50 Reasons to Love Toronto

50 Reasons to Love Toronto

HOW DID WE DO IT? While the Great Recession battered other cities, Toronto has emerged triumphant—Bay Street is bullish, our real estate market is hot, and the streets are sparkling for this month’s G20. Yes, our success has a lot to do with our stingy financial system, but it’s also because smart, interesting people move here every day, attracted to a city that’s challenging and gritty and exciting and indulgent (we have a restaurant dedicated entirely to grilled cheese sandwiches, Reason No. 2). If Torontonians have one shared flaw, it’s that we’re pathologically reluctant to acknowledge our greatness. Now, more than ever, we have reasons to brag

See the reasons »

No. 1

SMITHERMAN is no Miller

(Photo illustration: Gluekit; Photos: Nikki Ormerod) 

Toronto prides itself on its levelheadedness, its prudence and its equanimity, and we like our political leaders to be at least falsely modest. The last time we had an oversized ego as mayor, it didn’t work out so well, and we resolved to elect nooooooooobody like that again. David Miller won because we were attracted to a mild-mannered wonk—a Harvard grad!—and because we’d all come to the conclusion that a tiny, useful bridge to the city centre airport was some kind of diabolical scheme that had to be stopped.

But times have changed, and the city is ready to bust out of its self-stifling punctiliousness. Our bankers, having avoided the financial calamity that engulfed the rest of the planet, are now revered as the sages of global capitalism. Our financial services industry has the potential to create 40,000 new jobs in the next five years. Our real estate market is wildly buoyant. We are at or near the top of every noteworthy economic growth forecast. Toronto, in other words, is on the cusp of a new economic ascendancy, a moment when the city should expand its power and influence in the world. We need a brash mayor who will throw some weight around.

Which brings us to George Smitherman, the oddsmakers’ favourite in the October 25 mayoral election. Smitherman is a figure of lore in Toronto politics for his rabid partisanship, mythical temper, acid tongue and prodigious accomplishment: jumping from opposition backbencher to deputy premier, shortening surgical wait times as health minister, introducing the Green Energy Act as energy and infrastructure minister, to say nothing of his time at city hall as chief of staff to former mayor Barbara Hall. Smitherman is staking his campaign on the issue of job creation, while his rivals are proposing no end of brazen ideas—from subway networks to privatizations to casinos—in an effort to be what he already is: larger than life.

The Conservative strategist Jaime Watt—one of the architects of the Harris Conservatives’ two majority election victories and a partner with Navigator, the PR firm, and now one of the key players on Smitherman’s campaign team—once said that the key to image management isn’t to make a politician into someone he’s not, but to convince voters that a particular politician, warts and all, is the person they want to elect for the job at hand. And George Smitherman is looking more and more like the proverbial right guy in the right place at the right time.

—Philip Preville

No. 2

Our CHEESE WORSHIP knows no bounds

(Image: Angus Fergusson) 

Gooey cheese between two crispy slabs of buttered bread should not be a pleasure reserved for inebriates and children alone. Rob Yuill, owner of the Grilled Cheese in Kensington Market, the city’s only restaurant dedicated to the sandwich, believes they’re pretty much all you need in this world where there’s “too much of everything else.” The restaurant’s 10 versions of the venerable griller include the classic (a blend of old cheddar and provolone) and the grilled motzy (fior di latte, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, arugula and balsamic vinaigrette), all served with a crisp dill pickle and a side of salty chips. Could no one have really thought of it until now?

—Heidi Sopinka

No. 3

CHRIS SPENCE has a plan to make our schools great

(Image: Myles McCutcheon) 

First, the bad news: the Toronto District School Board is reeling under a $17-million deficit. Its schools are in desperate need of repair, and the backlog of maintenance work—for crumbling walls, peeling paint, mould, asbestos, malfunctioning boilers and washrooms that haven’t been renovated since Trudeau was in office—stands at a staggering $2.8 billion. Enrolment is decreasing by 4,000 students a year; the drop is partly due to low birth rates, but also because parents are fleeing to the suburbs to seek better schools or defecting to the private system. Half-empty schools receive half the provincial funding, but they still need to be heated and cleaned. Forty-seven per cent of the board’s 257,000 students don’t speak English at home, and 35,000 kids receive special education support. For those who still believe in a public system, it had become a case of lowered expectations.

Then, last summer, Chris Spence became the director of education. He immediately pronounced that change was necessary and—more amazingly—possible. Within months, he had proposed reasonable strategies; if successful, his $1.7-million reinvigoration plan will improve grades, equip classrooms for Wi-Fi, engage parents and inspire teachers—all within a stable financial framework.

The best thing about Spence is his willingness to experiment in paradigm-shifting ways. He’s ready to close under-capacity schools, as well as launch new ones. Four boutique schools—an all-boys, an all-girls, a sports academy and a choir school—are being considered for fall 2011. For years, the reigning belief has been that magnet schools are elitist and create unfair advantages, and that a levelling of standards ensures equality. Spence recognizes that there isn’t just one mode of learning. Some boys in primary grades may need to run around more, some kids might want to tackle fencing as well as fractions, and others might be dying to re-enact a song-and-dance number from Glee. Offering choices, plainly put, gets kids excited about learning.

