• History and Description
The neighborhood is located in the northwest corner of downtown Toronto, intersected by east-west and north-south rail lines. Once an outlying industrial area populated by residents that worked in the factories, it marked the city limits. As times changed after World War II and Toronto expanded, the area has come to face serious entrenched social issues arising from its lost industrial base. The patchy makeup of the area has ensured little progress over the years. The result is a neighbourhood with a distinct lack of enhancing features, a fact that abets the depressed atmosphere arising from its urban troubles. Despite this, the area is primarily a family neighbourhood with a vibrant mix of nationalities, professions, and aspirations
Dupont to Bloor, Dufferin to the CN/CP rail lines area of Toronto is densely populated, yet, to date, it is under-supported with the means to face its multiple, entrenched neighbourhood issues. As a result, there are pressures and stress with which the neighbourhood has long-standing concerns. .
The City of Toronto’s Social Indicators and Priority Areas study prepared in connection with the new City of Toronto Plan focuses on indicators of risk, or social vulnerability. The study identified this portion of the City as being in the second highest quartile of socio-economic vulnerability. Having regard to indicators such as low income, unemployment, social assistance, tenant households, lone-parent families, education less than grade 9 and tenant households spending 50% or more income on shelter costs
Sunday November 19, 2006
This article was in today's Sunday Sun. Det. Howie Page will be familiar to
The dark side of T.O.
Shirley Gillis stands on the road beside the police cruiser with head bowed
And she cries.
There's no "get out of jail" card for the street sex worker who says she
She's working and using again, she tells Det. Howie Page, because she can't
Gillis wants Page to give her a form ordering her to court for communicating
But the police computer spits out two arrest warrants. She denies the
But the machine knows everything. It says she has a "FTW" tattoo on her
She was spotted by an undercover officer walking on Lansdowne Ave. and
The contents of her purse, her meagre possessions, are spread on the trunk
"Have you used heroin at all today?" Page asks.
"No," Gillis says, claiming she's started showing up at a methadone clinic.
"Shirley, we got warrants for you, there's nothing we can do," he says.
In between the sobs, Gillis mentions her 16-year-old daughter who lives with
"She's dying," she says. "She has a heart and lung condition and they put
She says she relapsed "about a month or so ago. I can't deal with the fact
From her back pocket, there's more trouble for Gillis as a cop pulls out a
Within a week she's back on the street after pleading out to her charges.
"The thing is it still gets to me, some of these stories," says Page, a
"I'm not calling her a bullsh--ter. I believe her," he says. "She probably
"Somehow, I'm not buying the story she was spreading peanut butter with
"I feel for her," he says. "That's our job, to not have her pull the wool
"There's no girl that comes out of Parkdale, Bloor and Lansdowne or anywhere
"I mean, something in their lives has done this," he says.
Page heads the 14 Division major crime unit vice squad, which targets street
Page's unit is joined by others from 14 Division for Project Zero Tolerance,
While the focus is Bathurst and Queen Sts., where the Entertainment District
It's an ethnically diverse area bounded by the lake to the south, the CP
Within a nine-week period, the project has caught 93 crack dealers and filed
The area also has more than 700 licensed establishments, probably the
"Here's one of our crack buyers," Page says as he pulls his unmarked cruiser
"What he'll do is walk back and forth, back and forth until he finds himself
The man makes a deal with a street trafficker in a flash of four hands that
Residents have been complaining about drug trafficking and it's related
"This is a nice community in and around here," Page says as he drives north
The sex workers take their clients into backyards, parks, including a
"There's needles, condoms in the same place where kids are playing soccer,"
Undercover narc Izzy Bernardo is trying to get Tony to assume the position
Tony says he can't spread his legs any wider, something Bernardo doesn't
Page presses Tony to surrender any drugs he has.
Bernardo had moments earlier watched Tony make three transactions from a
Page cringes as he holds out a hand and a small rock of crack dribbles out
It's Bernardo's turn to cringe as Tony pulls his pants down and spreads his
Nothing there, Tony insists, including dignity and truth. Giving in to the
DEAD MAN WALKING
While waiting to be processed at 14 Division, Tony sits handcuffed, but the
He's known as Stoppa on the streets, but among cops he's Dead Man Walking.
