The New Abnormal

Photographer Ian Brown set out to capture this generation-defining moment in the city. The result: portraits of 43 Torontonians grappling with change, fear and uncertainty

Ian Brown

Photographer Ian Brown survived cancer at the age of 19 and a heart attack at 32. He has worked with HIV-AIDS patients in Malawi and dodged bullets during the civil war in Colombia. His daughter, Miya, underwent emergency surgery in utero at just 20 weeks gestation. So he knows better than most people that crisis can strike at any time. When the pandemic hit in March, it was just another holy shit moment in a life already full of them.

When the pandemic hit, Brown became curious about how his city was managing under lockdown, so he put out a call on social media for subjects, with a simple question: what does the pandemic mean to you? He was soon inundated with answers. Next, he did what has come naturally to him since he was in his 20s. He picked up his camera. Then he criss-crossed the city, meeting subjects wherever they chose: a front stoop, a basketball court, a dog park. They were by turns scared, courageous, grateful, angry, sad and various points in between. Eventually, Brown’s project spanned the city, with subjects of all ages, ethnicities and income levels. Single people, large families, empty-nesters, each with something interesting to say about their neighbourhood, their city, their lives in an age of turmoil. The result is a snapshot of a generation-defining moment in Toronto’s history, at once broad in scope and intimate in detail.

Photographed on April 4, 2020

Who they are: Ryan Tiwari, 35, and Anusree Roy, 37
What they do: He’s an aspiring law student, she’s a writer and actor
Where they live: Little Italy

Anusree: “Ryan had chemotherapy for cancer years ago, which has left him with a weak immune system, and I have asthma. As a result, we’ve gone outside only for walks. We get groceries and essentials delivered, and we clean them with bleach as soon as they arrive. Before all of this happened, I was writing on a television show, but it was forced to shut down and I was terminated. I was blessed to book another gig in a virtual writing room for a Canadian television show. Ryan had quit his job in HR to study for his LSAT so he can fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, so it’s a bit of a circus in our tiny one-bedroom apartment. I work on the dining table, while Ryan sits on the couch solving LSAT problems.

“We do have a tiny backyard where we spend our lunch breaks together, speed eating and catching up on our days before getting back to work. When our workday ends, we have been slow dancing to French music, meditating together and sending prayers in the air. What’s remarkable is that the pandemic has ultimately brought us closer together.”

Photographed on April 5, 2020

Who they are: Kate Macdonald, 29, and Roberto Granados-Ocon, 36, with Nacho, 3 (and Dolores, born April 25)
What they do: She’s a patient advocate, he’s a labour coordinator
Where they live: St. Lawrence

Kate: “I was in my third trimester when the pandemic struck. Roberto and I were fortunate to have stable jobs, and we had just moved to affordable housing in a great area and had been saving money for the arrival of the baby. So we’ve been feeling grateful lately. But our friends in other parts of the city have lost their jobs, are on rent strike and facing harassment from their landlords. Some are on government assistance and are having trouble coping financially and emotionally. Plus, the shelters are at capacity. We’ve been trying our best to help by signing all the open letters and petitions, and emailing MPs. That’s one way the pandemic has changed me: my activism has increased. I’ve written to every hospital in Ontario about harmful policies such as having to give birth alone if you’re suspected of having Covid-19. I emailed municipal officials about the city’s response to the pandemic and the effect on vulnerable populations. I’ve been writing emails about police violence. It’s easy to get discouraged by so many automated responses, but I won’t stop.

“When I was pregnant, I was thinking constantly about my midwives who were afraid of running out of PPE, working without pandemic pay and fighting to be recognized as essential workers. I was also so worried I’d get sick and be forced to give birth alone. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Dolores was born on April 25. Six pounds, six ounces. Now we’re adjusting to being a family of four. It’s wonderful, but at the same time, we can’t go to the library or any of the baby-time groups. Nacho has cabin fever and misses his friends. There’s a reason people don’t normally spend every minute of every day together. It will be nice to get an occasional break. We go for walks a lot and talk with him about the pandemic and, lately, about the revolution.”

