Archives for posts with tag: canada

This post originally appeared on Spacing

The Storymobile has been parked in front of the Mimico Centennial Library since October, as part of the Tale of a Town’s cross-country story gathering quest

If you’ve travelled through Mimico – a waterfront neighbourhood in Toronto’s west end – during the last few months, you may have noticed a tiny retro trailer parked in front of the local library. It’s the “Storymobile” (a mobile recording studio somehow squeezed into the trailer) producing the Tale of a Town and has been traveling across Canada, gathering community memories from the country’s main streets. At a time when big box multinationals are moving into urban centres, the goal of The Tale of a Town is to inspire people to make meaningful connections with the small businesses that form the backbone of Canadian downtowns.

The Storymobile in Windsor, Ontario

The Storymobile in Pasadena, NewfoundlandThe Storymobile in Saint John, New Brunswick

Above, the Storymobile in Windsor, Ontario, Pasadena, Newfoundland and Saint John, Newbrunswick

Led by arts and media company FIXT POINT, the Tale of a Town has so far had stints in towns and cities in Ontario, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and have just begun a stay in Ottawa. The Canada-wide quest will culminate in a multi-platform celebration of the country’s main street culture, alongside Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

As part of the Toronto Public Library’s Artists in the Library program, the Tale’s team of radio-artists have been recording interviews with Mimico’s business owners and residents and posting the best of their collection of local lore and personal histories online.

An independent town since 1911, Mimico was merged back into Etobicoke in 1967, amalgamating with the rest of Metropolitan Toronto in 1998. Despite amalgamation, Mimico still feels like small town surrounded by Toronto.

Image courtesy of John Chuckman,

Mimico's lakeside Westpoint Motor hotel stands alongside mid-century low rise apartment buildings

Mimico’s lakeside Westpoint Motor hotel stands alongside mid-century low rise apartment buildings

On the western shores of Humber Bay, Lakeshore Avenue West winds through a not yet complete condo neighbourhood before crossing over Mimico Creek and turning southwest to become one of Mimico’s main streets. Serviced by the 501 streetcar, the area is defined by small shops, diners, grocery stores, single family homes and mid rise 1950s apartment buildings that line the waterfront. The area has a seaside vibe – the mid century apartment buildings feel like a part of Miami Beach that has yet to be ritzed up.


Ask any town a question, and you’re bound to get an earful. With it’s own distinct history, it’s no surprise that the stories from Mimico are plentiful, eclectic and quirky. There’s the one about the barber who was too drunk to cut mustaches straight, or the time when Santa Clause made a surprise helicopter appearance at the Pickin’ Chicken. And of course, there’s the classic ghost story that will make you think twice about walking past the library after dark. 

As the winter comes, the Storymobile is getting ready to move on from Mimico, where they’ve been stationed since early October. To celebrate the end of their residency, a Tale of a Town has collaborated with Sean Frey to create an interactive installation in the Mimico  Centennial Library, transforming it into a city of books – books that you can listen to. 

The audio installation will launch as part of a community celebration at the library on December 13th  (here’s the Facebook event) and will stay up until December 20th.

The Dominion is a monthly Canada-wide publication that provides a venue for alternative journalism. It provides a space for the uncovered angles on major news events, and has a mandate to report on the under-reported.

Each city in Canada has its own Media-Coop, where news from the grassroots is distributed in a variety of formats. The Dominion represents the collective effort of the Media-Coops across Canada. It is a pulse of resistance in this country.

I am very happy to have begun contributing to the Dominion as an illustrator, helping to visualize the the good work of the Media-Coop journalists.

With my first two illustrations, I have brought in my love of geography and maps. As a former professor of mine was known to say, “there’s a geography to everything” — and indeed, we can understand many things on a map.

saskatchewan tar sands

The first illustration accompanied an article exposing initial tar sands exploration in Saskatchewan. Of course, the geologic phenomenon that created the infamous tar sands in Alberta extends beyond the provinces border to the east. On top of this, acid rain from the pollution in Fort McMurray has already started to rain on the Northern Saskatchewan forests.


