I am a third generation Torontonian.
My grandfather ran Federal Meats, a butcher shop in Parkdale at 1472 Queen Street West, in the late 1940s and 50s; my father worked in that shop throughout his teens. I grew up in midtown Toronto, and moved to New York City with my family at the age of 16.
When I returned to Toronto five years later, I was very fortunate to get to know Jane Jacobs in her later years. The short time I spent with her had a great impact upon me and my sense of community. Growing up across from the Cedarvale Ravine, I was very aware that had it not been for Jane, this great urban green space would have become the Spadina expressway in the early 1970s.
Her work inspired me to get engaged, think differently about cities and what makes them great.
For the past 20 years I have owned and operated small businesses in downtown Westside Toronto, Including Aunties & Uncles, P&L Burger, and White Squirrel Coffee Shop. I am also a partner in Toronto’s first gender-neutral, LGTBQ+ positive barber shop, MPL Cuts. I have always strived to ensure my businesses are places that help to build community and as a result, they have become integral parts of their neighbourhoods.
I cherish the unique nature and fabric of our downtown neighbourhoods, but I also believe they should be able to develop by way of smart, transparent, and community-led growth. I know that local restaurants and coffee shops serve as gathering places to mingle with neighbours, help inspire conversations and community action. They are the places where local teens often find their first jobs and are vital in breathing life into a vibrant, liveable downtown that is the envy of cities worldwide.
Shawna, my life-partner, and I co-founded the Dandelion Co-op in 2007, a co-operative daycare that still operates today, having passed it down to new parents when our children grew out of it, and they in turn have passed it down as well. We were inspired by other Westside co-ops, such as Share, to create a community of progressive parents who were interested in being active participants in the day-to-day raising of their children and collectively exploring issues of social justice and community building.
I have been active in our community for over 10 years. When we sent our sons Reuben, now 12; and Foster, now 10, to Givins-Shaw Jr. P.S., I was unsatisfied with the hot dogs served at all of our school events. I spearheaded a community effort to revamp the food services for all of our school events, replacing processed foods with real, local food, prepared by the community, generally in the kitchen of my coffee shop.
When our kids began playing hockey at McCormick Arena we were dismayed to find that our efforts to volunteer and contribute to the local hockey association were rejected. Our voices were not even being heard when we had concerns so I organized like-minded parents to apply to be appointment by the City to the board of our community rink. From my experience as chair of the McCormick Playground Arena Board of Management, I realized that community-led efforts can and do make important changes in politics and our daily lives. In 2015 I co-founded Parkdale Community Hockey League to show that providing low-cost, community-led and volunteer-based hockey for girls and boys, was not only possible, but could be a success. PCHL has grown from 120 in 2015 to 400 kids this year and, I can proudly say, that in the 10 years that I have been a regular participant, our local rink has never looked so alive as it did this spring!
In working with the city to achieve community goals, I came to realize that it can be difficult to effect positive change because so many of our elected officials are too often more concerned with their political careers than advancing the public good. I want to bring the spirit of grassroots organizing and community-led action like that that is embodied by PCHL, Friends of Sorauren Park, the Roncesvalles-Macdonnell Neighborhood Association and our other great neighbourhood groups and associations to Council on behalf of Parkdale-High Park. We are a politically engaged, vibrant and dynamic area of the city.
It is your vision, dynamism and creativity that have made the neighbourhoods of Parkdale-High Park some of the most successful and desirable places to live in Toronto. I hope you will join me in building a movement based on that community spirit!
Let’s use our energy and shared vision to make meaningful change in our great community, ward and city.