Photographed on April 5, 2020

Who she is: Joan MacCallum, 77, with her dog, Andrew
What she does: Retired civil servant
Where she lives: Seaton Village

“I was always a reserved, careful person. I retired at 69 with no plans. My son told me to go to art school, even though I couldn’t draw a straight line. He said I had a great sense of colour and an eye for design. So four years ago, I started lessons. When someone put a blob of clay in my hand, it was like magic. I knew what I was meant to do. Sculpture helped me become a warmer, more open person. In sculpting, there is nothing between you and the image—it’s all in your hands. My teacher told me, ‘Art saved your life.’ She was right. There is a piece in my garden that I made, a flat slab, about three feet high. It glistens when the sun hits it. All my life, I’ve stood in the shadows; this piece stands in the light. I like to think it represents me.

“My family members have lived to a great age, so I never thought much about my mortality before. Had the pandemic happened five or 10 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have cared. But now that I’ve arrived at the party, it seems a shame if I have to leave early.”

Photographed on April 5, 2020

Who she is: Anoja Muthucumaru, 30
What she does: Marketer and freelance editor
Where she lives: Pape Village

“Today I would have been at the airport, waiting for my love. I might have made chicken curry beforehand, because that’s the new thing I’ve learned to make, and then cleaned my apartment to air out the curry. I would have fluffed all my pillows, then run out in a manic rush because I’m always running a little late. It’s part of my charm. If I’d made up the time, I would have grabbed a coffee at Union Station before boarding the UP Express. By the time I made it to Pearson, I would have probably realized the flight was delayed and I would’ve been frustrated that I had rushed. But it would have all been fine, because by the end of the day I would have held my love.

“His name is Oliver, and he’s a teacher in London. I lived there for two years and came back last September, and we’ve been long distance ever since. He was supposed to come for three weeks, but when the pandemic hit, all flights were halted. So now we video chat every day. In fact, we talk more now than we did before the pandemic because he is so isolated, too.

“As before, I’m working from home, so work and money haven’t changed that much. It’s my social life that has been upended. I used to go to dinner or for drinks with friends. Now we Zoom. It’s different, and upsetting, not to be physically present with someone.

“So today I listen to the news and sit on my couch, putting furniture, clothing and books into my online shopping cart that I don’t plan on buying—because I don’t need a sloth-shaped planter pot or a Persian rug. Later today, I might scroll through my phone and watch people practise yoga and think about doing yoga. I’ll make myself snacks and warm drinks and flip back and forth between online shopping and thinking about potentially becoming a yogi. Then I’ll get a call from my love and we’ll talk about how great it would be to see each other. ‘This will all end soon,’ we say, ‘and we’ll be together again.’”

Photographed on April 8, 2020

Who he is: Adam Bentley, 46
What he does: Contractor
Where he lives: Queen West

“I live alone, but I’m a very social person. Normally, I’d be playing frisbee golf, going to concerts and festivals and DJ parties and hanging out with friends. So the change to seeing no one except my mom—from a safe distance—has been difficult. I’m of course grateful to be able to connect online with people I care about, but that’s no substitute for a hug. Can you imagine what the Spanish flu epidemic was like 100 years ago?

“I do home renovations, and obviously everything dried up with the pandemic. CERB has meant I haven’t had to dip into my savings, plus I’m being very frugal. I used to eat out almost exclusively, since there are so many great restaurants where I live. Cooking for myself is a lot cheaper. I’m experimenting with lots of different recipes. I’m reading a lot more, especially stuff by Neal Stephenson. I’ve been cycling along the waterfront and through random neighbourhoods, especially around midnight when the city is quiet, and practising ukulele.

“This whole experience has made me more aware of how small actions can have huge consequences. And how some people can be so oblivious to the risk their behaviour presents to others. I find I’m not so tolerant of people who don’t really understand what social distancing involves, or care how important it is.