He was shot in the neck June 25 in the College St.-Spadina Ave. area.
On Aug. 20 in Parkdale a gunman opened fire on him with some of the bullets
Someone is gunning for him and police fear that one day a bullet will catch
But on this night, he's safe. He's in police custody.
"I live for today," he told a cop after the second incident, just like his
He's keeping warm with an embroidered leather jacket, stitched on the back
"Every drug dealer, any search warrant we do that has something to do with
Chuck Thomson flashes a disarming smile that reveals perfect teeth, showing
Now, the streets are his home.
Thomson, 31, is a study in downward mobility.
"Many of these people, they don't have any idea why a lot of us are where we
"They look at me like a piece of sh--," Thomson says. "I used to be where
"I was doing really well," the St. Catharines native says, having moved his
But then one day, sometime after his marriage fell apart, he walked into a
Crack, she told him, offering a hit.
"I was drunk," Thomson says, but that drag sealed his fate.
"Somebody offered it to me, and I tried it, and once you try it once, that's
"People that give 15-, 16-year-old girls their first ones, I think they're
Thomson wants his middle-class dream back, but he knows he can't strive for
"Eventually, I'm going to say, 'I've had enough,' and I'll be ready and I'll
"It's hard to roof when you're sleeping outside, when you're not eating,
The addiction makes its demand on Thomson's body "every hour, hour and a
"I don't steal. That's why I panhandle. I never have to do anything I don't
"People in Toronto are unbelievably great. They treat us the best they can.
"They're paying for our drug habit, and I think they know it," Thomson says.
"But a lot of them tell me they'd rather give it to us than have us steal.
"Would you mention me, because my mom is probably worried sick," Thomson
"I just want my mom to know I'm okay. She's in Alberta. Red Deer."
Shots kill one, injure another
Last night's shootings are among four within 24 hours
One man was killed and another seriously injured in two shootings within 90 minutes in Toronto last night.
Police were looking for a small, black car, possibly a Toyota Camry, with a cracked windshield that may have sped away from both incidents.
Around 6 p.m., a man in his early 20s was shot several times in the chest as he stood by his Acura outside a townhouse complex on Magellan Dr., near Jane St. and Sheppard Ave. W.
He collapsed on the pavement beside his car as three suspects fled north and a black compact car sped away.
Joanne Amatuzio, a supervisor at the Rudd Clinic on Edward St., had just arrived home nearby and ran to help. "He was breathing very shallow. I lifted his shirt and noticed a chest wound so I applied pressure.
"Then he stopped breathing and he had no pulse," said Amatuzio, whose hands were covered in blood. A paramedic arrived and took over.
The victim was taken to Sunnybrook hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He did not live in the area, Toronto police Insp. Brian O'Connor said.
This is the 16th fatal shooting in Toronto this summer. Only one arrest has been made in those cases.
Children playing soccer and elderly men playing bocce were just steps away from where the second shooting took place, outside the Galleria Mall at Dufferin and Dupont Sts.
A 29-year-old man known in the area as Joe was shot in the neck about 7:15 p.m. as he sat in his black Volkswagen Golf in the mall's parking lot. He was taken to St. Michael's Hospital, where he is recovering.
A witness said she heard shouting just before a single gunshot.
"I saw three guys run down the alley to Emerson Ave. and a black car go fast the other way (north)," said a man who was in the nearby Wallace-Emerson Park when the shot rang out.
A frightened woman whose home backs on to the park called the situation ridiculous. "I'm scared because of what goes on here: drug dealing and fighting sometimes all night long."
Earlier this summer, a 22-year-old man was found dead in the park, shot once in the head.
Last night's shootings were among four such incidents in the city within 24 hours.
In the first, a young man dodged a volley of shots in a downtown housing complex Monday night.
