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