“I just spent a week at our cottage in Georgian Bay with my family, but we all tested negative immediately before we went up there, so the five of us felt enough peace of mind that we could interact properly. It was really nice to be together.”

Photographed on April 9, 2020

Who she is: Hannah Pokala, 36, with Manny, 6
What she does: Yoga and Pilates instructor
Where they live: Wychwood

“The studio where I teach closed, so I shifted to online classes. It’s been great to stay connected, physically active and to earn a bit of money, but the energy you give and receive in person, the sense of connectedness—those cannot be replaced.

“I’m a single mom, and home-schooling my son, Manny, has been both challenging and rewarding. We’ve been spending more time together, playing, cooking, reading, writing. It’s been stressful but also a privilege. There are great advantages to one-on-one instruction. More support, more attention. But without the social element and interaction of the real classroom, it’s hard for students to stay motivated.

“Socially, while Manny and I are more connected to each other than ever, we still feel so isolated. Play dates involve a screen. The park without friends and the playground suck. And when we’re out, I feel like I’m always on him, too: Don’t touch that, keep your space, wash your hands. These things are so unnatural, and Manny is such a tactile learner, a sensory kid. It’ll be interesting to see how we human beings interact with each other again once this is over. I know I yearn for human interaction, and look forward to the moment I can shake someone’s hand again or hug those I love.”

Portrait of Torontonians grappling with the covid pandemic
Photographed on April 10, 2020

Who they are: Jordin Neumann, 55, with Sophia, 6, and Bowan, 8
What he does: Real estate agent
Where they live: Beaconsfield

“My ex-wife moved out two weeks before the lockdown, and I had just started to branch out my real estate business with a new partner. The market was red hot, and I was working seven days a week to keep up and still have time for my kids. Life was a blur. In a weird way, the pandemic seemed like a godsend. Then I woke up one day in mid-March with a deep achy feeling, and I went to St. Joe’s to get tested. I had no fever and I hadn’t visited any hot zones, so they told me to go home, but I insisted they test me.

“A week later, I found out I was positive. I was terrified I had spread it to friends and family, so I went public on Facebook and called everyone I’d seen. The support I got was amazing, from old friends and new, clients, neighbours and my ex, who took the kids while I was quarantined. My fever shot up to 39 degrees for about three days—at 40 they hospitalize you—but it eventually broke and I started to feel better. Getting Covid reminded me how lucky I am at a time when I needed reminding. I am grateful for that.”

Photographed on April 10, 2020

Who they are: Olivia Parkes, 39, and Matt Davies, 40, with Xander and Milo, both 7
What they do: She’s a social worker, he’s a Grade 2 teacher
Where they live: Dufferin Grove

Olivia: “Matt and I moved to Toronto 17 years ago from Guelph for me to do grad school in social work at U of T, and we never left. Since the pandemic started, we’ve both been incredibly fortunate to be able to transition easily to working from home. I’ve been providing mental health therapy over the phone and Matt has been teaching his students virtually. We are also juggling home schooling and parenting during the week.

“Before the pandemic, we had no Internet. It was a cost-saving measure, but also the Internet is such a time sucker, and we wanted to limit the kids’ screen time. We don’t have a TV, either. When we’d want to watch a movie, we’d get DVDs from the library and watch on a laptop.

“But then the pandemic hit and we realized we needed Internet for school and our work. Plus, because the kids can no longer go to the pool or playground—or their favourite thing, the store to look at Lego kits—they’re allowed one hour of screen time per day. We signed up for Netflix and a Disney+ trial and we use the library’s Hoopla. We’ll keep them for the foreseeable future.

“At work, the demand for my services has increased because of all the pandemic-related stress. And one good thing is that I am so much more accessible to my clients. An appointment is so easily arranged and conducted online, with no travel cost or time for clients. Of course, there are cases in which communication would be much more effective in person, but there are great advantages to meeting online.

