Monday, August 13, 2018

Regent Park’s French African Community

Regent Park is comprised of multiple populations from countries outside of Canada, such as Bangladesh, Somalia, China, and Vietnam. But in Regent Park, there is a small community that is often left off people’s radar: the French African community, which includes newcomers from Cameroon, Chad, Mali, and the Cote d'Ivoire.

About 2% of the Regent Park population speaks French as their first and primary language (City of Toronto statistics, 2014), which equates to 240 unique persons. Maybe that doesn't seem large, but for a neighborhood in Toronto, which is Canada’s most populous urban city, it’s larger than the city average of 0.1 (Social Planning Toronto, 2018)!

To support the social, cultural and economic inclusion of the smaller French-speaking population, there are some local organizations that exist, including the Centre Communautaire des Africains Francophone. This small community group was founded by a local Regent Park resident, Mr. Christian “George” Yombo, in 2002 in response to local gun violence. Yombo and other teachers help the young Africains Francophone of Regent Park each evening (Mondays through Thursdays) with their French or English homework. This after-school program was established to motivate the youth to continue going to school. According to Yombo, approximately thirty children and six teachers were engaged in the past. Yombo also said that he would love to continue this service; however, as it depended on volunteers, the capacity was barely there to support purchasing chocolate bars and snacks for youth incentives.

So who is Mr. Christian “George” Yombo? Originally from Cameroon, he immigrated to Canada at the age of 25. He knows upwards of thirty Regent Park families who speak French everyday as their primary home language, but they do not speak it outside of the home because barriers of access and inclusion still exist in Toronto for Francophone speakers, despite it being a federally-recognized official language.

However, while grassroots community groups can assist the French speaker with critical needs such as employment, health care, child-minding, immigrant services, and educational supports, Yombo was asked how the French language could benefit Torontonians. He replied that knowing the country’s other official language can position job-seekers for well-compensated federal government positions, entrepreneurial translation services, and careers in aviation among other opportunities.

As part of the efforts to increase the group’s visibility, the Centre Communautaire des Africains Francophone has partnered with Regent Park Focus to produce a weekly Francophone radio show, which airs every Sunday on Radio Regent.

By: Matthew Corneau

Editor: Kerry Ambrose

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre

The CRC Community Gardens - Why Are They Important?

Have you ever wanted to grow a vegetable or a fruit, but didn’t know where to start or what to get? Ever wanted to be in a team of gardeners? Ever wanted to own a patch of fertile soil for freshly grown food? Now you can with the CRC Gardens in Regent Park. In the 1980s, social workers began realizing that many people in Regent Park were not accessing fresh fruits and vegetables. This was because residents of Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) apartment buildings did not have access to their own land to grow food, and fruits and vegetables simply cost too much. Aware that people were choosing to sacrifice basic healthy foods to pay for other necessities, community groups began to petition Toronto Community Housing for communal land to establish community gardens. One of the first community gardens was set up behind a TCHC building located in North Regent at 600 Dundas Street East, now the site of the entrance to the Big Park.

Today, managed mainly by the Christian Resource Centre (CRC), the Regent Park community gardens provide fresh produce for families throughout the neighbourhood, and it also offers great educational opportunities for children, youth, and seniors through hands-on gardening programs.

Ashrafi Ahmed, CRC’s Community Gardens Facilitator, led me on a tour of the allotment gardens. At each site, the tour was met by gardeners who were more than happy to show off their plots and proudly explain in detail the types of plants they grew. According to Ahmed, CRC provides opportunities for 200 families to grow and harvest fresh vegetables through the coordination of allotment gardens at 259 Sumach Street, 184 River Street, 295 Gerrard Street, the Regent Street Multi-Garden, and the Pop-up Container Garden at Regent Park Boulevard Mews at Sumach Street.

“At the beginning of the growing season, because of the maintenance fee, we charge ten dollars to own your own plot of soil, but we do have two types of gardens. We have communal and individual gardens. The only problem is that there is a waiting list for individual gardens because there are a lot of people who wish to grow plants, but there are always volunteer opportunities, which do grant access to the gardens free of charge,” said Ahmed.

To find out more about how you can get involved contact Ashrafi Ahmed at

By: Divine Bailey

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre

Regent Park Portrayed in Film and Television

Toronto has a rich history of being a go-to shooting location for many television and film production companies. Some notable films shot here over the years include Good Will Hunting (1997), Billy Madison (1998), American Psycho (2000), and X-Men (2000).

Regent Park has also had its share of showcases in film. This article aims to review the general content of movie dramas and televisions shows shot in Regent and explore their relationship to the community.

