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St. Patrick’s Day: How personal tradition defines the way we celebrate our holidays

 

By Sinead Mulhern

When St. Patrick’s Day rolled around each year while I was growing up in Alberta, my mom and I would get to work whipping up batches upon batches of clover-shaped cookies. In the middle of March, winter showed no signs of letting up in the Prairies and so it only seemed natural to stay inside, roll out the dough and fill the house with the agonizingly sweet smell of nearly-baked goods. In our prep, we’d throw into the bowl flour as powdery as the snow heaps outside and whirl it together with crystals of white sugar. While they baked, we mixed up the icing – green of course – ready to coat each little clover with a generous layer. Then, I’d proudly bring them to school to share with my classmates. Being  the Irish kid in the class, it was my special treat.

As traditions go, this possibly was simply an idea one year, before carrying on to the next and the next. Eventually, supplying my peers with these shamrock treats became part of my St. Patrick’s Day routine. Once, I even remember when Paddy’s Day eve rolled around and we had both forgotten so we woke up extra early and baked a double batch together in the indigo blue pre-dawn hours.

At school, I’d pass around the green snacks,  press play to an accordion tune and perform one of the jigs which I learned at dance practice in Edmonton’s Irish club. During those years, St. Patrick’s Day was the celebration of the country where both my parents were born and lived in until their mid-twenties. For me, it was green cookies and dancing and, of course, church and Irish brunch.

The latter would be standard for many Irish households living both in the stocking-shaped emerald isle or abroad – like us. The former though, are traditions we created ourselves. When the calendar turns to March 17, many in Canada will celebrate by clinking pints of Guinness or green-dyed beer. Packs of university students in North America will wear obnoxious amounts of green with probably at least one top hat and kiss-me-I’m-Irish sash in every group. In Ireland, some relatives of mine will take in mass and a breakfast of eggs and sausages after. Green sugar cookies will be few and far between, I know.

Though we religiously kept up our tradition for years, it eventually faded. I grew past the age where it would have been appropriate to pass around baked goods in class and we moved across the country,  well away from our Alberta kitchen with the snow piles out the window. While the sugary clover cutouts became a thing of the past, my mother’s and my love for working with food didn’t wane. Out were the cookies, in was the baked soda bread (a classic) or a piping hot pot of Irish stew (even more classic). Together, we busied our hands putting together recipes that were, this time, symbolic of the place where my mom grew up.

When I left home and moved to Toronto, I kept up our tradition of making food on this day even though we no longer lived in the same household. Just as I did when I was seven, I again made a point of sharing it with school friends. For a few years during this chapter in my life, I avoided the tacky party celebrations and instead whipped up a pot of Irish stew and a fresh loaf of bread for my best lady friend. Together, we drank beer well into the evening.

The food that I now make on this day is traditional, yes. But my tradition of working away in the kitchen on (or just before) March 17, and sharing with friends has nothing to do with Paddy’s Day really. That habit stems from the days I spent mixing sugar cookies with my mom. The food has changed over time, the activity has not. This is how I, a daughter of two Irish immigrant parents, choose to spend this day. It’s interesting, how the customs we make for ourselves somehow have the most importance. Our personalized celebrations often trump how holidays are typically celebrated by the masses.

This year, the tradition, for me, has changed yet again. For the first time, I won’t be in Canada for this Irish holiday. I now reside in Colombia – over 6,000 kilometres away from that Alberta home and 4,000 kilometres away from my mom. The traditions I’ve set for myself will continue to evolve as I celebrate this holiday and the ones to come. As we head into Paddy’s Day, my mom and I have already discussed our menus. She’ll make her St. Patrick’s Day stew on the weekend whereas I’ve made mine already. The difference: mine contained a cup not of Guinness, but a local beer: Club Colombia Negra.

Toronto transit receives massive funds infusion totaling nearly $9 billion

By Jessica Ashley Merkley

Let’s be honest, it’s clear that the Toronto transit system is due for an overhaul. I, like many out there, am faced on the daily with the somewhat archaic city transit system that can certainly do with an upgrade.

Perhaps the delays and technical issues that cause frustrations quite regularly to commuters, will be a thing of the past, all thanks to a massive infusion of funds granted to Toronto transit by both the federal and provincial government, this week.

It was announced yesterday that Toronto transit will be receiving a massive boost from the federal government to be put to use over the next decade. The provincial government has also stepped up and nearly matched the amount given by the federal government.