“The boys are definitely grieving their school world—their teacher, routines, classmates. They ask a lot of questions about what’s going on and we try to give honest answers. They’re lucky because each has his best friend in the bubble with him, and they get along very well. The transition was not too difficult for them because last year we took them out of school for a year—they were the youngest in the class and we wanted to postpone that year of Grade 1—and Matt took a year off work. So they were accustomed to being together at home with him. Matt and I have a really solid relationship. I know it’s very hard for some people. In that regard, we are the luckiest of the lucky.

“In general, we’re trying to take things day by day, help others when we can, exercise daily, grow some veggies and stay connected with family and friends. We are amazed and grateful for the people in our community doing extraordinary and creative things to get us all through this. We always knew we lived in a great neighbourhood, but all this time at home has led to a greater connection to our community, as small contact with neighbours has become our primary source of social interaction. In general, we have more gratitude for all that we have and a more critical distinction between our wants and needs.”

Photographed on April 11, 2020

Who they are: Meghan Hoople, 35, and Christopher Mio, 45
What they do: She’s a server and voice-over actor, he’s an elementary supply teacher
Where they live: Little Italy

Meghan: “The pandemic turned our world upside down. We both lost our jobs on March 13 and began isolating right away. We have two floors and a deck, so there is room for each of us to be alone if needed. And we’ve been together for 14 years, so we usually know what the other needs. We have savings that could cushion the loss of income but we both thankfully qualified for CERB. We’ve been living frugally: no online shopping, and we’ve ordered takeout only once. In fact, making dinners has become one of the highlights of our day, and we’ve had some stellar meals, the best of which was pizza made from scratch and cooked on the BBQ. We are making every ingredient stretch, too; there’s virtually no food waste as there was in the past.

“Especially at the outset, we felt agitated and helpless about the state of the world and were searching for a way to help, however small. We knew there were a lot of young families on our street, Euclid, who would encounter difficulties, so we distributed flyers from Bloor to Queen offering to deliver groceries, prescriptions, whatever was needed. We’re hoping our leaders use this moment in a similar way. That means taking a good hard look at the underfunding of our health care system, education system, farming system and food supply chain. It means becoming more self-sufficient as a country and not relying so heavily on the U.S. and China. And funding the arts in a meaningful way. Of course, it’s not all bad. It has been incredible to watch so many politicians work together. So much more can be done when we truly listen to each other.”

Photographed on April 11

Who they are: Asako Stronach, 48, and Robert Stronach, 50, with Lucca, 8
What they do: She’s a clothing designer, he’s a teacher
Where they live: Brockton Village

Robert: “As a Grade 7 and 8 homeroom teacher, I learned to transition to running an online classroom. Asako runs our small business designing and silk-screening T-shirts and selling them at stores and festivals. When the pandemic hit and gatherings were put on hold, she turned to making masks. As a family, we have tried to create a daily routine and a schedule to normalize this situation, but we aren’t always successful. We block out time for learning, exercise, play, cooking. I decided to take Japanese lessons online, and Asako and Lucca are learning French. We’ve tried to make the best use of our space. We converted our postage-stamp-sized backyard into a playground, an outdoor gym, a classroom, an art studio and a vegetable garden. It used to be that Lucca would have gym class, I would bike to work and Asako would go to the Y; now, we use the outdoor apparatus, which has pull-up bars, a sit-up board, a trampoline, weights.

“We eat mostly vegan. At first some fresh stuff was difficult to get, but now the stores are better stocked. We made a vegetable garden and are growing carrots, kale, zucchini, bok choy, and more. Socially, we’re hurting. We miss our friends and family, but we also just miss being among and around people in general. Things feel slower, which is a good thing. We do less, but what we do is done better. We used to be so busy with the business, creating merchandise or rushing off to festivals every weekend to sell. When life reverts, we won’t go back to such a hectic schedule. Asako and Lucca were supposed to go to Japan to see her family, and we were going to visit Haida Gwaii in B.C. this summer. Instead, Lucca and I restored an old canoe. It was in bad shape, and we spent a lot of time sanding it down and filling the holes. We’ve been canoeing and kayaking out to the Toronto Islands. It’s helped us realize how many wonders there are close to home.”

