Why is Toronto’s hip-hop scene stagnating?

A push to move away from melodic and slightly more aggressive melodic singing

Why is Toronto’s hip-hop scene stagnating?

With Drake and The Weeknd dominating the charts, Tory Lanez carving out significant space for himself in the industry, and B-listers like Jazz Cartier, Roy Woods, and Killy rising on YouTube and SoundCloud, it’s easy to get carried away with pride for the music coming out of Toronto. But if our city is ever to be side by side with the likes of New York, Atlanta, LA, and Chicago as a cultural centre of hip hop, it’s going to need to diversify.

At least in the beginning of a city’s musical evolution, it’s crucial to have a sound. For New York, this was boom bap in the ’70s, buoyed by artists like KRS-One, who coined the term, and driven further into the ’90s by prolific figures like Nas. For Los Angeles, it was G-funk in the ’90s, guided by Dr. Dre’s greasy bass lines and funk-inspired synths, combined with Snoop Dogg’s effortless and relaxed delivery. Toronto is in an evolutionary period itself, but it’s starting to get boring.

Drake’s sing-rap style, along with Noah “40” Shebib’s atmospheric production on songs like “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “One Dance,” redirected hip-hop to ballad romances, dancehall, and more introspective themes. This was a needed change. With the rise of The Weeknd following in Drake’s footsteps of emotional introspection, Toronto has added drug-addled sex and depression to the list of topics that artists are exploring in hip-hop and R&B.

The hardships of romance, the human ego, and the widespread abuse of drugs and alcohol that artists seem to be aware of but rarely make efforts to change are almost the entirety of Toronto artists’ subject matter. This is hardly unique in hip-hop. Toronto, however, delivers these themes in a melancholy drone, usually framed around suspicion of peers and an ever-creeping sadness.

If we were to characterize Toronto’s production, it would be by a diehard love of minor keys, ambient synths, and heavy reverb on vocals. The emphasis is on the words; the instrumentals take a backseat. Shebib personally likes to muffle drums for segments at the beginning of verses, a great indicator in any track that Drake is about to talk about his ‘tings.’

Piano is common in Toronto production, but it’s often so far in the background or so layered with effects that it hardly resembles the original instrument. We borrow our sharp trappy snares and rattling hi-hats from Atlanta; sometimes R&B artists will trade these for dancehall-style beats.

This is a style unique to us, one with a lot of artistic merit and definitely worth pursuing. But like all great bearers of music culture, Toronto must evolve to maintain its relevance.

Roy Woods is essentially a lyrically deficient version of The Weeknd, and the even lesser-known anders a rehash of Woods. Tory Lanez has a particularly interesting soft-to-aggressive vocal range that he uses to great effect on “Fallback” and “B.L.O.W.,” but listen to the instrumentals on either of these and you’ll hear the same drowned piano and trap influence.

Cartier and Killy deserve some credit for their willingness to experiment, but they fall in a similar trap. Cartier’s producer, Lantz, has developed an orchestral trap beat style that almost won Cartier a XXL spot, and an unreleased Killy song, tentatively titled “No Sad Days in LA,” has soaring, razor sharp guitar riffs and furiously satisfying bars. The two boast a similar energy to Lanez and a tasteful use of autotune, but they nonetheless fail to escape the gravitational pull of our attachment to minor keys and similar drum beats.

This isn’t to say these artists are identical or not worth listening to. Nor is this a call for New York boom bap revival — which Joey Bada$$ did, and is done. The problem is that every new Toronto artist who releases music along the same lines of sing-rap and emotional crooning limits our chances of raising the next Chance the Rapper, Anderson .Paak, or Kanye West. There is more musical space to explore, and the market exists for it, yet Toronto artists seem afraid to do so.

Rare is it to hear jazzy dissonant chords in Toronto instrumentals, and yet Mac Miller’s “Dang!” was well received for it. Any vocal styles other than melodic singing — and slightly more aggressive melodic singing — are for the most part shunned by Toronto artists. Yet Chance the Rapper is one of the biggest stars of our generation. Goldlink also employs one of the more interesting vocal techniques in the industry today, and his single “Crew” was recently certified platinum. Anderson .Paak borrows from soul, disco, and jazz, and was nominated for two Grammys. Run the Jewels produced a whole album with only cat noises and vocals. What exactly is our excuse?

The demand for new and revolutionary material never ceases. Toronto consumers are not lovers of just Toronto hip-hop, but hip-hop in all its flavours. There’s no reason we should limit our palate to one or two.

Cole city

A potential Desmond Cole mayoral bid spells promise for a progressive Toronto

Cole city

There is more to Desmond Cole than meets the eye. Witness him in person and his humility is palpable — we recall how gracefully he moderated Azeezah Kanji’s 2016 Hart House Hancock Lecture, or how open he was to conversation when we, a couple of strangers, encountered him on the street earlier this year. When the public eye puts pressure on him, however, he does not prioritize respectability or diplomacy. He unleashes an incisive logic that is difficult to swallow and impossible to ignore.

