New transit authority could help with buses to York

In a story about the anticipated creation of a Greater Toronto Transportation Authority in the provinicial budget speech, the Toronto Star March 23 reported that if properly conceived, the new body could resolve anomalies in transit routes, including those passing through York’s Keele campus. For example, on any given school day, thousands of York University-bound students line up for TTC buses at Downsview station. The buses are packed, the queues long and some students inevitably get left behind. At the station a few metres away, York Region’s Viva buses collect a handful of commuters bound for Vaughan. Viva buses often pull out of Downsview empty, heading for their second stop at York University, where they pick up more Vaughan-bound passengers. Viva can pick up passengers in York Region and drop off in Toronto, or vice versa. But Viva is not allowed to pick up and drop off people within Toronto. So those York University students have to wait for a TTC bus, even though Viva is running a parallel route nearly empty.

It’s one of those 416-905 jurisdictional turf-protection battles that put the financial interests of transit authorities ahead of the mobility of commuters, the Star said. Then there’s the issue of double fares when buses cross municipal borders. “We have lots of TTC routes that come up and travel through York Region because it just makes sense,” said Mary Frances Turner, who runs the Viva rapid bus system for York Region. “But when it crosses the Steeles Avenue boundary, they’re paying a double fare…Integrated fares systems and smart cards can’t happen fast enough. I welcome that day. If we can get to the moon,” said Turner, “we can get a subway across Steeles Avenue.”

  • For the first time in decades, Ontario’s government appears to be serious about improving public transit in Toronto and its surrounding area, reported the National Post March 23. The extension of the Spadina line into Vaughan signifies a much-needed willingness to look beyond boundaries and start worrying about serving GTA residents as a whole. And more so than the connection to York University, the line should be of considerable assistance to the many low-income residents in its vicinity – ideally helping revitalize their neighbourhoods in the process.
  • Bud Purves, president of York University Development Corporation, and an unidentified student, were interviewed on CBC-TV (Toronto) March 22 about a possible announcement of an extension to the Spadina subway, which was also mentioned on numerous pre-budget news items on various broadcast outlets.

New Miss Universe more than a pretty face, says Sun

She’s more than a pretty face, reported the Toronto Sun March 23. The new Miss Universe Canada is a Maple Leafs fan too. So now we know she’s brainy. And, perhaps, brave. “Yeah, I’d love to go to the game [tonight],” Alice Panikian said over the phone from Montreal where she was crowned Tuesday night, defeating 48 other contestants at Casino Montreal. Her handlers were wondering how to get tickets to the game. Heck, the Habs wouldn’t complain about that kind of Panikian attack – even if she wore her Leafs sweater at the Bell Centre. Yesterday was the beginning of one busy year for Panikian – a 20-year-old York University student in the Faculty of Arts. It has already started with her doing dozens of interviews and photo shoots – all on little sleep. “It’s surreal,” she said. “I haven’t gotten used to all of the attention. It’s still sinking in.”  Panikian was also interviewed on Global’s CKMI-TV (Montreal) March 22.

Dancers display gamut of emotions

Dance expresses things that cannot be said in words or captured in art, says Eko Dance guest choreographer Holly Small, an instructor in York’s Department of Dance, Faculty of Fine Arts, reported The Calgary Herald March 23. She is arranging this year’s production, Relative Notions, for the 15-year-old Calgary contemporary dance company. Small is choreographing a piece called Weeping Sky about the aspirations of young girls and women. Originally created in 2001 for a Toronto production called Souls, the dance is a multi-generational piece that follows the mandate of the Eko Dance company, Small said. There will be three groups each with one professional and two amateur dancers. “It’s nice to have young girls dancing with professionals, and the girls give the older dancers energy,” said Small, who has taught dance at York University for 18 years and has been dancing since she was four years old. “I love all forms of dance. A fine dancer stands out no matter what form of dance they are performing.”

York music professor founded Toronto Mass Choir

The Juno Award winning Toronto Mass Choir, which will perform at Calvary Pentecostal Church in Peterborough on April 1, is lead by director Karen Burke, professor in York’s Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Arts, reported The Peterborough Examiner March 23. In 1988, Burke was instrumental in founding the Toronto Mass Choir. Since its inception, she has also written many original songs for the choir’s recordings and continues as their principal director. Working along with her husband and devoted choral staff, Karen develops the choir’s touring schedules and choral arrangements. In 2005, Burke became an assistant professor in the music department at York University and leads their newly-established gospel choir.

