Academy for Lifelong Learning Toronto webinars 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 via Zoom during the COVID pandemic. Academy members automatically receive an invitation to each Forum via email. If you want to attend one of these forums 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: OurAcademy2021@gmail.com
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Spring Talks - 2022
*** cancelled ***
Spring Talk #6 - June 8 at 10:15 am on zoom
Marie Henein - Nothing But the Truth
Recognized as one of the most influential criminal defence lawyers in Canada, in her new book, Nothing But the Truth, Marie Henein shares her belief that much of the public's understanding of the justice system is based on popular culture, and social media, and decidedly not the rule of law. She is a partner of Henein Hutchison LLP, and holds an LLB from Osgoode Law School and an LLM from Columbia Law School.
In Case You Missed It.... Our Spring 2022 Talks
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:
- Pre-charge screening to minimize the number of cases that actually go to court.
- 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.
- 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.
- Disarm the police except, perhaps, special units.
- De-task the police in favour of including community agencies to deal with cases where mental health issues present themselves.
- Break certain aspects of police culture because, he said, it is a very stultified culture that is racist, sexist and violent.
- 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.
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.
In Case You Missed It.... Our Winter 2022 Forums
Academy Winter Forum #5 - Presenting the Presenters
The last forum of the season was introduced by Thea Herman; Thea correctly said that Presenting the Presenters is always a very special event. We were not disappointed. The talks committee chose to highlight just two of our excellent presentations to allow for more discussion than we were able to have with the three presentations we have formerly showcased.
The two presenters were:
Joan McCordic on Cultural Appropriation from the “Art Crime: Fraud, Plunder and Theft of Culture” workshop, nominated by Cathy Spark.
Carol Ann Witt on Persuasion from the "Understanding Ourselves and Others" workshop, nominated by Thea Herman and Yvette Matyas.
Both presentations were exceptional in their excellent use of PowerPoint, fabulous content and masterful delivery.
Joan began her presentation with a picture of the Trudeau family descending from an airplane dressed in south Asian attire. I am sure you remember the furor that that caused! She gave more examples of people using cultural attributes to which they might not have hereditary rights. In particular, she drew to our attention the controversy over the author Joseph Boyden who has written novels about our First Nations people. He claims some First Nations ancestry, though this has not been substantiated. Regardless of his claims, does he, or anyone else, have the right to write about a culture that may not be their own? Joan’s sensitive arguments left us feeling that she had given us much food for thought.
Carol Ann gave us insight into the ways in which we might be persuaded to favour a particular idea or to purchase a particular product or to choose one thing over another. We often look to those in authority, or whom we perceive as an authority, in formulating our opinions. For instance, consulting the web site Rotten Tomatoes, then accepting the consensus of social media when choosing our entertainment. We may be persuaded that we must buy the latest thing quickly because it is said to be available only for “a limited time offer.” We tend to give credence to a suggestion or a piece of advice if we feel a sense of belonging to that credible source. Do we feel that Warren Buffet is including us in his family circle when he says, “I will tell you what I would say to my family today if they asked about Berkshire`s future”? Advice may be more persuasive than opinion.
Both presentations were enjoyable and informative; thank you, Joan and Carol Ann.
Academy Winter Forum #4 - Transforming Democracy: From Conflict To Collaboration
Don Plumb has elegantly reviewed the lively presentation by Dave Meslin at an Academy forum on March 2nd where Dave argued for the transformation of democracy from conflict to collaboration. The full review will be published in the upcoming Spring AQR. Offered here is a sketch of Don’s article.
Dave is a seasoned social activist, self-described as a “political biologist,” who is the Creative Director of Unlock Democracy Canada, a grassroots non-partisan national campaign focused on democratic renewal. He is also the author of Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up, an analysis of and re-imagining of our current democracy. He analysed some of the problems in our democracy, but also offered positive alternatives and possible solutions.
Dave is interested in how the machine of democracy works and why it seems to be so dysfunctional. An example of this problem is that usually more voters choose not to vote than choose a particular party.
