Spring in my neighbourhood


Spring in my neighbourhood

Frances Sedgwick is on a working holiday so here is a ParkTales classic

By Frances Sedgwick
True North Perspective
Frances Sedgwick's keen eye and ear for the human condition reveals the heart and soul of Parkdale in southwest Toronto, one of the country's most turbulent urban areas where the best traditions of human kindness prevail against powerful forces that would grind them down. True North Perspective proudly presents a column by writer Frances Sedgwick. Her critical observation combined with a tender sense of humour will provide you with something to think about ... and something to talk about.

Spring comes to Parkdale. As I walk by the school yard I see the basketball players have returned. In this case mostly Tibetan. There is a large community of people from Tibet in Parkdale.

One young man from Tibet gave me a refresher course in driving and much to his dismay and my delight I failed both tests. Such a gentle young man. He would tell me his problems while I was driving. "You know Fran, what should  I do, my girlfriend used my cell phone to phone Tibet!!" I laughed at this, thinking, in my day we sure never had problems like that — we didn't even have a phone let alone a cell-phone. I smiled to him and said the obvious, "Don't let her use it."
As I looked at the school, Parkdale Collegiate, I thought to myself, this school may not have been here but for the will of the people in the community. I recalled attending a meeting to save this school.

There had been government cutbacks and they were trying to save money by closing schools according to space, student ratio. Real crazy. I recalled the principal saying at that meeting that there were more than 125 languages spoken at the school. I marvelled at this at the time and still do as I look at the school today, seeing the sign "Registration Starts May 1st."

At the meeting to save the school, many graduates returned to support the school. Former students from many nationalities spoke. What a place they had made for themselves in society, all starting from Parkdale Collegiate.

My husband Paul, spoke at that meeting. The principal was so impressed he asked Paul to come back and speak to the students. So when my husband sat in front of that school enjoying the children, it had a special meaning.

I felt tears coming to my eyes today, so proud of my community and it's multiculturalism. One of the most diverse in the world. Yes, in the world. 

I waved at the kids so glad to see them. They remembered me from the summer when I sat my husband down there to watch them play basketball. They all knew his name and took time to talk to him. Their cultures respect the elderly. I smiled as the memories came back of summer and young Vietnamese girls singing us songs. The very same girls learning to ride their first bike. What fun that was. Of the girl from Jamaica braiding all the boy's hair as we sat on the benches. I recalled saying it seemed like a small village in Jamaica. She smiled and said "exactly."

Then I thought of the sad part — she was helping her boyfriend sell drugs. She did it quite openly in front of me, although a little sheepishly. She showed me pictures of her three children by different fathers. So proud she was. I thought, who am I to judge, the children looked healthy and happy. Cultural differences exist. Being in a different country does not change this. Only time and education will.
Next I stopped in at my East Indian corner store for some grapefruit. What an array of different fruit, vegetables, spices, and herbs. I love this since I grew up in old, conservative, Victoria, which at that time was mostly Anglo Saxon and there was not this diversity. I asked a customer to explain the products to me. "What do you do with this? It looks like a cucumber but has prickles." She responded, "Oh, it is called bitter melon and in India it's used to lower your cholesterol." I did try it.
I passed by the Roti Shop and said "Hi." Here two women from Guiana had set up a successful small shop serving curried chicken and rotis.

I paused by the burger place where a black man from Africa had a small shop that sold fish and chips and burgers to the school kids. He was so great. He would say to me, "I only use the best oil, and fresh, and the best, ingredients. After all I am serving our children, our future." 

We talked politics and discovered mutual territory. He wanted to lend me a book by Chomsky about capitalism and it's distructiveness. I thanked him. What an intelligent person he was, and self taught. He said when he had a few hours off he went to book stores to see what was new.

I thought, I am so lucky to be in this neighbourhood. People outside looking in don't see what I see. Maybe because they have prejudices they need to overcome. It's their loss. Such a rich assembly of people, cultures, and achievements.

My Parkdale