Marvelous Martina’s Party

Toronto Inspires when a community celebrates a little girl’s bravery.

By Martina’s mom, Patricia Velasco

Children's celebration in the parkWhen we came from Argentina to Canada, we never anticipated that we would find these fantastic and admirable friends.

Our little daughter, Martina, is a sweet 8 year old, who on September 2012 was diagnosed with a brain tumor, for the third time. After chemotherapy treatment and surgery, followed by radiation treatment, she lost her hair. Martina had lived a hard year. However, she never lost her enthusiasm for school, her passion for playing with her friends or her energy for her Saturday jazz classes.

At school, Martina’s teacher was involved and learned about the consequences of this disease and how Martina could feel every day after the treatment. Sick Kids Hospital assigned a nurse who went to school and explained the details to her class. Her school friends helped her a lot. We saw happiness in her face when she arrived at school every day.

At the end of June, we received an invitation from one of Martina’s friend’s mother for a play date in the park after school. I accepted, but when I asked about the details, she just encouraged me to go and added that we will have a fun time with our kids.

I picked up my girls from school that afternoon. I perceived something strange in the atmosphere because everybody told me that they would see me at the park.

The moment when we arrived at the park is an unforgettable picture. The landscape lit by incredible spring sunshine was filled with mothers, fathers, teachers, grandparents and all the kids from the three grade 2 classes, and more. I could see a lot of hands waving. I could hear a lot of kids shouting. I could feel my tears on my cheeks, and, in a moment, we were receiving countless hugs and kisses. Two tables were prepared with mountains of food and beverages, and a big cake in the middle of the table cloth that said: “with love for Martina”. On the benches, probably 2 or 3, they had posted a large banner made by grade 7’s and 8’s. Around this message: “Marvellous Martina” was stamped the hand prints of all her friends in different colours.

Martina's familyAll of them were there for our little girl, to celebrate her courage, her integrity, her happiness, and what her optimism shows us each day. Extra surprises were waiting for Martina. Her little friends had prepared a serving plate signed with their names, gave us a voucher for a weekend in Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark, and made a donation in her name to Sick Kids Hospital. A few days later, we received a lovely picture book that makes us remember those amazing and fantastic moments in which all of them demonstrated to us that we have their support and that we will never be alone.

This is our incredible community and our extraordinary experience. “Everything which comes from the bottom of the heart goes straight to the heart and stay there for ever.”


Torontonians’ warmth inspires foreign student

Toronto Inspires when kindness abounds.

Story by Fangying Liao, a foreign student who when studying in Toronto goes by her English name Doris.

Fangying and friends visiting Toronto to study English

Fangying (right) and friends visiting Toronto to study English

I stayed in Toronto for 4 weeks in August, 2013 to attend a summer session at U of T. If you asked me what was the most special experience during my one-month stay, I would answer that it was the strangers who warmed me anytime, everywhere.

My first experience happened during my flight transfer in Vancouver. It was 11 p.m. when I landed at the airport, waiting for another plane to take me to Toronto. I was feeling crazy over the delayed flight, thinking that my life could not be worse. Then an overturned orange juice proved that my life could get even worse. You know like when a shabby house is loaded with a huge amount of things, and adding a straw can make it collapse. In the lounge, there was only one old lady. She walked over to me, smiling, and asking, “Do you need some napkins?”. At that moment, my heart was melting. Though I had experienced strangers’ helpfulness for twenty years, she was totally different to me for it was my first time encountering an unfamiliar country, full of unfamiliar language and unfamiliar faces. All of the experiences were different. Her small act of caring meant a lot.

Continue reading

Would-be employer finds newcomer work

Toronto Inspires when immigrant receives unexpected job search help.

Story shared by Myle Khuuh.

Myle KhuuhWhen I came to Canada, it was in January 1989. That was the coldest weather during the year. At the beginning I didn’t like it here, because I fell down in front of the supermarket on the second day. But, I liked it after because I met a person who made me feel welcomed.