One serious issue is that politics has become a “blood sport.” Parliamentary question periods have devolved into shouting matches -- an adversarial system where opposing parties aggressively abuse each other, rather than look for possible compromise.
A second major issue in our democracy is the first-past-the-post (FPTP) election system. The party that wins the most votes wins the seat, even if their share of the popular vote is less than 50%.
Dave had some further suggestions for improving our democratic system, starting with our schools. Dave is a strong believer that the individual has power in the political process and that significant change occurs at the grassroots level, not at the top levels of government. Overall, his enthusiastic, positive approach offered cause for optimism that our democracy can be reimagined.
Please read Don’s complete review in the upcoming AQR.
Academy Winter Forum #3 – The Gender Lady: The Fabulous Dr. May Cohen
The Gender Lady, a film biography of Dr. May Cohen, is a truly inspiring tribute to a pioneer of women’s health. When Dr. Cohen entered medical school at the University of Toronto in the 1950s, the concept of women’s health did not exist. Indeed, the presence of female students, who comprised only ten percent of her cohort, was barely acknowledged by the faculty. As the product of left-wing, working-class Jewish parents, she was not intimidated by this stodgy conservatism. She and her future husband, Dr. Gerry Cohen, graduated at the very top of their class.
When Dr. Cohen entered medical practice, she brought with her two fundamental convictions: a belief in the importance of family and a belief that people in medicine should be advocates for the wider public welfare, not just for clinicians. Both these precepts shaped her subsequent career. To fulfill family obligations, she chose not to pursue specialty training, which would have required a delay in having children. Instead, she entered general practice, and in partnership with her husband, balanced the duties of patient care with the raising of three sons. On the public welfare side, she was drawn into the movement to repeal Canada’s restrictive abortion laws, which led to an awareness of the broader neglect of women’s health.
Much to the regret of her patients, she left private practice in 1975 to accept a position at McMaster University’s innovative medical school to teach family medicine, a field then in its infancy. She eventually became Associate Dean of the faculty. A complete list of her academic accomplishments is too long to enumerate here, but among the highlights were the introduction of a new program in Human Sexuality, which became an integral component of the regular medical curriculum, and the development of a comprehensive approach to women’s health, which was adopted across Canada and beyond.
One of the most important aspects of her career was her role as a mentor to other female doctors and medical students. When you worked with May, observed a former colleague, you worked really hard. Her standards were high but her approach was collaborative and supportive. She insisted on addressing problems particular to female practitioners, such as career choices and maintaining a work-life balance. In her own life, she demonstrated that it was possible to combine successfully both family and career, and to be heard as an influential advocate of women’s right to decent health care.
From the Q & A which followed the film, it is clear that Dr. Cohen’s passion for the improvement of women’s health has not abated. Both she and her former colleague, Dr. Cheryl Levitt, who participated in the discussion as one of the movie’s directors, lament that the field has become less prominent than it once was, even though there is still an enormous amount to learn about the specific characteristics of how women manifest and report illness.
Especially with women’s reproductive rights once again under intense attack, the need for brave, articulate defenders of women’s health remains essential. Dr. Cohen’s long record of compassionate advocacy is a valuable resource for an uncertain future.
Please consider sharing your own reactions to this Academy talk by sending them to email@example.com.
Academy Winter Forum #1 – The Golden Age of Celtic Fiddle
With Alana Cline and her father, Leigh Cline
Alana Cline is a Toronto-based Celtic fiddler who combines Irish, Cape Breton and Scottish styles to create her own sounds. Her father, Leigh Cline, also based in Toronto, is a guitarist, producer and sound engineer. Alana had her heart set on being a fiddle player! Alana studied under the well-respected Cape Breton fiddler, Sandy MacIntyre, who sadly passed away on November 24, 2021.
Cape Breton Island’s fiddle music was brought to North America by Scottish immigrants during the Highland Clearances, mostly from 1750-1860. These Scottish immigrants were primarily from Gaelic-speaking regions in the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides. Although fiddling has changed considerably since that time in Scotland, many scholars state that the tradition of fiddle music has been well preserved on the isolated Cape Breton Island. Ethnomusicologists from Scotland visit Cape Breton to hear what their music sounded like in the 1700s.
