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.


Rita’s Generosity Lives on: Downsview Family Hosts Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway

In fall 2008, former Downsview resident Rita Qaqish was diagnosed with breast cancer, an illness that will affect 1 in 9 women in Ontario, and the most common cancer facing women.  With the loving support of her husband Muneer and her son Matthew, Rita bravely fought this illness for 7 years until it took her life in the fall of 2015.

On October 5, 2017 the family of the late Rita Qaqish held a free Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway in her honour at Yorkgate Mall to help spread awareness about breast cancer and to urge women to get regular breast screenings through mammograms.  Participants lined up well in advance of the event to receive a free frozen turkey and vegetables, a Grocery Gift Pack Voucher (redeemable after completing a mammogram at an Ontario Breast Screening Program site), and the opportunity to speak to experts about breast cancer screening.

“My wife always put the needs of others before her own.  Our family is making this donation so that Rita’s goodwill lives on and may even help save a life.” said Muneer Qaqish.

The Qaqish family partnered up with Toronto Public Health, Durante’s No Frills, Black Creek Community Health Centre, the Humber River Hospital, Yorkgate Mall, Councillor Anthony Perruzza, and DUKE Heights BIA in the creation of the event.

“The best chance to beat breast cancer is early detection”, said Judy Murray, Manager of the Chronic Disease Program at the Black Creek Community Health Centre located in Yorkgate Mall.  Judy is also a breast cancer survivor; after her regular breast screening in 2011, an abnormality was found and she underwent fast and appropriate treatment.  She has been cancer free since.

You can book a mammogram through your family doctor, but if you are 50+ years of age, you can simply book a mammogram directly by contacting the Ontario Breast Screening Program line at 1-800-668-9304 to find the closest screening site.

The Humber River Hospital (HRH) Breast Health Centre located at 1235 Wilson Avenue (416-242-1000 ext. 63600) is one such location to book your mammogram.  “The mammogram is the gold standard for breast cancer detection”,  said Jia Inacio, Breast Health Supervisor at HRH. “Our HRH Breast Health Centre has physicians, technologists, nurses, and navigators working together to help you. Through our Direct Referral program, your imaging and diagnostic tests can all be done in one day.”

Lisa Swimmer, Manager of Chronic Disease Prevention and Injury Prevention at Toronto Public Health, recommends healthy lifestyle choices in addition to regular breast cancer screening through mammograms.  Her list of healthy choices below can reduce the chance of cancer and also improves overall health and well-being:

  • Eating a variety of vegetables and fruit, whole grain products, choosing lower-fat foods, and having meat alternatives such as beans, peas and lentils
  • Being physically active every day
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Not smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol use

While it is recommended for women aged 50-74 to be screened every two years, Lisa mentioned women who are in a higher risk category between the ages 30-69 should have yearly mammograms.  Women are in the higher risk category if they have had breast cancer before, have family members who have had breast cancer, are a confirmed carrier of a specific genetic mutation, or have a personal history of radiation to the chest before the age of 30.

Local area Councillor Anthony Perruzza was honoured to have the event in the Downsview community, “I want to thank the Qaqish family for their tremendous act of generosity.  The strength and love of this family is a great example for all of us.”

This month, make the time to get screened for breast cancer or urge someone you care about to be screened, it may save a life.