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


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.

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.

Chechen Garzni Hovl: The original Rice Krispy square?

Toronto Inspires when Esila Yusupova generously shares her Chechen culture and classic dessert, Garzni Hovl, with ESL classmates.

Chechna dessert Garzni Hovl

Esila with her Chechen dessert Garzni Hovl

Bakers and non-bakers alike know making Rice Krispy squares is a snap. A comparable honey-infused Chechnya dessert is not so easy. Imagine having to begin by first making the Krispy pieces… individually… from scratch. Yikes! That fictional undertaking is the equivalent to the day-long pursuit the traditional Chechen dessert Garzni Hovl requires. Luckily for those attending Toronto ESL classes with Esila Yusupova, she prepared and generously shared this not-too-sweet, verging on savoury, Chechen labour of love. In the process, Esila’s efforts have strengthened ties with her new Canadian community who appreciated sampling this delicious representation of her native cuisine.

In Chechyna, Garzni Hovl is an integral ingredient of family milestone celebrations. An illustration, following a Chechen wedding, it is customary for the new mother-in-law to make an ‘official’ visit to the mother-of-the-bride’s home, a gesture that fosters familial relationships. Part of the ritual typically includes bringing gifts and, most-notably, a multi-tiered version of Garzni Hovl. To commemorate her own 10th wedding anniversary, Esila created this beloved sweet for her classmates to enjoy.

Inspirational Takeaway: Generously sharing traditional foods connects communities. 🙂

For those curious to learn more, here are two step-by-step guides. The first is a picture version of how to make Garnzi Holv (also called Garziny-H’avl) from which photos below have been sourced. The second is a video lesson by Chrystal Callahan. Recipes do vary. Esila stresses that in her version, she uses only flour and eggs in the dough, and only honey in the drizzle.

Chechen Dessert Step 1

Garzni Hovl: Making the Krisp #1

Chechen Dessert Garzni Hovl Step s

Garzni Hovl: Making the Krisp #2


Another reason Toronto Inspires: Shared by Lynda Chubak

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