Celtic music is an oral tradition; guitars came into the tradition in the 1800s. Scottish fiddle tunes encompass tunes written in certain styles such as jigs, reels and strathspey (a Scottish country dance slower than a reel). Neil Gow, 1727-1807, was the most famous fiddler of the 18th century; Scottish poet Robbie Burns was his contemporary. There was also a blending of court music of the Baroque era with the exquisite Celtic culture. Alana and Leigh played us some tunes, including “Pachelbel's Canon,” beginning in its original Baroque style then transitioning into a contemporary version entitled “Canon Reel.” They also played the original version of “Auld Lang Syne” and segued into the more popular version with text by Robbie Burns, which is sung around the world to celebrate New Year's Eve.
In their Zoom background, there appeared to be a life-size statuette of the HMV “His Master's Voice” dog!
Many thanks to Alana and Leigh for their informative history of the Celtic fiddle and the joyful music they shared with us. My husband and I were both up dancing!
In Case You Missed It.... Our Fall 2021 Forums
Academy Forum: Adoption - A Matter of Truth, Equal Rights and Identity
Adoption, stressed Karen Lynn, is always about loss – for both parents and children. As a 19- year-old single mother in the 1960s, she was forced to give up her child at birth. It took 35 years for her to reunite with her son. Michelle Edmunds was taken into custody by Children’s Aid at age two. After three and a half decades of searching, she finally reconnected with her birth mother, just a few months before the latter’s death. These heart-rending experiences were the foundation of their talks to the Academy Forum on Adoption.
When she got pregnant in the early 60s, Karen became entangled in lingering but deeply entrenched Victorian assumptions about the unfitness of mothers who gave birth out of wedlock. Immediately after delivering her baby, she was prevented from holding and breastfeeding him. Later, after erupting at the sight of a staff note claiming that she did not wish to feed her child, she was finally allowed to nurse him, but lacking experience and psychologically distraught, she felt her only option was adoption. Her story is typical, as she learned when she went on to found the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers (a lobby group that advocates for the rights of women who have put children up for adoption) and came into contact with many others who endured similar treatment. The pain of losing a child to adoption, they attest, is intense and enduring.
Michelle was bombarded by different sorts of negative messages – that it was disrespectful to her adoptive parents and a sign of maladjustment to want to find her natural family, that she should be grateful for having been taken in, that she was lucky just to be alive and that intruding on her birth mother’s life would ruin it. Told that searching was wrong, it nevertheless felt right to Michelle. Driven by the innate human desire for genetic connectedness and unable to suppress fundamental questions about who she was and where she came from, she pressed on, processing snippets of often unreliable information provided by the state, working around the secrecy of the official system through research and pressuring the government to unseal original birth registrations. Eventually, she located her natural family, reconnected with it and developed strong relationships with some of her siblings, but the process required protracted struggle.
Social pressures to put children up for adoption have eased significantly in the last half century. Unwed motherhood is much less stigmatized. Mothers’ Allowances provide a modicum of financial support for single parents. Family preservation is now a higher priority. That said, all too often the concerns of adoptive parents and the adoption industry remain paramount. The system has yet to successfully prioritize the needs of the children involved.
The sense of belonging is surely one of the most complex human emotions. Once fractured, it is difficult to mend. Karen Lynn and Michelle Edmunds make a compelling case for putting an end to coerced adoption and for ensuring the right of adopted children to know the identities and histories of their birth families.
Academy Fall Debate - Whither the Monarchy?
The Academy’s second fall forum focused on whether or not Canada should abolish the Monarchy. It’s a timely topic, with Canada having evolved into a multicultural nation with fewer ties than ever before to the United Kingdom.
Academy members were treated to a lively, informative and entertaining exchange of ideas so fundamental to our political system. Under the deft hand of moderator Linda Tu, the four debaters adhered to the strict time limits, allowing ample opportunity for subsequent discussion and summary.
A poll taken prior to the debate showed a remarkably even split: 14 participants in favour of abolishing the Monarchy; 14 opposed; 13, undecided.
