Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

Louis Armstrong, Me and Summer Nights in Toronto
Published by Toronto Mike on August 19, 2010 @ 21:59 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

Tales From The ExThe Ex opens tomorrow. That's a swell excuse to delve into the vault and share my memories of the CNE from when I worked there as a game booth attendant in my teens.

I typically closed up the booth at the end of the night. The park would close, I'd wait for the midway to empty and then begin bringing down the flash. The money would go to the office, the giant stuffed toys would come down from all around the booth and I'd lock up the game.

The game I worked and eventually managed was very close to the Polar Express. Every single night without failure the Polar Express' killer sound system would play Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" at the very end of the night. Every single night while I locked up the booth I'd find myself alone in the summer night with Louis Armstrong wafting though my ears. It was the ideal song to penetrate the silence in the wee hours of the night after another long day of hustling and bustling. It brought a wonderful blend of calmness and hope to an otherwise chaotic arena.

To this day I can't hear a note of that song without instantly returning to the summers of '89, '90 and '91. It remains a personal favourite.

Polar Express

[ripped straight outta this blog, originally shared on August 26, 2004]

Comments 2 comments
680CFTR, SkyDome Bug Delay and CNE Conklin Carnies
Published by Toronto Mike on August 18, 2010 @ 21:14 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

Tales From The ExThe Canadian National Exhibition opens Friday. I used to work The Ex, and I've got many stories about my three years manning a game booth. This is just one of them...

During the height of Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, I was working a game with a Madonna-wannabee. She copied that complete look, including that fake-blonde pony tail. At this time, Ms. Blonde Ambition was also my manager and in charge of managing our shifts.

This particular game had a microphone and one of us was to be on the mic at all times creating excitement and attracting the next sucker. I was on when I saw a couple of people decked out in 680 CFTR gear handing out swag. In a shameless effort to score some free goods, I hollered "CFTR Rules!" into the mic and got their attention. It worked because they came right over and handed me two tickets to see the Jays at SkyDome that night and attend a Pizza Pizza party beforehand.

Ms. Blonde Ambition had to rearrange the schedule so I could get my free pizza and check out the Jays but she had a condition. She wanted the second ticket. I agreed and that night I gorged on pizza and witnessed the first bug delay in Blue Jays history. The game is rather infamous for the 35-minute bug delay and I'm proud to have been a part of it.

Here's where this tale from the Ex kicks into high gear. The next night I was closing up the game booth after midnight when I saw Ms. Blonde Ambition's boyfriend walking towards me. He was clearly drunk and was slurring something to the effect that I should stay away from his girl and he heard I asked her out. There was no point reasoning with this guy. He was there to kick my ass.

I was sixteen and not the biggest dude around. This guy was older, bigger and full of booze. It was after midnight at the CNE and I needed back-up. Where was I to turn?

A Conklin carny was closing up his booth and I quickly approached him and in as few words as possible told him Ms. Blonde Ambition's boyfriend's was there to pummel me and I needed a little help. Even though I wasn't working for Conklin, there was a code amongst us carnies. We looked out for each other. I'll never forget what this 100 pound, 40-something year old, mullet-headed carny said and did next. He picked up a pipe, pounded it into his hand and called back behind the trailer to a collection of carnies enjoying an end-of-day brew, "You guys ready for a fight?".

This collection of Conklin carnies came through for me that night when I needed them most. I worked for a rival company, but we were all in the same gang. They saw I was in trouble and they took up the cause. To this day I'm unsure how that night ended for Ms. Blonde Ambition's boyfriend, but he didn't bother me again for the remainder of the CNE. I'm guessing he learned his lesson...carny style.

[this story originally published August 25, 2004 @ 08:10]

Comments 9 comments
Least Inspiring Toronto Mayoral Race Ever
Published by Toronto Mike on August 6, 2010 @ 13:18 in Rob Ford Watch, Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

City HallI don't know if it's because we're in the middle of a very busy, hot summer, but from where I'm sitting this is the least inspiring Toronto mayoral race I can remember.

The simple fact this is the first I've written about this election to choose Toronto's new mayor since Rob Ford announced his candidacy tells you a great deal. That was March 16th. Since then, I haven't been motivated to write a single word about an election taking place October 25, 2010, except to chew Rocco Rossi out for his Sympatico spam.