"I'm okay. They only grazed me," the victim, about 18, told police and security guards who arrived at a Vanauley Walk townhouse, near Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave., about 10:45 p.m. A stray bullet shattered a townhouse window.
And a 23-year-old man is recovering in hospital after being shot at an apartment building on Trethewey Dr., near Jane St. and Lawrence Ave. W., around 12:15 a.m. yesterday.
The man was playing basketball when he was approached by two male suspects. Shotgun pellets struck him in the legs and forehead, police said.
With files from Lauren La Rose
ASTRID POEI, TORONTO SUN
A 29-YEAR-OLD father was fighting for his life in hospital last
The attack happened at about 7 p.m. in the area of Dufferin and
Mario Moris, 49, was taking out his garbage when he heard shots fired
When he went to look, he was shocked to see that he knew the man
Moris said he ran to his side, took off his shirt and applied it to
KIDS SAW FIGHT
As he waited for help to arrive, he said he heard neighbourhood kids
"They said, 'You want to fight? You go get your friends and I'll get
The victim is listed in stable but serious condition in St. Michael's
Long-time resident Bill, who declined to give his last name, said he
Police say they have made "more than two" arrests in connection with
14-year prison sentence in police shooting: Lansdowne and Dupont
Feb. 9, 2005. 06:27 AM
Lansdowne Ave. building where woman fell from seventh-floor window Sunday night is a haven for squatters and drug abusers.
Building under city watch
Dilapidated units monitored regularly
Owner denies outstanding property violations
The Lansdowne Ave. apartment building where a squatter fell or jumped from a seventh-floor window during a police sweep for trespassers Sunday night has been under city watch for property standards violations since at least 2001.
The city has two outstanding orders against building owner Vincenzo Barrasso for property standards violations, said Carlos Martins, director of investigations with the municipal licensing and standards division for the City of Toronto.
When contacted by the Star, Barrasso said there are no work orders for 1011 Lansdowne Ave.
"Everything is fine. I have no concerns. The building is in good condition," he said in a brief phone interview yesterday. "I have an administrator there and we work along with the city."
Barrasso had no further comment.
But Barrasso, who owns four other highrises in the city, has a long history with city inspectors.
He was charged by the city at least 18 times between 1997 and 2003 for failing to maintain his buildings, incurring more than $150,000 in fines and a 30-day jail sentence. In a 2003 appeal, Barrasso paid $80,000 in fines and the jail sentence was waived.
The province's Special Investigations Unit is investigating the events surrounding the woman's fall. Police had been trying to arrest her boyfriend and charge him with trespassing. The woman had been squatting in a deserted apartment in the building for several days, neighbours said. St. Michael's Hospital would give no update on her condition last night.
Police maintain a regular presence at 1011 Lansdowne, where a high vacancy rate threatens security in the 23-storey building. Of the roughly 365 units, about 100 remain empty, attracting drug dealers and users who take up residence in the unoccupied units.
To combat the high number of trespassers and to improve security, the neighbouring community and the apartment tenants and management asked for police assistance to eject the squatters from the empty units, and Project Clean Sweep was implemented for the month of January.
Police laid 36 trespassing charges, three drug charges and made 13 related arrests.
Yet, one week after Project Clean Sweep concluded, a routine police sweep to clear transients from the building revealed trespassing was still a problem.
Local councillor Adam Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport) authored a memo to the planning and transportation committee yesterday, requesting a report to outline what tools the city needs to deal with landlords in violation.
"It could possibly include powers from the province so that we can prevent gross neglect on the part of the landlords," he said.
"City staff are working very hard to enforce property standards, but they don't often have the authority that they need to be effective," he said. "We don't have all the tools we need, not just at 1011 Lansdowne, but at properties across the city."
Martins also agrees that the city needs more legislative authority to clean up dilapidated apartment buildings.
"The city clearly has an obligation to enforce its property standards bylaw, but getting compliance is not that easy," he said. To keep a close watch on 1011 Lansdowne, a city staff member is on site at least once a week to monitor the building, said Martins.
