Category Archives: Toronto/GTA

The last post about Rob Ford (I hope)

It’s kind of hilarious that the last time I wrote about Toronto’s (to put it lightly) controversial mayor, I thought the most bizarre behaviour I had seen from him was getting up from a special Toronto meeting and putting “ROB FORD MAYOR” fridge magnets on people’s cars.

But nope, nope and nope, that does not even come close to strange Ford behaviour. Chances are you’ve probably heard about this even if you’re not from Toronto, since the story was broken by John Cook of Gawker, a US website.

In the story, first appearing on Gawker and later in the Toronto Star, the reporters (Cook of Gawker and Kevin Donovan and Robyn Doolittle of the Star) were able to view a video that was being shopped around by, supposedly, Somalian drug dealers in the Toronto area. The video showed Rob Ford smoking what appears to be crack cocaine. He also apparently called Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, a “fag” and apparently referred to the students he deals with at Don Bosco as their former coach as “fucking minorities.”

For a lot of people, I don’t think it was surprising to hear about yet another stupid thing Ford may or may not have been caught doing. Don’t know if anyone was necessarily thought the latest Ford salvo would be crack-smoking allegations, but that’s what happened.

At first, Ford simply said to reporters (who understandably swarmed around his house the morning after the story broke) was that the allegations were “untrue” and “ridiculous” but then kept silent about it the rest of the day. And the day after that, and the day after that.

Eventually, Ford’s executive committee signed a letter to get Ford to speak about in full. By the way, this letter came about yesterday, at which point Ford had been silent for eight days. Ford did finally speak to the media at 3:30 p.m. yesterday, sporting a new hair cut and a look on his face that could be called a smirk or a grin depending on what you believe.

He said “I do not use crack cocaine” and said he is not an addict. It was an interesting choice of language, as many pointed out. because of the verb tense. The statement could be interpreted as “I do not currently use crack cocaine” which might suggest that he did in the past.

His denial of the allegations was interesting in that he tried to blame the Toronto Star solely for the story, even though it was Gawker that broke the story first. He then went on to talk about the fact that he was recently fired as the coach for Don Bosco but still supports the school, and then wished Mark Towhey, his former chief of staff (who he fired) the best of luck with whatever he’s going to do now.

Interesting point about the Towhey firing: the Toronto Sun (which is usually a staunch Ford supporter) claims that Towhey told them that the reason he was fired was that he suggested that Rob Ford get help in the form of rehab or whatever. The Star in this morning’s paper also suggested Towhey might have been fired when he refused to go and collect football equipment Ford had donated to the school.

A lot of people weren’t convinced by Ford’s denial thanks to his selective language and refusal to take questions. Now, if this weren’t enough, another paper published something this morning. This paper was not the Star but the Globe & Mail, one of Canada’s most prominent national newspapers.

After an 18-month investigation of the Ford family, reporters cited ten unnamed sources in saying that Doug Ford, Rob Ford’s older brother and mayoral office force, sold marijuana as a teen. As well, Rob’s brother Randy and sister Kathy were also alleged to have connections to drug dealers.

Doug Ford was quick to pounce on this one, outright denying, with very clear language, that he ever sold drugs. He used a sentence that Rob Ford should have used in yesterday’s statement. Doug said “I never sold” marijuana.

At this point, Toronto city hall is a huge circus. Nothing is going to get done unless Ford puts this to rest, and as far as I see it, that can only be done in two ways. One, Ford could hold a press conference in which he takes any and all questions aimed at him re: the crack cocaine scandal. I’d be a little more reassured if he actually says he’s never smoked crack cocaine and I’d like him to comment more on the video. Second, Rob Ford could resign.

And to be honest, I think he should. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never been a particular fan of Rob Ford, but I think his personal drama is now stopping Toronto from doing anything, and he’s probably not building confidence in the taxpayers he’s trying to represent.