Freshly named ‘Best Activist’ in Now Magazine, Cole specializes in doggedly raising uncomfortable truths to those in power. Over the past two years, we’ve observed Cole confront such truths in many forms: as columnist, radio host, public speaker, and critic. And now, we’re ready to see him do so as mayor.

Last month, Newstalk 1010 released a poll which asked Torontonians whom they would consider to vote for as mayor — and Cole’s name was included without his prior knowledge. Of more than 800 Torontonians polled, 30 per cent indicated they would give Cole “a great deal” or “some” consideration. Later, on Facebook, Cole announced he was considering running against current mayor John Tory in the 2018 municipal election.

In a sense, Cole and Tory are not simply hypothetical political opponents; they have long been at odds. The 35-year-old Black activist-journalist has consistently and directly challenged the older, white career politician and businessman, especially with regard to police accountability and race relations. But Cole has a vision that eludes his incumbent: one that can inspire the public to imagine a radically better future.

The personal is the professional

Prior to holding the municipal government to account, Cole was more intimately concerned with another powerful institution. In a 2015 Toronto Life article titled “The Skin I’m In,” he gained widespread attention for his description of how he has been followed, stopped, and interrogated by police without cause — a total of over 50 instances. His story shone a bright light on the police practice of carding, which was found to target Black Torontonians 17 times more than white Torontonians in parts of the city.

During his subsequent tenure as a columnist for the Toronto Star, Cole grounded his personal experiences with police within wider commentaries on racial justice, ranging from the anti-Blackness of Pride Toronto to the indefinite detention of migrants in Canada’s prisons — all of which demanded accountability from powerful institutions. Not only did these issues frequently pit him against Tory and the Toronto Police, but they caused him to butt heads with the Star’s own publisher, John Honderich, who admonished Cole for writing about race too often. Soon, Cole found that his weekly articles had been cut down to a column once every other week.

Nonetheless, Cole remained headstrong in the public sphere. In 2016, at an anti-racism public consultation, he challenged Tory to explain why he never met with Black Lives Matter Toronto during their 15-day protest campout in front of police headquarters. “I should have been there,” the Mayor conceded.

In April this year, Cole again rattled the establishment by holding up a Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) meeting where Tory was present, as he rebuked their decision not to destroy the data collected from carding. The Star again policed Cole’s behaviour, arguing he had breached the paper’s apparent policy that journalists cannot play both “actor and critic.” In response, Cole resigned from his columnist post. “If I must choose between a newspaper column and the actions I must take to liberate myself and my community,” he said, “I choose activism in the service of Black liberation.”

The false dichotomy between activism and journalism peddled by his editors at the Star reveals how uncomfortable the city’s powerful, predominantly white institutions still remain on addressing race relations. But for Cole, the personal is the professional; his identity as a Black man is inextricably connected to his work.

His resignation from the Star, his protests at the police board meeting, and his contemplation of the mayoralty convey one clear quality: being neutral is not an option. He clearly and unwaveringly champions principles of accountability and justice, and acts on them at a personal cost. Toronto urgently needs to bring marginalized communities into the politics from which they are normally excluded — and Cole’s strong, personal connection to such constituencies represents the kind of strength we need in the leadership of this city.

Freedom and justice: all or nothing

Speaking about race, reconciliation, and Canada 150 at the “Glorious & Free?” panel at the 2017 International Festival of Authors, Cole asked the audience, “Are you free if I’m not free?” He was referring not only to how Black liberation is intertwined with other struggles for freedom, but also to his upcoming court date on November 23, further to his arrest at another TPSB meeting in July.

Cole explained what happened in a statement on Facebook. “I went to speak about Dafonte Miller, 19, who was beaten by a Toronto Police officer… but the police board did not put his situation on its agenda. When I spoke about Dafonte anyway, I was arrested and charged with trespassing — at a public meeting.” Cole’s stand for Dafonte reminds all Torontonians that if any one of us is subject to institutional violence and suppression, none of us are truly free.

As mayor, Cole would likely prioritize the cornerstone issue of police accountability, which affects many minority communities in Toronto. We might expect him to start by dismantling the current governance structure of Toronto Police, implementing direct and democratic community ownership of the city’s law enforcement system, and finally, removing the presence of armed police from public schools.

At the same time, racial justice is not the only issue on Cole’s mind. Indeed, being a progressive candidate would mean fighting for all who are marginalized.

Through his Newstalk 1010 radio show, 70,000-strong Twitter audience, and journalistic work, Cole has devoted coverage to various key concerns affecting people in the city, including the overdose crisis, lack of affordable housing, austerity measures, and transit issues. He has also mapped solidarities with Indigenous, migrant, queer, and trans people in the city. Because Cole wants to prioritize issues marginalized by the incumbent, he would be a clear progressive option who could draw alternative perspectives from his work on the ground and make the mayoralty about the many, not the few.

“My future in politics”

A Cole mayoralty would mean many things to many people. At the moment, only Doug Ford has been confirmed as an official mayoral candidate. Both Ford and Tory are elite figures who represent the interests of the right and centre-right respectively. Even if Tory runs and wins a second term, the critical value in having a candidate like Cole is that he has the potential to smash the eliteness and mediocrity that currently immobilizes Toronto’s politics.

