Open Letter to the Residents of Ward 23

An Essay on Entry
Ward 23 and Me
Author George Smitherman
In the late 1970s my grandmother was suffering from cancer and seeking treatment
at Princess Margaret Hospital then co housed with the Wellesley Hospital at the
bustling corner of Sherbourne and Wellesley. I was a teenager in high school in
Etobicoke and I often travelled with her downtown to her appointments. Peering
out the windows of the Wellesley Bus I remember those stone fences at Jarvis
Collegiate and at the Wellesley Hospital so vividly.
My grandmother and my mother instilled a sense of social justice in me at an early
age and as much as Ward 23 is a piece of political territory it is first and always the
traditional territories of first nations people. The act of colonialism perpetuated
upon them being well captured on the walls of the auditorium at Jarvis Collegiate in
Ward 23.
I was given the name Gitchi Nigig, the big otter and assigned the moose clan in a
ceremony as part of my wedding to Christopher Peloso. The wedding sought to give
acknowledgement to the place of two spirited peoples in first nations history.
Expect me to give significant attention to all relations and efforts that are beneficial
to reconciliation, something I view as a path to be followed daily.
Housing and the liberation of adulthood and coming out meant I sought more
permanent refuge downtown in 1987. I first landed on Wood Street and
affordability soon drove me to shared accommodation at 77 Maitland Place. It was
during this housing crisis that City Park became a Housing Co Op and that form of
housing emerged as a personal favourite.
Shared accommodation dictated the next phase of my housing with a greenspace
facing townhouse suite at 120 Homewood standing out as a favourite especially
because I had a dog at the time. I recall the death-defying feat of crossing Jarvis at
Maitland before the installation of the traffic signal and I most certainly recall more
than one person getting hit there.
Following my father’s death an inheritance afforded me my first try at home
ownership and that home at 92 Seaton Street remains much as it looked when I
owned it or for when it was built for that matter. My real estate agent the recently
deceased George Marsland called it lower Cabbagetown. Having previously resided
at 272 Shuter Street I knew it as upper Moss Park. I recall the convenience of a brief
commute to City Hall as I was working for Mayor Barbara Hall at the time.
Shortly after the pressure of taking care of a century home got the better of me and I
moved to a low maintenance home at 10 Sword Street, a loft in a converted

warehouse. I loved playing outdoor hockey in North Regent and living so close to
the valley and Riverdale Park.
A few years later by good fortune I shared ownership of a very old row house
located at 31 Rose Ave. just across from Winchester School. I recall the great
pleasure of living in a heritage home, working at the Legislature in a heritage
building and working out daily at Hart House in yet another remarkable heritage
property. I had after all come under heavy sway of Peggy Kurtin and the CPA.
After politics in 2011 kids pulled us to where we could afford a little outdoor space
and as 2021 nears my family, including my Havana based newlywed husband
Rolando Salomon, is looking forward to our forever home emerging at 575 Bloor
Street East in Ward 23’s North St. James Town neighbourhood.
All of the community offices that I ever had as an elected politician were located in
Ward 23. I inherited an office at 365 Bloor Street East but preferred a ground floor
location. After searching everywhere for suitable accommodation we set up a new
office at 410 Sherbourne Stet. However as soon as I became Minister of Health I was
in conflict because the landlord at 410 Sherbourne Street was St. Mike’s. So I moved
briefly to 120 Carlton Street and then found a creative co habitation with Bob Rae
street level again on Parliament at Winchester.
For several years my Mother and Stepfather, who otherwise lived on Blue Mountain
near Collingwood, spent winters at 77 Huntley Street where the range of goods and
services available made for their comfort and independence. The same
neighbourhood and the Selby Hotel in particular housed very popular gay bars that I
frequented for years. In fact my late husband Christopher was living nearby at 565
Sherbourne Street when I first met him.
All the streets, corners, parks, agencies and institutions, alleys and neighbourhoods
of Ward 23 are enlivened with people that I know over the shared experiences of a
long time. Their stories are my stories too.
None greater than Regent Park.
Regent Park and the community succession model, which I loosely translate as “so
long as all the good jobs in the community are going to people from outside the
community we are screwed” has been one of the most important learning’s of my
adult life. Applying that in turn put pressure on educational outcomes and before
long Pathways to Education emerged as a made in Regent Park solution to poverty
and inequality of opportunity.
I did not invent or create Pathways to Education. I did however put my shoulder
behind it as a Community Champion wrestling early financial support from all
banks.

And was I ever proud when my then boss Dalton McGuinty, the so-called Education
Premier plucked Pathways from Regent Park and saw it as a vehicle to address
barriers to opportunity elsewhere in Ontario and that’s why I doubled the number
of community health centres in Ontario and put one in every Toronto priority
neighbourhood.
In 1999 Regent Park suffered a horrendous spate of violence and in the search for
solutions the idea of redeveloping Regent Park re emerged. Former Mayor John
Sewell and communities members first stimulated the idea but at the time there was
a severe lack of community voice in Regent Park.
The Christian Resource Centre, now called 40 Oaks is a mainstay of the Regent Park
community and amongst many amazing staff over the decades I really admired
Carmel Hilli who was successful at engaging many diverse communities. Carmel and
I helped to resource and facilitate the development of the Regent Park Residents’
Association which emerged as the community voice in the discussions around the re
development of Regent Park. Notably a young Ahmed Hussein emerged as the
organization’s chosen head, an early predictor of his leadership qualities.
A lot of water is under the bridge and a lot of concrete and great community has
been sown in the re development of Regent Park. In fact many “world leading”
accolades have already adorned the CVs of various participants. Yet a stark fact
remains. Promises made are at risk of being broken in the widely heralded Regent
Park.
I find that with Pam McConnell passed the re development of Regent Park is not yet
done and serious risks to the completion of the project have appeared, most notably
a TCHC process that threatens to upend the incumbent developer and community
development partner Daniels Corp.
There is no doubt that at the beginning and then again after the Regent Park re
development had begun Daniels Corp. was singled out as the expected all phase
development partner. If memory serves me well, then Mayor David Miller and
Councillor McConnell made such an announcement that I had the honour of
participating in at the Daniels Sales pavilion.
Rob Ford is the answer to how it came to pass that the City reneged on that
arrangement and Mayor Tory hasn’t felt compelled to act in a way to restore
Daniels’ incumbent position.
Now I am sure there is more to it than meets the eye but the key point I wish to
make here is that I am running to see the redevelopment of Regent Park to it’s
completion. To me that means doing all that I can properly do to ensure that Daniels
remains in the role that they were promised because that was one of a few sacred
promises upon which the redevelopment was undertaken.

It would be an entirely different matter if the community was up in arms and
wishing to see Daniels tossed but rather the community is up in arms at TCHC for
not following through on the original commitment to Daniels, telling me that Daniels
has earned respect.
I intend to continue to encourage the community to express dismay at TCHC and to
use their influence to make sure that the coming RFP process is not written to
disadvantage the contributions that Daniels has made (because the scoring of these
processes can easily slant the outcome) and further to make all prospective bidders
aware that changing horses in the middle of this redevelopment stream is a very
risky proposition.
Furthermore, as one who was part of the institutional promise to the community as
trust was built to undertake the re development I will stand firm on the
community’s behalf to ensure that that housing ratios are respected and that those
who wish can return to the community as promised. Meantime I will work with
residents to ensure TCHC processes on transfer are provided professionally and
respectfully.
Ward 23, the first promise I am making is that I will fight for the completion of the
redevelopment of Regent Park on its original promise to the community and
community development partners.
The idea to return to politics was planted by Pam McConnell who knew I had been
missing the community and took me into her confidence and told me she would not
be seeking another term and that I should run with her support. Regrettably tragic
health events preceded and struck Pam down before she could complete her term of
office.
She and I were in many ways political partners forged through our mutual love of
Barbara Hall. Though we had different party affiliations and quirks of ideology we
never found any means or reason for disagreement. Whether saving the St. James
Cathedral or the First Parliament Site from development or fighting for St. Jude’s
Community Homes Supportive Housing or all through the Regent Park
Redevelopment, Pam and I were aligned on outcome.
I cannot pretend to have her roots but I am honoured to have earned her trust and
hope that I can earn yours also.

George Smitherman
Ward 23
Community Champion

 

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