Posts Tagged ‘Toronto

The Dickeys of Toronto: A Family Saga Spanning Centuries And Continents — Part 1

- July 16th, 2014

Toronto-waterfront-1873

A bird’s eye view of Toronto from over the lake, 1873. Click on the image to enlarge it.

 

This started out as a short, simple, straight-forward story about a city, a house and a man.

Then, like most things in my life, it got complicated.

The house I’m referring to is the High Victorian mansion Sir John A. Macdonald owned in Toronto from 1876 to 1886 and which was his family’s principal residence for the first two years of that decade of ownership.

The house is located at 63 St. George Street on the University of Toronto campus. It  is surprisingly unknown despite being an important landmark — one of the very few still existing — of the deep and important relationship between this city and Canada’s first, best and greatest (perhaps “grandest” would be a better word) prime minister.

63-St-George-front

The building is still in relatively good shape — but has been treated by its current owners (U of T) with what might charitably be described as benign neglect and with what must truthfully be described as utter disrespect over the past century.

I recently wrote an entire blog post on that situation, which you can find here.

Here’s the historical plaque beside the house at 63 St. George Street. (It still rankles me that it’s called the “Macdonald-Mowat House” and not just “Sir John A. Macdonald’s Toronto House” … but never mind. And I definitely wouldn’t call the eclectic building style “French Second Empire” … but never mind about that either.)

Macdonald-plaque

One thing that intrigued me about the plaque was the reference to its builder, “Nathaniel Dickey, a Toronto iron founder.”

When seen properly the house really is quite beautiful — interesting, anyway, sort of like Gérard Depardieu’s face — and was situated in what would have been a magnificent setting at the time. It is large and certainly would have cost a fortune to build.

So why, I wondered, would Nathaniel Dickey — an obviously established and prosperous businessman — build his dream house in 1872 only to turn around just a few years later and sell it to Sir John A.? Was it the result of a personal tragedy or a business collapse or a simple change of heart? Perhaps the house — on the northwestern outskirts of the city when it was built — was just too far away from Nathaniel Dickey’s place of business and he got tired of the daily commute.

I would love to show you a photo of Nathaniel Dickey right now … but I can’t. I’ve worn out my eyes and my fingers and heart looking for any kind of pictorial representation of Mr. Dickey. With no success. BUT I know a picture of Nathaniel Dickey exists somewhere and I’m bound and determined to find it and show it to you. Why do I know it exists for certain? Because Nathaniel Dickey was a member of Toronto City Council for most of the 1860s, and local politicians were camera hogs back then just as much as they are now. So somewhere there’s a sepia-tone image of Nathaniel Dickey scrunching closer to Mayor Bowes or Mayor Medcalf or Mayor Smith at the official ribbon-cutting for a public horse trough or the opening of a new brewery. I know it’s there and I’ll find it. Someday. I promise.

So I looked into Nathaniel Dickey. I had an itch to know the background to his story and — the most important thing, from my point of view at the time — the story of the house that Nathaniel Dickey built.

It was actually fairly easy to get an early quick-fix on Nathaniel Dickey. Which was good, because I saw the Dickey connection as merely a footnote to the much more important Macdonald story.

But one thing led to another, one bit of information raised questions which led to another door, which opened into a hallway with half a dozen more doors (some just closed, others locked tight). And those new doors led to still more doors and still more questions. And behind many of those doors was completely contradictory information. You get the picture.

Thus my short, simple, straight-forward story turned into “a family saga spanning centuries and continents.” And only “Part 1″ to boot. Lordy.

I doubt that many people will continue with me on this whole journey, but I welcome those who do and wish us all good luck. This thing will evolve over time as new facts and perspectives come to light, so I will add updates as seems appropriate.

But right now I have to start writing something; it’s better to make changes later than to wait until I think I know everything about the subject, a day that will never come. Besides, I don’t want to make the story of one family with which I have absolutely no connection (apart from curiosity) my life’s work. I still have Rob Ford and Steve Harper and Vlad Putin to deal with.

So let’s start with my entry point into the story of Nathaniel Dickey, iron founder, and his family. That would be this biographical sketch on Nathaniel’s brother James from Volume II of the 1885 History of Toronto and County of York published by C. Blackett Robinson.

1885-bio-James-1

1885-bio-james-2

It all seems straight-forward enough, doesn’t it? The two immigrant Dickey brothers “retired” in 1876, the same year Nathaniel sold his house to Macdonald, and turned over the successful business to their brother-in-law and partner, John Neil (or Neill — it goes back and forth all over the place).

Keep moving, folks, nothing to look at here. Except …

Except when you do keep looking, so much of that brief entry turns out to be coverup or disputed or just plain wrong.

For starters, both of the Dickey brothers were just in their early 40s at the time — in the prime of life, career-wise, and certainly nowhere near an age any entrepreneur with gumption would retire either then or now. And neither of those Dickey boys was what you would call “retiring” in a commercial, social, political, legal or militant sense either.

So let’s go back, as best we can, to the beginning of the Dickey saga and see where it takes us.

The Dickey family was what used to be known as “Scotch Irish” — poor Scottish Protestant farmers and labourers recruited by the English (and Scottish) King James I in the first two decades of the 17th Century to colonize Ireland and subdue the rebellious Catholic natives.

I’ll tell you which Dickey made that crossing of the North Channel soon enough, but we can trace the family line back five generations before that to one Scottish landowner named Robert Dik who was born in 1463 in the reign of the fifth Scottish Stewart king and who sired eight children before he died at the ripe old age (for that time) of 75 in 1538 in the reign of the seventh Stewart sovereign, father of the notable (and beheaded) Mary.

(NOTE: The name is spelled both Stewart and Stuart but since it comes from a man known as “Robert the Steward” I think the “Stewart” spelling is probably more faithful to the origin.)

Before Robert Dik died, the family surname had become Dickey and, with eight children to carry on the line, a huge number of people now named Dickey — perhaps all of them, for all I know — can count Robert Dik as their ancestor.

We move ahead half a century and move from the fields and farms of rural lowland Scotland to the shops and houses of urban Glasgow where John Dickey III was born in 1584 (about 20 years after Shakespeare was born, although neither John Dickey III, his children nor his children’s children would have ever heard the name Shakespeare). John had the misfortune to lose his parents in his early teens but at least his father had been a  successful small merchant and left the boy with some property and what appeared to be a modestly comfortable future.

Until disaster struck in the form of Glasgow’s Great Fire of 1601. Everything the 17-year-old owned was burned to the ground and he was left penniless.

So poor and without prospects in his native land, John Dickey III was a prime candidate to join the flotilla of Scottish Protestant colonizers sent across the narrow sea of the North Channel to conquer Ireland a few years later by James I, King of Great Britain, as he styled himself.

ScottishU-landlords

At this point, the English had been trying to subdue Ireland for centuries — since at least the Norman period — with varying degrees of success. And the Gaelic Irish had been resisting — with varying degrees of success — for centuries.

This latest attempt at subjugation was focused on the northern part of Ireland known as Ulster not so much because it was closest to Scotland, but because Irish resistance had been strongest in Ulster and the English wanted to replace the most rebellious Irish Catholics with loyal and dependable Scottish Protestant subjects.

So John Dickey III was one of those who came in and drove off the Irish, built fortified towns and established what was known as the Ulster plantation.

At almost exactly the same time as the English were planting themselves in colonies on the inhospitable shores of wild America, the Scots were planting themselves in colonies on the green but equally hostile terrain of wild Ireland.

John Dickey III died in Ballymenas, Antrim, in 1641, having fathered three children and established the Dickey family in Ireland.

What followed is known as the Ascendancy, the establishment of a minority Protestant elite ruling over a disenfranchised Catholic majority, with its high point being Protestant William of Orange’s defeat of Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Now not all the Protestant “Scotch Irish” made it into this ascendant elite. A lot of them were relatively poor tenant farmers and tradesmen — but all of them were better off than the impoverished Gaelic Catholic masses, received at least a smattering of education, had more opportunities for advancement and had more rights and privileges. And they fought to hold on to those advantages.

irish-rebellion

The Dickey family weaved through all this turmoil, surviving and growing and staying mostly grounded in Antrim.

By the early 1700s “Nathaniel” was an established name in the Dickey family. And by the time our Nathaniel Dickey emigrated to Canada with his brother James in 1847, he was the sixth generation of his family in direct succession to be named “Nathaniel.” (Our Nathaniel for some reason didn’t name any of his children Nathaniel, although one — born W. Arthur Dickey in Toronto in 1869 — appears to have later changed his name by deed poll to Nathaniel Adam Dickey as an adult in the U.S.)

One of those earlier Nathaniels was quite famous as a leader of Methodists in Ulster who broke with the parent church in 1798 over the right of the people to choose their own ministers. I don’t want to get caught up in the intricacies of Methodism’s schism any more than I wanted to step into the whole Irish Catholic-Protestant quagmire. Suffice it to say, the Dickeys’ standing rose within the lower ranges of Scotch-Irish Ulster society but still did not elevate them into the elite.

The family had moved to Lisburn  (still in Antrim) just south of Belfast by the time our Nathaniel’s grandfather (also named Nathaniel, of course) died there at age 71 in 1828.

(If you’re a Dickey genealogist, you may have come across some information saying this Nathaniel was our Nathaniel’s father, not grandfather. Couldn’t be: Our Nathaniel was born in 1829 — not 1826 as is often erroneously reported — the year after that Nathaniel died, and several of our Nathaniel’s siblings were born even later. The plethora of “Nathaniel Dickey” namesakes probably led to the confusion. It was our Nathaniel’s brother James, by the way, who was born in 1826. In the 1881 Canadian census, James lists his age as 55 and Nathaniel lists his age as 52, ages which coincide with the 1826 and 1829 birth years.)

Now one thing that’s interesting here is that our Nathaniel’s grandfather was married to a “Quakeress” (name unknown — which indicates the information on the gravestone was supplied much later and with sketchy authority) so the family was obviously not dogmatically rigid at this time.