Since 2002, the city has obtained 18 prosecutions and seven convictions against Barrasso. The city has collected $9,250 in fines.
Sharon Rogers, property manager for 1011 Lansdowne Ave., said outstanding violations are left over from the previous property manager and she is now complying with the orders.
"There's been a 150 per cent turnaround since I started in August 2004," she said. "I do everything in my power to work with the city and the police to try and clean up the building."
But the building's high vacancy rate will continue to be a problem, Rogers said. Hundreds of applicants have been refused because Rogers believes they are not stable tenants.
"We've recently rented 13 (units)," said Rogers, who has 26 years experience as a property manager. "But it's hard to get a good tenant."
Globe and Mail
Toronto Life Magazine,
For years, residents of this west end area fought for a better community. In the wake of Holly Jones’s murder, they are more determined than ever
Copyright by Andrea Curtis
n the rigid grid of right-angled streets that is Toronto, Dundas West is an anomaly. Gently, almost imperceptibly easing northwest as it heads past Spadina, the former Dundas Highway then veers sharply northward at Lansdowne, tracing the edge of the CN rail line. But it is when the street intersects with Bloor, its east-west cousin, that all we hold to be true about the predictability of Toronto’s well-considered grid breaks down.
It seems appropriate, then, that the other central tenet of the city’s self-imagethat Toronto is a city of neighbourhoodsis also challenged by the community that takes Dundas West as its boundary. For the area that lies to the east of this meandering street (from Bloor to Dupont and east to Dufferin)with its derelict industrial buildings lining the railway tracks and small residential streets packed with unreformed semi-detached homeshas never been quite a neighbourhood. At least not in the way that Cabbagetown and the Annex are neighbourhoods, with distinct qualities recognized both by residents and outsiders as indisputably anchored in those places. In contrast, this has long been an area in flux, a stopping place whose edges, habits and qualities are blurred, a wide swath of streets inhabited by both industry and people on the move, young people, and immigrants from Italy, Portugal, Sri Lanka and Brazil. Work, not community, has been the focus. In fact, if the neighbourhood (for we will call it one even though it defies the term) has been defined by anything it is the three working train tracks that slice through it like rusty knives from another era.
Over a few terrible days last May, however, everything changed. When body parts belonging to schoolgirl Holly Jones were found in two bags off Toronto Island, the Bloor and Dundas West area where she lived and disappeared was no longer mutable and ill defined. It was clearly and horrifically marked.
Searching for a familiar way to describe the neighbourhood, time-strapped reporters mistakenly called it Parkdalea term, of course, with its own baggage. They also reminded readers of long-time problems with drugs and prostitution at Bloor and Lansdowne. Hysteria reached its zenith when police revealed that some 200 known sexual predators were believed to live within a three-kilometre radius of Jones’s home. (No matter that those three kilometres would encompass a large portion of the city’s downtown.) In June, when 35-year-old software developer Michael Briere, who lived a block northwest of the family, was arrested for Holly’s murder, the neighbourhood’s infamy was cemented in the public eye.
In the days and weeks following the murder, residents came together to defend their community. As word of other attempted child abductions made the news, citizens patrolled the streets. Residents met regularly with police, and a group that called itself the Junction Triangle Action Committee organized a march to reclaim the neighbourhood. The emotionally charged actions of these citizens went a long way toward dispelling the notion that the area was riddled with perverts and criminals. And yet, a year later, locals are still sorting through the fallout. Still trying to understand how to transform that outpouring of solidarity into community activism capable of grappling not just with crime but with other pressing issues, such as gentrification, diversity and development. They are still asking themselves how, in the aftermath of a tragedy so unimaginable, does a neighbourhood move forward?
Caught in a narrow wedge forged by the divergence of the two northbound CN railway tracks, Sterling Road is an odd, twisty little street lined on its southern end with factoriesa huge Nestlé’s complex, Moloney Electric and an automotive plant, among others. It turns residential in the block south of Bloor (save for a few auto-body shops and the rambling low-rise Sterling Road lofts, home to artists, production companies and the Borealis recording studio), and it is here that Holly Jones’s family lived in a tract of modest two- and three-storey homes.
