Past Talks

In Case You Missed It....     Our Fall Forum 2022 Talks

Enriching Communities With Public Art - Fall Forum #4

This forum featured the work of STEPS Public Art. This organization works to engage and empower artists and communities in transforming public spaces into vibrant places. Alexis KaneSpeer, the Founding and Executive Director, and Anjuli Solanki, the Director of Community Programming, gave an engaging, informative and very visual presentation.

STEPS (Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Space) has received numerous awards for their programs, including the National Culture Days Innovative Event Award, the NXT City Prize and Imagination Catalyst Best Social Enterprise Award. Since 2011, they have produced more than 300 public art installations as well as providing hundreds of artist and youth leadership opportunities.

Alexis and Anjuli started by talking about what public art is -- art created for the public but in many forms, whether the political wall graffiti of Banksy or the whimsical sculpture of a girl facing a bull on Wall Street or the huge silvery “bean” in Chicago. Murals and sculptures integrated into architecture can also qualify as street art. All are intended at their best to evoke an emotional response in the viewer.

The organization’s website,, shows many of the colourful and creative installations that they have produced. In all, they have tried to incorporate central guiding principles represented by six key verbs: connect, engage, transform, build, exchange and celebrate. The artists must connect to the community and become familiar with it in some way. If the artists are not residents, they undergo an education/ familiarization process so that the work they produce is meaningful to the community. STEPS strives to engage with the community through surveys and meetings during the planning stages. For example, over 200 local residents had input into the design of the huge wall mural at St. Clair and Yonge. Many projects are created to transform the neighbourhood. For example, painted construction
hoardings and the Roncesvalles pedestrian bridge over the Gardiner have improved bleak industrial landscapes. The projects seek to build capacity in the artists. For example, painting of hoardings by students increases not only their skills as painters but also the mentoring abilities of the artist. Finally, STEPS creates public events in which artists and community members exchange ideas in learning about the art after completion. The public events, often with entertainment, allow the artists and community to celebrate the achievement.

STEPS had a response to COVID different from many other organizations: they scaled up instead of down. They more than doubled their staff, budget and number of projects as well as expanding from Toronto mainly to nine provinces. COVID had created a huge need in the artistic community as income fell and galleries became unavailable. However, street art offered an opportunity. Their Main Street Recovery program produced 434 sites involving 120 artists in the two years following. They produced art not just on public streetscapes, notably in Brampton and Toronto Chinatown (see the aforementioned website), but also in stairwells and interior spaces in partnership with Tridel and BMO.

Overall, Alexis and Anjuli provided an optimistic and engaging presentation. They encouraged Academy members not only to explore their website, but also to download their free, highly visual app. The STEPS Public Art app allows you to find installations near you, visit faraway projects virtually, learn about the projects and artists, and go on self-guided walking tours.
Don Plumb

Presenting the Presenters - Fall Forum #2

As it turned out, the two offerings at the Presenting the Presenters Fall Forum were surprisingly complementary. Barrie Wilson’s discussion of the film, Profile, and Don Plumb’s explanation of non-fungible tokens both dealt with the mystery of human desire.

Profile, first released in 2018, was inspired by the experience of a French journalist who was assigned the investigation of online recruiting of young women by the terrorist organization, ISIS. In real life, she had a steady job and was on the verge of moving in with her boyfriend, but after only a few days of posing as a potential convert, she was prepared to get on a plane bound for Syria. The film version of the story places the heroine in London rather than Paris, but accurately depicts the methods of seduction used to lure her. She succumbs to declarations of eternal love by her social media confidant, combined with promises of an idyllic suburban life in a caring community - expectations that are abruptly shattered on arrival. The director, Timur Bekmambetov, tells the story almost exclusively through internet screen shots, a technique that is low-budget, Covid-safe, fast-paced and true to the way people now communicate. Sadly, the film is also true to contemporary life. According to Barrie, by 2018, over 5,000 women had been lured to Syria, victimized by their own gullibility and feelings of alienation, as well as ISIS lies.