Photographed on April 12, 2020

Who he is: Jesse Bond, 49
What he does: Actor
Where he lives: Riverdale

“As an actor, so much of my life is about collaboration and reaction. At the same time, I’m a solitary person. I love to explore forgotten urban spaces—ravines, vacant lots, underpasses, derelict buildings, the places you don’t see on first glance. They have a solemn, detached quality that helps me to reflect. Solitude and togetherness, those opposing forces, have always created a balance in my life. But now, without the counterweight of the latter, those hidden places seem treacherous and lonely.

“Still, there’s beauty amid the calm. Life is slower, quieter now. As I’ve stripped away life’s complications, I’ve discovered how little I need to get by—financially or for my soul. I’ve rediscovered the simplicity of nature and the joy of good conversation. When I’m on Zoom calls, I’m way more engaged and present. I still do voice-over work and I’m receiving residuals from commercials. CERB payments have helped, too. When those run out, I may have to return to doing home renovations on the side. But that’s the life of an actor, and my reality since I was 21.”

Photographed on May 12, 2020

Who they are: Camilla Rayman Bricknell, 48, with Darryl Bricknell, 44, Ryan, 12, Jack, 11, and their rabbit, Shadow
What they do: She’s a music teacher, he’s an insurance representative
Where they live: West Rouge

Camilla: “Our boys play rep hockey. Darryl is Jack’s coach and I manage Ryan’s team. We were sad when the season was cancelled. Hockey is such a great game, but it tends to take over your life, and we began to see positives. For one, our living room is no longer a dumping ground for hockey bags, and since we have free time in the evenings, we’re doing so many things together. No more rushed dinners and then heading off to two different rinks.

“For work, I’ve had to learn how to teach music over the Internet. We do choir rehearsals one section at a time. It’s bizarre. They have to mute their microphones as they won’t sync together, so each student can hear only him- or herself, and me. I see their work and their weaknesses, and I’m learning things about my students I never would have known. Of course, my own kids bicker more than ever, but how could they not? Ultimately, the pandemic has forced us to slow down and get to know each other better. In that way, it’s been amazing. I don’t know how we’ll go back to our former state—or if we’ll want to.”

Photographed on May 12, 2020

Who she is: Nikita Layne-Austin, 19
What she does: Student
Where she lives: Regent Park

“Normally, my schedule would be this: go to school—I’m redoing some Grade 12 courses to get my marks up—attend piano, flute and organ lessons, come home and have dinner with my mom, do homework and watch TV with her, then go to bed around 9:30 p.m. On Sundays, I play the organ and I’m an altar girl at St. Ann Parish. Now most of that routine is gone. I’m stranded, and I feel like I’ve lost part of myself. I try to keep in touch with friends and family by phone and video chat, which helps a bit. I walk in the park and I do the shopping that is needed. I’ve started to do yoga and meditation, and I eat healthy. Lots of salads.

I also like to draw, and I hang the pieces I like on my bedroom wall. Recently, I drew a picture of a mountain with light above the clouds. Soon, for us, the light will break through the clouds. It’s like last January, during exams, when a friend told me, ‘Remember, every little bit of progress is a little bit of weight off your shoulders.’ It applies today just as well. If everyone works together, things will get better.”

Photographed on May 12, 2020

Who they are: Syed Rayman, 77, and Ryhan Rayman, 72
What they do: They’re both travel agents
Where they live: Scarborough

Syed: “Except for a visit to the doctor and occasional trips to the grocery store, we’ve been at home since March 13. We desperately miss hugs from our five grandkids. In the past, we’d see at least one of them every few days, plus frequent video chats.

“We are from Guyana. We came here in 1971 with our first daughter. We’ve lived in this house for 47 years and love the neighbourhood. There are a lot of young families now. We are probably the oldest people on the street. We’re happy to have migrated, though I will never forget my home.