Whether you believe in streaming or specialized schools is, in a way, beside the point. Right now, what we need is someone who can counter apathy and convince teachers, parents and students to consider new approaches. Spence has already achieved something invaluable: he’s got us talking optimistically about public education again.

—Kathryn Hayward

No. 4

The massive REGENT PARK MAKE-OVER is improving lives

(Images: Jeremy R. Jansen) 

In 1953, to celebrate the building of Regent Park, the National Film Board produced a sunny short feature called Farewell Oak Street. Narrated by Lorne Greene, it told the story of a slatternly wife (played by Kate Reid) and her irritable husband and quarrel­some children. When their decrepit row house is demolished and they move into Canada’s first large-scale public housing project, the relocation transforms the family into a model of peace, tidiness and all-round good cheer. Good riddance, Oak Street. Hooray for Regent Park.

So much for promising debuts. The first Regent Park housed 7,500 low-income people in subsidized, cookie-cutter apartment blocks, its through streets blocked off—a petri dish, as it turned out, for crime, multi-generational poverty and despair. In 2005, Toronto Community Housing, the project’s landlord, decided to revamp Regent Park. Inspired by the success of mixed-income housing in the U.K. and Jane Jacobs’s belief in diversity and lively street life, they devised a radical, $1-billion make-over.

The first buildings were demolished a year later. When complete, the new Regent Park will house 12,500 people in a mix of townhouses and towers, of which four are now finished. The original street grid has been restored; businesses include a snazzy Royal Bank branch, a Sobeys and a Tim Hortons. An aquatic centre, park and community centre are in the works. The project is so massive that some displaced residents have had to be relocated into 375 units in new buildings outside Regent Park’s boundaries. The head turner is a TCH co-op tower at 60 Richmond Street East, which was designed by the architect Stephen Teeple in a Rubik’s Cube–like pattern and includes a sixth-floor central courtyard with a vegetable garden, plus inventive strategies to conserve energy. Some units have three or four bedrooms to accommodate large families.

Can well-designed mixed-income housing, lots of recreational space and a dash of retail turn around a culture of hopelessness? It’s a brave and beautiful start.

—Katherine Ashenburg

No. 5

The recession is officially over

How young entrepreneurs defied the gloomy times and opened up shop.

—Carley Fortune

2959 Dundas St. W., 416-551-9853
Opened: December 2009
First sale: Handverk shaving kit, $98
John Baker and Juli Daoust turned a hobby blog about modern design into a Scandinavian decor shop. To do it, the couple sold their Annex home and bought a three-storey storefront and apartment building in the Junction (they live above the shop in a two-bedroom and rent out the third floor). They went well over their $50,000 budget outfitting the store with teak shelving and sculptural glass panels, but the resulting quirky, airy room—filled with birch dining chairs, woollens from Iceland and cast iron pots from Finland—was worth it.
Parts and Labour
1566 Queen St. W., 416-588-7750
Opened: June 2010
First sale: Not available at press time
Richard Lambert and Jesse Girard, the owners of the Queen West club The Social, and Brian Richer and Kei Ng, of communal dining restaurant Oddfellows, wanted to open the sort of grown-up resto-bar and concert space that 30-somethings (like them) would want to hang out in. They bought a Parkdale hardware store for $700,000, then undertook $800,000 in renos—digging up the basement and adding a massive rooftop garden with rainwater irrigation. Its opening solidified the hipster-ification of a formerly forlorn strip.
Of Swallows, Their Deeds, and The Winter Below
283 College St., upper floors, 416-534-5173
Opened: April 2010
First sale: Paradise Lost hardcover, $10
Jason Rovito was disturbed by last year’s wave of bookstore closures. “It was like watching your natural habitat disappear,” he says. He leased the second and third floors of a 140-year-old building, and with the help of his handy dad “and a lot of time at auctions picking up Persian rugs,” he was able to open his own scholarly bookstore with a minuscule investment. Rovito also rents out office space (the art journal Public uses it twice a week for $300 a month) and a seminar room, and in the process ensures himself a steady supply of customers.
18 Hazelton Ave., 416-513-1818
Opened: August 2009
First sale: Scott Kay ring, $305
Paul Mailing was working as a pharmaceutical sales rep when he met Stephen George, a buyer at a men’s fashion store. They became friends and, after Mailing quit the corporate world, agreed to open a shop selling $900 Rick Owens jean jackets and biker-chic bling. They leased a former Hugo Boss store in York­ville and spent two months and $500,000 renovating and collecting stock. They’ve been working seven days a week since. “Everyone opens when the economy is good,” Mailing says, “but it takes a lot of balls to do it when it’s not.”

No. 6

Something good is finally happening at DOWNSVIEW PARK

Before retiring in 2006, Jonathon Power was notorious for shouting at refs, throwing fits and playing an unpredictable, vicious game of squash, but also winning every major championship. Now a somewhat mellowed dad, he is about to open a cavernous, $1.3-million, 10-court squash club—the National Squash Academy—in a decommissioned military airplane hangar at Downsview Park. It isn’t just an ass-kicking, state-of-the-art facility. A big part of the academy’s mission is to democratize a sport that’s dominated by traders and legal sharks who play in private clubs like the Adelaide and Granite. Specifically, Power wants to outfit fifth graders from the Jane-Finch area with sweatbands and turn them into pros. The program, TDot Squash, has hip-hop branding and is modelled on similar clubs in Chicago and New York that partner with neighbourhood schools and are significantly increasing high school graduation rates among inner-city students. “We had a trial run one weekend,” says Power, “and the kids loved it. I mean, it’s a pretty easy sell: they’re 10 years old, and they don’t care what they’re doing as long as it’s fun.”

