City: Let them eat franks
Late-spring sunshine bathed the third annual St. James Town Festival, which went ahead despite an 11th-hour permit scare, thanks to a sacrifice made by Festival volunteers – their lunches.
The Festival, a not-for-profit event designed to bring the community together and funded by sponsors and donors, was almost derailed by a last-minute City of Toronto demand that the group pay for a permit to use the Wellesley Community Centre grounds at Sherbourne and Wellesley. Festival organizers were exempt from paying for it in the past. “With about a week’s notice, you could imagine that it created a lot of stress on us, because $1,416 is what it costs for the use of this green space,” says Gene Lara, festival chairperson. “I just went to the City and paid it. I had no choice. … We are a poor community and we should not be charged for that.”
But the money had to come from somewhere in her meagre budget. “We have no food for our volunteers now – we only have hot dogs,” Lara said.
In just a few blocks of what is sometimes described as “the world within a block,” 19,000 people live in 18 massive residential towers, making St. James Town one of the most crowded neighbourhoods in North America. It’s also one of the poorest and most ethnically mixed in Toronto.
In spite of the bureaucratic hassle, the Festival came alive with sights and sounds that reflected the extraordinary diversity of the neighbourhood. After the opening parade, the St. James Town Youth Centre Steel Orchestra entertained a crowd of hundreds who clutched helium balloons and licked ice cream cones. Politicians mingled. Among them was Bob Rae, who will run as the federal Liberal candidate for Toronto-Centre in the next election, seeking to replace retiring MP Bill Graham. “It’s a wonderful occasion,” he said. “It’s really remarkable how the different communities have come together.”
Before the 2005 Festival, the City had asked organizers of the event, which had been going on unofficially for years at Rose Avenue Public School, to move to the grounds of Wellesley Community Centre. Kelvin Seow, Toronto-East York community recreation manager, says nothing was billed to the Festival in its first two years there, but organizers were warned following the 2006 Festival that the upcoming permit process would include fees. Councillor Pam McConnell’s office says the Festival received a $2,700 grant, more than enough to cover the permit fee.
But it was the timing more than the dollar amount that angered Festival organizers. “If we are going to be charged, they should have informed us immediately,” Lara says. “Right away! Because then we could push for some more donations or relocate to the old place that we had [at Rose Avenue Public School].”
National Post Saturday, June 16, 2007 Page: TO4 Section: Toronto: The City Byline: Philip Alves Column: Neighbourhoods: St. James Town