Academy Talks

Academy for Lifelong Learning Toronto talks offer stimulating food for your brain, featuring presentations on a cornucopia of topics. Participants are encouraged to ask questions at the end of each talk.

Presentations are at Tartu, 310 Bloor St. West, at 2:30 pm. Academy members automatically receive an invitation to each talk via email. If you want to attend one of these talks and are not currently a member of the Academy for Lifelong Learning Toronto, please scroll down to the bottom of this page for more information.

For more information about Academy Talks

If you are not currently a member of the Academy for Lifelong Learning, you can request information about the Academy’s Talks Program by sending an email to:

If you are interested in joining the Academy for Lifelong Learning, please visit our membership page for details. Members of the Academy automatically receive emails to register for Academy Talks. The Academy warmly welcomes new members.

Fall Forums - 2022

Fall Forum #2 - Oct. 12 at 2:30 pm

Presenting The Presenters -  Barrie Wilson and Don Plumb

The following presentations by fellow Academy members were chosen by their Facilitators as outstanding exemplars to share:

Barrie Wilson  on A Complex Web of Deception from Contemporary Film A.

The Russian-American film director Timur Bekmambetov uses an innovative filming technique in his 2018 film Profile. Building upon the experiences of a French journalist, this film examines how Western women became attracted to the militant group ISIS. About 5 minutes of the film will be shown followed by a brief presentation that focuses on the director's unique method and the film's themes of deceit and seduction.

Don Plumb on NFT (non-fungible tokens) from Option B.

NFTs include art or video or sound or anything that can be captured as a digital file on a computer. NFTs, without any physical reality, have become a phenomenon. In the last two years, the artist Beeple sold an NFT for $69 million and one NBA basketball dunk NFT sold for $400,000. The presentation will introduce this remarkable new world.

Fall Forum #3 - Oct. 26 at 2:30 pm

The Academy Debate

The debate resolution is: “Be It Resolved that Canada is essentially a Centrist country”.
Centrist is being defined as “Adherence to moderate political views;  careful avoidance of any political position that could be construed as too far right or left”.

In support of the Resolution:   Vivienne Monty and Frank Richmond                         

Opposed to the Resolution:     Patricia Cross and Sue Kralik                                                                                                  Moderator:           Linda Tu

Fall Forum #4 - Nov. 9 at 2:30 pm

Alexis Kane Speer and Anjuli Solankihe - Enriching Communities With Public Art

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed inequalities that exist in cities, particularly in public spaces. STEPS Public Art envisions a world where artists and communities co-create meaningful, welcoming and safe public spaces. STEPS will speak to their decade of work engaging and empowering artists and communities to transform public spaces into vibrant places, and the role public art can plan in post-pandemic recovery.

Alexis Kane Speer is the Founding and Executive Director of the award-winning public arts organization, STEPS and its affiliated social enterprise. Her work bridging culture, community and city-building has been recognized with a DiverseCity Fellowship by the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance in 2011, as well has been featured across international media outlets. Alexis has served on the National Congress Committee for Culture Days, the Advisory Board of the Toronto Arts Council’s Neighbourhood Arts Network, as well as the Adult Committee for the Delisle Youth Services Art Gallery.

Anjuli Solanki is the Director of Community Programming with the STEPS Initiative she led the development of capacity building opportunities for youth and emerging artists. She has developed community programming with the Riverside Business Improvement Area, the UBC Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, Museums of Malawi in Blantyre, and the Goethe and the Akilah Institutes in Rwanda and has been a part of the Open City Project’s Design for Diversity toolkit. She currently chairs the Board the Toronto Ward Museum’s Programming Committee.

Fall Forum #5 - Nov. 23 at 2:30 pm

Dr. Harold Troper - “None Is Too Many”: Thoughts Forty Years Later

On the 40th anniversary of the publishing of Harold Troper's and Irving Abella's book, None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948, the story of the Canadian government’s refusal to allow Jewish immigration from Europe during the Holocaust, Professor Troper will discuss the unusual backstory to the writing and publication of the book, how it was received, and the impact it has had on Canadian immigration and refugee policy.

Dr. Harold Troper is Professor Emeritus at University of Toronto where he specialized in the history of Canadian immigration, immigrant settlement, education of ethnic and minority groups, Canadian social history and the history of education. In addition to None Is Too Many, (named one of Canada’s 100 most important books by the Literary Revue of Canada) Professor Troper has authored or co-authored nine other books and numerous journal articles.

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

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

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

If you attended Professor Russell’s talk, we would enjoy reading your feedback. Please send feedback to  


Spring Talk # 3 - Ideas about Policing in Toronto

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


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

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

Spring Talk # 1 - The Yorkville Sound

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