I wrote The Grid’s cover story this week: everything you’ve ever wanted to know about where you get food in this city but were afraid to ask because what are you some kind of scaredy cat? (On newsstands today!) There’s a lot of different stuff to go explore online:
- For starters, there’s this interactive map of every single restaurant, grocery store, café, cafeteria, food processing plant, ice cream truck and so on and so on that’s been ordered closed by Toronto Public Health’s food safety program since January 4, 2001. See if you can find the one place in the city that’s received more “CLOSED” notices than the Green Room.
- Then, there’s this by-the-numbers breakdown from eleven years of inspection data. Didja know that health inspectors have cited operators for 139 rodent infestations and 111 insect infestations? That sort of thing.
- And if you were looking at the map, and wondering why Chinatown and Kensington Market have such a disproportionate number of closures, and what it takes for a place to actually get ordered closed, the head of the food-safety program, Jim Chan, has got all the answers.
- I tagged along on an inspection of Chinatown staple Mother’s Dumplings, and online on Friday, we’ll be publishing the play-by-play. Don’t worry: it passed with flying colours. [UPDATE: …and here it is.]
- Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, we’re releasing all the data we got from Toronto Public Health as the result of my end-of-year freedom of information request. The data contains the full results of every inspection that resulted in either a conditional pass—the bright yellow signs you’ll sometimes see in restaurant windows—or a closure notice. You can download that data at the foot of the map page, and make your own stuff with it.
Back in October, I started making a map of where all of Toronto’s residents’ associations and neighbourhood groups were. But as it’s gotten bigger and bigger and I’ve added more and more groups to it, I bumped into a problem I hadn’t considered: that Google Maps can only display so many items at a time on a regular map. It’s annoying. So, this weekend, I moved all of the data to Google Fusion Tables, which can handle a lot more data and lets you mess around with how things look a bit better.
The new map is now right here. (You can also use j.mp/torontoresidents to share it; you’ll notice the page is a lot friendlier to someone stumbling across it for the first time than a regular Google Map.) As ever, it’s a work in progress, but at least it’s one that’s getting better and better.
Something I found this summer in a catalogue sitting in the basement of the Art Gallery of Ontario: a portrait of one “Michael Topping, Esq.” by John Smart. The AGO has at least one other piece by Smart, but I’ve never heard of this “Michael Topping” guy before, and neither has my cousin’s wife, who maintains our family tree—but then, my family tree doesn’t even go back that far: the earliest Topping we’ve got was Robert Topping, my great-great-great-grandfather, born in 1833, who became a boiler maker. He lived at 234 Berkeley, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, which nowadays looks something like this. [UPDATE, 2:35 p.m.: Thanks to Quin Parker for pointing out that this is a more accurate Google Street View of 234 Berkeley. Adds Parker: “To me, that tenement looks unsullied by 110 years of Glasgow grime (compare others on street). So old 234 [was] prolly knocked down”]
My mom’s mom was born in Toronto on June 9, 1923. That, I knew. What I didn’t know: that she spent the first twenty-five years of her life on Grace Street, around the corner from where I live now. Until she was two, her family—my great-grandparents, her brothers, and her—lived just north of Dundas Street West, and when she was two, they moved a few blocks north, to just below Harbord Street.
Last week, we got to talking about the neighbourhood, and she got to talking about how things used to be. Some highlights from what she told me:
KENSINGTON MARKET SMELLED: Her mother loved to go get chickens there, but my grandmother went with her just once, couldn’t stand the smell, and refused to ever go again. “It was gross,” she says.
BEING A SHORT KID PAID OFF: Streetcars—which had just started to be operated by a new public company called the Toronto Transit Commission—used to have a metal pole near their entrance, with a small band wrapped around it a few feet from the ground. If you were shorter than the marker, you paid the children’s fare, but if you were taller, your fare went up. (Children’s fares were 10 for a quarter, or two and a half cents cents each, by the way.) I asked: what happened if you were a little older, but still short? “That, I can’t answer.”
STREETCAR DRIVERS WERE “AWFULLY NICE.”
CASA LOMA WAS A BIG DEAL: Her dad and his brother, who immigrated from Austria together, founded a window-cleaning company here called the New York Window Cleaning Company. Their first big contract: cleaning the floors and windows at Casa Loma, the building of which had just been completed. “That was a big deal,” my grandma says: it led to lots of other business. As my copy of Mark Osbaldeston’s Unbuilt Toronto 2 tells me, by the time my grandmother was born, all was not well for Henry Pellatt and his mansion on a hill—he had moved out of Casa Loma, and there were plans to turn it into a hotel and add a new wing and fifty-six rooms to it. The new wing never got built, and so neither did all those new floors and windows.
