To tell the truth

Letter from outgoing Editor-in-Chief Joshua Oliver

To tell the truth

The best things in life are difficult. Running a student newspaper certainly is.

After making deep cuts during the 2008 financial crisis, we were just starting to feel financially secure again when our national advertising agent went bankrupt last spring. Its replacement, a start-up called FREE Media, is promising and ambitious, but print advertising revenue will never be what it once was.

Last year’s levy increase helped to compensate for the losses in advertising, but the new projects we had hoped to begin were postponed to sustain regular operations.

Nevertheless, ingenuity can compensate for penury, and I’m proud that we still launched a new website this year, increased our online publications to twice weekly, and won second-place overall in the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards. That we are competitive with publications that have much larger levies, full time staff, and journalism schools to draw from is a testament to the capacity and dedication of U of T students.

Keeping the lights on and the presses running is an increasingly challenging task, and as advertising declines, we will become more reliant on the financial support of our student members. This means that we are going to have to work even harder to prove the value of this newspaper. I hope we have met that challenge this year. I am confident that under our new Editor-in-Chief, Danielle Klein, we will continue to do so.

As the media landscape changes, the campus newspaper’s niche will be hyper-local. We can’t compete with the professional publications that are available for free on campus and online. Yet, there are probably only two professional journalists in the country covering post-secondary education full-time. We know this campus, and we cover stories that no one else does — stories that matter to students.

Whether you get these stories online or in print doesn’t really matter to me. I have a sentimental attachment to print, but being a newspaper is no longer about producing a newspaper. Our product is journalism, not newsprint. The media doesn’t matter, the message matters.

As a part-time history student and a life-long history nerd, I was delighted to discover this quotation while researching an essay. In 1825, J. T. Delane, editor of the Times, wrote: “The duty of the journalist is the same as the historian…to present to his readers not such things as statecraft would wish them to know, but the truth as near as he can attain it.”

Yet the notion of presenting “all the news that’s fit to print” simply isn’t practical — even in a university of 80,000, there are more stories than pages or reporters.

If you grew up in the ‘90s, you probably learned about constructive criticism as a child. We try to tell stories that are constructive — stories that teach us something. Far more often than not, these stories are critical. Thus, like all journalists, we are constantly obliged to bite the hands that feed us.

Moreover, giving students the opportunity to learn the practice of journalism is part of our mandate. You cannot learn without making mistakes. In this way, it is inevitable that we will occasionally fall short of the standards we set for ourselves.

This is all a perilous business. Nevertheless, I hope that those who want this newspaper to be a weekly yearbook will continue to be disappointed. We will often be critical, because doing so makes this community stronger, and this university a better place.

Yet, as we publish our final issue, my strongest feeling is gratitude. I am grateful to have been able to work as hard as I possibly could at a job that I love. To me, there is no greater privilege.

Gratitude is conspicuously absent from discourse at this university. There truly is more to be grateful for at this university than to criticize. We should continue to push to make this university better, but should also stop to recognize that we are all fortunate to be here.

I also want to express my profound gratitude to the 362 students who volunteered their time, energy, and talent to this publication in the past year. Especially, I wish to thank my brilliant, dedicated, at times challenging, and always-inspirational masthead. Murad Hemmadi deserves eternal gratitude for being my mentor, my conscience, and a pain in the neck.

Finally, I thank every student who pays to sustain this publication and everyone who chooses to read it. I hope you have derived as much satisfaction from reading volume cxxxiv as I have from bringing it to you. But, to tell the truth, I doubt it.

Joshua Oliver | Editor-in-Chief 2013–2014, Vol. CXXXIV

Does U of T student life condone rape culture?

By permitting unwanted advances generally, students create the opportunity for sexual violence

Does U of T student life condone rape culture?

The University of Ottawa recently found itself embroiled in a scandal that is refocusing public attention towards the issue of “rape culture” at universities and colleges in Canada. Five male student leaders at U of O made violent sexual comments about Anne-Marie Roy, the president of the university’s student federation. This incident prompted numerous female student leaders across Canada to issue an open letter, in which they affirmed solidarity with Roy and condemned a “pervasive” rape culture in society today. Rape culture is real — and, in the opinion of many, especially rampant on university campuses. U of T is unfortunately no exception.

Anne-Marie Roy, University of Ottawa student federation president. MEDIA PHOTO

Anne-Marie Roy, University of Ottawa student federation president. MEDIA PHOTO

I hear jokes that trivialize sexual violence and make light of rape at this university. Stories of sexual harassment or stalking are common. Women are constantly targeted by unwelcome verbal or physical attention, such as catcalls and inappropriate, non-consensual groping, as though their bodies are objects on display. I have heard men praise one another for “banging” multiple women while, in the same breath, sneering at and disparaging their female peers for being sexually active. I also discovered that some of my male colleagues purposefully and proudly give their female counterparts excessive alcohol or sedative drugs in order to have sex with them.

These incidents are not exclusive to frosh week; they occur on a daily basis. At best, such behaviour makes women feel uncomfortable and unsafe; at worst, they constitutes criminal activity. Yet many people, myself included, are guilty of accepting this behaviour as an inevitable aspect of campus life. We rationalize rape jokes as harmless, or whistles as simply compliments — boys will be boys. In accepting these instances as part of everyday life, we normalize sexual aggression, tolerate non-consensual sexual activity, and condone gender-based violence — this is rape culture.

Sexual assault is, in part, a function of patriarchal socialization. Consequently, society places the burden on women to protect themselves against unwanted sexual attention, as if sexual violence manifests as preventable, isolated incidents, rather than part of a larger, entrenched system of gender inequality.

“Don’t get drunk,” “don’t stay out late,” “don’t walk alone,” “don’t dress like a slut,” — these standard safety tropes perpetuate the rape myth that assaulters are strangers waiting in the bushes to prey on intoxicated women. In fact, a 2010 York University study showed that more than 80 per cent of rapes that occur on university campuses are committed by somebody the victim knows, with half of all incidents occurring on dates.

These “safety tips” also imply that, to some extent, women are responsible for any sexual violence they encounter, rather than focusing on the perpetrator committing a crime. As a result, victims may be unlikely to report sexual assault, for fear of being blamed themselves. It is estimated that less than 10 per cent of sexual assaults are reported to the police. This underreporting contributes to a consistent  underestimation of the prevalence of sexual violence.

It is imperative that we stop focusing solely on women’s actions as a cure for rape culture. Safety precautions are arguably pragmatic and minimize risk, but they ignore the root causes of rape culture — namely, the construction of patriarchal dominance through male sexual aggression. These safety tips also fail to address other detrimental consequences of rape culture, such as the policing of women’s sexuality or the invisibility of men and transgendered individuals as rape victims. We need to re-educate ourselves to reverse the internalization of harmful gender norms in order to truly create a safe campus for all students.

Victoria Wicks is a first-year student at Trinity College studying political science and philosophy.

Up close: The Head and the Heart

Interview with the Seattle-based indie folk rock band

Up close: The Head and the Heart

The Head and the Heart are strumming their way to Toronto in March after a successful launch of their second album Let’s Be Still.

The Varsity sat down with Jonathan Russell of the Seattle-based indie folk-rock band to discuss playing for different crowds, the writing process, and goals for the future.

 

The Varsity: What is the story behind your band’s name?

Jonathan Russell: That was Josiah’s idea. At the time he was in grad school, and realizing that music was his real passion, he had to make the decision to choose one or the other. His parents thought it was a terrible idea, and were less than pleased to see him drop out of school to start a band with his best friend. For Josiah, the choice was like using your brain versus your heart — what makes sense, over what doesn’t.

 

TV: How did you differ creatively from the time of writing the first album to the second album?

JR: All of the touring from the first album really did change the way we wrote together. After being together for all that time, the last thing you want to do is call your band mate and say, ‘I know I just saw you for 10 months, but want to hang out?’ All of the songs were finished individually on the second record, compared to the first where we would mash our parts together. As touring continues, you get better at your craft.

 

TV: Who are some of your musical influences? 

JR: I went through a phase when I didn’t listen to pop music; anything popular was unbearable to hear. Things become predictable, and it’s not fair to listen to music and become so jaded. I personally delved into jazz, such as Miles Davis. It was so different, so radical, so challenging, and so refreshing for me to hear and figure out. I got really into jazz because I had no idea what the hell was going on.

 

TV: With so many great bands that you’ve opened for, and now your own repertoire of touring as a headline artist, what would you say was your best or most memorable tour experience?

JR: My personal favourite was touring with My Morning Jacket, primarily because I love their music. Their music was live; it’s huge, it’s rock and roll, it’s sexy, it’s challenging. Jim James is a great performer and I took the most from that tour. The point is to get weird, use the stage, and think, “fuck it, I can do whatever I want.”

 

TV: How does touring and performing in North America differ from shows in Europe, Australia, etc.? Are the crowds different?

JR: In America, you feel if people are connecting or not through physical movement. We used that as a barometer for how well the show is going, but in Europe, it’s a cultural faux pas to be physically over the top. We had to adjust to audiences being reserved, who are super enthusiastic after the show. I’ve seen Atlanta, Georgia have the most rowdy southern crowds, and then Holland, where it seems like people are waiting for you to impress them.