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, another product of computer wizardry, are digital files, marked in a way that makes them unique, and protected by block chain technology that makes hacking virtually impossible. Paintings, video clips, songs, sound bites – all these sorts of things can be recorded as digital files. When marked at NFTs, they become one-of-a-kind works of art or collectables, not very different, in Don’s view, from something like an exceedingly rare sports card. For techno-peasants like me, the mystery of NFTs begins with the processes of digital file compression and the block chain concept, subjects that Don thankfully avoided. Instead, he focused on the mystery of why purchasers are willing to spend thousands, in some cases millions, of dollars for images and sounds that are often available for free in virtually indistinguishable form. A painting by the American artist known as Beeple is a case in point. In 2021, an NFT version sold for 69 million dollars. It doesn’t exist in tangible form and anyone with access to the internet can see what it looks like.

For Don, NFTs have some positive aspects. They provide artists with a new way to market their work, and they expand the kind of art available. On the other side, they are susceptible to counterfeiting, their production requires a lot of energy, and they amplify the gross disparities of wealth in contemporary society. The willingness and ability of a few one-percenters to pay exorbitant amounts for intangible baubles perhaps helps to explain the alienation that fed the ranks of ISIS.

Both presentations were artfully delivered in an engaging, conversational style. As usual, the Talks Committee chose well.

Keith Walden

The ‘New’ Cold War? U.S., Russia and China, and the International Order Today - Fall Forum #1

Are we in the midst of a new Cold War, or did the old one never really end? Although academics love to debate such matters, suggests Arne Kislenko, the question of the proper label is peripheral to the fact that people are dying right now as a result of great power rivalries.

The Talks Committee could not have been more prescient in choosing this topic to launch the new season of Academy Forums. Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in his war against Ukraine, made just last week, revives the kind of anxieties that most of us can probably remember from the 1950s and 60s. What better guide than Professor Kislenko to elucidate the circumstances that seem to be returning us to a brink long considered abandoned. A member of the History Department at Toronto Metropolitan University, specializing in International Relations, he is an engaging speaker who wears his erudition lightly. No wonder he has won
numerous teaching awards.

So, what did we learn? There are now continuities and differences from the old Cold War. The potential for nuclear disaster, the abundance of proxy wars, the continuing strength of the nation state – these are very much the same as before, but in fundamental ways the world situation has changed. Ideology is no longer a battleground. The economy has become global. American power is in decline and Chinese power in assent.

According to Professor Kislenko, the recent history of Russia is a good starting point to understand where we are today. In the West, the fall of the Berlin wall and the dismantling of the USSR under Gorbachev were celebrated as triumphs. The Cold War was over. The Soviets had lost. Russians never saw it that way, but they did endure a period of economic collapse and psychological trauma as they adjusted to the loss of world power status. Under Yeltsin, ordinary people despaired of a promising future, paving the way for the emergence of Putin, a hitherto unknown bureaucrat in the state security apparatus. Putin’s grip on power has been cemented
through the ruthless elimination of rivals and critics, as well as popular approval for his success in restoring Russian greatness at home and abroad. He has also been helped by the stunning ineptness of recent American leadership.

Meanwhile, China, the third great player on the contemporary world stage, continues to flex its muscles. Like Putin, Xi Jinping has courted popular support by promising to avenge past national humiliations, and like Putin, he has been assertive in extending domestic territorial claims. Still, with slowing economic growth and increasing international resistance to its aggressive insistence on playing by its own rules, China may not be as stable as it seems.

As Talks Committee Chair, Mandy Thompson remarked, in forty-five minutes, Professor Kislenko provided the equivalent of an entire university course, and he did so with brilliance, lucidity and humour. I hope he is invited back.

Keith Walden

In Case You Missed It....     Our Spring 2022 Talks

UNDRIP Implementation in Canada: Completing Decolonization - Spring Talk # 5

One of the foremost experts on Canada’s constitutional, aboriginal and judicial politics, Peter Russell has had a distinguished career as a political scientist and prolific author. Russell was chair of the Research Advisory Committee for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and presently serves as Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Innis College, University of Toronto. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada. His latest book is Sovereignty: The Biography of a Claim (UTP 2021).

