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i hate my backyard chicken p. 124 The inside story of a $6-million ​insurance fraud ring at the TTC P. 82 making a fortune off airbnb p. 101 I lost my job, my home and my marriage: an addiction memoir P. 90

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April 2018 Vol. 52 No. 4

This east-end loft fetches $229 a night as an Airbnb, p. 101

editor’s letter 34 | The golden age of memoir this city 39 | The Moment Virtue and Moir, Canada’s sweethearts 40 | Q&A Dan Doctoroff of Sidewalk Labs on the smart future of urban living 42 | Ego Meter What’s making and shaking the city’s self-image 44 | Camera The month’s best parties 46 | Cost of Living What Torontonians make and how they spend it 48 | The Audit A pennyby-penny reckoning of the month in money 50 | The Upstart Torontonians who are shaking up the tech sector 53 | Urban Diplomat Advice on how to be a civilized Torontonian


54 | Where to Eat 2018 In a city where fantastic restaurants open every month, the tyranny of choice can be crippling. All the more reason to dig into our annual ranking of the year’s top new places to eat By Mark Pupo 82 | The Great TTC Fraud In the spring of 2014, the TTC discovered hundreds of its drivers were scamming the company health care plan and pocketing millions. The story of the fraud, the sting that brought it crashing down, and the lives left in ruins By Michael Lista 90 | My Broken Heart To the outside world, I was a happy Toronto mom. Privately, I was fighting a serious heroin addiction. I recovered from my addiction, but my heart didn’t By Shannon McKinnon I HATE MY BACKYARD CHICKEN P. 124 The inside story of a $5-million insurance fraud ring at the TTC P. 82 MAKING A FORTUNE OFF AIRBNB P. 101


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I lost my job, my home and my marriage: an addiction memoir P. 90



the conversation 26 | What you loved and loathed last month



on the cover

Aloette’s take on diner classics: 1. Beef short rib with chimichurri 2. Lemon meringue pie 3. Peanutcrusted foie gras terrine 4. Crispy squash with pumpkin seeds and parm 5. Scallop tostadas 6. Aloette burger with fries 7. Long bean tempura Photograph by Dave Gillespie

navigator 101 | Great Spaces Under new city rules, anyone can Airbnb their home. Here are a few homeowners who are doing it and how much they’re making 109 | The Chase One couple’s search for a family home yields a $1.5-million gem in the rough near Yonge and St. Clair culture 115 | The top things to see, do, hear and read this month, including the return of The Handmaid’s Tale, the best flicks at Hot Docs and an evening with Steve Martin 124 | memoir I loved her freshly laid eggs, but I hated my backyard chicken By Sarah Treleaven toronto life is published by toronto life publishing co. ltd. all rights reserved. contents may not be reprinted without written permission. mail registration no. 9189. publications mail agreement no. 42494512. canadian postmaster: send subscription orders, address change notices and undeliverable copies to toronto life, po box 825, stn. main, markham, on l3p 9z9.

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Sarah Fulford executive editor Angie Gardos art director Christine Dewairy editorial director, special projects Maryam Sanati senior editors Alex Baldinger, Malcolm Johnston, Emily Landau associate editors Rebecca Fleming, Steve Kupferman, Luc Rinaldi copy editor Heidi Ebert

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the conversation

Love Stories Our February cover story about Toronto couples who met and fell in love the old-fashioned way (i.e., not via Tinder, Grindr, Bumble or Happn) elicited many an “OMG cute!!” and “Why aren’t we in this?”

Toronto, and not only do they exist, they fall in love and— gasp—even have sex. Too bad you couldn’t find any of them for your February feature on love in the city.” —Patricia Clarke, Toronto

“The beginning of a truly Toronto love story (via @torontolife). ‘Daniel: One night, I was heading home on the Vomit Comet. I was drifting in and out of sleep for the whole ride….’ ” —@mattgallowaycbc, Twitter “Remember: if the people featured in Toronto Life’s cover story managed to meet their partners on the Vomit Comet, or in their Uber Pools, you too can find love, I assure myself insistently.” —@MegjonesA, Twitter “LOVE IS REAL IN TORONTO AND I’M ALL FOR IT. I’m smitten and crying and don’t care. I eat this shit up and one day, I’ll be telling my courtship story!!!” —@Hi_Denise, Twitter Which is not to say some readers weren’t annoyed by what they deemed sins of omission. “Though you’d never know it from reading Toronto Life, there actually are people over 60 in 26 toronto life April 2018

Life and Lim Reaction to Hyeon Soo Lim’s memoir about being imprisoned in North Korea ran the gamut from admiration to finger-wagging.

A few readers, though sympathetic, wondered why Pastor Lim would risk speaking ill of the Kim dynasty… “I agree this was a horrible experience, but he probably should have known how risky it was to speak badly of the Kims. Each country has their own laws and particularly places like North Korea where there is no freedom of religion. Having lived in China for many years, I’ve seen many religious organizations masquerading as charities or NGOs, which undoubtedly help the needy but are also involved in missionary work. Pastor Lim’s negative beliefs of the Kims should have been kept private, or he should have stopped going there once they were public.” —Scott,

“Thank you so much for sharing this powerful story. God bless this man.” —Ericka, “I was encouraged by Pastor Lim’s faith, strength and perseverance during this long trial. I remember praying for his safe return, but also being encouraged by his love for God’s people (like the North Koreans) and willingness to go where many fear to go.” —janicelikespolarbears,

Mighty Machines Katrina Onstad’s profile of Geoffrey Hinton, the so-called godfather of artificial intelligence, was applauded by AI enthusiasts all over the world.

The ConversaTion She was praised in particular for humanizing a very brainy guy. “This is what happens when greats converge; in this case @UofT, Geoff Hinton and @katrinaonstad. Sharp, sensitive and nuanced read.” —@BorealisAI, Twitter “An insight into one of the modern age’s greatest minds.” —@WhyEnggWhy, Twitter “Hmmm…. How many more Geoffrey Hintons will Canada gain and the U.S. lose under Trump….” —@Richard_Florida, Twitter “@katrinaonstad makes writing about difficult subjects like AI look absolutely effortless, while at the same time giving us this beautiful human portrait in words. Read this; it’s a joy.” —@stephhodnett, Twitter “Thank you so much for a beautifully written, wide in scope, in-depth article about Geoffrey Hinton, the way his mind works and the impact he has on our world. It was a good read. Warm, interesting and enlightening.” —Georgina Cannon, Toronto

Admission Impossible The February Editor’s Letter, which commented on the prohibitively high cost of Toronto’s cultural institutions, and advocated for free admission to major galleries and museums, resonated mightily among Torontonians. “Thank you for highlighting the high cost of quality programs for children in our city. Recently my husband and I took our fiveyear-old granddaughter to see The Nutcracker. Her ticket alone was 28 toronto life April 2018

$100 and our seats were in the second-last row of the uppermost balcony! The next day I donated money to a charity that sponsors kids to see the ballet. But I agree that culture should be more available for everyone.” —Marilyn Tweyman “Sarah Fulford, you are so right… the cost of admission is ridiculously high at the ROM, AGO and other culture centres in Toronto. “In Brisbane, QAGOMA (the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art) is free to all. In Berlin, every student gets a year’s pass to most of the city’s 100 museums for 50 euros. “How do these cities pay for their museums to be free or very reasonable? Basically it is a philosophy of the city involved: do they or do they not want their citizens informed? Why can’t we do it? We certainly have the wealth, so it must be a matter of our values to implement a fair price…or not.” —Barbara Klunder, Toronto “Admission prices are downright prohibitive. A free night doesn’t cut it if you need to return multiple times to study something. I remember when the AGO renovation opened, and Frank Gehry was asked what he thought of the admission prices. ‘Highway robbery’ was his reply.” —James H Huctwith, Facebook “Most museums and art galleries in Scotland are free. How do they get the much-needed funding? Oh, because the government values the arts.” —Shannon Treanor, Facebook “In addition to the Smithsonian and British Museum, which were mentioned in the Editor’s Letter, ALL public galleries and museums in Italy are free for ALL Italian students aged 18 and under.” —Robert Hegy There were quite a few small-museum advocates among the commenters…

“It’s a shame Toronto’s Historical Museums aren’t mentioned in this piece—they’re owned and operated by the city, very affordable and offer tons of free events every year.” —Cara Patterson, Facebook “I was disappointed to see your editorial about the high cost of Toronto museums. I agree, it is appalling that a family has to pay $70-plus to visit the Ontario Science Centre, but you didn’t mention any of the inexpensive museums in Toronto. “The city operates 10 museums, from North York to downtown, and from Scarborough to Etobicoke. The Market Gallery at the St. Lawrence Market is free. At Mackenzie House, visitors tour the home of Toronto’s first mayor and its recreated print shop, and get to print a souvenir on the 1845 printing press. The cost (excluding tax): $6.19 for adults, $3.54 for youth and seniors, and $2.65 for children. Fort York offers a family rate of $30.97 for two adults and three children. “Toronto’s First Post Office, operated by the Town of York Historical Society, is a full-service post office and a museum. Admission comes with a recommended donation of $2, and for an additional $2 visitors can write a letter with a quill pen and seal it with wax.” —Stephanie Thomas We also heard from the big cultural institutions… “The Ontario Science Centre aims to help spark the very curiosity Sarah Fulford writes about in her February Editor’s Letter—the kind of curiosity that leads to exploration, discovery and learning. “However, it is concerning when these experiences come at a cost that many families find difficult to afford. This is why we work hard to make the Science Centre more accessible to our visitors. We do this through various access programs and our high-value membership program.


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“Our donor-supported community access programs have allowed more than one million visitors to visit the Science Centre free of charge since 2001. Plus, our membership program offers exceptional value for children and their caregivers—and starting at $125 per year, pays for itself in just two visits. “Today more than ever, we need spaces for people to think about, talk about and experience science. And we need those spaces to be as accessible as possible. While we can’t remove all costs, reducing the barriers to admission through community access programs and membership offerings are just some of the ways we work to make a difference.” —Maurice Bitran, Ontario Science Centre “The Royal Conservatory has a series of free Sunday matinées (first Sunday of each month, from October to June), about 50 free master classes each year and lots of free student concerts; regular concert tickets usually start at $25 or $35; and we have $15 rush seats for every concert that we present no matter the genre or the artist. We do this because we believe in the power of music to enrich our souls and to illuminate that which cannot otherwise be expressed.” —Mervon Mehta, Royal Conservatory of Music “I agree that it’s a shame our museums aren’t free to the public. Hopefully that’s something that will change in the future. In the meantime, for those who find themselves looking for a cultural destination to take their families to, the Gardiner is free for visitors 18 and under (we made this change in 2016), and adult admission is $15, which is more manageable than some of the larger museums. On Sundays, we also hold family activities that are included with the price of admission (and of course, kids are once again free).” —Rachel Weiner, Gardiner Museum

30 toronto life April 2018


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Puppy Love John Semley’s tear-jerker about giving up his rescue dog, Lilly, generated a big weepy fan base. Here, a few highlights… “I wanted to express my praise and support of John Semley in his struggle with a rescue animal. I had a very similar experience that has haunted me. I’ve always taken pet ownership seriously, and I felt like a failure not being able to help a poor rescue dog be at peace in my home, even after thousands of dollars of training and medication. It takes a brave person to risk the wrath of dog lovers in his honest tale, and I applaud him for it.” —Tara Wood, Toronto “I’m already tearing up and I haven’t even started the body of the story yet; @torontolife you’ve missed a perfect marketing opportunity w/ Kleenex.” —@lindsayjaykay, Twitter “I had just returned from viewing the French movie Happy Ending, which did not really elevate one’s emotions, when I sat down to read ‘Pet Project.’ I was profoundly saddened that John Semley’s efforts did not bear fruit but also puzzled by a couple of things. It takes guts to take home from a U.S. prison anything that breathes. As John was throwing $10,000 at the problem, did any of the ‘experts’ he consulted suggest adopting a small happy Canadian dog as a companion for Lilly? Perhaps a pal was what she needed after her years in the slammer.” —Edward Gabis, Toronto

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April 2018 toronto life 33

EDITOR’S LETTER The Golden Age of Memoir

It also transformed Samra’s already remarkable life. She became a sought-after inspirational speaker. She’s launching a non-profit, Brave Beginnings, to help women like her who have escaped abusive marriages. And she’s working on a book about her life, which is slated to be published early next year. I loved Samra’s story: the intimacy, the honesty, the rawness of it. I also learned a lot from it: the way arranged marriages work, the way abuse can be hidden in plain sight and the support women in abusive marriages need to gain independence. Great first-person journalism goes beyond the author’s experiences to tell us something about the world in which we live. It’s often my favourite kind of journalism. As it turns out, I’m not alone in my love of the genre. Long-form magazine memoirs are experiencing something of a golden age. Last year, Chartbeat, the American company that tracks reader engagement, revealed that the most-read article online in the U.S. was a jaw-dropping memoir in the Atlantic called “My Family’s Slave.” In that story, the late Filipino-American writer Alex Tizon described, with considerable shame, the woman who lived with his immigrant parents for decades providing unpaid labour. It seems like every day I read an astonishing piece of confessional writing: Salma Hayek’s account of the nightmare of working with Harvey Weinstein or Lena Dunham’s memoir of her hysterectomy at age 31. One of the most eye-opening things I read in the Globe and Mail this year was Hadiya Roderique’s memoir “Black on Bay Street.” 34 toronto life April 2018

Why are personal stories so powerful in the Internet age? Is it because in the cacophony of our social media feeds, where people so often babble just to get attention, a thoughtful, carefully crafted, true confession is so welcome? Or maybe magazine memoirs have always been popular; it’s just that now we are better able to quantify readership. In the pre-digital age, when media companies couldn’t track a story’s reach, memoir writing, considered unserious, was relegated to newspaper lifestyle pages, women’s magazines and other arenas designed primarily for female readers. Now we have data proving that memoirs are one of the most popular forms of storytelling and that they can be just as powerful, highimpact and memorable as more traditional reportage—if not more so. In “My Broken Heart,” on page 90, Shannon McKinnon writes about her struggle with endometriosis, and how a Percocet prescription for the pain turned into an OxyContin addiction, which led her to heroin. It’s a cautionary tale if ever there was one. Along the way McKinnon lost her job, her home and her marriage. In addition, her long-term drug use left her with endocarditis, a life-threatening heart condition. It’s a chilling case study in how drug addiction works, how easy it is for a stable person to find herself in trouble, and how recovery, with the right support, is possible.

—Sarah Fulford Email: Twitter: @sarah_ fulford

Coming up Hallway health care and Toronto’s emergency room wait-time crisis; the York sex assault case that’s dividing the courts; plus, the city’s best brunches, and a roundup of the bravest (or craziest) DIY home renovators. Stay in touch Sign up for our weekly newsletters at The Hunt: The latest on the crazy real estate market Best Bets: Your cheat sheet to Toronto’s best events The Informer: Our roundup of the week’s top stories The Dish: The scoop on the hottest restaurants, bars and food shops The Goods: The city’s fashion trends, shop openings and more

Digital edition Print subscribers, your subscription includes free access to the monthly digital magazine. Download the app from your digital newsstand, locate “I have a print subscription” in-app, and follow the prompts. Nonsubscribers can purchase an annual digital subscription for $17.99. photograph by christopher wahl

A year ago, Toronto Life published “The Good Wife,” a powerful memoir by Samra Zafar. In vivid, heartbreaking detail, she wrote about her arranged marriage, her forced move from the Middle East to Canada, her abusive husband, and her heroic escape, which involved secretly putting herself through university. She’s now an account manager at RBC. Her story, which was both horrific and inspiring, resonated deeply with readers around the world and became the most-read article on in 2017.

The Bav ar ian Pu r iity aw L ag e r Pur ty L a w Lag alzb f r o m S al z b ur g, Austr ia.

The Art of Brewing at its Highest Level. now at the beer store!

“The potential of Toronto’s waterfront is extraordinary”

Ego Meter ......... p. 42 Camera ............ p. 44 Cost of Living.... p. 46 The Audit ......... p. 48 The Urban Diplomat ........ p. 53

—Dan Doctoroff, p. 40

photograph by mladen antonov/getty images

the moment

Fire and Ice

Tessa and Scott’s chemistry left the world wanting more Every time Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took the Olympic ice, millions of hearts fluttered. How could two people who held one another and stared into each other’s eyes like that not be madly in love? The question sent Twitter into a lovesick stupor, sparked a new genre of erotic fan fiction and turned the Ontario-bred ice dancing duo’s relationship status into a bigger story than the pair of gold medals they took home. Virtue and Moir inspired bottomless national pride and unprecedented international adoration, and that’s something Canadians can relish whether they’re an item or not.

April 2018 toronto life 39

The Mayor of Tomorrow

Dan Doctoroff, the head of Sidewalk Labs, a Google sister company, is creating an Internet-based smart neighbourhood on the waterfront. Privacy watchdogs aren’t pleased by m a l c ol m joh n st on Your company, Sidewalk, which is owned by Alphabet, has kicked up quite the fuss since rolling into town last year. Please explain, for the uninitiated, what your project is all about. Our mission is to apply technology to the urban environment to improve quality of life for residents. We’ve partnered with Waterfront Toronto to develop a 12-hectare plot of land on the eastern waterfront and try to do just that. You’ve committed to spending up to $50 million in the initial phases. What ideas are you most excited about? We envision a community reminiscent of a time before the car, with all of the energy on the street, people looking out for each other, children free to roam. Dense yet with lots of open space. Selfdriving cars will allow us to recapture space used for parking, and we’re exploring underground channels for garbage and utilities. We’ll see, I think, flexibility of building type—commercial, residential, other—and a reduction in the cost of living of 12 to 15 per cent. You studied 51 sites in North America and landed here. Why Toronto? The potential on the waterfront is extraordinary, and there’s a rich tradition of urbanism and a powerful technology ecosystem here. Toronto is rapidly growing, in part because it’s the most diverse city in the world. What’s interesting to us is that Toronto is now being challenged by its own success, in terms of affordability, mobility, growth, and more. Is that a nice way of saying you’re interested in Toronto because it’s flawed? Haha—I’d say we’re attracted to Toronto’s openness to addressing problems. If you achieve your cost-of-living target, won’t everyone want to live there, thereby worsening affordability? 40 toronto life April 2018

We, alongside Waterfront Toronto, would expect to set prices so that there would be housing available for tens of thousands of people across different income ranges.