My second illustrations depicts disembodied Canadian business-hands playing Honduras like a board game. The potential extraction of oil in the north-west threatens to uproot the mostly indigenous Moskitia people there.

I look forward to contributing to the Dominion in the future, helping increase awareness of social and environmental injustices in Canada and beyond, and the resistance that is thriving in its face.

I can describe urban planning in the Netherlands with one term: Multiple Land Use.

Multiple Land Use in the Netherlands has a much deeper meaning than what I’ve come to know of the same concept in Canada.

In my understanding, Multiple Land Use in Canada is a fairly simple mixing of residential, commercial and industrial activities. Also known as Mixed-Use Zoning, this practice has come into vogue in the last 20 years, in direct response to the negative consequences of the Modernist practice of isolating functions which characterized urban planning in the mid to late 20th century.

In the Netherlands, Multiple Land Use means so much more than having commercial and residential beside each other, and refers to a deeper mixing of land use functions — indeed, Multiple Land Use refers to the literal stacking of functions on top of each other!

Some of my fave examples:

◈ Along the Prince Hendrikade, which lines Amsterdam’s historical Eastern harbour, there are bike, car, bus and pedestrian lanes. There is a boardwalk style green space lining the water. Where Valkenburgerstraat intersects Prince Hendrikade sits the NEMO – a  science museum with a very distinct, contemporary architectural style. On top of the NEMO is a cafe, and terrace with expansive view of the city. Under the NEMO runs the IJtunnel – a bus and car link that runs under the science museum, under the IJ and into Amsterdam Noord.

Green space beside an institution which is under leisure space and over transportation space: classic Netherlands Multiple Land Use.

Another example:

◈ Westerpark, in Amsterdam’s west. In a small strecth of land, you can find residential, commercial, leisure, agricultural, cemetarial, transportation and gardenal uses. Standing in the middle of Westerpark, you get a strange floating feeling. Runners and bikers whip by you. Inter-city trains passing mark the minutes. You get whiffs of  hearty compost and manure of gardens and farms. You hear the clattering of dishes in nearby restaurants and cafes. You smell coffee, burnt tires, marijuana. You see tall buildings in the distance, squat residential blocks nearby, smoke stacks in the horizon. You see it all, the multiple uses of land, from one vantage point.

And just one more:

◈ Along Leidsestraat and Utrechtsestraat, bi-directional tram lines run. The streets, however, are only wide enough at certain points for one set of tram-tracks. To resolve this, the Trams wait for each other to pass at the stops which are located on the canal bridges — wide enough to support both directions of the tram. The multiple-land use kicks in beautifully on Leidsestraat, a pedestrian-only street, where people freely walk along the tram tracks until one needs to pass by. The street is both a tram track and a pedestrian walk way. It works beautifully.

TramA tram patiently wait for another to pass, in typically Amsterdam flexible use of space.
The diagram of this above, is an arrangement that can be found on Leidsestraat and Utrechtsetraat.

You can also see this along Rembrandtplein. It is a pedestrian only street, save for the trams that periodically pass. When the trams pass, they create a wake through the crowd, and their path leaves a temporarily empty corridor in the middle of the walkway. Slowly the corridor fades as pedestrians feel safe again to use the whole space, but soon another tram comes and the corridor reappears. A beautiful ebb and flow of multiple land use.

Jack Bishop uses an incredibly romantic, thick brush stroke style, evoking quaint rural landscape paintings of the 20th century, to represent the dominant suburban landscapes that define contemporary Canada. By using a style that abstracts reality, he is able to incredibly honestly engage with the state of affairs of the settings of our lives. Whereas the 20th century romantic landscapes that he is evoking evaded the reality of a dreary industrial transformation of the country, his paintings subvert that style and interrogate the landscapes that define our times.

In response to A.C.’s “Island Theories” edition of Fresh Eggs, where two wide eye’d chickens ponder “the anthropological effects of living on an Island… having physical limits [and] shore sealed resources” and A.C. questions the “patterns that emerge in consideration of [an island’s] range of proximity” (see below) I would like to similarly ponder the anthropological effects of a place characterized by great expanses of land, such as Canada.

