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05/24/2006: "In the Ghetto"

In this past week's Eye Weekly Stroll column I wrote about North Toronto. This is a slightly longer version. I will slowly post the back-log of Strolls that I've neglected to post.


A few years ago Globe and Mail columnist John Barber referred to North Toronto, the area around Yonge and Lawrence, as our city's only real ghetto (a rich white one). My first Toronto cubical was up there, working among the Ghetto denizens. They shopped at Pusaterie's, sent their kids to UCC and when getting rides to the subway, they would point out fancy homes where important wives had left important husbands.

South of Lawrence, east of Yonge, is the former farm of John Lawrence, "a gentleman farmer." Just before the First World War, it was subdivide by the Dovercourt Land Building and Savings Company into the Lawrence Park Estates, designed as "a high class suburban site." However, the war and recession resulted in a 1919 auction of the many unsold properties at "any price the public will pay". Today they pay upwards of a million dollars to live on these leafy streets. At night, the warm glow of their plasma screens are visible from the street, but some of the Craftsman homes (the kind of thing that makes being rich tolerable, along with those plasma TVs) have been torn down to make way for atrocious monster homes that must make the old money shudder.

South of Lawrence Park are the ravines that follow Burke Creek, starting with the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. Originally located just north of St. Clair, the TTC spent $100,000 to move the gardens in 1952 to make way for the subway. Muir's 1867 massive Top-40 hit "The Maple Leaf Forever" isn't sung much anymore, but his park has some very nice red crushed-stone paths, a nice change from boring pavement.

Deeper still begin old growth forests with a White Pine "super canopy" that had Toronto arborist-at-large Todd Irvine marveling on a recent midnight walk we took. A pitched dog owner vs. the dogless battle took place here during the 1990s, similar to the one brewing in Toronto today, but now the dogs have ample leash-free areas, including a network of fenced in pathways that keep the sensitive ravine slopes safe from doggy disturbances. There is even a dog drinking fountain dedicated to "mankind's best friend". The plaque continues: "We wish them Fun Walks. Happy times. Cool drinks. Willy thanks for getting us walking in this beautiful park. This clean water is for you and the little fur people…drink, my loves." I'm currently in a loving, committed relationship with one of the fur people, but sometimes the dog owners scare me more than the fiercest pit bull ever could, even in this bucolic ghetto.

All that can be found anywhere can be found in Toronto.
-Victor Hugo, with some liberty and paraphrase.

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