Last I checked there were 34 candidates. They are:

  • Achampong, Rocco
  • Andrews, Don
  • Babula, George
  • Ball, Christopher
  • Barton, Andrew
  • Campbell, Douglas
  • Castillo, Jaime
  • Clarke, Kevin
  • Cole, Keith
  • Cottle, Charlene
  • Firth, Selwyn
  • Flie, Michael
  • Ford, Rob
  • Ghazi, Abdullah-Baquie
  • Gomberg, Howard
  • Hossain, Monowar
  • Lee, Dewitt
  • Letonja, John
  • Macklin, Carmen
  • Magee, Colin
  • McMillan, Jim
  • Pampena, Joseph
  • Pantalone, Joe
  • Rossi, Rocco
  • Smitherman, George
  • State, Mark
  • Steinberger, Tibor
  • Syed, Himy
  • Taylor, Phil
  • Thomson, Sarah
  • Vallance, David
  • Wadhwa, Ratan
  • Walker, Daniel
  • Yeung, Sonny

In reality, our next mayor will be one of the following: Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone, Rocco Rossi, George Smitherman or Sarah Thomson. You already know what I think about Rob Ford, but none of the other four leading candidates inspire me, either. If George Smitherman wins, it's not because he ran a stellar campaign. It's because he was the best of a bad lot.

Who would you vote for in this 2010 Toronto mayoral race?

Comments 8 comments
Power's Out in Toronto
Published by Toronto Mike on July 5, 2010 @ 16:59 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

boltThe power seems to be out in most of Toronto.

power-out

I'm told an explosion at a transformer station has caused a widespread power outage affecting large parts of the downtown and west end.

Comments 3 comments
Lessard Park Gets New Playground
Published by Toronto Mike on July 3, 2010 @ 09:36 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

constructionThe kids have always enjoyed Lessard Park. It's a little park in west Toronto on top of the ravine that leads down to Etienne Brule Park by the Humber River near Old Mill. Now that I think of it, I used to enjoy Lessard Park as a kid as well.

It's got a big field and baseball diamond, and they've just torn down what I thought was a pretty good playground and replaced it with a brand new one.

We dropped by at the end of our walk last night to see how the construction was going. There was enough in place that the kids could start breaking in the new funnery.

Lessard park

Lessard park Lessard park

Comments 4 comments
Underground Bars in Toronto
Published by Toronto Mike on July 2, 2010 @ 10:12 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

beerDo you know what I don't write about nearly often enough? Underground bars in Toronto. I'm not really a bar or pub guy, and these things are underground. How am I supposed to know they exist?

This entry was written by Samantha. I just felt you all needed to learn about underground bars in Toronto. Everything after this line was authored by her in this guest post.

As I am sure you guys already know, Toronto boasts a solid nightlife full of vibrant and colourful people. The majority of the clubs found in Toronto play the same old songs with the same old people. However, what you might not know is Toronto has one of the fastest growing underground nightlife scenes Canada has to offer. If you are looking for a pub or bar that is a little less-known and less mainstream, follow my list found below.

The Hidden Lounge

The Hidden Lounge is an underground supper club that is located in a downtown loft. They host monthly dinner parties, "which consist of a group of strangers gathering together to share their passion of gourmet food, good company and interesting conversation". This makes for a really cute date provided both of you feel comfortable making fools of yourselves.

They are open Sunday through Tuesday and can also accommodate private functions.

All their food is prepared in house and nothing is bought pre-made or in bulk. This allows for an ever changing menu. It's rare that I see the same thing on the menu the next time I decide to throw my diet out the window. Another awesome idea I thought The Hidden Lounge brought to the Toronto nightlife is the BOYB concept. For a night spot, I think this could be very risky, but interesting none the less.

The Anti-Restaurant

If you are an avid foodie than the Anti-Restaurant is the place to be. Believe it or not, the Anti-restaurant is an invite only restaurant. Before planning a supper there, you must fill out a questionnaire that asks for your profession, three favourite restaurants in TO, and what your last meal on earth would be. If they like your answers, you get on the e-visit list, if not, see you next time.

C Lounge

The C Lounge is a spa-inspired bar, the first of its kind in Toronto. There is an outside water area, which is surrounded by cozy VIP cabins and couches. It reminds me, in some ways, to the cafe in the Wynn Encore Las Vegas.

If the partying is getting too intense, or the music too loud, take a break to get your hair or makeup touched up by one of their beauty specialists. If you're a guy and do not need a beauty touch up, their massage parlour is sure to loosen you up. C Lounge offers a wide variety of unique services that cannot be found anywhere else in the city.

Devil's Martini

One of the top rated martini bars in Toronto is Devil's Martini. You can dance, drink and party with some of Toronto's coolest locals. The drinks are truly phenomenal. They have some martinis on that list that I never knew even existed. I drank a few martinis in my time but never with the creativity and presentation of those found at Devil's Martini. It is a great place for a pre-meal drink or a quick night cap after a date.

Seven Lounge

One of the newest nightclub/bars in Toronto is Seven Lounge. Featuring sleek, modern interior and a floating staircase, many customers report that one of the main reasons they visit is to see the unique styling and d├ęcor. The decor is not the only thing that they have to boast about. They have the best view of the Toronto skyline as well as a barbecue pit. How many clubs do you know have BBQ pits? They will also play around with the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins. I am excited to see what they have in store for Wrath!

Only time will tell if they will be able to sustain the recent success. However, they definitely have the potential to keep growing and earn their spot in Toronto's powerful nightlife.

This is just a brief look at what Toronto's nightlife has to offer. I definitely urge you to check out these bars in the near future. Please let me know what you think. I'd love to know if you guys share the same feelings as I do.

Writer's Bio:
Samantha Wheeler
Freelance Writer
Samantha.wheeler3@gmail.com

Comments 4 comments
Did G20 Toronto Black Block Get Green Light to Rampage?
Published by Toronto Mike on June 30, 2010 @ 19:27 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

question markThis video features Joe Wenkoff, a photo journalist who describes his experience following the black block as they rampaged through the streets of Toronto during the G20 Summit.

Watch it now, then meet me after the jump.

20,000 police and security officials and a $1 billion security budget were not enough to stop 75-100 black block anarchists from smashing windows and torching police cars during a 1.5 hour rampage. The Black Block were able to rampage through the street for 24 blocks until they reached the 'official protest zone' where they quickly changed clothes dispersed through the crowd of peaceful protesters and then left the site.

The police were fully aware of the rampage and watched the black block from a distance at a number of locations. It wasn't until they had dispersed into a crowd of peaceful protesters who thought that they were in a sanctioned area that the police took action beating innocent people with batons and spraying them with pepper spray.

Why was this allowed to happen? Police abandoned police cars at Bay and King when they didn't need to, why? Was this allowed to happen so the Harper government could justify an outrageous security bill when there was no credible terrorist threat (according to CSIS)? Who led this group of vandals? Were they infiltrated by government paid provocateurs as was the case in Montebello where police with masks and rocks attacked their own riot squad?

Compare and contrast how the police dealt with the black block with what went down at Queen and Spadina. It doesn't make sense to this Torontonian. Something's rotten...

If you read this blog, you know I rarely get political. Most of my entries are about our local sports teams, radio, television, movies or interesting and funny slices of the interwebs and every day life. I just can't shake this feeling in the pit of my stomach that the security cost was justified by letting the black block burn a few cars and break a few windows. Then, in a horrible juxtaposition, we watched peaceful protesters and innocent participants forcefully shut down and detained.

I can't be the only one who thinks something stinks here...

Comments 20 comments
Don't Forget the Other Victims of the G20 Fiasco
Published by Toronto Mike on June 29, 2010 @ 17:22 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

cityhallLet's not forget the other victims of the recent G20 protests and vandalism. This guy, for example, really wanted to go shopping at the Eaton Centre.

Comments 8 comments
Criminilization of Dissent and Sheer Police Brutality at the G20
Published by Toronto Mike on June 29, 2010 @ 07:59 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

torontoI've been following the very interesting discussion on my entry about the incident at Queen and Spadina Sunday night. Regular readers have promised never to read this site again. Some blame those at Queen and Spadina for being there, others feel the police mishandled things, everyone has an opinion.

Whether you agree or disagree with what went down, I think it's important we continue to ask questions and discuss things. Andrew pointed me to this note (name removed) wrote on her Facebook page.