They’d moved into the neighbourhood not long before Holly was abducted, after housing prices in nearby Roncesvalles Village, where they’d been for years, had skyrocketed. There are few trees on Sterling Road, and with most houses nudging up against the sidewalk, front gardens, if they exist at all, are of the postage stamp variety. A nearby aluminum plant reportedly makes the ground shake when it’s in full working mode. But it’s only a short walk to St. Luigi Catholic School, where Holly attended Grade 5, and a quick skip across Bloor Street to the Perth Randolph Neighbourhood Centre, where she sometimes hung out with friends.
Across the street from her house, behind the live-work lofts and beside the railway tracks, some enterprising real estate developers have recently squeezed a set of pricey townhomes. There are also plans to build two apartment towers facing Bloor Street as part of a complex the developers call Be Bloor. But it’s hard to imagine even these ambitious new buildings making Sterling Road anything other than what it has always beena gritty sort of place.
Originally outside the city limits, the neighbourhood was annexed in the 1880s, but for a long time it remained an industrial no-man’s land, caught between West Toronto Junction, the booming railroad town just over the CN tracks, and Toronto proper. As a result, it didn’t develop as part of either municipality. There is no central piazza or street corner, no park or pub where the local wags gather. Even those emblematic rail lines, with their sound barriers and largely impassable fences, tend to divide street from street and neighbour from neighbour.
City councillor Adam Giambrone grew up near Dufferin and Bloor and knows the community well. He knocked on thousands of doors in the lead-up to last fall’s election and in his previous incarnation as founder and president of the Davenport Municipal Association, but he also spent his formative years playing hockey and baseball in the local parks, and shopping with his family at the Bloor Street groceterias. He now lives on Salem Avenue, a few blocks east of his childhood home, and claims that the area’s identity is very much in the process of evolving.
Sitting in his freshly painted office with a commanding view of Nathan Phillips Square, a brigade of his 20-something staffers buzzing around, the gangly, boyish-looking councillor pulls out a huge laminated map and a binder stuffed with stats about his ward. First of all, he says, compared with the rest of the city, there is a much greater concentration of 25- to 34-year-olds in the area. And what was once a predominantly Portuguese neighbourhood is now profoundly multicultural.
“Two years ago, it was easy to be involved in this community because there were so few meetingsmaybe one a month,” he laughs. Today, his agenda is bulging as a number of groupsmade up of residents, artists and small business ownershave begun to organize.
One of the sparks to this new civic engagement is the surge of redevelopment of old factory sites. Between 1987 and 1996, 15 firmsemploying nearly 1,000 peopleleft the area. This abundance of land has recently made the community attractive to developers. Plus, it’s relatively cheap, close to downtown and has good access to transit. Today, the huge General Electric complex north of Dupont and Lansdowne, the American Standard factory south of it and the Galleria Mall site at Dufferin and Dupont are all being developed as major residential properties.
Concerned with both the speed and magnitude of all this change (there are 1,650 new units in the Galleria proposal alone, which will also eliminate one of the few shopping areas), residents and business owners have been lobbying city planners, politicians and developers, and showing up to voice their reservations at OMB hearings. They want to make sure that the distinctly urban character of the neighbourhood is maintained. Which means, among other things, that any new streets need to be public thoroughfares (not gated off as was proposed for the American Standard site) and that developers agree to provide for parkland in a community woefully lacking in green space. There has also been talk about transforming a portion of the four-acre TTC lot on Lansdowne north of Bloor (the soil is contaminated and in the process of remediation) into a museum, community centre or parka public space that could act as the geographical and emotional heart of the community.
Recently, these neighbourhood activists have also been trying to give the area a name. Though the small enclave of homes and factories trapped between the railway tracks on the western edge has long been called the Junction Triangle, the rest of the community has never had a common moniker. The Westlands, the Tower District (for the distinctive water tower atop an old factory on Wallace Avenue) and Dupont Village have all been batted around. But respondents seem to agree that nothing proposed so far is quite right.
