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Introduction


It was a few years ago that I found myself walking along the east side of Jane Street, just north of the Driftwood Community Centre (4401 Jane Street).  The mid morning sky was blue, the sun shined bright, and there was no one else in sight.  The silence was a bit surprising, given that I was only minutes north of the Jane-Finch intersection and standing across the street from three large apartment buildings.

“Do you want an apple, sir?”

The young voice caught me by surprise.  I whirled around, but as I said, there was no one else in sight.  My reaction made the mystery voice chuckle, and that’s when my ears placed him.  I hadn’t realized I walked by a tree; in fact, I had walked by a line of trees (what can I say?  I’m not a particularly observant person).  So I looked up.

There was a black child sitting up in the tree.  With the passing of time, I don’t recall the exact details of the conversation beyond that initial greeting.  I do remember that my mystery man was extremely well-mannered for his age and in good humour.  The tree was full of apples, and I soon learned that it was not the only one.  The child attended Brookview Middle School, and he and some classmates were sent out to harvest the crop, as it were.  I turned down the offer, largely because I had a sudden vision of my new friend being given detention because he came in short one apple.  

I certainly do remember that when we finished talking, I had a big smile on my face.  Apple trees near Jane and Finch - who knew?  I didn’t, and I’ve lived in the area since I was three years old.

Now, be honest.  Was that the kind of story you expected to read in the opening chapter of a book about the Jane-Finch area?

Maybe you were expecting something like the following lead from a newspaper article written in 2008:

“Jane and Finch. What started as an urban planning dream quickly became a disaster and developed into a notorious neighbourhood where youth go to die or go prior to jail.”(1)

Let’s not sugar coat anything.  The Jane-Finch neighbourhood does have issues.  Some of these issues are the kind that come with any area that has a high population density.  And a lot of people live in Jane-Finch.  For example, there are three apartment buildings on the north east corner of the Jane-Finch intersection, including one with 33 floors.  These buildings, located at 5, 10, and 25 San Romanoway, have 892 units among them, and house around 4,400 people.(2)  

While those three buildings are likely the largest in the area, they’re certainly not the only ones.  In fact, there are fourteen high rises along the four kilometre stretch of Jane Street from Steeles Avenue West to Sheppard Avenue West.  These are just the buildings with a Jane Street address, as the San Romanoway buildings weren’t included.  There are even more if one goes down roads such as Driftwood Avenue, Grandravine Drive, and Tobermory Drive.  In the area north of Finch between Black Creek and Highway 400, “62.1 percent of dwellings are in buildings with five or more floors.”(3)

Other issues come from the area’s demographics -  compared to Toronto overall, there are more racialized groups, more immigrants, more single parents, more lower income families, more unemployment, more community housing, and so on.

Take these issues and stir them together, and one might expect to find an area that is lawless and violent, an area that steadily cranks out lurid headlines, a notorious area “where youth go to die.”  Recent murder rates (2011) tell a slightly different tale.  In the top ten most lethal neighbourhoods of Toronto, the closest we get to a Jane-Finch location is Downsview-Roding-CFB, and it came in at number nine.(4)   None of the actual neighbourhoods that make up Jane-Finch were in the top ten.

This doesn’t change the fact that Jane-Finch has issues.  As I write this (summer 2013), the community is mourning the shooting death of a fifteen year old, the second such tragedy in six months.  When fifteen year olds are being shot dead, all is definitely not well.  However, it should be noted that there were only three murders in 2013.  Perhaps there was a time where Jane-Finch stood out on its own when it came to senseless violence, but the sad reality is that Toronto now has many neighbourhoods  with similar issues.(5)  Yet, it is “Jane-Finch” that still resonates as a synonym for all that is wrong with the so-called inner city.

