It’s approaching Saturday night, mid-February, and a classic Canadian snowstorm has fastened its frozen-hellish grip on Toronto. Through the windows of a westbound subway pulling out of Kennedy Station I can see the early brew of rough weather through the twilight of a cloudless setting sun. Tonight I am traversing the Bloor line and back – in its entirety – to bare witness to the MABELLEarts third annual inside/outside mid-winter parade. Also, I have been commandeered to help out; just exactly how I am unsure of at this point.
|Mabelle Park in summer.|
The high-rise, high-density neighbourhood of Mabelle Park, located a five minute walk Northwest of Islington Station, mirrors countless other subsidized housing projects instigated by the Toronto Housing Corporation (THC) in the 1960’s and 70’s throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Characterized by high rates of crime and living conditions close to squalor, places like Mabelle Park would generally be on a list of locations to avoid on a Saturday night. But not this Saturday night.
When a community becomes segregated from vital resources and falls into poverty, its members are either forced to live their lives hand-to-mouth or relocate (an option that is also off the table for many due to strict economic pressures). At Mabelle Park, a third solution was created after its residents became too fed up with political ignorance and social marginalization: build a new community foundation, based on inclusivity and self-expression, to allow for an outlet to ‘make art, tell stories and creatively transform the place that is Mabelle’. In 2007, MABELLEarts was founded under the name ‘Pigeon Creek Collective’ to give that voice back to the people living in the area.
|Drummers warm up before the parade.|
MABELLEarts has since unashamedly proclaimed their place as a vibrant community arts group in Toronto, holding several events each year and programming weekly with both Mabelle residents and community artists from around Toronto. On this particular night of inclement weather, we flooded onto the stoops and front doors of Mabelle Park and took the inside outside, marching along snowy sidewalks with a drum ensemble around an outdoor living room and jars of preserved memories. At the end we all enjoyed hot food and cider made by MABELLEarts members. Because our group at PARC joins in the process of transforming space and transforming lives, they were there too. It was a night for celebrating amidst the whiteness.
For MABELLEarts and PARC members, these are the things that make them feel a part of a community. The motivation to construct and plan a night of this capacity becomes the dedication of individuals who may have never before been involved in something of this scale. The passion behind everything is unobtrusively present. The lives of people right in front of you, hanging in a bed strewn under a tree or radiating around a desk lamp set in the snow. You are caught in the moments of someone else’s life bleeding into your own. It is as close to pure magic as possible.