Only Child looks at city changes

Streetcar and highrise in Toronto circa 2005

A  recent comment by mystery writer Maureen Jennings (Murdock Mysteries)  juxtaposed with yesterday’s book launch by outgoing Toronto mayor David Miller got me thinking. How much change should cities go through? How much of the past should they keep?

Anyone like me who grew up in a city or town during the gray ages (195os, 1960s) can probably remember “how it was” back then compared to “how it is” right now. Do we like the changes we see? Was the past really better? What do you think?

Speaking personally, I liked the more intimate closeness of a smaller Toronto but I also like the multi-cultural aspect of its now diverse population. When I was growing up, Mom and I would get around on the Toronto transit system. Before the subway was built, that meant long rides on buses and streetcars and freezing our tushes while waiting for them in winter. (I still do that now.) Mom and I used to go shopping on the Danforth part of Toronto – then populated by greengrocers and butchers and those dime stores called Kresge’s, Woolworth’s and Metropolitan. It was awesome for a little girl but sometimes intimidating…

I look up Pape but the bus still isn’t visible at the turn in the road. When it finally arrives, we climb on board and ride the rest of the short trip to one block north of the Danforth. The bus loops into a dead-ended Lipton St. with a two-foot high stonewall at the end…

…Like today, the Danforth proliferated with green grocers selling fresh vegetables and fruit and a butcher’s shop, although unlike today, the owners of the former were Italian, not Asian. Mom would buy a basket of peaches or plums.

But the butcher’s shop captures my curiosity. Mom opens the door to a clanging bell; we step in, and my feet feel as if they’re traipsing through Grandpa Charlie’s barn. I look down at…

“Sawdust,” Mom says. “That’s so the butcher can sweep the floors easier.”

I stare down at the floor, but don’t see any pieces of meat there. As Mom grabs a number and waits her turn I look up at the shoulder-high counters. Behind glass barriers lie slabs of meat in various hues of red and pink. I recognize only bacon, as I’ve seen its striped pink and white fat curling in the fry pan for Sunday breakfasts at home. My nostrils flinch at an unfamiliar odour mixed in with the sawdust, but this is not like the smell of the chickens bawking around in Grandpa’s chicken room. This smell is more animal, more immediate and ripe, and I’m not sure that I like it.

“A pound of medium ground,” Mom says.

The butcher, wearing a blood-stained apron that one day was probably white, picks up stringy medium-red worms. I want to gag.

“For hamburger,” the butcher says, with a big grin. I frown. I need to get out now.

Of course, I eat hamburgers, as a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, including at McDonalds. They always have to be cooked, almost burned. When I am 50, I give up eating red meat for five years because it bothers my digestive system and I give up ground beef forever. And I never get over the squeamishness of handling raw meat.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home Part 1 – Deconstruct,  copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

Some things don’t change completely – they just transform. The new “dime stores” are the Dollar and Dollar plus stores, thanks to inflation. Most are small and cramped but if you look hard enough you can find some bargains, but usually over a dollar. Butchers no longer sprinkle sawdust on their shop floors. The subway now runs along the Danforth and the particular strip of the Danforth I go to is called Greektown, but has many different ethnic restaurants. That is one benefit of a multi-cultural city, but then I often lead with my stomach cravings.

So what did Maureen Jennings say? It was at the Bloody Words conference in June where we were talking about the TV series (Murdock Mysteries) based on her Murdock mystery books. She said  the show is taped in various southern Ontario cities and towns, not just the series’ and books’ setting of Toronto. Why? Because Toronto is such a mixture of old and new buildings that it is hard to get a scene with just old buildings.

And maybe Maureen hit the cusp of the answer to my earlier question. Perhaps it is better to combine old with new, but at the same time being careful what is knocked down and what is put up. Sometimes upgrading old buildings for new uses is a better answer.

Last evening while on the bus, I thought these newer buses with their wide street-level exits that can be lowered and places for wheelchairs and scooters are better for everybody. I mean, I no longer fall out the back door when leaving – something I used to do on the old buses with their steep narrow stairs and the door closing on my back.

And no, I wasn’t drunk – just klutzy.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Book launch, Cities, Cities and towns, Murdock Mysteries, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transportation, Streetscapes, The Danforth, Toronto

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