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Editor’s Letter (January 2013): why Toronto is suddenly such a hotbed of creative talent

Editor’s Letter (January 2013): why Toronto is suddenly such a hotbed of creative talent

Over the past year or so, a particular breed of talented Torontonians made it big. Sheila Heti’s quirky semi-autobiographical novel How Should a Person Be?, about a bunch of Toronto artists struggling to live life authentically, became an influential bestseller, endorsed by Girls creator Lena Dunham. The music world gushed over the moody R&B artist The Weeknd, otherwise known as Abel Tesfaye, a 22-year-old of Ethiopian descent from Scarborough, who was discovered in 2011 by his pal Drake and is now filling stadiums all over North America.

The music journalist John Norris called Tesfaye the best musical talent since Michael Jackson. And the filmmaker Sarah Polley recently released two movies: Take This Waltz, a much-admired romantic comedy set in Toronto, and Stories We Tell, a riveting, critically acclaimed documentary about her complicated family history.

These three celebrated artists share a kind of low-key humility. They’re ambitious, of course, but they have temperaments that set them apart from some of their brasher American counterparts—and make them highly appealing to today’s hipster tastemakers.

Why is Toronto suddenly such a hotbed of talent? This city has some foundational elements that prove to be very nourishing. We have great public schools (many of which specialize in the arts), good health care (so people don’t have to take crappy jobs just to get health insurance), and a grant-giving system that is the envy of creative people everywhere. Sarah Polley, for example, attended the Claude Watson School for the Arts in North York. Sheila Heti has won numerous Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council grants.

Then there are the less tangible, more attitudinal qualities that give a city its flavour and disposition. Toronto’s progressive, tolerant, harmonious social environment leads to some interesting cultural cross-pollination. Drake, for example, a half-black, half-Jewish kid from Forest Hill, couldn’t be more Torontonian.

A few months ago, this magazine ran a profile of the Toronto-born electro-pop star Diamond Rings, who has since appeared on Leno and Letterman. It makes perfect sense to me that this playfully androgenous, super-cool musician emerged from Toronto, one of the most accepting cities in the world when it comes to gender identity.

In this issue, we feature another unique Toronto talent: Calum de Hartog, a member of the Toronto Police Service’s Emergency Task Force. He’s also a co-creator of the TV show Cracked, premiering on CBC this month, in which the main character—de Hartog’s alter ego—is an EMT detective with post-traumatic stress disorder. Retired police officers often consult on cop shows, but an active cop writing and producing one is a remarkable thing.

Another Toronto phenomenon: Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, the hosts of SportsCentre on TSN, deliver madcap comedy in between sports clips. You might not think that hockey and baseball highlights are best delivered with a dose of late-night talk show–style silliness, but viewers can’t seem to get enough. Some two million people tune in every week. This summer, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about Onrait and O’Toole titled: “Why Can’t We Have Canada’s SportsCentre?” In this issue, Malcolm Johnston looks at Onrait and O’Toole’s surprise success in “Send in the Clowns,” and illustrates why, in the hotly competitive sports media arena, these two goofballs have given TSN the edge.

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