—Jasmine Budak

No. 7

A musical about a JEWISH WICCAN LESBIAN MOM is the next Drowsy Chaperone

(Image: Mirvish Productions) 

The theatre sensation of the past year, My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding began its brief, wondrous life as a coffee-house song of the same name, sung by its writer, David Hein, to audiences across North America. He’d get whoops of approval from gay marriage proponents in the States. With his wife, Irene Carl Sankoff, Hein turned the autobiographical ditty into a short musical, mounted in an 85-seat storefront in Kensington as part of last summer’s Fringe festival. An impressed David Mirvish programmed it into the 700-seat Panasonic for two weeks last November, and the bulked-up version of the original Fringe piece was extended five times, for a total of 15 weeks. Now there are rumours the play will follow Drowsy Chaperone to Broadway. With gay marriage no longer a hot-button issue in Toronto, the city’s audiences focused on the show’s attributes: its poignant portrait of a family in transition, its melodic songs, its sly humour. MMLJWW has a certain low-key sensibility and a refreshing lack of showiness. It’s as unassuming as the city that incubated it.

—Alec Scott

No. 8

MUSIC has a new cathedral

(Image: Sandy Nicholson) 

Twenty years ago, when the architect Marianne McKenna began work on the painstaking restoration and redesign of the Royal Conservatory, the old Bloor Street pile—a former Baptist college built in 1881—was a wreck. The buckets came out when it rained, pianos had to be moved when floors buckled, and the whole decrepit building was caked with a century’s worth of soot. Patience personified, McKenna consulted on two radically different redesigns over the past two decades. At last, her labours are done, her concept executed. The original building’s multi-hued bricks now glow, and a new slate roof keeps the rain out. The best part is the new addition. Known for her eco-modernist Jackson-Triggs winery, McKenna conceived and executed an intimate, sleek concert hall—which no less a maestro than Zubin Mehta has already called one of the best in the world. The room is acoustically superb, with a striking wooden wave on its ceiling that exemplifies Goethe’s description of architecture as frozen music.

—Alec Scott

No. 9

LIQUOR SNOBS have their own clubhouse

Rare vintage: members pay an annual fee of $285 to sip the retro cocktails at the Toronto Temperance Society (Image: Christopher Stevenson) 

Century-old mixed drink recipes are fashionable again at the new, members-only Toronto Temperance Society, an art deco–styled lounge upstairs from the College Street bistro Sidecar. An annual membership of $285 keeps out the riff-raff and buys the privilege of knocking elbows with barflies who believe a real martini never includes vodka; tonic water, mixers and syrups should be made in-house; and the best spirits are rare or patriotic (they use an all-natural absinthe from B.C.). The bar is run by a trio of nightlife veterans, and since it’s their private clubhouse, they enforce peculiar rules: only women are allowed to initiate conversations; cellphones are banned on the premises; and “no one under 25 is permitted unless accompanied by an adult.” It’s worth putting up with the hipster pretensions to sip the house cocktail, a beguiling, bracingly bitter concoction of rye and Fernet-Branca that was last popular in 1922.

—Adam McDowell

No. 10


(Image: Lisa J. Murphy/Tactile Mind) 

The U.S. Library of Congress produces a Braille version of Playboy, proof there are some people who really do read the articles. But what if words aren’t enough? Lisa J. Murphy, a photographer who studied tactile graphics at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, has gone one step further and created a limited edition tome of bas-relief erotica, sold through her blog and at the indie bookstore This Ain’t the Rosedale Library. Tactile Mind’s 17 images are embossed thermoplastic interpretations of naked bodies or parts thereof. The results are unusual (one man with a washboard stomach wears a mask; a voluptuous woman has a plastic bag over her head), but who’s to say what’ll turn some people on. The idea is original and, if visually impaired smut enthusiasts are smitten enough, could give a jolt to the moribund publishing industry.

—Mark Pupo

No. 11

We’re spoiling indie movie fans with their own LUXURIOUS MULTIPLEX

Over the past few years, the Toronto International Film Festival has spread its tinsel-covered tentacles across the city, showing movies in whatever theatre was available. But come September, TIFF (and its year-round offerings, Sprockets and Cinema­theque) will at last have its own home: a citadel of cinema called Bell Lightbox. The glass, zinc and Douglas fir building will house five state-of-the-art theatres, three gallery spaces, the festival’s offices, a restaurant and a bar. The highbrow multiplex’s sculpted rooftop event space is itself modelled on Capri’s Villa Malaparte, a prominent location in Godard’s Contempt. The fall’s first official exhibition—a Tim Burton retrospective—attempts to be less intimidating.

