Toronto bound? Hereâ€™s what you need to know
Toronto vs. MontrĂŠal Two cities, great in very different ways
When nightclubs turn into fightclubs Kensington Market A one-of-a-kind shopping destination
A Taste of The Distillery Fall 2009
FALL 2009 - ISSUE 1
A Dream Distilled
This ain’t Yorkdale: Kensington Market offers shoppers a chance to be free of malls.
Pless’s House: The Distillery District restaurants are Eric Pless’s world. Everyone else just eats in it.
Nightclubs or fightclubs?
Toronto vs. Montreal When Cities Collide: Which Canadian metropolis reigns supreme?
Bouncers Run Wild: there’s a heavily muscled line between security and assault.
AUTUMN IN THE CITY
8 10 16
Apartment Hunting Nuit Blanche
Ochlophobia Single but not Sober
A Nightmare on Queen St.
15 20 23 24 28 30
Green Fashion The Public Space Battle
IN EVERY ISSUE
Letter from the Editor Masthead
Good Eats Comic Book Kings Toronto’s Underground Network Hockey is EVERYTHING A Culture of Subcultures The Junction
COVER PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLAUDE SARAVIA
Letter from the editor UrbaNation is an idiot’s guide to Toronto for every suburbanite who decides they’ve outgrown their roots and are ready to make the move to the big city, or for those who live here and realize they know very little about The Big Smoke. Our magazine is created by the same kinds of people it is directed towards. Having gone through the process of experiencing some of the best Toronto has to offer I feel as if I’ve lived under a rock for last two decades. So I feel it is my responsibility to share what I now know is essential information about the city of Toronto and how to carve out your place here. Toronto features a wide array of places to go and things to do in the fall; be it an all night walk around the city, experiencing some of the most odd and inspiring art in the country, gourmet food in one of the most historic parts of the city, or shopping for that rare, vintage find. No matter what the day, there is always something to do when you’re in the city, it can even be overwhelming. Throughout the process of piecing this together and after long Saturday nights between words on the computer screen
Published at: Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning 205 Humber College Blvd. Toronto, ON M9W 5L7 416-675-6622 ext. 5529 magazines.humber.ca
and the Leafs game on the television, I’ve come to realize that Toronto is vast in variety of everything from art, to culture, and even daily life style. To capsulate all of it in a neat little package would be doing it a disservice. As a newcomer to this great city I encourage you to go farther than just the words on the page and check out everything Toronto.
R.J. Riley Publisher: William Hanna Editorial Advisor: Kimberley Noble Creative Advisor: Pierre Hamilton Above: Editor-In-Chief, R.J. Riley Below: urbaNation staff.
What we love about Toronto... MASTHEAD
gateway Mike Nasmith Content Editor
.You can learn a lot about the world if you take some time to watch. Toronto is home to the most fascinating people to look at.”
-Maggie Cameron Section Editor
and at any time there are about a million things to do or see. You’re never really bored here.”
“The best thing about Toronto is the
, while knowing that deep down they want to be one of us.”-
we’re the best
something for everybody has
-Melissa Hayes Assistant Art Director
“The best thing about Toronto is that it has the privilege to call itself a mosaic culture. Other cities brag about being
-Herlizza Manito Copy Editor
, Toronto just is.
-Juan Sison Research Chief “I like the fact that Toronto is a young city
constantly growing that is
part of the growth.”
and I like that I am
-Shylo Adams Contributor
“Toronto is where I started my journey. Toronto is my past, my present and my future. No matter how far away I may travel, Toronto will always be
“The food. I love the in Toronto.”
“The wonderful thing about Toronto is hearing people from other cities bitch about how we always think
-Katelyn McCallion Section Editor “Toronto is the kind of place where you can really live --it
-Jen Korson Content Editor
. It’s a place I’ll always fit in.”
“The scene. From the Passe Muraille to the Canon to the local arts high school. Toronto has talent and I love watching it.”
and Kensington and discovering new restaurants.”
“Toronto is the mecca for anything different,
R.J. Riley Editor-in-Chief
Queen St. W.
-Claude Saravia Art Director
-Alana Gautreau Managing Editor
“Seeing outdoor concerts and music festivals. Walking on
scene is quite eclectic.”
resounding yes. And the
“Toronto is a to the whole world. Growing up it made me realize life isn’t just about me, but everybody, in a big picture.” -Harrison Tripple
music edgy and alternative
“When they say ‘can’t we all get along’, Toronto answers that question with a
-Jaden Pato Copy Editor
“Toronto is a microcosm of the world. A myriad of
cosmopolitan culture compacted to form a living, breathing organism – simply perfect.”
-Brad Lemaire Contributor
Two’s company, three million’s a crowd Toronto has a reputation of being an unfriendly place. Anyone who has dealt with the rude people of this city would agree COMMENTARY BY MIKE NASMITH
The other morning I was rushing into Bathurst subway station, just a little late for class. Bathurst has three points of entry: the manned booth which always has at least a four person line-up, the disabled gate, which no one ever uses and the theoretical express turnstile which only takes tokens and Metropasses. I was behind one other person, a normal looking man seemingly in his mid-20’s, who had just beat me to the turnstile. This shouldn’t have caused more than a two second delay, as the man popped in his token, passed through and cleared the way for me to continue my journey. Except the man had failed to get his token out before proceeding. Time can become warped in these moments, but I’m sure I’m being more than fair in saying that the ensuing search for the talisman of entry took at least twenty seconds, as he first patted down the dozens of pockets of his cargo pants for his wallet before fishing through it to find the dime-sized coin. This occurred after the morning rush, but at a still somewhat busy time, and before mercifully being allowed to continue I looked around and saw five people waiting behind me, all with the same chagrined look on their faces. It would have cost the man nothing to step aside, find the token, then continue, but instead six people were put in a foul mood because this man just didn’t consider how his actions might be affecting others. Something similar likely happens to every commuter numerous times a week, but that doesn’t alleviate the annoyance. If, like me, you’re coming to Toronto from a small town, getting used to the crowds can be one of the biggest adjustments. Lifelong residents seem to just roll with the punches, but the total lack of consideration and care that many people demonstrate while in crowds can be shocking to a person whose entire hometown population would only sparsely fill a subway train. The examples of this ignorance are everywhere. The drunken pack of frat boys walking downtown on a Friday night who force people to merge with vehicular traffic in order to get around them. The seemingly long lost friends who pass by each other in a stairwell in a crowded building and proceed to catch up on old times for ten minutes in the middle of the staircase. The sickeningly cute couple holding hands, taking up the entire sidewalk and moving at a pace that barely compensates for continental drift.
6 urbaNation Photo by: Claude Saravia
For the most part, I sincerely believe there’s no malice intended. These people just don’t realize what they’re doing, and are so wrapped up in their own lives they can’t spare the second it would take to be enlightened. The annoyance and aggravation that comes from having to deal with these scenarios is entirely disproportionate to the ten second delays that are caused. Yet, it’s easy to be put in a bad mood for an hour when encountering a particularly galling example of this lack of consideration. This isn’t just idle bitching. A study from Polytechnical Insitute of NYU, has shown that stress levels rise when dealing with crowds, especially during rush hour. If you have to deal with the truly moronic person who gets on the subway first, and then just stands in the entryway because they can’t be bothered to push further into the crowd, then of course your commute is going to be more hellish than if everyone tried their best to accommodate each other. However it’s valid to ask if anything can really be done about it. You know those inspirational moments in TV shows where the person says that if we can reach/educate/ heal just one person then it will all be worthwhile? That doesn’t apply here. One person behaving better in crowds will make no tangible difference. A mass shift in crowd etiquette is necessary to notice a change, and that seems unlikely. Or perhaps not. Maybe it is just a case of politely pointing out to the vacuous teen on her cellphone that reclining across three seats on a subway car is just slightly rude, and that the 80-year-old woman carrying four grocery bags may, perhaps, appreciate the opportunity to sit down. Maybe if this happens frequently enough people will start to consider their surroundings before acting like complete jackasses and crowded settings will become more civil, harmonious places. If such a utopian vision does come to fruition it’s unlikely we’ll even notice. I doubt people would take note of the absence of an annoyance they should never have had to deal with in the first place. It’s analogous to randomly commenting to a friend, “you know, it’s been a while since a bird flew through my window and crapped on my keyboard. I’m really quite happy about that.” But at the very least, even if we don’t consider why, it will lead to fewer bad mornings. N
The busiest intersection in Canada - Yonge and Dundas - draws some of the countries rudest crowds.
From Clothesline to Online Green hipsters are heading to the web to get their eco-fashion fix Story AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY: MELISSA HAYES
Eco-friendly clothing is going digital. Now, instead of a brightly decorated storefront, enviro-conscious clothing stores have moved their business online. Natalie Stephenson, who owns Heart on Your Sleeve--an ecofriendly women’s fashion boutique in Kensington Market--is closing shop and making the move to strictly online sales. “I think that the economy has affected a lot of the green stores in the city,” Stephenson says. “But I’m optimistic about the future of the online sales and opening it up to a wider market, because clearly Toronto isn’t ready for us.” However, green fashion is still a presence in the city. Many neighbourhoods have shops designed to market fashion that is characteristically green - items with the aim to reduce cruelty to animals, encourage buying local, and reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. Organic Lifestyles, a Yorkville shop, has something for everyone-men, women, kids and babies, plus bedroom and bathroom products. According to its website, (www.organiclifestyle.ca,) there is a demand in Toronto for healthy and environmentally sound products in the fashion industry, but people don’t always know where to look, or what to ask. The store, located in the Hazelton Lanes shopping centre, aims to provide shoppers with fair trade products which have been ethically sourced and contain no chemical pesticides. Green is Black is located at Yonge and Wellesley and caters to both sexes. It offers locally made products that have very little impact on the environment and keep packaging to a minimum to cut down on waste. However, Green is Black is also going the way of the digital world. The business began as an online shop and opened up a boutique on Yonge St. last year, but have since prepared for a return to online retail.Stephenson says she may open up a store again in a few years, but she’ll have to wait to see what the economy does and where consumers’ priorities lie. Despite the tough economic times, she says people can still afford to shop green. “There are ways you can get eco-friendly stuff that’s pretty reasonably priced. You just have to look for sales, bargains and vintage if you’re interested in eco-friendly fashion. There are lots of outlets and lots of things you can do. You don’t have to spend a lot of money.” N
Top: Heart on Your Sleeve offers a wide variety of clothing styles for women. Bottom: All the clothes at Heart on Your Sleeve are made with organic materials.
Shopping Green Online: Grassroots Environmental Products (grassrootsstore.com), 889 Yonge St. (889yonge.com), League of Lovers and Thieves (leagueofloversandthieves.ca), Left Feet(leftfeet.ca), Urban Tree Salvage (urbantreesalvage.com), Fertile Ground (fgbooks.com)
Happy Hunting Anyone who’s been around the renting block can tell you, it’s hard to find a decent place to live An apartment in Bloor West Village advertises vacancies. Story and Photography by: Herlizza Manito
Elise Schuurmans was 14 when she moved out of her parent’s home. She based this decision on finances, family issues, and a need for independence. After a few years of moving back and forth between Orangeville, and Toronto—living in the basement of two family homes, before getting her own apartment in Orangeville when she was 16—she decided to permanently switch cities. “I moved back to Toronto when I was 19, 20,” she says. For six months, she shared a house with roommates. This past spring, she moved into her own place. Now 21, Schuurmans is renting a secondfloor bachelor apartment in a walk-up building in a lively midtown neighbourhood. It’s small, but it has a full bath, a full kitchen and a large window. The only thing the place really needed was a fresh coat of paint. So that’s what Schuurmans is doing today: covering what used to be ugly blue and pink walls with a fresh coat of bright red paint. A breeze comes through the window she opens to let out the smell. There are red specks on her hands, and her arms hurt. Still, she is happy to finally be home. Schurmanns knows that good housing is hard to find. Sometimes, the task seems impossible.
Elise Schuurmans takes a break from decorating her new apartment.