This smart community will run on a continuous stream of data from its residents, learning and adapting to problems and changing conditions. Privacy watchdogs are saying that Torontonians will be sacrificing privacy for the prestige of being selected by Google. Do they have a point? Our intent is not to use data for commercial purposes. It’s not to sell ads. It’s to use data to improve quality of life. Once you’ve got the data, though, isn’t it just one hacker away from being made public? In theory, but one of the benefits of being related to Google is that in terms of security, there may be no better company in the world. Alphabet is a $111-billion organization. Despite your altruistic motivations, Sidewalk is ultimately in Toronto to make a buck. What’s the long-term business model? Inevitably it will be through technology licensing, our role as co–master developer,

If your project does prove profitable, shouldn’t Toronto be entitled to a portion of the proceeds? I absolutely believe it should. You live in New York. How smart is your home? My wife, Alisa, and I live in an apartment, and I’d say it’s smarter than its occupants. These days, I’m not there as much. I commute weekly to Toronto. Jane Jacobs moved here from New York. Why not follow her lead? Because I am married and intend to remain that way! We’ve lived in New York for 30 years. But I am bringing Alisa here in April. She’s never been. I plan to take her biking through Kensington Market and Regent Park, and maybe to see the Vikings exhibit at the ROM. Former Alphabet chair Eric Schmidt recently characterized Sidewalk Labs as what would happen if someone put Alphabet in charge of a city. He was joking, but he raised an interesting point: who will be in charge of this futuristic community? It’s hard to say. This will be a new kind of entity, one that combines the public sector and Sidewalk Labs in a way that reflects lots of public input, in both its conception and organization. Then who do I complain to when my pneumatic garbage chute malfunctions? Haha—the system should already know, remember? No phone calls needed. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

photograph by erin leydon


with Waterfront Toronto and other partners, and potentially through infrastructure and infrastructure financing at the site. At this point, we’re not obsessed with the business model; we’re obsessed with developing a plan.




Ego Meter

What’s making and shaking the city’s self-image Canada finishes third overall at the Olympics, with a total haul of 29 medals.


boost Brampton R&B prodigy Alessia Cara wins the Grammy for best new artist…


The Atlantic’s CityLab gives a giant thumbs up to the Bentway, “a likable space under a loathed expressway.”

The world’s most zealous Beliebers make a pilgrimage to southern Ontario to see the Stratford Perth Museum’s new Justin Bieber exhibition.

Swedish researchers UBI Global rank Ryerson’s DMZ the best university-based incubator in the world.

+ -

Move over, raccoons. Pest control company Orkin calls Toronto the “rattiest” city in Ontario.


Toronto ranks 21st on Demographia’s list of the world’s most expensive cities, seven spots worse than last year.



A subway rider decides that tossing a trash bin onto the tracks at Main Street station is precisely what the overcrowded, delay-plagued TTC needs.

Fuzz buzz, part one: two Toronto cops allegedly get high eating pot edibles they seized in a dispensary raid, and call for backup when one of them gets stuck in a tree.

it happened last month: a loose chronology

42 toronto life April 2018

Fuzz buzz, part two: a fear-mongering (or misinformed) York Region police officer tells high school students that pot decreases male testosterone levels— in his words, “doobies make boobies.”

photographs: cara, bieber by getty images; rat, joint by istock

…which is almost entirely overshadowed by critics who point out that she released her debut album in 2015.

There’s more in store. Meet our fit specialists, try on gear, and see our most sought-after style pieces in person.


The month’s best parties

Dapper NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Toronto Region Board of Trade Dinner

Feb. 8, Metro Toronto Convention Centre

Money manager Mark Mulroney and newsman Paul Godfrey

Toronto Global chair Mark Cohon

Toronto’s biggest business gala had the electric air of a pep rally. The festivities kicked off with a drum line and the national anthem, before Board of Trade CEO Janet De Silva urged the thousandplus suits and politicos in attendance to embrace the global spotlight currently shining on Toronto. Keynote speaker Daniel Doctoroff promised that Google comes to town in peace, while entrepreneur and Lifeline Syria president Mohammad Al Zaibak exuded civic pride when he won the night’s highest honour, the Builder Award.

Once (and future?) Tory Peter MacKay with Toronto Sun editor Adrienne Batra

Quebec MP François-Philippe Champagne

Board of Trade prez Janet De Silva and man of the hour Mohammad Al Zaibak

44 toronto life April 2018

Frenemies Kathleen Wynne and John Tory

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and MoveTheDial founder Jodi Kovitz

Finance Minister Charles Sousa and CPA Ontario CEO Carol Wilding

photographs by ryan emberley

Advanced Education Minister Mitzie Hunter

Cost of Living

What Torontonians make and how they spend it

“my parents paid most of my tuition, which helped me save for a house”

What he Does

Operations analyst at BMO and editor of a finance blog What he makes

$60,000 a year, including bonuses, and rental and investment income Where he lives

A three-bedroom townhouse in Scarborough that he shares with a roommate

46 toronto life April 2018

RegulaR expenses

Mortgage payMents $1,600 a month, on a 30-year mortgage. He rents out a spare bedroom to a friend for $600 a month. Utilities $200 a month. property taxes $265 a month. internet and phone $174 a month. groceries $125 a month. “I use Flipp, an app that helps me find good deals.” eating oUt $110 a month, at restaurants like Scarlet Ibis and Kairali in Scarborough. transit $140 a month. “Taking the GO to work is 15 minutes faster, but I’ve been taking the TTC to save money.” gas $60 a month. “I share a car with my parents. I only use it on the weekends.” grooMing $100 a month, including biweekly haircuts. “It’s important to make a good first impression.”

Recent spluRges

down payMent $126,357, on a $526,000 freehold townhouse. “My parents paid most of my tuition, which helped me save up for a down payment. I also worked two part-time jobs during school, did full-time internships over the summer, traded stocks and saved.” FUrnitUre $1,600, for items from Structube and IKEA. “My bedroom set was a housewarming gift from my parents.” edUcation $7,000, for the remainder of his U of T tuition. He graduated with a degree in business administration in 2017. clothes $555, for shirts, ties and boots from Brooks Brothers and Town Shoes. Battery $220, for his hearing aid. giFts $142, for a shirt for his brother, an Amazon Alexa for his dad and an investing book for his mom.

reporting by roxy kirshenbaum. photograph by erin leydon

Jelani smith, 23

It’s no secret that the best moments in life include good people, food and beer. We didn’t make this up. We’re just perfecting it.

1 0 0 K I N G STR E ET WE ST

The Audit

An appraisal of the month in money

$0 Cost to cover up Hedley-related body art at Speakeasy Tattoo on Harbord Street. The owner, Lizzie Renaud, began offering the complimentary touch-ups following sexual misconduct allegations against the band.


Amount that Toronto firm Beck-Rubin Law charged clients to litigate uncontested divorce cases—half of the usual $1,500 fee—on Valentine’s Day.


Monthly rent that apartment-seeker Huy Do wanted to pay for a one-bedroom in downtown Toronto. He found a place after a mock movie poster he made to advertise himself to landlords went viral.


Sale price of Donald Trump’s framed signature, a work on display in a recent exhibition by Toronto photographer Peter Andrew Lusztyk.


Funds that the Black Business and Professional Association raised to buy tickets to Black Panther screenings for black youth in Toronto—one of countless such fundraisers organized around the world in February.


Value of a grant that the Canada Council for the Arts promised to Soulpepper in fall 2017, and then rescinded after sexual harassment allegations emerged against artistic director Albert Schultz.

Amount Drake gave away—in the form of university scholarships, shopping sprees, new cars, and donations to schools, shelters and other institutions—in the process of making a music video for his song “God’s Plan.”


Amount the TTC has billed Metrolinx to recoup fare revenue lost due to faulty Presto card machines. Meanwhile, Metrolinx says the TTC owes it money for unexpected Presto gate installation costs.


Record-breaking amount that 43.7 million tourists spent in Toronto in 2017, according to Tourism Toronto. 48 toronto life April 2018

photographs: drake by getty images; presto courtesy of metrolinx


The Upstart

steakhouse and seafood

Toronto’s boldest innovators on what they’re making and how it works

how iT works: “As a lawyer or an accountant, you log into Blue J, and our software asks you 20 to 30 questions about your client’s situation. Our AI then compares your circumstances to prior cases and predicts how a court will rule. It’s right about 90 per cent of the time.”

Benjamin alarie

Voted “Best Group Functions & Best Steak” - Dine.TO

Co-founder and CEO of Blue J Legal, which makes AI tools that run legal simulations to predict court decisions

2179 Dundas St. E. Mississauga 905.625.1137

COMPANY HQ: front and spadina fOuNded: 2015 eMPlOYees: 21


how much you spenT iniTially: “I founded the company with two other U of T law professors, and we each put in a small amount of money to get it started. But the real investment was sweat equity—working weekends and evenings on top of our jobs at U of T.” your Turning poinT: “Making our first hire: our chief technical officer, Brett Janssen, who moved from Australia to Toronto to join us.”





your big-Time backers: “We’ve raised several million dollars from Mistral Venture Partners, BDC Capital, big accounting firms and some angel investors we met through the Creative Destruction Lab at U of T.”

One year of Toronto Life One year of FASHION Magazine FREE Toronto Life 2-for-1 Coupon Book

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50 toronto life April 2018

pasT life: “I went right from undergrad to law school to grad school to a Supreme Court clerk job to a tenuretrack teaching job.”

app you can’T live wiThouT: “Audible. I listen to nearly 150 books a year at double speed. I recently finished The Theory That Would Not Die by Sharon McGrayne.”

eureka momenT: “My co-founders and I already had the idea for Blue J when I became a judge for the Watson challenge, a student competition using IBM’s AI technology. That was the catalyst. I’m a law professor at U of T, so after the challenge, I ran a course about tax law and computer science, and by the end of the course, we had built a clunky prototype.” your Tech role model: “Charlie Munger, an investor with a law degree who’s worked for Warren Buffett for decades. I admire his approach to problem solving.”

coolesT Thing in your office: “We have a company Ping-Pong ladder on our wall, a leaderboard of our employees.” if you weren’T running a sTarT-up: “I’d probably still be an academic, but in philosophy or economics.”

The besT advice you’ve received:

“A CEO has three primary jobs: hiring the best people, having enough cash and having the right strategy.”

The worsT advice you’ve received:

“Raise as much money as you can at all times.” “Having too much cash sitting around leads to bad decisions: over-hiring, spending money in suboptimal ways and giving away too much equity.”

photographs: headshot courtesy of benjamin alarie; cap by istock; munger by getty images

Elegance. Grace. Passion.






have you been to a feast on® restaurant lately?

Look for this logo on menus, in windows and online. It means you can be sure you’re eating Ontario grown and made food & drink. ®

To find a Feast On® Certified experience near you, visit:







Urban Diplomat I recently got engaged to the love of my life. In all the excitement, I announced the news on Facebook, and suddenly people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years started commenting that they couldn’t wait to watch me walk down the aisle. To be blunt, I don’t want them there and had no intention of inviting them. How do I say “see ya” without being too harsh? —Wedding Crashers, Riverdale If you’re honestly concerned about letting these long-forgotten Facebook “friends” off easy, message the wannabe attendees to tell them you and your future spouse are limiting the guest list to family and close friends (read: no long-lost pals or workplace randos). But my advice is: don’t bother. You’re under no obligation to explain your invitation choices, much less to people you barely know or like. It’s far less awkward (for you and them) to just ignore them altogether.

Dear Urban Diplomat, My parents retired last year. After decades of hard work, they’re finally having some fun—maybe too much. They’re splurging more and more often (dinners at Canoe, Leafs season tickets), and I’m pretty sure they’re living beyond their means. It’s none of my business— and they’re my parents, so it feels especially patronizing to tell them how to manage their money—but I’m worried they’ll turn to me, their only kid, if they find themselves out of cash. How do I convince them to rein in their spending before they become freeloaders? —Parent Trap, Bedford Park Your progenitors’ lavish overspending will become your business if they blow through their nest egg and start asking you for cash. Don’t be afraid to have a candid discussion to find out if they’ve mapped out a formal budget to make sure they’re not broke before they croak. Refrain from critiquing their spending habits yourself—they may accuse you of looking out for your own inheritance—

and instead suggest they visit an adviser. A professional, objective outsider will be frank about just how many pricy restaurant bills your parents can afford— and how often they should watch the game at home instead.

Dear Urban Diplomat, Not long ago, I got a raise. I asked a close colleague out for drinks to celebrate. During our hangout, she revealed that, although she’s been with the company longer than me, in a similar position, she makes quite a bit less than I do and has never received a raise. She’s great at her job and deserves better. I’m starting to wonder if she’s been passed over because she’s a woman. Should I say something to my supervisor? —Overcompensated, The Kingsway Before you go white knighting, make sure your colleague actually wants your help. If she’d like you to speak to the brass on her behalf, go ahead, but she may prefer a subtler vote of confidence: someone to gently push her to ask for a raise herself, or to help come up with a solid case as to why she deserves more. If your boss can’t give either of you a legitimate reason why you’re making more than she is, your suspicions of gender bias might be right. And if he (I can only assume it’s a he) won’t budge, consider reporting the pay gap to HR, who may be more willing to do something to avoid the legal and PR problems your company’s Mad Men–era attitude could create.

JHR-trained journalist Simona John Peter interviews an internally displaced person in Wau, South Sudan Photo credit: Laura Bain

In South Sudan, JHR trains women journalists at Voice of Hope Radio in Wau. That means women’s voices and concerns are heard — and their needs for health care, food and education are more quickly met. Support Journalists for Human Rights and help us empower journalists world-wide to do their vital work. Learn more of how JHR works to strengthen human rights through media at

Send your questions to the Urban Diplomat at April 2018 toronto life 53 Charity # 860372853RR0001

W he r e

six years ago, when I first worked on this annual ranking, it was a struggle to find 10 new and notable restaurants to write about. Now, there seem to be 10 great spots opening every month. We have fancy chefs running diners and street-food chefs preparing plates fit for royalty. We’re drinking hard cocktails in food halls and eating home cooking at train stations. And trendy vegan establishments have practically colonized Parkdale. Some of this year’s openings were greeted with controversy: one restaurant was accused of cultural appropriation, another lambasted for serving seal tartare—both made my list. What’s not in dispute: our bottomless appetite. Here are my recommendations for where to eat in 2018. 54 toronto life April 2018

photograph by contributors name tk

the best n e W r e s ta u r a n t s

to e at

photograph by contributors name tk

2 0 1 8

By Photogr aPhy By

Mark PuPo

d av e g i l l e s P i e

W h e r e to e at 1


Skippa 3 7 9 h a r b o r d s t. 416 -5 3 5- 8 18 1

56 toronto life Month 2018

B 2



1. Spanish mackerel with house ponzu, daikon and chives 2. Pickled vegetables, best paired with sake 3. Grilled maitake mushrooms tossed with mizuna leaves 4. Sea bream sashimi over steamed rice in a bath of dashi 5. Ian Robinson, the headbandwearing omakase artisan behind Skippa’s sushi bar 5

6. Amberjack with a dusting of pink peppercorn


efore skippa, the restaurant I’d dream about most often was Sushi Kaji. In a strip mall on the Queensway, it was like a secret lair known only to the omakase cult. Five years ago, the intimidating Mitsuhiro Kaji took on a new apprentice: a skinny white guy, always a step to Kaji’s side. Soon that guy was slicing fish, forming jewel-like pieces of sushi with a quick twist of the hand and presenting them to you across the sushi bar. He spent his off-hours practising his moves at home in front of a mirror. Your customers, Kaji told him, can never see you hesitate. Last summer, that guy, Ian Robinson, opened Skippa on an anonymous block of Harbord near Ossington. Robinson told me he chose the location because he wanted his first restaurant to be a destination. Like Kaji, he’s happiest on his own, operating at his own speed. He spent his 20s running marathons, and it was during a race across the Sahara, the 2012 Marathon des Sables, that he decided he would quit studying economics at York and spend his life doing something that made him truly happy—cooking. He landed a kitchen assistant gig at the then new and already trendy Grand Electric, and worked his way up to junior sous-chef in his first year. In his spare time, he ate his way through the city’s sushi restaurants, feeding an abiding interest in all things Japanese. That’s when he met Kaji. Skippa was his ultimate plan. Robinson conceived it, in every detail, as a place to showcase the food he loves. His sister, Kati, is the general manager. An immense table constructed from the trunk of a sugar maple dominates the centre of the room, but the best seats are right at the sushi bar for a close-up view of Robinson and his sous-chefs. And when every extra millisecond threatens the fragile marriage of rice and fish, it’s best to sit closest to the source of the exquisite omakase offerings: octopus from Morocco on a thumb of rice hiding a burst of wasabi; New Zealand red sea bream with shiso; Boston fluke dotted with fermented scotch bonnet dressing; and another piece of sea bream, oilier and sweeter, its flavours magnified by preserved lemon. Robinson’s talents extend beyond sushi: he grills black maitake mushrooms with thyme, then tosses them with mizuna leaves in a miso sauce, for an extraordinary salad that tastes of char and the wilderness. He marinates mackerel for 24 hours in soy, mirin and sugar, and sprinkles it with toasted sesame. His pickle plate, best snacked on with sake, consists of sticks of quick-pickled cuke, carrots dyed with beet juice, and persimmon glazed with plum and filled with three types of mushroom. My favourite dish is a simple mound of steamed rice in a bath of dashi flecked with sesame and seaweed. In the centre of the bowl is a water lily, its petals sculpted from sea bream sashimi. Word is getting out about what Robinson is doing. Masaki Hashimoto, the revered kaiseki chef, came one night. Kaji himself has been there four times, to sample his former pupil’s work. He approves. April 2018 toronto life 57