Additionally, a majority of Toronto’s residents identify themselves as visible minorities. The visibility of a mayor of colour in a city of colour would thereby align with the rise to power of other racialized leaders: think federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.

However, electing Cole as mayor is not a matter of novelty or tokenism. In his own right, Cole has demonstrated his active and unwavering commitment to progressive issues. The mayoralty would simply offer him a larger scope to continue to reshape dialogue and embolden grassroots progressive movements toward intersectional justice. He could do for this city’s stale politics what Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn achieved with their own campaigns: provide the vision of an outsider who does not shy away from radical social change.

In 2006, as a Toronto City Council Candidate for Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), a 24-year-old Desmond Cole was profiled by a Varsity writer. Contemplating the possibility of his electoral loss, Cole foreshadowed to The Varsity: “I still accomplished something. I’ve built a base for myself and for my future in politics.” He continued, “This has been too much of a success to let it be a one-off.”

Eleven years later, we, as part of another generation of Varsity writers, are ready for Cole to finally realize that future in politics — if he decides to run.

Clement Cheng is a third-year student at Victoria College studying Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies, Geography, and English.

Ibnul Chowdhury is a third-year student at Trinity College studying Economics and Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies. He is The Varsity‘s Associate Comment Editor.

In Photos: Canada 150 in the city

Toronto celebrates the occasion with events across the city

In Photos: Canada 150 in the city

July 1 marked 150 years since Canada’s confederation. This summer series focuses on events that explore this milestone while pondering the question: how did we get here?


On July 1, 2017, Canada turned 150 years old. The milestone was met with celebration, condemnation, and consideration from around the country. In Toronto, events both big and small were held in light of the occasion.

The Varsity explored the city with our cameras, attending a variety of Toronto’s Canada 150 events. (Click the photos to enlarge).

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We started the day by watching the Parade of Nations run down Yonge Street. The morning parade was organized by the Community Folk Art Council of Toronto and consisted of 25 different multicultural groups with nearly 2000 participants. Yonge Street was transformed into an international celebration; some highlights included a band from Serbia, beauty queens from the Philippines, and balloon flowers from a Vietnamese community group.

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Once the parade was finished, participants and viewers gathered in Yonge-Dundas Square to take photos, shop for Canadian merchandise at vendor booths, and hang out until an afternoon of musical performances began.

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The festivities at Queens Park began at 10 am with a citizenship ceremony where 150 people took the Oath of Citizenship, officially confirming their Canadian citizenship. The family-filled event included music performances, Canadian vendors, and activities for children. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne briefly spoke on stage, praising Canada’s multiculturalism and diversity.

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Up by 550 Bayview Avenue, Evergreen Brickworks hosted its weekly farmer’s market in addition to a holiday garden event series called Brewer’s Backyard.

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The Brewer’s Backyard celebrated Canada Day along with the 30th anniversary of Great Lakes Brewery, one of Toronto’s many craft breweries. The event spread festivity through affordable drink, healthy foods, and the natural beauty of the Koerner Gardens. The Brewery also showcased 19 different craft beers on tap, as well as the debut of the CanCon Session IPA, a new brew inspired by ACTRA Toronto.

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Plenty of people packed in Nathan Phillips Square to see musical performances and take photos by the ‘Toronto’ sign. Food trucks were lined up around the venue with people eating on any available grass they could find around the square.

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Nathan Phillips Square, though busy, was quite relaxed throughout the day; people and puppies alike were decked out in Canada Day gear, enjoying the scenery of City Hall.

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Spadina Museum was open to the public free of fare in celebration of Canada 150, hosting numerous visitors throughout the day. The garden behind the museum was packed with people celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Annual Toronto—St. Paul’s Canada Day Picnic organized by federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. The event acknowledged Canada’s 150th anniversary as a milestone to remind Canadians of the colonization of Indigenous peoples as well as the importance of reconciliation.

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There was a noticeable presence of resistance around the city. Signs were taped up around the downtown core objecting to the celebrations of Canada 150 on behalf of Indigenous peoples. At the Annual Toronto—St. Paul’s Canada Day Picnic, two people held a homemade sign that read, “Canada 150 is a celebration of colonial violence, genocide, & land theft.” Hashtags like #Unsettle150 and #Resistance150 made the rounds on picket signs and social media.

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Toronto’s Harbourfront was one of the busiest locations in the city throughout the day. A festival entitled Our Home on Native Land – which began on June 30 and continues until July 3 – occurred around the Harbourfront. The event was created to acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous and newcomer artists on Turtle Island and featured a variety of notable musicians, DJs, singers, and dancers.

Harbourfront also showcased family-specific activities. When we arrived we spotted children riding paddleboats and families enjoying picnics on the eastern end of the harbour. Plenty of visitors lined up to enjoy a culinary Canadian staple: Beaver Tales.