Between weird neighbours and twitchy roommates, sky-high rent and monstrous utility bills, it’s a wonder that anybody coming to Toronto for the first time can find a place at all. Regardless of difficulties, people persevere. The living conditions may not be ideal, but there’s a roof overhead, and food on the table. In fact, some have it pretty good, even with limited budgets. Average students and twenty-somethings are not exactly rolling around in cash. There are student fees, and student debt. There are low-paying jobs. There are loans. There are bills. There are bar tabs. For most young people in Toronto, buying a condo is not in the picture. DETERMINE YOUR BUDGET So you’re in Toronto, and you can’t afford a luxury penthouse in a high-rise. What can you afford, exactly? Schuurmans went online, when she and a friend were looking for a place for the first time. “We would go on Craigslist, and we would go on viewit.ca, and we would write all the ones that we could afford,” says Schuurmans. “We figured out the cost of living, and then we figured out how much we could afford to rent.” Jeff Hersh, founder of myhood.ca, suggests that your rent budget should be about 1/3 of your monthly salary. If you work twenty hours a week, for $10 an hour, then a roommate might be your best bet. Make sure you take all of your income into account including OSAP; tips; and of course, Mom and Dad. Likewise, keep track of how much you’ll be spending in terms of utilities, cable, internet, cell service, food, toiletries, and nights out on the town. While the minimum wage is going up, so is the cost of living. “It is very hard,” says Schurrmans. When she lived in a house with three other roommates, their gas bill was $400 a month, which she describes as “ridiculous.” It’s a good idea to leave some wiggle room in your budget, especially if the cost of utilities is not included in your rent. There’s a good chance that you might go over on a few items and you might have emergency expenses. Find a realistic budget that works for you, and try to stick to it.
FIND A HOOD Myhood’s specialty is classifying apartments, rooms, and houses according to ‘hoods.’ If you want to live in trendy Queen St. West, there’s a handy list of apartments, just waiting to be checked out. It’s the same if you want to live on the Danforth, in the downtown core, or if you want to be close to the clubs in the Entertainment District. Likewise, viewit.ca also lets viewers search for renting situations based on location: first by province, and then by city, and then by district. There’s great brand name shopping in Yorkville. Kensington Market is fabulous for vintage finds. Bloor West Village is a quiet family community. Bathurst has great clubs. However, don’t find a place simply because you think it might be fun to live in that area. Find one that works with your lifestyle. Can you get to work or school easily? Would you feel safe there at night? Is everything you need (banks, grocery stores, bookstores, etc.) within a reasonable distance? Of course, it always helps if you like where you’re living, but living on a limited budget means that you have to be practical. CHECK IT OUT Just like you wouldn’t buy a car without giving it a test drive, you shouldn’t live in a place sight unseen. The website viewit.ca is useful, since it allows apartment-hunters to check out pictures. “It’s not just exterior photographs,” says Ryan Schwerdtner, an employee at viewit. ca. “The tenant can also see the interior photographs as well. It allows tenants to see the apartment before visiting.” It’s handy if you’re coming in from another town, or if you’re coming in from overseas. Still, if you are able to look at the place yourself, do it. There’s a lot that you can learn when you visit a prospective apartment yourself. For one thing, you meet the landlord, or the superintendent. You see the view from the windows. You can detect funny smells. You can make sure things work in the apartment: major appliances, light-switches, air conditioning, and heating. Check out the water pressure in the shower, and see if the toilet flushes properly. Ask questions. What are the neighbours like? If it’s an apartment building, does it have a controlled entrance? Is there a laundry room? Can you paint? Can you bring a pet? Write down any questions you can think of the night before. It’s also a good idea to appear as professional as possible. “A lot of people thought I was young, irresponsible,” says Schuurmans. “[They thought] I hadn’t lived in the city long enough; I hadn’t had my job long enough, since I’d just moved. So I had a lot of turn-downs.” Despite five references, and a steady history of employment, Schuurmans felt that a lot of landlords didn’t give her much respect due to her age. Landlords, superintendents, and building managers sometimes equate youth with the inability to juggle finances. “They don’t want to be screwed over in their bills,” says Schuurmans. WHAT CAN YOU GIVE UP? Sure, we all want to live in a beautiful apartment that has a spectacular view, air conditioning, new appliances, laundry facilities, and great superintendents. You could have it too, if you’re willing to spend about $1,000 a month in rent. “You always give something up,” says Hersh. Where you live may largely be determined
by what you’re willing to sacrifice. If you found a great place with air conditioning and a balcony, but no laundry room, you might have to deal with going to a laundromat twice a week. If you’re dying to live in a certain area, you might have to settle for a space that’s a little bit smaller than what you’re used to. A beautiful, large apartment with a view of the lake, air conditioning, new appliances, laundry facilities, great superintendents, and surrounded by a great local nightlife might come only with the financial help provided with a few roommates. END GAME There’s a bottom line for all of us. Figure out yours. If you absolutely do not feel safe somewhere, don’t take it. If you absolutely need to be close to the TTC, don’t look anywhere else. If you can’t live with a roommate, you’ll have to deal with your limited options. Find out what you’re unwilling to compromise. When it comes to making a final choice, this might be the most important factor of all. N
So you’ve claimed your own little corner of the world. Everything’s good, except it’s empty and you’re almost broke. Here are some places where you can get stuff cheap. MOM AND DAD Yes, you’re an adult, but that doesn’t mean that you have to buy all of your own stuff. If your folks have new stuff, they might also have their old stuff lying around. GARAGE SALES One person’s trash is another person’s futon – or lamp – or coffee table. Make friends with someone who has a truck or van, and stay away from other people’s sheets . ONLINE CLASSIFIEDS Postings with pictures tend to be more legit than postings without them. DO NOT exchange any personal financial information (credit card numbers, interac numbers, etc.) and make sure you bring someone to HELP pick up new furniture – just in case the seller is a psycho. SECOND-HAND GOODS STORES Loads of pre-loved items, ready to be put into your shopping cart! Always make sure that everything is in good shape before you purchase. DEPARTMENT STORES When the sales are good, they’re very, very good. Keep an eye out for quality: it’s cheaper to get something that will last for a few years, than getting something that will break down in six months. THE TRASH If it’s good enough for decorating shows, it’s good enough for you. Remember: sofas can be refurbished. Tables can be painted. But parasiteinfested sheets will haunt you for months.
AUTUMN IN THE CITY
White Night Nuit Blanche has quietly become an annual overnight celebration of Toronto’s own unique art
PHOTO BY: CLAUDE SARAVIA
A tower of books provides a visual landscape during Toronto’s 2008 Nuit Blanche. Onlookers could walk in to the structure and read a book. Story by: Jen Korson
For the past three years, hundreds of thousands of Torontonians have filled the streets on one special autumn night to recognize an important feature of life. People of all ages leave the warmth of their homes and wander sleeplessly in the streets, uniting in the pursuit of art. On Nuit Blanche, Toronto becomes alive in a unique and magical way. Danny Floh Back, a popular Toronto event D.J, was a part of Toronto’s second Nuit Blanche in 2007. Speaking with him at his apartment in the Distillery District, cornered by windows in his den, we talked about his experience, while peering at the view of the Esplanade. With an offer to do something original for Pure Spirits Oyster Bar in the heart of the Distillery, Floh Back needed to think outside the box. “They wanted to do something a little bit different than what they normally do, so I proposed the idea to have a DJ and a VJ mixing [music and] video images at the same time,” says Floh Back. Floh Back got in contact with an old friend of his, Oli Goldstein. He planned to have Goldstein project images against a wall to complement the music that Floh Back would be spinning. “For the first hour, nobody was really dancing, they were just soaking it in and then once it got kind of rowdy, after about 12:30
a.m., it was a full on dance party for the next three hours, with the video screen going in the background,” says Floh Back. “We had to throw people out of that place after 4 a.m. because people would have stayed all night. It was that kind of a vibe.” He says when Scotiabank signed on to be the title sponsor in 2007, he knew Nuit Blanche was something big. “That’s how it usually works with these things, right? Someone’s got to prove that it’s going to work and how much exposure they’ll get, and then they’ll put money into it, and say, ‘okay, I can see how this will benefit us,’“ he says. The city definitely proved it was something worthwhile. When Nuit Blanche debuted in Toronto on September 30, 2006, 425,000 people checked out over 400 artists and curators, according to the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche website. There were 300 on-site logistical staff, 200 docents and volunteers, 87 galleries, museums, and art establishments, and 13 corporate sponsors and media partners. The city of Toronto offered Scotiabank the title sponsorship for the following year, says Ann DeRabbie, Scotiabank’s senior manager of public affairs. “We provide a lot of support getting logistics, and providing pieces,” says DeRabbie. With Scotiabank behind the event, the second year Nuit Blanche
was on Sept. 29, 2007. There was a 45 per cent increase in exhibits, a 55 per cent increase in participation from the community, and about 800,000 people roaming the streets. One of the new ideas was the Nuit Blanche People’s Choice Awards where artists enter their work and spectators vote. The prize for the 2008 winner was to visit Nuit Blanche’s founding city, Paris. However, 24 year-old Michael Cranis, who has attended the event since its debut in Toronto, worries that local artists may not be getting a fair shot and are even overlooked. “The corporate sponsorships and international artists tend to get all the media and public attention,” Cranis says. “The small local artists are unable to compete and are therefore overshadowed by the larger installations.” According to DeRabbie, when Scotiabank offers a sponsorship, it isn’t just about putting their name behind it and receiving attention. “We are helping engage with the community [the sponsorship] touches,” says DeRabbie. “We are making art accessible to people like myself who may not have opportunities to do that.” Beginning in 2002, in Paris, France, Nuit Blanche has since travelled internationally. Brussels, Leeds, Rome, Bucharest, Riga, Lisbon, Madrid, La Valette, Portugal, Tokyo, and Montreal bring millions of people into the streets with their own edition of the art festival. To Floh Back, it comes as a surprise that Toronto doesn’t have more events like Nuit Blanche, and finds it unfortunate that people need a big headline to hit the streets. “I think it gives people the chance to be adventurous, and go out not knowing where they’re going,” says Floh Back. “I think in other European cities and in Montreal, you get that more – people walk the streets looking for action. Toronto is a destination city. People go out knowing where they’re going. They don’t stumble around looking for some kind of party. If they do, it’s at John and Richmond, and nowhere else. This is the kind of night when anybody at any age group was out on the streets from Casa Loma to the Distillery.” He recalls people leaving the bar at Pure Spirits to check out the excitement outside. “I remember at one point I missed it because I was inside DJing, but outside in the square, a bunch of people left the bar to go and see what was going on because they had a bunch of dancers doing a ‘Thriller’ dance in costumes and everything, out on the street, like zombies. That’s cool. Where else do you see something like that and have people actually leave a bar to go out on the streets and see what’s going on,” Floh Back says. When it comes to payment for these artists, it is completely on a voluntary basis. Floh Back knows of a fellow artist who was painting for Nuit Blanche 2008 in the Distillery District. “Her art made her money; she didn’t get paid to paint. Painters don’t get paid to paint, they get paid for art. So, that makes sense to me,” he says. Meet Jessica Gorlicky - the painter who sold her art. She classified her sold paintings as a bonus to the evening. “We would have done it with or without the money,” says Gorlicky. I met with Gorlicky in her home in Richmond Hill. Her works of
PHOTO BY: SHAHRIAR IZADI Jessica Gorlicky creating her latest painting.
art are displayed on her walls only giving a glimpse of her talent and passion for art. Her exuberant personality, and love of life is reflected in her paintings. Vivid colours, and bold images make her paintings pop in any setting. According to her website, she has had exhibits and shows in Australia, all over Toronto, and Niagara Falls. She has been featured in magazines and newspapers such as Dining Out, Juicy Stuff, Dolce Magazine, and the Thornhill Post. She also appeared in a documentary called, “Inside the Artists Studio.” For Gorlicky, it was walking around until 5 a.m. checking out exhibits in Nuit Blanche’s premiere year that got her interested in participating. “I was shocked,” says Gorlicky of the crowd turn-out and the amount of daring exhibits. The following year, she became a part of a group of 25 French artists. Gorlicky and her crew put on a exhibit, called “Le Labeau,” consisting of creative dance, audio, visuals, photographs, and live painting. “The amount of things going on was incredible. It was quite crazy. I remember looking around at one point and being like, ‘yeah, this is kind of nuts.’ It’s a lot of artists doing everything different in one room. It’s a little crazy. I think they had their French twists which somehow made it even crazier.” Specifically, Gorlicky painted on top of photographs that were taken at the exhibit. “We took the photograph, we basically printed it out on canvas, and then I painted that canvas with that portrait in black and white and I painted it in colour. It’s absolutely one of the coolest things that I’ve done,” she says. Nuit Blanche takes place this year on Saturday, October 3. N
“I think it gives people the chance to be adventurous, and go out not knowing where they’re going” -Floh Back
A Dream Distilled How Eric Pless became executive chef in one of Torontoâ€™s trendiest neighbourhoods STORY BY: ALANA GAUTREAU PHOTOGRAPHY BY: MATT ROMASCHIN
When Eric Pless taps the breast of his white coat, his fingers touching the embroidered black lettering that says “executive chef,” it’s apparent he means business. “It’s for the good of the article,” he says to me. I am drinking a nice Riesling on a fairly high bar stool at Pure Spirits, watching his small knife deftly pop in beneath the top of the shell and crack open an oyster. So far on the plate we have four varieties of the shellfish, and I am not happy to taste even one. But I will. We have spent two hours together and it’s time to see why Pless holds his title. “You had your time,” Chef Pless says, referring to my interview. “Now we’re on my terms.” His tone may be genial, but the sentiment is true. Pless’ knowledge and skill are apparent as he explains the art of oyster shucking. The way you move the knife, the importance of sweeping your finger around the meat of the oyster to remove any sand debris, the variations in tastes as we move across the board, Pless covers it all. I manage to eat one: a small, mild variety, with an undertone of cucumber flavour and that distinct saltwater aftertaste. I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as the meal I had a week earlier at Archeo Trattoria, the most casual of the three restaurants Pless runs under the Distillery District Corporation’s governance. A braised short rib so tender it fell off the bone before I even touched it. A bed of creamy mashed potatoes sat beside a jenga pile of vibrant orange carrots and snappy asparagus. The meal looked like one you would have at home, except, well, better. Part of the $25 dinner Archeo offered for the Winterlicious festival, and book-ended by a warm winter salad and an ice wine stewed apple crumble, my short rib seemed oh-soshort. And oh-so-long ago. Pless came to this job at the Distillery District after a long road of culinary adventures and missteps. Influenced heavily by both of his grandmothers, Pless always knew he loved to cook, but wasn’t sure how seriously to take that. He worked in construction for part of his life, taking jobs during the summer when the weather was warmer, and finding kitchens to work in during the winter. He eventually decided to enroll in the Niagara
College Culinary program where learned how to transfer his passion into skill, landing him a job with renowned chef, Michael Olson. Olson, a professor at the school, and then executive chef of Inn On The Twenty’s restaurant in Jordan Village, says Pless showed a passion for the job from day one. “Imagine someone who’s learning to ride a bike,” Olson says. “A young person, and they have all the energy in the world and they have enough strength to power the bicycle, but they haven’t got their balance just right. And at a certain point they get their balance right and they realize that they can in fact do it. And when Eric first came to us he had lots of energy and ambition, he was really friendly, nice young guy, and I saw him go through that point where he was learning to ride his bike.” Olson says Pless left Inn On The Twenty when Pless really started to get the hang of things. “I felt as though he was stepping into the point where he would really blossom
and be a more productive member of the team and it was time to leave the nest,” he says. As a gesture of goodwill, the team at Inn On The Twenty toilet-papered Pless’ car on his last day. From there Pless was eager to try his hand at running his own restaurant and opened a cigar bar in Niagara. “You know, I knew what I was doing. I’d worked in a number of Niagara restaurants, of course I know what I’m doing,” Pless jokes. The cigar bar didn’t last. Then there were Niagara wineries Chateau des Charmes and Peller Estates, Yorkville hot spot Sassafraz, and back to Niagara’s Hillebrand Estates. While Hillebrand was going through a renovation, Pless was looking for something else, which is when an old friend offered him a shot with the Distillery. So far Pless seems to be more than holding his own. Executive chef of three restaurants, each with its own style, Pless
Previous Page: Pless takes a moment at the bar of Archeo. At Right: Pless shows the correct way to shuck an oyster.
knows that each venue has to offer its patrons a reason to come back. Pless says Archeo is an entry level restaurant, which means it’s inviting, unpretentious, and serves lighter fare. Pure Spirits is the next up, still relaxing but just that one step up that raises the level of the experience. The Boiler House is the most high-end of the three facilities. “It’s kind of the top of our cake,” says Pless. “It’s our cherry.” Each restaurant has a chef who, Pless says, has creative authority in the kitchen. “What I do, is I pull that chef aside and I kind of get a feel for what they want to do as well. You’ve got to let them play,” says Pless. Play. A word Pless uses often in his description of food preparation, of atmosphere, and of conceptualizing the experience a diner will hopefully have. “You get down here, you’re in the Distillery, it’s one giant experience. You want to find out what’s going on in every nook and cranny, well, we want you to have just as good an experience in our restaurants,” he says. “Whether it be a laugh over a glass of wine, whether it be how a server poured a bottle of water, or a comment that was made, some directions that were given, or ‘I can call you a cab,’ it’s about the experience that we’re going to build for you.” When Pless and I meet, he is days away from submitting the restaurants’ applications for July’s Summerlicious festival. Held by the city of Toronto twice a year, Licious gives restaurants around the GTA a chance to feed the masses at a very economically satisfying price - for the consumer at least. For a fixed price restaurants, which can run upwards of $100 a head, offer a 3-course meal at a much reduced cost. These four weeks of culinary benevolence are like Zac Posen clothes at Winners prices. I wonder, looking out the window at traces of snow, how you can plan a meal that far in advance.
“You’ve got a notebook there,” says Pless. “Open it to a new page and tell me, what foods are available in summer? What flavours are you getting?” As I list things (berries, lemon, fish) Pless asks what goes with it, and with that, and with that. It’s a domino effect of taste. When I’m on the right track Pless mentions an ingredient I didn’t think of before. Sometimes this is to keep up the momentum and sometimes it’s to derail me. “This is what I do to my cooks. This is what I do to my chefs. You’ve got to keep them on their toes,” he says. The exercise is designed to make you second guess yourself, he says. “Because when you’re on the line, when you’re cooking, you never do that.” My answers are far from perfect, but still Pless jokes that I have successfully written one meal for him, lessening his workload. “I don’t profess to build chefs, anyone who says they can do that, well good for them. But I don’t build chefs, I build proficient cooks, and people who can think on their feet. And have fun with food. I build playful cooks,” Pless says. Walking through the kitchens of The Boiler House and Archeo, I do see fun. And I also see respect. The chef calling the line looks young, but capable. The room is filled with energy. Each person at their station is poised and ready for action, eager to respond to orders filtering in as the dinner hour begins. “Do you need hands?” Pless says to the line. The man in charge nods. Pless turns to me and explains that dishes are ready to go out so the waitstaff needs to come do a pick up. He tells me to stay put while he goes to get help. The sounds of the sizzle and clanking pans are rhythmic. The lamb sirloin is musical, the kitchen team is a band hitting the right notes, hopefully every time. “This is the mantra I give to my cooks. If you wouldn’t eat it, why would you serve it?” Pless says. “And that’s why good food comes
out consistently, because they’re like, ‘I want to be on top of this.’” When Pless gets a chance to relax and cook at home, which is rare, he likes to make his daughter chocolate chip pancakes. “A little maple syrup, and I’ll just grab some berries that are in the store and I’ll
“This is the mantra I give to my cooks. If you wouldn’t eat it, why would you serve it?” -Eric Pless
cook them down quickly into a simple syrup and put those on top of her pancakes, and you know, it’s enjoyable to me,” he says. He believes in effort. Those microwaves dinners that claim to have Salisbury steak, Pless scoffs at those. “I try to instil that in my daughter, ‘you don’t need this.’” Walking through his dining rooms, Pless pays attention to the smiles. If he gets called to a table, he’ll go. And if not he takes his cues from the way the plates come back into the kitchen. My plate for example, the one with the short rib on it, got sent back empty, the white of the porcelain starkly on display, with of N course, my compliments to the chef. Top Picture: The Distillery District is home to all three of Pless’s restaurants. Bottom: Some varieties of oysters available at Pure Spirits.
Where to eat? STORY BY: SHYLO ADAMS
It’s time for dinner and you’re all out of ideas. Take-out crosses your mind but it’s not appealing this time around. You’re not thinking Arby’s, but you’re thinking about having a good time. Here are three Toronto restaurants that might hit the spot.
This trendy restaurant serves fine Moroccan cuisine. It’s one of the only restaurants of its kind in Ontario--and not just because of the food. Located on Front St. E., between Church and Yonge streets., the restaurant features belly dancers performing while you eat. “I want our clients to feel like they are the most important people in the building,” Patrick McCraney, the general manager. “We want them to feel like we’ve transported them straight to Morocco.” The dancing usually takes place at six and eight o’clock each evening. The Sultan’s Tent accommodates everyone--there is even a kids’ menu which includes a four course meal for children. They ask that you dress smart-casual and take off your baseball cap. “Honesty and integrity of the guest experience is critically important,” McCraney says. “I believe food is what people talk about and remember.” He recommends the rack of lamb.
If you’re looking for something with a little more flare, and a less upscale image, try Southern Accent. Located on Markham Street near Bathurst and Bloor streets, Southern Accent offers New Orleans-inspired dishes. Opened by owner Frances Wood 25 years ago, the restaurant serves homemade Cajun food six days a week. You’ll find good service and great food Tuesday through Sunday from five in the evening until about 3 in the morning. “Sunday is the best day because it’s relaxing and easy,” says Wood. “Friday and Saturdays are the busiest days.” Each room has a Creole theme, and the music to go with it. “One room is Mardi Gras and another is blue dog themed,” Wood says. Wood also recommends the lamb, but says to try anything from the blackened chicken to Hush Puppies. “Have a good time and try the Cajun food. Let the good times roll.”
The Sultan’s Tent and Southern Accent are both good for a first date or an evening out with your friends. But when you’re just looking for a quick meal, the Belly Buster is the place to go. Its subs are famous in the Yonge and Lawrence neighbourhood of North York. It’s a family owned place and they give their customers a punch of taste from the first bite. Christopher Tilley, who went to Subway every day when he was in high school, now frequents The Belly Buster. “What makes it so good is the cost for the taste,”Tilley says. But be warned: these subs are not for sissies. It’s called the Belly Buster for a reason. Tilley says, “There is no option for a six inch. So only real people go there for real N subs.”
Each one of these restaurants will give you a taste and an experience that will get you talking. From the kinds of food they serve, to the way they entertain their customers, they’ll all satisfy your hunger for a unique, epicurean experience.
The Sultan’s Tent 49 Front St. E. Toronto, ON
Southern Accent 595 Markham St. Toronto, ON
TOP 3 PHOTOS BY: SHYLO ADAMS BOTTOM PHOTO BY: MELISSA HAYES
The Belly Buster 3447 Yonge St. Toronto, ON
AUTUMN IN THE CITY
Nightmare on Queen ST. How to have a ghoulishly good time on Halloween in Toronto Story by Jaden Pato
The leaves roll down the street in the wind like bits of flame: orange, yellow, and red. The houses stand in silent darkness, awaiting the night’s adventures. In Toronto Halloween is an important date on the city’s cultural calendar. Parents and children of all ages prepare for an evening of trick-or-treating to celebrate one of the world’s oldest festivals. Children still take part in the traditional ritual of dressing up and going door to door in their neighbourhoods, asking for candy and admiring the carved pumpkins on every porch. But Halloween isn’t just a holiday for children. Adults have plenty of ways to celebrate the day. Costume parties, haunted houses, and much more are available for more mature participants, especially those in post-secondary age bracket. No fear, no fun: this seems to be the primary rule at Halloween. Horror movies, frightening tricks, and lots of screams are the game. The bigger the scare, the bigger the thrill. Though it isn’t surprising considering the roots of the festival. Halloween has always been associated with fear and death. Ancient Celts believed that on the night of Oct. 31, the line between the worlds of the living and the dead grew thin and ghosts returned to walk the earth. The Celts dressed up in animal heads and skins, believing these disguises would confuse visiting spirits into thinking that the participants were also from the spirit world, so they’d be left unharmed. They left food and wine out for the spirits during the observance of Samhain, meaning summer’s end. Centuries later, England’s poor would go door to door on All Souls’ Day, receiving small pastries called “Soul Cakes” in exchange for prayers on behalf of deceased relatives. Whatever its history, Torontonians love Halloween. It’s not uncommon for people to spend enormous amounts of time and money looking in stores for the scariest costume they can find and many neighbourhoods turn the event into an elaborate street festival. “Within the last five years lots of different places have started doing Halloween events,” says Richard FiennesClinton, who owns his own Toronto tour company. “I think it’s a way for people to explore their own city and it introduces people to the folklore, history, and traditions of the city.” For Fiennes-Clinton that is the key to a memorable experience. “You learn about the city while having fun.” Toronto’s Nightmare on Queen Street first started haunting the trendy Dufferin and Queen neighbourhood in 2007 and will celebrate its third year this coming Halloween. NOQS boasts a two-floor mansion of gore and demented scenes. “We want to provide a haunt experience that is both horrifying and intricately and realistically designed,” says an event organizer from Playdead, who identified himself only as “Bean.” Nightmare on Queen Street typically runs for about a week before Halloween; in PHOTO BY: CHRISTINE HIGDON 16 BACKGROUND urbaNation
the past, admission has been $10. What’s more, 2009 will mark the seventh Zombie Walk at Trinity Bellwoods Park. Started in 2003, the walk was such a success that it became an annual event and the zombie ranks have swelled to more than 1,000. Zombies meet at Trinity Bellwoods Park in midafternoon a week before Halloween and, according to organizers, lurch down Queen and up Bathurst Street. Participants should note that there are rules, even for the undead. First, participants must dress as zombies. For safety, everyone must be 18 years of age or older. In 2006, the Toronto Zombie Walk joined with the Toronto After Dark Festival, a movie event that boasts the most unique horror and sci-fi flicks the world had to offer. Participating zombies culminate in an alley behind the Bloor Cinema—which last year conveniently happened to be playing zombie flicks the night of the event. For the slightly less adventurous, Toronto offers dozens of family-oriented events. Casa Loma’s Haunted Mansion, which will be celebrating its fifth year in 2009, runs the weekend before Halloween and includes magic and other shows. The house is decorated, and both staff and actors hired for the occasion walk around in costume. “Six months minimum goes into the planning of the Halloween festivities and there are new things added every year,” says Trudy O’Donnell, operations supervisor at Casa Loma. In recent years, Torontonians have even extended the Halloween festival to last another day. A number of neighbourhoods, including Harbord Village near the University of Toronto and west-end residents living near Sorauren Park, now organize pumpkin parades and pumpkin lightings that start at dusk on Nov. 1 and continue late into the evening, with people of all ages strolling around and admiring what the hundreds of pumpkins arranged artistically in participating parks. From timid to terrifying, Toronto has something that will satisfy your Halloween needs. N Top Right: The 2008 Zombie Walk a week before Halloween. Bottom: A line of jack-o’-lanterns line the path at Sorauren Park in the west end of Toronto.
Vintage finds a home
Story By: melissa hayes
f you’re in Toronto, and you’re looking for something other than the usual, Kensington Market is a good place to start. Lining the streets are seemingly run-down, multicoloured Victorian houses retrofitted as the eclectic fashion shops and vintage boutiques that make up one of the city’s fashion hotspots. Fall 2009
Stewart Scriver runs Courage My Love, a vintage apparel shop that has been a fixture in the neighbourhood for decades. He set up shop in 1980, making the store one of the first places in Toronto to sell vintage clothing as a viable fashion option. Toronto’s Best has also recently awarded the shop a badge of approval for its rare vintage finds. Scriver, a tall older man, with white hair and a thick beard, runs the store with his family. He says his 89-year-old mother still sews for the store. “Basically, we bought in Kensington because it was going to be popular [at the time],” he says. “Not because it was popular. It was pretty lonely here. We were the only [clothing] store on the street.” Courage is on the west side of Kensington Avenue, near the corner at Dundas Street. It’s painted powder blue and clothing racks adorned with vintage coats stand on the front lawn. Perched atop the awning over the entrance are two naked mannequins. The neighbourhood takes some getting used to if you’re new to Toronto. Kensington Market is like a small town--it’s full of old houses, little restaurants, diners, used clothing stores, markets and butcher shops. You have to be ready to pass through a dozen fascinating vintage shops and then suddenly find yourself
looking at a cow’s head on a hook in a storefront window covered with gore and viscera. It’s a far cry from shopping in Yorkville or the Eaton Centre. English and Irish immigrants were drawn to the area in the early 1900s’, then European Jews settled there until the Great Depression. After the Second World War came people from as far as the Caribbean islands, Africa and even Southeast Asia. The area was even once used as a training ground for a cavalry unit that was active during the Upper Canada Rebellion. It’s not surprising then that the area’s shoppers are as diverse as the people who work and live there. “Really the whole world comes through here,” says Scriver. “I think students and young people make up about half of our business, half our clients.” He says they also get tourists and celebrities. If you ask him he’ll tell you about Shelley Winters or Ben Kingsley or U2’s The Edge--who showed up on several occasions with no bodyguard. His business strategy is simple: sell things from around the world and don’t charge too much. “We sell handy grabs. Beads, and stuff that’s made all over the world, like Africa, Asia, South America, Mexico . . . In two weeks, five people from the family--it’s a big family-we’re going to Mexico on a buying trip. We’ve been to Egypt; we’ve been to Turkey; we’ve been to India. Basically the store supports our traveling habits and also gives us stuff that you can’t find in an airport gift shop.” Scriver says he likes to think there isn’t any competition, and if there is, then it’s good to see Toronto reacting to his presence. “Our idea is that it’s a family business. We want to sell things that are interesting and original and nice and we want to sell it for a good price.” Scriver is strict about marketing his items at a fair price. He pointed out that other businesses don’t have that idea, that it’s too simple. But he lives here in Kensington and has no interest in driving up the prices and buying a house in the country. “Sure,” he says, chuckling, “there are some top fashion stores on Bloor. Almost all of the staff in this one store--it’s one of the main ones on that street, I won’t mention the name--almost the entire staff shops here.” Courage My Love doesn’t advertise. It would seem that it doesn’t have to. When you walk into the store and look to the wall on the right, you’re hit with a cluster of newspaper
and magazine clippings, among them fashion spreads from Toronto’s own Flare magazine. Scriver says he has four banana boxes just filled with clippings. It’s the utter novelty of the area that seems to draw people in. Lindsey and Bethany Kemptser travel from their home in Hamilton every now and again to explore the streets of Kensington Market. They say that simply coming to the neighbourhood is an experience in itself. “There’s really no point in coming all the way to Toronto to go to the Eaton Centre because it’s the same mall as anywhere else,” says Lindsey. “I think it’s important people know about these places,” adds Bethany. “Because if they start to disappear or become chained, then it loses what makes it special.” The point of shopping for clothes in Kensington Market, she explains, is not solely to buy used clothing. That can be found almost anywhere. The appeal is the unique vintage finds along with the new stuff that’s unlike anything anywhere else. C Pub is a shop a few houses up from Courage My Love, with colourful bees painted on the store front. It specializes in selling new women’s clothing and accessories imported from upcoming talents in the Asian market. Taya Cornett, a sales associate at C Pub, says, “Basically what we have here is all Japanese imports and they’re all independent designers, like kids out of fashion school... It’s really unique stuff too, like you’re not going to be able to find it really anywhere else.” John McDonald works for Exile, which has two locations on Kensington Avenue. They sell everything from clothes to lingerie, to full costumes. “It’s vintage and new. You know, vintage is always something that’s going to last forever. Like the stuff from the 70s now is a long time ago, so it’s a lot harder to find. Even stuff from the 80s now is really hard to find. What’s defined as vintage now has become much broader, whereas before it was just 50s and 60s, and the 70s wasn’t so much. Now 70s and 80s and parts of the 90s can be considered vintage.” McDonald says the dynamic of Kensington clothing shops has slightly changed in recent years due to an outbreak of cheap fashionable clothing stores, like H&M. “But here everything is like a one of a kind specialty item,” McDonald says. “I think people kind of appreciate that a little more than the mass produced, consumer based, wear once for a season and then throw in the garbage
sort of thing.” He also says the look of Kensington Market adds a lot to the area’s identity. “A lot of the architecture has been maintained over the last hundred years. So it’s something like no one’s ever seen. It’s got an old Victorian aesthetic to it.” But Kensington’s unconventional and worn-in feel can often be misunderstood. Scriver recalled an interview with the National Post. “They wanted to know how business was, how we were doing and what was going on. And then when the article came out it looked like this was the slums. Like only poor people came here and people who were mentally disturbed. Just really a bizarre piece of journalism.” “My mother would never come to Kensington Market when she was
“I think it’s important people know about these places.” Kensington frequenter Bethany Kempster. a kid. She lived in Parkdale,” he says. “She wouldn’t come here because there were too many foreigners . . . She likes it now. She thinks it cool now. She got her ears pierced.” Some of those working in Kensington Market think the recent economic woes are a good thing, since people want to shop secondhand more often; others think it’s a bad thing because people are shopping less, period. But Scriver says he’s seen three instances in his time when the economy has taken a serious hit and everything has gone on as usual and the newspapers eventually forgot about it. “Our business isn’t affected by anything outside of the store because we’ve always been fair and we don’t make super expensive cars and we don’t pay our employees so much money the victims are the customers. We’re in our fourth generation of customers now.” He describes a recent trip to Mexico, during which people were asking him all about the economic situation here. “I just said, well, do you have a lot of money? No. Well nothing’s changed. You still don’t have a lot of money.” Scriver believes that Kensington is always the same because it’s always changing. People come here because it’s chaotic and you can never organize it in just one direction. “It’s really been interesting watching everything happen. Living by your wits, because basically that’s really what it is.” N
PREVIOUS PAGE: Courage My Love stands tall on Kensington Avenue. TOP LEFT: Dresses on display at one of the many shops along Kensington Ave. TOP RIGHT: One of Exile’s two colourful locations. BOTTOM RIGHT: Vintage finds displayed in Courage My Love’s storefront echo the current trends.
Comic Book Kings on Queen Located on trendy Queen St. West, Silver Snail is home to comic books and comic book enthusiasts alike Story and photography by: Juan Sison
The first time I saw Silver Snail I was a teenager on one of our rare family voyages to downtown Toronto from the suburb of Brampton. Amid the throngs of people, what really caught my attention one radiant afternoon were the murals of Batman, Joker, Spider Man, the Flash and the Hulk beckoning to me to hang out with them. In that moment, I knew the iconic comic book store had me for life. “We’ve got a regular clientele, which is really nice. It’s got that Cheers quality to it,” says store manager George Zatti. The 38-year old Zatti rattles out answers like an experienced publicist. He rarely breaks eye contact through his bifocal lenses as we speak. Zatti tells me the store’s owner and founder Ron Van Leeuwen is reclusive and despises giving interviews. Zatti tells me Van Leeuwen used to work at a bookstore called Backup Books across the street. Van Leeuwen was an artist and was interested in comic books and comic art. Backup Books would eventually start carrying comic books and predictably, the comic book section got bigger and bigger. That’s when Van Leeuwen decided to open his own store in 1976. Matt Robertson, a 24-year old former bartender, is explaining comic book author and screenplay writer Brian K. Vaughan’s style to me
during one of the Silver Snail’s slower moments. Robertson’s favourite part of the job is the people. He admits that his comic knowledge is not as broad as that of some of his colleagues, but he is willing to find answers when he doesn’t have them. “I’ve made a lot of good friends working here in the store,” says Robertson. He has a red and black “X” tattooed on the back of his neck, the logo from the Marvel comic book team the X-Men. “I like the whole X-factor thing like anything can happen at any possible place,” says Robertson explaining the symbolism of his tattoo. On my last visit to Silver Snail, I prowled the aisles preying on unsuspecting customers for an interview. That’s when a man speed walks past me and kicks a customer lightly in the butt. “I know the owner and I’ve been shopping here longer than anyone alive,” says comic book artist and writer Ty Templeton. Templeton also teaches at Maxx the Mutt Animation School west of Silver Snail. He had just finished teaching a class and the victim of his playful kick was a student of his. On top of his claim of being the oldest customer, Templeton also has the grandiose title of being the first customer. Templeton tells me in a rapid fire but coherent speech that he camped out in front of Silver Snail when it first opened 33 years ago.
“When they opened the doors I literally ran in,” says Templeton. Templeton has a thick stack of comic books in his hand. He tells me that friends, colleagues and former students made the issues he’s purchasing. What really piqued his interest is Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-creator Joe Shuster. “Oh my god this is awesome,” says Templeton, sounding like a giddy adolescent as he peruses the hardcover book. A collection of erotica from the 1950’s by Shuster is just one of the many unique things found at Silver Snail. Upon entering the store customers are urged to give up their bags to the cashier. The store suffers from atherosclerosis at busy points in the day, and customers without bags relieve some of the clogging. The cashier is the only female employee working at the time. Her lip piercing quivers as she anxiously but politely rejects my request for an interview. “I’m not in the mood to talk,” she whispers as her eyes diligently attempt to avoid mine. Behind her are some of the more expensive action figures. Leon Kennedy from the video game Resident Evil 4 is beside Old Snake from Metal Gear Solid 4. Each figure sells for around $200. Above the entrance of the store is a Hufflepuff banner from Harry Potter while the exit has Ravenclaw. Next to the exit are awards from Eye Weekly magazine posted proudly like good grades on a fridge. Eye Weekly certificates from the years 2000-2008 hang on the wall but 2007 is conspicuously missing. The action figures first seen upon entering the store are related to recent and upcoming movie releases. Coraline is present, as well as Edward from Twilight, Jason from Friday the 13th, and of course characters from the graphic novel Watchmen. Prior to Watchmen’s release, the movie’s mini posters were handed out with each purchase. To celebrate the movie’s release the store also has posters, art books, and action figures in the 6.75 inch and 13 inch variety for sale. There are hard and soft cover versions of the graphic novel, as well as its massive collectible Absolute version. The store’s wood panel floors seem to be the only surface void of any decoration or display. A life-sized animated Princess Leia statue guards the main hallway. The designer of the statue made Leia’s breasts pointy enough to take an eye out. Above her are sentinels, one of the main villains from the Matrix films, crawling around the walls.