The purpose of Professor Russell’s talk was two-fold: to introduce us to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a legally non-binding resolution; and to explain the “sovereignty” or more accurately the “sovereignties” of Canada’s First Nations.

The Declaration defines and delineates the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including their ownership rights to cultural and ceremonial expression, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

Their ownership also extends to the protection of their intellectual and cultural property and "emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations." It passed in 2007 by a vast majority of 144 in favour, 11 abstained and 4 voted against - Australia, New Zealand, United States and (yes) Canada.

There are over 600 recognized First Nations governments or bands in Canada and, according to Russell, 193 sovereign First Nations states, each with distinctive cultures, languages, art and music, so coming to a consensus on language was a bit of a hurdle. But the main reason for the Canadian government’s “nay” at the time was that while it supported the "spirit" of the declaration, the declaration contained elements that were "fundamentally incompatible with Canada's constitutional framework," which includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Section 35, which enshrines aboriginal and treaty rights. In particular, the Canadian government had problems with Article 19, which requires governments to secure the consent of Indigenous peoples regarding matters of general public policy.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission listed ratifying UNDRIP as one of its national "calls to action." In 2016, Canada officially adopted and promised to implement the declaration fully. At the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Canada’s Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced, "We are now a full supporter of the declaration, without qualification. We intend nothing less than to adopt and implement the declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution.”

Bill C-15, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, was introduced to the House of Commons in December, 2020 and received royal assent on June 21, 2021 to become law. It would bring Canadian law into alignment with the UN resolution.

To be effective, Russell reminds us, sovereignty must be secured through force or consent by those living in a territory and accepted externally by other sovereign states. To be legitimate, the sovereignty claim must have the consent of its people and accord with international human rights.

Russell traced the origins of the sovereignty claim to Christian Europe and the attribution of sovereignty to God in the early Middle Ages. Transcending a narrow legal framework, he discusses sovereignty as a political activity including efforts to enshrine sovereignty within international law. While sovereignty can work well for small and vulnerable peoples, it cannot be the basis of a global order capable of responding to the major existential threats that threaten our species and our planet.

Peter Russell’s talk was a strong echo of his Innis College conversation with fellow political scientist, Professor Rob Vipond. Titled  An Unlikely Iconoclast: An Evening with Peter Russell, it is available on YouTube.

[Highly recommended]

                                                                                                       Matt Segal

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Ideas about Policing in Toronto - Spring Talk # 3

Susan Schwartz introduced our guest speaker, John Sewell, who is a well-known Toronto activist. He was a member of Toronto City Council 1969 -1984 and Mayor of Toronto 1979-1980.

John has strong opinions about policing. He began his talk by giving us some data about policing in general across Canada. He pointed out that Canadian cities, especially the eastern ones, are really very safe. Indeed, the crime rates have been falling since about 1990. In 2001, there were 105 violent crimes per 100,000 population and in 2018 there were 55/100,00 population. In Canada, there are between 152 and 223 police per 100,000 people (Toronto has 167). He said that the number of officers does not correlate well with the crime rate. On average, there is about one violent crime per year per officer. Officers on patrol duty also do not seem to be effective in stopping crime, yet the police spend about 2/3 of their time on patrol.

John was very critical of the Toronto Police Services Board, calling it “toothless”; for instance, the practice of carding and strip searches continued even though Ottawa had ruled against these practices. He blames the Toronto Police Association for lobbying against any changes in police practice in Toronto.

John has come up with seven points for the New Policing Agenda in Toronto:

  1. Pre-charge screening to minimize the number of cases that actually go to court.
  2. End the pay for officers who have been suspended. The Liberals under Kathleen Wynne might have done this, but the Conservatives under Doug Ford reversed this initiative.
  3. End the practice of two officers in a car after dark; one officer should be able to call for appropriate backup if violence is suspected.
  4. Disarm the police except, perhaps, special units.
  5. De-task the police in favour of including community agencies to deal with cases where mental health issues present themselves.
  6. Break certain aspects of police culture because, he said, it is a very stultified culture that is racist, sexist and violent.
  7. Study how police use their time. A study done in the 1970s has never been repeated as it was so embarrassing to the organization.