Anyway … our Nathaniel Dickey was born in Lisburn, as were siblings James, John, Thomas, William, Robert, Adam, Samuel and Sarah. Quite a crowd. Too many to be supported by one family farm.

Fortunately for the Dickeys, the Industrial Revolution came along just in time to provide factory work for some of the increasing number of farm folk headed for the cities and towns.

old-belfast

And also fortunately for the Dickeys, they were Protestant Scotch-Irish with a basic education, so they were considered employable by the other Protestant Scotch-Irish who owned the factories.

James for sure and almost certainly Nathaniel and possibly one or two other younger brothers were engaged as apprentice machinists in the MacAdam Brothers’ Soho Foundries in Belfast.

Like many iron foundries around the world, the Belfast Soho operation was named in honour of the original Soho Foundry in Birmingham, where James Watt developed the first truly efficient steam engines, thus making the Industrial Revolution possible. Steam engines and turbines and boilers were the cutting edge of technology in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, so calling your iron foundry Soho was a little like independent computer designers today calling their operations “Apple” — the difference being that people could get away with it 200 years ago. And it was, after all, a mark of respect and homage. Keep that in mind when the name Soho Foundry comes up later.

Anyway, several of the young Dickeys got their grounding in mechanical engineering and iron foundering with the MacAdams. The Belfast Soho Foundries built steam engines and turbines (as well as spinning machines) for mills throughout Britain and even exported some of their engines as far away as Egypt.

So the Dickeys are now gathering in Belfast in the mid-1840s. And this is where we will pause.

The Great Famine of 1845-50 is about to descend on Ireland and blow the entire Dickey family (in several waves) across the Atlantic to Canada. But we’ll get to that in a few days. I’m still opening doors and poking in the Dickey family closets. I am, after all, Nosey Parker.

See you soon.

 

 

 

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Luminato Lights Up Toronto

- June 9th, 2014

Taku-disco-ball-web

If that headline reads like it’s rah-rah, brought-and-paid-for PR boosterism, consider this:

Five years ago, I wrote a Nosey Parker blog post on the big Toronto summer arts festival that had this headline … “Luminato Sucks.”

I went on to call it an unfocused, wasteful, elitist bore and wrote …

“It’s an insiders’ event for the people who organize it, who perform in it, who are invited to it and who profit from it. It is not an ecstatic cultural party for the people of Toronto, it does not build a bedrock of creative experience for people who live and work and struggle and beg and steal and cry and die here, it does not give us some kind of international cachet (for whatever that is worth), it does not do a damn thing for the people or the vibrant-but-broke arts community of Toronto except siphon off $4 million dollars a year from other projects that could really make Toronto a better place.”

Now I’m writing “Luminato Lights Up Toronto.”

Obviously something has changed … and I don’t think it’s me. (Well, of course I’ve changed — five years have passed, after all — but not that much.)

It’s Luminato that’s changed — and definitely for the better.

Oh sure, the teeth-sucking, head-scratching avante-garde “explorations” are still there, but there’s now also plenty of good-and-gutsy popular fare everyone can get their teeth and heads into — and a lot of it is free.

Well, not exactly free — an awful lot of Luminato is financed on the public dime (and a lot more public dimes than were spent five years ago) — but at least the public gets an enjoyable ride for its dime as well as juicing the already juiced. And it’s money well spent.

For example…

Last Friday evening (the night the 10-day festival opened), I was at a Blue Jays game with my old chum Mike Strobel. After the game Strobel went off to do important things and I wandered up the street to David Pecaut Square, the space between Roy Thomson Hall and Metro Hall known as the Festival Hub for the duration of Luminato (and also Toronto’s largest licensed outdoor patio).

jjesse-cook

There on stage was Jesse Cook, one of the most acclaimed guitarists in the world, and his incredible band putting on a terrific flamenco-fusion show for the hometown crowd. For free. I didn’t see her, but I’m told singer Amanda Martinez, another internationally celebrated Toronto resident, had earlier joined Cook for a dazzling set.

There was a little thing called Stanley Cup playoff hockey going on Saturday, so I really don’t know what happened that day at Luminato.

But on Sunday I headed down to the Air Canada Centre where members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra were gathering with hundreds of amateur and/or aspiring professional musicians to perform a super-sized Music Mob version of Ravel’s Bolero.

It was a blast. And it, too, was free.

Here are a few photos, including TSO music director Peter Oundjian (sometimes wearing a Sundin Leafs jersey) conducting the talented crowd.

Peter-Oundjian

cellos

floor-shot

little-girl

horns

And there’s so much more to come.

Yes, I still think Luminato spends wildly beyond its means and I still think there’s a nasty streak of elitism and insider entré in its marrow … but I am happy to say I find the current incarnation of Luminato much more expansionary and inclusive, much more accessible and affordable, much more connected to both local Toronto audiences and local performers than the festival I complained about in 2009.

Yet it still brings the world to Toronto’s stages for 10 glorious days and nights, still presents major artistic innovation and international premiere performances, still surprises and sometimes shocks and still throws a hell of a good party.