It is now confirmed that the federal government has allotted $5 billion to the city of Toronto’s transit system. Additionally, the provincial government has matched this amount, allotting over $4 billion for various projects that are in the plans for the city’s transit infrastructure.

During a press conference that was held in Mississauga on Wednesday, the infrastructure ministers on both the federal and provincial level, joined forces and announced the signing of a bilateral agreement, which will see nearly $12 billion of federal funds used across Ontario for public transit, various community projects and environmental green infrastructure throughout the next ten years.

Of the near-$12 billion, Toronto is set to receive over half of the funds which have been allocated for Ontario transit- a figure that is roughly $8.5 billion. This infusion of money will allow the city to pay 40 per cent of the cost for slated transit projects.

It’s certainly refreshing to witness two levels of government joining forces to achieve a common goal. Ontario Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli, also holds the same opinion on this as I, stating “I often say that the people of Ontario are best served when all levels of government work together,” while at the press conference on Wednesday.

As to the reasons why Toronto was allocated such a massive sum compared to other regions of the province, Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi explained:

“The city of Toronto is getting a significant amount of money, Toronto’s ridership is larger and we want the resources to go where the resources are needed.”

The specific plans for how the funds allocated to Toronto transit will be used, have yet to be determined fully, however, the financial boost is sure to bring massive improvements to Toronto transit over the years.

The #MeToo campaign is a revolt not a witch hunt

The #MeToo campaign was designed to point out the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment, but here in Canada reaction to the campaign is widespread disapproval.  Instead of embracing and supporting women who speak out about sexual harassment, many Canadians choose to scorn, shame and defame them.

Research into sexual assault has found that, on average, only 4% of allegations are proven false, while 40% of those accused are proven to be guilty.  People who don’t know this research insist that innocent men will be destroyed by false accusations and claim the #MeToo movement is just a “witch hunt.” They ignore the facts. And these facts make it easy to identify a sexual predator:

  • Sexual predators push their victims into the court of public opinion to try to discredit them. They don’t care about the harm or shame they cause their victim
  • Sexual predators deny all accusations, unequivocally and strongly. They take to social media to broadcast their denial and shame their victim.
  • Sexual predators threaten defamation. This is designed to scare other victims from stepping forward, and push witnesses into hiding.
  • Women who come out publicly always get scorned and shamed – nobody wants that kind of attention, but sexual predators try to insist that their victims step forward to face the scorning.

Sexual predators need to scare both victims and witnesses from stepping forward, and threats of lawsuits are a common tactic they use to push witnesses into hiding.  Too few people know enough about the law to realize that they can’t be sued for giving private testimony.

Innocent men don’t push their case out to the court of public opinion, or allow women to be vilified when they come forward. Most large corporations have a sexual harassment policy that requires complete confidentiality through an investigation. This confidentiality is key to a fair investigation as it protects the woman who make the allegations, and the witnesses who might come forward.  It also conveys the message to all employees that they are free to report sexual harassment without being punished. Any company that doesn’t follow these guidelines has extremely questionable HR practices.

An actual investigation into sexual harassment needs to uncover if the person accused of harassment exhibited improper and offensive conduct, including objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat.  Sexual predators often ignore the fact that by taking their fight to the court of public opinion they are publicly trying to shame the women involved. They will usually demean her, and try to intimidate her, without even realizing that their actions display an attempt to “belittle or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment.”  

Innocent men allow the investigation to be carried out without prejudice. Guilty men can be judged by the way they treat their accuser.  If they go public when she has asked for confidentiality, if they threaten defamation, if they try to smear her reputation, their actions indicate they are not innocent. A decent man doesn’t drag a woman out to be stoned in the court of public opinion, only a desperate man does that. 

The #MeToo campaign is not a witch hunt, it’s a revolt by women who have been silent for decades.

Save money green your home

Written by: Bilal Khan

As a sub-urban resident of greater Toronto area, I enjoyed the house that my partner and I bought a couple years ago. Moving from our small downtown apartment to a spacious detached house gave us the opportunity to break away from the “newly graduate and freshly employed” lifestyle. We had ample space to host and entertain people, and space where I could slip into a study area to concentrate on a private project. All this freedom was about to come to a staggering halt the moment we found out that we were expecting our first child. The study room that I had fallen in love with so much now began to feel distant as the thought of it being converted into a nursery haunted my nights. We were forced to ask our selves the question, where do we see our family in 5 – 10 years? Do we relocate to a larger house, or renovate our existing place?