 

TV: If you weren’t in The Head and the Heart, what would you be doing?

JR: If I wasn’t in this band, I would be serving drinks, burgers, and playing in my off time, doing the same thing I was doing three years ago. I’ve always wanted to be a sociologist or psychologist though; I have a very analytical brain. If I wasn’t using that obsession through songwriting, I would probably go back to school.

 

TV: With several successful years under your belt, is there any place or goal that you all wish to achieve within the next five years?

JR: On a personal level, my main goal would be to buy my mom a house; she lives alone in the country around cows. In terms of further contributing, I feel like I was lucky to make it through the education maze, and have this soft spot for critical, at-risk kids. I want to find these kids before they start rejecting school altogether. Knowing they have a voice, I think that’s huge. There are a lot of confused kids that are willing to throw in the towel too soon — they need to see someone they can relate to. 

Reza Moridi on politics and research

Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation discusses science in the public sphere

Reza Moridi on politics and research

When asked about his professional background, the Honourable Reza Moridi, the soft-spoken and articulate Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation, claims that he “wore various hats” before entering politics. Some of these distinguished hats are those of a professor, a university administrator, and a business executive. Moridi also has an extensive scientific background, having worked in the field of health physics and done extensive work in the nuclear industry ­— specifically in the area of radiation protection. Moridi spoke to The Varsity about the unique perspective that scientists can bring to the political sphere, the mutual dependence of fundamental and applied scientific work, and the nature of research.

 

Minister of Research and Innovation Reza Moridi. MEDIA PHOTO

Minister of Research and Innovation Reza Moridi. MEDIA PHOTO

The Varsity: You seem to be the model of a socially conscious scientist; you’re highly educated in nuclear and health physics, and you’ve also been very influential in the government dealing with research-related issues. What recommendations would you give to scientists or students who are concerned about education, awareness, and other social issues, but who may not see a political career in their future?

Reza Moridi: You know, I encourage scientists to enter politics. We don’t have very many scientists in the political arena, so I really encourage scientists to pursue politics — not as a job, but as a public service. Scientists bring another perspective to the political arena. In the political field, we are all generalists, so the lawyers, teachers, engineers, scientists, nurses, doctors — each niche brings various perspectives to the political arena. And I think that helps society as a whole. In that sense, I really encourage scientists to consider running for the office.

 

TV: The provincial government recently increased its funding for research. In the announcement, you cited social and economic benefits as well as the good of science itself, but I’ve noticed that recent science-related announcements from the federal government have focused more narrowly on the economic benefits of research. Would you say that the attitude toward science is changing in Canada?

RM: Well, I’ve heard those announcements from our federal officials. I hope not. I hope not, because scientific development is not separate from economic development. We have to be far-sighted — we can’t be short-sighted with our policy-making.

I’ll give you an example. Not very long ago, in 1905, Albert Einstein said that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light — a very visionary scientist. Based on that vision, he came to a few mathematical formulas, and after that, he showed that mass and energy are convertible, meaning that you can break atoms to produce energy. Today, there are [about] 500 nuclear reactors around the world producing energy. There’s so much use of nuclear energy, and this is all based on very fundamental science which Albert Einstein created in 1906. What I’m trying to get at is that today’s fundamental scientific work is tomorrow’s applied science. We have to be far-sighted. We have to pay attention to very fundamental, basic scientific development, as well as commercialization of research and innovation where economic impacts can be seen.

Research is a journey that starts with imagination and dreaming, and then ends with the sale of a product, and in between you have the creation of knowledge, innovation, invention, research, manufacturing, and of course marketing and sales. This is a whole chain. You have to pay attention to every element of that chain.

 

TV: What are some of the major challenges in allocating these resources among innovators working across a wide range of disciplines? Is there a demarcation between pure and applied research funding?

RM: As I said, we pay attention to the whole spectrum, but in the mean time we have some focus areas such as bioeconomy, advanced health technology, information and communication technologies — these are some of the focus areas, but we fund research in every aspect of the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.

I want to stress that research and innovation is the engine of economy. Sometimes I say again that the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment is the Ministry of Economic Development for today, and the Ministry of Research and Innovation is the Ministry of Economic Development for tomorrow. And I say, tomorrow begins today.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kesteris, Chetrat named Varsity Blues athletes of the year

On Saturday night, Varsity Blues announce winners of six major awards

Kesteris, Chetrat named Varsity Blues athletes of the year

After a long season, Varsity Blues athletes and coaches gathered at the Chestnut Residence ballroom this past Saturday for an intercollegiate athletic banquet, celebrating the year’s athletic achievements. The stars of the banquet, swimmer Zack Chetrat and hockey goalie Nicole Kesteris, each received the 2013–2014 T-Holders’ Association Athletic Award, and were named male and female athletes of the year.

