2019 in review: a year of ecstatic highs and gut-wrenching lows
From Raptors dominance to peaks in gun violence
Twenty-nineteen was a year of triumph for Torontonians. We gained some credibility in the sporting world, with the dramatic rise of the Kawhi-led Raptors and Bianca Andreescu’s win at the U.S. Open. We developed our reputation as a leader in arts and culture, with the continued global influence of homegrown talents like Margaret Atwood, Drake, Shawn Mendes and The Weeknd. We sold legal weed (despite bungling the rollout process) and showed the rest of the country how to stage a protest—whether rallying against climate change or cuts to education. But those highs were contrasted by some gut-wrenching lows, including a series of fatal shootings, overcrowded homeless shelters and a provincial government hell-bent on slashing public services. Those moments—and more—are included in our look back at 2019.
Bullet Points: The city’s record-high homicide rate is a new low for Toronto
In the early afternoon of November 18, 2018 shots rang out in the stairwell of a West Hill apartment building near Lawrence Avenue and Kingston Road. The victim, a 23-year-old man from Ajax, died soon after paramedics arrived. In what was already a grim year for Toronto, his death set a record high for homicides. With no concrete solutions in mind, the provincial government has committed $25 million to combatting gun violence. While we can all agree that more funding is a good thing, what we can’t agree on is how the city should spend it.
Matchmaker: The 18-year-old phenom from Mississauga stunned the world in Auckland
Bianca Andreescu has joined Toronto’s growing roster of outstanding tennis talent after her breathtaking performance at the ASB Classic in New Zealand. True, she didn’t go the whole distance—or take home a trophy the size of her head—but the Mississauga native came out of nowhere to trounce grand-slam champion Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, assuring the world that we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the years to come.
Eight Men Gone: The incalculable cost of a serial killer
After nearly a decade of mysterious disappearances, Toronto’s biggest serial killer case since Bernardo has come to an abrupt close. Bruce McArthur pleaded guilt to eight murders and will spend the rest of his life in prison. Sparing the victim’s love ones a gruelling trial is a small mercy. But trials are also cathartic—a way of getting to know the victims as real people and possibly learning how to prevent such monstrous crimes in the future. In this version of events, the killer gets off too easy.
The Long Winter: It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times
Toronto’s snowed-out skyline was the backdrop for countless unpleasantries this winter: two-lane streets suddenly converted to one, one-way streets entirely impassable, an unprecedented city-wide road-salt deficit, day after day of minus-double-digit temperatures, icy sidewalks that sent pedestrians tumbling to their frosty fates, 100-kilometre winds that blew away pieces of the Rogers Centre roof and a record-breaking snowfall of damn near 20 centimetres in a single day. Yes, we’re Torontonians—complaining about the weather is our birthright. But the arrival of spring hasn’t been this welcome since, well, last winter.
Class Action: A Queen’s Park protest for the weeks
Some student protests are easy to ignore. The Rally for Education was not one of those protests. The target, of course, was Premier Doug Ford and his planned education cuts: 3,475 teaching jobs over the next four years to save $851 million. The first phase was the walkout: 100,000 kids from 700 schools across Ontario participated, waving signs and chanting, “Doug Ford has got to go.” The government dismissed it as a union stunt and slammed the teachers for manipulating the kids, which may have been an ill-advised strategy if the goal was to quell the crowds. Two days later, some 10,000 students, parents and teachers landed at Queen’s Park and cranked up the volume. One pint-sized protester’s sign summed it up the best: “Can we please put the smart people in charge now?”
Designer Drugs: Torontonians can’t get enough of legal weed
The retail cannabis rollout has been as sluggish as a wasted teenager, plagued by delays, regulatory snafus, crazy-long lineups and product shortages. Could any other consumer good get away with such bungled deployment and still have customers lining up around the block? Unlikely. Maybe it’s the novelty. Maybe we’re just a city of potheads. But there is something about these shops—the polished service, the sleek decor, the candy store options, the slick product packaging—that Torontonians can’t resist.
Rapture!: The Toronto Raptors continue their push toward NBA supremacy
For a few days in late May and early June, nothing else mattered. Raptors fever swept Toronto, home of the world’s most adoring (and patient) fans.
Bye-Bye Fun Guy: We laughed, we cried, we partied like never before
Short and oh so sweet pretty much sums up Kawhi Leonard’s single season with the Raptors. He gave this championship-starved city what we’ve been chasing for more than two decades and we came out by the millions to thank him—then, poof, he was gone. But unlike superstar Raptor departures of yore—Tracy, Vince, Chris—fans didn’t boo this time. Instead, they came together in the most quintessentially Canadian way: with an outpouring of gratitude to the Klaw for helping Toronto make history.
Vapour Trail: The Apple Store for e-cigs arrives on Queen West
Vape shops have been erupting in storefronts across the city for a decade or so, but a notable new one just joined the party. At the end of July, Juul, the world’s largest producer of e-cigarettes, opened its first North American brick-and-mortar store on Queen West. Juul is headquartered in unfriendly terrain (San Francisco, its home base, recently banned the sale of e-cigs in response to the rise of teen vaping). It also happens to sell the vape pens of choice among high-schoolers: sleek, sporty and free of the ashtray mouth associated with real cigs—all irresistible teen bait. When a brand becomes a verb (yes, Juuling is a thing), it won’t be going away any time soon.
Aced It: The 19-year-old Mississauga prodigy who blew us all away
Toronto went berserk. Amid all the ear-splitting support for Serena Williams at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Bianca Andreescu did it. She bested the best and, by winning the U.S. Open, became the first Canadian singles player in history to win a grand slam. Anyone who hadn’t already fallen for her—not to mention her adoring parents and her ball-of-fluff toy poodle, Coco—was now smitten. It didn’t hurt that she won her championship (like other recent championship winners we know and love) on American soil. Toronto’s allowed to be a little smug. Andreescu, on the other hand, is a model of humility.
Greta Fever: Thousands of pint-sized protestors descended on the downtown core to collectively say, “How dare you?”
This was not your typical protest. The numbers were much higher and the ages were much lower. Some 700,000 Canadians skipped school or work and came out wielding their colourful, creative signs. In Toronto alone, estimates ran as high as 50,000 strikers marching and chanting to protest political procrastination on the climate change file. Greta Thunberg—the Swedish teen who’s suddenly the subject of discussion around every dinner table—is, of course, the orchestrator of the worldwide “Fridays For Future” strikes. The sense of urgency she has sparked is palpable here and everywhere.
Red Rider: Trudeau sweeps Toronto (again)
By the time the votes were tallied, every single Toronto riding (all 25) swung Liberal—just like in 2015. Maybe it was the goodies that Justin Trudeau dropped on us, including $1.3 billion for transit projects, or the fact that we consider ourselves a progressive, cosmopolitan city. But the most compelling explanation probably has less to do with an enduring affection for Trudeau or his largesse, and more to do with our collective aversion to Andrew Scheer. Either way, Papineau might be Trudeau’s riding, but he’s clearly Toronto’s prime minister.