Glass display cases normally found in jewelry stores house some of the more fragile merchandise offered at Silver Snail. The cases contain statues, busts and dioramas. The first case has a plethora of Lord of the Rings paraphernalia. There are life-sized replicas of helmets, statues and even a diorama of an Olyphant from the movie’s third installment. The other cases have figures from famous animes and mangas. Cloud Strife is in a heated duel with Sephiroth from the movie Advent Children. Also present is Rei and EVA 00 from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. The upper level of the store has a myriad of action figures; Macfarlane figures, NECA movie figures featuring Kill Bill, and the entire second half of the upper floor is devoted to Star Wars memorabilia including an entire wall devoted to action figures ranging from Episode 1 to Clone Wars. There is also a shelf with fish bowls filled with twelve sided dice for Dungeons and Dragons. There are a few books and board games for role-players but only a small section is devoted to the popular game. Zatti is standing beside a section of the wall devoted to G.I. Joes, prominently featuring the 3 3/4 inch variety. Zatti comes off as a big kid. He has a fauxhawk that connects to his silver flecked goatee while sporting a navy cowboy shirt. He casually brags about the comic book collection that he once had. He says he once had 200 long boxes stuffed with comic books with each box containing about 350 comic books. He has since moved on to trade paperbacks. “A girl walks into your place and sees 200 boxes of comic books she’s like ‘what’s going on?’ but books, books make you look smart,” says Zatti before engaging in a belly laugh. Zatti tells me that Silver Snail used to be surrounded by tiny little boutiques, and that the employees felt like a small niche bookstore. “Now we’re on the street with Club Monaco and Roots and all that sort of stuff,” says Zatti, referring to the corporate assimilation of Queen St. W. On Silver Snail’s left are C Squared, MAC, and Nike. On its
right are Roots, Kazuo, and Peter Pan Bistro. Across the street are Costa Blanca, Lush, Fido, Claire’s and Aritzia. It seems like the last independent stores in the area are Active Surplus and the Condom Shack. I approach another employee sifting through a 1 ½ metre eggshell white box. His blue-checkered shirt suddenly becomes
“You can’t really call yourself a comic fan if you’ve never been to Silver Snail” - Assistant Manager Sean Jordan uncomfortable and he insists that he isn’t “a very good talker.” He directs me instead to assistant manager Sean Jordan. I catch him mid-rant about the rumoured casting of Shia LaBeouf in the adaptation of Y: The Last Man. “Eeeh. I’m so done with that guy,” says Previous page: Customers peruse the walls of Silver Snail for unique collectible finds. Bottom: Rorschach, from the famous graphic novel Watchmen, takes a brief reprieve from guarding the storefront window.
Jordan before engaging in one of his ratatat-tat laughs. Jordan does not enjoy the prospect of LaBeouf possibly playing the lead in a comic book adaptation of Y: The Last Man. Jordan is in his fifth year on the job. I lose focus on getting information on the store because I gripe about trade paperback rereleases. I’m also intently listening to Jordan’s seemingly rehearsed rant on LaBeouf. “He’s that guy that got all the roles that every kid from the 80’s wanted. Indiana Jones’ son, the kid who gets to play with the Transformers. Of course we’re going to hate him.” Jordan is leaning on shelves and shelves of back issues of monthly comics. Our conversation deviates again from talking about the store because of our mutual disdain of LaBeouf. Jordan’s parents were happy that he was reading as a child and fed his habit. His love for the medium eventually landed him a job. “I wasted most of my life reading comic books and then when I got here no one could fuck with me,” says Jordan, laughing ecstatically. Interviewing the 27-year old assistant manager I feel a rapport even though we just met moments before. My interest in the product and Jordan’s genuine love of his job create many forums of discussion. During another one of my customer assaults I encounter two Windsor natives pitching their show, Comic Book Syndicate, to television stations. I ask the goateed Michael Poirier if he considers himself a starving artist. He looks at his creative partner, the curly haired Sean Tighe and they nod in unison. “Yeah,”Tighe says dragging out the A. “I’m actually hungry right now,” Poirier quips. The two produce a comic book show with a panel reviewing recent releases. The show also has sketches and parodies of comic books uploaded for free on YouTube. The two arrived at Silver Snail to peruse the massive collection of comics that dwarfs anything they have in Windsor. “It’s working with product I love. I love the comic book art medium. I love things like action figures,” says store manager George Zatti. For the past 18 years Zatti has worked at Silver Snail but took a brief hiatus selling insurance. Zatti nonchalantly labels that work as “a soulless job.” He knows that the hours he puts in at the store are longer than his attempt at a “real job”, but he loves comics.
“This is my home, this is Cheers. When I walk in everyone shouts ‘Norm’,” spouts Templeton whose son Kellan is an employee. Matt Robertson was an avid fan of Silver Snail before he got the job and shares the same passion as his colleagues. “I applied here at least 20 times and every year I’d throw in at least one resume. My friend Cameron got the job here and I begged and I pleaded to get me an interview and it worked out.” The appeal of Silver Snail is that it satisfies a wide array of tastes. If variety were the spice of life, the flavour of the store would be ludicrously complex. “You can’t really call yourself a comic fan if you’ve never been to Silver Snail,” says Jordan. N
Top: A fishbowl full of dice for roleplaying games. Left: Want an alternative to western comics? Check out the almost pocketsized manga from Japan. Below: The main cash area of Silver Snail adorned with $200 action figures and costumes from video games and films.
Toronto’s hidden underground net work STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY By: Brad LEMAIRE
It’s a fact of human existence: city dwellers are mostly concerned with the hustle and bustle above ground. Rarely, if ever, do people consider what lies hidden beneath their feet, under the very streets of the places where they work and play. What lies beneath the streets of downtown Toronto is PATH—a massive and intricate system of tunnels that winds its way for 27 kilometres, from the landmark Union Station in the south to an area a block north of the Eaton Centre at the corner of Yonge and Dundas. PATH has been called many things: a portal, a threshold, a gateway, and many names too rude to print. Built to protect pedestrians during the winter months when frigid temperatures rush through Toronto’s bustling core, these subterranean corridors have evolved into a year-round temple to commerce and leisure. Thousands of commuters scurry from transit stations to office buildings teem through PATH at rush hour, creating what senior city planner Al Rezoski calls “a kind of relief valve.” The tunnels that lie underneath some of the city’s most famous thoroughfares now also provide Torontonians with 1,200 places to shop and entertain themselves. After hours, some even stroll the artificiallylit, climate-controlled streets as their urban forebears would have done the Parisian arcades. Yet, for something that remains hidden from view, PATH continues to generate more than what, to tourists or newcomers, would appear to be its share of controversy—including a growing debate over whether plans for its expansion marks the death of pedestrian civilization or, for this city at any rate, the beginning of a more sustainable future. For one thing, the system is enormous. Saying that it’s 27 kilometres long doesn’t begin to convey the scope and complexity of these walkways. At present, PATH connects 50 major office buildings; 20 parking garages; five subway stations; the VIA and GO train passenger terminal; as well as two of the city’s flagship department stores and the city’s leading tourist mecca, the Toronto Eaton Centre. In fact, the biggest problem with PATH is following it. The underground maze has no relationship to the major streets—Front, King, Queen, Bay, Dundas and Yonge—located above it. The network began as a simple tunnel, the first of its kind open to the public, built by now-defunct Eaton’s in 1900 as a walkway between its main store on Yonge Street and its Bargain Annex discount outlet. In the 1960s, a city planner named Matthew Lawson envisioned a system of similar
interconnected tunnels as a way to reduce auto-dependency and overcrowded sidewalks. These walkways took off in all directions after German architect Mies Van der Rohe’s designed the ground-breaking Toronto-Dominion Centre, which, when it opened in 1967, included the city’s first underground shopping arcade—which was designed to be expanded under additional the rest of what would soon be a wave of new bank towers. By the late 1980s, even native Torontonians were getting lost in the pathways, which led the city to design and post the coloured-coded signage system from which the system now gets its name, and which you see incorporated into the PATH logo. Each PATH colour corresponds to a different direction: red means you are heading south, orange points west, blue is north and yellow means east. (If after reading this story, you only remember one thing, this should be it.) Urban planners and sociologists had other issues. They have spent decades arguing about whether the tunnels suck small retailers off the streets, or whether PATH offers a new home to businesses already displaced by big-scale commercial development; about whether these walkways replace accessible public spaces with private exclusive ones; and, mostly recently, whether plans to give PATH a $65 million facelift that will add 60 more kilometres of tunnels—expanding it northward to encompass College Street and Ryerson University—will address or exacerbate the problem of urban density and environmental decay. Some experts see the existence and expansion of underground pedestrian networks as part of the solution. If not for PATH, “we’d be looking at severely overcrowded sidewalks,” says Rezoski, one of many urban thinkers who see this system as having the potential to grow into a valuable fusion street and interior, market and habitation. “I think people have the perception that [PATH] just connects to office buildings,” he adds. “But we have a lot of residential applications [that] are asking to connect to the PATH system. I think that is very much a part of our thinking, as more and more buildings are being built in downtown.” Others hope this will not happen. “I sure hope that the future of the city is not PATH,” says Liette Gilbert, associate dean at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. “I am a fervent defender of the street and the possible urban, social, architectural, ecological interaction that it provides—which, in my view, are significantly superior to the underground.” N
Hockey is… A city’s passion for the sport that frostbite and a 40-plusyear Stanley Cup drought can never break Story By: Harrison Tripple
Five a.m. and the alarm’s sounding. For many Canadian kids, this is life; insanely early morning practices because that’s the only ice time available after all the other hockey organizations have gobbled up the reasonable slots. Instead of complaining and dragging yourself out of bed—like you would if this was any other day—you get up with a smile on your face. “I started when I was about four or five,” says Leafs fan Dano Scott, walking around Toronto’s Air Canada Centre before the start of a game. “Was I any good? No, but that didn’t matter.” Canadians see hockey as more than just a game; the sport has been engraved in the hearts and minds of people across the country for almost as long as its history. Many people go so far as to say that hockey is a religion in Canada. A University of Montreal religious studies professor has even published a book exploring whether Montrealers’ mania for the Habs can be defined as genuine religious fervour. In Toronto, hockey fans remain devoted to the Leafs despite the fact that the city hasn’t seen
a Stanley Cup victory in 42 years. More than politics, entertainment or any other part of our culture, it’s this devotion to the sport that unites Canadians in general, and Torontonians in particular. “I think the fan base in Toronto is every bit as knowledgeable as the fan base in Montreal,” says Darren Dreger, a hockey analyst for TSN. “Traditionally though, Montreal fans have had more to celebrate,” he says, given that their team won the NHL championship as recently as 1993. “I’m astounded by the appetite of Toronto fans, how loyal they have been while the team has struggled.” Although the Leafs haven’t won a Cup since 1967, the team was one of the dominant clubs before the National Hockey League expanded after that season. Toronto won all of its 13 NHL championships in the Original Six years, ranking second behind Montreal for most titles. Years of success helped lay the groundwork for a die-hard fan base that has stayed devoted through the franchise’s dark days. Toronto fans “identify with their team more than they do any
PHOTO BY: R.J. RILEY 24 BACKGROUND urbaNation
other thing,” says Gino Reda, host for TSN’s Molson That’s Hockey. “Leafs fans are just so passionate they will not give up on their team.” Nowhere is that passion more visible than in the fan base known as Leafs’ Nation. Many nights when the Leafs play in a city that wouldn’t normally be considered a hockey market, like Atlanta or some place in Florida, a surprising number of fans in the stands can be heard chanting ‘Go Leafs Go’. “You have people who grew up in the GTA and they move across the country and still bleed blue and white,” says James Duthie, a host for TSN’s extensive NHL coverage. Leafs fans aren’t just loyal to their beloved buds; they are also completely passionate about the game. “Ah man, it’s the best sport ever, bottom line!” says Scott. “Hard hitting, fights, finesse, it’s the shit!” The statistics back him up. Hockey Canada is by far the largest hockey organization in the world, with a total of 558,117 players registered for the 200708 season (the most recent year for which these numbers are available). According
EVERYTHING to the International Ice Hockey Federation, the United States came a relatively distant second, with 466,3000, registered players—a difference , despite having 10 times the population, of more than 16 per cent. For every hockey fan, there is a different theory as to why this is the case. “The culture is just different around here,”TSN’s Duthie says. “The rink is the centre point of the town and we push our kids into it.” On top of that, he adds, “the minor hockey leagues here are really great.” Some suggest that Canadians’ love of the sport stems from all the years of hockey history. “I think that just speaks to the roots of hockey fans in this country,” Dreger says. “If your dad grew up watching it, so did you.”Then there are those magical moments when Canadians get to actually meet the people who have helped shape the sport. “Wayne Gretzky’s dad was at a tournament I was playing in, and he came up to shake everybody’s hand and he said I was a good skater,” says Andrea Kozlovic, a Leafs fan who played hockey for 14 years. “So that was my big hockey moment.” Dreger also attributes Canada’s success to the quality of the junior leagues. Kozlovic goes further. “I think Ontario’s just a hockey powerhouse,” she says. “Even in Thunder Bay, you have the Staal brothers (Eric, Jordan, Marc and Jared) and (Todd) Bertuzzi from Sudbury; there’s just a lot of people to play.” Whatever the reasons for the passion and talent, one thing is clear: it’s worth serious money in the bank. Despite four decades of failure, Forbes.com has listed the Toronto Maple Leafs as the most valuable franchise in the NHL, with an estimated worth of $448
million. The second-ranked New York Rangers is worth $411 million despite having won the Stanley Cup as recently as 1994. Toronto fans will pay the prices for seats and memorabilia, regardless of how the team is fairing. But does the generosity of their spirit match the generosity of their wallets? A great hockey city needs great fans--people who, no matter whether the team wins or loses, do whatever it takes to get tickets, paint their faces, bring the bullhorns, ring the cowbells, and generally act like crazy love-sick fools. But since the Leafs moved from the legendary Maple Leaf Gardens to the newer Air Canada Centre, that boisterous aspect of the game appears to be on the wane. These days, all the lower-bowl seats in the ACC are full of men and women in business suits, who don’t display the same passion as those traditional die-hard fans. The solution? Remember what is was like to be that kid who loved hockey, who lived for
early morning practices—and that Leaf’s Nation really is a religious affiliation. That blue and white crest is a god, and the ACC simply another shrine. As long as the NHL has a team in Toronto, there will be places to find its devoted disciples. The secret is to head for the cheap seats. “It’s exciting up there,” says Kozlovic. “When you sit up high, it’s a lot of the hardcore fans who drink beer, and they’ve got signs, and are chanting.” She knows, because she’s one of those a self-proclaimed obnoxious, signwielding Leafs fans—at the game no matter what, and determined to have just as much fun as when she was a kid. “I am basically the drunk 400-pound guy who has no shirt on.” N Background image: A pond hockey rink in Brampton, Ont. Bottom: Outside of the Leafs’ stomping grounds, the Air Canada Centre.