Should we go or should we stay?

Relocating would give us room to expand our lives to accommodate our growing family. But it would also mean adding more transit time to work, relocating to a new and uncharted neighbourhood, moving away from friends and family. As I saw our priorities change from entertaining and hosting friends to more family time, relocating would completely isolate us from our friends, our support system that we had grown to rely on so much. Renovating became the logical choice.

Of course, anyone who has had the experience of renovating their house would tell you that it can be a costly venture, especially when you are aiming to live in that house for a very long time. We knew that in thinking of longevity, it meant buying quality materials that are durable, sustainable, and maintainable as the house is passed on from one generation to the next.

Greening your home? Don’t do it alone!

Luckily, the government of Ontario has recently introduced rebates and grants for homeowners opting for sustainable material choices for their renovation projects. These incentives can be used to upgrade your home to be more durable and energy efficient, to save money on your utility bills and household maintenance long-term; in other words, to make your home more sustainable. The program includes rebates for heating and air conditioning systems, windows, insulation, and electrical applications to name a few.   

So say if you live in a old house and often wonder why its cold in the living spaces even though the heating is really cranked up, that’s because it is mostly likely that the exterior walls and windows are leaky and/or uninsulated, allowing, allowing heat in the house to rapidly escape. This is not sustainable!   

Since this was going to be our forever home, at least for the foreseeable future, I realized that these government rebates and grants would take away some financial burden upfront, but in the long run also affect the colossal energy bills that we as a household were paying annually.

Find your incentive

Rebates can be assessed through the Green Ontario Fund, which is a not-for-profit provincial agency tasked with reducing greenhouse gas pollution in buildings and industry to help meet Ontario’s emission reduction targets. So by making a conscious decision of insulating my home and replacing the old windows with high performance one’s, I was not only having a positive impact on my energy bill but also helping to meet Ontario’s emission reduction targets and helping us work toward a low-carbon future – something we all need to participate in.

I don’t have a little private study anymore. In fact, my privacy has totally been breached by a 2 month old, yet I feel fulfilled. I guess they are right when they say that a child brings a positive change in your life. I can certainly see that change on my energy bills.

 

Bilal Khan: Architectural Designer

Bilal is currently working at SUSTAINABLE.TO through an internship as part of the degree requirements for his Master of Architecture at Dalhousie University. His experience in the biomass industry and clean transportation has shaped his career towards thinking about sustainability as a system. Bilal is passionate about Urban Systems Design through architectural exploration and believes that the true value of design lies in improving individual and community lives through sustainable urban interventions.

 

Public art at St. Clair breathes life into intersection

A month ago, the corner of Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave. was adorned with large and colourful portraits. The intriguing part of the art instillation is that it wasn’t on a building or a billboard, and it wasn’t placed in a park. The portraits were all hung on the hoarding covering construction of a new podium.

The buildings on the corner of Yonge and St. Clair are owned by Slate Asset Management, who have a total of 10 properties in the area. The company saw an opportunity to engage with the community during the revitalization process, and chose public art as its catalyst.

“One of our first moves at Yonge + St. Clair was to collaborate on the eight-storey mural by acclaimed street artist, Phlegm,” said Katie Fong of Slate Asset Management. “The reaction to the mural confirmed our assumption that there’s an enormous appetite for public art in this city. Incorporating public art at Yonge + St. Clair allows us to add meaning and value to what has traditionally been an overlooked area. It’s our goal to shift this perception and we see art as one of our major avenues for doing so.”

Part of the construction includes the creation of a two-storey podium at 2 St. Clair W., which will feature a new BUCA concept. Fong said it didn’t make sense to keep a blank canvas up for a few months at such a well-walked intersection.

“The art adds a splash of colour and vibrancy. We’re working towards re-establishing the neighbourhood as a destination with our investment in art and prominent tenants like BUCA. The mural sparks a sense of curiosity, and a conversation of what’s to come and it’s helping us continue to build buzz.”

The artwork was created by Daniel Mazzone, a local artisan described by the Toronto Star as the next Andy Warhol. Each portrait is made of a collage of different images, with various colours and textures, coming together to create the face of one of his icons. Each piece took roughly 200 hours to make.