W h e r e to e at



58 toronto life April 2018



a lo e t t e 16 3 spadina ave. 416-260-3444

M at


3. A sturdy wedge of lemon meringue pie


2. Aloette’s burger with double-crisped fries and bloody mary aïoli



1. Peanut-crusted foie gras with grape compote, armagnac and toast


three floors up, Patrick Kriss’s Alo is the toughest reservation in town; your best hope is to get on a wait-list and cross your fingers for a cancellation. So, there was a ripple of excitement at the news that he’d be opening a second location, a noreservations diner in a narrow space on the ground floor. It’s only slightly easier to get in—I’ve stopped by mid-week, minutes after the door unlocks, to find a full house and a two-hour wait. But it’s worth it. Aloette is a mini-Alo only insofar as the menu will never leave you bored. The kitchen is led by the former Alo souschef Matthew Betsch, who brings an uncommon intensity— of flavour, of thinking, of fun—to every dish. Otherwise, it’s a very different place, the unfussy bistro cousin to Alo’s whitelinens-and-wine-pairings refinement. Unfussy but terrifically delicious: I’ve had lusciously meaty Burgundy snails in a bowl of Puy lentils, greens and a squirt of lemon; scallop sashimi served on mini-tostadas with crema, diced apple and jalapeño; pulled lamb shoulder, at once crispy, fatty and tender, tossed in a salad of Israeli couscous, slices of orange, chili, ras el hanout, yogurt dressing, and big leaves of mint and basil. Just like upstairs, there’s a bread course worth gushing about: toasted slices of cheese bread made with aged cheddar and potato dough, with a spread of brown butter mixed with toasted yeast—toast upon toast upon toast. The talk of the town, however, is Betsch’s burger. Naturally, it’s no ordinary chuck patty, given added oomph from aged beef fat, and topped with fried cheese and pickled vidalia onions, the bun house-made, the side of fries double-crisped. After having to wait so long for a table, you’ll savour every bite. April 2018 toronto life 59

lu k

e d o n ato


co ri oS

Bo r ne


certain people, myself

3 No.

Bacchanal 6 0 s u d b u r y s t. 416-586-1188

1. Sixty-day-aged côte de boeuf


60 toronto life April 2018

2. A Paris-Brest, with praline cream and crackling flakes of feuilletine

included, will sometimes impatiently fork through an entire dinner with eyes on the dessert menu. I’d like to believe we’re not permanent kids but connoisseurs of the artistry that goes into sweet things. I first noticed the pastry chef Cori Osborne creating mindboggling desserts at Alo. Now she’s riffing on classic pâtisserie at Bacchanal. The two standouts are her slice of spiced baba au rhum topped with a wave of white chocolate ganache, mini-cubes of pineapple and micro basil; and her sugar-dusted Paris-Brest, the finest doughnut known to humankind, two choux layers sandwiching praline cream studded with flakes of feuilletine. For all the work put into them, they’re not unduly precious—you don’t feel guilty taking up a fork. I’m just as impressed by the rest of the menu—chef Luke Donato preps a first-rate choucroute with a white sausage stuffed with veal and another stuffed with foie gras; petal-thin slices of hamachi crudo and pebbles of cuke, dressed with a lemon emulsion; and a grand slab of two-months-aged côte de boeuf. The room is a beauty, too, with its cognac banquettes and walls dressed in a toile depicting Toronto’s unsung icons— raccoons, Honest Ed’s and the Zanzibar. (There’s far stranger wallpaper in the bathrooms—I’ll let you see for yourself.) But for all of Bacchanal’s wonderfulness, once you encounter an artist like Osborne, the thing that matters most is what comes last.

w h e r e to e at


sean macdonald, at 26, is the youngest executive chef on this list. His


he x agon 210 l akeshore rd. e., oakville 9 05- 8 4 4-128 6

backer, an Oakville restaurateur named Artur Koczur, plucked him out of Calgary, and now he’s running the kind of gadget-packed kitchen of which every chef dreams. And the kid can cook. He practises tweezer cuisine— finicky dishes assembled by steady hands. I recommend going for the carte blanche menu, which runs to a dozen-plus dishes and might include a tartare of beef and shaved beet that gets its heat and crunch from crushed wasabi peas; a charred curl of tender octopus, which you slice and dip in emulsions of almond, avocado and chili; and, the stunner plate, a petit-four of foie gras mousse encircled by pearls of hazelnut crémeaux and wearing a hat of edible flowers. The desserts are gimmicky, like a white chocolate shell, suspended on a string, that you smash like a piñata. The strangest thing is that this is happening in Oakville, where they roll up the sidewalks at nightfall. Inside, it’s another world, with a floating space-age fireplace, backlit agate wall and menacing hexagon-shaped light fixtures. I’ve never seen it empty. Buzz is building about MacDonald, the precocious chef who’s cooking like he’s on a much bigger stage.

photograph by contributors name tk


1. A white chocolate shell filled with pearls of chocolate puffed rice and candied hazelnut, dangling over meringue and banana cream 2. Charred octopus with almond, avocado and chili emulsions 3. Executive chef Sean MacDonald and executive sous-chef Rafa Covarrubias



April 2018 toronto life 61


l a pa l M a

W h e r e to e at


The “100 layer” lasagna, a serious hunk of pasta, mozzarella, béchamel and bolognese

8 4 9 d u n d a s s t. W. 416-368-4567


labora 4 3 3 k i n g s t. W. 416-260-9993

Mallorcan “dirty rice” with lobster, red prawns, chorizo and saffron aïoli

62 toronto life April 2018

at the end of 2017, chef Rob Bragagnolo opened Campo Food Hall, which is a slightly grandiose title for what is, by day, a takeout counter and juice bar with some shelves stocking Spanish imports. The real story is at the rear, where he runs Labora—an apt name, since you get a full view of Bragagnolo and his staff labouring over tapas in the open kitchen. The menu emphasizes seafood, and one night included a terrific slider of calamari and pickled pepper, which Bragagnolo lifted from Bodega 1900, a Barcelona vermouth bar run by his hero, the star chef Albert Adrià. No less excellent were grilled octopus with crisped threads of potato, and a row of cold-smoked mackerel slices standing like soldiers at attention, each paired with a dot of blood orange marmalade. I also loved a whole eggplant roasted until it was like pudding, its sugariness jolted higher by a sauce of almonds and dates. The star one night was a giant red Spanish prawn, split then grilled and anointed simply with a few drops of olive oil. The best chefs know when to let a shrimp speak for itself.

the restaurant’s sign, a squiggle of blue neon, tells you exactly what you’ll find inside: a breezy, all-white room with pots of aloe vera, a mural possibly cribbed from a Björk dream, and tables of millennial couples with statement eyewear and facial hair. It’s only saved from painfully overwrought trendiness by the menu, which is grounded in honest Cal-Ital cooking. Chef Craig Harding and his co-owner and wife, interior designer Alexandra Hutchison, also run the neighbouring family-style Italian restaurant Campagnolo. At La Palma, the food is lighter, more vibrant and aggressively seasonal, like a salad of latesummer corn and lentils with Ontario goat cheese and chickpeas; deep-fried, ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms; flatbreadlike pizzas strewn with treviso, taleggio and figs; and even seasonal drinks, like a limited-run ale from downtown brewer

Burdock that had been aged for a year with cab franc grape skins. There are heartier options, too, like thin Miami ribs coated with a sugary coffee rub, and a “100 layer" lasagna built with noodles, béchamel, a hefty bolognese, and deliciously bubbling and charred mozzarella. Reservations book up weeks ahead—it’s so popular, the restaurant uses two reservations systems, one for planned bookings and another, Dinr, for tables that become available same-day. It makes me long for the days, not that long ago, when the only option was to call to make a reservation with a real person. One saving grace: there’s a takeout counter where you can order most of the menu, plus an array of pastries, like jam-filled bombolone. You won’t be able to sit beside the spacey mural during your dinner, but that’s not a total loss.

Grilled Spanish prawns split open and slicked with olive oil

April 2018 toronto life 63

W h e r e to e at nuit regular built her

1. Kiin chef Nuit Regular

empire of Thai restaurants with soporific bowls of khao soi. At Kiin, she’s dabbling in Royal Thai—a rarefied style of cooking that shares some of the hyper-finickiness of Japanese kaiseki. Everything is so daintily pretty, you’ll fight the urge to leave it untouched on the plate. Start with the platter of thoong thong, mha hor, chor ladda and rhoom: four single bites that combine the bright, contrasting flavours of pickled turnip, peanut paste, lemongrass, fried shrimp and gelatinous rice dyed with bright blue tea from the poetic-sounding butterfly pea. A grilled whole sea bream, flesh kept moist with a sea-salt crust, gets pulled apart and wrapped in leaves of baby gem lettuce with Thai basil, pickled shallots and ginger. A slow-braised beef short rib, the bone rising out of an intoxicating sauce of tamarind and pearl onions, reminds me of an upmarket rendition of that famous khao soi. At the back, hanging above the tufted emerald-green banquette, is a collection of vintage portraits of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family. They’d be pleased by Regular’s tabletop pageantry.

2. A gold-plated cocktail of bourbon, egg white and hibiscus syrup 3. The delicately arranged Roy Thai platter 4. Bone-in beef short rib braised in a tamarind sauce with pearl onions






3 2 6 a d e l a i d e s t. W. 647-490-5040

kiin 64 toronto life April 2018



photograph by contributors name tk


here’s what i love about Estia: the dreamy mellowness of house-made halloumi and roasted grapes; the daily haul of Mediterranean fish, roasted in a wood-burning oven and served on a porcelain platter with a patchwork of pickled caper leaves and gremolata; lamb chops, kissed with char and slathered with tzatziki; and how, as if we 90 avenue rd. were in a family-run Greek tavern in a fishing town, nearly every dish is paired 416-367-4141 with floral olive oil. I also love the ridiculously oversized wedding cake of a chandelier, a hanger-on from when this space was the steak house NAO—run by the same restaurateurs, Hanif Harji and Charles Khabouth. And I can’t help but enjoy the free entertainment of Yorkville silliness, like how patrons, in the name of specialist diets, customize orders so they barely resemble the original, or the collection of middle-aged guys at the bar with unlit cigars waiting in their breast pockets, or the push for a prime seat on a patio that overlooks the six stop-and-go lanes of Avenue Road.

Wood-fired red sea bream rubbed with olive oil and sea salt

April 2018 toronto life 65



No. 1

1 8 d u p o n t s t. 416-546-9050

atla s

1. A tagine of roasted goat with okra, squash and chickpeas

66 toronto life April 2018

2. Fino sherry and tonic over ice, with a slice of grapefruit

doug penfold doesn’t holiday; he goes on gastro tours, eating his way through countries in the name of research. It was on his annual visit to Spain that he took a side trip to Morocco, and promptly fell hard for slow-simmered tagines of goat or seafood, kofta fragrant with paprika, and semolina pan breads smeared with sweet pastes made of ground nuts and honey. They’re all on the menu at Atlas, named after the mountain range, along with buttery phyllo packets stuffed with mixed mushrooms; bright salads of fennel, feta and quinoa; and pretty little roulades and tarts that are decidedly French but take their flavour cues— dates, pistachios, rosewater— from north Africa. The room is intimate, only 24 seats, and the servers are warm and meticulous. They’ll remember you after your first visit—and they expect you’ll be back.

W h e r e to e at 1. Duck leg confit with farro, diced green apple, savoy cabbage and duck jus 2. Foie gras with preserves and toast 3. Chef de cuisine Adam Alguire, chef-owner Victor Barry, co-owner Brendan Piunno and sommelier Jubilee Pridham





café cancan 8 9 h a r b o r d s t. 647-341-3100

only victor barry, who had the gall to turn the revered Splendido into the family-style Italian restaurant Piano Piano, would replace Cory Vitiello’s shuttered Harbord Room, which defined this city’s gastropub scene of game and craft ales, with a bistro so very pink and giddy it could be Holly Golightly’s closet. It’s impossible to be a grump here. Several tables are set for side-by-side canoodling, and everyone sips champagne cocktails or on-tap rosé while deciding between French classics: cheat on your diet with the beefy onion soup under an oozing cap of gruyère, the three foie gras options (seared, a parfait, with beef tenderloin) or save yourself for a slice of coffee-scented opera cake. Luxury is Barry’s default mode. There’s even a Barry-fied burger slicked with remoulade on a house-made milk bun. April 2018 toronto life 67

W h e r e to e at general assembly is the


3 3 1 a d e l a i d e s t. W.

general assembly pizza

No phone


Patties filled with curried turkey

ChuBBy’s Ja M aiC aN k itCh eN 1 0 4 p o r t l a n d s t. 416-792-8105


Pork belly dusted with jerk spices

janet zuccarini owns four Italian restaurants and is a partner in two of the city’s best Thai restaurants (including No. 7, Kiin). She’s a powerhouse. But when she announced she was opening Chubby’s across the street from her Gusto 101 and implied that it’d be the first amazing Jamaican restaurant in the city, she got flak for not knowing the scene and, worse, for cultural appropriation. The storm quieted by the time she opened late last year, possibly because the finished spot is truly amazing. Chef de cuisine Donavon Campbell grills jerk chicken and pork on a firepit—they’re licked with scotch bonnet, and the heat builds with each bite. There’s also ferocious heat in his goat and chicken curries, his pepper shrimp and even his handpressed Jamaican patties. You’ll need a few bottles of Red Stripe or, o n l better yet, the house rum punch—so popular, it’s on tap. l ca M p Be


68 toronto life April 2018

sort of place where you can throw an impromptu birthday party, meet a first date or, in my case, take the family confident there’ll be enough hubbub to preoccupy a toddler through the witching hour. The source of the excitement is an incredible pie, the base a sweet and yeasty dough that emerges from gas-fired Acunto Neapolitan ovens with a crust holding steady between chewy and charred. My go-to is the Sergeant Pepe, a white pizza topped with parmesan, mozza and taleggio that shines special attention on the crust. Chef Cale Elliott-Armstrong developed his recipes with Anthony Falco, a pizza guru formerly of the much-worshipped Roberta’s in Brooklyn, and the hired gun paid off: there’s fierce competition for Toronto’s best pizza, and, at the moment, GA holds the title.




j o S ep h


kū - kŭ M k itCh eN 581 mount ple asant rd. 416-519-2638

the best appetizer in

Pesto-brushed grilled cabbage dotted with cured egg yolk


tanto 74 ossington ave. 416-546-3022

the best steak I’ve had in the past year, no contest, was a grass-fed strip loin aged for 72 days and grilled over crackling hardwood. The first millimetres tasted of campfire, the next few of blue-cheese funk, the core of smoked ham. Even though I was splitting the cut with a friend, we got beat at the halfway mark. The steak was a special at this Argentine-inspired restaurant, which opened without fanfare this winter and quietly revealed its greatness. Julian Iliopoulos, the chef and co-owner, was chef de cuisine at Cava. He brought with him an instinct for precisely executed, sharable small plates, like empanadas stuffed with smoked ricotta, fragile “churros” of deep-fried puffed potato, and sheets of taleggio draped over pan-fried hen of the woods mushrooms and leek-flavoured gnocchi. That grill gets a workout, infusing smokiness into squid, short ribs and, no minor revelation, a cross-section of cabbage, brushed with pesto and polka-dotted with yellow pearls of cured egg yolk. As for the strip loin, we fought over the doggy bag.

town is made of edible blooms, lightly macerated woodland berries and a drift of whipped cream that tastes unlike any whipped cream you’ve had before—more floral, almost citrusy. It’s an original distillation of ephemeral, peak-season produce. And that mystery ingredient in the whipped cream? Rose hips. Rose hips, along with milk pods, cattail hearts, and game like elk and venison, demonstrate how personal Kū-Kŭm Kitchen is for chef Joseph Shawana. Like passionate chefs everywhere, he’s cooking what he knows. Yet what brought him the most notoriety and national attention this past year was a protest, and an ensuing counterprotest, over seal meat, which he sources from the commercial hunt in Quebec and Newfoundland, his way of honouring Inuit culture. Whatever his motivation, I vouch that seal tartare, mixed with quail egg and smeared on a slice of bannock, is delicious.