Chetrat’s win made varsity history, making him the first student to be named male athlete of the year three times. Chetrat, who is studying economics and political science, won male athlete of the year in both 2011 and 2013.

In 2013–2014, Chetrat led the varsity men’s swimming team to their eleventh consecutive Ontario University Athletics (OUA) banner and second consecutive Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national title. At his recent national competition, the Oakville native achieved impressive placings: the gold medal in the 200 butterfly, silver in the 100 butterfly, and bronze in the 400 and 1500 freestyles.

Kesteris’s female athlete of the year win also broke varsity records; Kesteris is the first female goalie of any U of T sport, and second female hockey player to win the award. Kesteris also won both the OUA and CIS Marion Hilliard Awards, recognizing athletic excellence and community involvement, respectively.

Kesteris, who studies human geography, led the OUA and CIS hockey team at a save percentage of .948 this past season, and has achieved an excellent number of saves herself, with a season-high of 35 saves and a playoff shutout against the Laurier Golden Hawks this past February. Kesteris, who hails from Aurora, Ontario, was also named OUA first team all-star this past season.

The athletic banquet also honoured several other student athletes, such as Townsend Benard, a track and field athlete, winner of the George M. Biggs Trophy for leadership, sportsmanship, and performance. Bernard specializes in pole vaulting, for which he has achieved impressive placings in the CIS and OUA.

The kinesiology student has brought home two CIS pole vault bronze medals and an OUA silver medal in 2012. In the same year, he received an OUA all-star nod. Benard also shines in academics as a three-time CIS academic all-Canadian and winner of both the Dr. Donald H.H. Mackenzie and Worts Lennox Smart scholarships, as well as the U of T Scholar Award.

After presenting at the KPE Berth Rosenstadt National Undergraduate Research Conference earlier this year, volleyball player Malena Rapaport was presented with an award of her own: the Dr. Clara Benson Honour Award, given annually to a graduating female student athlete for excellence in athletics and sportsmanship.

Rapaport has exhibited excellence not only through her athletics, but also in her community involvement. Rapaport co-captained the 2011 and 2012 Varsity volleyball team, and in 2012 was named a member of Volleyball Canada’s national B team. Through her efforts with the CAAWS “On the Move” project, she introduced 12 female high school students to the U of T campus and women’s volleyball program.

Blues volleyball middle Tessa Davis and football lineman Danny Sprukulis were named female and male Varsity Blues rookie of the year. Sprukulis was the only first-year athlete to start on the Blues football offensive line this past season. He was also recognized as a 2012 Canada Cup all-star.

The engineering student and Oakville native shows no signs of slowing down, after dressing and starting all eight games in the 2013 season. He was named an OUA all-rookie team member after helping the Blues to their best team finish since the 1993 Yates and Vanier Cup winning season.

Davis has led an equally impressive first season with the Blues, after she led the female varsity volleyball team in the CIS with 41 solo blocks. She was named members of the OUA East and CIS all-rookie teams, as well as OUA East rookie of the year. Davis, who is studying international relations, also ranked second in the OUA with 53 total blocks in 19 matches. She helped the Blues cap off the season with a first-place regular season finish and bronze medal in the OUA East division.

After their win, both male and female athletes of the year, Chetrat and Ketstiris, posed for photos together with their awards in front of blue and white balloons — commemorating their own accomplishments at U of T and acting as inspiration for incoming talent.

University criticized for alleged mismanagement of pension funds

Total accrued liability in the university’s pension plan estimated at nearly $2 billion

University criticized for alleged mismanagement of pension funds

The University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) is voicing concern with the University of Toronto’s management of pension funds. The UTFA estimated that, in 2011, the total accrued liability in the university’s pension plan was nearly $2 billion. Sixty-two per cent of the total accrued liability in the pension plan is for the 6,000 faculty and librarians who are members of the pension plan.

The UTFA is currently in the midst of re-examining the Memorandum of Agreement prescribing the UTFA’s role. The memorandum was developed in the late 1970s to deal with the determination of minimum compensation for faculty and librarians.

The university established the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) in May 2000 as a not-for-profit corporation. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the university, managing its pension funds, its endowment, and other short and long-term investments. UTAM’s assets under management increased 14.3 per cent in 2013 to $6.6 billion, of which the assets of the University of Toronto Pension Plan makes up $3.2 billion.

ANN SHENG/THE VARSITY

ANN SHENG/THE VARSITY

UTAM will present its portfolio performance review to the Business Board on Monday.

Prior to 2000, a volunteer in-house investment committee managed the university’s various investment pools. At that time, university administration looked at the investment fund structures of top universities in the United States, many of whom had professionally managed investment offices.

UTAM’s endowment model is similar to that of the University of British Columbia (UBC), Harvard University, and Yale University.

Over the past decade, American endowment funds delivered better results than Canadian endowment funds. This is largely due to the undervalued Canadian dollar versus the American dollar, and the technology bubble that drove up the value of American stock markets relative to Canadian stock markets.

Yale’s endowment portfolio, which is valued at $20.8 billion, delivered annual investment returns of 10.8 per cent over the past ten years, exceeding its benchmark performance and outpacing institutional fund indices.

In contrast, UBC’s investment portfolios, which have about $2.6 billion in assets under management, had an actual annual return of 6.1 per cent  over the past 10 years. Over the last 10 years, UTAM’s actual annual return was about 4.5 per cent in its endowment fund, and 4.4 per cent in its pension fund.

Over the 10-year period, UTAM’s endowment fund and pension fund underperformed versus their benchmark portfolios, and were unable to meet the university target.

Since UTAM was established, the UTFA, which represents faculty, librarians, and research associates at U of T, has sparred regularly with UTAM over the university’s management of pension funds.

In December 2009, the President’s Committee on Investment Policies, Structures, Strategies and Execution, established to review U of T investments and UTAM, presented a number of conclusions to university administration. Among these, the committee suggested that the CEO of UTAM should become the Chief Investment Officer of the university with a direct reporting line to the president, that the pension and endowment funds should be invested primarily in publicly traded stocks and bonds, and that the governance and investment oversight functions should be separated.

UTAM “proved to be a disaster for our pension plan,” said Paul Downes, vice-president, salary, benefits, and pensions at the UTFA and associate professor of English.

“Despite the higher fees that UTAM charged, our pension plan performed dismally under UTAM’s management when compared to other pension funds… For over a decade, UTFA has repeatedly tried to direct the university’s attention to the looming crisis in the pension plan and the implications of this crisis for everyone at U of T,” he added. Downes also objected to continued demands for higher pension contributions from its members.

According to a 2011 UTFA information report, which was presented to the pension committee of the Governing Council in June 2011 by George Luste, past-president of UTFA, UTAM is underperforming other pension plans. In the report, the UTFA objected to UTAM’s investment outcomes. The UTFA also said that transparency was necessary, as well as an understanding of the complexity of its investments.

According to the report, the annualized return of the pension plan investments from 1985 to 1999 was 11.7 per cent. From 2000 to 2010, the average return for U of T’s pension plan was just 2.7 per cent per year, 1.3 per cent below the university’s stated goal of 4 per cent per year. Over the same time period, the report said, the RBC DEXIA pension plan universe — a pension plan benchmark published in the Canadian Institute of Actuaries Annual Report— had a median annual return of 5.6 per cent.

The report further claimed that, had UTAM been able to realize the median returns of other pension plans during that time period, there would be an additional $1 billion in the U of T pension plan today.

William Moriarty, president and CEO of UTAM,  took issue with the report. “That’s a misleading, biased comparison,” he said, adding, “The market environment was completely different.” Moriarty said that UTAM has added value to the university’s investment funds. Last year, the return on the university’s main portfolios exceeded the target return of 5.2 per cent by about 10 per cent. UTAM estimated that three per cent of the extra return was contributed by active management decisions.

The university aims for a four per cent rate of return in its funds, after inflation and with all costs added in, over a ten year period.

“That’s what we measure ourselves against. If I can’t outperform that, after all costs, then we shouldn’t be doing active management, or we have the wrong people,” said Moriarty, adding: “My objective every year is to outperform the policy portfolio by [0.5 per cent], after all costs.”

In the past, the UTFA has also raised concerns over UTAM’s management fees. “Annual investing cost is an extreme long-term killer,” said Luste. At present, Luste estimated, UTAM pays out more that $40 million every year for management of the pension plan and the endowment plan. Globally, higher costs raise the bar on required returns.

In 2013, Moriarty had the highest salary at an Ontario university, at $772,547, and the fourth-highest salary of any public sector employee in Ontario.

However, Moriarty emphasized that a higher level of cost can be justified if it leads to an improvement in value-added. “It all depends on how much value-add you provide… If [we] didn’t spend the money, [we] wouldn’t have earned an extra $130 million last year or $50 million the year before. People focus on costs, but [should] focus on what is your after-cost, incremental return,” he said.

