Holey, Moley! York history prof names tunnel-boring machines

When York history Professor Thomas Cohen read an online posting about a contest to name the four tunnel-boring machines that would be used to build the York-Spadina subway extension, it was a challenge he could not refuse.

The contest, which was sponsored by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), asked Torontonians to come up with quirky names for the giant earth-eating machines.

Above: York history Professor (and Web 2.0 convert) Thomas Cohen

Cohen, who is a scholar of Renaissance Rome in the Department of Humanities in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), decided to enter the contest. An urban activist and advocate of public transit, Cohen thought the contest would not only be fun, but also a great way to draw attention to the important role the subway extension would play in uniting the Greater Toronto Area.

“I came up with the names of Holey and Moley,” he said with a laugh. “It was kind of a ‘Eureka’ moment for me. Essentially, the machines are moles that make marvellous holes. The words went together beautifully.”

Left: Two of these machines will bear the names Holey and Moley. Photo: TTC.

Earlier this year, Cohen received official notification that he had won the contest and two of the machines would be christened Holey and Moley. City of Vaughan resident Rose Rinella’s submission of Yorkie and Torkie snagged the other win. A total of 720 entries were submitted to the contest. The TTC narrowed the field to 10 entries and the public was invited to vote for their favourites. The winners secured the top spot by a landslide lead of more than 2,000 votes on the contest’s website.

Cohen, who is chuffed by the win, said he learned an important lesson about the power of social media and its ability to bring results. “My adult children suggested to me that I launch a political campaign for Holey and Moley. I started with the Humanities listserv and moved out from there,” he said. Before he knew it, he had a Facebook page, Twitter feeds and the campaign for Holey and Moley took off.

“I got people to vote early. Developed campaign slogans and put them online. I invited other people to become part of the conversation through social media,” he said. “LA&PS Dean Martin Singer thought it was hilarious! The campaign took possession of the vote.”

A winner in more ways then one, Cohen said he would take the lessons he learned about the power of social media to advance change to his residents’ association’s fight to preserve their midtown Toronto neighbourhood. “We are fighting to stop the development of high-rise residential condominiums in our neighbourhood. These developments threaten the very character of the area where I live and the area’s greenness.”

Cohen and Rinella will be present at the official naming ceremony for the York-Spadina tunnel-boring machines that will take place this spring. If Cohen has his way, the ceremony location and time are sure to be on multiple listservs, posted online, tweeted and included in Facebook.

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor