Every Saturday in the Globe and Mail now, I’ve got a weekly look at how Toronto is measuring up—each week, the idea is, I crunch some numbers to try to find just a few that say something about where this city’s at and how it’s doing. Because it’s teeny, though, there’s a lot I can’t show. This week, for instance, the provincial government announced they were bumping the minimum wage in Ontario up to $11 this year, and tying it to inflation thereafter, which is either good or bad depending on who you ask. The Globe thing I came up with is pretty straightforward—how many hours at the new minimum wage you’d have to work to pay rent on the average-priced one-bedroom apartment in Toronto, versus how many hours you’d have had to work had the minimum wage been raised to $14, which is what the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage had been pushing for. (It’s about twenty hours less over the course of a month.)
There’s more to those numbers, though.
First, there’s inflation. In the past, the minimum wage actually hasn’t been as low as you might’ve thought, once you take inflation into account—it actually peaked when it was $2.40 in 1977, which is $10.67 in 2013 dollars, and has nearly always landed somewhere between $8 and $10. But you can also see how quickly the minimum wage’s value slides when it’s stuck, as it was for nine years starting in 1995. (It took a newly elected Liberal provincial government to finally bump it in 2004 to $7.15 from $6.85.)
And then there’s how far the minimum wage actually goes in a city like Toronto.
There are lots of different ways to show this, but I like using the average-priced one-bedroom apartment as a metric, because: i) people know what that is in a way they might not with, say, the Nutritious Food Basket; ii) if you use the right data—the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation keeps track, and has for decades—you can get it specific to Toronto; iii) and because other Toronto-specific measurements you could use (like the TTC Metropass) might feel tangible but have their costs established not by the market but by a group of public servants.
Watch what happens in the mid-’90s now (oh, and note where the y-axis starts this time, as I only have rental-rate data going back to 1990):
It might not look like a lot, but in practical terms, it’s huge—all of a sudden, by the early ’00s, affording the average one-bedroom apartment on minimum wage meant working thirty-five more hours a month than you had to in 1994. Those groups pushing for a higher minimum wage or even a living wage may not have gotten everything they wanted this week, but boy, could they have they had it worse.
Data comes from the Government of Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and I used the Bank of Canada inflation calculator to figure out inflation. Two notes: first, none of these charts include taxes, which means that the amount of hours it’d take to make rent is actually a little higher in most—but not all—cases; and second, for each year, I’ve charted whatever the minimum wage was by the end of that year rather than the beginning, since the rental information comes from each October.
In the National Post this weekend, I’ve got an infographic of Toronto’s other population: the dead people. (Well, at least the ones whose remains have been buried in, scattered at, or otherwise interred in the city’s cemeteries, mausoleums, and columbaria.) You can see it here, but I also made the interactive map, embedded above, for fact-checking purposes, and figured it could be of some interest, too. It’s significantly less beautiful than what the Post's designers pulled off, and if you zoom way in, some of the dots aren't located precisely where the cemeteries are, but you get the idea. It also does include something there was no way to fit in the print infographic, which are the variations of cemetery names—something that's especially common with older sites. Victoria Memorial Square, just off Spadina downtown, has sometimes been called any one of St. John’s Garrison Cemetery, Old Military Burying Ground, Garrison Cemetery, Military Memorial Park, St. John the Evangelist Cemetery, and St. John’s Square.
You can view the full-size map here. It’s up to date as of a few months ago, when my research on it started; it’s unlikely I’ll keep the thing updated, but if you’re someone who could use my work in some way, I’m happy to turn over a spreadsheet of all of my research. As far as I know, no one’s ever done a count like this before, and in the course of putting it together, I heard from researchers and archivists and historians who asked to see my work when it was done. Email me and I’d be happy to share it.
Face to face
What would you do if you saw someone randomly attacked on the street?
Do you support mandatory minimum sentences?
What do you think of capital punishment?
Have you ever been face to face with a thief?
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Do you think Charles Manson should be allowed to marry?
Do you think doorknobs should be banned?
Do you think George Zimmerman will ever stay out of the headlines?
Do you think there is more to learn about the JFK assassination?
Do you think Harper is telling the truth?
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Are you tired of the media coverage of Mayor Rob Ford?
Do you think Rob Ford is “good for Toronto”?
Do you think Rob Ford should have given all of his staff $5,000 raises Friday?
Do you think Mayor Rob Ford should have lost the bulk of his office staff?
Would you watch a movie about Rob Ford?
If you saw Barry Neelin on the street, would you think he was Rob Ford?
