Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The High 5 moments that outlined Toronto within the 2010s

1. ‘Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine’

You could make an entire list of moments about Rob Ford alone: his election; Steak Queen; “I have more than enough to eat at home.” But nothing tops the time he stood, with his football tie, his face forever flushed, and told the world that yes, he had smoked crack cocaine. No he was not a crack addict, but yes he had smoked it, probably in one his drunken stupors. It was a tragedy played for comedy that foretold a new political era around the world: a half-decade, and still counting, of endless shame by shameless men. Here, on television, in a chaotic scrum, was a big-city mayor hitting rock bottom live while those around him — his advisers, his family and his friends — insisted he still had miles to fall. It was incredible and it was obscene and yet, somehow, it wasn’t the end. That’s why it still stands out now. That’s why it tops the list. Even after making that admission, Ford finished his term. He didn’t go to rehab until a second crack photo emerged. And he only dropped out of the race for re-election after he fell ill. Even then, he still won back his old council seat.

“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine” was the moment when the old rules about what was disqualifying in politics went out the window. It’s the moment that best foretold the election of a man like Donald Trump. It’s the moment that signalled the end of a politics where action and consequence were tangibly linked — for politicians, yes, but for staffers and strategists, too. Ford was manifestly unfit for the job of mayor. He was incapable of doing it. In many ways, just trying destroyed him. His term plunged the city into an addict’s swirl of chaos and pathos. But the people who enabled his rise, who propped him up and kept pushing him out in public, haven’t been punished. In fact, they’ve mostly thrived. His brother runs the province of Ontario. His former chief of staff runs a newspaper chain. The man most responsible for getting him elected got his successor elected too, twice.

A decade ago you would have been hard-pressed to imagine Toronto as a global bellwether for much of anything at all. But in Ford, Toronto gave the world a preview of the politics of chaos to come. He died in 2016, but he still defined the decade for this city and foreshadowed it for much of the world.

2. The CBC Fires Jian Ghomeshi

Years before #MeToo went viral, before the New York Times exposed Harvey Weinstein, before the Larry Nassar trial, before NBC fired Matt Lauer, before Time’s Up and the Shitty Media Men list, there was Jian Ghomeshi. The CBC fired Ghomeshi on Oct. 26, 2014. Days later, the Toronto Star reported the accounts of four women who alleged Ghomeshi had abused or harassed them. A host of similar allegations — of non-consensual violence during sex and of workplace harassment — followed. Police eventually charged Ghomeshi with four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking. After a two-week trial in February 2016, a judge found Ghomeshi not guilty on all charges. (He later signed a peace bond and apologized to avoid a second trial on a separate charge.)


Jian Ghomeshi was fired as Q host following sexual abuse accusations.

CBC/File

The Ghomeshi case was a preview of almost everything that was to come in the #MeToo movement: the sense that everyone knew; the flood of allegations; the feeling that everyone was finally speaking publicly about what had only ever been whispered before; the ugly and unsatisfying fight in court. It became global story. But it was rooted in this city. It shone a light on the tiny worlds of Canadian celebrity and media. It exposed a toxic culture in the country’s largest and most important media organization. And as with Ford, it predicted so much of what was to come in the United States.

3. Drake renames the city with a song

On July 14, 2014, Aubrey “Drake” Graham — by one metric the most popular recording artist of ’10s — announced the title of his new album and in the process renamed an entire metropolis. With Views from the 6, Drake did the culturally impossible: he created an entirely new nickname for a city of 3 million people that actually stuck. Four plus years later, The Six, or the 6ix, is still going strong, a testament to the cultural dominance Drake achieved this decade.


Drake takes in a Raptors game in The 6ix, on Oct. 29, 2014.

Dave Abel/Postmedia/File

Drake wasn’t the only Toronto artist to break big in the last 10 years. Scarborough’s The Weeknd had a genuine global hit with “I can’t feel my face” in 2015. In 2019, Lilly Singh went from YouTube celebrity to late night talk show host on NBC. Brampton’s Rupi Kaur all but invented the genre of Instagram poetry on route to selling 2.5 million copies of her debut collection Milk and Honey, which she first self-published 2015. But for all that other success, this was still the decade of Drake in Toronto. He was Spotify’s most streamed artist of the ’10s. Billboard named him the artist of the decade. His OVO branded clothing was everywhere in the city. He helped make the Raptors cool. And in 2014, he renamed the city without even trying that hard.