It’s a huge enterprise concentrated in the city core, a sprawling panoply of music, theatre, dance, art, food, energy, more music, flash mobs, stars, literary excursions, participation, initiation, cabaret, conga lines, drinks, discoveries, installations, more music, entertainment, exuberance, exultation, high-minded seriousness and low-down dirty fun.

As current (since 2011) artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt said in a recent interview: “I think a festival needs to overwhelm and needs to be too much.”

Good for him. A great festival needs to go big or go home. But it also needs to keep in mind who its audience is — the people of the city hosting the goings-on as well as the cultural elite jetting in (often at the festival’s expense) to savour the event’s delicacies and delights behind closed doors and VIP fences.

I think Luminato in its current form has now managed to find a happy balance between accessible popularism and cultural canapes for the cutting-edge cognoscente.

Of course, there’s “revolutionary artist” Matthew Barney with his Cremaster Cycle of films, exhibitions and installations (although the cycle’s more than a decade old now, so I’m not sure how cutting-edge it is anymore).

UPDATE: See the comment below to correct my mistake about Matthew Barney. It was a fundamental error.

If_I_Loved_You_606x287

And the (instantly sold out) world premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway show with guys like Wainwright, David Byrne, Boy George, Josh Groban, Steven Paige and others singing Broadway love songs to each other. They’ll be going on to Broadway, London’s West End and points beyond after Luminato.

And on and on.

I must say I never really minded the high-end extravaganzas put on for the discerning few in the past. I just felt waaaaay too much of Luminato’s budget was devoted to those status-seeking, reputation-enriching, narrow-focus, sometimes mind-numbing exercises and not enough to the real, wide-open, freewheeling, artistically and culturally explosive carnival of creation that a festival like Luminato could be. I also felt Luminato five years ago was too much in Toronto and not enough of Toronto and for Toronto.

I’m happy to say that when I wade through the Luminato programme now, I find a really, really good blend of international stars and innovators and ingénues and homegrown stars and innovators and ingénues. And a lot of it is freaking free!

The free music concert programme, mainly at the Festival Hub in David Pecaut Square, just keeps expanding and expanding — and that’s a very good thing.

This year’s programme has a strong leaning toward Latin music, perhaps because the World Cup is about to kick off in Brazil, but I don’t think anyone can complain about that. Who doesn’t love samba and flamenco and rumba and bossa and all the fusions and variations that come out mixing those sounds with the rest of the world’s music? And again, there’s a really good mix of international stars with headliners and supporting acts that are based in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada. The more money from events like these that goes into Canadian performers’ pockets, the happier I am.

There’s lots more music with a Latin flavour playing — just go looking for it in the programme — but there’s so much else too. And — I’ll say it one more time — most of it free!

Yes, some great shows are ticketed but the prices are pretty darn reasonable for what you get. The Roots show last Saturday cost $35. Much-talked-about TV On The Radio (Friday) will also be $35. And the Ziggy Marley show on Saturday will be $35.

But …

Buffy_Sainte_Marie-M

On Tuesday night, you get the legendary Buffy Sainte Marie and radically amazing Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq for FREE!

I’ll be watching hockey again on Wednesday but, if you’re not, Toronto’s own Scottish-Argentinian chanteuse Alejandra Ribera along with Keys on the Street, another homegrown wonder in which pianist Angela Hewitt and choreographer Tré Armstrong combine classical music and urban dance will down at the Hub — for FREE!

Thursday night gives us Canada’s own Souljazz Orchestra and Sidestepper (described as “a glorious melting pot of European, South American and African influences” — blended with electronics) — for FREE!

And next Sunday evening, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra takes the stage at David Pecault Square for Salute to the Americas that includes compositions from Canada, the U.S. Cuba, Brazil and Argentina — for FREE!

And earlier in the evening — every evening and for FREE! — the Slaight Music Series gives us (usually) two performances by really terrific (usually) Canadian acts  that you may not have heard of but are guaranteed to be blown away by. Here’s a link to that schedule with dates, times and bios.

There’s so much more in store this week. Again, here’s a link to the full Luminato schedule.

Take advantage of it. Luminato is fully funded for 2015 (because of the Pan Am Games), but after that a number of question marks hang over its financial future. What you get this week may be Luminato at the top of its game. It lights up Toronto and it’s worth every penny. Enjoy.

 

 

 

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Meet The Next Mayor Of Toronto

- February 24th, 2014

small-chowsmall-torysmall-ford

John Tory: Somewhere in the middle between Olivia Chow and Rob Ford

 

 

John Tory just decided the outcome of Toronto’s next mayoral election on Oct. 27.

 

And the winner is …

 

Olivia Chow.

 

Probably. Unless she goes out of her way to blow it. (Which is, of course, entirely conceivable. Seven or eight months is an awfully long time to keep one’s natural proclivities penned up. Just ask Rob Ford.)

 

That doesn’t mean Chow deserves to be the next mayor of Toronto. Chow in the mayor’s chair is just the logical outcome of John Tory’s announced decision to seek the job.

