Churches offer window on Toronto’s history

Sunday morning strolls with friend Gabe Scardellato took Roberto Perin on a search that lasted years and led to a fresh view of Toronto’s history – through its churches, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 6. Perin and Scardellato looked beneath the soaring spires and bricks, to uncover churches of memory – buildings that contained the story of wave upon wave of Toronto immigrants. Their walks began in 1996, a year Perin, a Glendon College history professor, intended to be on sabbatical in Italy, writing a book. But his wife became ill, and he stayed in Toronto. The two colleagues looked at places of worship for the sheer pleasure of recording Toronto’s religious and ethnic richness. Scardellato, who teaches Italian studies in York’s Faculty of Arts, took photographs, while Perin took notes from cornerstones.

They started in their own west-end streets, noting Croat Catholic, Serbian Orthodox and Japanese United churches. Perin has put his research into a database that will be available in April on a Web site Scardellato has designed. It’s a virtual walking tour of 248 west Toronto places of worship, with significant dates, architectural details, denominational changes and the names of prominent people who worshipped there.

Though society is increasingly secular, Perin sees religion as a link to our past. “Religion expresses the aspirations of a society, the aspirations to nationhood,” Perin said. “When Canada was created in 1867, the church played an important role in defining the kind of country that should be created.” In the years of post-war immigration, churches acculturated newcomers to Canada, helping them forge a new identity. Ethnic associations come and go, Perin says, and don’t have the same physical presence as churches. “They leave an imprint.”

A timely new look at Prokofiev legacy

Some restitution of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s once dominant status may be underway now that recently opened Soviet archives have given scholars access to documents once denied them, reported William Littler in the Toronto Star Feb. 5. Some of that information is being revealed in Toronto this week as part of Prokofiev Festival 2005 at and around the University of Toronto, a project organized by retired York University music professor Sterling Beckwith.

Levy ‘bends over backwards’ to give students chances

Sheldon Levy‘s manner recalls the late Peter Gzowski, deceptively shambling and sincere rather than showy and glib, writes The Globe and Mail’s John Allemang in a Feb. 5 profile of the former York VP and new Ryerson president. It’s a style refined to make room for other people instead of drawing attention to himself, and part of this has to go back to his childhood in the hard-edged Keele and Wilson neighbourhood near the Downsview air-force base. “I got into a group that had priorities other than education, and I was a follower, simple as that.” A friend says his extracurricular activities in those days included learning how to hotwire a car. “When I had to repeat Grade 10, it was the best thing that ever happened in my life. The class was split up by alphabet, and by a fluke, the part of the alphabet I was in had all the smart kids – a new group I could follow.”

But, as he is the first to point out, there are no likely and predictable beginnings in a fair-minded public education system. He had a gift for mathematics that carried him to graduate work at York University before he decided that “I wouldn’t add value by taking my studies any further.” Even there, hired to work in the Faculty of Arts, he says he needed special attention from the dean to improve his use of the English language. With memories of this kind, he now volunteers time to primary schools to talk encouragingly about fractions or probability theory.

“I don’t believe that I’m special – I wasn’t one bit different from the thousands of young people who are told they can’t do it so many times that eventually they convince themselves they can’t. That’s why I bend over backwards to give young people opportunities: Just guess what they could do, given the circumstances.”

Canadians need to produce more

Two eye-opening, at times contradictory, Canadian reports came out last week, said the Toronto Star Feb. 5. One, by human resources firm Watson Wyatt, shows we’re increasingly stressed by workloads (not exactly a revelation). The other, from Toronto-Dominion Bank, proves our economic well-being has “stagnated” since 1989. Both studies cite productivity as the last best hope for Canadians. Bernie Wolf, an economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, said, “In general, the only way people can benefit in our economy is to raise overall productivity.” Wolf explains that if you turn out more of whatever it is you do per hour, you deserve higher pay per hour. “Hence you have more discretionary income to purchase things that increase your satisfaction. You can also use the extra pay to work less or retire sooner. These are the life-quality dividends.”

Controversial finance plan ‘no magic bullet,’ says prof

An expert who recommended Calgary get out of the previous East Village deal, which collapsed amid controversy in 2002, also urged caution in delving into tax increment financing to resuscitate the troubled neighbourhood, reported the Calgary Herald Feb. 6. “Whether this is necessary to do the job, I don’t know,” said James McKellar, director of the real estate program at York’s Schulich School of Business. “If we’re going to use it, let’s make damn sure we have the business case in place, that we know the level of subsidy, we know how we’re going to track the subsidy, we know who the beneficiaries are because – in itself – it’s no magic bullet.”

York grad governs Macau

A new government in Macau, under the leadership of York University-educated Edmund Ho (BBA ’78), was installed by Beijing after the 1999 handover to China, noted the Vancouver Sun Feb. 5 in a feature on the renaissance of the former Portuguese colony. Its mandate was to clean up Macau and thus clear its way to economic prosperity. After a severe and effective crackdown on crime, the government in 2002 ended the gambling monopoly long held by tycoon Stanley Ho (no relation to Edmund).

Alumna heads Halifax multicultural association

Aleksandra McCallum (MA ’76) is the new executive director of the Multicultural Association of Nova Scotia, reported Halifax’s The Daily News Feb. 5. McCallum came to Canada in 1973 from Poland as a tourist and ended up doing another master’s in economics at York University. Before coming to Halifax, McCallum settled in Prince Edward Island, where she and her husband Don ran a motel: the Singing Sands Inn. While on the Island, McCallum served as the executive director of its multicultural council. She represented PEI at the United Nations conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

On air

  • Kim Chow-Morris, an alumna and music instructor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and alumnus Jaro Dabrowski (BFA 2003) discussed the music they play in the Yellow River Ensemble, on CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” Feb. 4. The group is made up of members of the Toronto Chinese Orchestra and the York University and University of Toronto music departments.