The purpose of this book is to go beyond the statistics, the headlines, and the generalizations.  There are over fifty thousand people living in this neighbourhood, but it seems the only time any of them get heard is when there’s a tragedy, or there’s a story that reveals signs of hope in Jane-Finch; in other words, stories that perpetuate the image of Jane-Finch as a suburban wasteland.  This book is an opportunity for several residents to speak freely about our lives and about what is important to us.  This is a chance to be seen as something more than a statistic or a stereotype.   

Most of the people interviewed for this book are members of Jane-Finch On The Move.  The group was formed as a result of a community forum organized by various area organizations and agencies in March 2007.  The first meeting took place on May 31 that year, and the group’s name was chosen on July 17, 2007.  The group has been meeting on a regular basis ever since.  Initially,  JFOTM meetings had a lot of support staff and agency representatives in attendance.  Over time, the group evolved to where it is now an all volunteer group, made up of current and former residents of the area.  The main criterion for membership is a passion for the Jane-Finch community.  Eight of the members have been with the group since the first meeting back in May 2007, so there is a great deal of continuity within JFOTM.(6)

Because this book is meant to capture the thoughts of group members, the material was largely gathered through meetings with as few as two members up to eight at a time.  Some of these sessions were free-ranging, while others deliberately centred on topics that have held long standing interest to members.  Most of the sessions were recorded on digital devices and then transcribed and edited by JFOTM’s Chair, who happens to be the same person writing this introduction.  In a few cases, members borrowed a recording device and spoke to friends and other members of the community.  Those recordings were transcribed and also appear in this book.

During the interview and initial transcribing process, members decided they wanted to maintain their anonymity.  In some cases, the editor changed minor details to ensure members’ privacy would be protected.  Otherwise, everything in this book comes directly from the mouths of residents, free to express their personal points of view.  There was no attempt made to have everyone share a common viewpoint.  Residents of Jane-Finch are individuals, each with their own experiences, values and opinions.    

The material was sorted by topic and placed into the appropriate chapter.  Some members and residents discussed personal aspects of their own lives in detail, and in those cases, they got a section titled “My Story.”  The chapter headings and brief description of each are in the Table of Contents.  

Feel free to skip from section to section, even from paragraphs on the page.  The book has been set up as a series of comments and conversations so it’s more readily accessible.  If you live in the Jane-Finch community, perhaps you’ll see something that speaks to your own experiences.  If you live outside, perhaps you’ll gain an understanding for life in our community.  We hope readers will find something that will inspire, illuminate, or perhaps even infuriate.  A major purpose of this book is to start discussions and stimulate imaginations.  What could be more satisfying than encouraging fresh thinking about social issues?  In every case, thank you for reading.


Angelo Furlan, Chair

Jane-Finch On The Move


Notes

  1 “Fear at the corner of guns 'n' drugs,” Toronto Sun, 23 March 23 2008

  2 “Turning a rundown highrise into a community hub,” Toronto Daily Star

12 January 2011

 3 Julie-Anne Boudreau, Roger Keil, Douglas Young. 2009. Changing Toronto: Governing Urban Neoliberalism.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  4 CBC News, “10 neighbourhoods for most per capita crime in 2011,” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/10/23/toronto-top-10-crime-neighbourhoods126.html; The neighbourhoods are ranked by murders per 10,000 residents.  The closest Downsview-Roding-CFB comes to the Jane-Finch intersection is Jane Street, south of Sheppard Avenue West, which is two kilometres away.   The neighbourhoods which form the Jane-Finch area are Black Creek and Glenfield-Jane Heights.  For more information on the boundaries, visit here:

http://www.toronto.ca/demographics/profiles_map_and_index.htm

  5  J. David Hulchanski discusses the substantial increase of low income areas within the City of Toronto in his report, “The Three Cities Within Toronto.”  At the time of writing, a digital copy could be found here: http://www.urbancentre.utoronto.ca/pdfs/curp/tnrn/Three-Cities-Within-Toronto-2010-Final.pdf

  6  To learn more about Jane-Finch On The Move, visit www.jfotm.com


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