Moriarty joined UTAM in April 2008. Since 2008, UTAM’s valued added from active management has steadily improved each year. 2013 also represented UTAM’s fifth straight year of improved performance of the pension and endowment portfolios compared to their respective benchmark portfolios.

Moriarty further claimed that he has reduced UTAM’s all-in costs since joining. In 2008, UTAM’s all-in costs were over one per cent. Today, he said, UTAM’s all-in costs are about 0.8 per cent.

Downes also questioned the university’s decision to pool pension funds with endowment funds. According to the university, the return objective and risk tolerance are the same for the endowment and pension funds.

Moriarty contended that the funds are not pooled. Instead, he said, the funds just have the same asset mix. “If I have a good manager for the endowment, why wouldn’t you add the pension fund,” he said, adding: “What we did do is we created a structure to reduce cost.”

However, Moriarty conceded that the risk tolerance is not the same for both pension funds and endowment funds. He said that UTAM plans to analyze whether current risk levels in the funds are appropriate.

On top of that work, Moriarty said, UTAM has implemented a number of other major changes over the past few years, including changes to the governance structure, improved analytics tools, and a better risk analysis system.

Moriarty also emphasized his work to better align investment performance with UTAM’s incentive compensation. “If we don’t provide the value-add, [we] don’t get the incentive [compensation],” he said.

“It’s very easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to say ‘you should have done this. You should have done that.’ It’s very different to be forward-looking and choose the right path,” he said.

Despite these assurances, Luste is still not convinced that UTAM provides a net benefit to the university. “[T]he university probably should not be messing around with managing money. They ought to be focused on education and research,” Luste said.

Take a dive

A guide to downtown’s cheapest holes-in-the-wall bars ahead of your end of the year celebrations

Take a dive

Eleven pm strikes on the digital clock by the dim lamp lighting the room — we’re each six, maybe seven beers deep, all out of booze, and no one knows where they want to go to get more. Somewhere that’s not the residence party or pub night that the token first-year told us about and not the chain-brand bar that’s only frequented because you or your friends don’t know where else to go — please, not again.

If you’re familiar with this situation — maybe because all your friends are in the same bind, you hang out with the same people out of habit and haven’t found the right social niche, or you just don’t know where to find the spots that would highlight your relatively eccentric character traits that are not appreciated elsewhere — this article is dedicated to you. This is a guide to some of the city’s dives, based on personal experience, that offer cheep beer, cool music, and a place to fit in with your skateboard in hand.

 

751

751

751 Queen Street West

Named for its address on Queen Street West, 751 has two floors, two bars, and, on a good night, is harder to walk through than the club you told yourself you’d never go to again.

The first time I heard of this place was in a text from a friend: “I’m at this bar called 751 on Queen. I don’t know how you haven’t been here yet. There’s a skate[board] contest down the stairs in the front and they’re blasting Slayer.” When I started settling into the Toronto skate scene, 751 became a staple. Not that thrash metal is the music of choice in this establishment as the above message suggests — DJs often play hard rap, and sometimes techno, in the downstairs area that features a relatively freer space than the above floor, intended for an activity that, at least, resembles dancing.

The drawback of 751 is its shape, moulded into a narrow hallway by the surrounding tables and bar, making it almost always impossible to navigate through without pushing and shoving. Much of your time will be spent trying to get from one spot to another, and unless you’re seated, most of your conversations will be a simple exchange of greetings — but if you’re already drunk off the cheap beer, then who cares? There’s a patio out back, anyway, if you need a breath of smoke-filled air.

 

Sneaky Dee’s

Sneaky Dee's

431 College Street

Located on the south-east corner of Bathurst and College, most U of T students are familiar with this relatively mainstream bar, but it remains a solid joint worth visiting. Like 751, Sneaky Dee’s has two floors, though its dance area is upstairs, and aggravatingly requires a $5–10 cover, while the bottom level is basically a 19-plus restaurant.

If you’re stingy and hate paying cover like it’s a backwards pagan ritual, the restaurant is still a persuasive enough reason to go here because, as my good Texan friend once told me, Sneaky Dee’s nachos are better than her home state’s or Mexico’s. Hit this place up for late night drunk food and load up on tortilla chips and a mountain of guacamole, salsa, ground beef, sour cream, and cheese.

The dance floor upstairs, for its frustrating fee, can be a good time. It’s divided by theme nights during the week, with punk rock on Tuesdays, hip-hop on Wednesdays, and swing on Saturdays (which often means The Beatles). If you’re relying on a fake ID, stay away. The bouncers have a watchful eye.