“What we liked about Daniel’s work is the colour and vibrancy that it brings. We really wanted to brighten up the corner. Also, his subject matter is relatable. Everyone can look up and recognize the various personalities. We wanted something that was going to be accessible.”

In August 2016, Slate partnered with StreetARToronto, a city program that finances public art in an effort to revitalize and engage neighbourhoods. They fund a single international project a year and chose to invest in the Yonge and St. Clair community. The mural was designed and painted by international street artist PHLEGM, whose work can be found throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Slate said there are plans for more public art at St. Clair and Yonge, but they are waiting to perfect opportunity to implement them. It will be interesting to see this neighbourhood grow.

Expanding urban revitalization across the GTA

In the last couple of years, Toronto has begun to transform the downtown core into a more liveable and walkable city. Beyond the King St. Pilot, which has increased transit use along the corridor, the city has also approved a bike lane pilot project, the revitalization of the Waterfront, the creation of a new skating trail under the Gardiner Expressway, the proposal of a rail deck park, and the expansion of smart cities with Sidewalk Labs and (hopefully) Amazon.

And now, North York and Scarborough want in.

Residents and city councillors of North York have put together a plan called “REimagine Yonge” – now “Transform Yonge” – that would see the six-lane strip between Sheppard Ave. and Finch transform into a more walkable community. The original proposal approved by city staff suggests the removal of two lanes, the creation of a raised bike lane, and the widening of sidewalks for more public space and foliage, essentially copying the King Street vibe following the pilot study. The plan has the support of staff, local councillors, and residents who are looking forward to being able to safely walk in their neighbourhood; however, it does not have the support of the mayor.

Toronto mayor John Tory announced earlier this week an alternative plan that would include bike lanes on Beecroft Rd., which is parallel to Yonge. In this scenario, there would be no need to remove a lane of traffic on Yonge. According to reports, this “enhanced” plan will cost an extra $20 million. Tory told reporters he believes the area can be beautified without removing lanes in such a well-trafficked area.

“Transform Yonge” (City of Toronto)

North York isn’t the only neighbourhood that wants change. City councillor Paul Ainslie wants to expand the Bike Share program into Scarborough, as the 270 stations in Toronto are currently situated in the downtown core. With potential partners in GO Transit and the University of Toronto campus, Ainslie believes the program could thrive in that region.

It’s not surprising that these two areas want to change alongside downtown Toronto. Too often, the outskirt neighbourhoods are ignored when it comes to growth and development. Residents have indicated that they want connectivity. They want to live in a walkable city where commuters have the choice of walking or cycling safely, or where a sense of community exists beyond the household. They want the same level of investment as those who live in the downtown core.

No one wants to live in an area that doesn’t feel like a community — and if city hall is dedicated to this new transformation towards a sustainable and smart Toronto, it should be for all of it.

GM launches car-sharing service in Toronto

General Motors announced this week it will launch Maven, a car-sharing service, in Toronto. Maven is a mobility app that provides on-demand vehicle access, allowing members to enjoy the benefits of car ownership without actually needing to own a car.

Using your smartphone, a customer can choose a location or a car type, and then unlock the vehicle upon arrival. Vehicles are available by the hour and all reservations include gas and insurance (minus a deductable. Rates start as low as $9 per hour and users can choose from one of 40 vehicles, including Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu, Tahoe, Trax and Volt; GMC Acadia and Yukon; and Cadillac ATS and XT5. Each vehicle is equipped with OnStar, Wi-Fi, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and SeriusXM Radio. There is no preliminary fee for renting a vehicle.

 

“Toronto has a unique spirit. Residents are constantly on the go and want more sharing and mobility options,” said Julia Steyn, vice president, General Motors Urban Mobility and Maven, in a statement. “Maven offers cars Torontonians want to drive to help them be there for the moments that matter.”

Toronto will be the first city outside of the U.S. to host Maven.

General Motors recently opened up a campus in Markham, something it is calling ” the largest automotive technology development centre of its kind in Canada” and will focus on innovation in mobility. “Bringing Maven car sharing to Toronto not only reduces congestion, but also represents the latest step in the development of General Motors’ mobility footprint in Canada,” said Steve Carlisle, president and managing director, General Motors of Canada. “…[it] furthers our ability to bring new solutions to existing problems and redefine the future of mobility in Toronto and beyond.”

