All aboard for York U – Star takes readers for a subway ride

Speculation about funding for the Spadina subway line to York University continued to generate stories in the media over the weekend, following the initial report by the Toronto Star earlier in the week.

The Star itself ran a major feature March 11 on the impact of a possible subway. Just out front of Vari Hall, whose grand rotunda provides a geographic and symbolic hub for the campus, some 1,500 buses a day pull up to ferry students in and out of York University, the Star reported. The unbroken stream of rumbling transit vehicles – bearing passengers from across the GTA and beyond – are testament to the far-flung commuter nature of the school’s growing student body, as well as its isolation from more attractive transportation options. Within the next seven years, those buses could all disappear. This miraculous calming of York’s central commons area would be just one of the touted benefits of a TTC plan to extend its underused Spadina subway line 6.2 kilometres to the top of the school’s Keele campus, said the Star. If a provincial promise to fund the $1.5-billion project comes through, the long-awaited extension could profoundly transform large segments of the northeastern region of the city through which it would run. It would also establish the system’s largest and most important portal to the suburban areas that lay beyond Toronto’s city limits.

A York University connection would radically cut down on burdensome bus and car traffic into the school, the Star said. But the line’s top priority would be found at the university’s northwest boundary, where Toronto meets up with Vaughan, and where the TTC is proposing a marriage of unparalleled convenience between the commission and many of its 905 transit counterparts. Steeles West. Located east of Jane Street, the proposed Steeles West station would represent the first piece of TTC subway property to reach out into another municipality. Lying beneath Steeles Avenue at a northwestern angle, the station would provide entrances on both sides of the Toronto-Vaughan border.

And, according to Vaughan Mayor Michael Di Biase, it would spark a whole slew of development and transportation options for his city, York Region, and points beyond.  “We’re planning for this to be a very large, regional transportation hub,” Di Biase says. “And it will most definitively encourage high-density residential and office towers along Steeles Avenue.” Along with enhanced development, new infrastructure around the station would include one of the GTA’s largest commuter parking lots. Located on the nearby hydro corridor just north of the station, the 2,500-space lot would welcome commuters from all parts of York and Peel regions.

It would also include North America’s largest transit bus terminal, the Star said. With 36 to 40 bays – some 10 to 14 more than the TTC’s next largest – the terminal would funnel TTC, GO Transit, York Region, Brampton and Greyhound bus passengers onto the Spadina line. Separated into three segments, it would ease the passenger burden on the Yonge line, which now accepts the majority of 905 bus connections at Finch station. It would also divert buses almost entirely off the York campus.

Here is a sampling of other weekend coverage:

  • “Are we that stupid?” This was the question posed by former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford at a breakfast lecture organized last week by the Canadian Urban Institute, reported aToronto Star writer March 13. Bedford wasn’t trying to be cute, far from it. He has just returned from a trip to Tokyo where he had a chance to see up close and personal how a big city works. Clearly, he was impressed by what he saw. Lesson No. 1, Bedford repeated over and over, transit is the backbone of the city. Lesson No. 2, Bedford insists, is that Canadians must start to think and act regionally. “Traffic’s not the only thing around here stuck in gridlock,” Bedford declared. “So are our minds.” When Premier Dalton McGuinty does announce funding for extending the subway to York University, commentators will already have dismissed his promise as a mere 905 vote grab. “We’ve got to get beyond politics,” Bedford pleaded. “And we need to take action now because time’s running out.”
  • In a column about how Toronto’s cultural community is leading the way in thinking big with its building projects, similar to those undertaken in Bilbao, Spain, the Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume wrote March 11: It’s unlikely there will be a Bilbao effect in Toronto, nothing like Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum to put the city on the world map. That would require a concerted effort on the part of all levels of government to rebuild the physical infrastructure, as the Spaniards did. This city and province are far behind on this score. Consider the sorry spectacle that unfolded this week when TTC officials made it clear they don’t have the money to run the proposed York University subway line even if does get built. In addition to its Guggenheim, don’t forget, Bilbao also constructed a new Metro, with stations designed by acclaimed English architect Norman Foster. Almost as many people travel there to see it as the Gehry. The cultural sector can’t remake Toronto all by itself, but it can turn empty boosterism into civic confidence and transform the city.
  • Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is dampening rising expectations after recent reports that there will be new subway funding and multi-billion-dollar windfalls in his March 23 budget, reported the Toronto Sun March 11. Duncan said March 10 that government revenues were up in the fall forecast. “However, there were clouds on the horizon … the appreciation of the Canadian dollar, the world price of oil,” he said. Duncan refused to confirm published reports that his government will invest in a $1.5-billion project to extend the subway to York University.
  • In a Toronto Sun column published March 12, Christina Blizzard asked whether York University is the right place to expand the Spadina subway. Look, the last time we expanded the subway along Sheppard Avenue, she said, it was a horrendous decision. It goes nowhere. Right now, it ends at Ikea. Who the heck takes a subway to buy furniture? Connecting it to the transportation hub at Scarborough Town Centre makes a lot more sense than the York U plan. It will take years of subsidies to keep the York U subway running before the TTC can build up ridership on that line. Better to build it where riders are ready and waiting.