—Jason McBride

No. 12

The big house hasn’t miniaturized CONRAD BLACK’S VOCABULARY

Our most notorious white-collar criminal didn’t take to typical prison pursuits, like licence plate making and smoke swapping. Instead, Prisoner 18330-424 has turned the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex into an institute of higher learning. If he’s not tutoring fellow inmates in high school English or lecturing on the virtues of Nixon, he’s writing a weekly column for the National Post, proving that when it comes to $10 words, he’s still a billionaire.

Here, we’ve compiled our 10 favourite Conrad Black pensée, all published in the Post. Match the word to the sentence:

A. superannuated, B. epater, C. dyspeptic, D. gerrymandered, E. coruscation, F. petti­fogging, G. dragooned, H. alluvia, I. purblind, J. cockade

1. Where it becomes more complicated is when she indulges her pleasure in affronting the sensibilities of the politically correct and decides to _____________ les bourgeois. (On Ann Coulter, April 3, 2010)

2. Terror is become frivolity when Hitchens is wearing its _____________. (On Catholic Church scandals, March 27, 2010)

3. But Quebec is _____________, both as bully and as crybaby. (On Quebec nationalism, Dec. 19, 2009)

4. It should now do homage to its honourable past, stop pretending that the lights went on only in 1960, forsake infantilism (like sending 50 separatist MPs to Ottawa to mock federalism and vest their pensions) and enjoy Quebec’s earned and potential status in what—despite the _____________ malice of the separatists, who habitually claim English Canada to be a pathetic excrescence of the anglo-Americans—has become one of the most successful countries in the world. (On Quebec nationalism, Dec. 19, 2009)

5. The most unrelievedly gloomy, implacably alarmist, Americophobic, Israel-baiting heirloom of Cold War defeatism, so _____________ he made Admiral Gene La Rocque seem like Douglas MacArthur. (On journalist Gwynne Dyer’s dated
obsessions, July 4, 2009)

6. It was my good fortune that some of the managers of the library here were aware of books I had written and convinced the education superior that I should do something in that area and not wait to be _____________ into tending dandelions
in the compound or emptying recycling bins and the like. (On teaching inmates, Nov. 14, 2009)

7. Now its relics could join the other nearby _____________ of previous
German states, like the rings of a tree. (On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov. 7, 2009)

8. I assumed that the United States, at the supreme _____________ of its history, would have a long, successful and benign eminence in the world. (On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov. 7, 2009)

9. They would have over 200 million people not counting India, and could take integration as far as convenient, without trying to force the pace in the annoying EU manner, with Brussels’ endless _____________ directives on the size of condoms and bananas and so forth. (On the need for a tiered Commonwealth, Oct. 31, 2009)

10. Nothing is being done to defuse the Social Security or other benefit time bombs, or to reform a corrupt political system in which most of the legislators are bound hand and foot to different special interests, and are locked almost permanently into _____________ districts. (On Obama’s record, Oct. 15, 2009)

Answers: A3, B1, C5, D10, E8, F9, G6, H7, I4, J2

No. 13

JEANNE is fabulous

(Image: George Pimentel) 

There’s just no better word for her. Of course there are other words—ridiculous, over-exposed and occasionally grating—but that in-your-face, love-me-or-leave me chutzpah is all part of the fashion icon’s charm. And she is an icon. Over her 25 years with FashionTelevision, the girl who once studied to be a mime has hobnobbed with the biggest names in the biz and scored interviews—like an exclusive face-to-face with a retiring Valentino—that left less tenacious reporters weeping into their Louboutins. Rich and famous friends aside, Jeanne’s true power lies in her propping up of Canadian talent. Lida Baday, Mikhael Kale and the guys of Greta Constantine all have Jeanne Beker to thank for their success. And what could be more fabulous than that?

—Courtney Shea

Watch a slide show of Jeanne from her early days at Fashion Television to present »

(Image: Michael Cooper Photographic/Courtesy COC) 

No. 14

We have a

The call came in early that February morning two years ago, and it woke her up. Yannick-Muriel Noah was told she should prepare to sing the title role that evening in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Tosca. The scheduled soprano was ill; Noah would be taking her place. The request is every young opera singer’s dream and nightmare. Till that morning, she’d been nothing more than a promising 29-year-old member of the COC ensemble, the company’s training troupe. As Tosca, she would be noticed big time: she’d be the only female voice onstage, with every opera queen waiting to pounce if her performance of the famous Act 2 aria didn’t cut it. She sang that night, and a second night as well, and she dazzled. So much so that she was offered the equally taxing role of Madama Butterfly this past season. She dazzled again—reviewers gushed, audiences stood and cheered.

Noah seemed to come out of nowhere. She was accepted into the COC’s prestigious ensemble studio with no performance experience and little knowledge of the art form (a singing teacher had told her she had an operatic voice when she began lessons at 15, and she thought, “That’s quirky enough. I’ll give it a try”). She took voice lessons, then auditioned for the COC in the fall of 2004 and was hired immediately for the following season, one of just four sopranos chosen. Since then, she’s been quietly winning prizes in international competitions, almost always taking the audience favourite award. Lucky for us, her family moved here, from Madagascar, when she was four years old. Luckier for us, she didn’t pursue her original dream of architecture (she has a degree but has never practised). Lucky for just about everybody, she’s now travelling that luscious voice all over the planet.