 

Ted’s Collision

Ted's Collision573 College Street

Located in Little Italy, Ted’s and 751 seem to be the downtown Toronto skate scene’s adopted drinking spots. An even more convincing attraction is that Ted’s Collision serves 40’s of Labatt 50 for $8, approximately matching liquor store prices. While you’re chugging that big bottle, there’s also a pool table at the back with an ever-present bustling crowd of potential opponents that could easily distract anyone from actually sitting down for a decent chat, so you’ll always meet some new people.

The bartenders are incredibly friendly and receptive to music requests if you like to play DJ after getting tipsy, though the range of music inclines to fuzzy guitars. Hearing an album that you never thought you’d never encounter in public is one of the most endearing things about visiting this bar, though you’d have to appreciate doom/thrash metal and aggressive-leaning “alt” rock.

Catering to the tastes of headbangers, there’s no real dancing at Ted’s Collision. You could always try, but those who get knocked over might not be as jovial as the footloose denizen that just inadvertently struck them down. There are lots of candlelit tables to congregate around, adding to the dim charm of the dive bar that makes you feel at home. And, perhaps most importantly, they have a Spiderman pinball machine.

 

Parts and Labour

P&L

1566 Queen Street West

More on the higher end, Parts and Labour is included on this list mainly for diversity. Located in Parkdale, it’s a bit of a trek from U of T campus, but it’s worth it for the experience. It has more glamorous décor than the previously discussed bars, built in 2010 in what was previously a hardware store and complete with rows of communal dining tables that invite drunken recitations of fond memories past and pleas for phone numbers. Their burgers are well-known in the city, as are their specialty cocktails.

For $10, you can creep down to the comforts of the basement dance floor, The Shop — a big, dark room designed to look strategically dirty and thrown together. The Shop feels much more like a dive than the upstairs, with intrusive ventilation, foosball hockey, live music, and DJs.

This extension of P&L is making its name as a music venue in the city, attracting cool, young local and Canadian artists with its casual set-up — there’s no stage and just a small carpet on the concrete floor for the bands to play on. Patrons get right up close to the band — sometimes tossing them a beer from the long bar lining the wall — or stand back in the nearby bleachers to drink at a distance or get frisky with a new friend.

 

10 ways to know you’re in a dive  

1. You’ve lost something that will seem much more important tomorrow morning than when you left it in the booth or cab or whatever.

2. Your change is still in your pocket for the bus home because you “forgot” to tip.

3. You don’t have to go on repeated trips to the ATM because all the beers you drank were under five bucks.

4. You reek of cigarettes even if you don’t smoke.

5. The bathroom stalls tend to have more than one occupant, standing up, with many sniffing noises.

6. Last call was two hours ago, but no one’s gone.

7. You haven’t heard any of the music that’s playing before.

8. Your friend is the DJ — but not in a cool way.

9. Ample patrons are clutching skateboards.

10. You don’t remember all that much, anyway.

Hot Jocks

Meet some of the Varsity Blues' rising stars and graduating athletes

Hot Jocks

 

Jonathan Isaac | Baseball

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“I’ve been playing since I was eleven, I guess,” laughs Jonathon Isaac, pausing to count the years he’s spent playing baseball. Isaac has just finished his last year with the Varsity Blues baseball team, and says that it was a rebuilding year for the team. “We had a lot of rookies, there was a big turn over, so you have to give time for that kind of thing to gel,” he explains. Despite not performing as well as they did in past years, Isaac says he enjoyed being able to provide a mentorship role to the other guys on the team.

Isaac wears a permanent grin, and laughs off questions about the challenges of being a full time athlete and a full time student.

“It’s tough being in baseball, especially in the outfield. You’re just standing there, you have no idea what’s going on.” Isaac says it’s important to get a couple good songs in your head to keep you motivated during long stretches in the outfield. His favourite song this season was Jay-Z’s “Already Home.”

Isaac is finishing his last year with the Concurrent Teacher Education Program, and plans to pursue a teaching career in physical education and biology. He will also be playing for Israel’s national baseball team this summer. “It’s sad to be leaving the team this year. I’ve loved being part of it in my time at U of T; it’s definitely one of my communities,” he adds.

 

Madi Laurin | Basketball

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Madi Laurin enters the Varsity program with a family legacy — her brother, Dakota Laurin, was featured in last year’s Hot Jocks feature, was a member of the Varsity Blues basketball team. Laurin is in her first year at U of T, and credits the team as being a great source of community. “We really are a community, I love the other girls on the team,” she explains. The Blues were eliminated in the OUA East semifinals, falling 67–56 to the Queens Gaels. Laurin was only able to play two games, as it’s her first year on the team, but hopes to take on a bigger role in the team in the coming year.

