My latest, on the cover of the September issue of Toronto Life. The Higher They Climb: bidding wars, bully bids, and the stress of finding an actual house to buy in Toronto.
I am now, and always have been, a nail-biter. I am also pretty deficient at anything that requires combining patience with fine motor coordination. As such, I got into the habit of getting my nails done. And I am cheap frugal, so I got in the habit of getting them done at cheapie nail shops.
It’s pretty obvious upon entering most places that offer $15 manicures that it’s far from a great job. Even if the owners are fair, and nice, sloughing off other people’s dead foot skin for minimum wage has got to suck. It’s also pretty obvious that most of the people working in these nail shops are young, immigrant women for whom English is a second language.
A year or two ago, the mother of a friend of mine developed pneumonia. She’s Vietnamese, and she worked in a nail shop for decades. Her doctor thought she was a chain-smoker, because of the condition of her lungs.
There was only so long that I could ignore that getting my nails done in these places very likely made me a first-world jerk. So, I finally grew some ovaries and wrote this story for the Globe on all the really terrible health risks faced by nail salon workers.
I’m trying to learn to do my own nails. I pretty much suck at it.
At Open File, a transit history lesson. Let’s go back in time to 1995, when the provincial government wasted over $200-million by killing the Eglinton West subway line.
A few years ago, the window display at Get Outside at Queen and Spadina stopped me in my tracks. There, among the trendy leather moccasins, was a family of Native dolls posed in front of a teepee. There was a bare-chested, six-packed chief dad, a scantily clad, pigtailed mom, and their cute, primitive little kids. I pitched this as a story to a local weekly—I wanted to stop some passers-by and do quick streeters on whether they had the same reaction I did—but they didn’t buy it. So I just went home and muttered to myself.
Native fashion makes me feel weird. It so often reduces a huge and complicated group of people to caricatures. I feel weird, too, because I only know a handful of indigenous Canadians, and only in passing. I’m not trying to adopt anyone’s battles, or be an expert on a topic about which I actually know nothing. But I think it’s fair to say that freezing Native people into Pocahontas poses in order to sell furry mukluks is basically bullshit. Newsflash—we’ve all come into the 21st century together. Or actually, we haven’t: as of this past February, 116 First Nations communities in Canada didn’t have safe drinking water. I think this is what really angers me, that so often Canadians use art, design and culture to reduce Native people to cartoons while ignoring both their painful histories, and their difficult present. Don’t even get me started on Will and Kate watching “aboriginal” dancers (no tribe mentioned), or Stephen Harper putting on a headdress and face paint. No really, don’t get me started. Go look at Kent Monkman’s paintings instead.
Back to fashion: apparently Navajo prints and colours are currently “in.” The adoption of any culture’s art or fashion aesthetic by the mainstream is always cause for an eye-roll. What’s in today is of course out tomorrow, and boo to you, fair-trade Indian cotton, the customers are now bored by your livelihood. The thing is, though, that Navajo design (and embroidered cheong sams, and intricate mehndi) is gorgeous. I’m going to save myself the embarrassment of trying to articulate this fully, as fashion-speak isn’t my forte: let’s just say the colours are vibrant, the prints are bold, the turquoise-and-silver jewelry is stunning, and if you want to know more, hit Google. A good place to start would be the Beyond Buckskin blog, where Jessica R. Metcalfe writes lively and knowledgeable stuff about Native fashion, including celebrating non-indigenous designers who work respectfully with traditional artisans when adopting these ancient arts.
If you’re going to wear Navajo, good for you. It’s some eye-catching stuff. What would make it even better was learning a bit about the history of the people who made it—let’s start with the Long Walk of 1863 and 1864. This is paraphrased from the site Legends of America:
“After years of war and starvation with the United States, 8,500 Navajo and Apache men, women and children were marched almost 300 miles from northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, a desolate tract on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. The ill-planned site, named for a grove of cottonwoods by the river, turned into a virtual prison camp. Bosque Redondo was hailed as a miserable failure, the victim of poor planning, disease, crop infestation and generally poor conditions for agriculture. The Navajo were finally acknowledged sovereignty in the historic Treaty of 1868. They returned to their land along the Arizona-New Mexico border hungry and in rags. Today, they are the largest Native American community in the United States.”
That’s a pretty ferocious history, wear it well.
This post is part of the Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race, ethnicity and diversity in the GTA.
Alright, so here’s my two cents on Toronto Life’s current exodus to the suburbs story. A few notes before I begin:
I write for TL a fair bit (including a story in this very issue! About insomnia! Don’t sleep on it!), and I’m not going to trash the mag in favour of some mythical Toronto publication that gets it all right (more on this later). I’m also friends with Philip Preville, so aside from this—PHILIP, YOU LITTER? GROSS!—I’m not going to trash him either.