—Gerald Hannon

No. 15

Multiculturalism includes ZOMBIES

(Image: Kagan McLeod) 

The undead have a crush on Toronto. Since 2003, thousands of gore hounds have shambled from Trinity-Bellwoods Park to the Bloor Cinema during the annual October zombie walk, munching on faux-brains, drooling outside of butcher shop windows, and carrying placards campaigning for undead rights. Zombies are also a major part of our film industry. In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Milla Jovovich rappels down the side of city hall while fighting a legion of reani­mated corpses. Sarah Polley slaughtered zombies in a Thornhill mall in the remake of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead. Romero, the so-called Grandfather of the Zombie, came to Toronto in 1999 to shoot a low-budget thriller and never left. Survival of the Dead, his latest movie and the sixth in his Dead series, was filmed here (one scene takes place on the Island ferry). George Stroumboulopoulos, in a riff on his role at the CBC, plays a talk show host who broadcasts from his basement while zombies rule the streets. If the dead ever do rise and lay siege to our city, we’ll be well prepared.

—John Semley

No. 16

A $5,000 LOAN kept Cleoni Crawford in business

(Image: Finn O’hara) 

Regular banks wouldn’t lend to Cleoni Crawford. She’s had a bad rating since defaulting—“stupidly,” she says—on her credit card during university. She needed money (not a lot) to open an office and showroom for her on-line women’s clothing business, C-virtue. Then she heard about the new Black Creek micro-credit program, launched last February. Micro-credit, for the uninitiated, originated in the developing world as a way to spur entrepreneurship. Extend tiny loans at low interest rates, the thinking goes, to people who have good ideas but lack the means to execute them—people with bad credit, no credit, no job, no collateral. Loan officers are usually peers and neighbours, not some faceless bank, and defaulting, as a result, is surprisingly rare. Black Creek aims to hand out a total of $100,000 this year, all within its catchment area, which includes Jane-Finch. Crawford’s sales have grown by 30 per cent since she expanded, and she was able to hire a professional pattern maker and sewer, freeing up more time for her to design new clothes. In March, she hosted her second fashion show at the York Woods Public Library Theatre. She is living proof the program works. It’s all about building trust, having faith and providing opportunity.

—Jason McBride

No. 17

South Korea’s biggest celebrity hangs out in North York

Four years ago, Yu-Na Kim moved here from South Korea with her mom so that she could train with Brian Orser at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club. The club has been home to more than few podium toppers (Petra Burke and Toller Cranston among them). What makes it special? The uniquely soft, easy-on-the-joints ice (frozen on sand instead of the usual concrete). Kim trains up to six hours a day, six days a week. In fact, exactly one week after triple lutzing and triple toeing her way to gold in Vancouver, Kim was already back in Toronto practicing. She had to get ready for Worlds in Torino.

—Matthew Hague

No. 18

A trippy James Turrell light sculpture delivers colour therapy to the suits at Bay and Adelaide.

No. 19

Shopping at the Queen Street Bay store is, after a glam make-over, no longer hell. The mega-popular Olympic mittens helped, too.

No. 20

The CN Tower is a superb antennae for free HDTV service (providing your home antennae is south-facing and has a direct sightline).

No. 21

With the successful colonization of West Queen West and Leslieville, there are now officially three gay ghettos.

(Image: Chuck Stoody/CP)

No. 22

We’re making our own brand of must-see REALITY TV

(Image: courtesy of Insight Productions) 

If you’re not among the two million Cana­dians who tuned in to watch CBC’s Battle of the Blades, here are the basics: grace-challenged former NHLers pair up with ice dancing and figure skating champs to perform weekly routines in front of the judges, who then offer their expert critiques. The home audience votes for their favourites, and the judges decide who gets “iced.” The result is an hour of TV as unabashedly Canadian as a Mountie eating a peameal bacon sandwich on a moose, and as entertaining as any athletic smackdown since the Battle of the Brians. Season one victors Jamie Salé and Craig Simpson overcame a bad back (his) and a hideous crop top (hers) to take home the top prize; their final routine included a gravity-defying lift that only a brawny forward could pull off. Other puck-obsessed nations, such as Sweden, Finland and Russia, are negotiating to purchase rights to Blades, a Canadian invention, to make their own versions. If they do it right, they’ll include a big-name bruiser like Tie Domi, whose fumbling in his figure skates eclipsed even his turbulent love life on the morbid fascination scale, redefining must-see TV.

—Courtney Shea

(Image: Darren Calabrese/CP) 

No. 23

We have a contender at this summer’s ROGERS CUP

Tennis, once the whitest of white bread sports, now draws a multicultural fiesta to the annual Rogers Cup. Latinos egg on the injury-prone Rafael Nadal (Andale, Rafa!). Transplanted Russians try to cheer Dinara Safina out of her latest funk. This year, odds are we’ll have a bona fide hometown boy to cheer into the final rounds. Daniel Nestor, a towering, skinny Serbian who was raised in Bayview Village, originally played singles—he once beat Stefan Edberg—but his back-court game was never world class. Since switching to doubles, where his excellent reflexes and killer instinct make him a natural at the net, he has won the coveted career golden slam of top honours at the Olympics and victories in all four majors. He sat at the top of the doubles ranking for much of this past year, making him the one to beat.