“We’ve run a travel agency for about 30 years at Markham and Finch. We’ve had no new business since this all began, and we don’t expect to recover to previous volumes for at least six months after we reopen. However, we’re confident we’ll get over this challenge. We usually work about 40 hours a week. We’ve thought about retiring, but we really enjoy the work and meeting people.

“I listen to all the news bulletins and press conferences—that’s probably about three hours a day. And I spend about two hours a day on video chats with friends and family. Plus, I like to work in the garden and do things around the house. My wife is an excellent cook. She makes care packages of meals and cakes for seniors we know. Other than that, we’re just waiting and hoping.”

Photographed on May 13, 2020

Who he is: Trevaun Douglas, 22
What he does: Revitalization ambassador for Toronto Community Housing
Where he lives: Lawrence Heights

“I work with at-risk kids in my neighbourhood. We had a lot of plans for the summer—barbecues, CPR clinics, food handling training—but it all got shut down. Now those kids are sitting around, bored and lost. I try to give them ideas—make a TikTok video, go work out. But people feel detached and abandoned. My church closed, and even though there are still online services, I’m missing that fellowship, too. I’m talking to neighbours and praying a lot. I’m also delivering meals to people who need them, which helps me feel connected and useful.

“I try to think about what’s going on in basketball terms. As a society, it’s like we’re down 35 in the second half, and we can either give up or try to claw back. The key is to try to be better than you were yesterday, even if it’s just in the smallest way. I’ve been trying to look for opportunities. I use the Wealthsimple app to invest in stocks. I look for sectors that will do well as people turn more and more to the digital world. But I’m not cashing in now; I’m thinking long term.”

Photographed on May 18, 2020

Who they are: Chet Tikolani, 31, and Claudia Rose Moriz, 27,
What they do: He’s a cinematographer, she’s a fashion buyer
Where they live: Mimico

Chet: “We had both been working nonstop before the pandemic, so we had a little bit of savings, but now I have a feeling that the money may run out as we don’t know how long this thing is going to go on. We’re just hoping everything works out. In that sense, ignorance is bliss.

“Claudia is from Australia. We met on a fashion shoot a couple of years ago where she was a model, and we got married at the beginning of February. She has applied for permanent residency, which will no doubt be delayed. Her mom was supposed to be visiting us from Australia in April—they haven’t seen each other in two years. That’s been delayed, too.

“Our board game collection has grown significantly, as has my losing streak. We’ve returned to the classics—Clue, Backgammon, Ludo, Scattergories. We’ve tried to use this time to our advantage by repainting our house and building new furniture. We designed and built a kitchen island meets bar table, which was an important creative outlet, especially since we’re not working.

“We’ve found ourselves feeling grateful to have each other—this crisis would be so much more taxing to experience alone. We hope that this global event provides an opportunity to reassess our ideas of normal as a society. I am full of questions and few answers. I wonder what our priorities will be when this is over. How much risk will we be willing to accept? What is it that we really value? And was it worth it to lock down everything?”

Photographed on May 20, 2020

Who they are: Jake Karns, 40, and Cecilia Karns, 39, with Clementine, 2 months, and Benjamin, 18 months
What they do: They’re both accountants
Where they live: Parkwoods

Cecilia: “I was 37 weeks pregnant when the stay-at-home measures started. There was a Covid-19 assessment centre in my OB’s building, so I was even more nervous than usual about going to check-ups. I couldn’t find formula or baby wipes anywhere, online or in stores. But most stressful of all was the possibility that my husband, Jake, wouldn’t be able to attend our daughter’s birth. Many hospitals were admitting just the mother, no one else, and our hospital’s policy kept shifting. Fortunately, my OB switched to virtual appointments. Our neighbours found formula and wipes for us and dropped them off on our porch. And the hospital allowed Jake to attend the birth. The rule was that Jake wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital room, even for water, so we packed a cooler full of instant noodles, water and other snacks—the nurses teased us for packing so much food.

