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Pique n' your interest




How Toronto earned the image of being a poor little rich town, I’ll never understand.

I grew up in a middle class neighbourhood, surrounded by extremes.

To the east, one ravine over, is the area known as Flemington Park. Across the street from the Ontario Science Centre – an amazing facility – is this full-on ghetto project, complete with dilapidated apartment blocks and townhomes. I went to a party there once with some friends from high school, only to find people smoking crack on the porch.

To the south and east over another ravine is an area known as Thorncliffe, which has the same demographics and building projects as Flemington Park, although it’s slowly being gentrified.

Both neighbourhoods have had their share of headlines over the years – murders, drug busts, assaults, robberies, you name it.

To the south and west, over yet another ravine, was Moore Park. Moore Park is the eastern edge of Rosedale, the wealthiest neighbourhood in all of Canada.

A 10-minute drive and a couple of ravines are all that separates the nation’s wealthiest from the nation’s poorest. I grew up somewhere in the middle, wedged between old Toronto and new Toronto; third generation wealth and new immigrant poverty; lives of privilege and lives of desperation.

Having lived in four provinces now, as well as in rural Ontario, I’m always amazed by the country’s perception of Toronto as a whiny, wealthy, impossible city, the spoiled child of Canada that gets all the breaks.

People still make fun of the fact the army was called in back in 1999 to help clear a snowstorm, but I don’t think they realize how bad the situation was. The streets were impassable. The subways and streetcars couldn’t run. Office buildings were closed. Hospitals were overrun. The airport was in chaos. The stock market was closed. There were blackouts. And the forecast called for more snow. It never came, but if it had we would have been in a lot of trouble.

Toronto has more than 5,100 km in roads to clear, which would stretch from one end of the country to the other. There were almost 5 million people in Greater Toronto who were for the most part unable to leave their homes to go to work, to go to school, to go shopping. People died as the snow covered the exhaust pipes for their furnaces and carbon monoxide built up.

Afterwards, it was assessed that the economic cost of the cleanup was about $15 million, or a little less than half the city’s annual snow-clearing budget. Furthermore, experts guessed that the storm cost Toronto businesses more than $90 million in lost productivity.