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One of the most popular – and controversial – parts of the Harbourfront was an unmissable six-storey giant rubber duck. The area around it was crowded with people vying for the perfect selfie with the yellow creature. Vendors packed themselves into the western-end of the harbour selling duck-related merchandise.

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The Beaches were filled with anticipation for the annual fireworks show that occurred at 10 pm. The massive aura of the fireworks saturated our lenses with vibrancy and colour. Inspired beach-goers lit the soaked dunes of Woodbine beach with their own fireworks, transforming tubes of paper into flares that covered the night landscape.

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We finished our day taking photos of the fireworks off the CN Tower. The streets around the tower were filled with people; tripods were angled up at the tower awaiting the show while families were camped out on the ground along Front Street and the Harbourfront. Once finished, the crowd cheered, cars honked, and the audience applauded the final show of the night.

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YouTube Space opens in Toronto

Sets featuring table hockey and moose antlers work to reflect the Canadian experience

YouTube Space opens in Toronto

Google has opened their first YouTube office in Canada, located at George Brown College.

YouTube Spaces were created in April to help grow and support YouTube channels through educational and technical services. According to Chris D’Angelo, global head of production and programming for YouTube Spaces, “the goal of YouTube Spaces is to help create better storytellers and allow YouTubers to make the most out of the video-sharing platform.”

Adam Relles, head of the YouTube space in New York City and an instrumental figure in opening the space in Toronto, explains, “You look at Toronto, and it’s a city that has its own culture and history of impact on creative — things like The Second City, and Kids in the Hall, and tonnes of music like Drake and The Weeknd… So, there is a significant influence.”

With the rise of Canadian YouTubers like JusReign, AsapSCIENCE, The Sorry Girls, Superwoman, and LaurDIY, it makes sense that Google would install an office in Canada, making a total of eight locations around the world.

The 3,500 square foot space is open to all YouTubers with over 10,000 subscribers. Once a YouTube content creator attains 10,000 subscribers, they are invited to an “Unlock the Space” orientation seminar designed to familiarize them with the environment and its capabilities. These capabilities include high-quality camera equipment, sound stages, special production programs, educational offerings, exclusive events, and screenings.

The space itself has a unique Toronto feel with contributions from design students at George Brown College. Each set in the space is inspired by different aspects of Canadiana. From the graffiti-mural by Toronto artist Runt, to the cottage rec-room including moose antlers and table hockey, each space reflects different parts of the Canadian experience.

Although exclusive benefits are limited to individuals with over 10,000 subscribers, access to the Space’s Online Creator Academy and Open Houses are available for anyone with a YouTube channel.

U of T track stars attack Rio

Four U of T track and field athletes to represent Canada at Olympic games

U of T track stars attack Rio

Although they were missing from the opening ceremonies, Canada has sent, arguably, its best track and field squad to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Among the 65 athlete roster — including London 2012 bronze medalist in the men’s high jump, Derek Drouin, and 100m sprinter, Andre De Grasse, are four female athletes: Alicia Brown (women’s 400m and women’s 4x400m relay), Gabriela Stafford (women’s 1,500m), Andrea Seccafien (women’s 5,000m), and Micha Powell (women’s 4x400m relay), who are not only representing Canada, but U of T as well.

Alicia Brown

Graduating with a bachelor of Communications, Culture, Information and Technology from U of T in 2013, Brown had an incredible intercollegiate career with the Varsity Blues. In 2013, she was the winner of both the provincial and national 300m titles, and was also a member of the national record-breaking women’s 4x200m relay team. Brown was also named U of T’s 2013 female athlete of the year. 2013 was a breakout season for Brown, who, along with all of her university accolades, won the national championship for the 400m.

After graduation, Brown continued to train with Blues sprint head coach Bob Westman and competed for the University of Toronto Track and Field Club (UTTC) where, this year, she crushed the women’s 400m Olympic standard and won the national championship in a personal best time of 51.84. Alicia competed in the preliminary heats of the women’s 400m on Saturday, August 13, where she placed 28th. You can catch her again in the women’s 4x400m relay on Friday, August 19 at 7:40 pm.

Micha Powell

Joining Brown on the Canadian women’s 4x400m relay squad is 21-year-old Micha Powell. Powell, who trains with the University of Toronto Track Club, had a successful season competing in the NCAA Division I Track & Field championships for the University of Maryland, where she holds the indoor and outdoor 400m records. Although the decision of which four of six possible athletes will be chosen to run in the four-woman relay lingers, with a personal best 400m clocking in at 51.97, Powell is a strong contender to represent Canada next Friday in the 4x400m relay preliminaries.

Gabriela Stafford

Third-year U of T psychology student Gabriela Stafford is the third track and field athlete to represent Canada and U of T in Rio. The 20-year-old middle distance phenom will take to the track in the women’s 1,500m event where she has clocked a personal best time of 4:06.53. Stafford is no stranger to success — her career as a Varsity Blue has seen her win multiple accolades, including a silver at the 2015 CIS Cross-Country Championships, two individual golds at the 2016 CIS Championships (over 1,000m and 1,500m), as well as several provincial titles. Stafford booked her trip to Rio after finishing first at the Canadian National Track and Field Championships back in July where she dominated a field of senior athletes in the 1,500m final.

Andrea Seccafien

A member of the UTTC, 5,000m specialist Andrea Seccafien booked her ticket to Rio at the Canadian Olympic Track and Field Trials in July by winning the 5,000m event with a time of 16:00.41.

After sitting out last season due to injury, Seccafien, who is a University of Guelph Alumni, joined the UTTC and has had a stand-out season, winning the prestigious Hoka One One Middle Distance classic in Los Angles where she clocked a personal best 15:17.81 — placing her well below the Canadian Olympic standard. Andrea raced on Tuesday, August 16, at 8:30 am, in the 5,000m preliminaries at Olympic Stadium in Rio. She ranked 20th after the race.

Black Lives Matter TO, this is your space

Removing police floats from the parade is crucial to creating an inclusive Pride

Black Lives Matter TO, this is your space

“Everyone in this space, sit down,” said Alexandria Williams, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto. “This is your space.”

This year’s Toronto Pride parade was halted by a sit-in protest organized by Black Lives Matter TO. Citing Pride Toronto’s erasure of Black infrastructure, the group made the following demands: full funding for community stages — including the reinstatement of the South Asian Stage — continued space and logistical support for Black Queer Youth, and prioritizing the hiring of Black trans women and Indigenous peoples at Pride Toronto.

Of these demands, the most controversial was the call for the removal of all police floats from the parade. Sparking various reactions from members of the LGBTQ+ community and police officers themselves, many claim that such a demand represents the exclusion of police officers from Pride, and that the protest as a whole was disrespectful to the LGBTQ+ community.

Despite these criticisms, Pride should be an open space for everyone to express their personal identities. Black Lives Matter deserves a space in Pride and should be prioritized over police officers.

The Toronto Star recently published an open letter from Chuck Krangle, an openly gay police officer, expressing his feelings of exclusion. In his letter, Krangle wrote about dealing with the fear of persecution, coming-out, and attending the Pride parade for the first time in 2016 with the support of his co-workers. He outlined the experiences of LGBTQ+ police officers, and their struggle to gain a workplace free of discrimination and bias.

“Members of police services, and their employers […] have just as much right to participate as any other group,” wrote Krangle. “Police Officers are significantly represented in the LGBTQ community and it would be unacceptable to alienate and discriminate against them and those who support them.”

What Krangle fails to recognize in his letter is that his occupation is a choice. He can still attend Pride without his badge and uniform. Blackness, on the other hand, is not a choice and cannot be shed in the same manner as a uniform.

Pride itself originated as a riot led by trans women of colour in response to the police raid of the Stonewall Inn. At the time, it was suspected that the New York Police Department was specifically targeting gay clubs. Because Pride originated as a movement of resistance against oppressive police force, it is antithetical for police to have floats in the parade, as Pride Toronto should respect both the history of Pride and the individuals who made Pride possible.

Despite the representation of Black and queer-identifying police officers within the force, as well as those who do not perpetuate violence against minorities, the very presence of police continues to incite fear in racialized minorities. It is crucial, therefore, that we recognize the institution of the police force as a symbol of oppression; members of racialized minorities continue to be murdered and harassed at the hands of police. For example, shortly after the Black Lives Matter protest in Toronto, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were both killed by police officers in the United States.

[pullquote-default]Because Pride originated as a movement of resistance against oppressive police force, it is antithetical for police to have floats in the parade, as Pride Toronto should respect both the history of Pride and the individuals who made Pride possible.[/pullquote-default]

It is not the case that police officers should be excluded from Pride entirely. If police officers are to participate in Pride in any capacity, they should fulfill the role of promoting public safety — something that many marginalized communities have been deprived of.

Instead of marching in the parade, the police should take actions such as protecting attendees from hate crimes, preventing hate groups from entering the vicinity of Pride events, and monitoring public transit routes leading to and from the parade to ensure the safety of individuals travelling outside the boundaries of Yonge Street. Police participation in Pride should prioritize the protection of queer people — especially those of colour — instead of taking up their space.

The reception of Black Lives Matter at Pride was far from welcoming. “Don’t boo,” Alexandria Williams said in response to spectators of the sit-in. “[This is] the only time I have ever heard this from a community who should understand what it feels like to be oppressed.”

[pullquote-features]Pride belongs to Black Lives Matter more than it does to the region’s police officers.[/pullquote-features]

Members of the LGBTQ+ community opposed to Black Lives Matter’s actions should seek to understand the position of the black community, especially since both have faced similar systemic oppression at the hands of police. They should also recognize that Black Lives Matter is an intrinsic part of Pride. A common misconception — one that Williams challenges when she tells the protestors that Pride is their space — is that Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ+ community are two completely separate entities. This assumption oversimplifies and ignores the numerous intersections of class, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity that make up the LGBTQ+ community — all of which should be recognized by Pride Toronto.

