and the bigotry of the South that kept most black citizens as slaves and servants for the entirety of their lives. As a result, legislatures of the south chose to ignore and turn a blind eye to the injustices of African Americans from Jim Crow and anti-black terrorism to integrated education. These are all some things that this statue stands for. It is about more than just an individual, but rather what that individual believes in and the things that he stands for.”

In 2016, the petition fell just 270 supporters short of it’s goal of 1000 in concurrence with her appeal. A year later, the city council did indeed agree with young Zyahna, putting into motion a series of events that would ultimately lead to the death of one young woman, and two police officers.

bread and circusesMake no mistake; the decision to remove the statue was a democratic decision. The reasoning behind the removal was sound, fiscally conservative, and sensitive to ALL of the residents of the city, not just those who wanted it to remain.

The only ones incensed by the decision were those who continue to believe that the emotions and history of white Americans are innately superior to those of other colours. Even the sidestep, that defends the artistry of the statues while denying the inherent racism implied, revolves around the right of white Americans to continue fawning over defeated, racist and bigoted leaders over the sensibility of those who were physically, emotionally, and financially damaged by those same leaders.

“Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.”

Will this cataclysmic rift in ideology tear the country in half, ending in a Civil War Part Deux? And, more importantly for we in the North, as we read the words of many Canadians on social media agreeing with this cockeyed rationale for racist ‘art’, is Canada moving relentlessly towards a similar, more openly racist and bigoted point of view?

Mid August, and it’s never felt so much like that black day in July, 50 years ago …

 

Privilege …. is Such a Lonely Word


I already had a column drafted and ready for editing this morning, but my muse took a hard left turn and demanded a re-write.

I wanted to talk about how important it is to be true to yourself; in your own life, in the way you present to your loved ones, and the realities of pursuing the path by which you pay your bills. But all of that sounds rather pretentious, in the face of current events.

What I came to realize is that the only reason that old, white women like me can spend any time at all dreaming of improving themselves and their surroundings – never mind assuming that anyone else would be interested in reading those thoughts –  is that we have ‘privilege.

privilegeI know that’s a dirty word to many. “If I’m so privileged, why can’t I get a decent job? Why do I struggle just to make ends meet? Tell ME about privilege, when I grew up poor, with an abusive family, and no chance at a decent education!?”

And all of that is valid. You probably DID and ARE getting a raw deal on some aspects of your life. We live in troubled times of massive fiscal inequality. That you were able to fight your way through the obstacles, and are currently reading this on your cellphone/laptop/desktop/magic mirror, shows that you drew on all of your resources, and triumphed.

But what you didn’t do, if you were born white, was wake up every day, look into the mirror, and see visible proof that you were a minority, with all of the attendant prejudices that an accident of birth conferred upon you.

privilege types.pngJust by being born white, in Canada or the U.S., you won a lottery you never knew you’d entered. If you were also born male, able-bodied, straight, and into a family that was financially stable, you lucked into a super bonus.  Something you had no say in, no choice, granted certain privileges on you from the day you entered this world.

Not all privilege is exactly the same. Where we are in terms of ‘class,’ as an economic indicator, also affects what we can expect to access in higher education, and with whom we can expect to interact. justice fishcartoon.jpgOne kind of privilege doesn’t add or subtract from another – being discriminated against for having non-white skin doesn’t negate being discriminated against for being female, or non-straight, old, or disabled … all of these factors have bearing, and cannot be minimalized.

But if you woke up this morning, and a white face looked back at you from the mirror, you faced one less challenge than those who saw a face of another colour in their reflection. As rich and famous as Oprah Winfrey is, she still encounters those who think her unworthy of holding corporate power, and is not immune from discrimination in a luxury Zurich handbag store.

And you can just get off your high horse of pretending that systemic racism is only a problem in the U.S. Yes, their problem is more visible, and more violent, and yes, the spectacle of an openly racist presidential candidate whipping up the basest of armed citizens, potentially leading to Civil War II, is horrific.

But Canada’s treatment of First Nations people is despicable. Denying that it isn’t our own flavour of racism doesn’t address the very real injustices perpetrated against the people who were here before us.

Consider this commonplace incident that occurred yesterday, in Calgary. RCMP, making an arrest, entered a home on the Siksika First Nation around 6 a.m. The RCMP are alleged to have battered an Alberta First Nation man, hauling him naked from his home and bringing him to a detachment before realizing he needed an ambulance.

christian-duck-chief.jpg“Christian Duck Chief, 23, is recovering from a broken eye socket, fractured cheek bone, fracture to the back of his head and a broken nose.

Duck Chief and his wife say they were sleeping in their home on the Siksika First Nation southeast of Calgary Friday when RCMP from the Gleichen detachment entered their home around 6 a.m. to arrest him.

They acknowledge Duck Chief struggled at first, saying he was on his stomach when woken and didn’t know it was police. But they allege an RCMP officer hit him at least 20 times after he stopped struggling and shouted that he wasn’t resisting, even as he lay handcuffed on the floor.

Duck Chief — who has been charged in connection with the incident — and his lawyer said the force used by the officer was excessive.
….
(The couple) suspect the arrest occurred either because a friend had visited them the night before in a stolen vehicle or that RCMP wrongly believed Duck Chief was still under a bail condition that he not be in the home with his wife.