As I said in my previous Ford post, I genuinely believe, beneath the burnt bridges and buffoonery, that he wants to help Toronto become a better city. He’s just chosen way too many awful ways to do that.

A strange day for Toronto

It’s hard to call myself a journalist (or journalist-to-be, I don’t know) if I don’t every once in a while comment on the local news, especially in a city as actively news-generating as Toronto. Living so close to it (and spending so much time in it) makes me feel like I basically live in the city already, so when such a huge news day happened yesterday I really felt the impact.

First off, in a giant phew moment, the LCBO avoided a potential strike. For those reading this outside Ontario, LCBO stands for Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and it’s the main way we get alcohol in the province.

This would have been the first time ever in the LCBO’s history that a strike would have happened. At issue was the fact that between 2008 and 2012, the LCBO hired almost 1,000 part-time workers who would have no guaranteed hours and made approximately $26,000 a year.

Naturally, with the possibility of a strike, people went on booze-buying sprees. I mean the fact that alcohol wouldn’t be available for a while would probably alarm people anyway, but coming up is the Victoria Day weekend, aka 2-4 weekend, and it is a holiday weekend probably more associated with alcohol than most other holiday weekends.

Someone I know told me yesterday that she saw two older men clearing an entire row of vodka off an LCBO store shelf, so people were clearly buying enough booze to weather an apocalypse.

Next up on the list was the casino controversy. For several months now, Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford, has been crusading with hopes of getting a huge casino complex to be built in Toronto. Lots of people have been debating this. (Shameless plug: I edited a podcast by Toronto Star writer Corey Mintz in which several interesting people debated the merits and drawbacks to a casino in Toronto. The podcast is available for free from iTunes.)

Last night, I read that Ford referred to the casino deal as “dead.” The main issue with this idea was the hosting fee—the city of Toronto receives some kind of a fee every year from the casino. The city was hoping for at least $100 million, and the province recently revealed that the hosting fee would be more like $53 million.

This leaves the possibility of a casino moving into places like Vaughn or Mississauga, and quite frankly I’m hoping to be out of Mississauga soon anyways, so I’m finding myself not really caring where the casino goes at this point.

And then, finally, there’s the news story that everyone is likely talking about right now, something that the Toronto Star is likely having a field day with. Rob Ford has supposedly been videotaped smoking crack cocaine.

Gawker broke the news sometime yesterday, and a full story is now up on the Star page. Long story short, the Gawker reporter saw a cellphone video that showed Ford, along with a few other men, smoking crack cocaine. Ford apparently seemed very out of it and was red-faced and laughing. Apparently Star reporters Kevin Donovan and Robyn Doolittle also saw the video and their descriptions of it matched the Gawker reporter’s observations.

The video itself is not available, though, because the two men who showed it to the various reporters are trying to sell it for a six-figure price. Of course, an IndieGogo campaign has already started in an attempt to pool money to buy the tape, which would then be handed off immediately to the CBC.

I’m inclined to believe that this story is true, although I do wish a few more reporters could see the video and also independently verify that it is indeed Ford in the video. But from the screenshot it damn well looks like it’s him.

Anyway, yesterday was certainly an eventful day for Toronto. How many Rob Ford scandals have come to light now? I’ve long since lost count.

Toronto’s mayor

And just when I thought I had done with hearing weird Rob Ford news.

The latest story, of course coming from the Toronto Star, tells of some very bizarre behaviour from Ford in which he bolted out of a council meeting so that he could put “Rob Ford Mayor” fridge magnets onto people’s cars.

Apparently a reporter suggested to him that people might find his behaviour a little strange (a perfectly fair—and accurate—suggestion) to which Ford replied that people might find the reporter strange.

A comment on the story held out genuine concern that perhaps Ford is mentally ill. I don’t know if that’s the case, but who knows, it might be. Anyways, it’s been a relatively peaceful time for Rob Ford news lately. The last time he was actively involved in the news was probably when he sent out the open letter in support of a Toronto casino. And perhaps very briefly after that, some time last week, when Ford delayed the council vote because it was fairly obvious that he was going to lose it.