In conclusion he said that councillors and the public should address these issues with the Police Board and demand results.

The Q&A session provided many questions, ably moderated by Susan. For instance, a member asked why the Police Board is so “toothless”; John answered that the members don’t seem to listen; “it is like talking to a brick wall,” he said.

John continues his push for better policing with his most recent book, “Crisis in Canada’s Policing” and he is currently the co-ordinator of Toronto Police Accountability Coalition. He was awarded an Order of Canada in 2005.

Linda Tu


Cities as Post-Covid Accelerators of Resilient, Inclusive Communities - Spring Talk # 2

Ken Greenberg, urban designer, active city-building advocate, author and teacher, is the former Director of Urban Design and Architecture for the City of Toronto. He gave an information-packed presentation that was overflowing with thought-provoking ideas. But that is what you would expect from someone who is still helping to shape the policies, community living and texture of the GTA. Ken was instrumental in creating more livable green space within the city, such as the Bentway under the Gardiner Expressway.

I volunteered to summarize this presentation as I co-facilitate “The Future of Cities” with Andris Rubenis. These short notes are a poor replacement for the visuals and data that Ken shared with the group, as well as the rich Q&A that took place after the presentation. These are some highlights:


  • Great cities are the crucibles where solutions can be found to problems, and we have some substantial ones to work on, particularly climate.
  • Cities already house 50% of the world's population. In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, it is more important that we create livable cities that are safe, multi-use, accessible and can accommodate a diverse population.
  • 21% of Canada’s population lives in the Golden Horseshow (GTA).
  • The pandemic exposed the good and the bad. Community spirit and green space helped many people survive the pandemic. Overcrowding in some city areas led to the rapid spread of infections.

Post pandemic solution

This is not a multiple choice; you have to address them all - densification, growth and affordability, resilience, inclusivity. In order to create a vibrant livable GTA that will be home to the brain-trusts that will help solve the coming crises, we need to do the following:

  • Wean ourselves off auto-dependence
  • Revive the commons
  • Develop cities as part of nature

Wean ourselves off auto-dependence

  • Since 1943, city development has been shaped by the automobile.
  • Our resulting sedentary lifestyle is affecting our health. This was documented by Toronto’s Medical Officer pre-pandemic. There is a high correlation between sedentary, automobile-centric neighbourhoods and chronic (and infectious) diseases including diabetes.
  • The suburbs that were built around the highway networks are generally isolated, using cars to go from one place to another. Families live parallel rather than the intersecting lives that are part of a community.
  • This led to two paradigms - the world where everything is isolated and car-dependent. And the other, returning to a mixed-use model where we commute more actively via walking and biking. We have to create more bike- and pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods.
  • The pandemic taught us we need to be close to nature, living within caring and enriching communities.

Revival of the commons

  • We need to work on the right kind of mixed-use densification where we create community. “It’s not just how dense you make it - it is how you make it dense.”
  • During the pandemic, strong multi-generational community sharing was just as important to recovery as access to local green areas.
  • We need to address the needs of all ages, all physical abilities from young children to the aging population to people with different levels of mobility, in close proximity to where they live, making these spaces available.
  • One of the real challenges we're facing is the way cyberspace is eating into real spaces. We want to overcome the isolating effects of cyberspace by creating collaborative spaces that encourage casual conversations and a strong sense of community.
  • Technologies now exist that allow planners to engage diverse communities at the planning stage. They can have discussions ranging from the visual representation for the pedestrian at ground level, debate on the optimal time for crosswalk signals, to support all levels of mobility, down to the support of the trees and shrubs planted on the pavements.

Cities as part of nature

  • Recent growth has been a consumer society completely out of control. We are seeing a generational shift to a sharing society.
  • The goal is to reduce the effects of climate change and create solutions.
  • We can tap into the healing power of nature - as we did during the pandemic, “growing more urban and more green at the same time.”
  • New developments are now making environmental areas central to their marketing plans instead of an afterthought.
  • Develop renewal projects around Toronto that are holistic, addressing the present and future issues raised by climate, while nurturing the community and neighbourhood.
  • Support the existing greenbelt.
  • We cannot block the waterways. We need creek-to-creek and green system connections.