No. 24

An underpass is going to be AN ART GALLERY

(Image: courtesy of Birch Libralato Gallery) 

Since 1966, the city has been promising to straighten that infernal Parkdale spot at Queen Street West where Dufferin takes a dogleg around the Georgetown railway line. The $35-million project is finally underway. This is not your typical repaving job. In addition to fixing a traffic hazard, the revamp, when completed this summer, will add bike lanes and green space and a public art installation—a series of extraordinary mosaics embedded in the walls of a newly built Dufferin underpass. The person responsible for the mosaics is Luis Jacob, a former member of the indie pop band the Hidden Cameras and a DJ who plays at Parkdale bars. He’s also a brainy conceptual artist who shows at festivals like Germany’s Documenta. He often takes big-name Canadian art as his subjects (he once remade Michael Snow’s iconic Eaton Centre sculpture of flying geese with taxidermied pigeons). The mosaics—24 in total—are a delirious combinations of colour, inspired, he says, by the costumes at the Caribana parade and the religious iconography of the neighbourhood’s Tibetans. Or think of them as the best outdoor psychedelic trip going—no hallucinogenics required.
—Alison Pick

No. 25

A Mississauga college offers diplomas in BOLLYWOOD ACTING

(Image: Yash Raj Films/Kobial Collection) 

Assuming you are fluent in Hindi, it takes only 16 weeks to become a Bollywood star. That’s the length of a new program in choreographed dancing, lip-synching and melodramatic emoting offered by the Canadian Institute of Management and Technology, a small technical college in Mississauga. Lucky Sanda, the pro­gram’s founder and a child star in Mumbai, saw the chance to tap into the swelling ranks of the GTA’s South Asians (674,215 and counting) and chose 10 promising students from the hundred who auditioned for the first session this year. They’re entering a big job market: Bollywood movies play to full houses at GTA megaplexes, Queen’s Park is actively courting Bollywood production companies, and the International Indian Film Academy Awards, Bollywood’s Oscars, will broadcast from Toronto in 2011—the first time it has been held in North America.

—Greg Hudson

No. 26

Our busiest highway doubles as a stage for HONOURING FALLEN SOLDIERS

April 14, 2010: mourners observe the passing of Private Tyler William Todd’s hearse from a 401 overpass (Image: Geoffrey Pugen) 

On April 11, a few weeks away from the end of his six-month tour, Tyler William Todd, a 26-year-old Canadian Forces private, joined his platoon on a visit to Belanday, a village in a volatile area southwest of Kandahar City. Todd’s job was to drive the light-armoured vehicle that carried his fellow Delta company soldiers. That morning, while on foot patrol, he stepped on an explosive. Todd was the 142nd Canadian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan, and his death was marked by a series of ceremonies: a send-off at Kandahar Airfield, a repatriation attended by his parents at CFB Trenton, and the gathering of hundreds of mourners along the overpasses of the 401 as a cortège delivered his remains to Toronto’s coroner’s office. His funeral took place five days later in Plattsville, near his rural Ontario hometown.

Paying tribute from the highway is a tradition that began in 2002, with the first deaths from the Afghanistan mission, and will likely continue as long as there are fallen soldiers to honour. It’s a coordinated display of patriotism: traffic is rerouted, flags are flown from the raised ladders of fire trucks, retirement homes bus in war vets, and people ditch work (the hearses usually pass through the GTA around 4 p.m.). At some point in the past decade, the admonition to Support Our Troops lost its jingoism and was embraced even by diehard war protestors who admire the soldiers if not the mission.

—Mark Pupo

No. 27

DRAKE proves, once and for all, that Forest Hill boys don’t all have to be doctors and lawyers

(Illustration: PJ Loughran) 

What seems like the most interesting thing about Aubrey Drake Graham—that, as a teen, he starred on Degrassi: The Next Generation—is in fact the least interesting thing about him. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a great attention grabber, like if Joey Jeremiah won the Man Booker. But this trivial tidbit obscures the fact that Drake is currently the hottest rapper in the world, full stop. And he achieved it all before he’d put out a proper album.

He did, however, put out a mix tape in 2009, So Far Gone, his third, which he made available for free for download and later repackaged for iTunes. Thanks to hits like “Best I Ever Had” (which was nominated for two Grammys), MTV named So Far Gone the “Hottest Mix Tape of 2009 (So Far)” last July, citing the tape’s appeal to “the ’hood, the burbs and the industry.” Drake made converts of Kanye West and Jay-Z (and reportedly dated Rihanna) before he was officially a professional artist. He did eventually sign with Universal Motown, which plans to release a full-length album, Thank Me Later, this month. One rap obsessive’s Web site weighed in thusly: “Given the reaction to the release of the young phenom’s new single ‘Over,’ you’d think he was handing out tickets to heaven, not a song.”

All of which is well and good if you’re a hip-hop fan. But even if you only ever hear Drake booming from the car next to you at a red light (if you haven’t, you will), there’s another reason you should love him. The 23-year-old is not just the new, notable rapper; he’s a notable new kind of rapper—one who is proudly Torontonian (Forest Hill, represent!) without being wincingly Canadian, unafraid to rap with Lil Wayne while name-dropping Ebert and Roeper, and able to make tracks in a bedroom and send them out to conquer the ears of the world. We’ve always said that our digital future would eliminate all manner of borders: national, cultural, racial, musical, professional. Drake isn’t waiting for that future. He embodies it.