I arrived in Canada after eight months of applying. I finally got my social insurance card and was looking for a job as a printing press operator. Following my first interview, I didn’t get the job. For the second one, I called to ask for the job. I don’t know if I was lucky or if I just had my job certificate. The man on the phone said yes. He asked if I had a car, and I said I didn’t. Then, he told me to go to the Kipling subway passenger pick up section tomorrow. He would come to pick me up. The next day I arrived at the station. He was already there. I saw a 55-60 year old man with gray hair and eye glasses. He approached me and asked me, “Are you here for the job interview?”. I said yes. Then he drove me to his shop. We had a conversation for a while, and I found out he was the boss of a small printing shop. Continue reading

Harmony brings community back into Toronto City Hall

Toronto Inspires when 70+ voices collectively croon.

Post by Lynda Chubak, a newbie to the community choir scene.

2TOCouncilMasthead2013As November at City Hall has been anything but harmonious, the fourth installment of Nightswimming Theatre’s five-part interactive new work brought welcome amicability to Council Chamber. This “pop-up” choir experience shared by more than seventy singing enthusiasts, and led by Dora Award winning music director Reza Jacobs and roots/jazz inspired vocalist Jani Lauzon, explored the political aspect of Why We Are Here! through singing and sound.

cityhall1Entering the restricted area normally reserved for Council Members feels rather surreptitious, as if we’re infringing on a distant colleague’s personal space. We scout out seats by looking at name plates at the stations assigned to councillors. Some choose a spot that aligns with their political affiliations. Others are more intent on expropriation. The Mayor’s end-aisle lounger immediately gets scooped up. While waiting, we goof around: swiveling in our leather chairs, testing out the Yes/No voting buttons.

From behind us, Jani Lauzon’s voice calmly emerges, prompting a unified hush, as she gracefully repeats an a capella refrain from a well-known traditional folk/gospel song. Continue reading

Offence/Defence: An artistic examination of fences

Toronto Inspires when three artists’ distinctive perspectives on barriers, real or otherwise, seamlessly dovetail into a cohesive exhibition that delivers heart, politics and whimsy.

Post by Lynda Chubak, avid Toronto arts fan


Offence/Defence is a dynamic examination of our relationship with fences and their demarcation of the territory between “us” or “them”. These complex ideas are presented in the abstract through works that are easily relatable to everyday experience, yet simultaneously provide a variegated analytic framework from which we can (re)consider our own relationships with and responses to barriers.

Offense/Defense runs until November 30, 2013. All are welcomed! Milton Centre for the Arts, Holcim Gallery

A glimpse of the artists and their work


Kal Honey

Kal’s 20-year background as a graphic designer underpins his current artistic practise that combines utilitarian materials and a bold sensibility. His works are frank and meticulously hand-crafted, with a manufactured precision. Often, they are embedded with levity. Like many of us, he has mixed reactions to fences, understanding the comfort of privately chilling in one’s own fortified backyard, without feeling the possible obligation of polite chit chat. Conversely, he recognizes the community building aspects of open gardens or hip-high separations that encouraged neighbourly engagement common to his parents’ generation. His works explore this kind of dichotomy through external manifestations: fences, by-law signs and a flag. Continue reading

Cookies, more cookies, and coffee.

Toronto Inspires when the traditions of a new community become your own.

Post by Dina May, a recent newcomer from Russia

Cookies and coffee. Cup of coffee

These are the most favorite treats. Have you ever tried to count coffee stores while going anywhere? There are hundreds of them! It is some kind of Toronto tradition to drink coffee with or without cookies wherever you may be. Writing this article was inspired by my teacher. She brought homemade oatmeal cookies to English class one day and treated all of us. For me, eating a cookie was a good method to awaken my brain.

After browsing the internet with the question: “What does coffee mean for Canadians?”, I found some interesting statistics (About Coffee). The proportion of Canadian adults drinking coffee within the past day has risen from 62% in 2009 to 65% in 2010. This proportion shows that more than half of adults drink coffee!!! Also, coffee drinkers within the 35 to 64 year-old age category continue to consume more coffee daily, on average, compared to those in younger or older age categories.