4. Honest Ed’s comes down

You can’t talk about Toronto in the ’10s without talking about real estate. In fact, by the end of the decade, you could barely talk about anything in the city without talking about home prices, condo towers, gentrification, the rental market, and the grinding sense that if you weren’t rich or you hadn’t bought before the boom, the city was no longer meant for you. As the past 10 years ground on in Toronto, home prices soared, rental vacancy rates shrank and in neighbourhood after neighbourhood, the same smothering pattern played itself out. Old working class streets were transformed. Humble semis were gutted to the studs and resold for seven figures. On the streets out front, Mercedes replaced the Audis that had replaced the Hyundais just months before. Like Vancouver before it, Toronto in the ’10s became a kind of hedge city where no one seemed to know anyone who wasn’t a doctor, a banker or a lawyer who was doing anything more than just getting by. Sane people, normal people, people with decent taste, began to contemplate the once impossible, like moving to Hamilton or Ottawa.


Crews begin dismantling the iconic Honest Ed’s sign in Toronto on May 23, 2017.

Laura Pedersen/National Post/File

No single real estate story represents all that madness and change better than bulldozing of Honest Ed’s discount variety store. It was a retailer so famous in the city that it spawned its own unmistakable aesthetic style. It was the place where immigrants bought their first bed sheets and turkey pans. And on Dec. 31, 2016, it closed its doors forever. By early 2018, the whole building was gone, bulldozed by a demolition team from Bolton, Ont. The neighbourhood around the store had been changing for years. Mirvish Village, once home to broke artists, cheap sandwich joints and upstart galleries, had mostly faded away. But something unmistakably Toronto still died the day Honest Ed’s came down. It was an end both symbolic and real, one that stood in for greater changes all around the city. Across the core, the different and the vibrant and the strange were disappearing, pushed out to make way for condo towers, chain stores and the high-end artisanal.

5. The Shot

For almost four seconds in the spring of 2019, all of Toronto hung suspended between two possible worlds. Kawhi Leonard shot the last shot of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinal with less than a second left on the clock. The game was tied at 90. The Philadelphia 76ers’ 7-foot centre, Joel Embiid, was right in Leonard’s face. He launched the ball up and over the massive man’s outstretched fingers. It arced down onto the outer edge of the rim, bounced up, came down again, then bounced across the net. Everything in Toronto’s recent history as a sports city suggested the ball wasn’t going in. Everything that had ever happened to the Raptors in the team’s 25-year history in the NBA said it would roll out. It wasn’t going in. It couldn’t. And then it did. The ball bounced and bounced again, a fourth time, before sighing through the mesh. Game, Toronto. Series, Toronto. Oh my god, Toronto won.


Kawhi Leonard watches as his game-winning ball goes in, to clinch the series in Game 7, as the Toronto Raptors defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, in Toronto on May 13, 2019.

Stan Behal/Postmedia News

The Raptors delirious, improbable run to the 2019 NBA title was punctuated with wild, incredible moments. It ended with a parade bigger and crazier than any this city has ever seen. It saw a famously boring mayor earn headlines for a hideous jacket. It featured a comeback, from two games to nothing, against the league’s best regular-season team. It involved the Raptors ending a dynasty in Golden State. It was big and wonderful and full of joy and it all seemed impossible until that shot went in. And then it did and nothing seemed impossible anymore at all.

The Five Runners-up

6. Andrew Loku’s death galvanizes Black Lives Matter in Toronto
Black Lives Matter was already active in Toronto by the summer of 2016. But the police shooting of Andrew Loku, a mentally ill refugee from South Sudan, pushed the movement to another level. It set the stage for a half-decade of renewed activism that continues to shape the city to this day.

7. The Toronto Police kettle protesters, and others, at the G20 summit
The G20 summit in 2010 was calamitous on multiple levels and an outright disaster for the Toronto Police Service. There were very few highs from the summit. But the low point was undoubtedly the kettling of hundreds of innocent civilians in the pouring rain on June 27.

8. Twin tragedies strike Toronto’s spines
The Yonge Street van attack and the Danforth shooting rampage, twin tragedies that struck just months apart in 2018, will forever be linked in the city’s memory.

9. The Scarborough subway lives and dies and lives again
The endless fights over Toronto’s aging and inadequate transit system came to focus again and again and again on a single stretch of proposed transit that is still being fought over today.

10. A serial killer stalks Toronto’s gay village
The arrest of a 66-year-old landscaper in January 2018 confirmed the worst fears of Toronto’s gay community, where worries of a serial killer had long circulated. Bruce McArthur eventually pleaded guilty to murdering eight men in Toronto between 2010 and 2017, making him the worst serial murderer in the city’s history.

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