by Robyn Gillam
Covid 19 has brought change to the North End. Although the pandemic is not over,with vaccination rates rising, it’s a good time to look back over the past 18 months.

The sudden lockdown in March of last year made for an eerie quietness in the neigbourhood. Ducks, geese and swans had the water front to themselves. The temporary absence of people has led us to reflect about our impact on the world around us. We have become more aware of the warming climate and the importance of the coolness and shade produced by trees as well as the vital role played by pollinator insects in our food supply. There are now many pollinator and rain gardens, like the Sunset Garden at Bay and Strachan, which could still be lost to development.

Not everybody reacted well to isolation. Children, without school or other social interaction, became depressed or acted out. The elderly were cut off from essential supplies and services. Losing work left many unable to support themselves and their families. Long lines formed every weekday at the Welcome Inn Foodbank. Closing the New Horizons thrift store strained its finances, but the community stepped in to help with donations and food drives. The thrift store will be relocated and the space used as a community centre. This is important, as the Benetto Recreation Centre remains closed, after being used as an isolation centre during the Pandemic.

However, essential workers remained employed in health care, food distribution and basic retail. Construction never stopped, creating infrastructure for the Pier 8 development and converting former social housing at 500 McNab into a mixed income, environmentally passive housing site. Mixed income housing is planned for the former Jamesville social housing site, but requires the removal of most of the trees. Meanwhile the buildings sit empty, while people really need to be housed.

Home workers moving out of Toronto pushed up both housing prices and rents in the North End, as elsewhere. Many tenants have faced “renoviction”to attract higher income renters or have been displaced by redevelopment. Gordon Smyth who lived at the former Clarkey’s Tavern on James St. North became homeless, like many others on low or fixed incomes who cannot afford market rents or access social housing. There are more tent cities, like the one that appeared at Ferguson last summer. More affordable housing like Indwell’s supported living units at James and Picton is needed. The neigbourhood association is pushing for this at Pier 8.

After a slow start to vaccination, people are beginning feel safer and are coming out to play in the splash pads, fish in the harbour, roller skate at Pier 8, working the community gardens or just enjoy the waterfront and the parks

The North End is a welcoming place, now even more accessible by all day Go Train service at West Harbour Station. Covid 19 has both ended and changed lives and it has altered the way we do things, but it hasn’t stopped us from trying to make this neighbourhood the best it can be, just that we might do it differently.

The author would like to thank Larissa Fenn for permission to take pictures from the HOPA building on James North.