Before my immigration to Canada I was not a coffee lover. Drinking it a few times in a week was normal. I did not have a “coffee” craving. But after moving to Toronto, my coffee habits have changed. I don’t even remember the first place where I rediscovered this “narcotic” drink. I call it narcotic because after drinking a cup of coffee I feel an alertness, a jolting of my bodily system; new ideas are born in my head. It is not a secret that caffeine works by changing the brain chemistry. It blocks the action of a natural brain chemical that slows down the transmission of nerve impulses. After my first time drinking coffee, came the second, and again, and again. I love this drink! It’s my source of inspiration.

Reading Afterwards, I found the most enjoyable place for drinking coffee and, at the same time, reading a book. It was Chapters Indigo on the Queensway. Chapters is the biggest bookstore with a Starbucks franchise in it. From time to time, I love to come here in the morning, to take in some fashion magazines with a cup of coffee or cappuccino and to get new interesting facts and news about world. This is the place where one can relax. Being in Chapters makes me think that I am removed from daily life. I am on vacation. Also, people come for communication, for savoring coffee drinks and tweeting news. The location within the store is very comfortable. It has a few entrances. Entering from one, you’ll find yourself in the space surrounded by many interesting Indigo things, such as funny cups, pans, notes and so on. Coming from another entrance, you’ll be in front of Starbucks. The best feature of this store is that you can read any magazine and not pay for it.

canada-153129_640I found this place very inspirational. There are two features that make it so – coffee and books. I think most people love coffee because it gives such a boost. Thinking about it, I’ve decided that it will be fair to add it to Canada’s symbols – such as the maple leaf, the beaver, and the maple leaf tartan. One more deserves to be a Canadian symbol – a cup of coffee with cookies :).

Inspirational Takeaway: Adopting a new habit can be addicting.

Toronto cycling transported to Brazil

Toronto Inspires when local cycling initiates a change 8,400 km away.

Post by Edson Scharf, a marketing professor living and working in Brazil.

Family Biking

Family Biking

As I loved Toronto the first time that I visited in 2010, I came back the next year with my family. All of us loved this amazing piece of earth that receives tourists in its own way: a little bit distance, but with a big desire to help us to be happy while in Toronto. One of the things that inspired me most were the bicycles. Despite its millions of people, there weren’t only cars on the streets. It was absolutely sensational. Bicycles are very popular. When I saw this way of life, I thought that here I am living in a little city in Brazil (Blumenau), with its many green spaces, and I have forgotten to ride my bicycle. It´s not fun. Because of my trip to Toronto, when I got home I got out my bicycle, my colorful clothes and my will to start, once again, enjoying long tours around my city. Soon, my sons will join me because biking unites the whole family. This is a legacy of my wonderful trip to Toronto.

Inspirational Takeaway: Notice a positive habit.  Next, make it your own.

Painting commissioned to capture Toronto memories.

Painting commissioned to capture Toronto memories.

P.S. Edson commissioned the adjacent painting as a keepsake of the memories of his trips to the city.

Families break into chain-linked tennis courts.

Toronto Inspires when neigbours choose to (re)claim public spaces.

Post shared by Lynda Chubak

For more than a decade, through my home-office window, I’ve watched the bustle taking place within the chain-linked encased tennis courts belonging to a Toronto high school. Designed with a phys-ed program in mind, the four courts have been supplemented with regulation basketball hoops making them noisy, ball-thumping, teenage-trash-talking zones a few times a week during school hours. On pleasant days, at lunch or after school, the courts might also see some action. These are the designated times when the “permitted” users of these tax-funded facilities are welcome. After hours, the “others” are locked out.

Learning to ride a bikeFunnily, the restricted-access courts are most populated during weekends.  Trikes, training wheels and parents running alongside tippy cyclists abound. Frequent street hockey games ensue as a net dragged into the courts is left for weeks on end. Dogs freed of their leashes chase after balls. Clusters of neighbours with young families casually chat, while their kids safely burn off some energy.