 

If you want to get into oversimplifications like “Left” and “Right,” John Tory’s (pending) official entry into the race hopelessly divides and fragments the vote on the right, while the left remains more or less solidly aligned behind Chow’s candidacy.

 

That leaves the swampy middle as the battleground for the votes necessary to push a candidate to the top. And we all know what happens to ambitions and dreams for glory in a swamp: They sink and drown.

 

As Rob Ford, John Tory, Karen Stintz and David Soknacki try desperately to crawl  over each other to get out of the mire on the right, Chow is going to be paddling all alone in her serene little skiff, the S.S. Left-Wing Mayor.

 

Now I’ve mentioned Stintz and Socks as legitimate contenders on the right, but that was more a casual courtesy than anything. Neither of them has a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected mayor and neither, frankly, deserves the job. And hopefully John Tory’s announcement has driven the final spike in whatever lingering, Dracula-like aspirations Denzil Minnan-Wong holds for the mayoralty. And where did Norm Gardner come from? The Twilight Zone?

 

(Stintz is a shrill, self-serving flip-flopper who has done a lousy job as head of the TTC and is almost as bad as Rob Ford when it comes to building consensus on council. And if the health of Toronto’s body politic was so important to Soknacki — David Miller’s finance henchman/enabler — then why was he so conspicuously absent from the process for four seven years? Besides, Socks has the charisma of a clam.

 

(As for Minnan-Wong, the guy’s just plain creepy. He was my councillor for the better part of a decade so I had a good look at him. If I wouldn’t vote for him as ward-heeler, why on earth would I consider him fit to be mayor?

 

(And how old is that guy, anyway? Denzil Minnan-Wong never mentions his age — anywhere — although his Wikipedia entry lists him as probably 49 or 50. I used to think he hid his age because he was so young, appointed to a supposedly elective position when he was 12 or something like that … I’m kidding, of course — he was at least 13 when he was hoisted up onto the booster seat in Barry Burton’s old North York Council chair in 1994. But lately I’m starting to think Denzil’s been hiding his age for the opposite reason — because he’s, you know, actually ageless and immortal in an “I-vant-to-suck-your-blood” sort of way. I may be wrong on that, but if Denzil is foolish enough to run for mayor, he’d better have his birth certificate handy when he makes the announcement.)

 

But back to the real candidates …

 

Stintz and Socks and the other bobble-heads are just distractions from the main contenders on the right — Rob Ford and John Tory.

 

Ford, we all know about. He is what he is — a huffing, puffing (as in crack-puffing) Little Engine That Could. By sheer, antediluvian, crocodilian will power, Robbie Boy and the rest of the Ford Compact have hauled their anti-Gravy Train to the top of the mountain (which was Ford’s first year in office as mayor) and are now roaring at full speed — out of control and apparently enjoying the ride — down the other side of the mountain.

 

Where the ride ends is anyone’s guess. Until John Tory entered the race, Robbie’s ride could have ended up back in the mayor’s office. (Still might, in fact. It’s a long shot now but stranger things have happened. And, like I said, Oct. 27 is a loooong way away.)

 

Robbie’s diehard fans, Ford Nation, will stick with him to the bitter end, but every new late-night booze-up and acting-out episode loses Robbie a few more of those all-important mushy-middle-right votes that could conceivably have gone Robbie’s way in a head-to-head with Olivia Chow.

 

Tory’s entry takes away most, if not all, of those hold-your-nose-and-vote-against-the-socialist votes. Now those votes have a place to park. Tory will even pull away a few votes from the disenchanted fringes of Ford Nation.

 

But win? Can John Tory win?

 

Don’t bet on it. John Tory’s a loser. He’s never actually won anything in his life. I think his natural predisposition is to lose, which is why he keeps running — or allowing himself to be pushed into running — for office. He needs to run in order to lose. Dr. Nosey Parker says it’s a deep-seated, neurotic, visceral drive not unlike that which leads Rob Ford to repeatedly, obsessively, intentionally run off the rails of good behaviour.

 

Don’t get me wrong: John Tory had to run. As far as the movers and shakers of Toronto were concerned, somebody on the right with a fighting chance had to run against the unmanageable buffoon that is Ford and the slippery socialist that is Chow.

 

But win? Last summer I wrote an entire Nosey Parker blog post about the many reasons why John Tory shouldn’t run for mayor of Toronto — but probably would. It references another piece I wrote back in 2010 when Tory announced he wasn’t running for mayor that year, the year he might have actually won something.

 

Here’s a link to it if you want to get second-degree acid burns from wading through the bile.

 

As a sampler, here are a few (quite a few, actually) representative paragraphs from those pieces, first from 2010:

 

“John Tory is a really nice guy (I can tell you that from personal experience) with a razor-sharp intellect and great skills as a committee member, a facilitator and a mediator.

“But he’s a complete loser as a frontline street brawler and he has the political survival instincts of a rabbit.

“Before his announcement Thursday that he would not run for mayor of Toronto in this fall’s municipal election (NOTE: This is all back in 2010, remember), Tory was hailed as the clear frontrunner and the man the beat.

