City Hall & Mrs. God

by Cary Fagan,
ISBN: 0920544738

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The New Solitudes
by June Callwood

MRS. GOD Is one of the lost people who wanders downtown Toronto, indifferent to weather or the clarion call of appearances, and dreams aloud of another life. City Hall, you know. As Toronto drifts consciencelessly into two social isolations, the gloriously, ostentatiously, very rich and the wretchedly poor, it would seem that the common denominator of their humanity is disappearing. The very poor have become invisible to the affluent: not to the eye, as Mrs. God knows, but to the sensibilities of those who have appointments to keep. The journalist and novelist Cary Fagan employed the prerogative of his free lance to visit both camps and talk to the inhabitants. He went to protest meetings and to City Hall and to Christie Pits, to the Art Gallery of Ontario, a psychedelic night in a dance-club, and a Jaguar sales office. He spoke with a development lawyer and looked, really looked, at children in a daycare centre. He listened to what people were saying on the subway and he drove the Gardiner Expressway, his powers of observation and memory alert. His fine book is social history at its personal best. Here he is walking through Regent Park: "The drabness and uniformity, the blank worn spaces between the buildings where debris shifts and glass shards glint -- it all freezes the heart." Here he is keeping an appointment with Gordon Riehl, president of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Toronto, only to be told that he isn`t in his office, he is across the street: I take the elevator down the thirteen storeys, cross the TD Centre`s plaza, enter the pillared lobby of the Board of Trade, and take the elevator up to the fourth floor. The receptionist, wearing a headset like an airport traffic controller, informs me that Mr. Riehl is at Deloitte Haskins and Sells. "But I was just there," I pant. He knows he should talk to the street kids, the flotsam with purple Mohawk -- that washes up on the shores of the Eaton Centre, but he can`t muster the nerve to approach them. The best he can do is hang out nearby pretending to read a newspaper. They`re absorbed in a discussion about sex and violence but they spot him, and glare. Almost by accident, he does fall in with homeless teenagers and he`s astounded by their openness. In a minute, he`s trusted. "They seem to absorb goodwill the way children do love," he marvels. Now he`s listening to a furious man who runs a used-book store. On another page the affable artist and entrepreneur Charlie Pachter appears, "a sprightly and slightly rounding man with a neat greying beard"; and then the stunningly direct Pat Capponi who speaks for the dispossessed; followed by the earnest, busy councillor Jack Layton, wearing "a white shirt over his muscular chest and the trade-mark suspenders," And here`s Michael Shapcott, hero of the Bread Not Circuses assault on Toronto`s Olympic bid. In Beat the Streets, a literacy program for the home less, he meets Julian, a 17-year-old who has been on the streets since the age of 12. Julian has seven fresh stitches in his side, the result of a drunk`s attack the night before. Julian accepts this as a nor mal event. On Nathan Phillips Square, a tall, dignified black man asks Cary Fagan for money. "I`ve been suffering a good deal lately:` the man explains, his voice refined. It`s such glimpses of the city beneath the city that distinguish this book from all others about Toronto. At heart it`s a travel book to a strange land, and heart is the operative word. The journalist in Cary Fagan has taken him to the front lines of poverty and riches; the novelist in him dresses the encounters with dignity of purpose and richness of language. Mrs. God, a Placid, demented woman he met on a park bench, described Toronto as war-torn. She cautioned Cary Fagan, "Remember, be kind to people." And he is

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