Pride belongs to Black Lives Matter more than it does to the region’s police officers. We must not condemn the actions of Black Lives Matter, but instead we must condemn the violent actions perpetrated by the police against people of colour. It is the systemic violence against black people that forces Black Lives Matter to protest, halt the parade, and make demands that would lead to inclusion and safer spaces for numerous marginalized communities. For these reasons, the removal of police floats is crucial to creating an inclusive Pride.

Avneet Sharma is a second-year student at Trinity College studying English and Book and Media Studies.

Streets are for people

Pedestrian Sundays encapsulate the spirit of Kensington Market

Streets are for people

A rickshaw parades down Baldwin Street. In it sits the recently crowned ‘Queen of the Sun,’ complete with a sceptre and robe. Merchants and bystanders cheer her on, then she begins bawling, overwhelmed with emotion.

“I came to Kensington Market to buy a broom!” she says.

The woman had just won a game of musical chairs during a Pedestrian Sunday in Kensington Market (PSK).

In its thirteenth season, PSK closes certain streets off to automobiles on the last Sunday of each month from May to October. Vendors, street performers, and artists take to the streets instead.

Volunteer coordinator Danielle Sebastian calls the festive day quirky and eclectic – exactly in line with how many people think of Kensington. Founder Shamez Amlani summed it up with its three catchwords: community, culture, and ecology. PSK also differs from other city events because it runs on a “shoestring” budget funded by the Kensington Market Business Improvement Area (BIA), with no corporate sponsorship.

Traditions of tolerance

The community feeling is evident as several people recognize Patrick Morrison, PSK organizer and coordinator of the Kensington Market BIA. They greet him throughout our interview at Café Pamenar, a popular spot among Kensingtonians. In charge of programming for PSK, Morrison aims to reflect the cultural diversity of Kensington and Toronto in general.

“Before I came on, there were just a bunch of lousy rock bands all the time,” Morrison says. “I try to bring in folk musicians from Bulgaria or folk dance groups from Belgium, or if you knew a group of 20 old Chinese men who rocked out on the erhu, I want to meet them and I want to feature them.”

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The market has a long history of diversity due to its tradition of welcoming new immigrants. As Morrison puts it, the one thing Kensington does not tolerate is intolerance.

“Even today, without thinking of this interview, I did a post on my Instagram of a woman who owns this Tibetan business,” Patrick says. “I saw her yesterday wearing traditional Tibetan clothes and I was like, that looks beautiful. I took a picture, I learned a little bit about it, and I talked in that post about how it’s great that we have people honouring their cultures and traditions, while at the same time celebrating those of their neighbours.”

After our interview, Morrison pauses to take a shot of the blossoms on a tree nearby, and the couple next to us jokes about getting the perfect Instagram shot. I am impressed by how easily Patrick conducts himself around the neighbourhood, turning to chat with the couple about the Instagram update and telling them to follow the Kensington BIA on Instagram.

Morrison works hard for PSK, but the work is rewarding for him too — although he jokes that he is underpaid. Today, he is busy preparing for PSK and fielding phone calls from The Globe and Mail regarding dispensaries in Kensington. I ask him about his favourite event at PSK.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as watching children playing in the street outside dancing days on Kensington Avenue,” Morrison says. “There is a bubble machine, there might be some form of music coming from somewhere on the street and just kids playing and having a good time in the streets safely. That’s the biggest one that pulls on my heartstrings and helps me keep going through all the ridiculousness that I have to go through to pull this event off.”

Behind the businesses

We walk to Wanda’s Pie in the Sky to meet David Beaver, Wanda’s husband who is commonly referred to as ‘Mr. Wanda.’ Beaver offers us free slices of cake in honour of Wanda’s birthday and clues me into the business side of Kensington.

“We try to incorporate the business and the community, which is a very unusual situation in Toronto, simply because this is such a great little enclave,” Beaver says. “I call it the heart of Toronto. That little jewel in the centre of Toronto. Once you recognize and figure out what a great place it is, you want to come here all the time.”

There are differing views on whether or not PSK is good for business. Restaurants tend to do better than furniture stores or bookstores. A few business owners argue Pedestrian Sundays draw in people who are only interested in looking and do not actually purchase anything.

“We don’t sell an awful lot during our time because usually a lot of the regulars kind of stay away. But for the tourists and a lot of people coming in from outside of the market – they come, they buy a cookie or two, go outside to listen to the band, wander around,” Beaver says. “We have a good time.”

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From Wanda’s, Morrison takes me to Segovia Meats. The shop has been in the market since 1978 and has participated in every PSK since its inception. I manage to squeeze in a three-minute interview with Leonardo Segovia, whose experience differs from David’s, although he agrees PSK is a fun time for many people.

 “Obviously the financial part is great… we were able to take advantage of the opportunity to make some extra money during the summer,” Segovia says. “The market is very difficult and very hard in the winter, so this helps us recuperate some of the loss most stores have in the winter.”

Origins of activism

Later that month, I attend a PSK volunteer orientation, where I finally meet Shamez Amlani and a few other volunteers. At Café Pamenar, he fills me in on PSK history.