A cloud of rose hip whipped cream covered in berries and edible flowers



HARVEY’S? To help cut costs, Harvey’s owner Jeff Dang upgraded his refrigeration and rooftop AC unit – and it didn’t cost him a dime. Get more than $4,500 in rebates to help you upgrade. LIGHTING UPGRADES get

rebates up to






rebates up to


2,500 FREE! sMart



Let us help your restaurant save on energy, visit:

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W h e r e to e at uNCle Mik e y’s 1 5 9 7 d u n d a s s t. W. 647-648-9153





Kalbi-marinated flatiron steak, with lettuce and condiments for DIY wraps


michael kim was born in Seoul and raised in Vancouver, and studied classic French cooking at New York’s International Culinary Center—one of the best places to do so outside France. The low-budget, handyman interior of this, his first solo showing, belies the worldliness and polish of what he delivers to your table: lettuce wraps of grilled flatiron with nori, fermented soybean paste and citrusy yuzo kosho; a mapo tofu of silken soybean cubes, the slow-build fire of Sichuan sausage and a tangle of garlic shoots; brioche-like beignets that get their sweetness from a roll in a powder of wheat grass and carob; and, my top pick, Parisian-style choux gnocchi, tossed in a nutty sauce of soybean paste–braised oxtail. One night, I started with a plate of peppery baby radishes dipped in salty cultured butter. It was dead simple, a snack from childhood, upgraded with an ingenious dusting of finely chopped dried seaweed. By the way, there’s a story to the restaurant’s name: looking to his family for suggestions, he went with his kid nephew’s.


te n n e s s e e ta v e r n 1 5 5 4 q u e e n s t. W. 416 -5 3 5-7 7 7 7

grant van gameren now has four restaurants and two bars, each unique, though all sharing a current of electricity— and, in most cases, lots of cured meat—that’s uniquely his. This Parkdale spot is his interpretation of an eastern European tavern—you wouldn’t guess from the name, a leftover from the last tenant. On the menu is an exhaustive index of sausages (heavenly kielbasa), schnitzel (paper-thin, crispy), pretzels the size of your head (warm, salty), cabbage rolls (oniony, saucy) and, in a nod to his principally hipster clientele, a paprikadusted corn dog (delicious). This is hearty, gut-busting food, complemented by local craft brews and a long list of obscure eastern European liquors and liqueurs, all offered by the shot. 72 toronto life April 2018

Enjoy a taste of the country a short drive from the city. South Pond Farms is a destination for unique workshops and authentic farm to table gatherings.

I am committed to bringing people together to enjoy local food and foster connections with agriculture, nature, and each other.

– Danielle French, Creator of South Pond Farms & host of “Taste of the Country” on Netflix

For more information about workshops, events, and custom itineraries visit

W h e r e to e at

Clockwise from top left: Pinky’s ceviche with taro chips, clay pot beef curry, lemongrass chicken banh mi, and grilled meat platter, with a Pink Lady cocktail


p i n k y ’s ca phe 5 3 c l i n t o n s t. No phone

74 toronto life April 2018

effortlessly cool Korean-Japanese latenight hangouts OddSeoul and Hanmoto, saw this rundown Little Italy semi and immediately envisioned a dusky, lantern-lit bar serving sneakily powerful, frothy cocktails and Vietnamesestyle barbecue from a charcoal backyard grill. There are no reservations, and no matter when I’ve shown up, whether for an after-work drink with colleagues or just before last call, there’s a line to get in. It’s worth it for the short ribs, covered in sugary char, and the beef sandwich that you dunk in a bowl of pho broth. After a few Pink Ladies (gin, raspberry syrup, egg white), you’ll be planning your next backpacking trip to Vietnam.


leemo han, chef-proprietor of the

Blue Blo od ste ak hous e 1 austin terr. 416-35 3-4647

at this unabashedly ostentatious restaurant in Casa Loma, you could be seated in the oakpanelled room with antler chandeliers the size of electric cars, or in the cavern-like area with cowhide-covered circular banquettes and a moose head looming high above the champagne- and cognacstocked bar. My pick is the third option, a comparatively modest in-between space referred to as the Parlour, with its handful of tables and its walls hung with four Warhols—including one of a heifer whose expression seems resigned to the fact that you’ll be savouring a sampler of three types of Wagyu, or perhaps a 40-ounce porterhouse, dry-aged for a month until it’s slightly funky, and served with an array of globe-hopping salts. There are luxe frills aplenty, and the sticker price to match, but we only live once.

First Canadian Place

tuna stack


Calling all foodies: on Monday, April 23, Toronto Life will turn the pages of its 2018 Where to Eat Now issue into edible reality. Chefs from some of the city’s best new restaurants, as chosen by Toronto Life’s critic Mark Pupo, will serve signature dishes, with craft beer and wine from local brewers and winemakers. Evergreen Brick Works Monday, April 23 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. $95 per ticket (Must be 19+ to attend)






1. Beef heart skewers with purple potato and huancaina 2. Ceviche with red onion, sweet potato, Peruvian corn, squid and leche de tigre


3. Seafood fried rice topped with a butterpoached scallop





kay pacha 74 4 s t. c l a i r av e . W. 416-658-0568

4. Mango cheesecake with mascarpone and maca cream 5. Pulled chicken with avocado, tomato, huancaina and potatoes


elias salazar earned a cult following in 2016 with a popup of flashy modern Peruvian cooking at the Queen West bar Rush Lane. At his first restaurant, taking over a midtown corner previously held by the seafood restaurant Catch, he’s serving skewers of beef heart in a paste of Incan aji panca chilies (like a milder chipotle); ceviche marinated in a “tiger’s milk” of lime and fish juice, onions and chilies; and seafood fried rice topped with bites of butter-poached scallop, aji amarillo–pisco butter and béchamel. Potatoes, the national food of Peru, appear everywhere, and are elevated to godlike status in an elaborate tower of whipped yukon golds, pulled chicken, avocado, yuzu mayo and botija olive purée. Most nights, at the bar that takes up a big part of the modest room, a crowd of Lima expats knock back fanciful, pisco-based cocktails—it’s the liveliest party in midtown.

North e r N M av e riCk Br e wiNg CoM PaNy No.

1 1 5 b at h u r s t s t. 416-540-4030

nearly every restaurant, from prim bistros to hard-core vegan establishments, has a signature burger. One of the best is Mark Cutrara’s. He first gained fame at the now-defunct Cowbell, his Parkdale nose-to-tail restaurant. He’s now the chef of this airplane hangar of a brewpub at the base of a new condo tower, and the menu includes—wait for it—the Cowbell Burger. He ages his chuck, and smokes his own bacon and cheese. It comes with bread-and-butter pickles, tomato and bibb lettuce, but no truffle butter or edible gold or what have you, and it’s perfection. There’s more to the place—premium pub food, like airy buffalo ricotta cakes, duck prosciutto and smoked chicken wings with a house hot sauce—but there’s nothing better than a burger and a pint. April 2018 toronto life 77

W h e r e to e at


A strapping, bone-in elk chop

gold staNdard 38 5 roncesvalles ave.

inspiration for John Sinopoli’s novel chophouse in the recently hipsterized Broadview Hotel. I admire his intent—in a city growing as fast as ours, we don’t look back often enough. 106 broadvie W ave. I’m also impressed by how he translates that 416-362-8439 past into something temptingly up-to-date, lavishing a braised rabbit leg with a lavender jus, dressing a buttery slice of toasted brioche with roasted hen of the woods and chanterelle mushrooms, and ratcheting up the tang of venison tartare with house-pickled mustard seeds and the orange yolk of a quail egg. The standout is an elk chop, which, along with the leather-top tables, the hard liquor cocktails and the dimly lit room, is a time machine to a cigar smoke–filled men’s club. You have a choice of sauces for that 14-ounce chop, but don’t bother: salt and pepper are enough to highlight the meatiness. In this particular case, the Victorians had it right.

does a takeout window, hidden down a residential side street, past a set of recycling bins, with only a chalkboard for a sign and a three-item menu, count as a great place to eat? I say yes, if what’s handed out that window is one of the city’s best breakfast sandwiches. A decent such sandwich is oddly elusive in Toronto: they’re either uninspired or over-the-top Instagram bait, with a dozen layers that may or may not include foie gras. At this offshoot of Dundas West restaurant the Federal, a pair of cooks, working at a flat-top, keep matters restrained and get it exactly right: brushing a plush English muffin with aïoli, smothering scrambled eggs with a mild cheddar, and hitting it home with bacon, slices of pickle and a slash of habanero hot sauce. It’s incredibly satisfying, only $6, and they serve it all day alongside a version with a burger, and a meatless sandwich with mushrooms and hummus. If you’re asking why you should hike across town just for a breakfast sandwich, then I’m sorry to say you’ll never understand. 78 toronto life April 2018



No phone

victorian-era taverns are the unlikely

th e CiviC

Cho P Cho P 7 7 1 d u n d a s s t. W. 416-842-8277

this tiny corner spot is run by the Tiao family: Mom and Dad work the kitchen with sons Eric (who last cooked at Susur Lee’s nowdefunct Bent) and Kevin, while another son, Steven, handles the dining room. The specialty is handmade dumplings, stuffed with pork and chives or mixed veg. They’re best inhaled moments after leaving the frying pan, crisp and perfectly greasy, which is why you’ll rarely see anyone doing takeout from Chop Chop and why the rows of red stools in the window are always taken. The Tiaos also make a mean mapo tofu; bok choy wok-fried Taiwanese-style with barbecue pork; and noodle dishes such as vermicelli with fried egg and baby shrimp with a splash of soy. It’s the kind of Chinese food I crave on a weekly basis, and that I tell myself won’t lead to an early coronary, provided I also get the salad of quickpickled spears of spicy cuke. Luckily, they’re no punishment.





K 604.988.1407

Hy’ HYS-17-021



Toronto Life Ad 7.875" x 5.25"

Jul. 2017 Jun. 12, 2017


w h e r e to e at Sauce-slathered seitan wings

my tholo gy dine r no.

1 2 6 5 Q u e e n S t. W. No phone

the first week of the New Year, needing

Rigatoni with bolognese and parmesan


a post-holiday detox, I ended up in Vegandale, the Parkdale blocks where the entrepreneur Hellenic Vincent De Paul has a string of animalfree businesses, including Mythology Diner. Doug McNish, Mythology’s chef and co-owner, creates “wings” from seitan that are seasoned, crisp-fried and coated in a sticky barbecue sauce; garlic bread covered in a bubbling “mozzarella” of cashews and nutritional yeast; and more seitan that replicates a New York strip, complete with grill marks, that “bleeds” a marinade made from red wine, mushroom broth and liquid smoke when sliced. My dessert pick is a lemon curd tart with a torched meringue made from aquafaba (trendy chickpea water). At some point, I forgot about my detox.

a m ano 6 5 F r o n t S t. W. 647-350-0092


of all the recent changes to

s oufi ’s 6 7 6 Q u e e n S t. W. 647-350-7737

it was only a matter of time before Toronto’s growing Syrian population would start to influence our restaurant scene. My favourite spot was opened by Jala Al Soufi and her family last summer on one of the last truly indie stretches of Queen West. Beyond excellent espresso-based coffees and matcha lattes, they really only serve two Syrian specialties: knafeh, warm phyllo mini-pies of akkawi cheese or vegan cashew “cheese” finished with rosewater and crushed nuts; and manakeesh, pillowy flatbreads, smeared with halloumi, labneh, za’atar or spiced beef, baked in the oven and folded into a sandwich. You can get takeout, but it’s better to grab one of the stools at the window and appreciate how fast this little café, with a soundtrack of Arabic pop just discernable above staff shouting orders through the kitchen window and the whir of the espresso machine, has become an essential part of the neighbourhood. 80 toronto life April 2018

Vegan knafeh

Jala Al Soufi

Union Station, the most radical is that it’s become a place where you might go just to eat. There’s a shop selling Brandon Olsen’s delectable CXBO chocolates, a location of Yannick Bigourdan’s Union Chicken, and, coming soon, a branch of sausage and beer hall Wvrst. Where I gravitate most often is the pastacentric Amano. Bigourdan, who was a partner in Splendido during its heyday and currently runs Carbon Bar on Queen East, is also involved here, which explains the gracious servers, smart wine list, and slick room of marble, subway tile and leather sling seats that fool you into forgetting you’re in the bowels of a transit terminal. The chef and co-owner, Michael Angeloni, is a noodle savant when it comes to both classics (rigatoni with bolognese; farfalle with walnut-arugula pesto) and impieties (campanelle with Dungeness crab and mustard seeds; mezzaluna stuffed with short rib in a jalapeño-spiked jus). They’re planning to expand across town. Along with two new Buca locations and the impending opening of Eataly in Yorkville, it’s good times for pasta.

82 toronto life April 2018

For years, hundreds of TTC drivers scammed the employee health care plan and pocketed millions. The true story of the fraud, the investigation, and the lives left in ruins

The Great

TTC by m ic h a e l l i sta illustrations by michael byers



orking for the ttC is a sturdy job, with good pay. Streetcar, subway and bus drivers start at $26 an hour, get bumped to $29 after a year, and by the end of year two make $34, which works out to about $70,000 a year. Many drivers, like a guy I’ll call Alfonso (he asked me to disguise his real name for reasons that will become clear), are drawn to the work because of the salary and the

security. Alfonso was born in the Caribbean in the early 1980s and moved to Scarborough when he was 12. By the time he was 26, he had a wife and a small condo, and they’d soon welcome a baby girl. He gave up a job as a supply chain management specialist in an office block in Brampton to be a bus driver for the TTC. Sunny and affable, he loved driving and talking to people, and figured the job suited him much better. April 2018 toronto life 83

But like any job, there were drawbacks. New hires got the worst shifts, usually nights, which threw their sleep patterns and family lives into disarray. The TTC, the saying went, held its employees hostage for the first 10 years. Cameras monitored nearly everything they did, and Alfonso was careful to obey the rules. If he found a $5 bill on the floor of his bus, he’d hold it up to the camera and drop it into the fare box in a kabuki of propriety. The pressure to be on schedule was immense, and not just from the supervisors, who hectored drivers for running late, but also from passengers, whose moods palpably soured if a driver ran even two minutes late. Many times a day, disgruntled riders would swear at Alfonso, give him the finger or try to provoke him. Alfonso never took the bait: he was recognized at least twice by his supervisor when riders wrote in commending him for his work. What made the grief and grind more bearable was a generous benefits package. Whereas most private sector insurance is worth around $2,000 per year, the TTC plan, which was administered by Manulife, was worth nearly $10,000. Employees would pay up front and submit their claims to Manulife, which would reimburse them, and then the TTC would reimburse Manulife and pay an administration fee. In other words, Toronto taxpayers were ultimately funding the plan. And it covered a wide range of medical and therapeutic services that OHIP didn’t: prescription drugs, massages, semi-private hospital rooms, laser eye surgery, alcohol and drug treatment, $300 to help employees quit smoking, $1,000 a year for hearing aids and their batteries. It also provided coverage for compression sleeves— which are prescribed for everything from deep vein thrombosis to varicose veins—plus orthotics and orthopedic shoes. As long as a qualified doctor, surgeon, chiropractor, chiropodist or podiatrist wrote a prescription, beneficiaries were entitled to a new set of compression sleeves, orthotics and orthopedic shoes every year until retirement. The plan was so robust, so generous, that many TTC employees grew to view it as an opportunity to wring more money out of their employer. Among those people, the name Adam Smith travelled like a speakeasy password. Smith operated an orthotics clinic called Healthy Fit, which sold orthopedic devices, including knee, ankle, wrist and elbow braces; compression arm sleeves and stockings; orthopedic shoes; and orthotics. But what made Smith’s operation different was that when TTC employees bought stuff from him, they made money, too. One day at work, Alfonso noticed the shoes of a fellow driver—black leather orthopedic shoes that paired handsomely with their navy blue uniforms. Alfonso asked where he’d bought them. “Go to Healthy Fit,” the colleague said. “Go see Adam. His deal is the best.”


dam Smith, who shares his name with the father of capitalism, is handsome and tall, with a full head of auburn hair and a trim beard. He is playful, funny, self-deprecating—he’s a fan of Seinfeld—and a devoted father to his two children. Smith was married to an occupational therapist, and the couple held a half-million-dollar mortgage on their two-storey home in Mississauga. The Smiths had owned and operated Healthy Fit since September 2010. For a time, they operated a clinic in Mississauga, but their flagship location was at 333 Wilson Avenue, the type of concrete medical arts building that manages to be both brutal and garish, with windows tinted rose gold and a marble lobby crowned with a filigree chandelier. The building is down the street from the Toronto Transit Commission’s enormous Wilson Yard, the hub that services the YongeUniversity line’s subway cars. Over time, TTC workers flocked there by the hundreds, and by 2011 Smith was reporting his annual income as $192,285. In 2014, Alfonso decided to pay Healthy Fit a visit. He didn’t have any foot problems, but he was using his feet to do his job, and it said right there in his benefits brochure that orthopedic shoes were covered. He called the clinic, but before the receptionist would schedule an appointment, Alfonso had to say who had referred him. On the day of his appointment, Alfonso took the elevator up to Healthy Fit. Taped to the door, a piece of paper read, “Please Make Sure You Pay For Parking. Thank You J.” Through the door, a young administrative assistant sat beneath a Healthy Fit sign. A mannequin’s leg modelling a compression sock sat on the counter, and a rack of orthopedic shoes revolved slowly next to it. Some patients had brought their kids, who were playing in the waiting room. Everything looked so legitimate. When Alfonso’s name was called, he was ushered into an office, where Smith launched into his pitch without even asking Alfonso what his symptoms were. He tried to sell Alfonso on orthotics, then compression sleeves, orthopedic socks, a wristband and a knee brace. All Alfonso really wanted was the shoes. “My process works the same as everybody else’s,” Alfonso recalls Smith saying. “The only difference with me is that instead of giving you one or two pairs of shoes, I’ll give you cash.” “Cash is never really a good thing,” Alfonso thought, an alarm ringing in his head. But he’d been to a number of vendors who sold products covered by his benefits, and each offered some incentive to undercut competitors. He’d seen a door-todoor doctor who threw in Nikes and Timberlands with an orthotics purchase, then submitted claims on Alfonso’s behalf.

