Archives for the month of: February, 2020

The lead up to The Dale’s February Feast always makes me a little anxious. Which is funny, because in many ways it isn’t that different than what we do for the majority of Mondays throughout the year. It must be the unique variables: needing to cook enough turkey for 150 people without the kitchen facilities to do so and managing an Open Mic, to name two. This past week included making multiple lists, buying groceries in bulk, delivering turkeys to willing volunteer cooks, and always, a lot of prayer.

As I was driving around to pick up turkeys and vats of gravy yesterday, I was struck by how amazing it is to have such a supportive network of people that surround The Dale. Twelve people helped with cooking prep. Another had a friend make 150 packages of beautiful cookies so that everyone attending the feast could have something sweet at the end of the meal. My anxiety lessened as the van filled up with such an abundance of food.

When I arrived at 250 Dunn Avenue, the site of the feast, the space was already filled with people ready to make things happen. Together we got to work. Core community members and staff got potatoes and vegetables on to boil, made stuffing and gravy, buttered rolls, mixed punch, put cranberry sauce in bowls, and refilled salt and pepper shakers. Some decorated tables with tablecloths, tea lights and place settings. Sam, our friend and sound guy for the night, got the stage ready with gear.

Much to everyone’s delight, we also got to visit with Meagan (our Community Worker who is on Maternity Leave), her husband Ian, and their baby Charlotte, as well as our newest staff member Olivia’s husband-to-be, Grant. I have to say, it is so exciting to have The Dale’s family expanding!

By 5:30 pm the room began to fill up. More people willing to volunteer arrived too. Shortly after 6 pm I welcomed everyone and explained how things work when we gather for a meal: we are invited to take care of one another by passing the platters of food at each table, ensuring that we all get a good first serving; the meat and gravy would be delivered to each person separately, just to make sure it gets around to everyone; that we want The Dale to be as safe, respectful and peaceful a place as possible, and that we all play a part in keeping it that way; that should any issues arise to come very quickly to any staff member; we thank everyone who has participated in making the evening happen with a round of applause; and finally we pause for prayer.

The room was full, lively and…so peaceful. The Open Stage began as people were still finishing their very full plates. Children shared songs and poems. One man spoke about discovering The Dale and his memories of the daughter he lost to Leukemia, followed by a song/rap in her honour. Flowers By Irene, a band fronted by two Dale folks, rocked a set. Mr. Bittersweet, Doug, Sam, Sunny, Alisha, Peter, Marlene, Joanna, and I all offered something too.

There is something very special about the kind of community that has emerged at The Dale. We are all the things really: noisy, peaceful, raw, grateful, grief-stricken, struggling, and somehow/sometimes hopeful. We disagree. We have a lot of fun. We are discovering our togetherness in our diversity. As the February Feast came to a close, I looked around the room and thought, what a gift to be a part of this. I became aware, yet again, that the anxiety I carried at the beginning of the day had beautifully melted away.

The landscape of Parkdale is changing, as is the city of Toronto on the whole. What I notice most is the number of condos being built in places where things like storefronts or churches used to sit. Maybe less visible if you don’t know what they look like are the rooming houses that are being renovated back into single-family dwellings. A shocking number of people are being priced out of housing and ultimately displaced from what was previously their home. The impact on The Dale community is real.

I find the corner of King and Dufferin maybe the most jarring change. The land is being levelled, including the McDonald’s, in order to make room for XO Condos. While I know that McDonald’s is its own form of capitalism, this location managed to become a community hub of sorts. Imagine if you had very little money in your pocket, possibly living in a shelter or outside- where else could you easily use a washroom and buy an inexpensive cup of coffee or refillable drink? This restaurant had its challenges for sure, but the figurative hole left by its demolition is substantial.

Nearly two weeks ago, the Coffee Time on Queen Street closed its doors. The next day it was an empty space and the sign was down. Similar to McDonald’s, Coffee Time was like a living room for people. As my co-worker Joanna Moon shared in a recent blog of her own, Coffee Time was “a regular stop on our Wednesday night outreach walks, because we knew that our folks from The Dale found it to be a welcoming and non-judgemental space to spend a few hours out of the cold.” In addition, Coffee Time repeatedly extended hospitality to The Dale by allowing us to gather for Bible Study, play games and even sing carols.

For many, a McDonald’s or Coffee Time would be considered a “third place”, a place to gather outside of our homes and workplaces. For most people at The Dale, these were considered a second place, and even a first. We all need places to gather. I would argue that we need more places that honour the diversity of our neighbourhoods and create room for all people. 541 Eatery & Exchange in Hamilton is a good example: a non-profit cafĂ© where you can pay-it-forward by turning dollars into buttons. Buttons can be used to buy a good meal, which not only helps feed those who need help paying, but also nurtures the kind of diverse community I am talking about, by inviting all around a table.

I know that development is inevitable. I also believe that development which does not lead to displacement is possible. The cost of housing in Toronto is ridiculously high. People who arguably sit in the upper middle class talk about not being able to afford it. If your income is $1000 or less per month (which it is for many people at The Dale), housing becomes difficult to sustain, or simply out of reach. One of my hopes is that Inclusionary Zoning- that is, requiring new residential developments to include affordable housing units, will be actively engaged.

I recently talked with a friend who, along with many others was illegally evicted out of a building in Parkdale. I was amazed at how upbeat he remains: “we’re going to fight this as a group. This has always been my home. They are going to have to do a lot worse to make me leave”. We went on to talk about our shared experience of growing up in the city, a place that is admittedly rife with challenges, but also pulsating with a lot of life. We chatted over a cup of coffee at Tim Hortons, a first/second and third place that hopefully doesn’t soon disappear too.