“Baloney. Pure and utter crapdoodle.

“Tory would have lost the the 2010 mayor’s race — just as he lost the 2003 mayor’s race to David Miller; just as he lost the 2007 Ontario election to Dalton McGuinty’s woeful Liberals; just as he lost his own riding in that 2007 election (an almost unheard-of feat for a major party leader); just as he lost a subsequent byelection bid in a supposedly safe riding while desperately trying to get into the provincial Legislature; and just as he lost the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in 2009 – supposedly a hari-kiri act of his own choosing, but with a lot of other “friendly” hands helping him hold the gutting blade. Oh, did I mention that John Tory was also campaign manager for the disastrous Kim Campbell 1993 federal election bid that ultimately resulted in the demolition of the national Progressive Conservative Party of Canada?

“And just exactly where is this ‘gaping hole on the right’ on the political spectrum created by the elimination of Tory from the scene? There is none. Tory was never a right-winger. He was always a born centrist, an appeaser, a builder of coalitions and nebulous, wishy-washy ‘common ground’ agendas that everyone from Genghis Khan to Mahatma Gandhi could subscribe to without missing a beat…

“The only supposedly really ‘right-wing’ thing that John Tory ever did was, as provincial PC leader, to propose public funding for private faith-based schools in Ontario. And that was a totally cynical, calculated political act designed to win enough votes for a slim provincial majority from religious fundamentalists (of all stripes) and non-urban conservative voters. And of course it backfired, because Tory never did have a good instinctive read on the people of Ontario, or the people of Toronto for that matter.

“Tory has always reminded me of former (briefly, because of his own ineptitude) PM Joe Clark, a political junkie, a nice guy with a good mind, and a complete putz when it came to making the right political decision. Neither of them has the deep, driving gut feeling that they know the ‘right’ thing to do in any given crisis — sometimes even when the ‘right’ thing they know in their guts isn’t the thing they would rationally choose to do based simply on calculation and inclination…

“Tory’s decision (to not run for mayor in 2010) did not ‘open the field up’ — it just reduced the field of losers by one.

“Yesterday I heard John Tory described as ‘charismatic’ and ‘the best mayor Toronto never had.’ He is neither. He might have made a better mayor than David Miller. Maybe not. We’ll never know. But John Tory was never ‘best’ at anything in politics except ‘second best.’ I know that sounds rough and unfair, but politics is rough and unfair. John Tory took his lumps but never had the royal jelly to turn them into political sugar.”

 

And from the Nosey Parker piece that ran June 28, 2013, forecasting the 2014 mayoralty election:

 

“There will be, as usual, a couple of dozen candidates on the ballot but only four or five ‘serious’ contenders. If John Tory is one of them, I can guarantee three things: 1. John Tory will be considered a ‘front-runner.’ 2. John Tory will run a calculating, well-financed campaign but will make bone-headed blunders because he doesn’t have the gut instincts to do the ‘right’ thing. 3. John Tory will lose — again…

“What I don’t understand are all those unnamed, unknown power brokers in the centre and on the right who are supposedly urging Tory to don his battered knight’s armour one more time. What are they thinking — or not thinking? Is an entrenched, certified loser the best alternative the centre-right can come up with to take on Rob Ford and Olivia Chow and the other undesirables/uncontrollables who want to fill the mayor’s chair? If that’s the case, heaven help us all.”

 

I stand by all of that but …

 

But I also added a codicil of warning to that 2013 piece which bears repeating: I thought George Smitherman was going to win the 2010 mayor’s race hands down (at least in the early stages of the campaign, when I wrote the piece) and I dismissed the eventual winner, Rob Ford, as an also-ran.

So you can dump me in the dustbin of failed prognosticators or ignore my bleatings in the wilderness. At your own risk.

As for me, I look at the field of mayoral candidates presently arrayed before us and say (once again): Heaven help us all.

Consider Richard Underhill For Mayor

- January 3rd, 2014

Richard Underhill is a super-smart, responsible, passionate, dedicated man of many accomplishments who has been actively and productively engaged in the social, cultural, economic and political life of Toronto for decades. He is known, respected and admired locally, nationally and internationally.

 

Whew! What a guy, eh?

 

If all that doesn’t make Richard Underhill at least as worthy of your consideration for the job of mayor as a maybe-reformed crack-smoking, binge-drinking fridge-magnet salesman, then consider this:

 

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Richard Underhill  is one of the foremost jazz saxophonists in the world; he has played with everyone from Aaron Neville to Holly Cole to Blue Rodeo; he’s the founding member of the iconic and world-renowned bop-rap-fusion-jazz ensemble the Shuffle Demons; he’s turned out four solo jazz albums that you can read more about here; and he won a Juno Award in 2003 for his solo debut Tales from the Blue Lounge.

 

And he was a question a couple of weeks ago in the Globe’s holiday crossword puzzle.

 

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I ask you: Can anyone else currently running for mayor of Toronto say all that? I didn’t think so.