BAY & QUEEN WASN’T A BIG DEAL: The New York Window Cleaning Company started off with one office, and then, when things started going well (thanks, Casa Loma!), moved to another one. Their first office? On Bay, north of Queen, where Nathan Phillips Square and City Hall is now. Their second? Bay and Dundas, where the Toronto Coach Terminal is now.
PROPERTY WAS REALLY, REALLY CHEAP: When, in 1925, my great-grandfather bought the six-bedroom home on Grace that my grandmother grew up in, he paid $4,100 for it. That doesn’t just sound inexpensive: if that price was typical and rose with inflation, houses like it would sell for $53,879.35 now; instead, they go for at least $700,000.
THERE WERE LOTS OF JEWISH PEOPLE AROUND: My grandmother’s Jewish, and when she was growing up, so was her neighbourhood: “99.5% Jewish,” she says. Part of the 0.5%: my dad’s mom and grandparents, who in a neat little coincidence lived on Ossington Street, just south of Harbord, a few blocks away. The two families didn’t know each other.
THERE WERE NO PORTUGUESE PEOPLE AROUND: “We had no Portuguese in Toronto when I was growing up,” my grandmother explained. There are lots there now, I explained. “That was Trudeau.” I have been unable to confirm this.
THERE WERE SOME ITALIAN PEOPLE, THOUGH, AND THEY WERE ALRIGHT: As Jews started moving away from downtown and up Bathurst Street, Italians started moving in. When one Italian family moved next door in the late ’40s or the early ’50s, my grandmother, by then married to my grandfather, tried to convince the parents to teach their son to learn to swim. In turn, they tried to convince my grandmother to eat spaghetti and meatballs, dropped it off at her house. She had to sheepishly take the food back to them, and ask to eat it there rather than in her home—it wasn’t kosher.
THERE WERE ALSO OTHER PEOPLE WHO WERE DIFFERENT FROM HER: At her elementary school—Clinton Street Public School—there was a class of “deaf-mute children.” (Her words.) My grandmother assured me that no-one was mean to them, but also told me that the two groups of children always played separately in the school yard, with the deaf-mute children “making their signals” to one-another, and just to one-another. Also, “I think there was one black boy in the school but nobody picked on him.” Good to know, Grandma.
Lead photo, of the rear of 184 1/2 Baldwin Street—what’s now better known as My Market Bakery—courtesy of the City of Toronto archives (series 372 s_0372_ss0001_it1298) is .
- The night before New Year’s Eve, I wrote something asking people who tweet to take the #RIDE hashtag back from the jerks who were using it to share the locations of police RIDE stops. I was hoping it would take off, but didn’t expect it would take off the way it did: there were at least 2,500 unique #RIDE tweets between noon on December 31, 2011 and 3 a.m. on January 1, 2012, by my estimate—that’s almost three per minute, for fifteen hours. Some people were tweeting real RIDE locations that night, but they were next to impossible to find, because they were drowned out with jokes and earnest messages against drunk driving and helpful tips on how to get home safe and bait-and-switches. Good work, everyone.
- How do you take a year-long photo of Toronto, anyway? Michael Chrisman’s spectacular shot of the skyline from the Port Lands made it to the cover of the Toronto Star, and I interviewed him about how he does it.
- The Grid’s person of the year, as determined by our readers’ votes: Jack Layton, by a nose.*
- When the Canon Theatre became the Ed Mirvish Theatre last month, there was one thing they couldn’t change right away: the big “CANON” sign hanging over Yonge Street, which is currently covered up. This is what the sign looks like now, and what the new one will look like come spring.
(* means an article or a version of it appeared in The Grid in print; otherwise, it was online-exclusive.)
It’s the holidays. Some people are going to be idiots and drive drunk. Since 1977, police across Ontario have been trying to stop them by running spot checks as part of the Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere, or RIDE, program—which aims to not only catch drunk drivers, but deter them altogether. The police don’t make the locations of those spot checks public, for obvious reasons: doing so would help people get away with driving drunk.
But we know, this year, that people are helping others get away with driving drunk—by broadcasting that information on Twitter, using the hashtag #RIDE. On Christmas morning, Corey Mintz named a few of those people. His explanation of why he did is worth reading:
Some who have been tweeting RIDE locations, or defending the practice (or their friends) have done so under the guise of helping people avoid traffic slowdowns. I respect a good bit of spin and so I tip my hat to this argument. I also would not like being stopped in my car, made to wait, answer police questions or take a sobriety test. If someone told me how to avoid that, I would appreciate it.
The problem with this explanation is that it’s not true. One of the gentlemen from Christmas Eve used the hashtag #avoidifhammered. Another explained in his bio that he likes “to get really blackout drunk and do stupid shit.”
These boyscouts were not trying to help me save time. They were trying to help me drive drunk. Attempts to spin their behavior are just that, spin.
Media coverage of the problem has since exploded, but, unintentionally, it’s also pointed every wannabe drunk driver in the direction of where to find information that’ll help them avoid getting caught, and every dummy with a Twitter account in the direction of how and where to help them. It’s 1 a.m. on the Friday night before New Year’s Eve as I write this, and they’re doing it right now.
There is one really simple thing to do that might make a difference, though, and that’s to turn #RIDE from a hashtag that helps people drive drunk into one that makes it harder for them to.
It’s easy: when you tweet this New Year’s Eve, use the hashtag #RIDE—the same one people have been using to share RIDE check locations. Use the hashtag #RIDE especially if you’re sharing an anti–drunk driving message, and especially if it’s after midnight. “My uncle was killed by a drunk driver in 2008. Please don’t drink and drive. #RIDE.” “Remember, the TTC is free after midnight tonight! Maybe you’ll get to ride one of those fancy new subway trains. #RIDE.” That kind of stuff—whatever works for you.
The more of it, by the more people, the better. If someone is searching for RIDE locations on New Year’s Eve, those are the tweets they should see, not the location of a spot check. It’s worth a shot.
A few months ago, I started mapping where Toronto’s residents’ associations were. The map’s not yet complete, but if you go a little west of downtown, you’ll see there’s a chunk of land sandwiched between the Roncesvalles-Macdonell Residents’ Association, the Parkdale Residents Association, the Queen-Beaconsfield Residents’ Association, the Brockton Triangle Neighbours, the Dufferin Grove Residents’ Association, and the Trinity Bellwoods Community Association. That chunk of land has nothing: certainly no neighbourhood association, but no neighbourhood email list either. That chunk of land—between College, Ossington, Dufferin, and Argyle—is where I live.
It’s a nice neighbourhood. There are lots of old Victorian houses and old Portuguese families and young creative people. According to the 2006 census, the median household income is a little less than the Toronto average, but households are a little smaller. There are plenty of immigrants who got here earlier than 1991, but haven’t been so many since—and yet, the percentage of speakers who speak English as their first language is much smaller than the average. It’s a little less well-educated than average. About the same amount of people drive to work as take transit or who walk or bike. A larger percentage of the population here is older than 15 than they are elsewhere in the city, but the area’s median age is 0.1 years younger. (The boundaries of the area’s census tract, from which this data’s drawn, don’t correspond exactly to the boundaries of the neighbourhood as I see it, but they’re not especially far off.)
I’ve lived here for a year and a bit, and I like it a lot. But I don’t get the sense that there’s a great community here yet—by which I mean one that’s inclusive of both unmarried young journalists and large Portuguese families. We don’t have a common enemy (condos! noise! Rob Ford! the local councillor!), because everything’s mostly okay here, though someone did recently decide to rebrand the area “DUWEST,” which I certainly don’t remember being consulted about, and apparently some people want a stop sign a few blocks away from me.
What it lacks, then, isn’t a menace, but a forum. I don’t know whether we need a residents’ association, but we definitely, definitely need a neighbourhood email list, whether it’s to advertise yard sales or talk about who came up with “DUWEST,” and who we can blame for it. So I made one. For now, it’ll probably mostly be made up of young people who tweet and read blogs and ride bikes and don’t like Giorgio Mammoliti, but eventually, I’m planning to do what I can to make sure the rest of the neighbourhood is well-represented, too.
If you live here, or very near here, you’re invited. If you don’t, and there’s no email list to join in your neighbourhood, you should make one of your own.
I wrote something for The Grid today, about how the Toronto Sun and Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy are in the wrong for criticizing the Toronto Public Library for having exactly one microfilm subscription to Playboy. One of the reasons: that taxpayers pay $278 a year for the single subscription to the men’s magazine, but more than $21,000 a year for 78 Sun subscriptions—scantily clad “Sunshine Girl” and all.
Then this happened: