Our Grey Cup Champion

On November 28, 2017, the Toronto Argonauts won the 105th Grey Cup. Our community’s very own Jamal Campbell was an offensive lineman on the team, and he proudly brought the cup to our community on January 23, 2018, sharing a message of hope and perseverance with Elia and C.W. Jefferys students.

In 2009, I helped kick-start the creation of a football team at C.W. Jefferys by securing support from the Ford Foundation and interest from the school administration. I had hoped to give students a new opportunity for mentorship and access to a new sport that required strong teamwork and discipline. The Toronto Argonauts helped put the final pieces of the puzzle together and a new high school football team was born in our community. The team played for an exciting four years, but ultimately ended in 2013. I often wondered what came of this team, so full of hope. Enter Jamal Campbell.

Our new local hero, Jamal was a 16 year old student at C.W.J. at the time. Athletic and at a towering 6’4″, he played basketball on the school team. He still remembers the surprise and excitement at the school when the chance to try out for a football team was announced, “I watched football on TV but I was never really exposed to the sport until then. There was no way I would pass up the chance to play.”

Jamal says that opportunity to play football was a blessing, “High school football taught me discipline, time management, and healthy living. Playing on the team was a reward and not a right, so we had to keep our grades up and attend practices. We were reminded that we were students first and athletes second. Less than one percent of athletes make it pro, so you need an education to fall back on. What I gained from football opened a door for me to go to university.”

Jamal was granted admission to York University in 2011 and tried out for the York Lions, “I met players who had been playing since they were 8 years old so I had a lot of catching up to do. I was red-shirted in my first year and used the time to build and strengthen my body. I really pushed myself to excel and became a starter on the team in the next year.”

In March 2016, Jamal’s years of football were put to the test at the CFL Combine, an important event where top Canadian university talent compete at a camp in front of CFL scouts and coaches. On May 10, 2016, Jamal was drafted by the Toronto Argonauts, beginning his professional career in Canadian football.

Jamal won the Grey Cup in 2017, and on his day with the Cup he brought it home to his old schools, Elia and C.W.J., York University and even the corner of Jane and Finch. He spoke proudly of his tour here with the Grey Cup on January 23, “I brought the Cup back to the place I started. This is a win for our community and all of those who supported me. I want the youth in our area to know you can overcome any obstacle and reach your dreams through determination and perseverance.”

Current C.W. Jefferys Athletic Director, Tracey Galbraith, rejoiced in Jamal’s success and is interested in exploring football again at the school. She discussed some of the challenges the earlier team faced such as sustaining the morale of forty players during a rigorous schedule in the starting years of a team. Tracey is hopeful for the future and believes Jamal’s achievements will galvanize student interest.

Congratulations to Jamal, our local hero. His win is a shining example of what can happen when we give our students new opportunities and invest in their success.

Our Subway Finally Opens

Growing up in our community, the rest of the city felt so far away. As a child of the suburbs in the 80’s, most of my life existed within a few square kilometres. Often, I would find the right spot to gaze at the CN Tower; it seemed as far away as the moon.

My mother would take me to Ontario Place in the summers. We would get on the subway at Wilson and stand at the front of the train looking down the dark tunnel beginning at Eglinton, waiting for the light of the next station. Getting out downtown was like entering another world. A place full of sounds and smells and lots of people, with towering buildings all around.

When our community was built in the 1960’s, Line 1 of our subway system came only as far north as the current Eglinton Station on Yonge Street. From there, it headed south to Union Station on Front Street before looping north to St. George Station on Bloor. In the 1970’s, downtown inched closer to us through the openings of Finch station under Yonge Street (1974) and Wilson station at Allen Road (1978). It was another 18 years before the futuristic looking Downsview Station (now called Sheppard West Station) opened its doors in 1996.

Throughout the years, new bus routes were created through our community and more buses were added to the system. Today, when I groan at a 15-minute wait for a local bus, I often forget what it was like during my teenage years when an hour wait was not uncommon.