Duck Chief said he struggled at first because he thought someone had broken into their home and was attacking them, and initially bit the officer’s finger. He has been charged in connection to the incident.” (cbc.ca)

That scenario is almost as Kafkaesque as the spectacle of Philando Castile’s girlfriend talking calmly and calling the officer ‘Sir’, as he forced her out of the car and onto her knees after he shot her boyfriend dead in front of her and her four-year-old daughter during a routine traffic stop.

who police killed in 2015Do either of those scenarios, of the First Nations man in Alberta, or the man in Minnesota who died from a broken taillight, strike you as something that would happen to a white citizen? That this would be the subject of a discussion heavily loaded with justifications to decide if the victims deserved what happened to them? No. Privilege.

The people of colour in the U.S., and the First Nations people in Canada, are both being told that their very real fear of the police and authorities must be addressed in calm, respectful, and reverent tones.  While those who beat and kill them are not held to anywhere near the same standards.

blm-torontoThe us-against-them-against-who now?  arguments that broke out last week over the actions of BLM-TO (Black Lives Matter – Toronto) at the Pride parade exemplifies how divided even minorities have become, and how quick we are to pick a side. As emotions subside, speakers from both the BLM community and the LGBTQ community have moved to a middle ground of understanding. There have been talks, apologies, and re-commitments to values.

Except for white people. White people are still using real and imagined information about the actions of two beleaguered minorities, adding in the public attitudes on policing, finally declaring one side or the other a villain. It’s not even their battle! But that’s how privilege works … you still expect to not only have a right to an opinion on something you have not personally experienced, you believe your opinion should be heard and agreed upon.

Privilege.

Earlier this week, the executives in charge of Toronto’s CNE events made a disastrous faux pas, and announced that disabled patrons would no longer receive complimentary entry, citing a need for ‘equality.’

CNE.jpgThe CNE has posted the policy change on its website, saying it strives to respect “the dignity and independence of all of our guests, including those with disabilities.” Caregivers can still get in free.

Am I reading that right? The disabled will pay, but their (presumably non-disabled) caretakers will get in free? What an odd definition of equality!

Their publicity department insisted, self-righteously, that their decision was solely based on allowing all fair-goers equal entry, despite the reality of the thousands of free passes that are given to city councillors, employees of other attractions, anyone famous enough to be recognized at the Gates, and, ultimately, their own friends.

While the City weaseled out of the fight by fobbing off critique while they ‘discussed’ the situation, it fell to disability advocate and former Lieutenant Governor David Onley to lead a charge of harsh criticism, which forced the CNE to reverse their decision. They caved, as bullies will, when their petty actions are shown to be discriminatory, and potentially illegal. Public opinion, bolstered by social media, brought too much negative attention to the parsimony.

“The CNE had argued it simply wanted to treat people with disabilities the same as everyone else. But Onley said the decision was purely economic and if the CNE was truly concerned with equality, it should look at the number of people with disabilities it employs — a figure general manager Virginia Ludy didn’t know when asked on Wednesday.

Onley also said some 1.8 million Ontarians have some kind of disability and, of those, more than 400,000 live on Ontario Disability Support Program payments. That amounts to about $14,000 a year plus medical benefits, “meaning that you live in a state of virtual poverty … it’s not a good state,” Onley said.“

Privilege puts money above compassion and empathy. It bandies the word ‘equality’  about, while ignoring the reality of those who are physically or economically challenged.

Canada Post.pngNothing is too low for those who use blunt force to achieve their ends. Look to the actions of Canada Post CEO, Deepak Chopra, who has forced his will upon postal workers by refusing to continue talks. He’ll lock out the workers, and impose a stoppage of mail, eventually forcing the workers to take whatever he’ll decide to give them.

Some of the issues? Equal pay. In 2016, the same 2016 that Trudeau used as a banner and a reason to have a gender-even counsel, we’re dithering on whether men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. But for Canada Post, apparently equal pay is just not ‘this year’ enough.

“”Our rural and suburban mail carrier unit, which is predominately made up of women, get paid 28 per cent less than their predominantly male counterparts in the urban operations unit for doing the exact same work.””

Pensions are also on the table. “a two-tier pension system might become the reality for postal workers. Canada Post wants the union to accept a defined contribution plan for new employees. “The proposed change would alter the plan such that the contributions made by each worker would be set, but there would be no guarantee of the benefits they would receive in retirement,” wrote rabble labour reporter Teuila Fautai”

No guarantees in retirement. Well …  isn’t that comforting. Tell me how this can be justified by CEOs and government officials whose handsome pensions are locked down and guaranteed, ensuring they’ll live out their golden years in comfort.

Privilege.

Check-Your-PrivilegeIt’s all around you, and tied up in bows that dissolve in your hands, leaving those of visible and invisible minorities with nothing but slime to show for the strident claims of equality and justice for all.  Those with privilege point to laws and regulations designed to create a level playing field, and dismiss the cries of those who note that those fields are often studded with landmines, and protected from access by the high cost of pursuing justice in the courts.

No one is saying that it’s a crime to be straight, white, middle-class, able-bodied or male. There’s no need to don hair shirts or self-flagellate for the circumstances of your birth, no need to feel guilty for enjoying those privileges. In fact … please DO enjoy them! They are your birthright!

What those who have been denied access to the same privileges simply ask for is an acknowledgment of those differences. They ask that we be aware of how much more difficult it can be to compete in a world where others will never comprehend what it’s like to have to work twice as hard, just to be considered almost equal to a peer who has never known the same adversities or discriminations.

tolerating-intoleranceb.jpgUntil then, it seems we’ll live in a world where ‘tolerance’ is defined as not immediately killing those who don’t look like you.

 

(first published July 10/16 … bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/roxanne-tellier-privilege-is-such-a-lonely-word/)