On Saturday night, June 26th 2010, I was arrested without cause and forced to spend 18 hours at the G20 detention facility on Eastern Ave. A fairly large group of demonstrators were holding a peaceful gathering on the sidewalk outside the facility to stand in solidarity with other comrades and activists who had been targeted, followed, beaten, and arrested by police earlier in the weekend.* People were chanting, playing music, dancing, and exercising their rights to free speech and dissent within the law. It is worth emphasizing that there was absolutely no violence nor any threat of violence occurring. At about 1AM, our group was approached by hundreds of riot cops on all four sides, in full gear with masks, batons, guns, etc. After completely surrounding us, we were told through a loudspeaker that we were “breaching the peace” and that we had to disperse immediately. However, this order was impossible to fulfill as we were trapped and were not being given a way out. Five minutes later, we were given a second warning to leave the area, or “appropriate force” would be used against us. Once again, everyone in the group was asking the same question- HOW?? At this point, we wanted to leave and understood that we had to, but we couldn’t. Finally, after one of our group members pleaded with an officer, a small gap was created in the heavily fortified wall and we all began to file out, heading westward on Eastern Ave. We stuck closely together, for fear that any one person sticking out or walking alone would be individually targeted, as had happened earlier in the weekend. We quietly all left the surrounded zone and continued to walk down Eastern Ave, as riot cops continued to follow and surround us on either side of our line. Just before reaching Pape Ave, for some reason the cops suddenly cut off our line, trapping about half of the original group inside again. While the people at the front of the line were free to go home, the rest of us were told to put our hands on our heads. While we stood like that for fifteen minutes, I asked the guy standing beside me if we were actually getting arrested- he told me that getting arrested would be the best case scenario under these circumstances. 

After being notified of our arrest, we were swarmed by a bunch of cops and each of us was handcuffed. Our bags were thoroughly searched, we were asked to provide ID, and all of our belongings were taken. It was very obvious that I was the first person my arresting officer had ever arrested, as she clearly had no idea what was going on (“Do we actually need to fill out this part of the arrest form?” “How do these handcuffs work?” “I totally forgot to check your pockets, do you have anything in there?” etc.) The only thing she had any confidence in doing was telling me that it’s a good thing I’m self-employed because after this I’ll have no hope of ever getting a job again (which is obviously completely false). Our pictures were taken and they put us in the back of three police wagons, which were essentially stuffy hot cages with metal benches and locks. We were driven to the G20 detention facility, which was literally just down the street as we had just come from it, and held in the wagons for about an hour and a half. While waiting, I could hear both the cries of the other prisoners (who we had just been rallying for) as well as the uproar of the people that had just assembled outside (who were rallying for us). 

We were finally led inside the warehouse and locked up inside 3x6m metal cages. There were rows upon rows of these cages in there, bolted to the ground, crammed with people. Inside each cage was a small metal bench and a port-a-potty with no door and no toilet paper. It was freezing cold and they had taken both my sweater and my scarf. I spent the night on the dirty and cold cement floor with nine other women, shivering and huddled together to keep warm. The lights were on the entire time, and people in mine and neighbouring cages were continuously banging and shaking them, demanding to be let out. We begged the guard to bring us sweaters, but they had already run out of them a long time ago. Finally after it was obvious that people were going to get sick, we were given a total of three t-shirts and a couple of pairs of socks. We all took turns creating barriers in front of the bathroom so that we could each use the toilet with some level of privacy from all of the male cops walking around We were handcuffed the entire time, and some peoples’ handcuffs were on so tightly that their hands were going numb and fingers turning blue, but most of the guards refused to loosen them. We were given a styrofoam cup of water every couple of hours, and two sandwiches with cheese and butter inside them. I asked if I could have just a slice of bread because I’m lactose-intolerant (I’m actually vegan but wasn’t going to get into it) and they said no and told me to shut the fuck up. Most requests for anything, even just basic needs like menstrual pads, blankets, and medication, were either completely ignored or ridiculed. By the morning, after the Novotel mass arrests, 17 more women had been added to our cage, making it a total of 27. They included everyone from university professors to media reps to people who had just been walking down the street and got caught up in the mess.

On Sunday around mid-day, they finally started to process us. At this point, the entire prison was packed full of hundreds of tired, hungry, and understandably frustrated people, some of whom had been there for over twenty four hours. They had absolutely no grounds for holding us that long, and it was clear that we were being detained as political prisoners so that we couldn’t participate in any further actions on Sunday (and also so that they could fill their arrest quotas and justify spending absolutely absurd amounts of money (OUR money) on all of this and look like heroes etc etc.) Probably the most inspiring part of the entire bleak and incredibly dehumanizing process was the solidarity and support I received throughout, especially when walking past all of the other cages full of people while being led in handcuffs to the processing room. That is basically where I got the strength to keep going through this extremely nightmarish ordeal. While being processed, I was asked if I was aware why I had been arrested (NO), and told that I was going to be released without any charges, but also that if I was to protest again at the G20 I would be criminally charged. 