A nickname that Ford has gotten since taking the mayoralty has been The Teflon Mayor. Lots of things are thrown at him but nothing sticks. He has twice eluded the potential for him to be thrown out of office. He has done numerous things wrong including driving past an open streetcar door (and subsequently refusing to hire a driver) and rerouting a TTC bus to transport the high school football team he coaches.

It was funny how little I knew of Ford when he was elected. In fact, all I knew is that he was a very available man before he was elected. My friend Wes actually profiled him for our first-year reporting class.

When it was Toronto election time, I recall another friend saying something to the effect of “It’s time to vote. And by vote, I mean don’t vote for Rob Ford.” But he won. And as much as people complain (A LOT) there’s nothing we can really do until 2014, when the next municipal election happens. Something in me says there’s no way the guy is going to be elected again, but if a promising candidate fails to step up then we might get a few more years.

I believe underneath the blunders and buffoonery, Rob Ford genuinely wants to help Toronto get out of its debt crisis. But he’s burned so many bridges, has been so abrasive and so unwilling to compromise that it’s hard to believe he’ll ever get anything done.

And with this latest incident, it seems unbelievably tacky to leave an important meeting in order to weirdly start campaigning even though the campaign doesn’t really start until next year.

I don’t know what you want, Rob Ford. I really don’t.

Stadium loathe

First off, it may appear as though I didn’t post anything on Thursday, and for that I apologize. For some reason when I hit publish I was actually just saving a draft. Here’s a link to the post I wrote, now in its proper place.

And now for today.

If you are a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, I present to you a test. Read the following lyrics and try not to rage:

Wanna make a bet/Odds are neck and neck/Taking off the gloves/Spider vs. bat/Tiger vs rat/Rabbit vs. dove.

Yes, what you just read were some of the lyrics of Metric’s tune “Stadium Love.” You know the song, and that’s because they play it after almost every fucking half-inning of baseball.

Now, to be fair for a moment, I’m glad that this song turned out to be the official Blue Jays anthem of 2013, because it could have been Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” or BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business.”

But here’s the thing, Rogers, owners of the Blue Jays. We get it. The Jays need an anthem, a song that will get people pumped up. And this song by Metric can do that. But for god’s sake, tone it down a little! I cannot believe how quickly I began to hate “Stadium Love.” It took less than a week.

Remember during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics? At every commercial break Canadians were subjected to Nikki Yanofsky’s “I Believe.” Thankfully the Olympics were only for a few weeks. Baseball fans could potentially be listening to “Stadium Love” for six months, even longer if the Jays by some miracle make the post-season.

Now, this isn’t Metric’s fault (at least I hope it isn’t; if Emily Haines or Jimmy Shaw specifically asked to have the music played as often as it was I will shoot myself in the face). But this is torture, Rogers.

Worse, this is probably the reason that my opinion of Metric has gone even further down than it was when I heard Synthetica for the first time (I didn’t like that album).

Well hey. At least the Blue Jays anthem for 2013 isn’t “Toast This Life.”

The Wavelength ’13 experience

As I’ve mentioned in passing over my last few posts here, I attended Wavelength’s annual February festival, featuring four nights of music in four different venues. It was a pretty great few nights, even if my living outside Toronto forced me to bail a little early on three of the four nights to make sure I could catch the subway.

SlowPitch (left) with Colin Fisher (right)//Photo: Michael Thomas

SlowPitch (left) with Colin Fisher (right)//Photo: Michael Thomas

The first night was at The Shop, a venue located under Parts & Labour in Parkdale. It was so far underground that I had zero phone reception, which made it very difficult to live tweet, but it was in general the loudest night of the four. It started off a little calmly, though, with SlowPitch, who improvised jams with a turntable and actually took the time to explain what each gadget on his table was. Later he was joined by Colin Fisher on saxophone to add an extra layer of cool. I wish I could remember This Mess a little more than I do, but I recall their set being super high-energy and with about one or two-minute song lengths.