Most of Canada is defined by disgusting sprawl. Save for the core of some of its inner cities and small towns, travelling throughout Canada presents a series of highway interchanges, strip malls and monotonous car scale suburbs — all these features are consistent throughout the country — what changes are the natural landscapes that frame the car-centric developments: mountains behind big-box parking lots, prairies surrounding suburban single family homes, fast food alleys by great lakes, strip malls by the ocean.

Obviously the reasons for the suburban monotony that characterizes most of Canada are myriad and complex. But to isolate one, I often think of how expansive Canada is — and that a major reason our country is designed the way it is – incredibly inefficiently, stretching laterally for kilometres – is because there’s simply no need for intelligent, efficient design. Our space is practically infinite, so why build densely? The social effects of Canada’s vast geographic expanses of land are easily read in the sub- and interurban landscapes.

To illustrate this theory further, I often point to the Netherlands. The country is incredibly small for it’s population (a density of 401.7/km2, compared to Canada: 3.41 people/km2), so small, that the Dutch have become famous for reclaiming land from the ocean. Here, there is an incredible need for efficient land use, and this is apparently the case (though I have not been there, I look forward to exploring the Dutch urban landscapes and countryside).

This is my “expanses of land” theory.

Everything has an incredibly complex geography. The objects and peoples that surround us are the result of a myriad of interactions that have flung this culture and peoples from there to here, and the hundreds of components of that object across the planet.

More often than not, the complexity and immensity of everyday geographies is hidden. Marx spoke of this phenomenon politically when he wrote of “commodity fetishism” — when the intricate and exploitive social relations that produced a product are veiled, and the object is treated as separate from these realities. Coming back to the geography of an object, it would be impossible (or, exhausting) to be constantly aware of the spatiality of everything and everybody you come into contact with.

I have had moments in my life, however, when the intricate geographies of the objects and peoples of a situation reveal themselves, in explicit and poignant ways. I find this happens most often when many objects and peoples from distinctly different places interact in otherwise ordinary circumstances. “Convoluted geographies” is an academic term to describe the moments when the geographic complexity of the world reveals itself. Perhaps sharing with you some of my previously experienced convoluted geographies would be more effective than describing the abstract concept.

Several years ago, I looked out over the the thoroughly designed cultural landscape of Bathurst Lawn cemetery, a Jewish gravesite in Thornhill, a 50s era suburb of Toronto, a North American banking and manufacturing centre originally inhabited by the Mohawk and colonized by the British. The cemetery and most of Thornhill was carved out of formerly agricultural land and before that, old growth forests. It was my grandmother’s (who we affectionately referred to as Bubby, a commonly used Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) term of endearment) funeral, and she was being buried alongside my grandfather Max and many other Holocaust survivors who had migrated to Canada from Poland after World War II. Framing the western edge of the cemetery are several Modernist condominiums (one of which my Bubby lived in for many years). As the service ended, and the closing prayers read in ancient Hebrew, a commercial airplane noisily crossed the sky as the clouds rolled in and out of the horizon.

And another experience of convoluted geographies: Last Friday at the First Nations Pow Wow, an annual event held in Halifax’s North Common. My brother and I,  descendants of Eastern European Jews, participated in a Miq’Maq drum circle with people of a variety of cultures in an British-Style Commons park, in Halifax, a distant outpost of the British Empire and former military base on a protected bay on the Northern Atlantic Ocean. The event was held on Canada Day, a celebration of the unity of British colonies in 1867, and during the drum-circle-song, fireworks began to go off over the Citadel, the defunct star-shaped military base that now functions as a museum and recreational green space in the middle of the city. I heard Native mothers tell their children to watch and enjoy the fireworks – fireworks celebrating the country and peoples that has historically and violently marginalized their culture, and continues to do so. But everything was incredibly far removed and glossed over from the histories and politics of violence and oppression that were present at that moment. The Pow Wow was full of Native American simulacra – vendors selling pieces, symbols of native culture, that, now commodified, have lost their connection to meaning; the defunct military base visible from the drum circle, sterilized in it’s use as a recreational space and symbol of the city – and the fireworks – impotent displays of colour and light that are far removed from their military origins.

The above-described situations were incredible to perceive in one moment — these are convoluted geographies.