Priscilla Platt began the debate by underlining the unrepresentative nature of the current Monarchy. Having a foreign non-resident ruler as our head of state seems incongruous, she maintained, to Canada’s present reality. Canada is no longer a colony but a distinctive nation in its own right. Why should Canada be bound to a British ruler? Moreover, why should Canada follow ancient rules of primogeniture passed by a foreign government?
The Crown, Priscilla pointed out, has presided over some highly disturbing aspects of Canada’s history. Over a million Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools run chiefly by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. First Nations youngsters were ripped away from their parents, language and community and sent to live in harsh conditions designed to rob them of their culture. An estimated 10-15% died while in the care of these government-sanctioned institutions. Queen Victoria presided over Canada during much of this period. Perhaps, then, her successor, the Queen today, should apologize for the Monarchy’s role in this abysmal tragedy.
Continuing the abolitionist position, Sheila Neysmith contended that doing away with the Monarchy would pave the way for a “made in Canada” head of state. That office might take many forms. It might be a president, separate from the head of government, who would be elected or appointed. Having a British monarch might have made sense when Canada was in its infancy, a nation born of two founding nations. But that is no longer the Canadian reality or experience. Contemporary Canada has a rich diverse culture made up of peoples from all over the world and it is time to move away from a British ruler.
The opposing side was led by Chris Marston. He focused on the Monarchy’s longevity, ceremonial importance and its symbolism as an institution that rises above the politics of governing and therefore unites the nation. Noting the Monarchy’s 900-year history, Chris contended that “constitutional monarchy is brilliant,” providing an important ceremonial figure, the symbol of our nation. That person can allow us to celebrate good times and outstanding achievements, affirm our best aspirations and convey comfort and hope during difficult times.
The final debater, Greg King, outlined a series of practical problems. Doing away with the Monarchy in Canada would be no mean feat. It would require the approval of the federal parliament and all provincial parliaments. A lengthy and time-consuming process, this endeavour would take focus and energy away from other pressing issues such as the economy and reconciliation with the First Nations. Relations with the latter groups would be thrown into confusion since the treaties enacted by the various First Nations were with the Crown.
Many of the nations that enjoy the highest standards of living are constitutional monarchies (e.g. Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and, of course, the United Kingdom). So, Greg asked, what would be the alternative to Monarchy?
Participants raised a number of issues. Some were amusing, e.g. if we were to abolish the Monarchy, what would happen to Queen Victoria Day? On the other hand, some contended that the current royal family seems dysfunctional (the Queen herself excluded). Some questioned the costs of maintaining the infrastructure of Monarchy federally and provincially as well as its outdated character. Others wondered if the Crown represents a unifying force across various nations as in the member states of the British Commonwealth.
Many thanks to the moderator – Linda Tu – and the debaters – Priscilla Platt, Sheila Neysmith, Greg King, Chris Marsden – who took the time to prepare excellent presentations, answered questions, clarified stands and carefully defended positions. It was a delightful hour and a half contemplating the future that might be Canada’s.
At the end of the debate, another poll was taken. Results favoured the abolitionists: 20 for abolition; 12 opposed; 6, undecided.
Academy Fall Forum - Adding Nature to Toronto’s Landscape
Ellen Schwartzel, current president of the Toronto Field Naturalists (TFN), presented some important, well-documented and timely issues in the fourth Fall forum. Her background in the Environmental Commission of Ontario, including four years as Deputy Commissioner, provided her with significant insights into the role of nature in our urban life.
The TFN works to connect people with nature in Toronto by offering 140 guided walks each year, doing field work to control invasive species, cleaning up ravines and generally acting as an advocate to help people understand, enjoy and protect Toronto’s green spaces. Such work is
a challenge as Toronto grows at a rate of 130,000 people per year, with a projected population of over 10 million by 2046.