The next act was Fresh Snow, Wavelength’s latest Art Incubator project. The room went really black as they played some strong instrumental jams. The middle of the stage even had a TV with psychedelic images going as they played. They had a pretty short set, but they definitely caused some grooving. Then there was Ell V Gore, a Krautrock-inspired band (I just recently kind of learned what exactly constitutes Krautrock so I feel a little more confident labelling a band as such). They were probably the highlight of the first night, even though their set was a little bit difficult to watch thanks to the rapidly blinking lights. The lead singer got super close to the mic while singing, in fact so close that by the last song, the microphone was straight in his mouth. I missed Lullabye Arkestra, but they were apparently awesome and loud.

Blonde Elivs//Photo: Michael Thomas

Blonde Elivs//Photo: Michael Thomas

Night two had me at the Black Box Theatre, which is below the Great Hall near Queen and Ossington. Better reception allowed me to tweet there, and there was plenty to tweet about. “Spazz-punk” band Thighs opened up the night by performing not on stage, but in the audience. The lead singer moved around a lot, making it pretty difficult for the photographers (in fact I ended up in one photo of Thighs because the singer was standing in front of me). They were really loud and definitely got the audience rocking. Blonde Elvis was up next, which features Jesse James Laderoute from Young Mother. The music of Blonde Elvis was much smoother than Young Mother, which isn’t to say that YM’s music is bad by any means, just different. I got lots of different genre vibes from them as they played, and I enjoyed Laderoute’s sarcasm. Favourite line: “Can we get more photographers to the front of the stage, please? This is a festival after all.”

Blue Hawaii took the stage next, featuring Raphaelle Standell-Preston of Braids. It took a minute or two for the duo to get going, but once they did the audience (myself included) was utterly entranced. They kept the energy up with gaps between songs minimized, and Standell-Preston’s killer voice drove home the electronic grooves even more (I should mention that every time I listen to Braids’ “Glass Deers” I get chills). Rapper Cadence Weapon went on at midnight and delivered a pretty energetic set, though the DJ behind him made things a little awkward sometimes. Cadence, despite being a pretty big name now, was still very humble, saying that he had played a Wavelength show when only eight people showed up. He even jumped into the audience a few times and had the audience singing some words back to him. I had work the next morning, so I unfortunately had to miss Doldrums. It was doubly unfortunate because the only time I’ve ever seen Doldrums live was about two years ago and I was not very enthused. I want my opinion of him to change, I really do.

Justin Small of Do Make Say Think//Photo: Michael Thomas

Justin Small of Do Make Say Think//Photo: Michael Thomas

Then came Saturday, the only night I saw in its entirety. It started off with Bernice, a fairly large band who brought some really warm vocals harmonies and wonderful beats. One moment that stuck out in my mind was when they ended off a song by stepping away from the microphones and simultaneously rubbed their hands together. Then came the most pleasant surprise of the whole festival, Doom Squad. From what I understand they’re a sibling trio, and played some dark electronic music that incorporated at times guitar, flute, and even recorder. They are the only musical act that can make a recorder as awesome as it was that night. I was sad to find out they don’t yet have a full album to their name, but I have been listening to one of their singles, “Ovoo,” over and over again.

I’ve seen Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre once before, and her set that night reminded me of how breathtaking she is. She’s a solo violinist, but her songs clearly have a narrative arc, and her opener “Hero Brother” probably had the entire audience at least paying attention (even if I could hear all kinds of chatter, which really pissed me off). Later, unexpectedly, she brought out none other than Colin Stetson, as well as Geordie Gordon of The Magic. They made for a great end to her set. Evening Hymns paradoxically brought quietness and loudness at the same time. with their folk-centric music. Frontman Jonas Bonnetta was pretty hilarious in between songs, talking about living in the north for a while and how grateful he was to a woman for giving up a wicked parking spot.