Reality of Jane and Finch felt at forum

York student Jamal Clarke stands between the audience and the stage, momentarily caught between the crowd of students and the assembled group of police, school board officials and community workers at a York University forum on youth violence, reported The Globe and Mail March 23. He lifts his arms, and holds them out. This is the gulf that separates those who call for change and those with the power to exact it, he says. And once this listening session is over, he adds, that gap will only grow wider. Clarke, a 21-year-old second-year student in the Faculty of Arts, knows about violence. He lives in the Jane Street corridor and runs a mentorship program for at-risk youth. Last summer, his stepfather was stabbed to death.

Clarke also knows about these listening sessions. He has attended so many over the years that he knows nearly all the panellists. For the most part, these are just talking shops, he says. Nothing will ever come of them. The kids who need help will continue to be violent, because the social programs that promise to save them can’t reach them. “The people who need the help never see social services or programming. The most they ever see is the police officer who arrests them and the legal-aid lawyer assigned to them,” he said. “They talk about literacy, but the guy who’s going to get shot next week needs help now.” Yesterday’s session, attended mostly by students in York’s children’s studies program, was organized partly in response to the death of Chantel Dunn, a promising York student who was shot while in her car last month.

Top police officials, including Chief Armand LaBarge of York Regional Police and Inspector Tom McIlhone of 31 Division, listened attentively and took notes, The Globe reported. Officials from the Toronto District School Board and the Catholic District School Board explained their anti-violence policies and expressed interest in seeing more proactive co-operation between schools and police. But in an interview after his turn at the microphone, Clarke chuckled as he looked over the audience of earnest university students. “This is a nice, safe environment for these people to talk about violence,” he said. “All these kids who go up there with their essay-length questions. We should bring a busload of gangsters in here and see how they react.”

As he concluded his impromptu speech, he urged the University and its students to look after their neighbours. The Jane-Finch community sits at the edge of the York University campus. This centre of research and teaching can surely do more to share its wealth with those less fortunate, he said. With the audience hanging on his words, Clarke swivelled to face the students behind and the dignitaries in front. Repeating the words so quickly they dissolved into one connected phrase, he said: “York University is Jane and Finch. Jane and Finch is York University.” He departed to loud applause, but left certain that all the talk would lead nowhere.

  • The Toronto Sun also reported Clarke’s Jane and Finch speech March 23. In response to Dunn’s murder, the Sun noted, Clarke was one of several hundred York students who attended a campus forum with local police and politicians yesterday to address the escalating problem of youth violence. Unlike most of those in the well-meaning audience, Clarke actually knew Chantel. And unlike most of those in the audience, the 21-year-old criminology student grew up in Jane and Finch where both the victims and the perpetrators of all this gunplay are more than just headlines on the evening news.

Quebecker taught in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies

Michel Chevalier did so many different things in life, he is almost impossible to pigeonhole, The Globe and Mail said in an obituary March 23. He ended as a professor, earning a PhD in his 40s after having earlier quit university. Along the way, he was a soldier, a businessman and a somewhat prescient politician. In the mid-1960s, Chevalier decided to return to school. He earned a master’s degree and then a doctorate in city planning at the University of Pennsylvania. He returned home to be a professor at the Université de Montreal in the Institute d’urbanisme. At the same time, he joined the faculty at Toronto’s York University to teach environmental studies. Chevalier left the Université de Montreal in 1988 but stayed on at York until his retirement in 1992. Michel Philippe Chevalier was born in Montreal on July 1, 1924. He died in Toronto on Jan. 15, 2006, after a long stay in hospital. He is survived by his wife, Jean, and four children. He was predeceased by a daughter in 1991.

On air

  • Philip Silver, dean of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, was a guest on Rogers Television’s “Daytime” program where he talked about the opening of The Accolade Project.
  • Thabit Abdullah, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the war in Iraq on TVO’s “Studio 2” March 22.