“On April 7, Clementine, our beautiful baby girl, was born. We are all at home now, adjusting. Clementine is healthy and happy, and her 18-month-old brother, Benjamin, adores her. He would’ve been in daycare by now; instead, he’s able to bond with our newborn. Of course, our home is ridiculously busy, but we’ve had loved ones help by dropping off food, groceries and coming for window visits. It’s a weird environment to be in because I want my kids to spend quality time with family and friends and go for outings at the zoo, but I know we must do our part to flatten the curve. So for now, we’re just waiting and hoping. In a way, the hectic pace of having two kids under three helps take our minds off Covid. By bedtime, we’re so exhausted we don’t have energy left over for worrying.”

Photographed on May 20, 2020

Who she is: Shaida Hack, 26
What she does: Volunteer hospital screener
Where she lives: Humbermede

“On March 16, the restaurant where I work closed. I live with my mom, so the finances were not a huge concern, and I started volunteering at Etobicoke General Hospital as a screener. Essentially, I stand at the entrance wearing gloves and a mask. From a safe distance, I ask patients, staff, physicians and visitors if they’ve experienced Covid-19 symptoms. I’d say about 35 per cent answer yes. But that’s because there are so many associated symptoms, and many of the people are coming to me from the ER, so they’re often already dealing with a Covid symptom of one kind or another. Our team sends them to a secluded zone while we figure out which department can see them. Then they suit up in PPE and head off down the hall.

“In many cases, we have to tell visitors they cannot see their loved ones. It’s not easy. Initially, people got very upset. Now most people understand these measures are in place to keep everyone safe, and they’re more understanding. We set up Zoom calls on iPads so patients can have a 15- or 20-minute virtual visit.

“At first I was doing just a few shifts a week, but I realized I love patient care. Now, I volunteer daily. I’m doing an online course in medical terminology because I want to work in a medical office. I’ve seen so many different situations: some people dealing with end of life, some giving birth, and all points in between. I feel like I’m helping make others’ lives easier, but they’re helping me, too: trauma helps you learn to overcome life’s obstacles.”

Photographed on May 21, 2020

Who they are: Mary Holmes, 53, and Craig Holmes, 58, with Olivia, 13, Reese, 11, and their dog, Ivy
What they do: They own a retail sign manufacturing company
Where they live: Leaside

Craig: The Covid-19 crisis has been like living in a global experiment. In the early days, I sometimes felt like I was in some sort of nightmare and couldn’t wake up. This crisis is unlike other disasters—tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, wildfires—because it affects every single person on the planet in some way. It has shown us how interconnected we all are. A change in some corner of the world can have an effect globally. It has shown us how unfair the world can be—some people spend their days bored and looking for things to do, others have lost their life’s work, and of course many are fighting for their lives.

“For me, the hardest part has been the business side. I have 50 employees and a responsibility to keep everything going so that when the dust settles, my staff have jobs to come back to. The company never closed, but things really slowed down and overheads don’t disappear. We had to cut some salaries, including my own. We did start to manufacture face shields. There is so much extra work to be done, as a business owner, when it comes to policies for reopening—how the office will look, providing PPE for those in the plant. These things don’t generate any money but they’re obviously so important.

“To me, the most important thing this crisis has shown is the value of family. When you get through all the other craziness surrounding the pandemic, your life distills down to one thing—your family, and that realization is what should be the foundation of our post-Covid world.

“Before school ended, the girls were pulling a solid 45 minutes of schooling every day. The public system has been real loose in this. The level of instruction just isn’t there. The girls now tend to stay up later and get up later. They are only 16 months apart, so they’re buddies, but there is generally a daily fight of some kind. After dinner, they get bored and start teasing each other, and that blows up into something more. They can’t see their friends. I feel sorry for them.”

For more of Ian Brown’s work, click here


June 20, 2020

A previous version of this story misstated Kate Macdonald's neighbourhood, which is St. Lawrence. Toronto Life regrets the error.