The plan to bring the subway through our community became a reality after I began working with Councillor Anthony Perruzza at City Hall in late 2006. The news was like a dream come true. Contracts were awarded in 2008, associated infrastructure work (moving sewers, etc.) began that same year, and drilling was commenced in 2011 and completed in 2013. Throughout the construction, my work afforded me the great privilege to be a part of this incredible project. There were years of setting up consultations about everything from station designs to traffic patterns, meetings with engineers, tours of tunnels and stations at various stages of construction, and much more. On December 16, we held a special open house at Finch West Station where members of our community explored the station. The feeling of anticipation was palpable.

Sunday, December 17, 2017 will forever be a special day in history, for it was the day that the subway through the heart of our community entered operation. On that day, we truly became one with the rest of our city and beyond, and thousands upon thousands rode for free and shared in the feeling of wonder and excitement.

I think for all of us though, the most important day was the Monday after the official opening. On that day, and for the first time ever, I walked a brisk 20 minutes to a subway station to get to work. It was a day that my daily life got a little better, and my smile lasted all the way to Queen Street.


Your Neighbour’s Secret Past

Just west of the Black Creek, where Grandravine meets Arleta is a community housing complex where a remarkable man and his family once lived.

His name was Mahfuzul Bari and he came to Canada as a refugee in 1982. He settled into a tiny apartment in the Parkdale neighbourhood, had few friends and worked long hours in precarious jobs, much of it outdoors during the long unforgiving Canadian winters.  For years, his contact with his wife and children in Bangladesh were limited to short telephone conversations lasting no more than sixty to eighty seconds on a monthly basis due to long distance costs.

Finally, after four years, Mr. Bari welcomed his family to Canada and shortly thereafter, moved to a townhouse complex in our community.  Mr. Bari’s three sons, all of them C.W. Jefferys graduates with honours, fondly remember the joy of moving into our neighbourhood.  Eban, the youngest, recalls that “moving our large family out of a tiny one-bedroom apartment and into a large townhome was a dream come true for us.”

Eban and his siblings spent their late childhood and teenage years in our community.  One by one, Mr. Bari’s children left their home, starting their own careers and families. By 1999, Mr. Bari turned in his keys to Toronto Community Housing, and moved into a home of his own.

The tough life and poverty Mr. Bari faced upon his arrival here, the lonely wait to be reunited with his family, and the eventual success his family achieved through years of perseverance and hard-work is worthy of praise.  This story though is not uncommon for many who live here.

What separates Mr. Bari from others, was the man he was back in Bangladesh.

Mr. Bari was born in 1941 in East Bengal, a province within what was then the undivided Indian subcontinent. Following the end of British rule in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was divided into India and Pakistan (comprised of East and West Pakistan).  Mr. Bari  was a studious and hard-working youth from a large family.  By his thirties, he was a military pilot and an engineer who was a leader within a growing movement to separate Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan) from West Pakistan.  He was ultimately charged and jailed for sedition and treason in 1968 with 35 others during the highly publicized Agartala Conspiracy Case.  This political imprisonment led to a massive public uprising, and the prisoners were released a year later to become the leaders of a war of independence in 1971.

After having gained independence, new challenges awaited the young nation.  Recognized as a founding father of the new nation, Mr. Bari  was appointed as the Vice Chairman of the Bangladesh Volunteer Corps, leading a network of trained volunteers tasked with  rebuilding the war ravaged nation, and also the Head of the Department of Homeless Services, which provided assistance to the millions of displaced citizens.  However, in 1975, when the Prime Minister was assassinated, Mr. Bari ultimately fled Bangladesh and ended up in Canada in 1982 as a refugee.

Mr. Bari died while visiting Bangladesh earlier this year.  His passing drew condolences from the current Prime Minister (daughter of the aforementioned Prime Minister) and other major public officials and a moment of silence was observed during the sitting of Parliament. He was given the ultimate recognition by the Bangladesh Government when his body Lay In State at a National Monument and given a guard of honour.

When Mr. Bari’s eldest son returned to Bangladesh to retrieve his body for burial in Canada, he was pleasantly surprised to meet many members of the extended family  who praised his father for years of financial contributions he had made towards their basic needs and for the educational needs of their children.

Imagine, Mr. Bari here in the early 80’s; a celebrated war hero and founding father of a country several times more populated than ours, shoveling snow and cleaning people’s cars for a few dollars.  The next time you meet a new immigrant, working at minimum wage and struggling with the English language, consider that their past might just be an incredible one.