Finishing off the night was Do Make Say Think, the post-rock instrumental band that’s been around since the mid-90s. While the genre of music is not always something I can take in huge doses, it was great to see how into it the audience was, breaking out perhaps the only mosh pit that happened during the festival. I was particularly thrilled, though, by their encore, which I believe was their song “Do.”

The Magic//Photo: Michael Thomas

The Magic//Photo: Michael Thomas

Night four I think would have been my favourite night had I been able to stay for its entirety. I missed Dusted completely (though I have seen them twice) and most of Cookie Duster. But the four bands I could see were definitely worth it. It started with a ridiculously short set by Cell Memory & Castle If, who produced some catchy, long songs. I couldn’t hear the vocalist but I imagine it would have added a bit more to the mix. The drummer in particular drummed with furious intensity, and I loved the way he exited off the stage, by rising up from his drum kit, giving the drums an angry glare and throwing his drumsticks at them. The set was so short that I could hear MC Doc Pickles say “That’s it?” Legato Vipers, of whom I was particularly excited to finally hear, played some great instrumental surf-rock. Oh yeah, and they were also accompanied by the Harlettes, a burlesque troupe. Definitely some added visuals there. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Henri Fabergé and the Adorables were I think a clear audience favourite, and I wish the set had been at least twice as long. The band quickly doubled in size after a song, bringing in some major talent like Laura Barrett and Maylee Todd. The theatrics of the set were great, and Fabergé’s extremely ironic yet catchy songs made for fantastic listening. During the last song he actually ran all through the audience at pulled a clearly-surprised girl on stage with him. The Magic followed, playing some great electronic music and clearly getting the audience dancing. The lead singer had a cape and twirled around a lot, adding some interesting visual flair.

Wavelength festivals always leave me wishing they could go on forever. I felt the same after ALL CAPS! last August, and I know I’ll feel it again for every future event. Wavelength always manages to curate some extremely varied shows, and I always end up falling in love with most of the acts. And despite what Torontoist said, Doc Pickles is an amazing emcee. During night two he basically managed to make a beat poem out of the fact that a bunch of technical crew members had to bring a huge ladder through the audience, and he just always brought a lot of charm.

I feel kind of honoured to know a few of the Wavelength crew myself, and I’ll be collaborating with them shortly for Grayowl Point’s next Crosswires co-presentation.

Becoming “a Torontonian”

Toronto is pretty much my favourite place to be. In case it isn’t clear to those who don’t know me, I live in the suburbs right outside Toronto, called Mississauga. It’s a very uninteresting place that is not really completely accessible unless one has a car, and thus I actually know my way around Toronto better than I do the place I’ve lived my entire life.

It’s funny, though, that my change of attitude toward Ontario’s capital didn’t really develop until I actually started going on a regular basis. Actually, I’m sure it’s not much of a coincidence. Starting in a new place is bound to make one start thinking about one’s roots, and where one’s “heart” truly lies.

When I was younger, I only went to Toronto maybe a few times a year. I’d always go to the Canadian National Exhibition every year, sometimes Ontario place, sometimes to see a concert. But it was just that—a few times a year—and thus Toronto seemed like something alien to me. It was so much bigger than Mississauga, and so, it seemed, inhospitable. I more acutely noticed the homeless and the general “sketchiness” of certain areas.

And I had a pretty sour experience after my school’s journalism-program orientation. I was stopped by someone I was naive enough to think was giving away a small pamphlet for free, only to find out that he wanted money, so I ended up giving him the few quarters I had jingling around in my pocket, and came out really bitter.

Luckily this only happened once, and as I started regularly going to school at Ryerson I became more and more accustomed to dealing with people looking to get money, including the homeless. So in a way, one might argue, I’ve become a little less feeling towards people calling out to others on the street, but it’s been a natural part of me for some time now.

