“I was just sitting here reminiscing,” says Sarah Doucette when we meet outside of the High Park subway station adjacent to a half dozen tall apartment towers. “I stood here campaigning in the mornings as people came out of the buildings like ants from a hive.”
Doucette says after she was elected councillor of former Ward 13 she returned to that spot to thank residents for voting for her. After Premier Doug Ford’s government cut the number of Toronto city councillors midelection, her ward was merged with Ward 14 to form a new, giant Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park. She decided not to continue running for re-election after serving as councillor here since 2010, allowing Ward 14’s Gord Perks the sole incumbent advantage.
Conscientious councillors know their wards inside out, so I asked Doucette if she’d go for a walk through the ward with me, a kind of peripatetic exit interview to get a glimpse of what she knows.
“There’s a three-storey daycare going in here with a playground on the roof,” she says, pointing to a soon-to-be demolished home next to High Park station. She describes a plan by the owner that would also put kiosks along the bus bay platform leading into the station, but Doucette says the TTC is reluctant and worries about liability.
“There are 10,000 people living in this neighbourhood and only a handful of convenience stores,” she says. “Imagine if people could drop off or pick up their dry cleaning or kids on the way to and from the subway.” This potential retail is a small example of the kinds of urban details local councillors can be advocates for.
Those 10,000 people live in one of Toronto’s great apartment clusters at the top of High Park, but there are contentious plans for more. As we walk through the “towers in a park” style buildings, she points out places where new, proposed residential towers are in various stages of planning.
“Residents include renters and owners in the towers, people living in affordable housing and single family homeowners,” she says. “They’re not against more density, but they don’t want to overwhelm what works really well right now.”
Once on Bloor St., walking west, we admire some of the handsome older walk-up apartment buildings facing High Park, one even called, romantically, “Sunny South.” Mixed in this stretch of Bloor are offices, a large seniors building where community meetings are held, as well as an assisted-living facility that Doucette says she advised to add more units by tapping into the City of Toronto’s Open Door Affordable Housing Program.
I’ve passed by here many times yet didn’t notice some of this or know the stories. It’s why walks like these are so valuable to me. As I’ve written here before, outgoing councillors should record walking oral histories of their time in office. They, and their staff, hold some of the institutional memory of the city.
“This is where I do all of my shopping,” she says as we enter Bloor West Village. “The only thing we’re missing are a hardware and music store.” Doucette points out new solar panels the Business Improvement Area (BIA) organization has installed, replacing older ones from decades past.
“There’s new pedestrian lighting coming,” she says. “It’ll be motion detecting so it’ll turn on as you walk down the sidewalk.” The BIA here was the first of its kind when it formed in 1970 to compete with Sherway Gardens mall that was soon to open nearby. Its model has since spread to nearly 100 areas in Toronto and more than 300 in Ontario, with more around the world.
Along the way, people recognized her and say hello. “Today is your first day as a free woman,” says one. Another says, “You look light.” Doucette smiles, but tells one she misses her staff. She says people continue to ask her about things in the neighbourhood.
In Swansea, we walk the hilly residential streets marked by dozens of major renovations as the once modest homes upsize. Each block seems to have a memory for her: a hoarder whose family had the difficult job of moving him out of his house; the Windermere United Church basement where volunteers with the Period Purse charity package menstrual products to be delivered to women’s shelters.
Swansea is remarkably hilly and filled with public staircases, secret passages of sorts, one even named The Souster Steps after the poet Raymond Souster who lived nearby.
“It’s weird walking around now,” she says. “I felt a responsibility for all of this. I’ll still pick up twigs and call 311 when I see something, but I’m going to start carrying Gord Perks’ business cards and when people ask me about something that needs fixing, I’ll hand them one and say, ‘call him.’”
Shawn Micallef is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @shawnmicallef
- Free election day transit? City councillor pitches free fares on polling day
- 'Sex and the City' star Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick expecting twins - through surrogate
- Toddler found walking south Oklahoma City street
- Calgary city councillor ready to tackle gun violence
- 'Sex and the City' star Sarah Jessica Parker once 'starved for attention'
- Exit interview: David Ira Goldstein on 25 years leading Arizona Theatre Company
- 'Sex and the City' star Sarah Jessica Parker makes a statement in $250 Chanel nylons
- Michael Patrick King combats aging in 'Sex and the City,' keeps Sarah Jessica Parker and Co. young
- Car-free zone for biking and walking runs through city 3 days in August
- Safer walks plotted for city's seniors