 

Steffi Wong | Tennis

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Steffi Wong has been playing with the Varsity Blues tennis team for her three years at U of T, where she has been enrolled in the faculty of Denistry. “My favourite moment from the season is definitely when we won the ouas,” says Wong. Wong was named Ontario University Athletics (oua) female athlete of the week this October, and was a three-time winner when the Blues claimed their tenth consecutive ouatitle. “This year’s team was really close, there were a lot of senior members and we worked really well together,” she says. Wong’s favourite parts of playing with the team are going on trips together, and says that the team provides a fun way to play and get exercise without too much pressure or competition. “I studied in the states… I did my undergrad in California, and it’s definitely more intense over there,” she says.

 

Paul Spooner | Water Polo

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“My whole family plays — my older brother’s on the team here, and my youngest brother, he’s 16, he plays too,” explains Paul Spooner, second–year mechanical engineering student and member of the Varsity Blues water polo team. Spooner describes a schedule in which he trains every night for about two hours with the team. “It can be pretty intense; you end up getting home at midnight or later. You get really close; you spend everyday with them.” Spooner describes the team’s tough loss to main rivals Carleton at this years OUAs. “We lost by one point, it was pretty tough. I’m not going to lie, especially since we were on home turf,” he says. When asked about his pump-up music, Spooner paused, and then admitted that the team has one song they tend to sing together when they go out. “We really like ‘Breakaway’ by Kelly Clarkson,” said Spooner. “We sing it as a whole team. It’s awful; we’re honestly no good at it.” Next year, Spooner explains that he’s hoping to step into more of a leadership role. “A lot of the older guys are leaving, so we’ll see what ends up happening. But I’m definitely looking to avenge that loss with Carleton.”

 

Jaylyne Hines | Fastpitch

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Jaylyne Hines is in her first year at U of T, studying geography, and hails from the island of Bermuda. “My favourite moment this season? Probably the game where I hit two home runs,” she says, before going on to admit that the season was a learning curve for her. Hines plays fastpitch for the Blues, but has played slow pitch most of her life. “It started off rough; I was used to playing slow pitch, so it took me awhile to get the hang of it. I wasn’t hitting anything in the beginning,” she explains. Hines says her favourite part of U of T is the academic atmosphere. “I don’t know, maybe that’s unsusual, but I like the atmosphere. It keeps me on my toes. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere where I didn’t have to try.” Hines hopes to build on what she’s learned this year on the team, and put it towards next year’s season.

 

Samer Yaghmour | Swimming

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“I guess I train for about ten hours every week, so about two times a day, five times a week,” explains Samer Yaghmour, a third-year student studying kinesology, and member of the Varsity Blues swim team. Yaghmour swims the 1500 for U of T, although in the past he has focused on long distance open water swimming. When asked about his favourite moments of the season he immediately brings up the oua’s.  “We’ve been ouas for the past eleven years,” he explains. “We won bronze this year and it felt pretty good.” Yaghmour has been swimming competitively for eleven years, and says that his decision to come to U of T came from its excellent reputation and connections that he had with his coach. “It was both from my end and their end that I chose U of T, because the club I swam with, my coach right now is the president of that club.” Yaghmour says he definitely made the right choice with U of T: “The team’s great; it has some of the best swimmers that are out there right now.”

 

Adam Plummer | Basketball

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“Yeah, I’m in my last year here, but I love the team, and I love the community,” begins Adam Plummer, the smiling forward for the Varsity Blues basketball team. “Definitely one of the best things this year was being able to be a mentor to some of the other guys on the team,” he explains. The team finished up their 2013–2014 season placing eighth in the OUA East division, which Plummer says he feels pretty good about. “We had a new coach, so there’s always an adjustment period there,” he explained.  Plummer is looking forward to ending his four-year career with the Blues, and leaving room for other players to continue to make their way up in the team.

 

Fiona Callender | Track and Field

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Fiona Callender is in her fourth year in the kinesiology program, and on the Varsity Blues track team. “My favourite moment of the season would probably have to be OUAs,” she reflects. The team came in 2nd overall at the OUA’s this year, with Callender taking second place in the 600 metre and first in the 4×400 relay. “Winning the relay definitely felt really good,” she says. “It was a great way to end the season.” Callender says that track has provided her with some of her best friends at U of T. “It’s definitely given me great memories; some of my best friends, my roommates — they all come from the team.”