Do you think city council is capable of conducting business as usual despite the scandal surrounding Mayor Rob Ford?
Should the provincial government give Toronto council more tools to sideline Mayor Rob Ford?
Do you believe Rob Ford when he says he won’t drink again?
Are you tired of the media coverage of Mayor Rob Ford?
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Will humans eventually live on Mars?
Have you ever taken a selfie or twerked?
Do you wish you were able to fly like Superman?
Have you donated to relief efforts in the Philippines?
Is 50 per cent enough?
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Can Barack Obama save ‘Obamacare’?
Should the pastor be suspended?
Have you been a victim of red tape at city hall?
Do you think Ornge Air Ambulance is safe?
Do you think Melissa Bachman was sacked unfairly?
Which scandal is worse?
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Do you remember to check your lottery tickets?
If you won the lottery, would you keep working?
Would you hire John Edwards?
Would you eat kangaroo meat?
Would you give a hug to a stranger on the street?
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All lines come from polls accompanying Toronto Sun news stories published over one week (from Saturday, November 15 to Friday, November 22). Repeated lines were questions asked more than once. I’ve corrected any typos in the original, but they’re otherwise reproduced here as-published. Thanks to Jon Medow for suggesting I turn a stupid joke into this even-stupider one.
If your Rob Ford debacle postmortem story headline is not “VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR” then you’re not trying hard enough.— Andrew Snowdon (@snobiwan) May 30, 2013
The Winnipeg Free Press has produced a Rob Ford–themed “Video Killed the Radio Star” parody: http://t.co/jeI99xQrCe— Jonathan Goldsbie (@goldsbie) June 3, 2013
Video Killed The Radio Star: The Rob Ford Story #TOpoli— Ben Thornton (@BCThornton) November 3, 2013
Okay, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was a pretty clever song choice for your show today, @thekeenanwire.— Kelli Korducki (@kelkord) November 6, 2013
Video killed the radio star? #topoli— Ron Wadden (@Ron_Wadden) November 8, 2013
video killed the radio star #topoli— BigGoats11 (@BigGoats11) November 8, 2013
Video killed the radio star. “@StrashinCBC: 1010 cuts ties with Fords, The City will no longer air.”— Sean Marshall (@SeanMarshall81) November 8, 2013
What an appropriate song for today’s news, Video Killed the Radio Star: https://t.co/VhPGFfhnFD— Jamie Tucker (@jamie_tucker) November 8, 2013
Videos killed the radio star: http://t.co/mWKgkHB2e6— Steve Murray (@NPsteve) November 8, 2013
Finally a positive development: Newstalk 1010 has cut The City. I guess the video killed the radio star.— Lavinia Lamenza (@LaviniaLamenza) November 8, 2013
Video killed the radio star. #RobFord— Thomas Fus (@thomas_fus) November 9, 2013
Video killed the radio star #robford— monica gupta (@mongupta) November 9, 2013
Rob Ford’s radio show has been cancelled: video killed the radio star. #robford— WebDiva (@WebDivaMJ) November 9, 2013
There may be no greater threat to the illusion that we are all not just funny but uniquely funny than Twitter. (At least this one is a pretty good joke.)
From the “video killed the radio star” file: Ford bros. Sunday radio talkshow cancelled. http://t.co/qKJQFeEWvg— Bob Mackin (@bobmackin) November 9, 2013
Toronto really doesn’t have many female cabbies. Here, look:
Of 10,356 licensed cab drivers in the City of Toronto, that’s 10,243 men (they’re blue), and only 113 women (they’re yellow). I’ve got a story in The Grid this week about why. The short answer, one I heard from many of the men I spoke to for the story and the women I did, too: safety.
Across Canada, though, things are a little different—not a lot different, but a little, and in some surprising ways. In 2011, this country had a total of 55,150 cab drivers, according to Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey. Most of them were men, too, but not quite so large a proportion as in Toronto:
The number of Canadian cab drivers is split pretty evenly between immigrants and non–permanent residents on the one hand (26,850), and non-immigrants on the other (27,735), and that’s where you can start to see things getting a little starker.
Here’s the proportion among non-immigrants:
But here it is among immigrants and non–permanent residents:
Leah Gebremichael, a female cab driver I got lucky enough to find while reporting my story, told me that “I get a lot of customers telling me about how, outside of Toronto, there’s a lot more female drivers.” She thinks that might be because, in small towns, everyone knows everyone, and drivers aren’t out as late anyway. That sounds right to me. I don’t know, because I don’t have enough data for any individual city, including Toronto, but I’d also be surprised if this city’s proportion of immigrant drivers wasn’t much higher than, say, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s.
Where women do a little better in Toronto isn’t, it turns out, behind the wheel, but behind the plate. As I mention, there’s a much healthier proportion of women among licensed Toronto cab owners than drivers—15.5%—but very few of them seem to drive. I heard this from a few of the male drivers I spoke to for this story; one young guy, Sukhbii Singh, told me that the cab-driving classes drivers and most owners have to take “are 10 to 15% girls, but they don’t show up on the driving.” Ian Redfearn, who’s a supervisor with the City of Toronto’s division that licenses drivers, explained to me that something else could be going on: since each cab owner can only own one cab, it’s common for men who already own one cab to get their wives and daughters to get licensed, too, even though it’s the men who’re still ultimately using them. Because you have to be a licensed cab driver before you can be a licensed cab owner, it’s possible that the number of women who are actually out there driving on the streets of Toronto is even lower than that meagre 1.1% suggests.
Still, things do seem to be moving in the right direction in Toronto; the disparity was even worse ten years ago, and has gotten steadily better since:
Mind that y-axis, though.
You can read my story over here. Torontoist beat me to the punch and interviewed two female cabbies earlier this month, so go read those, too. And then, when you’re done all that, watch this short documentary about female cabbies in New York City, where the proportion of women may (or may not? [PDF]) be even worse.
The comments on my now-month-old cover story for The Grid, "Spent," about being young and getting by on not very much money in Toronto, were wonderful in a way only mostly anonymous comments on a subject like kids-these-days can be: mean, helpful, stupid, funny, thoughtful, outraged, everything. (That three of the article’s five main subjects—Josh, Julian, and Colin—couldn’t resist defending themselves and that their replies only constitute some of the highlights is what I mean when I say the comments were wonderful.) They’re all gone now, though, thanks to a server crash that wiped out a couple months worth of comments on every Grid article that had the misfortune of being published between mid-March and mid-May. But they really were too good to never be seen again, and it took only a few minutes of searching to find a cached version on Google that, for now, still had all of them preserved. If you haven’t yet, read my feature (or maybe don’t bother? many of those commenting didn’t!), and then, please, go on ahead:
You have heard that things are hard and getting harder for twenty- and thirty-somethings. This is true in Canada, as the Globe has spent much ink on showing lately, and especially true in Toronto, where, as I wrote in my cover story for The Grid last week, the cost of living keeps growing while wages don’t: in 2010, those between 25 and 34 years old living in the Toronto area pulled in a median income of $33,300. That’s 1,070 inflation-adjusted dollars less than they would have been making here at the same age in the 1990s, and $4,030 less than in the 1980s.
That’s not the end of the story, though. Those numbers come from Statistics Canada, which has tracked individual incomes across provinces and in the major “census metropolitan areas,” like Toronto’s, since 1976. (It’s CANSIM table 202-0407, and you can see it all here; it only goes up to 2010 at the moment and 2011’s information won’t appear till end of June, most likely.) The numbers jump around a bit year-to-year, but if you get their data for the Toronto area only, and calculate the average median income for each age group in the three complete decades for which that’s possible—the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s—and keep it adjusted for inflation in 2010 dollars, this is what you get:
It looks kind of like things are getting smaller across the board, right? That’s maybe not so clear, though. Here’s a chart of just the differences, for each age group, between the decades:
And here’s that same chart, for each age group, between the decades, showing the percentage difference:
It’s pretty clear: median incomes are lower now than they were before for nearly every age group in the Toronto area—a bit lower than the ’90s, and a lot lower than the ’80s. That’s actually not the case for Canada as a whole. While the median incomes country-wide are a little less, they’ve held up better. Here’s that difference, for each age group, between the three decades again, but for the whole country this time:
Now, income’s only one measure—one of many—of prosperity, or the lack thereof, and there are no doubt plenty of explanations, good and bad, that partially account for why the graph for the Toronto area looks so dire. (Do more people being in school much longer help explain the big drop in earnings for 20–24 year olds? Almost certainly. Could 65-plus-year-olds be the only group making more now than in the ’80s because many of them aren’t retiring, and are still working? I wouldn’t be surprised. Could all the new immigrants this city’s seen over the last few decades who are taking low-wage jobs push the averages for adults lower? Maybe.) If you look at the data, though, it’s hard to feel encouraged about the way the lines are pointing—down, down, down.
