When I step outside my door I’m liable to encounter a man dressed in a red robe, wearing Nike sneakers with a backpack on his shoulders. Parkdale has one of the largest Tibetan communities outside of Dharamsala, the home in exile of the Dalai Lama. When I shop at the West Indian Emporium I have to pass by Hamza Mosque. I buy small fiery red peppers from a pleasant Chinese lady. My clothes are expertly laundered by a Korean gentleman with whom I share a passion for futbol.
There are the panhandlers outside the LCBO. There is the knot of down and out types sitting on the curb outside the Library passing a bottle of Canadian Sherry around. The Aboriginals who used to drink in the lane that runs off Brock street seemed to have moved on, but there is often someone drinking or shooting up in the lane. It’s not unusual to see a person wandering along the street, often under clothed in winter, mumbling incoherently. There is the nightly line-up outside Our Lady of Loretto soup kitchen, a scene reminiscent of photos from the Depression.
At night the police sirens wail outside my window. A mentally challenged man was beaten to death by a masked assailant. A man was shot to death. A woman was raped. A man was robbed. There was a home invasion. Bed bugs abound, as does another ubiquitous insect, the slum landlord. Homeless persons huddle in corners, too confused to seek shelter or because there is no shelter. Gentrification proceeds apace. Fine old gabled brownstones are renovated. Families move in, SUV’s parked on the street.
Parkdale is beautiful the first or second week of May when the maples leaf out and the air is tinted a lime green. It is desolate as a junk yard when drunks collide in the middle of the night, sounds of breaking glass, cries of pain as flesh is sliced open, police sirens in the distance. It is innocent as fresh milk when a line of preschoolers roped together march into the Library. It is perplexing when road rage erupts at the corner of Brock and Queen on the Friday of a long weekend. It is disgraceful when the sidewalks remain unshoveled making them impassable for anyone with a disability. It is frustrating when a commercial venue flouts the noise bylaws. Most people pick up after their dogs. Some don’t.
There are no golf courses in Parkdale. There is a terrific Library. Jane Duncan showed at Gallery 1313. Nuit Blanche gets a little wild this far west. We get the Labour Day Parade. We get TFC fans before and after. We get our window panes rattled by the CNE Air Show. There are no high end restaurants, but Bacchus is renowned for its rotis. The parks are rather mundane and poorly kept. It has a lovely stretch of lake beach that was amputated from the neighbourhood by the Expressway. The water itself is too polluted for swimming. Some of its history survives, much of it was bulldozed.
No one would ever describe Parkdale as idyllic. It’s not a hell hole of crack houses either. The prostitutes, who work the neighbourhood, are for the most part, discreet. For all the evidence of poverty and violence there is plenty of good will on the streets, though perhaps not so much after the bars close. You know what we don’t have, though, is a Tim Horton’s and to be honest, I’m okay with that. So far Parkdale had refused to embrace that level of blandness.