by Giselle Renarde
When BBC World News mentions the city you live in, that usually isn't a good thing. Usually it's because something horrendous has happened. Such was the case on Monday, when a van mounted the sidewalk on Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch in north Toronto. The driver proceeded to brutally and deliberately run down pedestrians, leaving 10 dead and 15 injured at last count.
The area of the city in which this atrocity occurred, the very core of the former borough of North York, is close to my heart.
In the early 90s, my choir performed our concerts at the newly-constructed theatre there.
When my sister became a concert pianist, one of her first public recitals was in Mel Lastman Square, where a vigil will be held on Sunday for those who died this week.
But the biggest reason I hold that neighbourhood in my heart is that I met my girlfriend when I got a job along that stretch of Yonge Street. She'd been working there a year or so. We didn't really notice each other, at first. It certainly wasn't love at first sight. In fact, neither of us remembers the day we met, what the other was wearing, none of that stuff. Doesn't matter. Once we started talking, it grew from there.
Hard to believe we met over a decade ago.
Our 10-year anniversary (the anniversary of our first date) is coming up on May 1st.
While our first date was in the cemetery near my house, during the first few years of our relationship we spent most of our time in the Yonge and Sheppard area. Some of that time was spent working together, sure, but when you work with a new love, getting up in the morning is a joy. I always looked forward to seeing her when I got in.
During our lunch breaks, we'd go to one of the restaurants along Yonge, or grab a bite at Tim's, or bring a packed lunch and eat in the sun at Mel Lastman Square. We had some very serious conversations in that square.
We took many walks through York Cemetery, too. I've always loved cemeteries. Last year, for our 9th anniversary, Sweet took me to visit her mother's grave. It was the first time I'd been. I was very moved by the gesture. As we were leaving, we saw deer just inside the gates. Two of them. Sweet stopped the car and took out her camera.
Any time I see deer in a cemetery, I always think it means something. They probably just like the stretches of open grounds.
You would think this week's atrocity on land that holds so many beautiful memories would taint those memories, but that's not the case. If anything, the outpouring of grief from all corners of the city, all corners of the planet, has bolstered my love of the neighbourhood where I met my girlfriend. Where we had our first kiss. Where we walked together, talked together, fucked in a storage closet--you name it, we did it in North York.
As our 10-year anniversary approaches, the place where it all began is on my mind and in my heart. This whole week, I've reflected on the spaces we occupied in those early days. And the people we met, people who lived and worked in the area.
It's a solemn time for Toronto. We are wounded, but every day we heal a little more by showing each other a level of kindness I've never seen in this city. Torontonians aren't exactly known for being kind--just ask any Canadian who doesn't live here. I'm hoping that, in the aftermath of tragedy, we can hold on to the insight we share today: the recognition that we all deserve to be treated with dignity, with kindness, with respect.