Fenced in Fenced outNormally law-abiding citizens have snipped and crumpled back the barrier to reclaim this community resource. Over the years, whenever the fence’s surreptitious opening is repaired, community members eventually cut their way back into what they feel is their right to public space.

For a thought-provoking examination of fences as physical and psychological barriers, visit Offence/Defence. The art exhibition, on until November 30, is a dynamic examination of our relationship with fences and their demarcation of the territory between “us” or “them”. These complex ideas are presented in the abstract through works that are easily relatable to everyday experience, yet simultaneously provide a variegated analytic framework from which we can (re)consider our own relationships with and responses to barriers.

Offence/DefenceArt Exhibition: Offence/Defence. Until November 30. All are welcome! Milton Centre for the Arts, Holcim Gallery

Inspiration Takeaway: Discover new perspectives on everyday life through art.

Running coach Paul Miller recasts himself into “Iron” man

Toronto Inspires when passion and perseverance intersect.

Story shared by Lynda Chubak

Paul Miller

Paul Miller

You’d be hard-pressed to find an aspiring runner in Toronto’s High Park community that hasn’t received an encouraging nudge from neighbourhood running coach Paul Miller. After all, during the past decade or so, he has guided close to 2,000 race-completion hopefuls at the local Running Room. His training clinics are consistently packed-not only because he is a remarkably dedicated coach, but also because his own transformational story resonates.

In 2001, Paul’s comfort zone was better visualized as a sectional sofa than a patch of pavement. That was about to change. In April, an ex-girlfriend talked him into keeping her company by joining an upcoming Learn to Run clinic. Ten weeks later, after persevering with the program, in spite of running in cut-offs and cross-trainers, he and Gina crossed the 5K finish line at the Nissan Toronto Challenge in 0:36:37. Reflecting back, he recalls describing running “five whole kilometers” to a neighbour as unbelievable. That was also about to change. Read more about Paul!

Table tennis serves up friendship

Toronto Inspires when playing a game sparks a sense of belonging.

Dina z_21bcf6b5Shared by Dina May, a recent newcomer from Russia

When you come to new country you start your realization from a new page. It’s a great chance to build your new life track. Some consider this difficult. Others dive into this opportunity headfirst.

From the beginning, I felt fear speaking with someone. It’s a common feeling among new immigrants. The fear of looking obscure vanished when I started to play table tennis. It happened during the second month of my living in Toronto. I found (what turned out to be) the best social club in my area through the internet and decided to check out the place, which is named My Table Tennis Club. When I came to the club, I saw a big space with good equipment, 12 new courts with tables, a table tennis robot and  special flooring. This club impressed me from my first view. Not only was the club good, but so was the manager, Gareth. He met me with a wide smile, and his sparkling eyes told me that he was very glad to see a new young woman in his club. He gave me a tour around the club and instructions about membership. After chatting, he told me that I should not be hesitant with my language, because there is no one who speaks English well. ”Just me”, he said kiddingly. 🙂 Gareth came to Canada a long time ago from the UK, and he knows how immigration can sometimes be difficult.

Playing Table TennisAfter giving me a tour, he offered to play a game to see my playing level. When we played, he made jokes, made funny faces, told some stories (even though he knew that I wasn’t understanding his English very well). He created a friendly atmosphere, and inspired me to come to the club every day. The main thing was, when he listened to my story with patience, sometimes correcting me, he gave me confidence in myself. Coming to the club every week has become my favorite activity.

Table Tennis TournamentAfter a short time, I started to play in tournaments. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost, but this is not so important. The important point is that I made many friends from different countries, such as Poland, India, China and so on. While communicating with them, I understood that many of them came to the Canada some time ago, and they got used to living here, speaking a non-native language and enjoying Toronto life. I thought at those moments, if they could do it, I have to too!  I am still going to the club regularly, meeting new people and extending my communication horizon. By offering this example, I am trying to say, if you want to live in this country you should join it. You should be a part of it. Just be free, communicate, play, dance, dream, enjoy life and everything will come to you some day.

Inspirational Takeaway: Dive into your new community.