You Can't Go Home Again...

There’s been a bit of a backlash against the Toronto Star for its obituary on Toronto’s Dundas/Spadina Chinatown (which I commented on here). People are writing letters to the editor, or commenting on the Urban Toronto forum that, as bad Dragon Court (the mall at the corner of Dundas and Spadina profiled in the article) is, it’s not reflective on the rest of the neighbourhood. Spadina Avenue’s Chinatown is a key link between the hustle and bustle of Queen West village and Kensington Market. The photographer who snapped that shot must have been out early one Sunday morning.

So, yesterday, as I was in town to do an interview for the History Television program Things that Move (on the Toronto subway), I decided to head down to my old neighbourhood and have a look around. I travelled the length of Spadina Avenue from D’Arcy Street to the Bloor subway, and the report’s of this strip’s death have been greatly exaggerated. I counted only three boarded-up stores on my trip up, and only one of these was Chinese.

It’s important to note that I didn’t head south of D’Arcy Street, nor did I travel along Dundas Street, but this finding is consistent to the other times of late that I’ve ridden on the Spadina streetcar. Spadina is a remarkable avenue. Yes, it’s a bit run down, but it’s always busy and it has a character unique to the city.

The article also focused more on Dragon Court (a failing downtown mall? Gee, where have I heard that before?) and Dundas Street, so it’s entirely possible that the problems lie there. I’ll try and head down to Dundas the next chance I get to see what’s what.

I was rather dismayed by the deteriorating appearance of McCaul Street — the place where I spent most of my childhood years. It looks like the rowhouses have been handed over to renters who don’t care about the properties they own (which surprises me given that my parents sold our townhouse in 1989 for $340,000). The fences have either vanished or are in derelict condition. The cedar trees that were planted on either side of our property line are almost dead. And every house now seems to use their front yard as a place to store their garbage cans and recycling bins. And I mean every house. What, did the city pass a “get ugly” bylaw or something, forcing people to store their garbage outdoors? Was it garbage day and are people no longer allowed to put their trash by the curb, where I’d expect it to be? The litter was far worse than I remembered, even from my last trip down this street less than a year ago.

McCaul Street has, for as long as I’ve remembered it, been a street on the brink; the boundary of an inner city residential neighbourhood where Victorian homes gave way to Toronto’s commercial and institutional core. The houses that used to line the east side of McCaul Street vanished decades ago and the remaining houses on the west side looked out onto a concrete landscape of parking lots, institutional buildings, hospital towers and more. But while I lived on McCaul Street, the tall buildings stayed away. But as we were leaving, the Princess Margaret hospital rose up. Now Ontario Hydro is building a five storey building on its parking lot.

The concrete towers are encroaching, and maybe McCaul is looking at the end of itself as a residential street. It would be a shame if true.

So, as I said, I was in Toronto yesterday being interviewed about Transit Toronto and my love for Toronto’s subways for the History Television program Things that Move. I met the film crew and host Jeff Douglas (better known as “Joe Canadian” from the “I Am Canadian” rant) at Runnymede station and we boarded an eastbound train to talk about the subways, my interest, and anything I could say about the stations we passed. We filmed for a good hour or so, threading our way between bewildered passengers, and getting shots of Jeff and I riding the subway, and getting on and off various trains. My segment was part of a longer piece that included visits behind the scenes.

Jeff keeps things rather light-hearted, and we had a very good time, despite the fact that I was rather nervous, and I almost lost my voice trying to talk over the ambient noise. I hope these guys got some good material out of me, but I guess we’ll see for ourselves in a few weeks. I’ll let you know when the episode is to air.

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