PHOTO BY: HARRISON TRIPPLE
PHOTO BY: MALLIX, COURTESY OF FLICKR
Who watches the watchmen? Bouncers patrol the doorways of bars, pubs, clubs and lounges throughout the GTA. But when things get out of control is anyone safe? urbaNation investigates: STORY BY: KATELYN MCCALLION
On a Friday night, the streets of Richmond and Adelaide turn into party central. The streets flood with people primped to perfection, looking to hit the dance floor while throwing back drinks until the early morning. The expectation is to let loose, enjoy the night free of responsibility, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. Daniela Posca is an average 20-year-old woman. She goes to work, comes home, and often goes out with friends to bars and clubs. Most nights are uneventful. However, that changed in December 2008 when she went to
Republik nightclub to ring in the New Year. “We were standing on the edge of the dance floor when these two guys got into a fight,” Posca says. “All we saw were bouncers rushing over to the VIP section, and this guy being tossed over the railing.” Cheryl Jones, 21, was also at the club that night. She says that earlier in the night a man came up to her and told her people had been stealing bottles of alcohol from the VIP section. Then she noticed two men fighting, and other people in the section started to run. Neither Jones nor Posca know who started
the fight, but Jones says she was shocked by the bouncer’s behaviour. “It was scary, really scary,” she says. “The guy was just being manhandled and dragged out the front of the club by the bouncer.” While some bouncers may use too much force, those who act passively on the job can have an equally harmful effect. When a bouncer fails to assist someone in need, especially a young woman trying to deal with unwanted attention, it can become an intimidating situation. “There [once] was this guy who would just not leave me alone, and I
was getting a bit scared,” she says. Instead of a bouncer coming to her aid, Posca had to rely on her friends to help. “All I remember was that the guy was suddenly on top of me, and my sister’s boyfriend punched him in the face,” she said. Bouncers have a code of conduct they are supposed to adhere to. According to Ontario’s Private Security and Investigative Services Act, bouncers and security guards are required to have the appropriate licenses. The same legislation allows bouncers to use “reasonable force” to remove someone from a bar or club. However, what is considered reasonable force can carry with it a lot of bias and the debate has found new life on Facebook. The social networking site has many pages dedicated to boycotting certain nightclubs. The people that join? Mostly those who have sustained injuries at Toronto Clubs. Ryan Downer, once a bouncer for Matrix Nightclub, says bouncers can also become targets of violence. For his friend Howard Gairy, a bouncer at the Guvernment, this was all too real. On a summer night nine years ago, one that many patrons of the Guvernment nightclub will not forget, Gairy was shot three times in the chest outside the club. Quintin Danvers, 19, who pulled a gun when Gairy tried to make him leave the club, was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to
life in prison. Downer and Gairy went to the same school together, played on the same rugby and football teams, and also worked together at the Parks and Recreation Centre in Brampton. “I was young and naïve, and didn’t think that anything would happen to him,” Downer says. “Most of the time there was a gang of bouncers to help break up fights.” Downer says Gairy was not alone the night he died; Gairy’s girlfriend worked behind the bar. When situations like this occur, people have second thoughts about going to clubs. “It just makes you feel like you’re not really safe at clubs,” Posca says. The idea that security on the property are not even safe, is daunting. Kerin Cahill has been a bouncer in the GTA for 19 years and has had his fair share of violent experiences. The Gairy incident doesn’t surprise him. “Piss somebody off at the door, they come back with a gun. It happens all the time,” Cahill says. He says he’s had many guns pulled on him. Cahill knows about the online groups that rally against his profession and says that he’s seen his own face there more than once. “They have my picture and underneath it says ‘this is the old fucker that beat me up,’” he says. It’s also not uncommon to find individuals who post pictures of their injuries that have been allegedly caused by bouncers. Cahill says he fought every night when
he worked at a nightclub. He now works at the Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen’s Club and says he enjoys working for this kind of establishment a lot more than a nightclub. Cahill admits he has gone overboard before, but only when it got personal. “One guy I put in the hospital, he spit in my face. I made sure he couldn’t see anything for about five days.” Cahill says he has learned that in a consenting fight between two people once a person hits the floor he can no longer be legally hit. Once he’s on the floor, a hit becomes aggravated assault. “I toss you out of the bar, you call the cops and say I beat you up. The cops show up, you’re drunk and ignorant, guess who’s getting arrested?” Cahill says he’s been to court, but has never been convicted of any assault charges. Downer believes certain individuals are more inclined to get into fights with bouncers than others. Downer says that things can get out of hand with the mob mentality of a bigger crowd. “Most people think that they are untouchable and that’s part of the reason why they get in trouble”. Downer has some very simple advice for young people who find themselves in bad situations with bouncers. “Just walk away,” he N says. “It’s not worth it”.
ABOVE PHOTOS COURTESY OF BRENDAMER WALLACE Brendamer Wallace’s bruised and battered face is not a private matter. Wallace, 24, posted these photos of his alleged assault on a Facebook anti-bouncer forum. The social networking site has become a breeding ground for people wanting to sound off about nightclub violence. Wallace says he sued the security company who hired the bouncer at Kool Haus, where he says he incurred these injuries. Wallace, while agreeing to let urbaNation run his photographs and providing a few details of his encounter via email, did not return our telephone calls.
Culture of Subcultures Story by: Mike Nasmith
Standing with twenty other masked warriors with a wooden sword poised above your head, ready to strike. Learning to dance a sultry tango with an energetic Latin firecracker. Whipping up delicious ethnic dishes. These are just a few of the opportunities available in Toronto without having to leave. Among the many things Torontonians take pride in is the city’s multiculturalism. Ask any native about the city and it’s sure to be one of the first things brought up, right before a lengthy lecture about the benefits and opportunities living in such a cosmopolitan setting can provide. They’ll likely mention the vast array of culinary choices available, and the cheap shopping that can be had in Kensington Market. The uniqueness of Greek town or the great bars in Little Italy. Any conversation on this topic will lead the listener to believe they can experience the world without ever leaving the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). There isn’t any doubt that this is true; Toronto is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. The 2006 census showed that almost 43 per cent of people in the GTA were visible minorities, a number which rises to 47 per cent in the city itself. A 2004 study by the United Nations Development Program ranked Toronto behind only Miami in the list of cities in the world with the highest percentage of foreign-born population; and unlike that city, dominated by Cuban and Latin-American expatriates; there’s not a single ethnic group which dominates the Toronto landscape. Furthermore, the census shows that almost half of the immigrants to Canada settle in the Toronto area, and predicts that by 2012 visible minorities will make up over half the city’s population. Clearly the strong presence of diverse
ethnic groups provides opportunities that aren’t available in cities with less varied populations. However, it’s questionable whether or not the citizens of Toronto are taking full advantage of these opportunities. Does their embrace of other cultures extend past grabbing dinner at that great Thai place on the corner? For those willing to make the effort, Toronto has numerous cultural centres which provide a variety of courses and events that more closely resemble an authentic foreign experience. It certainly isn’t a substitute for visiting the countries themselves, but for struggling students it can make for a great escape. Located near Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre offers members an amazingly diverse selection of programs, workshops, and classes. “We have various events during the year,” says Sally Kumagawa, Membership Administrator for the Centre. “We also have Japanese cultural classes, flower arrangement, language classes, martial arts, and movie nights showcasing Japanese classics.” A $30 annual membership fee will also entitle members to take courses in a wide variety of other unique programs. Among these are Japanese cooking classes; Bunka Shishu, a form of needlepoint embroidery; Shamisen, a Japenese three-stringed banjo and an instrument often associated with Geishas; Koto, a floor harp; Origami; and Taiko Drumming. These are just a handful
PHOTO BY: ALANA GAUTREAU
of the courses offered. Scheduling for these classes vary, but if the one you’re interested in isn’t offered in a convenient time slot, something else of interest will be. According to Kumagawa, these classes cost an average of about $75 for a ten week class, but as with the classes themselves, price and length are varied. Being a place of Japanese culture, the centre naturally also offers classes in many different forms of martial arts. The consistent quality of the instructors is what sets these classes apart from those that are offered elsewhere.
“There’s lots of people here so there’s lots of people to practise with.” -Christopher Piggott, a student at the Japanese Cultural Centre “(Our instructors) all travel to Japan to study,” says Kumagawa. “Most martial arts classes are affiliated with dojos [training centres] in Japan, and all our instructors have been to Japan to study under masters there so they are well qualified.” Besides the well known martial arts of Judo and Karate, courses in lesser known disciplines such as Akido, Laido, Kendo (the art of Japanese fencing with a two-handed sword),
and others are offered. “As far as Kendo goes, our club is probably the largest in the area,” says Shana Asa, Kendo instructor. “Our club has the largest amount of head instructors as well as junior instructors and we offer probably the most number of classes.” Asa adds that the variety of teachers available at the centre makes it easier to find one that students can connect with. One of Asa’s students, bowing before leaving the dojo to talk with me, agrees that both factors were important in his decision. “There’s lots of people here so there’s lots of people to practise with,” says Christopher Piggott. “And also there’s a lot of high ranking sensei [teachers] here compared to other places.” If learning to play a Japanese instrument, or to defend against a person in 84 different ways isn’t to your taste, consider putting your dancing shoes on and learning a PHOTO BY: D. DIMARCO, sultry Spanish Tango. If you’re a COURTESY OF FLICKR guy it could easily be your gateway toward picking up more women. the language, with classes costing $135-$355 The Spanish Centre is located just south depending on the length of the program (five of Yonge and Bloor, and with translation or ten weeks) and level. and business services for recently arrived Those looking for something more active immigrants (probably not the services that can take advantage of the dance courses will interest you most) along with a bookstore, available. Salsa, Merengue, and Tango are the it’s the hub of Latin American life in the staple dances offered, each at various levels of city. Beyond those programs meant to aid expertise. The courses generally run five weeks immigrants in Canada, the centre also has and cost $75. much to offer a native Canadian. The centre’s website notes that all the If you want to learn Spanish, and can’t courses are taught by expert instructors and do it for free at school, you would be hard take place in a professional setting. pressed to find a better place in the city. The Beyond the courses, the centre also hosts centre’s website notes that it is consistently a vast array of cultural and social events than voted as Toronto’s premiere institution to learn can range from a monthly Argentinian movie
night to Spanish concerts. In the heart of downtown, right at Spadina and Bloor, lies the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. While many of the services offered are Jewish specific, and the mandate of the centre is to serve the community through Jewish values, the centre welcomes anybody and does offer courses which may be of interest regardless of religious faith, or complete lack thereof. The first thing bound to catch any visitor’s attention is the centre’s fitness facility. The well over 100,000 square foot facility features heated pool, sauna, and running track. Among the courses the centre offers which may attract non-Jewish people are adult pottery classes, Kosher cooking classes, and a truly unique musical class called ‘Klezmer Ensemble,’ which is sort of like a garage jam band, only incorporating all the instruments of a 95-piece symphony orchestra. Anyone, and any instrument, is welcome to join renowned mandolinist and cymbalist Eric Stein in this year-round event. These are far from the only centres that can be found in Toronto. While those of other countries and cultures may not offer the eclectic programs and courses that those mentioned do, most still host or put on events that can give the curious local a better understanding of the culture. So if you’re considering taking a course in martial arts, want to learn to salsa, or are just looking for something to do for the night that doesn’t involve binge drinking (as rare as those nights may be), check out the cultural centres around Toronto. After all, a little involvement with them will give you some credibility when you too start to bore your non-Toronto friends with speeches about the amazing multiculturalism of Toronto. N
PREVIOUS PAGE: Cruise Sensei demonstrates how to properly sheath a sword at the Etobicoke Olympium. TOP RIGHT: The Spanish Centre offers many dances with Latin flair. BOTTOM LEFT: Iaido and Kendo (pictured here) are offered at various community centres in the city, such as the Olympium.