 

(And keeping the scoundrels of Toronto council in line would be child’s play for anyone who, like Richard Underhill, has organized and successfully completed multiple world tours with a brilliant, crazy, maverick jazz band. On shoestring budgets, I might add — the man’s obviously a fiscal conservative in practical terms.)

 

Now don’t take this as an endorsement of Richard Underhill for mayor. I’m not asking you to vote for him: I’m asking you to investigate the man and his platform, to evaluate the relative merits of the candidate and his campaign concerns according to your own light, and I’m asking you, as an informed and responsible voter, to consider Richard Underhill as mayor of Toronto.

 

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Richard Underhill addresses Toronto council’s executive committee. He’s a familiar face at city hall.

 

He certainly won’t be getting the endorsement of the Toronto Sun for the job because, you see, Richard Underhill is what he terms a “progressive,” what the Toronto Sun might call a new-age lefty (I saw that phrase in the paper a few months ago), and what Don Cherry labels a “left-wing pinko.”

 

But like I said, no one’s asking you to vote for Richard Underhill … yet (maybe not ever, since the Oct. 27 election is a looong time away). Right now just consider him as a legitimate, viable, approachable and  non-doctrinaire candidate and listen to what he has to say on various issues affecting the city he lives in and loves.

 

Probably the best way to check him out would be in person tonight (Friday, Jan. 3, from 8:30 p.m. to deep into the night) at Waterfalls Indian Tapas Bar & Grill, 303 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.

 

That’s when and where Richard Underhill will be holding what he calls his “campaign kick off/brainstorming session/jazz rock extravaganza for my 2014 mayoral campaign. Groove to the sounds of Wayne Cass – guitar, Great Bob Scott – drums, Mike Pellarin – bass and Rich Underhill on sax and socialize, discuss and organize. If you’d like to donate, please bring a checkbook, because we won’t be set up for visa yet!”

 

Here’s a link to the Facebook event page, where you can read more of what Richard Underhill has to say about why he’s running for mayor and some of the issues he is focused on as he develops his campaign.

 

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the new “Underhill for Mayor” website.

 

And just below you’ll find a question-and-answer e-mail interview I did with him a day or two ago.

 

I should make clear that I have nothing to gain by bringing Richard Underhill’s candidacy to your attention. I’m not involved in his campaign in any way and he’s not a friend or colleague. (We are Facebook “friends” but I’m Facebook “friends” with Tim Hudak, Bob Rae and Pussy Riot’s Moscow lawyer too, among many others.)

 

I can’t even bring myself to call him “Rich” as his friends do. To me he is always “Richard Underhill.”

 

However, I have been aware of Richard Underhill’s community activity for years and I am a great admirer of his music. We’ve only met a couple of times, at clubs where he’s been playing or at Kensington Market’s annual (and wonderful)  Festival of Lights on the longest night of the year, where he leads the Kensington Horns marching band in the neighbourhood’s torchlight parade.

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And, if you look hard, you’ll see me somewhere in the audience in his 2010 “Free Spirit” performance DVD (recorded in mid-October 2009 at the Lula Lounge).

 

So that’s my disclaimer. I present Richard Underhill to you not as a partisan political advocate but as an objective observer interested in looking at the whole picture with Toronto’s best interests at heart.

 

Here’s my Q&A interview with Richard Underhill, candidate for mayor of Toronto:

 

1. I’ve read your opening campaign statement, but I’m still wondering: What specifically triggered your decision to run for mayor at this time?

 

Toronto deserves better leadership. Seeing Rob Ford make a mockery of our government and waste the incredible potential of this great city has left me with no choice but to enter the mayoral race this year. I have been a keen observer of city politics over my 30 years in Toronto and feel that now more than ever it is time to put up or shut up and join the race.  Rather than groan from the sidelines, I will offer a creative, compassionate, non-partisan, idea driven approach to city politics

 

2. Why should anyone take you seriously as a viable mainstream candidate? What attributes make you a sensible, responsible, worthwhile choice for the voters of Toronto to consider as mayor material (apart from the fact that you aren’t Rob Ford)?

 

In my 30-year career as a musician, I have acquired a unique skill set that would well serve a mayor of this great city. I have traveled to over 30 countries and have seen first hand how other cities are modernizing and reaping the social and economic benefits from better transit, increased green space, complete streets and human scale development. Have any of the other candidates in the race traveled from New York to New Delhi, Amsterdam to Auckland, Helsinki to Havana, or Goa to Guadalajara? I have.

 

I have great people skills and am a quick study. I have served on assessment juries of all the major arts councils adjudicating up to 500 applicants at a time, so am well versed with in-depth paperwork and proposals and work well on a committee. I understand economics and have led bands of musicians on razor thin budgets on tours around the world as well as budgeting albums, videos and tours. I have great collaborative skills and have worked with groups as diverse as Blue Rodeo, the Barenaked Ladies, Dr. John, Taj Mahal and Maria Muldar so I’m not too worried about being a political neophyte. I can get up to speed quickly and I see my lack of partisan affiliation and ability to compromise as a strong asset.