—Adam Sternbergh

No. 28

WILL ALSOP made the city his playground

(Image: courtesy of TTC) 

Of all the starchitectural creations that have sprouted here in recent memory, OCAD’s Sharp Centre for Design, that mischievous tabletop in the sky, is gutsier than the Gehry, livelier than the Libeskind, and the easiest to fall in love with. The building’s British architect, the peripatetic Will Alsop, has taken a shine to Toronto. Alsop has since shown his mixed-media paintings at the Olga Korper Gallery (the abstract, scribbly work was inspired by the tumult of Kensington Market) and lectured at Ryerson. Now he’s working on two new subway stations, scheduled to open in 2015. Finch West will be an angular box, while Steeles West gets a trademark Alsop blob. Twentieth-century Toronto architecture may be too eclectic to ascribe to a single creative mind. Alsop has already made a pretty good start at defining the 21st.

—Jason McBride

No. 29

Our students will do anything, including streak across Yonge and Dundas in the middle of winter, for an art project

(Image: Carl W. Heindl) 

No. 30

A clue to CURING CANCER is waiting at College and University

Medical research is a counter­productively cutthroat pursuit, funded by prestige-hungry universities and competing biotech and pharmaceutical companies who race to claim ownership of valuable findings. Wouldn’t we be closer to eradicating serious diseases if, instead of duplicating each other’s efforts, scientists shared data and collaborated on a cure? We’re about to find out: the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, located in the MaRS building—that paradigm of teamwork on College Street—is now home to a communal database for international projects mapping the genetic mutations of 50 cancers from a pool of 25,000 samples. Public money from 22 countries funds the effort, and genome decoding projects are divided among participants. In a case of altruism trumping vested interests, all have agreed not to file intellectual property claims. If successful, the promise of new and more effective cancer treatments will become a reality.

—Mark Pupo

No. 31

One Bloor East is set to rise again, now with a sexily curvaceous design by architecture firm Hariri Pontarini.

No. 32

Fifteen new wineries opened in Prince Edward County last year, and the latest pinot noirs are living up to the hype.

No. 33

There’s hope for the suburbs yet: a developer wants to build a pedestrian- and bike-friendly, high-density mini-city for 47,000 people in the middle of Markham.

No. 34

People with no backyard garden can meet people who have one (and are willing to split the bounty) at sharingbackyardstoronto.ca. It’s like a dating site for vegetable lovers.

No. 35

Last March, unclaimed bikes from Igor Kenk’s stash were given out for free at the Cabbagetown Youth Centre.

No. 36

We figured out what to do with THE GARDINER

How do you solve a problem like the Gardiner? Forget the usual, astronomically expensive answers: tear it down, bury it or transform it into an elevated park. How about simply trying to live with it? The new Fort York visitor centre, set to open for the War of 1812 bicentennial commemorations, integrates the 217-year-old fort, Toronto’s de facto spiritual centre, with the 52-year-old expressway. The centre will be built on the narrow band of land immediately north of the Gardiner, and the expressway will be used as a ready-made canopy for public events and celebrations. Plantings of grasses and bushes will mimic the city’s original, pre-fill shoreline while also cleansing highway runoff. Soon enough, the hulking concrete highway won’t just be a roadway that gets you (slowly, frustratingly) from downtown to the burbs; it’ll be a destination unto itself.
—Jason McBride

(Image: courtesy of Patkau Architects Inc.) 

No. 37

We’ll risk arrest to raise BACKYARD CHICKENS

(Image: Daniel Ehrenworth) 

The Black Breasted Red Malay is the Rottweiler of the poultry world. The Mottled Houdan, with its black and white plumage, looks a lot like a Dalmatian. The Silver Spangled Spitzhauben has a salt-and-pepper mohawk, like Mr. T on the geriatric ward, while Ameraucana looks somewhat vanilla but lays blue-green eggs. You should learn this now, because soon enough you’ll have to, just as you once had to learn to distinguish your next-door neighbour’s dung-eyed shih-poo from the incontinent bichon frise a few doors down. Some of those same neighbours have adopted the chicken as the new favourite pet. And why not? They contribute something: eggs, primarily, and also fertilizer. Backyard chickens make decent eating, too, even if the meat vs. eggs question is the great unspoken wedge issue of the backyard poultry camp.

The downside to raising chickens in the city is that it’s against the law, as is keeping venomous snakes, lowland gorillas and white-nosed coatimundis. Over time, many of the municipalities that now make up Toronto banned them, citing vastly overblown health and nuisance concerns. But at least 1,300 Torontonians want to change that. On the petition asking council to reverse the ban, one signatory wrote, “If New York City can do it, Toronto can do it.” Another posited, “Perhaps there would be less crime in the city if teenagers were allowed to keep chickens—this would occupy their minds and give them a hobby”—a commendable, if optimistic, sentiment. The comment that best expressed Hogtown’s newfound love was far more simple and direct: “Up with chickens!” Some time this fall, the Food Policy Council, an arm’s length municipal agency, will present a list of recommendations to city hall; backyard chicken advocates are hoping it will recommend the legalization of small-scale urban chicken farming. Until then, the scores of illegal flocks kept in backyards around the city will remain fugitives from injustice. Up with backyard eggs. Up with backyard chicken roasts. Up with chickens! Toronto could do worse for a civic motto.

