Editor’s Letter: Toronto trailblazers, then and now
Back in high school, I was friends with the daughter of Bridget Lynch, a pioneering figure in the Ontario midwifery movement. Lynch was part of a small group of women who, in the 1970s and 1980s, delivered babies in homes across the city—a fringe practice that was borderline illegal. I spent a lot of time at the Lynch residence, a warm, rambling old house near Oakwood and St. Clair, and a magnet for neighbourhood kids looking for a friendly hangout. Lynch, who exuded a mixture of take-charge forcefulness and euphoric hippie wonder, would come and go at all hours to attend births. We found her profession intriguingly exotic. We would sometimes peek into the freezer at the placentas wrapped in aluminum foil that she stored during the winter to be buried at the foot of trees outside during spring.
Lynch led a campaign to incorporate midwifery into Ontario’s health care system, which, of course, was ultimately successful. She became the first president of the Association of Ontario Midwives and eventually president of the International Confederation of Midwives, representing a quarter-million midwives in more than 100 countries.
The Toronto Birth Centre, which opened this past year in Regent Park, owes its existence to the trailblazing efforts of Lynch and her cohort. The new $6-million facility provides a safe, nurturing environment for women with low-risk pregnancies who don’t want to deliver at home or at the hospital. It was created by the Ministry of Health and is run by midwives—a partnership that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. In our June issue, we celebrate the birth centre as one of our reasons to love Toronto.
In fact, many of the things we celebrate in this package exist because a long time ago, someone had a dream. That’s how cities are made. A big idea, followed by epic amounts of planning, negotiating, wrangling, convincing, building and, yes, a little bit of luck. Plans for an express train from Union Station to Pearson airport had been kicking around the corridors of power since 2001. The Union-Pearson Express might never have come to be if not for the Pan Am Games, which unleashed essential government funding and provided an urgent deadline for the line’s completion—it’s due to launch June 6. The Games expedited the Union Station renovation, too, as well as the transformation of the West Don Lands, which had been sitting barren for decades on valuable downtown real estate. Now we have the Canary District, a thriving residential neighbourhood with a beautifully landscaped park.
Who are the trailblazers who will make the city of tomorrow? My money’s on Lia Valente and Tessa Hill, the astonishingly articulate teenagers who captured the attention of the premier and contributed an important piece to the new Ontario sex ed curriculum. At 13, they’re speaking up on behalf of teen girls, and they are already one of our reasons to love Toronto.
They have the same potent combination of idealism and determination that animated Bridget Lynch when she was campaigning for a better labour experience for mothers and babies. And just as Lynch could not have predicted the Toronto Birth Centre, Valente and Hill will likely be surprised by how their efforts to make Toronto better will change the city.