Without asking about symptoms, Smith began to sell Alfonso on orthotics, compression sleeves, wristbands and knee braces 84 toronto life April 2018

Adam Smith’s scam required the complicity of a vast network of medical officials and more than 700 TTC workers. Since clients had to be referred, anyone walking through the door was ostensibly aware that they were in it together

No one ever called Alfonso on it, and he figured there was no real victim. Plus, hundreds of other TTC employees were Smith’s clients. If Manulife was approving all the claims, he figured, how could it be illegal? Alfonso agreed to buy two sets of orthotics and orthopedic shoes, one for himself, the other for his wife, who was also covered under his plan. The chiropodist fit him right there onsite, asking a few quick questions and performing a cursory gait analysis. Alfonso got the products and paid Smith $1,500, which Smith said would cover the cost of all the items—though Alfonso says he had no idea what the true value of those items really was. He signed the forms and trusted Smith to fill out the rest. Manulife soon reimbursed Alfonso for the $1,500, and a few days later, Smith e-transferred Alfonso $500 more.


mith’S SCheme was as risky as it was simple. He was selling equipment that his customers didn’t need, wouldn’t receive or paid too much for, and then he’d split the profits with them, usually 60 per cent for the TTC employee, the rest for him. The scam required the complicity of a vast network of stakeholders—corrupt medical professionals and as many as 725 transit employees like Alfonso. But Smith had a system to minimize the chances of getting caught. Since customers had

to be referred, country-club style, anyone walking through the door was ostensibly aware that they were in it together. Smith had considered the other angles, too. To make the paper trail appear legitimate, he created fake receipts, which he attached to the claim. If the patient required a prescription, Smith would send them to a number of pre-approved doctors and chiropodists. If customers couldn’t afford to pay up front— which was often, especially for high-volume orders—Smith would hook them up with a financing company that could lend the money quickly. That company was called S&S Executive Services, and it was run by his father, David Smith—the S’s most likely stood for Smith and Smith. David was also involved in provincial politics as the chief financial officer for the 2011 re-election campaign of Charles Sousa, now Ontario’s finance minister. S&S’s main business was providing financial and marketing support to film and television producers. But on the side, David loaned money to TTC employees to spend at his son’s clinic and would collect interest on it. He’d make his son’s clients sign promissory notes, so if they failed to repay the loan, S&S could start debt recovery proceedings against them, and even garnish their wages. Smith was far from a pioneer in his craft. Health care fraud is epidemic in Canada. According to the Canadian Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, a watchdog organization, for every $10 April 2018 toronto life 85

spent on healing a patient, one dollar is lost to corruption. Canadians spend around $200 billion every year on health care—70 per cent in the public system and 30 per cent in the private sector. Insurance fraud, in other words, is a $20-billion industry in Canada. And besides the immediate financial loss, benefits fraud also inflates insurance premiums as big companies try to recoup lost revenue. Benefits fraud requires the participation of patients—but not always knowingly. It’s all too common for sketchy providers to prey on the ignorance and naïveté of their customers. In 2011, a group of medical practitioners in Mississauga exploited recently landed immigrants who were unfamiliar with the Canadian health care system. They convinced newcomers to hand over their login information for their insurer’s website, which allowed them to steal the reimbursements. Other patients are willing collaborators, and a fraudster’s scheming is bound only by his inventiveness. Because many insurance plans provide for unlimited lenses, some unscrupulous employees buy designer sunglasses and then bill insurers for prescription glasses. Some scammers are brazen enough to bill insurance companies for the services of prostitutes in massage parlours, claiming to insurers that those treatments are therapeutic. In a 2013 U.S. survey by the global management consultancy Accenture, nearly a quarter of respondents said it was acceptable to commit insurance fraud. Ten per cent said it was okay to submit a fraudulent claim for services that were never rendered. Smith’s scam, in other words, was all too typical. He was enabled in part by a regulatory blind spot: in Ontario, manufacturers of orthotics don’t need government approval. In Quebec, where government approval is required, there are half as many orthotics claims per capita. Executives at the TTC had been aware of a problem with their orthotic and orthopedic benefits claims since as early as the winter of 2007, three years before Healthy Fit was founded. Management approached the transit union’s Local 113 with concerns that orthotic clinics were offering TTC employees cash vouchers as kickbacks for their patronage. Union executives suggested that the TTC issue a warning to their workers about such incentives. Three years later, in early 2010, TTC management called a meeting with the executive vice-president of the union, Manny Sforza. According to Sforza, they wanted to address employees’ use of orthotic and orthopedic benefits. They were concerned that a disproportionately high number of employees were submitting claims. (Those senior executives say they have no recollection of the meeting.) Sforza says he suggested they implement

a “preferred providers” list of four or five vetted clinics, and that all transactions be conducted electronically. According to Sforza, the senior executives scuttled the idea as anti–free market and instead instructed him to tell his workers to “be cautious.” TTC executives also began putting up posters at TTC offices reminding employees about insurance fraud. By 2013, little had changed, except for an anonymous tip line called Integrity, which the TTC executive established to collect allegations of illegal or unethical behaviour by its employees. On April 2, 2014, at 1:13 p.m., a tip came through. “I would like to report this particular organization, which is called Healthy Fit,” the anonymous whistle-blower said. “The director’s name is Adam Smith. Around 90 per cent of the TTC employees get their orthopedic, custom footwear through this organization. This clinic is fraudulent.” Twelve days later, another tip came through in an email to Manulife. One of the whistle-blowers said that Adam Smith was an old hand at this sort of scam. He wasn’t the first or only perpetrator, but he’d industrialized a business model that to that point had been operated mostly by mom-and-pop outfits.


he inveStigative unit of the TTC whirled into action. A staff sergeant was appointed to lead an internal investigation into the allegations and reached out to the director of claims fraud risk management at Manulife, and the two organizations teamed up. But, as it turned out, Manulife had failed to record the names of the vendors on individual claims. In other words, Healthy Fit’s name wasn’t on any of the fraudulent claims. The TTC had 14,000 employees, and Manulife’s investigators couldn’t realistically go through all of their records to reconstruct Healthy Fit’s chicanery. One of the whistle-blowers had a smart idea: “The best way to catch Adam Smith is to pose as an employee of the TTC and say you heard about the deal he offers to its workers.” And so the Toronto Transit Commission and Manulife insurance started plotting a sting. Manulife hired a private investigation firm, Investigators Group, to infiltrate Healthy Fit. Investigators Group, which specializes in insurance fraud, put three of their PIs on the case, and the investigators were given a crash course in how to pass as TTC employees. They were each given a uniform, credentials, a badge and a benefits card. They learned the lingo, how to gossip and how to gripe. One of the PIs was a 22-year-old Albanian-Canadian woman named Gloria Alla. Her cover story was that she was a driver who’d only been on the job since the winter. And though Alla

The undercover investigators were given a crash course in passing as TTC employees—the lingo, how to gossip and gripe 86 toronto life April 2018

Police arrested Smith outside his office at Bathurst and Wilson in July 2015

was using her real name, she had all the fake paperwork she needed to pass as a TTC employee. Alla first went to Healthy Fit on July 11, 2014, but Smith was on vacation in Edmonton for his wife’s family reunion. A chiropodist named Dominador Tomines saw her and made a foam cast of her foot. On her way out, the receptionist said that Smith would give her a call when he came back, to let her know when the orthotics were ready. Nearly two weeks later, he called. “I don’t think we’ve met before,” Smith cautiously probed. “You work for the TTC right?” “Yes,” Alla said. “I work for the TTC.” “Okay. Not a problem. And you said you were referred to us?” “Yes, one of my co-workers referred me to you,” Alla said. “What’s her name?” Smith asked. “Not sure, to be honest. I met her on my route. She was on her way home and we were talking about it. I think her name may have been May or Mary.” “Okay,” Smith said. “Just see if you can find out the name of the person who referred you.” Once she did that, she could come in and pick up her orthotics. Alla went back to Healthy Fit at the beginning of August, and once past reception, she saw Smith walk in alongside a TTC employee. He walked up to Alla and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Adam,” Smith said. “I think we talked on the phone last week.” “Hi, I’m Gloria. Yes, we did.” “What accent is that?” he asked, as he led her into a room. “Albanian.” “Who referred you to me?” he asked her again. “I think her name was May. Mary? Maria….” “I see,” Smith said. He couldn’t have known, but his entire future turned on what he’d say next. He bit: “I’m just going to write down basically a menu of services that you have available to you, and then you go for whatever you want to go for,” he said. As he’d done with Alfonso, Smith tried to sell her orthotics, plus

shoes she didn’t need and would never receive. Trying to sell her the compression socks, he said, “Okay, let me show off my beautiful legs here,” pulling up his pant leg. “I get these ugly spider veins. I don’t know if you get these yet.” He tried to sell her a knee brace. “They go for $1,800. If you get the knee brace, you also get around $900,” he said. “So it’s funny—some of your co-workers, friends of mine, they say: ‘Well, shit—I got two legs, so I can get two knee braces!’ ” Alla agreed to the brace and the socks, but for both she’d need a doctor to sign a prescription. “Can I go in to a walk-in clinic?” she asked. “Yes, you can,” he said, “but sometimes it’s like the Soup Nazi—no socks for you! No sleeves for you! I do have a friend who’s also a doctor and can get you one.” His friend was a doctor who had a clinic in a basement unit on Weston Road, and if she mentioned Smith’s name, he could hook her up. Smith pulled out the Manulife claim forms. “Okay, I have to put you to work a little bit,” he said. He wanted her handwriting on the claim form, not his. He sat beside Alla and told her exactly what to write. “Your plan is 86678,” he told her, and she wrote it down. “And this is your badge number,” he said, pointing to the blank line on the form. “Okay,” she said, “let me check my card because I can’t remember it.” “If you’re a new employee it should start with a seven,” Smith told her. But it didn’t. The TTC sergeant had given her badge number 30945, the number of someone who would have been working at the TTC for years, not a 22-year-old who’d been on the job only seven months. “Okay. Hmm. This is it, right?” she asked, handing her badge to Smith. “It is…” Smith said, taking a closer look. “How come your number is so low?” he asked. “How long have you been working with the TTC?” “I just started around December, January.” Smith went quiet for almost a minute. It didn’t make any sense. Who was this woman? Who had referred her? He was somewhere way off, not a saying a word. Finally he asked: “Who did you say referred you again?” “May, Mary, Maria…something like that.” “Okay,” he said. He would trust her. He told Alla to sign her name. Then he could file the claim for her, and they’d both be a little bit richer. “If anyone asks you,” he added as he left for another client, “you have to say I gave you the shoes.”


lla Soon referred a second colleague, who corroborated her report, and the Toronto Police Service began a parallel investigation, tipped off by the TTC. They sicced Canada’s financial intelligence agency, FINTRAC (which is short for the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada) on Healthy Fit. FINTRAC has a mandate to detect, prevent and deter money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Their investigators can obtain the power to access criminal background databases and arrest records. They pored over the financial records of Healthy Fit, plus those of Smith, his wife and S&S Executive Services. Smith’s problem was that he was too good at his scam. All told, as much as $6.9 million in TTC claims had flowed through Healthy Fit’s bank account, most of it bogus. He was sitting on a mountain of dough, but he couldn’t easily live off it. Every time April 2018 toronto life 87

the Healthy Fit account swelled close to $130,000, he’d transfer some of the money into his wife’s account, and then withdraw the remaining tens of thousands of dollars as cash. But Canada tightened its anti–money laundering rules after 9/11, making it harder for criminals to use the cash proceeds of their crimes to live lavishly. Today, purchases for $10,000 or more cannot be made in cash without the salesperson submitting a notice to FINTRAC. Even depositing $10,000 or more into a bank account raises red flags. So Smith needed to move the cash in ways he thought were safe. He bought $76,840 worth of diamonds from a GTA-based dealer—diamonds are a favoured financial unit among money launderers, because they’re light and portable, and don’t come with serial numbers. In one instance, he moved $100,000 to his wife using a company that was owned by his accountant’s partner, to pay down their first mortgage on their house before securing a second, cheaper one. In a series of additional transactions, he transferred $300,000 the same way. Unbeknownst to the Smiths, FINTRAC investigators were watching their every move. On July 21, 2015, police arrested Smith on his way into the office, handcuffed him and transported him for processing, and arrested and charged his two receptionists, although those charges were later withdrawn. Police searched the clinic, seizing hundreds of unclaimed medical devices, documents and other evidence. The Crown charged Smith with one count of fraud over $5,000 and laundering the proceeds of crime, then later added conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and another fraud over $5,000 charge. When Smith made bail, one of the conditions was that he wasn’t allowed to deal with any asset worth more than $1,000 without notifying police. Of the 725 TTC employees who used Healthy Fit, the police pursued charges against those with the most compelling evidence and the highest number of claims submitted. Ten former TTC employees are facing criminal charges. In total, 216 TTC employees have been fired, or have resigned or retired early to avoid being fired. Sources close to the investigation suggest that city employees from other divisions patronized Healthy Fit, too. While Smith’s case worked its way through the courts, his family suffered financial disaster. When Healthy Fit closed, they lost their source of income. In late September, as the summer broke and the city eased into autumn, Smith made a deal with the Crown, pleading guilty to the two counts of fraud over $5,000, though the amount of money he’d helped steal was at least 1,000 times that. The TTC also sued Smith and his wife in civil court, and the court ordered that all of his family’s assets and property, including the house, be seized or frozen.

The TTC then sued Manulife, their investigative partner, claiming that it was negligent in not catching a scam like Smith’s sooner. That case is still before the courts. Manulife denies the allegations, saying they are without merit. No charges were ever brought against Smith’s father, David. Smith’s on-site chiropodist, Tomines, admitted his guilt in a professional disciplinary hearing, claiming responsibility for over $1 million worth of mainly TTC claims, which, at $100 a prescription, netted Tomines $200,000. He had his certificate of registration revoked. The adjudicator stated in his finding: “You have brought discredit to the profession, and to yourself. Public confidence in this profession has been put in jeopardy.” At Smith’s sentencing, his lawyer argued that his business had started as a legitimate enterprise, but that corruption set in like a slow, insidious rot, and that Manulife’s negligence encouraged, even emboldened Smith and his TTC clients to be more crooked than they ever might have been. Smith’s lawyer argued that it was the system that was to blame, not just his client—aided and abetted by the entitled, aggrieved, often oblivious TTC workers, the insurance staff asleep at the switch, the doctors who wrote the prescriptions. The TTC workers’ union made a similar argument in arbitrations, stating that their leaders had tried to warn management back in 2007 but were rebuffed. It’s an unsettling thought—that Smith himself, and his innumerable customers, saw in his apparent impunity his legitimacy and behaved accordingly. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary, plus three years of probation, and last fall he left his bankrupt family, put on his jumpsuit and went behind bars at Beaver Creek in Gravenhurst. As for Alfonso, who was so hopeful about driving and so afraid of being accused of stealing a $5 bill, when his supervisor met him unannounced on his route in the summer of 2016, he figured he was being given another commendation for his good work. Instead, he was told he was under investigation for having pocketed $500 from Healthy Fit. He testified before TTC investigators that he had no idea that Healthy Fit was a scam; weeks later, he was fired. Not long after he told his wife he’d been fired, she left him. His daughter was only three. I believe Alfonso when he says he thought he did nothing wrong by being a customer of Healthy Fit—that $500 was just the free market at work, and besides, no one around him was getting in trouble for it. Alfonso needed a new job, and he turned again to his love for the open road—which might yet make him happy—and the people who travel it. The same day he was fired from the TTC, he signed up to drive for Uber. ∫

As much as $6.9 million in claims originated from Healthy Fit. Sources suggest that the TTC wasn’t the only public service involved 88 toronto life April 2018



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90 toronto life April 2018

My Broken Heart To the outside world, I was a happy Toronto mom. Privately, I was fighting a serious heroin addiction. I recovered, but my heart didn’t

By Sh a n non McK i n non

hair and makeup by claudine baltazar/plutino group

Pho t o g r a p h by D e r e k S h a p t o n


hen I was 14 years old, I started experiencing brutal pains during my periods. The first one hit me one day at the beach. It started with a twinge in my back. A few minutes later, I felt as though a construction crew had fired up jackhammers and blowtorches, tearing down the walls of my uterus. When the pain reached its climax, I fainted. Dead cold on the dirty beach-bathroom floor, I woke up to the smell of concrete. I tried to figure out what was wrong, but everyone, even my family doctor, told me that periods are supposed to hurt. Just about every month after that, I’d pass out from the pain. On the floor of my bedroom. At the office at school. In the alley behind the bus stop. I later found out I had endometriosis, a disorder that causes the uterine lining to break off and attach to other parts of the body. April 2018 toronto life 91

I didn’t let the pain ruin my life. After high school, I came to Toronto to study journalism at Ryerson. In my third year, I moved into an apartment on Jarvis Street, next door to my future husband. We met on a Sunday, slept together that Thursday and spent every day together for the next 17 years. I worked as an intern at the CBC in my fourth year and got a job as a research associate on Big Life With Daniel Richler before I graduated. I loved it there. I spent the next decade working my way up from associate producer to director to senior producer. I worked on CounterSpin, The Hour and Dragons’ Den. I even had the opportunity to host and produce segments on CityTV for a couple of years. I didn’t always like my jobs, but I loved my career. Soon after we married in 2002, my husband and I bought a house in Leslieville. He’s an engineer, and he immediately got to work building closets and installing a fireplace and renovating the kitchen. I was in charge of cool lighting and paint chips and making him laugh. It was a cozy life. Every Sunday we had dinner with our closest friends, and every morning he’d bring me a glass of juice in bed and kiss me on the nose. We were very lucky for a very long time. We both wanted children badly, but my endometriosis had left scar tissue on my fallopian tubes and ovaries, which was a major speed bump on the road to getting knocked up. We’d try at the right time, I’d wait to feel something, and, inevitably, the Endo Construction Crew would show up to rip down the walls of my uterus. One day I was crying in the kitchen. I told my husband that he should be with someone who could give him kids. He started crying too and told me he didn’t want kids with just anybody—he wanted my kids. After five years of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant, I began taking Clomid, a fertility drug. I’d start on day three of my period, take one pill daily for the next five days and have sex all the time. Within a few weeks, I was pregnant with twins. For the next nine months, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get over the pain I would experience during labour and delivery. By that point, endometriosis had scarred more than my internal organs; it was seared into my mind. When I went into labour, both babies were breech; they were delivered by C-section. Our twins arrived happy and healthy on December 23, 2008—a boy and a girl. When we brought them home, I began to feel crushed under the weight of being a mother. One morning I took them to the grocery store, which is only about a six-minute drive from the house, but it took me about an hour to get there. I bundled them up and carried them one at a time to their car seats. I folded the massive double stroller and shoehorned it into the trunk. When we got to the store, I did the whole process again in reverse. I was exhausted. I breastfed as much as I could. By the time I was finished feeding one of them, the other would be ready to eat. I didn’t admit to anyone—not even myself—that I wasn’t doing well. I wasn’t sleeping. Ever. Not just because the twins needed me, but because I was constantly fighting the anxiety that I was a terrible mother. In the morning, I’d soldier on, telling everyone how well everything was going. I’ve always been quick with a lie. I was desperate to be a good mother. I bought cloth diapers (threw them out after two days). I tried making my own baby food (nope). I loved my babies desperately—we cuddled and snuggled and I would have died if anything ever happened to them. But I was trying too hard to do everything right. I’d constantly forget to put their laundry in the dryer and have to 92 toronto life April 2018

wash it again. I didn’t know what day the recycling or garbage bins were supposed to go to the curb. Bags of used diapers piled up all over the house. I didn’t know how to ask for help. When my husband started travelling for work, we hired a nanny. The first day she came I insisted she sit on the couch while I vacuumed the living room. I went back to work on Dragons’ Den when the twins were seven months old. Soon, my periods returned—and they hurt. I was terrified of the pain. I was working and looking after the twins and dealing with depression. So I went to see my family doctor. I left the appointment with 15 Percocets. I was to take two a day, for five days every month. I filled the prescription a few weeks later, as soon as I felt my back cramping up. I took one and the pain went away. One night I was lying in bed and I felt like my calves started glowing. A golden warmth spread through my body. After a few months, I found myself thinking about the pills. (“How many days until my period is due?”) When I was at home, I was constantly, vaguely aware that they were corked up in a bottle on a shelf. I wished they would come out and dance. Then it hit me: I could take these things even when I didn’t need to. That was the day I left my old life behind and became a drug addict.


ercocet was a revelation. I’d take two, lie down and have a two-hour orgasm. I measured time in pills—how long between when I took them and when I could take them again. My doctor gave me only 15 at a time, but after a few months I was swallowing four to six at once. I was constantly running out. I googled “how to create a fake prescription” on my computer and shazam! About a hundred examples popped up. I made a few changes, entered some fake names and started printing them out. I hit small pharmacies and always paid in cash. I got 60 pills every time, for $20. I was refilling once or twice a week, and hid them on the top shelf of my closet. I did all of the stupidest things you could do. I went back to the same places too many times, and long before my “prescriptions” should have been finished. I messed up on the dates once and tried to fill a prescription for the following year. One day I went into a drugstore I’d never visited before. The pharmacist looked me up and down, took the script and walked into the next room. I saw him pick up the phone, so I turned around and walked out. Then I went to a different pharmacy. Within a year, I was taking 24 pills per day. Percocet has acetaminophen in it, which decimates the liver. So I gradually switched to a drug that was much stronger and cleaner: OxyContin. My husband figured out what was going on after about a year. I used to put six pills under my side of the mattress before I fell asleep so I could take them at 5 a.m. In the morning I’d slip my hand under the mattress and grope around for the pills as quietly as I could. I could feel him watching and listening to me. I could feel his disappointment and his heartbreak. He tried hard to understand what I was going through. When the twins were three, we left them with my in-laws and flew to Miami for a child-free vacation. He found a bag of Percocet hidden under the mattress. I did the classic addict’s shame dance about how I knew I needed to stop, and he started crying and told me that we’d do it together. We had a week away from the twins and our jobs, and he’d help me through the withdrawals. He thought by the time we went back home, everything would

T h e aut ho r (a n d h e r m o m) i n t h e ye a r s a f t e r r e c ove r i n g from her addiction

be okay. I loved him for that, but he didn’t know withdrawal. I told him I’d do it, and then I secretly used my backup bag of Oxy, which I’d crush into powder and snort. My husband would usually get up with the kids, and I’d stay in bed until he had to leave for work. I’d drag myself to the couch in the basement and wait for the nanny to arrive. And then I’d go back to bed. The kids stayed with our nanny from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. She’d cook dinner and help get them ready for bed. They needed me, and my heart broke every time they’d try to climb into bed with me. Our nanny was worried about me. She loved the twins and she loved us, and she tried to make things as normal as possible around the house. She mostly kept the kids away from me, and she stayed with us when I walked them to the playground. She kept our house sparkling clean, but I made her promise never to clean our bedroom, because I didn’t want anybody finding the pills I’d stashed on the shelves or under the mattress. In 2011, we went to a friend’s wedding, where I found out that one of the guests was an addict. I didn’t speak to her at the wedding, but a couple of days later I Facebooked her and asked if she could hook me up with someone who could sell me pills. She gave me the name and number of a dealer she knew. Percocets were $5 a pill, Oxy 40s were $30 per pill, and Oxy 80s—he called them Green Monsters—were about $50. At work, I was falling behind. When my colleagues and bosses started to figure out what was going on, I left the CBC and took a job as an executive at Shaw Media, overseeing programming for HGTV, Slice and the Food Network. My addiction robbed me of any sense of motivation, but at the same time I

felt incredible pressure to meet deadlines. I was constantly faking it. I’d get to work, listen to music for an hour, then make notes on the episodes I needed to deliver that week. I’d leave at lunchtime and go home for two hours to take pills. After about a year, I just stopped showing up. I knew I was probably going to get fired—I think I was probably trying to get fired. But they didn’t fire me. So I quit. The health care system had caught onto the fact that addicts were scraping Oxy pills into a fine powder to snort. So the drug company changed the formula to make the pills unsnortable gelcaps. For addicts looking to get high, they weren’t nearly as effective. The price of a Green Monster skyrocketed—anyone who had them could get about a hundred bucks a pill. The Internet was full of recipes for how to turn the gel pills back into snortable powder. I tried microwaving them, leaving them in the freezer overnight and pounding them with a hammer, grinding them down in a mug and screaming obscenities at them. Nothing worked.


ne day in 2013, I was desperate to buy Oxy. My dealer said he didn’t have any. He offered me heroin instead. By this time, I had crossed so many mental lines that it only took me five seconds to say yes. I hated myself. While I waited for him to deliver my gram of heroin, I taught myself how to shoot up. I googled “how to inject heroin safely,” and a very helpful YouTube video popped up, instructing me on how to use a tourniquet and find a vein. I was kind of scared April 2018 toronto life 93

about using heroin, but I like feeling scared—it’s an emotion I confuse with being thrilled. I went to Shoppers and bought a bag of syringes—10 for $5—and texted the nanny to make sure the twins were nowhere in the vicinity. I shot up alone that first time and every time after. I was being dangerous, stupid and irresponsible. I never thought about what would happen if I OD’d. My dealer had warned me to only use a point (a tenth of a gram), and I was as meticulous with the measurement as my desperation would allow. Shooting heroin was like walking into a vacuum. I didn’t feel bliss or like I was wrapped in a warm blanket or like Jesus was making love to me. It wasn’t like Trainspotting. I didn’t gain a feeling—I lost all feelings. It didn’t matter that my marriage and my career were falling apart. It felt like a very peaceful death, and I started dying a few times a day. I took a job at a development company run by a few friends. I probably showed up to work once a week. After seven months, they noticed the track marks on my arms. When one of the owners suggested that I go to rehab, I quit. My relationship with my husband had turned into a horrible game of cat and mouse, where he would accuse me of being on drugs, and I would lie and say I wasn’t. He’d text me a picture of needles hidden in a drawer or a box in the bathroom. I’d freak out and call him, insisting that I wasn’t using, that he was finding old equipment that I forgot about. Every few weeks, he’d kick me out of our house, and I’d stay with friends, who had no experience

T h e aut hor in hospital a f ter emerg ing from a 19-day medically induced coma

94 toronto life April 2018

with this kind of drug addiction. They’d trust me and listen to my bullshit excuses while I waited for my husband to calm down and let me come home. At my husband’s insistence, I completed a 21-day inpatient program at CAMH. He told the twins I was on a trip, which was convincing because we both travelled regularly for work. I was determined to get clean, but I was a rehab rookie. My mom and mother-in-law came to the little graduation ceremony they had for us at the end. My mom even cried. A week after leaving CAMH, I called a guy I met at rehab and bought more heroin. My husband was still travelling a lot, so my mom came to help with the twins. I spent months in bed, depressed and shooting up five times a day. I wallowed in my addiction. One day in 2013, I got a phone call from a woman I used to work with at the CBC. She asked me to produce a show about the NHL during the Sochi Olympics. I felt intense pressure to get a job—from my husband, from my mom, from myself—as if working would solve everything that was wrong with my life. I tried to stop using heroin and switch back to pills, but it was too hard. The best I could do was shoot up less often and take pills in between to keep me going. There was no such thing as getting high in my life—by this point, drugs were the only thing keeping me from falling apart. My dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer in January 2014. We weren’t very close, but I visited him often and brought the twins to see him when I could. I tried to do my job, be an active part of my family and support my dying dad. I was trying harder than ever not to use drugs. My husband and I were openly hostile by this point, and I knew he’d leave me soon. I didn’t blame him. One morning, I woke and found a video on my iPhone that I had recorded at 3 a.m. the night before. I warned myself that my husband was going to divorce me and take the twins. I told myself that if I didn’t stop, I was going to lose my job. Maybe I’d die. I was fired from my job in July, after missing a shoot in New York with Dustin Brown, then the captain of the L.A. Kings. When I got back home, my husband tried to keep me out of the house. It was midnight, and we were both so exhausted that he finally just let me walk up upstairs and sleep in the guest room. I left the next day to stay at a hotel. On July 13, 2014, I turned 40. I knew I was in trouble when nobody aside from my mom and twin brother called me on my birthday. Three days later, I went to see my father at the hospital for the last time. By this point I looked like a junkie. I was thin and pale. I rarely showered. I didn’t notice when the nurses gave each other a look after I asked what meds my father was on. I was overwhelmed and dopesick—I hadn’t used since that morning—so I left my dad’s room and sat in the waiting room for a break. Two security guards approached me and loudly told me that there had been a complaint that I was stealing medication from the hospital. They told me they needed to search me. I hadn’t touched anything, so I told them to go ahead. They looked through my bags, I turned out my pockets, and they left. When I went back to my dad’s room, my twin brother—who I didn’t see very often—had started to realize how serious my problem was. “Shannon, the nurse was just here with the police. They said you stole something,” he said. “I’m not angry at you but I’m not dealing with this today. Whatever you’ve got, get rid of it. Now.” I told him I didn’t do it, but he didn’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed me either. I left the hospital to pick up drugs, and my father died an hour later. I wasn’t there.

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April 2018



A couple of days after that, my husband handed me two documents: one was a legal notice that he was divorcing me. The other was a court order stating that I was no longer allowed to be in our home. I knew I deserved everything I was getting, but my heart was broken. I had lost my husband and my children. My career was probably over. I couldn’t go back into my own house, and my father was dead. On July 24, my brother paid for me to check into a private rehab facility in Muskoka. Getting clean was hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be. I was far away from Toronto and my life, and there was no option to use drugs. I spent a week in detox, sleeping and sweating out the heroin. Then I began attending group therapy every morning, individual counselling and NA meetings at night. I met people who were just like me: women and men who worked hard and fell down, who accepted that their lives had to change. I stayed until September, leaving once to attend my father’s funeral. When I got back to Toronto, I moved into a furnished apartment in the east end that my brother rented for me. It was time to start my new job: recovering. I worked hard, attending meetings and therapy. I only saw the twins a couple of times a week for supervised visits. I applied for jobs, but no one would hire me. My husband started dating immediately, and when I saw his profile on Tinder—featuring a picture I had taken of him on a beach in Mexico—my heart broke all over again. But I accepted my situation and slowly crawled back into the world.


y March 2017, things were better. My ex-husband and I were figuring out our complicated family dynamic. Despite everything, he firmly believed that our eightyear-olds needed me. He helped me rebuild my relationship with our kids, and without his support I never would have made it. In rehab, I’d been tested for every drug-related illness I could imagine—HIV, kidney damage, hepatitis—and it looked like I was okay. My teeth suffered the worst: I was constantly getting gum infections, and after the divorce I had no insurance, so I put off going to the dentist. But I was hopeful that my past was behind me. During March Break that year, I felt like shit. I could barely get out of bed. I couldn’t keep any food down, and just walking to the bathroom exhausted me. I could tell that I was hyperventilating, but I thought I was just tired. I was grey and clammy and thin, and when my mom and my sister saw me, they insisted I go to the ER. Reluctantly, I agreed. I figured I’d go to the hospital, wait for five hours and then get some antibiotics. I thought I’d be fine. I walked into the ER at Toronto East General on March 19. Within minutes, they took my blood pressure (dangerously high), checked my heart rate (same) and found me a bed in the emergency ward. I was just grateful to lie down. They told my mom that I had double pneumonia, sepsis, MRSA and jaundice. I had waited too long before going to the hospital. Worst of all, I had a serious heart condition called endocarditis. It’s a notorious complication of IV drug use. The right side of my heart was bombarded with whatever garbage was mixed in with my heroin, and the valve had become thick and loose and infected. One of the last things I remember was gasping for air. I felt like I was drowning. The monitor was behind me, so I couldn’t see that my blood pressure was 188 over 126. Blood pressure that 96 toronto life April 2018

high indicates that I was at severe risk of an immediate stroke or cardiac arrest. My mother, a nurse, somehow managed to hide how scared she was. My heart was on the verge of exploding. My mom and my sister kept their eyes on me like tractor beams. They rubbed my back and said calm and gentle things. I’ve never tried so hard to do anything in my life—I breathed through my nose and counted between breaths, but nothing helped. My lungs were full of bacteria, my body was septic, and my mind was starting to comprehend that I was in serious trouble. I could die. And then I was gone. The doctors put me into a coma on March 23. I had no dreams and I couldn’t hear voices. During my coma, I went into septic shock, and my kidneys were compromised. They found out that I have a congenital heart defect—a patent foramen ovale, which is basically a hole in the heart (most people with endocarditis have an underlying heart defect). When they put me on the ventilator, the pressure caused the hole to open up wide, and it started letting bacteria flow into my lungs and then circulate through my body. As I deteriorated, my mom called in my ex-husband to say goodbye to me. My twin brother flew in. My mom agonized when they asked her if she wanted me to get a feeding tube. It wouldn’t save me, though it might have provided my body with some comfort. But my condition was so delicate that she was terrified of doing anything that might trigger an avalanche. For 19 days, I stayed in my coma as they pumped me full of Vancomycin, the nuclear bomb of antibiotics. After five days under, they moved me to Toronto General because I was too sick—I needed heart-lung specialists. When I got there, they admitted me to their ICU, and slowly, inch by inch, the infection backed off. On April 13, I was stable enough for them to wake me up. The first thing I heard was my brother’s voice. I opened my eyes, and saw him and my mother. She was crying. I could feel a tube in my throat and hear something beeping and whooshing behind me. I realized I was on life support. I couldn’t speak

Shooting heroin was like walking into a vacuum. I didn’t gain a feeling—I lost all feelings

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I had a condition called endocarditis. The right side of my heart was bombarded with whatever garbage was mixed in with my heroin, and the valve was infected

because of the tube, so I tried to communicate by writing notes. My writing was like a five-year-old’s. My R’s and S’s were backwards, and I had to concentrate on pressing the pencil down. Every letter exhausted me. After two sentences, I had to stop. I had multiple IVs, plus a line that went directly into my jugular vein. I weighed 97 pounds. I couldn’t sit up, and I couldn’t walk. My mother and brother continued to live at the hospital with me after I woke up—I don’t think I was ever alone. For the first few days, I was confused. I believed I’d been shooting a TV show in Miami, and that I’d gotten sick over there and been flown to the hospital in Toronto. My brother gently explained to me that I was hallucinating, but it was difficult to accept that my mind was lying to me. Later, I became convinced that I’d checked into East General and started partying with the staff there. I was sure that the nurses and therapists and doctors I saw at Toronto General were somehow the same ones who sold me the drugs. They were kind and patient with me. It took me weeks to realize that none of this had actually happened. After I had been awake for a few days, the cardiologist came to see me. He said my valve was severely damaged and I might need open-heart surgery to replace it with a prosthetic. I was shocked and angry with myself. When I was using heroin, I worried about overdosing or collapsing a vein or getting a disease. I never considered that I could be damaging my heart. I had finished rehab almost three years earlier, but heroin was coming back to haunt my health. I had never heard of endocarditis. 98 toronto life April 2018

The cardiologist was a serious guy—he told me I wouldn’t survive open-heart surgery at that moment. I was too thin and too sick, and my history as an IV drug user worsened my prognosis. It didn’t matter how long I’d been clean: after they replaced the valve, using heroin again, even once, would be a death sentence. Bacteria in the shot sticks to the implanted valve, which is a sticky thing indeed, and starts thriving. The body can’t send white blood cells to fight the infection, because it doesn’t recognize it. At first I was offended. I thought he was suggesting that I might relapse. Which he was, because he didn’t know me and he’d probably seen it happen a thousand times. I also thought he was threatening to withhold life-saving surgery. Which he wasn’t—he was just suggesting we wait until I was stronger and he knew me better, and then we could reassess the situation. He was smart and honest and in a difficult position. Replacing that valve would be like giving me a loaded gun. With it in my body, if I ever went back to using—even once—I’d likely die. But without it, my heart might fail on its own.


lmost two months after walking into the hospital, I was discharged. The first thing I did was try to gain weight. I’ve put on 30 pounds in almost a year, and I feel better than I have in a long time. I check my ankles for swelling every morning, because they taught me in the ICU that it’s a sign of right-sided heart failure. If that ever happens, I need to go directly back to the hospital. For months, I constantly feared that my heart was going to stop. The second thing I did was get a job. I was hired by a company I worked with as a director 15 years ago. I’m still there, and I love it. I forgot how much I like to work—and I’ve developed better boundaries. I guard myself against feeling like I need to go to extraordinary measures to please everyone. I do what I can. In January, I visited my cardiologist again. He was very impressed with the state of my health, both physically and mentally. He did an EKG and all kinds of other tests on my heart, and told me that it’s compensating beautifully, despite major damage to the valve. I practically started dancing around his office. “Maybe I have a super-heart!” I said. He laughed and told me I just might—that I’m extremely resilient. He’s getting to know me better these days and told me he’s optimistic about my future. If I stay clean, stay healthy, and my heart maintains its current state of heroism, I might not need open-heart surgery for years. I might need it someday; my heart could eventually unwind. But the longer I can live without having my ribs broken and my heart removed from my chest, the better it is for my body. I think about drugs all the time, but I never feel like using. Instead, I think about how I burned down my life for them. My ex-husband will always be scared that I’ll relapse, and I don’t blame him. I’m just grateful that he’s still in my life. I want him to be happy, and he wants the same for me. Somehow we got out of this alive. My children are nine now, and they know about my heroin addiction. They know I might need surgery. They’ve been to counselling, and I’m constantly scanning their emotional horizons, looking for damage. The depth of their forgiveness has humbled me. The other day, we were singing and dancing around my apartment. When we collapsed on the couch, my son turned to me. “Mom, you don’t have a great voice,” he said. “But you’ve got a GREAT heart!” ∫

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G r e at S p a c e S

The Airbnbers

Under new city rules, anyone can turn their home into a part-time hotel. Here’s who’s doing it and how much they’re making by j e a n gr a n t

photography by derek shapton

Meg Ryley and her husband, Paul Peterson, make about $60,000 per year renting out their Leaside home

Turn The page for more

April 2018 toronto life 101

Leaside Modern

Who: Paul Peterson, a real estate agent, and his wife, Meg Ryley, an interior designer Airbnbing since: 2017 rAte: $925 per night YeArlY hoMe-shAre eArnings: $60,000

Paul and Meg moved into this fourbedroom, sevenbathroom modern home with their infant daughter last July. But the place often sat empty, because they’re out of town at least 15 weekends a year, spending time at family cottages in Collingwood or Muskoka. After a few friends who crashed at their place last summer raved about the experience, Paul and Meg listed the house on Airbnb and set out to make it even more appealing. They turned the backyard into a multifunctional rubber sports court (it’s got space for ball hockey and basketball, with nets for badminton in the summer) and installed a hot tub and gas-burning firepit on the roof—all to further entice potential renters. Now, they’re overwhelmed with requests. They’ve started refusing rentals of fewer than five days to curb demand. 102 toronto life April 2018

6 5

Airbnb g re At spAc es

The living room sofa and chairs are from Elte Market. Meg and Paul went with dark colours that wouldn’t stain easily. 1


They put a lock on the basement storage room.


They get a lot of party requests, and it’s easy to see why: in addition to the hot tub, there’s a Ping-Pong table in the basement and a beer fridge outside. Plus, there are built-in Sonos speakers in every room.



They put locks on their baby’s closet. She’s one of the reasons they have to be particular with guests. 4



They bought the hanging bookshelves in the living room from a shop in Reykjavik. “They’re always a conversation piece,” Paul says.


The home’s temperature, alarms, television and lighting can all be controlled by smartphone. “We installed the system so we could keep an eye on everything remotely,” Paul says. “In case guests leave the house for a few days in the winter and accidentally turn the heat off.”

photograph by contributors name tk


April 2018 toronto life 103

Rosedale Victorian


2 3


Who: Linda Wade, an interior designer Airbnbing since: 2015 rAte: $295 to $450 per night

1 Linda removed a few of her favourite objects before renting her house but left most of the space intact.

YeArlY hoMe-shAre eArnings: $90,000

linda had wanted to own a Victorian home since she was in her 20s. She opened her antique store, Putti Fine Furnishings, in Rosedale in 1994. A few years later, she finally bought her dream house. She and her husband, Martin Dwyer, spent years filling it with an eclectic assortment of art, furniture and decor. About three years ago, after Martin’s death, the home started to seem too big—and too expensive— for one person. Eventually, Linda decided to Airbnb the space. “It was the perfect solution for me, since I wasn’t ready to give up my house,” she says. She lives there parttime, when she’s not travelling to England to visit family and stock up on items for the shop. Her second-ever guest, a 20-something guy who stayed with seven friends for Caribana, trashed the place, but Airbnb paid for the damage. So far, the rest of her renters have been more considerate. 104 toronto life April 2018


2 Her favourite things on the main floor are the framed dried plants that surround the fireplace. She found them in the south of France. 3 The home has original stainedglass windows from the 1800s.

The daybeds are from Oly Studio. A drunk bridesmaid renter once flung herself onto one to get in on a photo op and broke it. 4

She has a key to a drawer in the bathroom and another to a locked closet where she keeps a few clothes.


Airbnb g re At spAc es

Annex Row House 1

Who: Tullio Bugada, the founder of a waste management company Airbnbing since: 2017 rAte: $300 to $500 per night YeArlY hoMe-shAre eArnings: $25,000

last spring, tullio bought a threebedroom, 19thcentury row house to use as his bachelor pad. He travels a lot—he regularly visits family in Italy, and likes to go on hunting and fishing adventures—so he renovated with Airbnbing in mind. To him, that meant making the place look stylish, but not investing in super-expensive furnishings and art, in case of unruly visitors. To charm guests, he gave the bedrooms themes. There’s a 1980s room, with pop-art posters and geometric decor, and an underwater room, with blue furnishings and a trio of aquatic-themed sculptures hanging on the wall. After a few months and $120,000 in upgrades, including a full basement renovation and the installation of some new tile flooring, Tullio was ready to rent. Because he lives by himself, he doesn’t have to do much decluttering before guests arrive.


He keeps the freezer stocked with pizzas for guests to eat in a pinch. He’ll also sometimes leave some moose meat for them to sample. 1


There are Bose speakers on all three floors. 2

The loft is his bedroom, and it’s where he keeps personal belongings, like his clothes and artwork his daughter made.


The 1980s room is Tullio’s favourite. It has a trundle bed.



April 2018 toronto life 105

Airbnb g re At spAc es

South Riverdale Loft 2

1 Who: Jeff Lohnes, a talent agency owner, and his wife, Jil, a strategy VP at a sales and marketing firm Airbnbing since: 2015 rAte: $229 per night

A Nova Scotian artist carved the coffee table from an enormous tree trunk.


YeArlY hoMe-shAre eArnings: $3,000

Jeff and Jil bought their home, a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom unit in the Wrigley Lofts, about four years ago. Among their additions: a rainfall showerhead, new kitchen cabinetry, an ethanol fireplace and a ceiling bicycle rack. In 2015, Jeff convinced Jil to list their place on Airbnb when they embarked on one of their frequent backpacking excursions. Jil initially wasn’t thrilled to be renting out their home, so Jeff assured her safety would be his priority. For their first few renters, he secured his entire booze collection and any item of value in a locker they hid in the closet. Now, he screens potential guests by asking a ton of questions before he’ll rent to them. At the moment, to avoid the hassles associated with extended stays, they rent the space mostly for day-long photo shoots. 106 toronto life April 2018

They built or restored most of the furniture themselves, and added rustic pieces of decor and subtly nautical touches, like this oar.



All they did for guests was buy an extra set of sheets and towels for them to use.


They don’t lock anything away when they have guests. “If we have people stay, we trust them to treat it like their home,” Jeff says.



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The Chase

Doctor in the House

They both had careers in medicine, but no mortgage pre-approval by jo sh de h a a s The buyers: Derek Tsang, a 32-year-old doctor at a downtown hospital, and Lori Wong, a 33-year-old medical radiation technologist. The sTory: Derek and Lori got married in 2011 and had a son, Elliott, two years later. In 2016, they were living happily in an apartment near Avenue Road and St. Clair when Derek took a fellowship in Tennessee. When they returned the following summer, it was with a fourth family member, baby boy Avery. They began searching for a four-bedroom house in a good school district with subway access, but getting a mortgage was going to be tricky: Derek’s new hospital job didn’t start until October. Avenue and St. Clair seemed out of reach, so they focused their search on East York.

portrait by erin leydon


Condor Avenue (near Danforth and Greenwood)


CAdornA Avenue (near O’Connor and Donlands)


WAlmsley BoulevArd (near Yonge and St. Clair)

Listed at $1,200,000

Listed at $1,290,000

Listed at $1,495,000

Sold for $1,375,000

Sold for $1,220,000

Sold for $1,500,000

They liked the vaulted ceilings in the master bedroom, and they loved the kitchen’s marble countertops and the landscaped backyard. The property was close to the Danforth subway line, and the nearby schools were good. The only real flaw was the place’s proximity to the TTC’s Greenwood Yard, but neighbours told them it wasn’t too loud. They bid $1.23 million, conditional on financing. Without a mortgage pre-approval, they didn’t want to go much higher during the second round of offers. Their final bid of $1.28 million wasn’t even close.

This four-bedroom East York home had a spacious master suite and an updated kitchen. Derek and Lori were also taken with the backyard, which had a fireplace and patio for entertaining. But the property had a few definite drawbacks. For one, it was far from the Danforth subway line, which Derek planned to take to work. Also, the house was fairly large, at 2,500 square feet—so big that Lori feared it would feel lonely if they happened to be living there when the kids grew up and moved out. They decided not to make an offer.

By October, Derek had started his new job. They upped their online search filter to $1.5 million, and a house just blocks from Avenue and St. Clair popped up. They went to see it on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. It had only three bedrooms, but the third bedroom had a bunk bed, proving it could work in a pinch if they ever had another kid. The place had worn-out floors, ugly carpet and a crack in the fireplace, but the location was ideal. They made a conditional offer and a bank came through with just hours to spare. The sellers left them the bunk bed as a gift.

April 2018 toronto life 109



Joan Mitchell, Un jardin pour Audrey, 1974. Oil on canvas. 260 x 360.5 cm (diptych). Private collection, Paris. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

Experience the artistic dialogue between two titans of abstract painting during the course of their 24-year relationship. An exhibition developed by the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and organized in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario, with the support of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Yseult Riopelle and Sylvie Riopelle. Lead Suporter

Supporting Sponsors

Generously supported by

David G. Broadhurst The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation Supported by the Government of Canada/ Avec l’appui du gouvernement du Canada Supported by Organizing Partner Jean-Paul Riopelle, Micmac, 1975. Oil on canvas. 300 x 400 cm (diptych). Collection Sylvie Blatazart-Eon, Paris. © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SODRAC (2018).


REPORT 2017/2018

VITALSIGNS HOUSING This is a summary of the 16th Vital Signs Report on quality of life in Toronto. It is produced by Toronto Foundation, our city’s gathering place for philanthropy. This year it focused on equity, highlighting the barriers that prevent some of us from accessing the immense opportunities our city has to offer. You can read the full report online:

ARTS & CULTURE We love the arts, but not everyone has the same access. Approximately 85% of households in Toronto with incomes above $100,000 attend arts events, compared to 70% of households with incomes below $100,000.

ENVIRONMENT Toronto is green, but only some of us benefit. Distribution of Forest Cover, City of Toronto






Overall Toronto has 25% tree cover, but the Rosedale-Moore Park neighbourhood has 62% tree cover, while others have 7%. On average, the neighbourhoods with the greatest tree canopy also

have higher average real estate value and incomes.

GETTING AROUND Low-income Torontonians are more likely to take transit and their commuting times are significantly longer. 30% of public transit commuters in Toronto spent an hour or more getting to work every day, compared to 7% of drivers.

HEALTH & WELLNESS Toronto has some of the best healthcare in the world, but your income can influence how long you live. The mortality rate for low-income Torontonians is 16% higher than for the most affluent. For every 100,000 people that amounts to 63 additional deaths, comparable to our murder rate. Diabetes prevalence in Toronto is 10 per 100 people, but the Malvern neighbourhood has 17/100, whereas Rosedale-Moore Park has 5/100.

Affordable housing is the most cost-effective way to provide shelter, but we are still paying more for band-aid solutions like emergency shelters. Affordable housing units cost $23 per day, whereas emergency shelters cost $69, jails $142 and hospitals $665.

INCOME & WEALTH Toronto is a wealthy city, but we’re still the child poverty capital of Canada. 26% of those under 18 in Toronto are living in poverty compared to 13% in Calgary. For newcomer children, it is almost 50%.

LEADERSHIP, CIVIC ENGAGEMENT & BELONGING Civic engagement is essential to a healthy society, but our sense of belonging varies significantly by age group. 78% of seniors feel a strong sense of belonging to their local community but only 59% of young adults feel the same.

LEARNING Torontonians are well educated, but there are barriers to equal advancement. Black, Latin American, Middle Eastern and Indigenous students are over-represented in the lower-tier high-school streams, which limits their post-secondary options. Without a teacher or guidance counsellor who

sees their potential, or a family member with time and skills to advocate or navigate the bureaucracy, many students are at a disadvantage.

SAFETY Reported sexual assaults are up significantly, even though we know these are the most under-reported crimes. There’s been a 30% increase in reported sexual assaults since 2009.

WORK Torontonians have an entrepreneurial spirit, but it may be out of necessity. Self-employment is on the rise at 18%, up from 16% in 2015. However, it can, in part, be a result of lack of options caused by systemic racism and discrimination in the mainstream labour market. For example, racialized men make approximately $15,000 less than other men, and racialized women make $10,000 less than other women.



Suzanna Su in Agincourt

Edith Usiobaifo in KingstonGallowayOrton Park

At 12 years old, Suzanna didn’t feel like going to school — or even getting out of bed. It was the beginning of her lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety. Though she turned to her parents for help, they had little understanding of mental health and weren’t equipped to support her.

socially, began skipping classes and her grades suffered. By the end of her first year of university at age 18, she was failing all her classes and had to drop out.

With no supports, Suzanna’s condition steadily deteriorated over the years. At age 16, she really started to struggle in school: she withdrew

Suzanna’s turning point came when she started the social service worker program at Centennial College, where she was able to access mental health supports and finally received a medical diagnosis. She also learned about mental health in her classes and

In order to get to work every day, Edith must stick to a razor-sharp schedule. She wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and is out the door by 6:00 a.m., first dropping off her son, 8, at daycare. She then walks 20 minutes to the GO station and takes the train to Ajax. Finally, the bus takes to her workplace. On the best days, she travels for a total of six hours – three hours in the morning, and three

to get back home in the evening. But when the weather is bad, or when the trains are delayed, Edith’s commutes take nightmarishly long and cuts drastically into her workday. Since she is paid hourly, she earns less income on these days. Even worse is when Edith’s son is sick. No matter how quickly she leaves work, Edith is never able to rush to her son’s side, as she must

bonded with classmates who were experiencing similar struggles. Now, at age 22 and living in Agincourt, Suzanna is working toward a bachelor of social work at Ryerson University and accesses counselling services through her school on a regular basis. “Counselling has helped me have a more positive outlook on life and motivates me to want to try harder,” she says. “Without it, I probably would have ended up dropping out of college.”

commute for hours to get to him. Edith’s long journey stresses her out, and that daily grind has an effect on her health. “Sometimes I feel tired and I just want to go to bed early,” she says. “Why? Because I need to wake up at 4:30 again.”