—Chris Nuttall-Smith

No. 38

Even with Rosedale on one side and the DVP on the other, it’s easy to imagine you’re in the middle of a woodland eden on a visit to the Brick Works farmers’ market.

No. 39

As the host of a weirdly addictive talk radio show, John Tory finally found a way for us to appreciate him without having to elect him.

No. 40

Big movies like Bruce Willis’s Red are being shot here again (despite the high dollar).

No. 41

Toronto Public Health now offers sex education through a texting service.

No. 42

Tech nerds at U of T’s Munk Centre exposed an Internet spy ring that had compromised India’s missile system and Canada’s visa system.

No. 43

K’naan’s ridiculously catchy “Wavin’ Flag” is the anthem of this month’s World Cup in South Africa.

No. 44

The furor over a photo of a sleeping TTC ticket taker has miraculously led to better service (yes, your bus driver actually said “Good morning”).

No. 45

Ambitious new restaurants, like Origin, Böhmer, Malena, Scarpetta and Ruby Watchco, are opening again.

No. 46

The TSX lists the most clean-tech and renewable power companies in the world.

No. 47

SHRIEKING at the museum is encouraged

Over its 22-year existence, the bat cave exhibit, the coolest part of any kid’s visit to the ROM, had lost its Bruce Wayne lustre and was looking as tired and worn as Alfred Pennyworth. Entire clouds of bats had disappeared (some were found clogging the museum’s toilets), and the un-cavelike carpeting was left in tatters. Now, thanks to a healthy injection of federal stimulus funds (the project cost $600,000), more than 300 new hand-modelled bats are roosting, grooming or taking flight, and a jostling bed of cockroaches in a cavern gives a hair-raisingly accurate idea of an infestation. What looks like guano is blessedly odour-free blackish-brown textured rubber, and a real-life soundtrack of water dripping, bats chirping and wings flapping makes the experience spookier than ever.

—Matthew Hague

(Image: Eamon Mac Mahon) 

No. 48

THE SUBWAY is about to get a lot less hellacious

(Image: Courtesy of the TTC) 

This fall, the first of 39 new subway trains will roll onto the Yonge-University-Spadina line. The new models feature swooping glass cockpits, electronic route maps and information screens showing the train’s position and alerting riders of delays, and articulated gangways connecting each of the six cars together into one long, open train—which means room for 110 more riders per train and fewer elbows jammed into our backs. The best feature is two or three years away, when the TTC will have installed an automated signalling system, speeding up the ride and cutting wait time between trains. Appropriately enough, the new models are called Rockets.

—Andrew D’Cruz

No. 49

TOMMY TON decides what’s hot

To the outside observer, the fads of haute couture make as much sense as a 26-year-old blogger becoming an international arbiter of style. In 2008, two months after Ton launched Jak and Jil, his street fashion blog, from his parents’ Oakville house, the prestigious Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford hired him to photograph its 2009 campaign. Since then, Ton has shot for Vogue and GQ, and sat two seats away from Anna Wintour in the front row of runway shows. Ton snaps his subjects as they bang out text messages, take smoke breaks or walk briskly past him. He draws the eye to one micro-detail of an ensemble—most often, a beautiful pair of heels—and his obsessions have become our own.

—Benjamin Leszcz

No. 50

CHRIS BOSH owns the hardwood, and we can’t imagine the Raps without him

(Illustration: Andrew Zbihlyj) 

Dear Chris,

You’ll be a free agent next month, and you’ll probably leave for Orlando or the Knicks. Please reconsider. They’ll never, ever love you like we do.

We still remember the way you looked when we first met you seven years ago, a 19-year-old Texan with improbably skinny ankles and a tiny head atop a lanky six-foot-10 frame. That first year, you were forced to play centre—not your usual position—and you were like a colt among stallions, yet you managed to hold your own. Your grit was impressive.
It’s true Vince was our big crush back then. We were obsessed, lovesick. We felt giddy from his attention, validated by his presence. But we were so naive. We should have seen what was coming, should have known that he only cared about one thing—himself. That he dragged his heels through his final half season here, petulantly awaiting a trade and turning our breakup into public spectacle, was humiliating for him and us.

When we finally came to our senses, there you were: the unlikely heir to a disillusioned franchise. We found ourselves warming to your unassuming style of leadership, your unselfish play. We began to see something of ourselves in you. You were at once serious and funny, more reserved and self-aware than your blustery peers. To you, the world isn’t some inflatable round thing made of rubber and leather. It’s something greater, and you were out to discover it. You packed on some muscle and set records. You became our all-time highest scorer (surpassing crybaby Carter), led the league in double-doubles, and made your presence known every time you stepped onto the hardwood.

The pundits say you’re a number two guy, destined to be the prince to a King James or a Dwyane Wade. To us, you’ll always be number one. Don’t go, Bosher. We’ll do anything: commission a Drake song in your honour, rename the ACC after you. Anything—seriously. Please don’t break our hearts.