You can read my story on getting by in Toronto when you’re young and living somewhere above the poverty line but at or below the median-income level for your age group here. Get ready, 55 to 64-year-olds, because I’m coming for you next.
I think we might all owe John Steckley an apology.
In 1989, the Humber College professor was the one to suggest the name “Ataratiri” for the new neighbourhood that the provincial and municipal governments intended to build west of the Don River’s mouth. Ataratiri—prononced “a-tar-a-TEER-y”—had been a Huron village, located right around here, before the Iroquois destroyed it in 1649. It was a “natural choice for a name,” Steckley told the Star after a city committee okayed it, especially since the Huron once called the land the new development would be on home, too.
When it came to what the word “Ataratiri” translated to, though, the newspapers at the time couldn’t get their stories straight. The Star said it meant “soil, clan and strength” (March 22, 1989), “clay soil found near rivers in southern Ontario” (April 28, 1989), “clay soil by a river mouth” (July 14, 1989), and “supported by clay” (March 19, 1992). The Globe said no, actually, it meant “village by the river built on clay” (April 28, 1989 and May 19, 1989), “supported by clay” (March 7, 1990), “village by the water” (February 2, 1991), and “built on clay” (March 14, 1992 and December 22, 1995). Soon, after the millions-over-budget project was cancelled, the name became little more than a punchline: in an editorial titled “Boondoggle, in English,” the Globe mused that the translation should be “village by a major expressway in a derelict industrial area prone to flooding, built on contaminated soil” (March 13, 1992). Eye Weekly (April 30, 1992) wondered whether “it’s a PR person’s word for ‘confuse the hell out of the public.’” Later, the Financial Post (March 27, 2006) joked that it was “an old Indian word that roughly translates to ‘Swamp of the Taxpayer.’”
I had a hunch that what it really meant would matter, though.
I’d been researching the project, and the name Steckley gave it, for a short feature I was writing about the West Don Lands, the new name for the new master-planned neighbourhood that’s being built right now where Ataratiri was once supposed to go. (You can read more about what happened to Ataratiri there.) Across the southern and easternmost points of the neighbourhood, underneath Don River Park, there’s something called the Flood Protection Landform, or FPL. When a once-in-a-lifetime storm hits, the FPL is designed to deflect the water surging down the Don out towards the Port Lands and into Lake Ontario; otherwise, it could flow over and flood downtown as far east as York Street and as far north as Front Street. And it turns out that what’s doing the most to keep the Air Canada Centre from being underwater one day is layer after layer of strong, dense clay. It’s built in “lifts,” Waterfront Toronto’s Director of Parks, Design and Construction, James Roche, told me, meaning that “you place it, compact it, place it, compact it, place it, compact it,” until it settles, he said.
The more research I was doing, the further away I was getting from a single, definitive definition of “Ataratiri.” If it meant “village by the water,” or “clay soil found near rivers in southern Ontario,” then, yeah, sure, that’d be worth me knowing, but saying so in whatever I was writing wouldn’t have added much. But if it meant something closer to “built on clay”—if it meant that “Ataratiri” had, a quarter of a century later, become a truer name for the plan that was actually getting built than the one that never did, I wanted to find out, and say so.
John Steckley, fortunately, is pretty easy to track down. He’s still a professor at Humber, and seems to have spent the last twenty-four years growing a prodigious beard, racking up positive reviews on Rate My Professors, and writing books, including a Huron to English and English to Huron dictionary. When I called him at his office, we joked a bit about how out-of-the-blue this all must seem, and then he told me what I’d been hoping to hear: that atara “usually means ‘clay’” and tiri means “support.” A good English translation of “Ataratiri,” he said, is “supported by clay.” Perfect.
To the description of Don River Park and the Flood Protection Landform I’d written, I added one sentence about what Waterfront Toronto’s James Roche told me, and another about how, though you won’t catch anyone using it, Ataratiri might have been a fitting name for the neighbourhood after all. (Here, after all, was a neighbourhood—a city, even—supported in every sense of the word by clay.)
There are only so many things you can fit on two tabloid-sized sheets of paper, though, and little historical asides, neat as they may be, don’t always make it. In the course of editing, out both sentences came. It happens, but I can’t help but feel a little bad for a name that was understood little and respected less, a better name than anyone at the time even realized. I know that when Barbara Hall, soon to be elected mayor but then a councillor, was interviewed after Ataratiri was cancelled and told the Star, crestfallen, that “those people who came up with the idea had a dream, and it was a good one then and a good one today,” she meant Ataratiri, the plan. But I feel the same way now about Ataratiri, the name.