Category Archives: toronto

My G Day Story

I originally wrote the post below for G Day for Girls, a rite of passage celebration that I am chairing on April 26 in Toronto. We are collecting G Day Stories from women of all ages – if you’d like to submit yours, we’d love to hear it!

And if you’re interested in being a part of this amazing movement, G Day Toronto registration is now open for girls aged 10-12 as well as Champions (parents, aunts, sisters, supporters). Buy tickets online & I’ll see you at #GDayTO!


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The summer I turned twelve, I asked my mom for three things that I had been made to feel were essential for summer camp: an Elita brand training bra, deodorant and a razor. I was flat chested, odorless, and the blonde fuzz on my legs was invisible. But I knew every other girl in my cabin would have these three talismans of maturity, and I was dead set on fitting in.

The odds were already stacked against me. I was a lanky redhead who slept with headgear to straighten out my teeth and a purple fiberglass back-brace to straighten out my spine. I was secure in my friendships at home, but camp was an alternate universe where the girls seemed more mature, more experienced, and somehow simply cooler. At camp I stopped being the funny, smart, quirky and creative kid I was at school. I became full of self doubt, all too aware of my precarious place on the outskirts of coolness. I was equally as afraid of being ignored as I was of being noticed.

My mom nixed all three requests. She told me that shaving would make my leg hair grow back thick and dark. She bought me a no-name training bra, because who needs brand name underwear? And after lecturing me about the connection between deodorant and Alzheimer’s, she sent me to camp with a natural deodorant crystal that spent the summer hidden in my duffel bag while I compulsively sniffed my underarms. I’d rather have Alzheimer’s than have my friends witness me rubbing a crystal on my pits. I was doomed.

That summer, my mom also packed me a box of pads…just in case. The pads came home as neglected as the deodorant crystal. This happened for two more summers. While the girls in my cabin grew hairier and bustier and started sneaking out at night to visit their boyfriends, I lay strapped into my purple fiberglass prison and wondered when I would ‘become a woman.’

Finally, in the fall of grade ten, I noticed a rusty brownish stain in my underwear. When I told my mom she slapped me across the face. She explained that when she informed her mother that she got her period, in the bleachers of Expo ‘67 in Montreal, my grandmother slapped her and replied, “Mazel tov, so do I.” And with this family tradition burning on my cheek, I finally entered my womanhood.

Whatever that meant.

I wasn’t sure how this made me any different than I had been the day before. I had already had a Bat Mitzvah to celebrate my womanhood in front of my community, but it was mostly just a big dance party. I was already taller than most adult women, and I had graduated to a real bra. I had no new status, no new privileges or responsibilities; just a new dull pain that spread from my belly around to my lower back and down my legs – was this what it was all about?

I remained disconnected from my cycle throughout my teenage years and all the way into my thirties. Only recently  have I started to connect with my feminine energy and my female body. I understand and embrace the creative power of this cycle that unites me with my sisters all around the world. I accept the way my mood echoes the moon. I have wonderfully close friendships with other women that are based not on dressing or acting alike, but on how vulnerable we are allowed to be in each other’s presence.  And I use a deodorant crystal.

gdat toronto square photo


a lesson for city living

Back home in Toronto after my Australian odyssey, I’ve been spending hours unpacking and sorting through the ephemera that I’ve collected here and there. After a day spent meandering lazily around my hood (coffee at ideal in Kensington, picnic in Trinity Bellwoods, more coffee and wandering through the Annex) I came home and sat down to continue shelving and drawering and filtering through my junk from Oz.

I came across this watercolour sketch that I remember painting one sunny afternoon on the top floor of the Berkelouw bookstore & cafe in Newtown. A jazz trio kept it mellow and a coffee kept me alert, and I read this quote and felt inspired.

“When we awaken to the artificial separation that would have us see the environment as out there, rather than a part of us…then it is so much easier to know that when we poison the water, air or soil, we poison ourselves”
– Katrina Shields

I think it’s an important lesson for my present situation. Unadulterated and immersive experiences in nature in its pure form are less accessible to me here than they were in Australia, and it’ll take a bit more effort to erase the artificial separation. I’ll try to keep in mind that the environment is not “out there,” it’s us, we’re it, and it’s time to inhabit that idea…even amidst the radiant white hot concrete mess of a Toronto summer.

grade 9 geo takes to the streets

Now that classes are over, I’ve been taking more time to ride my bike and wander around Toronto’s vibrant neighbourhoods. Thanks to the creativity and critical thinking of my grade nine students, I’ve been seeing the streets that I’ve roamed for years through a new lens.

Spadina Remix - then and Now by AldenC on Flickr

The final summative for my Geography class was a neighbourhood field study. Students had to conduct field research as well as traditional research exploring an issue of their choice within a Toronto neighbourhood. They had to write an individual research paper and present a creative group oral presentation.

In groups, the students chose a neighbourhood in Toronto – the only limiting factor was that they could not choose an area that any of their group members live in.  Each student chose an issue in their neighbourhood, asked a question and came up with a thesis  which they supported with demographic evidence from the City of Toronto’s neighbourhood profiles as well as qualitative evidence from their field study and support from sources including Toronto newspapers, real estate boards, and local blogs like spacing and Torontoist.

