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September 19, 2016
The Word On The Street Toronto will be hosting the authors and editors of all five finalists for the 2016 Toronto Book Awards at this year’s festival on Sunday, September 25, at Harbourfront Centre. As a special treat, we’ll be posting reviews of the nominated books in the weeks leading up to the festival from a panel of writers, reviewers, and editors working in Toronto today.
Our final review is of The Ward by editors John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg, and Tatum Taylor, reviewed by Ekraz Singh. Ekraz is the executive editor and publisher of Sewer Lid, an online magazine of urban art and literature. John Lorinc, Ellen Scheinberg, and Tatum Taylor will be reading at The Word On The Street at Harbourfront Centre on September 25, from 2:00pm – 2:30pm at the Toronto Book Awards Tent. This year’s Toronto Book Awards will be awarded on October 11, 2016.
Conduct a Google image search for Toronto and you’ll behold pictures of the city’s unmistakable skyline: the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, and many tall buildings synonymous with a dense population, modernity, and anonymity. On the other hand, walk through the streets of Toronto and you’ll encounter: cultural diversity in places such as Little Italy on College, Little India on Gerrard, or Chinatown at Spadina and Dundas; socioeconomic diversity in communities such as The Birdle Path, Forest Hill or Sunnybrook, and Rexdale; and intellectual and artistic diversity in Jane Heights or Lambton, the distillery district, the various buildings that make up U of T’s St. George campus or the cafes and galleries that line Dundas West.
What you won’t see, however, is St. John’s Ward: Toronto’s very first immigrant neighbourhood, situated within the borders of Queen, College, Yonge, and University. That’s because The Ward no longer exists. The area, distinct because of the ethnocultural diversity and poverty ever-present therein, was cleared out and razed in the late 1950s in order to make way for Nathan Phillips Square.
The story of this community — its genesis, development, annihilation, and lingering spirit — is told in The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood, edited by John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg, and Tatum Taylor, and published by Coach House Books.
While the book could have simply taken the form of a riveting historical narrative, such an approach wouldn’t have adequately reflected the truly diverse nature of The Ward. The book, instead, is comprised of over sixty brief contributions by over fifty individuals including authors Karolyn Smardz Frost and Michael Redhill; philosopher Mark Kingwell; journalists Denise Balkissoon, Ranjit Bhaskar, and Michael Posner; professors Ruth A. Frager and John E. Zucchi; and Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.
The reader, as a result, is presented with bits and pieces — accounts of events that transpired within as well as differing views, laid out in a seemingly random order — of The Ward that, in a way, serve to counteract the dominant, overarching image of the area that had manifested itself over time, has been presented to the public in newspaper articles, and ultimately led to its destruction.
Through the many different voices and perspectives, on topics such as recreation, illness, hygiene, vice, housing, and worship, the reader is presented with slivers of life in, and points of view on, The Ward. Each of these is punctuated by maps, paintings, and photographs — some from various archives, and others from family albums — that not only complement and illuminate the rich history of The Ward, but often serve to ground the reader in the reality of the information being presented when they might otherwise get lost in the writing.
Ultimately, the reader is better able to understand the complexities of the neighbourhood, the lives of those who resided in it, and its lasting significance. They are often inclined to consider issues including immigration, poverty, class, culture, and segregation of all sorts that remain relevant to Toronto and other cities today. In a sense, reading The Ward is akin to a meditation on transience.
Ekraz Singh is a writer, editor, educator, and master’s student. Her poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have appeared in Descant, Existere, and Untethered. She serves as the executive editor and publisher of Sewer Lid, an online magazine of urban art and literature. Connect with her on Twitter @EkrazSingh.
After over a century of housing many of Toronto’s immigrants, in what decade was ‘The Ward’ bulldozed?
Check out our website for clues, and send the answer to firstname.lastname@example.org to be entered in a draw to win a signed copy of The Ward by John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg, and Tatum Taylor!
There are still more contests to enter: check out our Festival Prize Packs page!