We have the opportunity to help design the Golden Horseshoe into the kind of city that attracts and keeps great talent from cradle to grave. Our diverse gene pool is our greatest natural resource. Let’s all actively participate in that mission.

                                         Karena de Souza

The Yorkville Sounds - Spring Talk #1

Dr. Mike Daley is a musician, musicologist, writer and freelance lecturer based in Toronto. He is writing a history of live music in the Yorkville district of Toronto in the 1950s and 60s. Joseph Bloor founded Yorkville Village, an independent village from 1853-1888, which was then annexed to Toronto in 1889. The village boundaries were west to Bedford Avenue, east to Sherbourne Street, north to Davenport Road and south to Bloor Street. There were numerous taverns in the area such as The Embassy and The Gaslight. In the 1950s citizens of this neighbourhood had a bylaw passed to stop the opening of more taverns and to encourage more coffee house openings. The coffee houses originated farther south at Gerrard and Bay Streets.

Some of these jazz and folk venues have recently been torn down. The Pilot Tavern on Cumberland is still open with live jazz Saturday afternoons; the Heliconian Club on Hazelton is open as a classical music venue. You can now see plaques where The Riverboat, The Penny Farthing and The Purple Onion used to be. Moe Koffman played jazz at the House of Hambourg. In 1959 Ian and Sylvia performed some of their songs, including “Four Strong Winds” and “Someday Soon,” at the Village Corner. Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote her famous Vietnam protest anthem, “Universal Soldier,” at The Purple Onion. In 1966 Joni Mitchell wrote a tribute song to Yorkville, “Night in the City,” and on a return trip to Toronto she first performed at The Riverboat her most famous song, “Both Sides Now.” Neil Young appeared as a solo artist at one of The Riverboat's Hoot nights, then drove his hearse to L.A. He returned to Toronto in 1969 to perform again solo at The Riverboat. He paid tribute to this club in his song “Ambulance Blues.” Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot played The Riverboat.

The Riverboat was the most famous of all Yorkville's clubs, located at 134 Yorkville and owned by Bernie Fiedler, partner of Bernie Finkelstein, who managed many Canadian music acts. Finkelstein helped Bruce Cockburn make his name in the USA after the single “Wondering Where the Lions Are” became a hit in 1980.

In 1964 the British Invasion arrived with the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. The British galvanized the local record business and the popularity of the Beatles meant Capitol Records was looking for new acts. Toronto musicians were encouraged to adopt fake British accents. The music was changing from jazz, blues, R & B and folk to rock and roll.

The Sparrows, a Canadian blues rock band notable for bringing John Kay into the mainstream, moved to L.A. in 1966, reformed as Steppenwolf and had their first big hit, “Born to be Wild.” The Ugly Ducklings, Rolling Stone-influenced, ran Charlie Brown's club on Cumberland. Their 1966 record Nothin’ did not do well at the time, foreshadowing Punk Rock. Luke and The Apostles were playing El Patio and The Purple Onion. In 1965 they signed to the Elektra Label; their advocate at the label was arrested; they broke up in 1967 and never made it big. The band Kensington Market drew large crowds at Boris' Basement. At the Mynah Bird one could view go-go dancers gyrating in a glass booth. At the Friar's Tavern on Yonge Street, Jon and Lee & The Checkmates, blue-eyed soul, had a high intensity sound, a combined USA and UK sound that was fully maximized.

The dynamic music of Toronto in the 1950s and ‘60s established Yorkville as strong competition for New York's older and larger Greenwich Village. Yorkville was not just a grunge hangout.

Real estate speculators moved into Yorkville and most of the live music venues had moved by 1968,  killing the coffee house music scene. There had been 40 clubs featuring live music every night. Night after night the hippie superfreaks walked up and down the sidewalks, the bumper to bumper cars drove by with rubberneckers gaping at this strange scene. Dark times came when the bikers moved in and took over the drug scene!

Many thanks to Mike Daley and the Talks Committee for this entertaining and informative history, with accompanying videos, of The Yorkville Sound.

Janet Broadley