Others have already done a good job exploring the rather obvious point that the story has a packaging problem. I agree that it’s not about the suburbs, but small towns that are becoming exurbs whether they like it or not. So I’ll stay away from that, too. I’m going to focus on two things: economics and demographics.
Let’s start with the money bit. I don’t care if suburbanites/exurbanites don’t want to live here, but it’s ridiculous that we let them sneer at the overcrowdedness of the TTC and then turn around and take the money that we need to fix the TTC up to Uxbridge. What the story reinforced for me is that if people need Toronto to fund their gorgeous new Annex-mansions-in-Dundas, Toronto needs to stand up for itself. Most (all?) of the families interviewed have at least one partner who is relying on Toronto for a salary; meanwhile the city is suffering from years of provincial downloading and federal derision. Whether it’s via road tolls, or disincentives for companies with offices in the 416 to hire outside the city, or something else, it’s time for this financial engine to demand some cash money respect.
I also wondered about the effect of flush Torontonians buying up the nicest Victorians in Cobourg’s Rosedale on the current residents of the small towns in question. (Ok, I’ll say it: the focus on gorgeous real estate is sooooooo Toronto Life. It’s hilarious that the one family that lives in a typical nouveau salmon-brick suburban house is shown in their backyard.) Funding a 705 lifestyle with 416 money would seem to replicate awful Vancouver-y real estate markets. That kind of sucks for the original 705-ers. I can’t figure out if I think The New Exurbanites are contributing to sprawl. I suppose if they buy up the old houses, then people who work at lower-salaried jobs are left with new builds, but that’s pretty indirect. I’m still musing on this one.
Random thought unrelated to my points of focus: it’s my understanding that parenting is a fraught and paranoid practice everywhere, and I highly doubt, Philip, that you’re trusting your kids with random friendly small-towners. I was in Kingston this past weekend (itself a lovely town where a four-bedroom, 150-year-old, heartbreakingly gorgeous stone house was $539,000, sheesh) and shuddered when passing the penitentiary. Paul Bernardo’s worst crimes happened in St. Catharine’s, remember? Evil and goodness are not location specific.
On to demographics: There’s no mention of diversity at all, except for a weird comment about the Toronto-ditchers missing the food here. As far as I’m concerned, every single piece of journalism that claims to be about any meaningful shift in Toronto’s demographics has to tackle ethnicity head on. Otherwise, the half has never been told. And it’s fine for the commenters at Spacing to insult TL for white blindness, but let me take this opportunity to say that I don’t think any publication in this city consistently parses GTA diversity in any quality way. Good thing the Ethnic Aisle is planning a Suburbs vs. Downtown issue for September.
Months ago, a (white) friend told me that he and his (white) fiancée figure they’ll eventually move out of Toronto. They want the space and the quiet and all of that. A number of my white friends have talked to me about their desire to leave the city, for the usual reasons, from lower house prices to less road rage. During one of these convos, last spring, my reaction was visceral, i.e. rude: I blurted “well, enjoy life among all white people.” I apologized afterward, but I’m still bothered. I just can’t escape this nagging feeling that when people say they like the “simplicity” of the exurbs (or cottage country), it’s at least partially a code word for “homogeneity.” Everyone loves udon and dosas, but dealing with all that language-barrier stuff at your kid’s public school is so complicated. On Metro Morning, Philip said that his research shows that it isn’t just white people that are moving out of the city. The omission of that info from the actual article is a major flaw. If Toronto’s weaknesses are leading the entire region to self-segregate, that’s something to be obsessing over, not ignored.
Did I say anything new here? I dunno. When I was writing this, I kept humming LCD Soundsystem. Toronto’s having a hard time right now, and sure, it gets me down. But you know what? This is my hometown and I love it. I want to fix it, not flee.
My latest real estate roundup in The Grid: commercial spaces with apartments on top.
From Toronto Life, a Q&A with CBC reporter Mellissa Fung, who was abducted, stabbed and held captive in the Afghan desert for 28 days.
From the Globe, a visit to two organic farms in Grey County, which produces five per cent of Ontario’s food.
In the brand new Grid, the first of my regular real-estate roundups. This time: four homes at Toronto’s average price, $460,000.
This is probably the most interesting, exciting story I’ve ever worked on. In Toronto Life, the story of Byron Sonne, a computer security consultant who became obsessed with testing the security apparatus at last year’s G20–and who’s spent almost a year in jail because of it.