East of Adelaide

I didn’t grow up in London, or anywhere near London. When I was looking for a house, most of the older houses at the bottom of the market were in this vicinity. I didn’t care if an area was run down. As long as the area had the things I needed – like access to public transit, a hardware store, a library, a drug store and a grocery that was fine. This location had it all except for a grocery store.

My old neighbourhood in Toronto was on the outskirts of a gentrified area. There were many late 1800’s houses, restored or renovated. There were also some intense pockets of social housing, and many old school rooming houses nearby. Some of the worst rooming houses had been aspirational houses on the next street over – Sherbourne Street. These pretty 1860’s and 1870’s homes had been cut up into apartments and worse, after the area became less fashionable (the 1930’s or so ?). The bad stuff in these areas was very bad – drug dealing, prostitution, lots of interpersonal violence and fatal beatings, stabbings and shootings.

My old street was pretty nice. People put a lot of care into their gardens and homes. It was neighbourly, too. Everyone was aware of who lived where, and kept their eyes on the street. Some of the neighbours had conflicts with each other, with warring factions. It got complicated. There were scathing critiques about design choices.

I was involved with some volunteer activities that put me in contact with residents in the social housing buildings and rooming houses in my neighbourhood. Some of these people were pretty troubled and difficult, but most were fine. A few of them were actually much more generous, kind and helpful than my well off neighbours.

A few of the well off neighbours had serious issues – like the former architect who became an alcoholic who set his house on fire numerous times. The fire department and ambulance was at his home three times in 10 days. Or the emotionally abusive guy who was cheating on his wife, who was caring for their adult disabled daughter. As a whole, these people were no better and no worse than the rooming house residents. They were all just people.

One time I caught a guy stealing my new doormat. I saw him leave the yard with it, as I looked out the 2nd floor window. I ran downstairs and chased him down the street, yelling at him. He seemed genuinely surprised when I snatched it out his hands. After that this dude always said hello to me.

The creeps in the area were bold. New people bought the nicest house. They had a brand new extension ladder in their yard. A creep knocked on their door, and said that he was doing some work “at the house down the street, with the stained glass” (about 40% of the houses still had their original stained glass), and could he borrow their ladder, since his wasn’t tall enough ? The new neighbours said sure. A few days later, one of them knocked at my door, looking for his ladder. There was no worker, and the ladder was gone. He just had a “valuable learning experience”, courtesy of his new neighbourhood.

We were careful to not leave items in plain view that could be easily carried off, then sold at one of the many permanent garage sales in the area. We were polite and friendly to the rougher folks who were friendly towards us. If you were working in the yard and they said hello then you would say hello back. Neighbours who were jerks had rocks thrown through their windows. Our standard of living was modest anyway. No one was going to break in to steal some out of print books.

East of Adelaide seemed mild by comparison. Toronto has a much denser population, so the concentration of troubled people was much higher in any area. My ex had his laundry stolen from the laundry room when he visited his parents prestigious Harbourfront condo.

Shortly after I moved in here, I was in the bath around midnight. I heard and FELT a really loud bang. It felt like something had hit the house. There was a stormy wind, and I thought that a large branch had fallen off the tree in the backyard. I wrapped myself in a towel and looked out the bedroom window. In the used car lot below, a guy was crouching between the cars, who could only be described as “acting furtive”. I called 911 and they came right away. The guy was gone and the officer walked me around my yard in the dark. There were two aluminum screen doors, so if the guy had attempted to kick either of them in, they would have been dented. There were no signs of damage, and there was nothing in my yard to steal. I have no clue what happened, or what made that sound. I spoke to the car lot the next day, but they couldn’t locate anything that was missing, and their alarm hadn’t gone off.

I see some stuff going down in this area – like the two guys struggling to shoot up by the light of a cellphone late one night. There were a bunch of empties from someone drinking in my yard, once. There is street level prostitution happening. I have been propositioned numerous times while waiting at the bus stop in the middle of the afternoon, dressed as a middle aged woman in glasses and running shoes. There’s a couple of houses nearby that seem to have some drug dealing happening. None of this is great. All those situations are symptoms.

What I have noticed is this really strong class division. Neighbours have complained they are “living in the slums”. Tradespeople have treated me really poorly – even though I want to pay them money to fix my house. That perplexes me. Most of the homes in this area look fine, like they are cared for. Like normal people are having ordinary lives in them. They look identical to the houses in the nicer parts of town.

As a resident, the aggressive driving on Hamilton Road is the worst and most dangerous problem. Owners of the vacant storefronts should have to pay higher taxes on empty buildings, I think. The bank should have been forced to stay. This immediate area really needs a grocery store.

I didn’t grow up here, so that demarcation line from “good” to “bad” is invisible to me.



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