I was then moved to the “catch and release” area of the prison and told that my right to use the telephone was being negated since I was going to be released soon (which didn’t happen, and despite making it very clear in the subsequent hours that I deserved to make a phone call, I was still ignored). The “catch and release” area is where I witnessed the most despicable treatment by fellow human beings that I have ever experienced in my life. The abuse of power on the part of the police and court officers was unlike anything I ever could have imagined. Instances of blatant racist, sexist, and homophobic abuse were severe and ongoing. I do not even wish to repeat some of the demeaning and frankly horrifying things that I heard some officers say to myself and to other people, especially to women. The constant mockery of detainees and systematic downplaying of the pitiful nature of our circumstances made me realize how morally bankrupt and disconnected from reality and from humanity these cops actually are. I kept getting moved around from cage to cage and kept getting lied to about getting released soon. I eventually ended up in a cage by myself across from a cage with about 35 men in it. These particular men had been denied food, water, and answers for many, many hours. When desperate pleas for water were made, the police replied by converging right in front of their cage and chatting while drinking their own bottled water. There was one “juvenile offender” in there, a 14 year-old boy, being treated in the exact same way as everyone else, including being denied a phone call to his parents or to a lawyer. There was also a man in there in critical condition, almost without a pulse, and it took me literally screaming at the top of my lungs to get someone to finally pay any attention to him. 

I was also completely appalled at the sheer incompetency and disorganization of the police force. I couldn’t even count the amount of times I heard one officer say to another “I have no idea what is going on.” Nobody had any answers to any questions, whether they were our questions or their own questions to each other. If I ever hear another police officer say “We are working on it” or “We are trying our very best” I think I am going to lose it. This was the standard response to absolutely EVERYTHING. Many police officers even had the nerve to say things to me like “Trust me, I’m equally as frustrated as you are” or “I’ve been on my feet all day too so I know how you feel” or “I got woken up and called in to work in the middle of the night- this situation is unfair for everyone” or “It’s not that cold in here, you just FEEL cold because you’re tired” or “You wouldn’t be here in the first place if you weren’t so fucking violent!” The majority of them were just wasting time walking around trying to figure out what the hell they were supposed to be doing. They had no record of where anyone was in there, so every time they were looking for a specific person, they had to go around to every single cage and ask for them by name. Anytime I said anything to them (eg. “Why is the catch and release process all catch and no release?” “How many times are you going to walk by and pretend like you’re doing something?” “Why do I know more about the law than you do?” “Does your billion dollar budget not include FREE tap water?”), I feel that my release process became slower and slower. I realize these things may have been mildly insulting to them but they are all true and pale in comparison to how incredibly insulted I was to be locked up in that place. 

Finally at almost 8pm on Saturday evening, my photo was taken again, my belongings returned, and I was released. At one point they had said that one of the reasons it was taking so long was because there had been a riot outside and the prison had been on lock-down. I think they forgot about the fact those of us inside actually know a lot of the people who were outside and have now been informed that there was no such riot and no such lock-down, so it was just another lie added to the long list. I am incredibly thankful that I had friends that managed to find out that I was in there and were waiting to take me home when I got out. 

It is utterly reprehensible that something of this magnitude and level of injustice could occur in our city. Many peoples’ fundamental rights have been brutally violated and many people experienced much worse things than myself. This is but a microcosm of what occurs on our streets and in our prisons every single day. I will continue to refuse to be criminalized for expressing dissent against criminal and illegitimate institutions. 

*A similarly peaceful demonstration had been held outside the holding facility the night before, in support of our friend Emomotimi Azorbo, a deaf black male who had been arrested on Friday for crossing the street at Yonge and College after police had verbally instructed him not to (he is DEAF). On Friday night we were simply trying to convince an ableist and shamefully ignorant police force to allow an ASL interpreter inside the facility so that Emomotimi would be able to communicate with his lawyer and with police investigators, as any hearing person would be able to. The police denied these pleas, effectively denying him of his basic rights under the Canadian Charter. Support is now pouring in from deaf communities and allies around the world.

Comments 29 comments
O Canada? Peaceful G20 Protest at Queen and Spadina
Published by Toronto Mike on June 27, 2010 @ 20:25 in Toronto News ~ Toronto Focus

torontoThis video footage of a peaceful G20 protest at Queen and Spadina is jarring. It's clearly a peaceful protest, something we're allowed to do in this city, and the protesters are even united in their singing of O Canada.

Then, the police charge. Watch this.

That footage turns my stomach. This isn't my Toronto.

That same intersection is the subject of more controversy tonight. I understand hundreds are being held there by police without explanation. Thanks for coming out, G20.

[via Jonas Naimark's Flickr]

Comments 41 comments


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