Thursday, October 15, 2015

History of Jane-Finch, and Toronto Heritage Awards

The Toronto Heritage Awards, which I missed the other night, gave out a slew of awards in several categories, all now recorded here.

I have a slew of connections to nominees in several categories, but particularly with the Books category, where I was a juror this year. Rather than navigate all my associations here, I want to say something about one book among the nominees that has stayed with me strongly -- and to which I have no personal connection other than being a reader.

One of the huge stories of Toronto in the last half century has been the enormous growth of the Caribbean-Canadian population. A related story has been the growth of the Jane-Finch neighbourhood and its reputation for poverty, racial segregation, public housing, and gun crime. Jane-Finch sits at the intersection of two important traffic arteries, and close to York University, and I often ride past on the Jane 35 express bus on the way to the Ontario Archives at York, but for me as for many Torontonians, Jane-Finch and its big public housing complexes like Driftwood Court are largely unknown territory -- personally and historically.

Let me say that as far as I know, Michael A. Amos's Both Sides of the Fence: Surviving the Trap is the best and most revealing window into Jane-Finch life currently in existence. Privately published and hard to find except directly from the publisher  (UPDATE: or any ebook source!), it's the memoir of a still-young man who grew up in Driftwood Court. He's been an athlete, an actor, and an entrepreneur, but Both Sides of the Fence is mostly about youth in Jane-Finch: posses, guns, drugs, mothers, poverty, violent death, police, school struggles, sport, racism. We read about these things all the time -- but rarely, rarely from Michael Amos's point of view.

I don't know what a Toronto Heritage Award nomination and prize can do for either sales and recognition.  But I'd like to see more attention to Both Sides of the Fence, to Jane-Finch's own testimony about itself, and to a writer called Michael Amos.

Kudos also to Allan Levine for his Toronto: Biography of a City, to Jennifer Bonnell for Reclaiming the Don, and to Bob Bossin for Davy the Punk, a truly wonderful family history that I had expected to see on the nonfiction shortlist for the Governor General's Awards this fall.  And to the winners in all the other categories, too

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