Questions ranged from “Does the name ‘Little Italy’ accurately represent the culture of the neighbourhood?” to “Why are homes in Forest Hill so much more expensive than similar homes in the suburbs?” to “What kind of person would want to live on the Island?” One students studied the demographics of the waterfront condo-land, asking, “Why is the population of the Harbourfront community growing so rapidly despite a  low birthrate?” I encouraged a student to look at a contemporary issue, and she ended up researching the new Bixi program and hypothesize about its success and its potential impact on tourism, commerce, and transportation in her neighbourhood.

When I was in high school, a flashy presentation involved funny hats & ties and maybe – maybe – a neon bristol board sign. Today, you ask grade nine students to do an oral presentation, and you get a full on travelogue. I was very impressed with some of the presentations! One group studied Queen St. W. and wrote a song, accompanied by a music video showcasing the neighbourhood’s attractions. This group, who studied Cabbagetown/Regent Park conducted interviews with locals, discussing issues like safety, gentrification, and the preservation of heritage homes:

This summative was a great way to get students out of their own bubble and onto the streets of Toronto. It forced them to pay closer attention to the stores, parks, hospitals, homes, and sidewalks of their city. Students gained an appreciation for the planning that goes into a neighbourhood, and for the multitude of factors and stakeholders  that work together to make a neighbourhood safe, clean, vibrant and liveable. So now when I wander these streets, I find myself counting doctors’ offices, looking for available parking, and scanning signage for languages other than English. It’s true – teachers really do learn from their students!

“(insert quote here)”

Tomorrow afternoon I am going to schlepp up to school (I haven’t even begun teaching at a Jewish school and already I’m peppering my speech pretty heavily with yiddishisms) to decorate my classroom. If there’s one thing I’m good at – besides, I hope, teaching – it’s making a blank room feel like home. After living in my apartment for a month, it looked like I had been here for a decade. When I taught ESL this summer, the first activity I did was an acronym poem that involved multicoloured construction paper and collage. We taped the colourful poems all over the chalky drywall and the room was instantly transformed. We nearly forgot that we were in a former chocolate factory surrounded by heavy construction…nearly.

But that’s a story for another night.

I don’t have my own classroom this year. I am sharing two classrooms with a number of other teachers, so I have to be respectful of their space, but I’m hoping they won’t mind a little colour, some thought provoking quotes, a little mind/eye candy. I ordered a Toronto neighbourhood map poster from Ork.

Part of my mission this year – as a geography teacher but also as a bit of a personal crusade – is to get these quasi-suburban kids to love their city! I think this poster (and my nonstop Toronto chauvinism) will help.

I have a couple more posters – a nice one on the UN Declaration of Human Rights that I got as swag from the recent Facing History and Ourselves seminar.

Tonight, cooling down from a pleasant nighttime bike ride to Trinity Bellwoods with Heather, I plopped on my living room floor and wrote out a bunch of quotes that I want to hang around my classrrooms. I found them flipping through some of my favourite books or surfing online. Some of them relate to English or to literature. Some are social-science oriented. Some geography. All on colourful construction paper.

Here are a few of them:

“History is the gradual instant” (Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces)

“Public parks hazy with subtropical memory, a city built in the bowl of a prehistoric lake.” (Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces)

“One can look deeply for meaning or one can invent it.” (Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces)

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought” (Albert Seznt-Gyorgyi)

“How we humans came to be the way we are is far less important than how we should act now to get out of the mess we have made for ourselves” (Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope)

“Before the real city could be seen it had to be imagined” (Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion)

“The first sentence of every novel should be: “Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.”” (Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion)

“…a technique common to liars and writers of fiction: to give credibility to invented details by blending them with factual ones.” (Michael Chabon, Maps and Legends)

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.  (William Shakespeare, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”)

“If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free minds is not a barking dog, to be tethered to a ten-foot chain” (Adlai E. Stevenson)

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” (Galileo Galilei)

“The only possible conclusion the social sciences can draw is: some do, some don’t. “(Ernest Rutherford)

“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.” (Stephen King)

“Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them.” (Douglas Coupland, Generation X)

‘There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.” (Salvador Dali)

and finally…

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

(Ferris Bueller)

Teachers: which quotes do you put on your walls?

TDSB condemns Israeli Apartheid Week

The Toronto District School board has released an official statement condemning Israeli Apartheid Week. Last week, trustees Josh Matlow (St. Paul’s) and James Pasternak (York Centre) requested that the Director of the Canada’s largest school board take a clear stand against IAW activities in TDSB schools, arguing that his request was in line with TDSB’s equity policy.

Today Chris Spence, TDSB’s Director of Education, released the following response:

“Our educational goal includes the building of understanding, trust and co-operation among groups and individuals in the TDSB. The event called “Israeli Apartheid Week” has the effect of fostering ill-will and disharmony among groups and individuals. The Government of Ontario and the opposition parties have unanimously adopted a resolution condemning “Israeli Apartheid Week”. The Toronto District School Board therefore affirms that “Israeli Apartheid Week” and its activities are not permitted to take place on school or Board property, or as part of any activity under the jurisdiction of the TDSB.”

Let’s promote peace and dialogue in Toronto schools instead. This way, when students graduate and move on to the university and college campuses where IAW gains momentum year after year, they might not be so quick to blindly choose sides and condemn Israel simply because it’s the cool thing for budding leftists to do.