Giambrone sweeps his hand over the map. “There are big challenges still,” he says with the relish of an overachiever. (At 27, he’s not only the youngest of the new municipal cadre, he’s also into his second term as president of the federal NDP, and is an archeologist fluent in both French and Arabic.) There are upcoming public hearings on redevelopment. He wants to convince planners to spend money in the area. And there’s the challenge of persuading the community’s many new immigrants to become part of the process.
“There are so many languages spoken, a lot of housing turnover and residentslabourers, shift workersnot on regular nine to five schedules,” he explains. “This makes it extremely difficult to mobilize people. Still, after the Holly Jones murder, we saw people from all corners of the neighbourhood come together. There’s no question that people became more linked into what’s happening here. The question is, How long can this carry through?”
Bloor and Lansdowne is probably one of the most multicultural crossroads in the city. South Indian Dosa Mahal restaurant and the Buddhist Association of Canada rub shoulders with El Amigo karaoke and the House of Cheung Chinese Food Tavern. During the day, it’s a busy, energetic place as befits a transit hub and local commercial mecca. The eastbound strip of Bloor is packed with high school kids and familiesmothers and children headed to the nearby Tamil Co-op loaded down with shopping bags, strollers and Spiderman backpacks.
At night, however, the corner takes on a sinister tone. A jittery 20-year-old in a red tuque and shiny brown jacket strides purposefully, looking over his shoulder every few paces. A girl in a tight tiger-print skirt and knee-high boots stands just off the main drag, near the old movie theatre turned dollar store, her pose simultaneously defensive and expectant. The street is jammed with cars, but the sidewalks are empty. Orange neon flashes the words “Indian Cuisine” in one window, but most storefronts have pulled protective gates across their doors and glass fronts.
Complaints about drug dealing, prostitution and the criminal spinoffs that go along with them, as well as a lack of consistent police presence in the area, have been commonplace for years. Locals say they stay away from Bloor and Lansdowne after dark.
The one- or two-block radius around the main intersection is seen as the locus of the problem, but there are other trouble spots. The whole strip of Lansdowne running north from Bloor to Dupont is a tightrope of drug activity, the transactions migrating north or south as police apply pressure. And a particularly dilapidated 22-storey apartment just northeast of Lansdowne and Dupontone of the most notorious buildings in the cityis the site of drug dealing and violence, not to mention more calls to the fire department than the rest of the neighbourhood combined.
The abduction and murder of a local child, of course, served to heighten everyone’s worries about crime and safety. What was once a slow-simmering problemnot very different from other downtown areasbecame a full-blown crisis. For many, it was a galvanizing moment.
Terry Downey, an investigator for the Human Rights Commission, has lived in a co-op at Bloor and Perth for 13 years. She didn’t get involved in local politics, however, until Holly, who was a friend of her daughter’s, disappeared. At the first meeting of the Junction Triangle Action Committee, Downey realized that while she was friendly with many people in her building, she knew almost no one in the larger community.
“It became clear that in order to make the neighbourhood feel safe we would have to get to know each other,” she explains. “We all felt that it could have been our child. We formed a bond over ita bond that continues. I can walk down the street and people still come up to me. We are an incredibly diverse group, but none of us wants our children to live in fear.”
In the days and months after Holly’s disappearance, watchful parents gripped their children’s hands as they walked them to school. Parks lay vacant. Police held a crash course in streetproofing, and residents called on Chief Fantino (who lived on Perth Avenue when he first came to Canada) to send more police cars and foot patrols into the area. Even deep into last summer, the dead-end streets that back onto the CN railway tracksthe site of fiercely contested street hockey gameswere unusually quiet.
With the passing of a year, some of that initial vigilance has softened. It’s a natural, even positive, step for the grieving neighbourhood, but according to Downey, it also has its downside. “Folks have become a little complacent,” she explains. “It’s not that they’ve forgotten. They’d just rather not think about what happened here. But we have to if we want our community to be strong.”