Clement Virgo is a director, producer, and writer from Montego Bay, Jamaica. He was born in 1966 and moved to the Regent Park area in Toronto in 1977. During this time Regent Park was generally populated by low-income families and as a hot spot for drugs. Virgo is most recently known for his roles in Greenleaf (2016-2018), The Book of Negroes (2015), and The Wire (2002) as Director and/or Producer. His first feature-length film, however, was Rude (1995), which was filmed almost entirely in the old Regent Park. “The film told three separate storylines that were all connected by the voice of an underground radio disc jockey by the name of ‘Rude’ (Black in Canada).” Maxine, The General, and Jordan face problems within the community and find solutions to those problems. Interestingly, the character “Maxine” from Rude has a job as a window dresser, which was also an early job of Virgo’s. The film was nominated for numerous awards and was the first feature film shot by a Black Canadian filmmaker. Unfortunately, when the film was released commercially, it went unnoticed.

Narc (2002) follows an ex undercover narcotics officer as he tries to solve a murder case involving the death of a local police officer. The movie is set in Detroit, but was shot entirely in Toronto, specifically Regent Park and Liberty Village. This was shot before the recent revitalization, so many location scouts looked at the area as gritty and crime ridden. One of the most engaging and memorable scenes in the movie is a chase scene that showcases a large part of Regent Park and its residential community. Detroit has a history of crime and grittiness that was easily portrayed in the old Regent Park. Even though Detroit is a cheap shooting location, Toronto has held a better reputation in terms of production costs.

Four Brothers (2005) was also filmed around Regent Park before the revitalization. The film is about four adopted brothers from Detroit who try to find the individuals responsible for killing their mother during a robbery. Rude, Narc, and Four Brothers fall under the same film category of gang violence in crime-ridden areas. Regent Park was obviously a target for these types of films, but since the revitalization, television companies have explored other genres.

Kim’s Convenience (2016-present) has been a tremendous success in television over the years with a completely unorthodox theme for the revitalized community. The show follows the everyday experiences of a Korean-Canadian family running a local convenience store in Regent Park. The show started airing around the second and third phases of revitalization, but, rather than focusing on violence and crime, the show focused on racial dynamics in a comedic way. Kim's Convenience showcases many broad conversations about identity, place, and belonging, which are all frequent topics in the community due to its many intersections of race, class, and faith (Costello, 2016). This show continues to air and represent the community in a positive and constructive way for all to enjoy.

By: Levi Linton

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre

Gang Violence and Prevention

29 people have been killed and more than 83 injured thus far in the year 2018 due to guns. As many as 10 of these shootings have been in, or very close to, Regent Park. Why is this happening? Mayor John Tory thinks gang violence may have something to do with it.

“Who were the people that pulled the trigger on Queen Street? Were they the boy scouts? Who goes by in a car and fires a gun out the window at people on the sidewalk?"

Tory is referring to the recent shooting on Queen Street West, which took the lives of Toronto natives, rapper Smoke Dawg and producer Koba Prime. Tory has said statistics show that 75% of the shootings in Toronto are related to gang activity in some way. That’s a very large portion. Chief of Police Mark Saunders also had something to say about the many shootings this year. "The vast majority of gunplay in the city can be associated with a street gang. Having said that, being surgical, being strategic, and being focused with that gang subculture is a huge concern of mine. We've got a plan in play to look after it over the course of the summer."

Tory and Saunders have decided to implement new strategies in order to combat the ongoing supposed gang violence. 200 officers will now be taking on night shift duties across the city. The idea of hiring new police officers has been criticized by some as they think “overpolicing” will stir up more issues in the community, but the idea has been supported by others. What is the right way to deal with the rise of gang activity/violence in the community? There may not be just one right answer for that, but to start, we need to at least understand and identify the reasons that youth join gangs. Many believe that the root causes of joining or creating a gang are due to broken homes, inequality, and poverty.

There seems to be a correlation between crime-ridden neighborhoods and low-income neighborhoods; therefore, poverty can be a big contributing factor in gang violence. Inequality and growing up in broken homes could also be a very big factor contributing to joining a gang. As Robert T Muller, Ph.D. puts it, “...experts propose that young adults join gangs because they both act as a surrogate family, as well as provide a sense of belonging, power, control and prestige; all things that are commonly identified as absent in childhood among gang initiates.”

Now that we’ve identified possible causes, we can identify appropriate solutions. Gang prevention programs are something to look into. Mayor Tory has recently said that city staff is asking the federal government for increased funding for community programs. These programs support youth and communities exposed to gang and gun violence.

Prevention Intervention Toronto (PIT) was a program administered by the City of Toronto, and it was implemented between December 2009 and March 2012. This program set out to combat youth gang initiation and gang violence over the course of 36 weeks through individual needs assessments, an assignment of a case manager, and one-on-one counseling.

At the end of the program, PIT participants were said to have shown an “increase in pro-social attitudes towards crime, violence and gangs.” They also have evidence that participants indicated a statistically significant decline in gang membership. “For example, while 34% of PIT participants admitted gang membership during the pre-test interview, this figure dropped to only 9.0% during the one year follow-up interview.”

