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Eglington Ave West – a racial metaphor…

June 10, 2011

I’m not sure what the locals refer to the Bathurst and Eglington Ave neighbourhood of Toronto as, and a quick websearch indicates that the local BIA calls it York-Eglington (which I’m sure no one else does), but to me – as I’m driving through – it seems to be part of the same Forest Hill community one finds a little east of there.

Upper class, mostly white, expensive restaurants.

I found myself travelling west on Eglington – because I was headed out to Eglington and Trethewey to pick up some books from a man who was looking to unload his collection. I had not previously been west of the Allan Expressway  on Eglington in all my time in Toronto as I had never previously had a need (for those who don’t know, I’m travelling in the mid-upper west side of Toronto’s core, and I live/work in the lower east end of Toronto).

What I discovered – at least right along Eglington – is that the Allan Expressway is the great 6-lane boundary between white, upper-middle class Toronto, and Black Toronto.

These local anomalies are no surprise to the people who live there – this place no more than how Gerrard Street East divides the world of Regent Park (the poorest non-aboriginal community in Canada) from Cabbagetown – one of the wealthiest.

Or the Don Valley Parkway to the east, separating Regent Park from my rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood now designated as South Riverdale/Leslieville.

But what pisses me off is how the further west along Eglington one goes (and the more working class the street becomes as it descends – economically speaking – to Jane Street) the more deteriorated, pot-holed, cracked, and just generally shitty Eglington became.

I don’t drive in the city much, and I’m sure there are worse streets around, but I found it an apt metaphor that in what would be generally understood to be a poorer, working-class, generally Black neighbourhood, they would have a shitty street to show for it.

Sidebar: A couple of years ago when I was working on College Street in Little Italy, I couldn’t help but notice that when the College/Carlton/Gerrard Street streetcar track replacement project began, the high-end restaurant district of Little Italy had their track replaced first and in the spring – with everything ready to go for the summer busy season; while the very low-end Gerrard Street of East Chinatown and Little India had their tracks replaced through the summer. Perhaps it was a coincidence. But I doubt it.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Eglington, east of the Allan, cutting through as it does the Forest Hill community would reflect the high quality expectations of its inhabitants. Smooth. Clean. Well maintained by the city. And that Eglington, west of Allan would be crappy. (It’s still better, I suppose, than the streets I rode in Accra and Lagos.)

And what is life without metaphor?

Even here, in staid old Toronto, where we like to think that there are no race or class divides; where everyone is treated the same. The metaphors reveal what we really think of ourselves, and our communities, and how we spread the tax dollar around…

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