There’s a large bouquet of coloured balloons caught in the branches of a tree in the centre of the windswept corridor that is Wallace Emerson Park. The balloons have long ago wheezed out their last breath, and the once vibrant hues are dulled by car exhaust and dirt. The deflated scraps flap in the breeze, as if struggling to escape. The park, just south of Dufferin and Dupont, is the length of a long city block and the width of a four-lane highway. It is the area’s largest green space, but its only access points are from the Galleria Mall parking lot immediately to its north and an anonymous entrance off Dufferin Street. It’s frequented mainly by old men, young male basketball players and pit bulls. There is a playground, a bocce court, a skating rink/ basketball court, plus a large hill on the west side to break the monotony, but Wallace Emerson still looks abandoned and forlorn.
Artist Dyan Marie, founder of a two-year-old community group called DIG IN (Dupont Improvement Group: Improving the Neighbourhood), however, aims to change all that. And she’s starting this spring with a $50,000 grant to create an art-filled walking path through the park.
Drinking tea in her drafty studio near Dupont and Campbell, paintings for her recent show stacked against the walls, Marie is slight and unpretentious. But the energetic artist’s passion for the community is contagious. The proposed path, she explains, will wind its way toward Emerson Avenue, down to the now almost entirely treeless Lappin Avenue and across the CN rail tracks to Campbell Street Park. She calls it an “art-embedded” walking system, a sort of plein-air gallery with individual works created by local tradespeople and artists. “Our idea is that people can use the park and path as a community centre. It will be a source of pride and indigenous expression.”
The notion of a walkway that doubles as public art and community centre is an imaginative starting point for a neighbourhood that is just beginning to define itself, just beginning to sort out what it is if it isn’t all about industry and work. And if it happens at the same time as an intelligent redevelopment of the windowless monolith that is the Galleria Mall (with its dreary Zellers, smoke shop and food court), it could go a long way toward liberating the park from its moribund state.
“There are so many issues facing this neighbourhood,” says Marie. “All the new development, the lack of services, safety concerns, a long history of being unengaged. But as an artist, I really believe that if you change your environment you can change a mindset.”
It’s an exciting concept, and if Marie is right, the rejuvenated park could be a catalyst for the community. After all, great parks do have a way of defining the neighbourhood around them (think High Park, Withrow, Dufferin Grove)and the ability to draw together people from disparate walks of life. If the murder of Holly Jones forced people both inside and outside the community to see the worst of this area, perhaps something that celebrates the bestthe skills and talents of its residentscan help build a new sense of engagement and vitality.
In fact, according to Marie, it’s already begun. Last spring, she initiated a community-based art project that looked specifically at the impact the murder had on the neighbourhood. With the help of photographer Edward Burtynsky, his photo lab Image Works, Kodak Canada and Agfa Inc., Marie handed out 250 disposable cameras to local residentsschool kids and seniors, anyone who’d take oneand asked them to use the cameras to express their grief and outrage about the murder.
What Marie got back surprised and delighted her: images that captured the spirit of a community, of old holding tanks for industrial waste, pictures of the inside of one family’s fridge, friends mugging for the camera and a closeup of the Lord’s Prayer on a classroom wall, among others. She’s showing these and other photographs in an exhibition later this year.
“In some strange way, the murder, horrible as it was, created a common experience,” she says, leaning in to emphasize her point. “There was a certain kind of jelling around it. Not focused on revenge so much as cleaning up our neighbourhood, getting to know our neighbours.” She pauses, then says quietly, “More people know each other now.”
Maybe something good came out of something very bad.
The strip of Bloor Street West -- stretching from Christie Street to Dundas Street West -- does not have quite the same reputation as its neighbour to the west. But the area is beginning to change: Younger people are moving in -- couples with families and singles -- attracted by lower rents and housing prices, by a diverse community and easy access to the Bloor subway line.
"It's a beautiful area to live in, and I think that's the view of the vast majority of people who live there. But it has its pressures and its challenges," says Mario Silva, city councillor for the Davenport riding. "I think overall there are many positive things the community can celebrate, and I think certainly the area is improving."
With a new official urban plan recently approved by city council for the Lansdowne to Dundas West strip, changes are underway. According to Mr. Silva, the Toronto city planning department will be offering new opportunities for redevelopment in the area, and it has been studying the strip for the past year to determine new zonings.
"There was a lot of industrial land that had been abandoned, and there was a lot of discussion for many years on building condos or apartments," Mr. Silva says.
Some development has already begun in the Lansdowne and Bloor area, but even east of that, things are changing. Younger people are moving in, making their homes in a neighbourhood that was largely transitional and primarily made up of new immigrants.
As they invest in the neighbourhood in which they plan to raise their children, these young families are starting to have an impact on the community.
"I think there's definitely a younger group moving in, and I think these people are fixing up the houses," says Jon Long, co-owner of music store Long & McQuade, on Bloor Street at Ossington Avenue. "I think the house prices are going up."
Toronto Real Estate Board statistics show local housing prices are on the rise. The prices for the general area surrounding that section of Bloor ranged from $269,289 to $330,677 for 2002, up as much as 12% a year earlier in some parts of the community.
The central location, says Mr. Long, is a strong selling point for potential buyers.
Sandra Parris, who has lived in the area for 50 years, agrees. "I think it's due to the fact we're very, very central."
While the neighbourhood's reputation is one of a lower-class area, Ms. Parris says many of the residents do well financially.
What is true is its diversity -- neighbours from a range of income levels and ethnicities live side by side in the areas on either side of Bloor. Community members range from Portuguese, to East and West Indian, to Italian and Korean. "It's a mixed area, which I like," Ms. Parris says.
That diversity is not new. The area has long been the destination of immigrants to Toronto who are attracted by cheaper rents and who leave as soon as they can afford more. "It's a very migrant type of population. A lot of people come here, they rent houses or apartments, then they move on once they get established," says Vito Pasquariello, chairman of the Bloordale Village Business Improvement Area (BIA), which runs between Lansdowne and Dufferin along Bloor. "It's been a lot like that. And it seems like the businesses follow that trend as well."
Mr. Pasquariello's father has owned a business on Bloor for 42 years, and they have seen the area change since then, from predominantly Italian, to Portuguese, to the mixed ethnic community it is now.
Drug and prostitution problems remain the main concerns for residents and local businesses, the younger Mr. Pasquariello says, but the area is starting to see some gentrification.
A Subway sandwich shop recently opened at Dufferin and Bloor, a block away from Dufferin Mall. The local business associations are trying to build on that, setting goals to improve this strip of Bloor and working on beautifying the streetscape to attract more shoppers.
Residents of the area also are working to improve their homes. "Most of them are really keeping their houses up nicely and their lawns and their flowers and their gardens -- it's just a pleasure to walk up and down the streets," says Anna Zapatal, chairman of the Bloorcourt Village BIA, which runs from Montrose Avenue to Dufferin along Bloor. "It's not a high-class district, but it's certainly a nice area, a nice neighbourhood."
Fritz vandenHeuvel, one of the younger homeowners in the area, has renovated his house to make a home for his young family. He moved into the community just west of Dufferin and south of Bloor about five years ago. While they were not looking to buy specifically in the area at the time, the house they bought fit their requirements and was within walking distance from the subway station. "We were looking for a house we could renovate, that was inexpensive," he says. "The prices were reasonable."
He recently joined a new neighbourhood group, The Bloordale Villagers' Association, which is mandated to make the area safer, cleaner and more attractive to residents.
Like many others in the neighbourhood, he sees change ahead as local residents get more involved. "I like the area," he says. "It could use some improvements, but I think it's up and coming."
Ms. Zapatal agrees. "I think it could become very trendy," she says.
Color Photo: Kevin Van Paassen, National Post / MOVING UP: The neighbourhood east of Bloor West Village is growing in popularity because of its central location and diverse residents.
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