The story behind the stories from Yonge and Finch
We live in an era when sudden mass murders in public places happen with cruel regularity. The scenario is becoming all too familiar: people will be out and about, doing something totally ordinary—attending a concert, gathering for prayer, walking to work—and then a killer turns the scene into one of grisly chaos. In the last few years, we’ve witnessed the Paris terrorist attacks, the Orlando nightclub killings, the Quebec City mosque shooting, the Manchester bombing, the Las Vegas massacre and the tragedy in Parkland, to name just a few. In each case, the killer’s motive was some awful, toxic mix of madness and ideology.
Until April 23, Torontonians had only watched such nightmares from afar. Alek Minassian, with his vile rampage down Yonge Street, brought Toronto, horrifically, into a tragic alliance with other targeted cities. But Toronto responded to the van attacks in a uniquely Torontonian way. The constable who arrested Minassian has been heralded around the world for holding fire—in stark contrast to the multitude of videos we have seen of cops shooting even when their own lives aren’t being threatened. The first responders to the carnage at Yonge and Finch, and bystanders who jumped in to help, behaved heroically, risking their own lives to be of service.
The city has mourned the victims of the van attack in a decidedly multicultural fashion, expressing grief through diverse voices. The cards and messages at the memorial at Mel Lastman Square were written in many different languages. The #TorontoStrong vigil on the first Sunday after the attacks included rabbis, imams, priests, ministers, Indigenous drummers and a collective “om.” The overwhelming reaction, across the city, was to help—by giving blood, by laying down flowers, by walking up Yonge Street in song and by giving money. Within a few weeks, the Toronto Foundation had collected nearly $3 million (and counting) for organizations that will help support the families of the victims.
At Toronto Life, we wanted our coverage of the massacre to celebrate the big-hearted spirit displayed by so many Torontonians during the crisis. So we sent a small army of journalists and photographers out to talk to people who were on that stretch of Yonge Street around the time the killings took place. They told us what they were doing at that moment, how they reacted and how they felt. The result is “The Faces of Yonge and Finch,” a portrait of a street in crisis but also a portrait of a city united. Toronto Life’s art director, Christine Dewairy, created the cover to illustrate our grief about the massacre and to draw attention to the courage and generosity that emerged in its wake.
I never really understood what a poet laureate did or why the role was created until I heard Toronto’s current poet laureate, the great novelist Anne Michaels, at the #TorontoStrong vigil. She spoke powerfully that night. Acting almost as a secular preacher, she recited a poem she wrote for the occasion that captured how many of us were feeling: “In darkness, love cries out. All night it grows. The wall of flowers, prayers, solace, spontaneous, immediate, a thousand names, ten thousand…. Our love reaches every corner of the city.”
Sarah Fulford is the editor of Toronto Life. She can be found on Twitter @sarah_fulford.