For the full report go to:

photograph by norman wong


A breakout singer’s back-to-back gigs music | Charlotte Day Wilson April 6 and 7, Danforth Music Hall

Charlotte Day Wilson has charmed Toronto by a thousand cuts. Though the buzzy soul singer has yet to drop a full-length album, she earned a rabid following through a trickle of small projects: her moody debut EP, CDW; collaborations with local ascendants like Daniel Caesar and BadBadNotGood; and one-off singles like “Doubt,” a seductively dreamy slow jam. It’s one of six minimalistic tracks on Stone Woman, the stellar sophomore EP that will have to tide Wilson fans over for the time being. April 2018 toronto life 115

2 A landmark photo show Art | Joshua Jensen-Nagle | April 14 to 28, Bau-Xi Photo

Toronto-based artist Joshua Jensen-Nagle transforms familiar scenes into otherworldly vistas through his vivid, sun-bleached photography. He’s best known for his beach landscapes that turn distant shores into soothing expanses of teal and white. In his new exhibition, Dreams and Journeys, he brings his signature style to more politically and culturally charged territory. He perched his camera atop a 14-foot-tall tripod outside landmarks in cities like Paris (the Louvre, Notre Dame), Rome (the Pantheon), Jerusalem (Western Wall) and Siena (the Siena Cathedral, pictured) to capture the visual beauty of the sites and their relationships with the tourists who visit them.

4 A sci-fi thriller à la Black mirror


The Amateurs by Liz Harmer Knopf Canada

In the near future, a Google-esque tech behemoth unveils Port, a device powered by sheer nostalgia and longing that lets users relive their past and see years ahead. The gadget is a hit—until people start getting lost in their journeys through time and space. As the population begins to plummet and electrical grids shut down, a young artist and a disillusioned Port employee team up to find their lost loved ones. Author Liz Harmer takes cues from Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy in this sharp debut, a cautionary tale of tech gone astray.

3 Greek mythology by way of burlesque OperA | Orphée | April 26 to 28, Fleck Dance Theatre

Gluck’s treatment of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice avoided the absurd plots and overly ornamented vocal lines typical of the baroque period. This new take, co-produced by Against the Grain Theatre, takes another radically reforming step, abandoning Orphée’s reverential mise-en-scène for digital projections, electro-acoustic soundscapes, a virtual chorus and a burlesque troupe, including aerialist and soprano Marcy Richardson in the role of Amour. Though the story is well known—Orphée (Siman Chung) tries to bring his wife, Eurydice (Mireille Asselin), back from the dead—it’s the most adventurous musical event of the month. 116 toronto life April 2018

photographs: orphée by corey weaver; harmer by scott nichols

April 24


A big-hearted Broadway hit TheATre | Fun Home

photographs: fun home by adam rankin; martin by danny clinch; prairie nurse courtesy of factory theatre; majid jordan by norman wong

April 13 to May 6, CAA Theatre

It may be set in a funeral home, but this quirky musical is all about the joys, pains and mysteries of living. Based on Alison Bechdel’s comingof-age graphic memoir, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s funny, tear-jerking 2013 show follows a young woman as she discovers her sexual identity and reconnects with her estranged, enigmatic father. A five-time Tony winner— and the very first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist—Fun Home is being produced here for Mirvish by the adventurous Musical Stage Company (Onegin, Life After).



A wild and crazy night TAlks | An Evening With Steve Martin April 23, Roy Thomson Hall

Steve Martin has jumped from starring roles to stand-up comedy specials to writing plays about Picasso to, more recently, curating a Lawren Harris show at the AGO. The polymathic funnyman will share stories from his 40-year career—including SNL, The Jerk and a side gig as a banjo player—in an onstage discussion with super-Canadian satirist Rick Mercer, followed by a signing where you can finally ask Martin to autograph your old LP of Let’s Get Small.

8 The future kings of Toronto r&B music | Majid Jordan | April 4 and 5, Rebel

Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman cut their teeth in a U of T dorm room, toying with synths and drum machines until sunrise. The first song they wrote together somehow reached the ears of Drake, who turned it into the platinum single “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” The duo has made good on Drizzy’s seal of approval with two albums, including The Space Between, an atmospheric blend of Ullman’s pulsating, ’80s-inspired production and Al Maskati’s hypnotic voice. This month, they wrap up a whirlwind world tour with two euphoric nights at Rebel.

A double-trouble hospital drama TheATre | Prairie Nurse April 21 to May 13, Factory Theatre

The old mistaken-identity routine gets a cultural twist in this lightning-paced, lighthearted comedy. When a pair of young Filipina nurses arrive at a hospital in smalltown Saskatchewan in the late 1960s, they sow confusion among the all-white staff who can’t tell them apart— including a hunky, hockeyplaying lab technician who isn’t sure which one he’s fallen for. Toronto playwright Marie Beath Badian took inspiration from her mother’s own experiences as an immigrant nurse to write this rural farce.

A globe-trotting, time-travelling story collection

10 A new neck of the Woods music | Donovan Woods | April 25, Massey Hall

Donovan Woods is an all-Canadian troubadour, the type of bearded, flannel-wrapped guitar-slinger who recites raspy folk tunes about Grey Cup rings and the death of manufacturing in small Ontario towns. At Massey Hall, he’ll debut his fifth fulllength album, Both Ways, which injects his rugged northern numbers with poppy Nashville flair. Its first single, “Burn That Bridge,” is one of Woods’s richest tunes yet, tapping distorted guitars and lush synths for a Springsteenian anthem about falling in love with a friend.



Tiger, Tiger by JoHaNNa SkibSruD HamisH Hamilton April 3

Johanna Skibsrud won the 2010 Giller Prize for The Sentimentalists, her touching debut about a Vietnam vet and his daughter. In this new collection of short stories, she once again tells the story of a soldier and his child—this time accompanied by a dizzying variety of other characters and tales. The 14 vignettes take readers into WWI battlefields, modern nursing homes and the reaches of outer space to tell the stories of a scientist who discovers the nature of love, a taxidermist who loses his fiancée under mysterious circumstances, and an isolated teenager who can unfathomably recall 200,000 years of the earth’s history.

118 toronto life April 2018

A Fran of many words tAlKs | Fran Lebowitz April 21 and 22, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema


An uncharted Atwood sequel tv | The Handmaid’s Tale April 29, Bravo

The dystopian masterpiece has so far won eight Emmys, a couple of Golden Globes and the alarmed admiration of a Trump-fearing, #MeTootweeting generation. The showrunners wisely sought Atwood’s input to write Season 2, which begins where the novel ended: with Offred stepping into a black van, on her way to freedom—or the authorities. Either way, we expect more brilliant performances from Elisabeth Moss and co., and a new batch of Toronto cameos: the handmaids were spotted marching two by two around Artscape Wychwood Barns in January.

More than 40 years after her comic essays shot her into the spotlight, Fran Lebowitz has remained one of America’s most beloved public wits—and the absurdities of the Trump era have only increased her profile as a sharp-tongued commentator. In a rare Toronto appearance arranged by the Koffler Centre of the Arts, the modern-day Dorothy Parker will take part in a wideranging onstage conversation with The Current host Anna Maria Tremonti. A Q&A will follow for anyone who dares to match wits with the master.

photographs: skibsrud by dan davis; woods courtesy of donovan woods; handmaid’s tale courtesy of bell media; lebowitz by brigitte lacombe



The hottest Hot Docs

By Marie B Beath e h Badian B d dii l Directed ec by b Sue ue M Min Miner neeer n

April A prri p ril 2 21 – M Mayy 13 3


Hot Docs canaDian international Documentary Festival April 26 to May 6, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

BOOK NOW! 416.504.9971 #ftprairienurse Anote’s Ark In the next 50 years, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati will be swallowed by rising oceans. This doc follows President Anote Tong’s race to save his remote nation of 100,000, including a young family seeking refuge in New Zealand.


photographs courtesy of hot docs

Oslo Diaries In 1992, at the height of Israeli-Palestinian hostility, pro-peace delegates from both sides covertly met in Oslo. Based on their diaries, this flick recreates the secret meeting that influenced a quarter-century of Middle East relations.

Love, Gilda Gilda Radner began her comedy career cracking jokes at the Second City and starring in the Royal Alex’s Godspell. This retrospective features archival footage, Radner’s reflections and testimonies from the generation of comics she inspired.

April 2018 toronto life 119


British invasion



The Family Fave

The maraThon

Annie April 24 to May 27, Ed Mirvish Theatre

Love and Information April 10 to 29, Berkeley Street Theatre

On Downton Abbey, Lesley Nicol was the motherly cook Mrs. Patmore. In Annie, the veteran British actor takes on a role far less maternal: the ginswilling, little girl–hating orphanage boss Miss Hannigan. A new production of the evergreen family musical arrives in Toronto fresh from London’s West End, ready to charm us again with its plucky orphans, sunny score and heaps of Depression-era optimism.

British dramatist Caryl Churchill is a bold social critic whose plays about feminism (Top Girls) and gender stereotypes (Cloud Nine) have become modern classics. Her 2012 epic, Love and Information, tackles our age of data overload and its impact on human relationships. The witty two-hour show, presented by Canadian Stage, caters to short attention spans: 57 byte-size plays performed by eight actors in more than 100 roles.



The Teen Turmoil

The Cram Dram

Girls Like That April 17 to May 27, Tarragon Theatre

Punk Rock March 29 to April 14, Streetcar Crowsnest

When a nude photo of a student goes viral, it shreds her reputation and puts friendships on the line. In this hard-hitting drama, Toronto-born, London-based playwright Evan Placey ventures into today’s high schools to take an unflinching look at the power of social media and sexism in adolescent culture. Already an award winner in Europe, the play makes its eagerly awaited Canadian debut at the Tarragon.

Another powerful teen play from the U.K., Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock zeroes in on a group of angsty private school students prepping for finals. A volatile mix of anger, insecurity and out-of-control hormones leads to an explosive, violent climax. First produced in Britain in 2009 with a young Tom Sturridge, this acclaimed show gets its local premiere from awardwinning indie troupe the Howland Company.

120 toronto life April 2018

photographs: annie courtesy of mirvish; girls like that by jim rice; love and information courtesy of canadian stage; punk rock by brooke wedlock photography

Four acclaimed plays from across the pond making local premieres this month



Bach brought back to life

the definitive tragically hip bible

April 5 to 8, Trinity–St. Paul’s Centre; April 10, Toronto Centre for the Arts

Bach completed this massive composition—considered one of the supreme achievements of Western classical music— in 1749, the year before he died. It’s a de facto textbook of baroque choral composition, testing the prowess and passion of any ensemble willing to risk it. Ivars Taurins bravely leads the Tafelmusik orchestra and chamber choir and a quartet of soloists in a magisterial reading of the complex, moving work, a spiritual journey from supplication to celebration that ends with a prayer for peace.


A symphonic switcheroo OperA | The Nightingale and Other Short Fables April 13 to May 19, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts The COC restages this Robert Lepage hit, which earned acclaim in 2009 for its topsy-turvy staging: the musicians are onstage, while the singers and dancers perform in a water-filled orchestra pit. The show is a Stravinsky compilation of Russian fables with no narrative through line—expect nonsense rhymes, peasant folk songs, a song cycle about cats and Southeast Asian puppetry. The Nightingale, the longest piece, is a fairy tale about a Chinese emperor saved from death by the bird’s voice, featuring the ravishingly voiced soprano Jane Archibald as the wondrous warbler.

18 the apostate’s tale mOvies | Disobedience | April 27

Rachel McAdams—pride of London, Ontario— stars alongside Rachel Weisz in this brilliant adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s acclaimed novel, which premiered to rapturous reviews at TIFF in 2017. Weisz plays a secular New York photographer who flies to London after her rabbi father’s death. Back home, she reunites with the allgrown-up girl she once loved (McAdams), only to find her once-rebellious companion is now a conservative schoolteacher, herself married to a rabbi. McAdams delivers a moving performance as a woman caught between passion and piety. 122 toronto life April 2018


The Never-Ending Present by miCHaeL barCLay ECW pREss April 3

The outpouring of love for Gord Downie in his final days made one thing clear: for millions of Canadians, the Tragically Hip was more than just a band—it was an idea of Canada. In the Hip’s first print biography, journalist and CanRock aficionado Michael Barclay traces the band’s journey from Kingston beginnings and early Horseshoe gigs to national fame and the 2016 farewell concert watched by more than a third of the country. Barclay weaves together reportage and interviews with the band, and their family members, friends and contemporaries to demystify the Hip’s transcendent reputation as the sound of a nation.

photographs: tafelmusik courtesy of tafelmusik; nightingale courtesy of coc; barclay by colin medley

clAssicAl | bach b-minor mass

THE 2018 G L

Christina Jennings (second from right), Founder, CEO and Chairman of Shaftesbury and Chair of CFC’s Board of Directors, with Frankie Drake Mysteries stars (left to right) Rebecca Liddiard, Lauren Lee Smith, and Sharron Matthews

Slawko Klymkiw, CEO, CFC; with Ivan Fecan, Executive Chair, Producer and CEO of Thunderbird

hank you to our 2018 F

nnual Gala

uction sponsors, donors and guests.

Your generous support enables the Canadian Film Centre to invest in and inspire the next generation of world-class content creators and entrepreneurs in the screen-based entertainment industry.


Actor Emmanuel Kabongo with Kejda Trungu

Actors Dani Kind and Amanda Brugel

Alumni of The Slaight Family Music Lab: Aimee Bessada, Chris Reineck, Neil Haverty, Rebecca Everett and Spencer Creaghan; Tomi Swick (Slaight Music); and guest auctioneer Stephen Ranger.

Sarah Gadon, actor; with Don McKeller, actor, writer and filmmaker


Lady Bird

For two years, I raised a chicken in the backyard of my semi at Queen and Bathurst. I loved the fresh eggs—but I hated the hen by s a r a h t r e l e av e n One hot night in summer 2011, I was invited to an unconventional show off our bounty. We occasionally slipped a few eggs to the dinner party. A friend of a friend had been raising chickens in neighbours, too, lest they be tempted to report our illegal chicken. the postage-stamp backyard of his Queen West semi. That night, We were pleased with ourselves, almost sanctimonious about he was planning to kill and eat a hen that had stopped laying, being city slickers with a partly sustainable household—even hoping to perpetuate the circle of life. Did I want to come? if the chicken was doing most of the work. I was surprisingly unconflicted about it. My immediate The chicken, who went unnamed, was very easy to keep. answer was yes, and off I went. After watching an instructional She lived in an Eglu, a $250 Scandinavian-chic coop that YouTube video, the chicken’s owner, Jamie, and a few accomplices includes a fox-proof run and plastic house. She ate chicken opted to slit her throat with a butcher knife. I sat on the steps, feed, as well as a range of scraps, compost and leftover Chinese food. Once a week, Jamie would clean out her house and run, feeling not repelled, not distressed, but increasingly hungry. The dismembering process was more stressful: one of the replacing the hay she liked to nestle in. And in winter, we put guests, a doctor, was shockingly inept at in a warming bulb and watched for frozen deciphering chicken anatomy, and we all puzzled water and food. over where exactly to make the cuts. When we While I loved the eggs, I was unable to form were done, we tried to make coq au vin. After any kind of connection to the chicken they came five hours of braising—and five drained bottles from. She pecked at my hands and arms when I of wine—the chicken was still too tough to eat. opened the run to feed her. And when I crouched At three years old, she was long past her prime. down beside her Eglu to stare into her beady So we ordered a meat lovers’ pizza. little eyes, there was no warmth or affection. Not long after that, Jamie and I fell in love. I’ve sincerely loved every other animal I’ve Friends gleefully dubbed this origin story a owned—Merv, the dwarf hamster; Thumper “meat-cute.” Watching a man slaughter an and Dusty, the rabbits; Bandito, my tiny and animal in a downtown backyard would typically spirited Chihuahua. I once heard someone refer When I be considered the hallmark of a pretty bad first backyard chickens as “pets with benefits,” crouched beside to date. It was, however, one of the more honest but mine wasn’t my pet or my friend. She was her Eglu to stare more like an employee. things I had ever witnessed. A man who had cared for his chicken for years decided to kill When she turned three—retirement age for into her beady her humanely and efficiently for a group of a chicken—she gradually stopped laying. Her little eyes, there daily eggs dwindled down to five a week, then hungry friends. We all knew where this dinner had come from—a refreshing alternative to was no warmth three, then two. And with the end of her utility, buying anonymous, shrink-wrapped chicken I’d stare out the kitchen window and wonder if or affection parts in grocery stores, provenance unknown. she was content. Suddenly, I didn’t like the idea We’d met the chicken and watched her peck of keeping a bird in a cage. around the raspberry bush for a couple of hours while we drank Despite my lack of attachment, I couldn’t bring myself to kill pre-slaughter cocktails. Then we’d seen the life drain out of her. an animal I knew wouldn’t be delicious. And so, after a few It sounds grim, but someone is usually watching when an ani- weeks, we called up the hippies who had sold us the chicken and asked them to rehome her on their farm. They arrived one mal dies for food. I figured it might as well be us. A year later, I moved into Jamie’s semi and quickly became afternoon, several hours late, to take the chicken back to their acquainted with his remaining chicken, a handsome leghorn spacious co-op in the Kawarthas. After declining an invitation hen with thick red feathers. Every morning, I’d throw on a to attend their full moon party, I watched as they scooped up sweater over my pyjamas, creep down the back steps, open the our big red bird and drove off in their VW van. door of the coop and retrieve a fresh, warm egg. I was delighted We sold the Eglu and now buy expensive free-range eggs in that this was all happening in the middle of the city, against an Kensington Market. Perhaps raising animals for food requires incongruous backdrop of skyscrapers and restaurants that a blend of fondness and detachment. But no matter how hard charge too much for omelettes. I tried, I couldn’t love that chicken—and I couldn’t keep an Her eggs were smaller than the grocery store variety, but animal I didn’t love. creamy and rich with a bright orange yolk. I happily fried them up for breakfast sandwiches and baked them into chewy Sarah Treleaven is a writer in Toronto. chocolate chip cookies. When friends came over, we’d proudly Email submissions to 124 toronto life April 2018


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Toronto Life April 2018  
Toronto Life April 2018