PHOTO BY: ALANA GAUTREAU
and the Sublime The heart of the Junction lies in both its rich history and its promising future Story and Photography: By Maggie Cameron
Narrow in form, boisterous in sound; the dimly lit bar, with its foggy front window, holds an eclectic mix of enthusiastic drinkers. Local artwork hangs from wire on the walls as patrons happily listen, shoulder to shoulder, to the three-piece band that sends melodies from the front entrance to the back door. You will likely find the owner of your video rental spot close by; a cold pint can replace outstanding late fees and a shot will see that the obscure foreign film you’ve been searching for will be on the shelf next time you’re renting. Twinkle lights cast a shadow on the unread drink menus as the bartender gives you the drink you don’t have to ask for. The conversation is fluid and the band keeps playing one good tune after another. The bar is The Troubadour. Its home, and that of its patrons, its band, and its artists, is the Junction. The intimately hip vibe of the Troubadour is one that resonates throughout the Junction. What used to be considered a dumpy, industrial chunk of west Toronto is now quickly
becoming colourful hipster turf. The area, though its boundaries are debated, runs the length of Dundas West Road, beginning at Runnymede Road and ending near Dupont Street and expanding north to St. Clair Avenue West. It’s one of Toronto’s oldest hoods, but for years it’s been a forgotten space. Loosely known as Little Malta, the area is a patchwork of dilapidated or abandoned old businesses neighbouring alluring cafes, galleries, and shops. It’s the Junction juxtaposition. The dissimilarity in the Junction is perhaps what makes it so charming. It feels as though you’ve found yourself at the precise spot where trendy Queen Street West meets the sometimes unappealing squalor of Parkdale. It’s an area that’s seen an incredible revival, but there’s still plenty of room to keep going. This makes it an ideal place for people to come if they’re looking to carve out a place of their own in this enormous city. Be it to live, to play or to work, the ultimate push for the revival of this place means that anyone is Top left: Delight organic chocolate shop.
welcome as long as they’re willing to stride in that direction. “Since the early 2000s, the Junction has seen a big turnaround. With the help of the Business Improvement Area, the local politicians, the local business people and the residents, I think it’s really improved,” says Sal D’Angelo of Junction Realty. Patrons at the Troubadour will certainly echo that sentiment. It wasn’t until the early 90s that alcohol became available in the area. In the late 1800s the area boomed as a manufacturing community. However, a temperance movement was put into motion, and in 1904 the area became dry, and by local option, remained so until the early 90s. In more recent past, the illicit trafficking of drugs and sex was taking place on the streets of the Junction. “It was a bit more like a red light district in the past,” says D’Angelo. This is changing. The Junction is putting itself on the map as much more than a place where two railways meet. Top right: An abandoned Dundas St. W store.
Anna Louise Richardson, executive director of the Junction’s Business Improvement Area organization, says that the area has a lot to offer. “There are shops that create recycled home décor. There are incredible restaurants, especially if you’re someone who is environmentally conscious,” she says. This is the secret to the Junction’s blooming reputation. All those abandoned run-down shops are making way for places with a fresh vibe; places that satisfy the Junctionites’ craving for originality and authenticity.
a fair trade cafe with sky-high ceilings, rustic wood floors and warm modern furniture. Richardson says it once won the honour of best coffee/café in Canada. “People come from all over to go to Crema. And I only live a few minutes away! I’m so lucky,” she says. But if you head to Crema for presumably the best latte in the country, and you sit on the inviting, pale blue leather chair that faces the entrance and a window looking north, you’ll live the Junction juxtaposition. The view from Crema is a run-down Free Time coffee
But some are more eager to share the secret of their area. “I’m always telling people to come here,” Michael Malone, a Junction local, told Margret owner Chris Brown, over a beer. “I have friends that live just around the corner and they have no idea of what’s around here,” said Malone. While it isn’t full-blown gentrification taking place, a major rejuvenation is. The Junction has vast potential for greatness, even without a Starbucks. David Collie, 80, puts it best: “In my
“Neighbourhoods go down, get dumpy but eventually experience a revival.” - David Collie “There are lots of organic food stores, and organic restaurants,” says D’Angelo. “There’s a lot of natural stuff going on here.” The Beet is an eco-friendly café-market at 2945 Dundas St. West. It’s an all green, all local, all organic establishment. Even their packaging is 100 per cent biodegradable. Across the street and a few shady buildings down is Margret, a vintage-vibed bar lounge. Decked out in a giant Greg Shegler piece and the trendiest of kitschy décor, it’s a refreshingly cool place that’s unmatched throughout Toronto. Head west and you’ll find Rawlicious. It’s an organic, vegan, all raw restaurant; unique not only to the Junction, but to the entire city. Across from it sits Crema,
shop. The sign is chipping away, a collection of smokers are always lingering out front, and as you sip your frothed milk you’ll find it hard to believe that such adverse places are situated across from each other. But what if it was a Starbucks that sat kitty corner to Crema? The sheer beauty of the Junction is that it is not. The grittiness is what makes the Junction so endearing. It makes the area intimate. Local bloggers often voice their fear of the Junction’s growing reputation. With it might come the forbidden appearance of a Starbucks or a Whole Foods, and with those might come busloads of Toronto yuppies and all things associated with them.
last year of public school I delivered bread through the Junction. It was a working man’s neighbourhood. It was not the best of neighbourhoods, but after the war, there were lots of places in Toronto like that,” he said. “Neighbourhoods go down, get dumpy but eventually experience a revival.” The Junction is in the midst of that revival and anyone who has visited can see that it’s a good thing. But anyone who’s had brunch at the Beet, or cocktails at Margret also knows that a little grime make these one-of-a-kind places all the more memorable. They know that abandoned store fronts serve to inspire and that Free Time coffee actually isn’t all that N bad.
Left: Book store for sale in the Junction’s west end. Right: Gallery Singidunum on Dundas St. West near Quebec Ave.
Public Battle The
Pillows against billboards, the urban playground movement is game on Story and Photography By: R.J. Riley
Left: Feathers Fly in Dundas Square during the annual 2009 pillow fight organized by Newmindspace. Next page: Participants enjoy their time at the 2009 Pillow Fight.
n the depths of Toronto’s underground PATH below Bay Street, Mike crouches under a Tim Horton’s table while stunned customers wonder what’s going on. With a red neon glow stick around his neck, he puts his finger to his mouth to calm the watchers. He’s scared the blues chasing him will notice people staring. He sticks his head out from under the table and spots two blues walking past the coffee shop. “He’s over here!” one of the customers yells. Mike jumps up and dashes towards the stairwell outside the entrance. Just a few more blocks and he’ll be safe from his attackers. Now all he has to do is try to make it down to Front Street unseen by the blues. Once there, Then he’ll find the blue flag and get it back to his team’s base on Richmond, before the blues have time to find his own flag. This is Capture the Flag in Toronto. Each year childhood games are turned into massive public events. Hundreds of people young and old will fill urban centres
in both Toronto and New York to simply play. “The games are simple.” says Kevin Bracken, co-founder of one of the most popular event organizers, Newmindspace. “You take a childhood activity and multiply the
“Corporate expression is prioritized over individual and political expression” - Kevin Bracken participants.” Simple but powerful, Bracken does more than just trigger huge bursts of adrenaline and excitement. Whether it’s a pillow fight or capture the flag, he is using these events to wean western society off its addiction to entertainment created by corporations. Corporations, Bracken says, are focused on selling a passive experience for profit, whereas Newmindspace is “trying to create a more participatory, do-it-yourself social culture.” Bracken is not alone. Bubble battles, pillow fights, Easter egg hunts and even light-sabre battles are now hosted in the city, almost on
a monthly basis. After all, the players in these childhood games aren’t really children at all. Keeping the space open to for this purpose been a battle in itself. Thankfully for the executive on Bay St., who joins in on a capture the flag game after a late night in the office, the job of the Toronto Public Space Committee has been just that-keeping the public space public. Toronto’s space committee is leading the way in the public’s battle to stop advertisers from taking over Toronto’s public space. The battle has spread so much that there are now several separate groups who organize the same urban playground type of events in protest. “We protect, celebrate, and enhance Toronto’s public spaces through various community projects,” says space committee volunteer Jonathan Goldsbie. Reclaim the Streets is one of the original international organizers of urban playground events used to protest Invasive advertisements. It has been around since the mid-1990s and has organized events from Jerusalem to Toronto. Streets Are For People was another one of the first. It is also more of an activist group promoting the view that public spaces are
being used to hurt the environment. It began the No Car Sundays in Kensington Market and even pushed a dead car to Queen’s Park. And then there are other groups like Improv in Toronto, who are strictly about having a good time. Created by Cole Banning and Edwin Cheung, their events are more about getting people excited and surprised than protesting. In February ‘09, Improv In Toronto hosted a Silent Dance Party at which over 700 participants met in Queen’s Park and made their way to the Museum TTC station--iPods in their ears, and filling two trains. One by one, they slowly rose and began to dance to the music pumping in their earbuds. Soon the whole train was dancing. “It’s a great way to use public space, to do things in places where people normally wouldn’t, it’s better than looking at advertisements all day,” says Jack Morawets, who had heard of these events before and decided to join the party on his way to work. “It’s fun,” says Banning. “It’s to spice up people’s day, give ourselves something to laugh at.” The future of these events could seemingly see corporate sponsors blow the games up and over expose them in the media, giving organizers a budget to work with and rules to follow. Or they could stay underground and keep the political underground punch that most already pack. However, with street advertising becoming a hotter commodity, marketers are willing to do whatever it takes to attract attention to their brands, even if it’s at the price of other attractions. Their purpose is to sell products, but by the way places like
the Gardiner Expressway and Dundas square look, there is no telling where advertisers will draw the line. The city of Toronto has tried though. Any billboards or signs are subject to approval from the city before being erected. The problem: the economic slow-down. The city of Toronto has decided to sell the naming rights of civil and public spaces, for a little extra cash. “(Nike) worked with the Toronto Catholic School Board to broker a deal where they sold off the naming rights to a sports complex built for Mother Teresa Catholic School, which is now called the Nike Sportsplex,” says Goldsbie. In response he created “City for Sale.”This advocacy program is currently battling against both the government and advertisers to protect the naming rights of public places. In addition, the committee hosts both advocacy and community events--one being Guerilla Gardening. Running through the summer, it organizes volunteers to plant flowers throughout the parks and grassy areas of the city. “Art imitates life and we want Toronto’s public spaces to imitate Toronto’s public,” says Bracken who began his battle for public space within Toronto’s committee. Psychogeography is the study of how human beings’ surroundings affect the way they think. The Toronto Psychogeography Society is a group that organizes walks throughout the all areas of the city, from the small intimate alley corners, to the electric glow of Dundas Square. Shawn Micallef has been doing these walks since 2000. The group, which grew almost immediately into the hundreds, will meet up in a specific location, like a subway station or street corner, and begin to wander around while focusing all of their attention on their surroundings. Micallef defines psychogeography as, “a question of how spaces make you feel, it’s
as simple as that.” Advertisers know this too. “When you’re in a place like Dundas Square, you realize how valuable our little eyeballs are and you realize how many people want the attentions of the eyeballs,” Micallef says. “When you see ads you really realize that you’re in a public space that belongs to a lot more people. When there are no ads you realize the space is a little more intimate.” Advertisers know advertising in spaces that belong to the largest amount of people will work the best, though they don’t necessarily have to be posted on a billboard. A new type of advertisement can be seen on YouTube that has taken spontaneous urban playground events and given them a completely new meaning: selling product. In the commercial a group of seemingly normal people, going about their everyday lives, break out into a choreographed dance in the middle of London’s Liverpool station. The video ends with a T-mobile logo and viewers realize it’s an advertisement. Bracken, who organizes events in both New York and Toronto, has declined many offers from companies to facilitate this kind of stealth advertising--but nonetheless, they can be very tempting. Proctor and Gamble once asked him to organize an impromptu kissing event to promote Scope mouthwash. Bracken was offered “ridiculous amounts of money,” and still said no. But the company was persistent, so Bracken cut them a deal. He would organize it as long as they were willing to sign a statement acknowledging their unethical treatment of animals. The deal fell through. To this day, Bracken still declines sponsorship offers. “We turn them all down,’ he says. “We don’t believe in that.” N
Forever Rivals story and photography by: Claude Saravia
VS. 34 urbaNation
li vs. Frazier, Batman vs. The Joker, Biggie vs. Tupac, Bush vs. Gore, the list could go on and on... Toronto vs. Montréal may not be the first
rivalry people think of when considering some of the world’s most notorious contentions. But in Canada, there is no greater debate. The subplots are rich and thick, arguments - turned into grudges - turned into families loathing each other for generations. Tears have been shed, blood splattered, and that’s just with the Canadiens vs. the Leafs. But the cities’ longstanding beef has gained steam recently from an unexpected source. After a two-week online poll, Parker Brothers announced the placement of the various world cities chosen to occupy the legendary board’s new twist on the game, Monopoly World Edition. It came as a mild upset to many fans who voted online that Montréal was given the most prestigious position in the game: Boardwalk. The City of Churches beat out such stiff competition as Tokyo (Vermont), New York (Indiana), London (Illinois) and Paris (Pacific). But many were surprised that it would even be considered the top contender in its home country of Canada, especially those from The Big Smoke. Toronto Mayor David Miller is one of those people. “Toronto is Canada’s city,” says the Mayor. “Our impact on the Canadian economy is something like that of New York City, Chicago, and Los
Angeles put together in the US. We are the Canadian city. That is the modern reality”. No disrespect to Vancouver (Canada’s third largest city didn’t even make the board, and lost out in online voting to Quebec City), but when most people think of Canada, Montréal or Toronto usually are the first cities to come to mind. As an American with little knowledge of Canada, I personally imagined Toronto as the only city in Canada. Much like when a foreigner thinks of France, they will probably primarily think of Paris. The rivalry between Toronto and Montréal is one with little solid documentation. These are the two most populated cities in Canada, with Toronto being the largest. Montréal used to hold that title, up until 20 years ago. Where can one possibly start when comparing these two distinctly Canadian, yet seemingly different cities?