With many other prevention programs having similar results as PIT, one can only wonder if long-term, sustainable funding to community prevention programs could be a solution. Is it going to fix the issue entirely? Absolutely not. But it’s definitely a start.

By: Kaleb Marr

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre

Fire at Daniels Spectrum – Was it Arson?

On the morning of May 30, 2018, a fire broke out at the Daniels Spectrum, located at 585 Dundas Street East. Although the fire was quickly extinguished, the emergency sprinkler system continued long after the fire was out, which caused flooding and extensive damage to the first and second floor.

It’s unclear how the fire started. “We were told that the fire started in the store room across the hall from ArtHeart” said Tim Svirklys, Manager of ArtHeart – a tenant arts organization located on the second floor.

Several people associated with the Spectrum believe the cause of the fire was arson. However, according to Artscape’s Chief Operating Officer, LoriAnn Girvan, the local fire and police departments are still investigating the incident to determine the cause. “We may never know, and it’s really important people don’t speculate. We are just moving forward,” said Girvan.

The fire has affected almost all of the first and second floor tenant agencies, forcing ArtHeart, Regent Park School of Music, Native Earth Performing Arts, Regent Park Film Festival, Pathways for Education, and the Show Love CafĂ© to suspend or move their summer programming activities. Additionally, many of the groups and individuals that have rented the Spectrum’s Ada Slaight Hall in June and July have had to cancel or reschedule their events. Fortunately, the third floor tenants and offices located in the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) space were not affected.

Repairs are well underway and the new Spectrum Community Hub Manager, Jermyn Creed, plans to have a reopening party in the first week of August.

By: Gisela Torres

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The New Voice of Toronto Centre - NDP Candidate, Suze Morrison, Elected to Represent Toronto Centre

Until the recent provincial elections, Toronto Centre was considered one of the safest Liberal strongholds in the province. This all changed with the historic election of NDP candidate, Suze Morrison. Morrison was comfortably elected with 23,537 votes. Liberal candidate David Morris came second with 11,934 votes, and Progressive Conservative candidate Meredith Cartwright finished last with 6,194 votes.

Morrison is a resident of Regent Park, and she is recognized for her work on healthcare, indigenous issues, inclusion and diversity. Her passion is inextricably linked with her personal experience of growing up in poverty and witnessing gender-based violence. Morrison has held communications and engagement roles in both the health sector and the indigenous non-profit sector, and she feels she can bring an indigenous policy and anti-poverty lens to Queens Park: “Something that's been absent from our governance for a very long time,” said the elected candidate.

Morrison feels that Toronto Centre residents have been unrepresented since the resignation of MP Glen Murray last year, so she looks forward to getting her office up and running. Among the issues the new MP-elect hopes to tackle in partnership with her colleagues are better dental care, affordable housing, and supporting resources and infrastructure for public school students with the goal of creating a safer, greener, and more equal Toronto Centre. Morrison is especially interested in the Regent Park revitalization and the issues that residents are worried about.

“Regent Park is really good at standing up for itself, and we certainly are not a quiet community. I have absolute confidence that the people of this community are going to make sure that the direction they want for this community is put forward, and I look forward to working with the community to make sure their vision is realized,” said Morrison.

Gisela Torres

Regent Park Focus

Media Arts Centre

Paintbox Bistro: Social Enterprise or Delicious Restaurant?

Looking for a delicious vegetarian restaurant in the east side of the city? Well, look no further. Located in the heart of Regent Park, Toronto, at the corner of Sackville and Dundas, is the Paintbox Bistro Restaurant.

Founded in 2012, the Paintbox Bistro and Catering Restaurant offers an array of unique and fresh vegetarian dishes including green curry tofu, collard green enchiladas, forest mushroom pappardelle, “meat-free” burgers, and a Caesar-style kale salad with coconut “bacon”.

For those that are quick to brush off the Paintbox as another example of the area’s gentrification, it is important to note that the Paintbox Bistro is a proud Certified B Corporation. Certified B Corporations are businesses that strive to meet verifiable social and environment objectives to help fight poverty and climate change. The Paintbox was the first caterer in Canada to receive the designation in 2013; it was also recently named “Best for the World” in 2016, landing in the top 10% of B Corporations due to its strong community mandate.

Part restaurant and part social enterprise, the Paintbox provides employment and career development training opportunities to individuals interested in starting a career in the hospitality industry. Indicative of this mission, most of the Paintbox employees have no prior experience working in a restaurant setting, and, as part of their training, they experience every aspect of the restaurant’s operations, including its catering business and administrative work. This allows individuals to find a niche within the restaurant where they both enjoy the work and can hone their skills, whether working on the kitchen line or supporting front-of-the-house operations.

Considering that the owner and founder of the Paintbox restaurant, Chris Klugman, was a former instructor with the prestigious culinary management training program at George Brown College, the Paintbox is well suited to the task of providing career path opportunities in the food hospitality industry.

Travis Acheampong

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre