Downtown Magic for the Solstice

22 June 2014 – I don’t know, as I walk east yesterday along Dundas St. East toward Regent Park, that I’m headed for Magic City.

“Magic” is not a bad word, though: I’ve already heard the church bells of St. Batholomew’s Anglican toll 1 p.m., then drumming from somewhere; I’ve admired the eager activity in St. Bart’s allotment gardens & the clusters of balloons tied to assorted posts; I’ve seen other people also heading east …

… and now I’m watching, with total delight, a handful of teenagers cavorting on the plaza steps leading into Regent Park. (Just two shown here.)

girls on steps, Regent Park

I start to laugh. Just imagine: I’m here thanks to a water main break!

Yessir, that’s how I found out about Magic City. Friday I was indulging in some sidewalk gossip with neighbours as we watched City workers control the gushing water — such are the amusements of downtown life — when almost-next-door neighbour Tom asked if I was going to the Regent Park celebrations on Saturday. My confused face prompted him to explain it was the official opening of the real park-park for the subsidized housing complex that, until now, has had a Park only in its name.

So here I am. I cut across the new-laid grass toward the Aquatic Centre that borders the park’s eastern edge. Phase by phase, Regent Park’s outdated housing units are being replaced by new accommodation — plus amenities that were never part of the spartan original, and finally make this a normal neighbourhood community, part of the city all around it. The Aquatic Centre opened last year; now, finally, here is the park to complement it.

I can see orchestra members tucked close to the building, beginning to warm up. The TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra) will be there, Tom had told me, part of a program that — according to the City invitation — will turn Regent Park into Magic City, “alive with pipes and horns, voices and drums, ice cream trucks and orchestras, all to celebrate the opening of Toronto’s newest City park.”

They forgot to mention ribbons.

confused dachshund, happy ribbon dancer

See that column of ribbons on the right-hand side of the photo? That’s the  Ribbon Dervish. Well, so I call him, but the ribbons are so all-enveloping that in fact I don’t even know the dancer is a “him.” I just know he/she is some fine dancer. Who knew you could break dance dressed like this, without tying yourself in knots?

People love it. The dog can’t work it out, and barks in frustration.

I’m wiggling into the crowd around the TSO when I see my friend Michaela. She has a clipboard, and looks official. Turns out, she is! I know her originally from mutual volunteer work at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), but she also works with the renowned dance troupe Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie (“collaborating with people and place”). Turns out Bill Coleman directed the entertainment program & Michaela is doing some on-site coordination.

She reminds me that this day is full of reasons to celebrate — the Solstice, National Aboriginal Day, the start of WorldPride 2014 in Toronto, and this new park. There’ll be lots of music and dance in addition to the TSO, including community and grassroots organizations like the Regent Park School of Music & the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.

I peek at the TSO over a Regent Park volunteer’s shoulder.

TSO members at Regent Park opening


They’ll do more playing after the opening speeches, I realize, so I wander off — and see there are individual musicians dotted about the grass, each with a fascinated audience.

Harpist, at Regent Park opening

There’s a third little girl, just out of frame, and a little boy as well. He’s listening as intently as the girls, but fingering his soccer ball at the same time.

Every kind of music is on display. Don’t want a harp? How about a sax?

sax player, at Regent Park opening

Behind him, you get a glimpse of one corner of the new playground that is part of this park — along with community gardens, a greenhouse, a bake oven, an off-leash area for dogs, both hard and soft surfaces for community use, a splash pad, trees & benches.

The most theatrical musician is surely this drummer — see the flourish of his left arm? The children’s heads follow each sweep.

drums & flourishes, at Regent Park opening

Speeches, inevitably, and I shouldn’t be snarky. This is a happy day, the culmination of a lot of municipal, provincial, corporate & grassroots effort.

The local councillor; the former mayor (at the time this project was approved); the former MPP (provincial representative) & also the current one; Daniels Corporation (developing the new complex, with a lot of support for arts, culture & local groups); Toronto Housing (which donated the land); a young resident speaking for the community — they’ve all earned the right to mark this moment.

There must be hundreds of people here. Thanks to decent loudspeakers everyone can hear and most choose to listen. But … people can also enjoy some side entertainment at the same time!

a dancer at the Regent Park opening

It all works together just fine.

Then there are the dogs.

Lots of dogs, almost all leashed & behaving themselves, but quietly finding things to do, as words continue to fill the air above their heads.

Like contemplating tattoo’d legs.

speech-time, at the Regent Park opening

Or showing off their snappy headgear.

best hat in the crowd, at the Regent Park opening

Speeches over, people start using the green space for their own impromptu activities. Boys are kicking soccer balls about; some little girls are playing badminton — no net, but they’re happy seeing how long they can keep the bird in the air.