Ellen made a persuasive case for more nature in Toronto. The green spaces in Toronto include natural corridors like the Humber, Don and Rouge watersheds, collectively part of the Northern Carolinian Zone, which is one of the most diverse and fragile ecoregions in Canada. Over 360 species of migratory birds have been documented, with 39 considered at risk, and with these birds particularly dependent on wetlands like Ashbridges Bay Marsh, now much diminished in size. Moreover, natural spaces have an impact on climate change. Toronto’s urban forest
absorbs carbon dioxide to store carbon. Local nature outings, as compared to travel, lower the carbon footprint in all seasons and natural lands act as buffers to absorb floodwaters. A graphic of carbon footprints in the Toronto area showed that urban sprawl is not the answer to our climate crisis; the denser urban core of the city is in general “greener” than the suburbs.
Ellen also described the relationship between nature and mental health, suggesting that the immune system, blood pressure, mood and sleep could all be improved with increased access to nature.
Maintaining parkland is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of growth and cost of land acquisition, but there have been some successes. The development of the Leslie Street Spit into Tommy Thompson Park has produced more than 500 hectares of natural space. The Evergreen Brickworks, Corktown Common and The Meadoway in Scarborough have transformed desolate areas into meadowlands and walkways. The Port Lands and Don Mouth Naturalization and Humber Bay Park Revitalization projects are well under way.
Ellen also presented some controversial proposals for adding nature: modification of Toronto’s five city-owned golf courses, changes to large cemeteries like Mount Pleasant and diversion of development funds intended for public art. She finally suggested some ideas for “nudging nature along,” including setting municipal targets for nature, earmarking development charges for nature restoration and encouraging volunteer groups to maintain nature patches. Moreover, significant progress could be attained by stronger follow-through on the many existing city strategies such as the “Parkland Strategy,” “Ravine Strategy,” “Biodiversity Strategy” and
An interesting discussion followed Ellen’s presentation that included issues like Metrolinx, the “monetization” of Ontario Place, golf courses and public art. Participants were invited to seek more information and perhaps join the organization at www.torontofieldnaturalists.org. And all of us were urged to become more aware of the importance of nature in our urban lives.
Academy Fall Forum -Until I Smile at You: The Ruth Lowe Story: How One Girl’s Heartbreak Electrified Frank Sinatra’s Fame
This forum was presented by Tom Sandler and Peter Jennings. Tom, Ruth Lowe's son, was born in Toronto in 1950; he is a self-taught photographer. Peter is a creative, non-fiction writer.
On August 12, 2012, Tom and Peter attended a fundraising tribute in Port Carling, Ontario to mark Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday. Tom sang his mom's song, “I'll Never Smile Again.” Tom said to Peter, “You are going to write a book about my mother, Ruth Lowe.” He wanted her amazing contributions to be fully recognized in Canada. The result - Peter is the author of the biography Until I Smile at You.
Ruth's father died in Toronto during the depression, leaving his wife and two daughters. On his death, Ruth said, “I'll never smile again.”
She had the gift of music. She took a job at a Toronto music store to support her mom and sister. She played the piano to demonstrate the music to the customers.
Ina Ray Hutton's Melodears, a famous American all-girl jazz band, played summers at the Toronto Bandstand. They needed a piano player. Ruth was suggested; she joined the band and toured on the road.
In 1938, at the age of 23, Ruth married Harold Cohen, a music publicist, in Chicago; sadly, he died one year later.
Ruth poured out her heart in writing both the lyrics and tune for “I'll Never Smile Again.” The song was played on CBC Canada in 1939 before it became a big hit.
Tommy Dorsey was given a copy of the record and eventually decided to have his dance band play the song. A young singer, Frank Sinatra, was brought in to sing it with the band! Ruth and Frank became friends. She was the only woman who wrote for Frank, the first woman songwriter to break into the big boy band scene. The song was Sinatra's first hit.
Frank called Ruth when he needed another song for a 1944 NYCity/NBC radio show; he needed it the next morning! She had some lyrics but needed a tune. Two other musician friends helped Ruth finish the song. It was entitled “Put Your Dreams Away for Another Day” and was used as the closing song for Frank's radio series. The song was also played at the end of Frank Sinatra's funeral.
Ruth Lowe wrote songs about love, happiness and sadness; she was a true romantic. She was born in Toronto in 1914 and passed away in 1981. Thank you to Tom and Peter for an engrossing look at the life of a true trailblazer.