In 2002, Amlani and some of his friends came up with the idea of hosting a fun anti-car action. They took parking spots and fed the meters, encouraging others to do the same with their vehicles as well – roller blades and bicycles – still displaying their tickets as they would in a car.

“In each different parking spot, we had a different activity. In one of them, it was a hot summer day, and I was giving away free gazpacho,” Amlani says. “In another one, we had free bike repairs. In yet another parking spot, musicians came and they were playing music.”

After a few one-off events and plenty of community consultations, the first season of Pedestrian Sundays finally began in 2004. Without being didactic, the founders hoped PSK would have a consciousness-raising element for the city.

[pullquote-features]We need to rethink years of poor planning and letting cars take over everything in North American cities, in order to have healthy cities, bodies, and souls.[/pullquote-features]

“For example, we teamed up with the Atmosphere Chemistry department at the University of Toronto, and a professor there had created this fantastic pollution measuring device,” Amlani says.

Despite its agenda of raising awareness about what Amlani calls the “motorized apocalypse,” PSK events always keep a fun element as well.

“We [once] had a car that was a petition car,” Amlani says. “We painted it white and on the hood, we made a declaration asking for better public transit and cycling infrastructure and asking for the end of the reign of the automobile on our city streets. We got 10,000 signatures on this car and we invited politicians to come out and kind of debate. We put capes on them and said, ‘We count on you. You are supposed to be superheroes for us.’”

According to Amlani, we need to rethink years of poor planning and letting cars take over everything in North American cities, in order to have healthy cities, bodies, and souls. In addition to fighting car culture, Amlani supports small businesses and the “spirit of entrepreneurship” over “giant soulless greedy corporations,” which PSK programming reflects.

“What we like to do at Pedestrian Sundays is removing that line between audience and performer,” Amlani says. “Removing that line between consumer and creator and allowing people to explore their own sense of creativity and engaging people to talk and give their input to the world around them as well and to be more involved with what is going on in their surroundings.”

People make it possible

One involved person is recent U of T graduate Chris Gomez, who has volunteered for three seasons of PSK. We meet at Kruger Hall, where Gomez says that many of his friends have been scared off from volunteering because they liken it to the free labour given in unpaid internships.

Gomez disagrees with this, saying no one at PSK is taking advantage of volunteers. Instead, he likens volunteering to attending a house party with “all good stuff you will never see anywhere else” and less trash.

“[It] just starts with, I guess, a menial, small amount of equipment and that is what lets it get packed up so quickly,” Chris says. “As opposed to if you brought in all these stages and giant megaphones and giant parade floats – those would take a hundred years. I mean, the Santa Claus parade – who would know an old man would paralyze a whole city?”

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Poet in Kensington Market. ANN CHANG/THE VARSITY

“I could spit right now and it would be on Augusta,” Gomez says. “All these students go there all the time and enjoy their time which is great, we want that to happen, and we also want them to enjoy PSK, but I think one thing they don’t realize they would also enjoy is volunteering and helping out. They won’t even feel like they are working. You want to work? Go somewhere that will get you paid.”

When I ask Gomez about his best and worst experiences volunteering, he has the same answer to both questions. Last May’s PSK was cold and rainy, but volunteers took turns relieving each other and a local shopkeeper offered them tea and gloves.

Gomez calls nature the “biggest equalizer” for participants at PSK because the festivities continue rain or shine.

“I’ve seen businesses in the area see people standing around the tango lessons that are going on in the hot sun,” Gomez says. “Businesses in the area that have patios –they will actually sacrifice money they could make by keeping their own chairs on their patio to actually give it to people that are waiting, or wanting to watch the tango. Those are dedicated people.”

I also talk to Sebastian about volunteering, at none other than Café Pamenar. For her, volunteering is a great opportunity to meet new people organically, without the social pressures that come with a work environment or a date.

“It’s like you’re building something together, as opposed to just one person focused like, ‘I have a task to do, I’m going to go out and do it,’ and then you both go to point B, and you don’t interact with anyone because it might get in your way of getting your point B thing done,” Sebastian says.

She claims that not only are volunteers good people, but that PSK attracts good people hoping to build a better community.

“Would people be interacting in Kensington if it wasn’t there, if this wasn’t happening?” Sebastian asks. “The amount of performers and the art fair alone. It’s so many artists. People wouldn’t get to be exposed to that because people wouldn’t get to perform. I am all for giving people a space to do that. I don’t see how people can be against that.”

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Amlani’s founding anti-car group said streets are for people. Given that Pedestrian Sundays are going strong, they may be proved right.

At the end of the month I attend the May PSK event, buying myself the shrimp kebab Gomez mentioned in our interview. There is a ballet going on in the park, a didgeridoo on one corner, and a May Pole at the very end.

Morrison eloquently sums it up: “Our cities are for people, our cities aren’t for cars. Cars don’t live; people live. It’s about having a better, more liveable city — better quality of life. Part of that is enjoying our streets.”

Looking around, that is exactly what people are doing.

Honest reviews: popular places to eat in Toronto

"Dairy Queen is better"

Honest reviews: popular places to eat in Toronto

Toronto is known for many things: the CN Tower, the Blue Jays, Drake. While Toronto is a world-class city, it is not known as a purveyor of world-class cuisine. There are a few gems, but many of Toronto’s spots are pretty average. I scoped out some of the most popular — and overrated — places with a friend, and gave them a much-needed honest review.


 

Sweet Jesus
106 John Street

Just a short walk from St. Andrew station, Sweet Jesus is home to some of the most photogenic ice creams in Toronto. As mediocre as my experience was, I could not help but jump on the bandwagon and post an Instagram picture of my s’mores cone, which is precisely why this place has gotten such a flurry of attention over the past couple months.

Because the cones are so large, my friend and I debated sharing one but finally decided to each get our own — this was a mistake. Although smaller plain or dipped soft-serve cones were available for a cheaper price, I wanted one of the fancy ones that I kept seeing online. They only came in one giant size though and it was $7.35 with tax — a preposterous price in hindsight.

The quality of the ice cream was nothing special, and the cones were regular wafer cones. I did not even find my toppings to be that amazing. Halfway through her ice cream, my friend announced, “It’s so much. I cannot eat any more.”

She proceeded to throw her cone away. When she returned from the garbage can, she said, “There are so many half-finished ice creams tossed out in there, just like mine. That is such a waste.” Eventually, I gave up as well and threw out my last few bites.

While I would consider returning if smaller sizes were made available, I definitely did not find the price of the large cone to be worth it. As my friend put it: “Dairy Queen is better.”

Tsujiri
147 Dundas Street West

I love matcha and, judging by the popularity of this new Toronto matcha café and bakery, so do a lot of people. The line, reminiscent of the one at Sweet Jesus, was out the door. Several other similarities to the Instagram-famous ice cream parlour were striking: the highly photogenic quality of the desserts and the slightly ludicrous price of soft-serve ice cream.

When I went, Tsujiri was cash-only, which I had not known in advance. This limited me to a total of about five dollars, ruling out pretty much the entire menu. Additionally, half of their desserts were unavailable that day anyway, including the famous Tsujiri sundaes. Borrowing a couple dollars from my friend, I finally settled on a matcha soft-serve ice cream cone, which only came in one size and cost $6.50 with tax.

Service was slow, but the ice cream was good enough. The matcha flavour was delicious and unique — and it came in a waffle cone! If I were not a poor student, I would definitely be open to returning, though there are places that have far better ice cream in Toronto.

Tsujiri samples. WYN LOK/CC FLICKR

Tsujiri samples. WYN LOK/CC FLICKR

Bang Bang Icecream
93A Ossington Avenue

I arrived just a few minutes before the 1:00 pm weekday opening and was the first one in line. However, I took my time looking at the menu and quickly lost my spot as the place filled to capacity by 1:02 pm. Having menus handed out in line would have significantly reduced the very long wait times.

That being said, the ice cream sandwiches here are among the best desserts I’ve ever had in Toronto. There are so many creative flavours of ice cream — London Fog is my favourite — although there is, understandably, a strict limit on how many samples you are allowed to try.

A half-sandwich was definitely enough for me and cost only $5.10 with tax. Unlike the last two dessert places, this one was entirely worth the hype.

El Furniture Warehouse
410 Bloor Street West

Famous for their $4.95 food menu, El Furniture’s prices are comparable to those of food trucks. While their food is quite plain, I have never once left the restaurant thinking that it was not worth it. After tax and tip, the meal still only comes to about $7.

One big selling point of this place for me was the variety of options. There are many types of salads, wraps, sandwiches, and more, so everyone can find something of appeal. Although some dishes are better than others — I was not a fan of the pasta, but enjoyed the burgers — they were all satisfying enough for such a good deal. I found that one order was usually enough to fill me up, but several of my companions had to order more.

The design of the place is a simple dive bar, which works for many people, but is not my scene. For me, the atmosphere is the principal deterrent. Even at midday, the lighting is so dark that I can barely read the menu, and the music so loud that it is hard to chat. While some may love this setting and the crowds, this is usually enough to make me choose another place to sit down.

The Burger’s Priest
463 Queen Street West

The Burger’s Priest California Classic was the best burger I have ever had in my life. Every part stood out: the grilled bun, the juicy beef, the delicious sauce. Although there were far fewer creative burger options in comparison to The Works, the quality was high enough to make up for it.

When considering how small the portion sizes were, this was also one of the most expensive burgers I have ever bought. A single California Classic was $8.00 with tax, but it was not enough to fill me up; a double was $11.30.

My vegetarian friend, was not nearly as enthused as I was: “I had no option except the ‘The Option’ (pun intended). Instead of a meat patty, The Option featured a deep-fried breaded cheese and portobello mushroom. Though it was delicious enough, the serving felt meagre and the flavour did not stand out. I left feeling neither satiated nor satisfied.”

Burger Priest burger. LUCAS RICHARZ/CC FLICKR

Burger Priest burger. LUCAS RICHARZ/CC FLICKR