 

3. I would have assumed you would support Olivia Chow’s candidacy. Why do you consider yourself a better candidate for mayor than Olivia Chow?

 

I think Olivia Chow would make an excellent mayor, but in the end it’s up to the citizens of Toronto to decide. However, I don’t feel that I am running AGAINST Olivia Chow or any other candidate, I feel I am running WITH them to help craft a better vision for Toronto. One of my slogans is ‘let the best PLAN win’ and so, for me, being a part of the discussion and helping to set the agenda will be a huge triumph. I may lack hands-on political experience, but I think one of my strengths is that I am non-partisan. To me, parties should not have a role in city politics. Being free to take whatever stand I feel is right on certain issues without the baggage of party politics is an asset that I bring to the job.

 

4. You say in your opening campaign statement “…if I’m not in a position to win near voting day, (I) will drop out and support the most viable progressive candidate.” Who besides Olivia Chow likely fits into that category right now in your mind?

 

If Toronto isn’t ready for a sax player mayor, I’d have to see who is running before making a decision on who to support. It’s really hard to speculate on who’ll be in the race, so I won’t make hypothetical endorsements. A candidate that is committed to transit, can work with all sides of the political spectrum and understands that we need to improve our infrastructure will merit my consideration. There may be a surprise contender in the wings, so we’ll have to see how it all plays out. Exciting times, indeed.

 

 

5. Have you ever smoked crack? (Nowadays one has to ask all mayoral candidates that question.)

 

No, I’ve never smoked crack!

Rob Ford, Adult Action Figure

- November 27th, 2013

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The biggest question surrounding porn starlet Brandy Aniston’s invitation to Mayor Rob Ford to join her in making a XXX-rated movie is this: What took you so long to ask?

 

Granted, there would be certain other ethical and practical questions involved, such as:

 

1. I’m a pretty big deal in the porn industry. Do I really want to lower myself to Rob Ford’s level?

 

2. Assuming we shoot in one of our usual California locations, will Rob Ford be allowed to cross the border into the U.S.? I know he’s got a winter home in Florida and has travelled there a lot in the past, but that was before he admitted smoking crack cocaine on worldwide television: Has Ford’s free pass to party-land disappeared in a puff of smoke as a result of his admission?

 

3. If we’re forced to shoot in Toronto because of a possible travel ban on Ford, do we have to pay any kind of royalty fee to the Queen if we use shots of the CN Tower in gross, disturbing ways for the opening sequence?

 

4. How much will we have to pay Ford? How much does a rock of crack cost in Toronto?

 

5. Can we shoot a party scene in the mayor’s office or is that getting old-hat these days? How about in a crack house? Old-hat, too?

 

6. How much would it cost to get the Queen to appear? Only as a walk-on, of course: Vivid Entertainment isn’t into that kind of niche marketing.

 

7. Making porn movies isn’t cheap and more than one production has been de-railed because a principal performer has gone on a crack bender. Do I really want to chance my kids’ university fund on Rob Ford’s pledge that he’s on the wagon?

 

8. Do crack users lie? Do mayors of Toronto lie?

 

9. How fast can we shoot this? Two months from now, our market may be saying “Rob Who?” instead of “Rob Whoo-boy.” It’s not as if he’s a real, accomplished celebrity like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian.

 

10. What do we call the movie: Brandy Does Toronto? Down And Dirty In Toronto? High And Mighty In Toronto? Boinking The Blond Bimbo (Brandy’s usually a brunette, just so you get the drift)? Chain of Office (for the bondage crowd)?  The Love Tunnel (for the subway crowd)? Or my favourite — How To Drive A Ford Escort?

 

11.  Looking over these questions, they all seem to be related to practicality, not ethics. Does that make sense?

 

12. Can we stop now? Please.

 

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Bonus Question(s): Is Brandy Aniston really Jennifer Aniston’s sister? She’s not? Cousin, then? What do you mean they’re not related? How else could she possibly get the name Aniston? Well, she also performs as Tatum Pierce — surely she’s related to Tatum Channing, then. No? Damn, this is confusing.

 

Just to be very clear on this, Brandy Aniston really is a big deal in the porn industry (well, a sorta/fairly/almost biggish deal). She did, after all, receive the 2013 AVN Award for Unsung Starlet of the Year. I’ve done the research. She has co-starred in such films as Huge Core, Hungry Babes, Car Wash Orgy and the classic Lube-O-Mania 3000. In comparison, Rob Ford is a rank amateur: He’s only appeared in a few shaky, hand-held shorts —  getting intimate with a glass crack pipe, doing his Mike Tyson impression and playing Stuporman on the Danforth. Granted, there’s all that reality footage compiled by the Toronto Police but not much of that has been released — yet. And it seems to be pretty boring stuff too — mostly just a lot of hide-and-seek with mystery packages, so we’re told.

And yes, Virginia, there really is a Lube-O-Mania 3000. Here’s a publicity still. I think Brandy/Tatum/Ashley/Sheri/Roxi/Virginia is the one on the right. But she could be the one in the middle too. Damn, this is confusing.

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