The most challenging part of the launch will be the parking, in terms of Maven’s park and pick-up model. Toronto city council voted to delay debate on a pilot that would have granted residential parking permits to car-sharing companies like Car2Go and Zipcar. Finding places to leave the cars during off-peak hours may prove problematic.

What do you think? Is there room for another car-sharing service in Toronto? Let us know in the comments below!

Toronto approves 2018 budget, with extra funding for transit

City Council approved the Toronto 2018 budget Monday 33-11, with a special interest in transit. Included in the $11-billion operating budget budget is over $50 million for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to help in new investments and maintenance, as well as provide discounts for low-income riders and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

There will also be a fare freeze for the next year.

The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

“This is a good news budget. It invests in key areas while spending low and keeping tax increases low,” said budget chief Gary Crawford in a statement. “Toronto residents want City Hall to build the city but they also appreciate that we strike the right balance, that we tighten spending, find efficiencies and don’t hike taxes sky-high. For the fourth year in a row, I’m confident we have struck the right, responsible balance that people expect.”

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. City staff say this will equal an increase of about $82 on average for homeowners with property valued at $624,418. Residents will pay an additional 0.5 per cent for the City Building Fund, which supports infrastructure projects such as transit and housing. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

Prior to budget approval, mayor John Tory announced $3 million (included in the $50 million investment) earmarked to help overcrowding on Line 1, including the prioritization of the relief line. The 10-point plan includes the addition of more subway cars during peak hours, overnight maintenance schedules, hiring of platform staff for the Bloor/Yonge station, and the use of express busses to alleviate overcrowding.

“I know delays and crowding can be frustrating. I know people want an expanded transit system as soon as possible. I know how maddening it can be when transit and traffic don’t move in this city,” said Tory in a statement. “I want Toronto residents to know that I am dedicated to getting transit and traffic moving. I’m dedicated to building our entire transit network plan. I’m dedicated to making sure the TTC is doing everything possible to minimize delays and ease crowding.”

Council also voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in property taxes for culture hubs like 401 Richmond. To be eligible, a hub must prove their tenants produce cultural goods and services, charge tenants below market rent, and have a minimum rentable space of 10,000 square feet (5,000 if owned by the city).

What do you need to know about Toronto’s budget?

The 2018 city budget is set to go to city council on Monday. It is being described by Toronto Mayor John Tory as “balanced” and “affordable”, focusing on low taxes and transit.

The $11 billion operating budget sets the tone for services and capital projects for the next year. The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

The budget will include $9 million for traffic initiatives, including $1.6 million for traffic wardens, $477,000 to fix temporary lane blockages on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway, and $2.7 million for smart traffic signals. “Over the last three years, people across the city have made it clear that traffic is one of the most important issues they expect City Hall to tackle,” said Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure Jaye Robinson, in a statement. “The 2018 budget builds upon work we have done each and every year on the City’s congestion plan to get Toronto moving.”

There will be a significant investment in transit this year, with over $50 million in new investments to the Toronto Transit Commission, including $4.8 million for the TTC Fair Pass, which will provide discounts for low-income riders, and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Tory. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Other highlights include $279 million in new funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation, $486 million for the George Street revitalization, the creation of 825 new child care and 20,000 new recreational spaces.

TTC to address last week’s complaints

While there are a lot of things to complain about this week in terms of transit service, the one thing riders can’t complain about is the sincerity of staff to do better.

There were a lot of problems with Line 1 and Line 2, mostly caused by either human error (passengers claiming emergencies) or a crack in the rail, something the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is trying to rectify. A report will be presented at the TTC board next week about the issues.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Later this month, City Council will be approving a total operating budget, which will include $1.98 billion for the TTC. This is $21 million more than last year. This money will be used to help in repairs and upkeep that have been postponed over the last few years.

The mayor also confirmed the relief line was still a priority. By 2019, city council should have a detailed design to push forward. The city will be asking the province to match the federal government’s $4.8 billion investment — money that will be dedicated to transit, including the relief line.

“The federal government has made it clear that they expect provinces to match this investment at least 33 per cent, but other provinces across the country have committed to 40 per cent, and it’s time for Ontario leaders to commit to doing the same for people of Toronto,” said Tory. “Toronto is growing fast and we must keep up. Having a strong and robust transit system is vital to our residents, to our economy and to our competitiveness as a city and a province.”