Eventually on my commutes I began to enjoy my rides on the subway, delayed as they sometimes were. I would always appreciate the musicians playing at Bloor-Yonge and Dundas Stations (last year I remember briefly singing with a guy playing “Redemption Song” on his acoustic guitar), and seeing how long it would take me to memorize all the stops along the route I take. That didn’t take too long, by the way.

But I began to really fall in love with Toronto once I started to go to shows, forcing me to explore all kinds of streets and places I might not have ever gone to otherwise. It’s easy to confine oneself to a single spot, so I’m glad I didn’t and branched out a bit. Had I stayed in the Yonge and Dundas area, I would have never had the chance to thoroughly explore Queen Street West.

My first explorations were all done without the aid of streetcars or buses. When I had an interview scheduled or a show to attend, I would to the nearest subway stop and walk, and with that strategy I began to know what streets like Ossington, Dufferin and College looked like. Eventually, of course, I managed to gain the confidence to start trying out streetcars and buses, having got over my irrational fear that I’d end up in some unknown end of the city if I missed a stop,

And of course it helped even more that I started to make friends who lived in the city, some who have lived in Toronto their entire life and some who have just moved recently. Either way, having people you know always helps.

Now I always enjoy going to places I’ve not visited previously. Last night I began the four-night extravaganza that is the Wavelength Festival, and the first venue was in Parkdale, an area of Toronto I’ve only scratched the surface of as far as exploration. I walked along Queen Street West for a bit, west of Lansdowne, and while the place has a kind of shady reputation, I really only walked by one guy who was angrily ranting at no one in particular.

And I’m still far from a city expert. South of Bloor Street I can probably find my bearings, but send me north and I’ll probably flounder a bit before figuring out where I’m supposed to be going. I’ll be getting a bit of a taste of the northern half of Toronto Sunday when I head there to record some stuff for a radio assignment I have due soon.

Toronto is awesome.

C’est What in words

Last night I went to a show featuring Noel Johnson and Sidney York. Both were great acts, and my review of the show will be up on Grayowl Point later today.

What I want to do today, though, is an exercise in imagery, and it’s maybe something I’ll try to do every time I go to a new venue.

***

As you walk down Front Street, past the large arts buildings east of Yonge, and then passing Church Street, you might very well miss C’est What. It doesn’t announce itself with a neon sign, only a canopy that you can only see by looking at it straight on. The initial confusion worn off, you’ll open the door and immediately walk down a flight of stairs.

The last detail may make you think you’re walking into a grungy place. Not so. After walking down the stairs, you can go into the restaurant by walking through a doorway to the left, or you can walk straight through to the bar and venue area.

When you walk straight, the first thing you’ll notice is the bar. It’s long, and behind the counter there are more spouts for beer than you’ll see in any regular bar. There are so many beer selections that a menu is actually lying on the counter.

The walls are brick, making you feel like you might have walked into someone’s own private establishment. Wooden tables line the area to the left of the bar, and on the walls are simple, black and white abstract paintings.

If you turn right immediately after entering the doorway straight ahead, you’ll glimpse the venue. It’s longer than it is wide. It is dimly lit, save for a few small overheard lights, and torch-looking lights on the walls. It sort of gives the feel of walking into an Abercrombie & Fitch store, only not filled with nearly as much pretension or fake attitude.

There are tables lining both sides of the wall, almost giving the room a “dinner theatre” feel though the stage is small. In fact, while people drinking beer is the most common site you’ll see, it’s just as likely that you’ll see people ordering food and eating in booths. Whether these people came strictly for dinner or the show isn’t clear, but the live music can’t hurt.

There are also other little flourishes that make the bar at C’est What a little different. To the left of the doorway is a glass case with C’est What merchandise, including a t-shirt advertising the bar’s own coffee porter beer, a blue bag, and other things. The sound system is almost connected to the bar, which must be pretty damn sweet for the sound guy,

When shows are on, the restaurant side gets deathly quiet.