Schulich helped start interest in business history

Forty-five years ago, a McGill University commerce student named Seymour Schulich was looking for a bird course to bolster his grades and came upon a prime candidate – business history, reported The Globe and Mail March 13. He got more than he expected. Not only did he ace the history course but, more profoundly, the experience changed his life. The course drew him into the study of the Dutch tulip bulb mania of the 1600s, and other historical spasms of speculation. It fed a burgeoning interest in investment cycles, which helped grow into a preoccupation with the gyrations of precious metals, particularly gold. “That was one of the most important courses I ever took because, all of a sudden, I got a perspective,” says Schulich, 66, now a titan in the global gold industry and a leading Canadian philanthropist.

That single course contributed in no small way to a personal fortune, which Canadian Business magazine recently estimated at more than $700 million. That doesn’t include the $150 million he has given away over the past decade – $100 million of which has supported university education. Now, $2 million of that money is funding a new business history chair at York University’s management faculty – part of a string of donations to what is called the Schulich School of Business. Schulich is at the forefront of a new enthusiasm in the corner office for business history in Canada, said the Globe. The driving forces are not just academics but chief executive officers and entrepreneurs – people who have seen the value of studying business history in their own careers and want today’s students to gain that perspective. Schulich considers business history to be among the three disciplines most crucial to his development. Finance gave him the language of business and statistics gave him a methodology for making decisions. History gave him the context for how those decision-making situations evolved.

Student helps organize ‘free speech’ demo

Protesters gathered on a downtown Toronto sidewalk in front of the Danish consulate Saturday in support of free speech and the publication of controversial caricatures depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, reported the Canadian Press in a story published in The Globe and Mail and online by CBC March 11. Daniel Dale, a York University business student, said that while he and event co-organizer Nav Purewal don’t support the content of the cartoons, they stand by their publication and the decision of the Alberta-based Western Standard and Jewish Free Press to reprint the cartoons last month. “Our intent is not to incite or provoke, but simply to stand in solidarity with a democracy and an ally and to express support for free expression,” Dale said.

Is the national dream over?

In a story about the impending retirement of historian Michael Bliss in The Globe and Mail March 11, columnist Michael Valpy noted that ,with a generation of other outstanding historians such as York University’s Ramsay Cook and Jack Granatstein already having taken up emeritus-professor status and others not far behind – the question is: Are there going to be enough people around to tell us stories about who we are?

Hilary Kilbourn was daughter of former York humanities professor

In a story about the death of artist Hilary Kilbourn, the Toronto Star noted March 13 that she was the daughter of Bill Kilbourn, founding chair of York University’s Department of Humanities, who died in 1995. Hilary thrived on the excitement on the home front as well as from her own social whirl of poetry readings and formal dances. There was every reason to believe a fine future lay ahead of her studying art and drama at York University’s brand new fine arts program. But Hilary’s “incredibly fertile existence,” as her sister described it, began to crumble when she was 22 and spending time in Findhorn Community, a religious retreat in Scotland. She came home and was hospitalized after experiencing her first episode of mania, now known as bipolar disorder. On Thursday, Feb. 2, she died in her sleep. She was 53.

‘Vulture’ label doesn’t apply to all Iranian exiles, says Rahnema

In a letter to the editor published in the Toronto Star March 11, Saeed Rahnema, political science professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, said he was deeply disappointed by Haroon Siddiqui’s article on Iranian exiles. It is unfortunate that a journalist of Siddiqui’s experience would make the unacceptable generalization that, “…Iranian exiles [are] circling Washington like vultures.” As in Toronto, Washington has all sorts of Iranian exiles, from royalists to liberal and left-leaning intellectuals and even Islamists. While he is correct that some are indeed doing exactly that, the omission of the word “some” makes all the difference in such a statement. One expects much more from a journalist who regularly preaches to Canadians about the dangers of generalizations and stereotyping.

Canada needs to play its part in world water issues, writes York student

I agree with Gordon Young, co-ordinator of the Paris-based United Nations World Water Assessment Program, that “Canada has the capacity and expertise to play a major role” in the world water crisis, wrote  Meesum Ashraf, an administrative studies student in York’s Atkinson Faculty of LIberal & Professional Studeies, in a letter to the Toronto Star published March 11. We, as Canadians, need to educate ourselves and others about conserving this precious resource called water, which we in Canada take for granted, while 1.2 billion people in the rest of the world don’t have access to it, he wrote. Engineers Without Borders, with co-operation from the Canadian International Development Agency and with endless support from its 12,000 university-aged volunteers across Canada, has been organizing high-school outreach workshops in various high schools in Canada. These interactive workshops educate young Canadians about water issues in Canada and abroad and allow them to brainstorm about viable water usage solutions. Ashraf was identified as co-founder of the York University chapter of Engineers Without Borders (Canada).

On air

  • Elio Costa, professor in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, spoke about compensation for Italians who were interned during the Second World War, on CFMT’s Italian language program “Studio Aperto” March 10.
  • Thabit Abullah, professor in York’s Department of History, participated in a panel discussion about whether or not Iraq is headed for civil war, on TVO’s “Studio 2” March 10.