Well, this fair city happens to be the home of Very Us Mumblings and after nearly a year of seeing our city make headline-news around the world for all the wrong reasons, we've decided to do a little bit of a delving into the real culture and identity of this city and do it with the help of some musical accompaniment. (Warning: Videos may contain expletives)
Jane-Finch (& other Janes)
The writers of this blog couldn't pretend to know all the problems that exist up and down a street called Jane Street (and some of us live there!) but not the least of the problems and at least part of the cause of all of the problems is the housing projects and high-occupancy tenement buildings built in the seventies and early eighties to house large numbers of immigrants and their born-Canadian sons and daughters.
Jane-Finch is just the most famous intersection on Jane Street, which has replicated these high-density population buildings all along itself. Jane-Sheppard, Jane-Chalkfarm, Jane-Falstaff and Jane-Trethewey all have similar problems to Jane-Finch though on a smaller scale.
A long stretch of street with pockets of extreme density in population, usually nearby a 70s-style strip-mall, in what is truly the far-flung west-side of the city or supposed to be more sparsely suburban housing. Back in the days when these buildings were built, Toronto was much more of a manufacturing economy than it was financial, and all these people were probably expected to be the labour force for such industry. Even then, the housing didn't permit for quick access to employment. But if the housing situation seemed impractical when it was built, now, it seems completely problematic.
With large chunks of the manufacturing industry failing, most of the population of Jane street have all been somewhat encamped in unfortunate locations without quick access to good jobs, inadequate public transit to get to good jobs, and public facilities to get internet-access to look for good jobs to get to.
Into this mix, throw a vast mix of ethic-origins and poverty and stress and some of the more criminal elements seem to take hold in a location which would otherwise seem impractical for such business. At the same time that poverty exists up and down the street, it is interspersed with some of the more suburban homes in the city.
In musical terms, this somewhat strange mix of inner-city-style housing and suburban scene, Jane has given rise to several different artists, most of them hip-hop, but often with soca and reggae influence from a generation descended from Caribbean immigration.
The Trudeaus and Laytons: In 1968, Pierre Elliot Trudeau was elected Prime Minister (He was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada, for those that like to count) and he stayed as Prime Minister for about 16 years with a year-long skip-over when he lost the election in 1979. He is most famous for Canada's Constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but ever since leaving the office, both Trudeau himself and his immediate family were and are pretty much the Canadian version of the Kennedy's in the U.S. Pierre Trudeau's eldest son Justin Trudeau, is currently the leader of the third-place Liberal Party of Canada and attempting to become P.M. in the Next election. The Trudeau family themselves don't spend a whole lot of time in Toronto, their preferred stomping grounds is more likely Montreal. The truth is that the main thing that the Trudeau family likes about this city of Toronto is the votes. Pierre Elliot's policies of multiculturalism were wholly embraced by this multi-ethnic city in the 70s and 80s and as a result, Toronto has supported Trudeau in many elections.
The legacy left by Jack Layton is the most recent character-forming politician in this city. Long time City Councillor Jack Layton is largely the reason why this city has any sort of shelter for those left homeless, and he is widely regarded as a do-gooder of many causes, including bicycle lanes and parks. However, Jack Layton's greatest political triumph was unfortunately short-lived. In 2011 he led the federal NDP to their successful 2nd place finish, defeating the Liberal Party and making the so-called 'socialist' party the official opposition in Federal Parliament for the first time ever. Soon after the election, however, Jack Layton succumbed to cancer and died. Layton's death was mourned with many city dwellers doing chalk-drawings and writings on the walls and sidewalks surrounding city hall. Jack Layton's wife, long-time city councillor Olivia Chow is the current front-runner and most likely candidate to replace Rob Ford in the next election for Mayor.
Rob Ford & his brother Doug: (Rob's brother Doug Ford is on Toronto City Council as well)
Rob Ford was elected Mayor of Toronto in 2010 by promising to stop the gravy-train and end all the wasted money and needless expenses in the City systems without cutting back on essential services. Soon after being elected, however, he found there wasn't much gravy in the system after all and he decided instead that he would cut funding to public transit, libraries, education, homeless shelters, sanitation services, community centres and pretty much every essential service that the city does, while at the same time raising the prices of all said services. Of course, these cutbacks, he calls them 'SAVINGS' and the crappy service, terrible sanitation and lack of transit, he calls 'BONUS SAVINGS' for apparently ensuring faster above-ground car traffic. So, even though taxpayers are paying more and getting less services, they are supposed to believe that Rob Ford is 'SAVING' them money. This confounding logic is due to the fact that Rob Ford is a moron and doesn't realize that those people who take the bus and the streetcar in the morning are going to work and need the bus to get there. Instead he thinks the bus is an obstacle, placed there by the lefties, to block himself and his dumb-ass brother and their two giant-sized gas-guzzling EGOs... I mean SUVs.
After two and a half years of missing numerous days of work in City Hall and floundering in the polls ever since his election, the Ford Family made Toronto City Council famous worldwide when the lying crackhead jackass denied smoking crack and blamed the newspaper that printed the story. Two reporters from the The Toronto Star newspaper said they had seen a video showing Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack at a party. The Fords, being the giant liars that they are, blamed the 'lefty' media. And they cried and whined and blamed the lefties. "They're out to get us" they said. "They don't have proof and they don't like us cause we're righties and they're lefties, and we're righties and they don't like us 'cause they're lefties. It's the left wing liberal media out to get us... waah.... waaah.... somebody call a waah-mbulance... waah.. waah..." and they whined and whined and rallied their base for six months, because they're both a couple of arseholes.
Well, six months later, the Toronto Police discovered the video, yes the same one that was reported by the 'lefties', and it turned out that the supposed 'lefties' were just telling the truth! Rob Ford, for all his whining and blaming the lefties was proven to be a big stupid liar, liar, pants-on-fire! He was seen and recorded doing crack, and he knew it the whole time and lied, just like a crack-addict would.
So Rob Ford fessed-up, while his idiot brother shut-up, and then Rob announced he was running for re-election as mayor. Yes, this rockhead douche thinks he can get re-elected! Recent polling shows at least 20% of Toronto still would vote for Rob Ford, which means that apparently 20% of this city is f-ing stupid, or they think that a crackhead liar is someone they feel they can trust.
The area that's called 'Kensington Market' in downtown Toronto is one of a handful of remnants of what is sometimes viewed as the 'real' Toronto. In other words, there were many more neighbourhoods that were similar in idea, if not in character, back a few decades, when a trip to downtown Toronto was a relatively cheap one, with inexpensive, local restaurants and entertainment, food and drink, and all within reasonable walking distance of a grocery-store. This, of course, was the Toronto that existed before the city's downtown core at Yonge St and Queen St were taken over by tourist-driven corporate-chain-stores, boutique-shops and expensive retail outlets containing clothes by supposedly famous 'international' designers of one type or another.
After 50+ years of doing little or nothing to prevent this trend, all that's left in Toronto are those 'hold-out' neighbourhoods like Roncesvalles, Cabbagetown, the Danforth and a few others. Small enclaves of street-bound non-mall-based shops, usually with some ethnic-heritage or old-world-ethics to back-up their resistance to so-called 'gentrification' and the corporate creep. Queen st.'s artsy clothing stores and cheap restaurants were essentially pushed west and Yonge st's seedy bars were pushed northward and quickly incorporated the fast food giants and the international 'uber-fashion' chains. The same thing is happening to most large cities in North America. Downtown becomes corporate and geared for tourists: expensive stores & entertainment, higher rents, franchise brands, all of which means a crappy, boring neighbourhoods that only rich douchebags & politicians would enjoy. Through all this time, Kensington Market somehow managed to maintain its own character, relatively the same kind of place it had been for several generations, making it all the more of an anomaly in this new, modern city of Toronto.
A strange mix of both fresh and dry groceries, restaurants/bars, eclectic clothing and vintage/collectible items of one type or another, as well as some bands and entertainment, all at more reasonable prices than the more touristy downtown sections, Kensington Market remains a refreshing change in a big corporate city. A popular and successful neighbourhood driven by small business and community patronage, Each store an independent or family-owned entity, unburdened by corporate owners in suits in some head office downtown or worse, in another country. Instead of each store being a replica of another in a chain of 30 or 100 or a thousand, each store in Kensington has a craft and character all it's own. Indeed, many tourists are often shocked when they turn the corner and find this place and realize there's no McDouche's or Burger-Despot or other multinational jackass, and after walking around for a while they probably begin to wonder if this is what anarchy looks like.
Of course, it's probably better that the wealthiest tourists shun this place as counter-culture and disorganized messiness, because the true grace and beauty of this place will be lost forever as soon as the greedy, thieving scumbags at Wal-Mart (or some other evil mega-corp) manage to connive and steal their entry into Kensington and suck the community dry like they have to so many other places around North America. (So far, Wal-Mart has been rightfully rejected by the Kensington locals.)
Rush, Barenaked Ladies and Feist:
The next in line of big international successes to come out of this city would have to be The Barenaked Ladies, who first came to fame in Toronto when they made an independent recording called the 'The Yellow Tape' which was literally a cassette-tape in a yellow case with the band's name written on it. Their most recognizable single was likely 'If I had a $1,000,000' and they had their greatest success in the international charts when they released their album 'Stunt'. The Ladies most recent big songwriting success is the theme for the TV Show: The Big Bang Theory. The current version of the band has, unfortunately gone through a few line-up changes, including the departure of singer/songwriter Stephen Page.
Likely the most well-known/successful artist from Toronno, other than those already named or linked in videos above, is Feist. Leslie Feist was in the Toronto indie-band Broken Social Scene, and still maintains a connection with the band, sometimes re-joining them for shows/tours. However, it was through the song '1234' that she was 'discovered' by most as a solo artist, largely because the tune was used in a commercial for a certain brand of mp3-player. Feist has currently sold millions of copies of her albums 'Reminder' and 'Metals' and is one of the very few Canadian artists that has such impressive international album sales as a so-called 'indie-rock' musician.
Of course, an entire city, with a metropolitan population of over 5 million people is difficult to encompass in one blog entry, but maybe there might be an addendum to this one in the future. Until next time, that's all from Toronto!
P.S: If you're looking for Drake, check the Tower.