Friday, 24 May 2013

5 Betcha' Didn't Knows: Toronto

Toronto: a city of many identities, cultures and approaches to life. A place that never really gets tired of itself and continually finds new ways to recreate its fabric. But like any established urban area, Toronto holds onto little known facts and secrets that charm the people and communities within its ever expanding boundaries. The more intimate you become with its grid-iron history and financial bourgeois, the more you learn about each little quirk hidden behind the surge of life in The Big Smoke. Below: some of the lesser known aspects of our fair city.

1)   Front Street was Toronto’s Original Shoreline

It’s kind of a scary thought when you consider that everything South of Front Street (Harbourfront, The Port Lands, The Rogers Centre, The CN Tower and Lakeshore, to name a few) exists on infill land that was not so long ago covered in lake water. I mean, seriously…The person that decided ‘Hey, I think we need more space in Toronto…Why don’t we just create more land?’ and then proceeded to direct people to throw a shit ton of dirt into Lake Ontario until a large portion of it disappeared must have had some pretty ridiculous sized gonads.

If you look closely, you'll see them mounted on a steeple.
This massive campaign to extend the shoreline began in 1850 and lasted over 100 years until we can only presume it was decided that we didn’t want to live any closer to Americans. Today, little evidence exists proving just how far we actually got, but if you walk from Union Station to The Esplanade and imagine what it would be like to swim that same distance, you’ll probably build an appreciation for one of Toronto’s biggest engineering feats.

2)   The Junction was Under Prohibition Until 2000

It’s hard to imagine what prohibition was like, especially because most people on earth weren’t around during its heyday. Rather unfortunately, for the good people living in Toronto’s Junction Community, many don’t have to stretch their imagination too far. Here, the ban of alcohol sales and consumption lasted until late into the 20th century.

AND caused one of the most hilarious protests ever.
This restriction is partially responsible for rapid economic decline during the post-industrial age of the 1970’s and beyond – around the same time Toronto was all like ‘screw you, poor people!’ and successfully annexed The Junction, furthering the marginalization of this community. The commercial areas along Dundas West were all but alive until prohibition was lifted in 1997, causing an influx of local bars and eateries and (inevitably) hipsters to help re-boost its economy. And people wonder what good alcohol can cause.

3)   ‘Little Italy’ Isn’t Italian

It would be silly to name an area after an ethnicity that isn’t actually prevalent there, no? One might assume so. Turns out you assumed wrong. Welcome to Toronto’s ‘Little Italy’, a place that couldn’t be more Portuguese, according to Census Canada. Now take a walk along College Street West and really pay attention to the signs and advertising alongside gelato shops and bakeries; most are owned and operated by people of a Portuguese background. In fact, a fairly large area that should rightfully be named ‘Little Portugal’ would span South of College to Queen and Northwest to St.Clair.

Which begs the question: why the hell is it called ‘Little Italy’? Actually, there’s a (not necessarily good) reason: marketing. When it comes to attracting tourist dollars, ‘Little Italy’ translates to suave, lush and authentic when ‘Little Portugal’ doesn’t really translate into anything. Branding communities like this, while ultimately economically viable, doesn’t always represent its members accurately, so watch out for those misnomers and don’t let a name influence your perspective.

4)   ‘Cabbagetown’ isn’t Irish.

In another twist of misinformed irony, recent demographic studies show that the Toronto jurisdiction currently known as ‘Cabbagetown’ (usually an alias for a place that is dominantly Irish) is actually devoid of Irish people. In fact, the original Irish settlers in Toronto occupied what is now Regent Park, Moss Park and Corktown - South of the aforementioned area.  

You see, similar to the plight of ‘Little Italy’, ‘Cabbagetown’ was the victim of a marketing scheme designed for profit instead of accuracy. Because Regent Park was a virtual slum for thirty years before its current redevelopment project, ‘Cabbagetown’ was relocated – only the people remained in the same place and the more expensive properties to the North assumed the new name. While it remains an attractive prospect to live in ‘Cabbagetown’ today, you’re actually just moving into an area full of non-Irish, old white people. But go ahead and decorate your lawn with shamrocks, anyway. It’s not like there’s any Irish people around to get offended. 

Totally a place people want to live.

5)   There’s a Cemetery Full of Babies Under Yorkville.

So many dead baby jokes could be made right now. It’s completely true, and gravely apparent (zzzing!) during almost every construction project when little baby skeletons are unearthed by bulldozers. Before Yorkville was paved and spattered by condos and upscale boutiques, it was a secular cemetery for families that couldn’t afford proper burials. Known as ‘Potter’s Field’, an estimated 6700 people were laid to rest there, including many prematurely deceased babies. Not creepy at all.

Look behind closed doors and secrets become apparent. In Toronto, there’s no end to the things you can learn if you’re interested in digging a little. Just don’t dig in Yorkville.

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