I weave around them all, and go check out the lines of white tents to the north of the park. They fill the corridor between the new structures and the buildings still waiting their turn.

There’s just one farmer’s tent, selling fresh produce — but there’s also a sign announcing a weekly Farmers’ Market here every Wednesday all summer long, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30. All the other tents feature prepared food and drink.

food & drink tents, Regent Park opening

I buy a glass of fresh sugar cane juice (lengths of sugar cane nearly lined up, ready for the grinder), though I almost choose fresh coconut water instead. And good grief, all the other things I could sample! Everything from gushi chicken (no, I don’t know what that is) to Zimbawean style pies (“made with locally sourced ingredients”) to coconut & nut honey-lime kebabs to dayglo pink cotton candy, which is being swirled out of its tub in the best 1950s fairground tradition. Oh, and a soft ice cream truck at the far end, as promised in the City invitation.

I look to the north. With so many of the new buildings now up, it’s a shock to see the austerity of the old ones.

original Regent Park units

Yet even they now have resources for their residents. This sign advertises the Multipurpose Centre inside, with its library, computer classes, gym, ESL, Heritage Club, Home Work Club, crisis response and seniors services.

One of the speakers reminded us of another recent transformation in the area: the renamed and redeveloped Nelson Mandela Park Public School just to the south. (There has been a Park Public School on the site since 1853; it was renamed after Nelson Mandela’s 2001 visit, and subsequently enlarged and enhanced.) I decide to go take a look on the way home.

I turn south from Dundas St. East onto Regent Park Blvd. and, as I pause to admire the murals on the construction hoardings, I’m overtaken by two young boys who are sprinting flat out for the school. Both are panting, but one still has enough breath to urge his companion: “Come on! We’re late for soccer practice!”

I’m happy to see the “Diversity” mural finished. A project of PATCH (art for construction sites), it was just getting started when I walked by a few weeks ago.

Diversity mural, with Mosa McNeilly

Meet Mosa McNeilly, community artist and on the artist roster of Inner City Angels. I don’t know her, but I see  this interesting looking woman taking a photo of the mural. I ask if she’d like me to take one of her with it. Which I do, and then I ask to take one for myself, which I do, and then we talk. “‘Diversity’ is an important message,” she says. “We need to get past just one version of things, it needs to become the norm to hear multiple perspectives.” I agree, pointing to what nature teaches us: there is strength in diversity, mono-cultures are vulnerable. We part with a smile.

The school is now in view, just south of this boulevard. No wonder there is a mural panel honouring Nelson Mandela himself.

Nelson Mandela mural, to north of Nelson Mandela Park Public School

The first quote reads: “Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela”; the second, “‘It’s always impossible until it’s done’ – NM”

I turn right, walk along the north edge of the school yard. Yes, soccer practice is underway.

On the other side, more murals on the hoardings, including this one by ELICSER, a Toronto street artist who also does commissioned work and has done a lot for the Regent Park project.

ELICSER hoarding mural, Regent Park

The real sign by the painted artist’s brush gives contact info for anyone with questions about what’s going on in Regent Park.

I think about the day. About the likely impact of the Regent Park Revitalization on people’s lives & behaviour. I’m not stupid enough to think that adding facilities guarantees there will be nothing but positive, mentally/physically healthy behaviour in the future. Still, if people want to behave this way, they now have places where they can do so.

So, it’s good. Not perfect, maybe not even great — what do I know? But definitely good.


Faith47 Update

Thank you Michael Sinnott! He commented on my previous post to tell us all that Faith47 is indeed the signature of a street artist, an amazing woman from South Africa who works pretty well all around the world. Michael thinks, and I agree, that it’s terrific to have something by her here in Toronto.



Leave a comment


  1. It is so fun to go on these walks with you, if only “virtually”! I love this city so much and you remind me why. I hope someday I can go on an actual walk! (Also, I would have LOVED to have brought my face paints to that event!!!)

    Thanks for this! I have been house bound to some extent as M. has broken another bone in her back. 😦

  2. I always look for your Weekly Digest as your journalism and photos ive such a sense of a place that I am carried along with you. Hope the people of Toronto get to see some of your work

    • Thanks for your generous comments. I’m glad I can convey some sense of place. You & other followers give me a great deal in return: knowing you’re ‘out there’ stimulates me to notice more, do more, and then put lots of energy into my posts. Do you feel the same way about your own blog? You do it because you want to, but at the same time part of the motivation is the community of people who notice and respond to it

  3. Thanks for this lively overview of the opening of this park – you really conveyed what a great job the organizers did of making this a special event. Regent Park revitalization seems to be going well but to quote you – what do I know!

    • It’s certainly many steps in the right direction — or, at least, as we currently define “right” direction. Back in the 1940s, the old arrangement was thought amazingly progressive…


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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