Tag 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.

like a glass of lemonade

I feel like I’ve been in a learning desert for a while. If you’ve spoken to me in the last few months or read any of my posts about teacher’s college, you know that I have been struggling to stay positive about my future in education. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be a teacher more than ever before, and I think I’ll be damn good at it if given the opportunity (Ahem, potential employers: PRETTY PLEASE GIVE ME THE OPPORTUNITY!). Most of my inspiration lately has come not from my courses (which ended last week!) but from the amazing exchanges and ideas I’ve been witnessing through my growing online networks.

I try to find the time and energy to get involved in some of the educational moments taking place around Toronto. Today was one of those instances, and it was truly refreshing. The Canadian Centre for Diversity’s Young Leader’s Forum was like a glass of lemonade for my soul. I’ve volunteered as a facilitator for the YLF for a couple of years now, and I always leave feeling energized, optimistic and inspired by the young people that I meet.


A quick overview of the YLF: Schools from the GTA and beyond send 6-8 delegates to a conference centre in downtown Toronto for a day of learning and dialogue. Students come together with the common purpose of working together to combat stigma and discrimination. This year’s theme was “That’s so…HATE.” The day begins with a panel of young people who have experienced discrimination, sharing their stories and openly fielding questions from the audience and from the moderator. I missed the morning session this year, but in previous years, I have always been moved by how honest the Q&A is and by how much both panelists and audience members are willing to share with a roomful of strangers. After lunch there is an interactive improv performance from Toronto Playback Theatre, and then the group breaks up into small workshops. I was responsible for facilitating one of these workshops with 12 students, each one from a different school. My group included public and private schools, faith-based and secular, urban and rural. Students ranged from grades 9-12, and came from different ethnic, socio-economic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

My co-facilitator this year was a superstar – Ziadh Rabbani – a recent university grad, artist, and food security enthusiast. During one of our activities, Ziadh told the group that in Arabic, his name means abundance. The group agreed that his personality reflects his name’s meaning – he brought his overflowing  energy and enthusiasm to the table, and I would be happy to work with him again in the future.

The CCD provides each workshop group with a number of engagement strategies to choose from that provoke reflection, dialogue, debate, and open questioning. After going over (and putting our signatures on) the norms and creating a safe and positive space, we asked students to partner up based on any commonality and get to know each other. The partnerships they formed were based on a number of different commonalities – one pair looked at each other and said, “I’m brown. You’re brown. Let’s talk,” and another chatted about music, while yet another discovered they were both into science.  They then conducted a 3-question interview, sharing their names, something they are proud of, and something quirky about themselves.

We used the “Extended Nametag” activity, which led to discussions about labeling, bullying, exclusion, and the challenges of creating a diverse and equitable society. To wrap up, students were given a poem template (with prompts like “I am…I feel…I worry…I wonder…”). This provided the most moving moment of my afternoon, wherein a girl broke down in tears before reading her poem, sharing with the group that she had overcome an eating disorder and was worried that her struggles might not be behind her for good. Her poem was spare and heartfelt, and she read it while choking back tears. The group’s reaction was amazing – there were hugs, tissues offered, hands held – all this from a group that just met two hours earlier.

The YLF reminds me of what is possible in education. As a teacher, I’ll do my best to push the curriculum (and the desks) aside once in a while and make space for those important moments where students can talk about what really matters to them. Young people are so optimistic about their ability to change the world, and when you hear them speak, it’s hard not to agree with them. I feel refreshed and ready to being my internship on a positive note. Thanks for the spiritual lemonade, kids!

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.

Lesson Plan: The Ward – from Slum to City Hall

Few Torontonians today know that the location of our current City Hall was once an overcrowded slum known as “The Ward.” In the early decades of the 20th Century,  the area bordered by College, Queen, Yonge, and University was Toronto’s worst slum, a landing pad for the poor immigrants who worked to build this city.

The district was a jumbled mix of  family homes, rooming houses, small businesses, and restaurants. The Eaton’s factory and annex was at the South-East end of The Ward and employed many of The Ward’s residents. Landlords took advantage of peoples’ desperation, and rents were higher than most of the inhabitants’ wages, forcing extended families to cohabit and take in boarders. Sometimes the Health Department would condemn a property, but because demand was so high and the Department didn’t have the resources to follow-up, the landlord would soon rent the space out again without bringing it up to standard.

In 1913, Toronto General Hospital razed part of The Ward to construct a large, new hospital.  At this time, according to a report by Charles Hastings, head of the Department of Helath, there were over 3,000 households in The Ward, most of which were occupied by 2-6 families.

The inhabitants of the ward in the early 20th Century were immigrants mainly from Italy and Eastern European countries. The largest group living in The Ward were European Jews who immigrated between 1890-19320.  By the mid-1930’s, The Ward had become Toronto’s first Chinatown.

1913: A gril stands on Elizabeth Street, view of Old City Hall in teh background

A View of Old City Hall from 21 Elizabeth Street, May 15, 1913 (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 187)

Lesson Plan Overview

I designed this lesson plan, for a Grade 10 Canadian History course, as an assignment for my OISE History class, around the critical question: Was living in the city worth it at this time?

In this lesson, students will discover what it was like to live in a Canadian city around the time of World War I. They will uncover the push and pull factors that brought various groups to Canadian cities, and the social and technological factors that allowed cities to sustain population growth during this period. Students will learn about “The Ward,” a notorious Toronto slum, through an examination of primary and secondary sources. Finally, by looking at Canadian urban life from different perspectives, students will judge whether the benefits of living in Canadian cities outweighed the challenges.

The complete lesson plan and a slideshow of primary documents (photographs, newspaper articles and other ephemera) are available as PDF’s for download here:  Growth of Canadian CitiesGrowth of Canadian Cities – Primary Documents.