Above: Entering Old Montreal, with Notre Dame looming in the distance. Below: The Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Faire du shopping:
Yonge Street, near Dundas Square.
Good Morning, Bonjour: The main difference between Montréal and Toronto is the language of French. In Toronto, speaking French is a nice thing to put on your resume, but aside from select jobs, it is rarely required. However, in Montréal, which thrives on tourism, speaking both languages is not only an advantage; it is a necessity to land nearly any job in the city. Of course, native French speakers claim Canadian French is not really French, but rather some sort of colonial derivative. Kristina Delossantos is an artist who has lived in many of the cities included in the Monopoly game, including Rio De Janerio, New York, and Montréal and Toronto. “Montréal is a beautiful city - I relocated here 14 months ago from Toronto,” says the artist. “But I am sorry to say that I will not be settling here. Even though I am fluent in French (Parisian French that is), I find it hard to understand their French. I must say that the French language is pushed too far.”
Getting around: METRO VS. TTC The battle of the public transportation systems is perhaps an even more closely contested battle than the shopping one. Metro is an extremely efficient system. Sometimes waiting times are longer than the TTC’s, but for the most part everything runs on scheduled times. As there are more subway lines than in Toronto, nearly every part of the city can be
Both Toronto and Montréal have amazing shopping disctricts. Montréal boasts Underground City, which spans for miles. Toronto has a smaller, yet efficient PATH underground shopping network. Rue de St. Catherines can be considered every shopper’s dream come true, as long as you don’t mind a little walking. The famed street has every shop imaginable, as well as an entrance to Le Centre Eaton. Meanwhile, Toronto has Yonge Street - the world’s lengthiest street at 1900 km. Within Toronto, it also has all of the major shopping establishments as well as some hidden gems sprinkled here and there. Queen Street West features a little more flavour than Yonge St, with a wider variety of shops more of the vintage and unknown kind. Throw in Kensington Market, as well as T.O. also having the original Eaton Centre, and one begins to question what all of the fuss is about with Montréal’s famed shopping scene? Each city also has shopping spread throughout the city, as well as the aforementioned PATH and Underground City. However, Montréal has a select group of shopping establishments exclusive to Montreal alone in the Canadian market, such as the New York based Alberto Makali. Overall, prices are basically comparable.
The Monopoly World Edition Game, with Montreal as Boardwalk and Toronto as St.Charles Place.
reached quickly and efficiently. Unexpected delays are normal with the TTC. Streetcars, again which seem to be great, can cause serious traffic headaches, and are generally very slow and packed beyond limitations during the rush hour. The Metro’s blue is a little more relaxing than the TTC’s bright red. “Montréal public transportation is excellent,” says Delossantos. “ I have never had any problems with the buses. They run on schedule. The subways are nice, clean and pleasant. Public transportation is reliable in Toronto, but is just so crowded. That’s the problem, you’re always like a sardine on the bus.”
EDUCATION: Danielle Petit was a life-long resident of Montréal before coming to Toronto in order to obtain her post-secondary education in film studies. Her program was only available in Toronto and not in anywhere in Quebec. “I found that when I first moved here it was kind of like New York but less cool. Toronto is
Sports, Suppara: “I love Toronto,” said Petit. “I like sports,” said Petit. “I can go see a baseball game here. Ever since the Expos left there haven’t been many options for baseball. I can go see a basketball game here, which Montreal never had.”
BLUE JAYS vs. EXPOS The Blue Jays won back-to-back Worlds Series championships in the 1992 and 1993 seasons. The Montréal Expos could quite have possibly won the following year if not for the strike, which Montréalers will never forgive or forget. The Expos, with the best record in the league and a quarter of the season to go, lost their dreams of a World Series parade through Old Montréal when the Player’s Union went on strike. The World Series was cancelled and ten years later the franchise relocated to Washington D.C. as the Nationals.
AND SO, WHO WINS? These two cities represent the uniqueness of Canada. They have many similar features, as well as astronomically huge differences. I still have much exploring to do in this great country. But I believe that I have found my home here in The Big Smoke. “Montréal is a great city,” says Miller. “I love Montréal. I visit it regularly and my family goes to Quebec any chance we get, to ski. Toronto is the Canadian city. Some parts of Canada perhaps don’t like to share that message but we are.” For myself, I visit Montréal regularly, but I feel at home in Toronto. It functions more as a world-class city, as opposed to a great place to visit. I can work here without learning another language, which if I were to do, I would probably go to another country. “The French culture is very different from the English culture and some of them don’t want to be considered Canadian, they
like a New Yorkish type city and Montréal is like Paris. Toronto is great, but Toronto is very… Americanized”, she says. Both cities boast some of the top-ranked universities and colleges Canada has to offer. “We have three very strong universities,” says Mayor Miller. “Our community colleges, I think in some ways are our best asset. This is an area of one of Toronto’s enduring strengths. Our college systems and universities are excellent.”
HABS vs. LEAFS Canada has a rich, illustrious history of NHL rivalries; from the Battle of Ontario (Leafs vs. Senators), the Battle of Alberta (Flames vs. Oilers), and the Battle of Quebec (Canadiens vs. the now defunct Nordiques) but none have more history and bad blood than the Habs vs. the Leafs. The rivalry represented much more than placement in the standings, but used to be, and still is to a certain extent, a battle of Canada’s dual cultures – French and English. It hasn’t been since 1979 since these two teams met in the playoffs, but every regular season game has a playoff-feel to it. Both franchises are members of the Original Six (teams which were a part of the NHL before the 1967 expansion), and the Habs, founded in 1909, are the only team to predate the founding of the NHL. The Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cups, more than any other team in the NHL. The Leafs, founded in 1917, went through three name changes before officially becoming the Toronto Maple Leafs. Upon their creation, they were simply known as Toronto. A year later they became the Toronto Arenas, and then in 1919, the Toronto St. Patricks. After that day, they were forever known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have won about half the amount of Stanley Cups as the Canadiens at thirteen. with their last one coming in 1967. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup last in 1992. And after all, hockey was invented in Montréal.
just want to be French, says Petit. “That kind of culture is a big, big difference from what Toronto is like. I don’t like Toronto better, I really don’t, but for what I am trying to do, it is more practical. I could work in Quebec except I don’t want to be involved in French films. “Toronto is Canada’s boardwalk, says Toronto’s mayor. “ We’re winning in reality so I don’t mind giving one to Montréal on the gameboard.” N
Outside of Toronto’s Eaton Centre
Single but not
Sober The drunken underbelly of the dating scene COMMENTARY by: Maggie Cameron Photography by: Herlizza Manito
very day, we’re faced with decision making. Some are trivial everyday choices, others are more profound. We usually try to make the best ones. But that doesn’t always work out. The summer when I was 16, many Saturday nights I was faced with making the same decision. Several of my friends were from a small town called Ayr, which was legendary for throwing wild parties. Even in retrospect these parties were truly enormous and memorably fun. Of course, underage drinking was a major theme, and my parents, having raised my older sister through her rebellious teenage years, knew quite well what a night in Ayr would involve. I wasn’t allowed to go. I went anyway. I made a point to have the time of my life because I knew there would be serious consequences if I got caught. I almost always got caught, and a good portion of that summer I spent grounded. But when the opportunity to make the same decision presented itself again, to go or not to go, I never made the right decision. The wrong one was way more fun. Years later, I still like to have fun. I am not underage anymore, my parents don’t keep tabs on me, and my idea of a good time is no
longer a bush party, but the desire to have some fun on a Saturday night remains. The decisions I’m faced with, however, have changed. Recently I found myself in a state of sobriety at a Queen Street rock bar, The Hide Out. What I observed that night was a scene in which I might not have been merely watching but actively participating in, if I’d had a few drinks. Post last call, the dance floor of the bar, sticky with sweat and spilled beer, was a shuffling disaster of drunken oblivion. The Hide Out is as it sounds. It’s dark, with walls painted in deep red and black, and gothic-like arches in the ceiling are supported by robust pillars. Pressed up against each pillar, and there are several, were people hooking up. Each of these couples were gyrating and making out like they weren’t in public. A mess of a couple was feeling each other up against the ATM machine, oblivious to the shouts of angry people eager to take out some money. What worried me about what I was witnessing was that some couples were bound to go home together that night. It struck me as one of those times when the wrong decision might seem like the more fun one.
But the next morning always shines a new light, and the “more fun” decision may no longer seem so. In fact it could end up being one of those catastrophic, life altering ones. Often as partying and single 20-somethings in the city, we feel as if we’re amidst a giant, frustrating contradiction. Bars are always charged with sexuality and it seems like everyone is there to engage the opposite sex, except we’re told time and time again that bars aren’t a good place to meet someone. “It’s a necessary evil,” says Rachael Bowles, 21, who frequents places like the Hide Out on weekends. “If I didn’t go to the bar, if I didn’t have those few beers to loosen me up, I’d never meet anyone.” The trouble is that guys and girls often have conflicting agendas. I can’t help but think that guys generally take girls home with one thing on their minds, while girls hope that a casual encounter might blossom into something long term. Romance and alcohol can be a dangerous mix, with consequences that far out-weigh being grounded for a week with no phone. The Canadian sexual health information website, sexualityandu.ca,
reports, “Of sexually active adults aged 22 to 24, 44 per cent reported having sex without a condom.” According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, “young adults, (between 15 and 24) have the highest rates of STIs in Canada.” If contracting an STI or getting pregnant isn’t frightening enough, going home with a stranger can potentially increase the risk of drug-facilitated sexual assault. According to sexualityandu.ca, drug-facilitated rape is “more often committed by an offender who targets an intoxicated victim.” No matter how accurate we think we are in judging the good people of the world from the bad, we’re undeniably putting ourselves at risk if we go home with someone we’ve met only hours prior to leaving with them. Maybe if we just make the simple decision to drink a little less, we won’t be faced with bigger, potentially more detrimental ones. But again, the right decision to turn down another round of drinks is much, much less fun. N