The things I would have done if I could only stay – an ode to my neighbourhood

It has been a great experience keeping this blog and getting to know my neighbourhood. I haven’t even scratched the surface of things to do here. It’s a bit like having the travel bug – the more places you visit the more inadequate you feel as you want to see more and more and you meet people who seem to have been everywhere. I feel the same about Parkdale and Roncesvalles, not to mention the rest of Toronto and Canada. I’ve met lots of great people through this process and each time I visit somewhere I think “I’d love to come back” or “I want this to be where I spend my time”, “I must get to that place” or “I wish I could sign up for this course or join this society”.

Unfortunately I only have a few weeks left in Canada and won’t be able to become a proper Parkdale resident or do all the things I want to do. My working holiday visa runs out in a few weeks and I can’t extend it. Unfortunately New Zealanders just receive a year to live and work in Canada and then can only return at some later date as a tourist. I hired an immigration lawyer to explore all my options and before you ask, no, I did not find someone to marry. The amount of times I’ve heard that one…….. I’m not interested in that process. Continue reading

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Important stories from members of the Parkdale Tibetan community

Last week I attended a fundraiser at Tibet Kitchen in Parkdale to support the education of young rural Tibetans. At this event I was lucky to meet members of the Parkdale Tibetan community and hear their stories of how they came to live in Canada.

Of course many readers of this post will be familiar with the political situation in Tibet since China invaded the country in 1950 and claimed sovereignty in 1951. This link to Free Tibet’s website offers a useful timeline of some of the key events that led to scores of Tibetans fleeing their homeland and settling in other countries.

Garab Lama, the owner of Tibet Kitchen in Parkdale.

Garab Lama, the owner of Tibet Kitchen in Parkdale.

Tibet Kitchen owner Garab Lama moved to Canada from Nepal in 1997. The idea of moving here was first suggested to him by crew members of the movie Everest, who were filming in the Himalayas.

Garab was born in Nepal as his parents moved there after the Lhasa uprising in 1959. He said his parents’ families had no choice but to flee as when the Chinese troops arrived in Lhasa they simply did not feel safe.  While he was not born in Tibet, Garab managed to stay in touch with his culture as he was educated at a Tibetan school in India. After his schooling he returned to Nepal. However his wife and parents never felt safe given Nepal’s close proximity to the Chinese border and the beginnings of the Maoist revolt in the 1990’s.

Garab visited Canada three or four times before deciding to move here. He said he chose the Parkdale area to settle as local agencies offered immigrants good help and support. The proximity to downtown Toronto was also a plus.

Garab is now the third owner of Tibet Kitchen, which serves up a fusion of Tibetan, Chinese and Indian cuisines.  I asked him what would be the most traditional Tibetan dish on his menu and he said the momos (a steamed dumpling) and the beef or chicken noodle soup. While Garab of course recommends his own restaurant, he confesses he often eats at the other Tibetan restaurants in the neighbourhood now and again.

Garab and his family feel strongly about doing all they can for those who remain in Tibet and they work hard to raise money for Free Tibet and The Tibetan Women’s Association as well as the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre in Etobicoke.

Tenzing Jigme, Project Manager at the Mosaic Institute and a member of Parkdale's Tibetan Community

Tenzing Jigme, Project Manager at the Mosaic Institute and a member of Parkdale’s Tibetan Community

Tenzing Jigme also was born in Nepal and arrived in Canada in 2011 to study. He is currently a project manager for the Mosaic Institute, working on the project “New Beginnings: Young Canadians Peace Dialogue on China and Tibet.”

Tenzing’s family left Tibet in the 1950s and Tenzing was educated at a missionary school in India. Despite growing up in Nepal and India, he speaks Tibetan and believes the culture is being kept alive in Parkdale. He often hears Tibetan spoken on the streets and says many community members take part in the Tibetan New Year and other auspicious events. Tenzing told me many Canadian Tibetans also observe Lhakar.

I had never heard of Lhakar but Tenzing explained it is a movement where every Wednesday some Tibetans choose to show their pride and will to keep their customs alive by wearing traditional Tibetan clothes, speaking Tibetan, eating in Tibetan restaurants and showing their support for Tibetan businesses. He says many young Canadian Tibetans can be seen on University campuses in Toronto on a Wednesday observing this day. I decided to investigate Lhakar further and found this interesting link about the movement, which explains how the tradition began in Tibet as a non-violent resistance protesting the inability to express ones religious and cultural beliefs and traditions in Tibet.

Finally, the saddest story I heard was from a young women whose name I did not catch. She is not a resident of Parkdale but another neighbourhood in Toronto, but I felt her story should be included as it really shows the resilience of the community despite the hardships they have faced.

This young woman was born in Tibet and when her parents divorced she moved to Nepal with her father at the age of 12. When she was 20 she moved to Canada to further her education and feels extremely fortunate to be here. She recently was granted her Canadian citizenship and with her new passport she hoped to finally obtain a visa to visit to Tibet and visit her mother, who she has not seen since she was 12.

Her visa was refused on the grounds she needed to obtain permission from government officials in Tibet. She tried again but still hasn’t been able to obtain a visa. She is grateful she can talk to her mother on skype, however she says these conversations are monitored. So while mother and daughter have some form of contact, they still can’t talk to each other freely and express what they really want to say to one another.

Despite this, she remains optimistic and says she is lucky she has been given a good education and has been able to experience living in Canada, which allows so many more freedoms than anyone in Tibet could ever dream of. She says a good education is something so many Tibetans are denied, as they are not allowed to leave.

Hearing of her separation from her family was sobering. It made me reflect on the situation of all refugees who have had to make so many sacrifices to obtain their freedom, health and safety.

Thank you to everyone who shared their stories with me.

Learning more about the Tibetan Community in Parkdale

I was in my second year of university back in 2000 when I first learned about China’s ongoing occupation of Tibet and developed a strong interest in the plight of the Tibetan people and their culture.

Inside Tibet Kitchen near the end of the fundraiser. The restaurant had been packed but I was too busy talking to take any good photos then.

Inside Tibet Kitchen near the end of the fundraiser. The restaurant had been packed but I was too busy talking to take any good photos then.

I was (and still am) a big fan of the Beastie Boys, the New York hip hop trio who were advocates of the Free Tibet movement. This inspired me to join Students for a Free Tibet. I wasn’t a particularly helpful member of the organization. I attended their meetings, developed a taste for free chai, took the stickers, watched a movie called Windhorse and read everything I could find on the people, the culture and the political situation. I was saddened by what I learned was happening to Tibet and its citizens but I’m ashamed to admit, especially when members of Parkdale’s Tibetan community read this, that when it came to peaceful action such as student sit-ins I was a no show.

It wasn’t due to laziness or that I didn’t believe in the cause enough. It was because I was shy and the idea of going to a stranger’s house to paint banners and then take part in a small sit-in with people I didn’t know  filled me with dread. I have to confess the issue also probably didn’t feel as pressing when I lived in New Zealand and was unlikely to ever meet anyone of Tibetan descent.

Flash forward 14 years and I still care about the plight of the Tibetans, and a visit to Tibet is on my bucket list. However what’s changed dramatically is that I am no longer a wimp and I would like to think that I stand up for any cause I believe in. Another major change is that I am now surrounded by Tibetan culture as I live in Parkdale, an area Wikipedia says “has one of the largest Tibetan diaspora outside of India and Nepal”.

It was tricky trying to find out the actual number of Canadian Tibetans in Parkdale. According to blogger and Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 staff member Jan Raska in her blog “Tibetan Immigration to Canada”, the first 228 Tibetan refugees arrived in Canada in 1971. She states in the 2006 Canadian Census the Canadian Tibetan community was identified as having over 4,250 individuals, with 75% of these people living in Toronto. Today, members of the Parkdale Tibetan community I spoke to, and a representative of the Canadian Tibetan Association of Ontario who didn’t want to be named, believe there  are about 5000 Tibetans living in Toronto, with the majority living in Parkdale and then Etobicoke.

Great chicken curry at Tibet Kitchen

     Great chicken curry at Tibet Kitchen

If I take a short walk up Queen St. West I have the choice of dining at Tibetan/fusion restaurants including Shangrila, Tibet Kitchen, The Himalayan Kitchen, Om Restaurant and Bar and Tsampa Café to name a few. I can also shop in the Tibetan Emporium. There are posters everywhere reminding people about cultural events coming up and ways you can help the Tibetan cause. However it was last Sunday afternoon that I came across a chance opportunity to take up the cause again and do something practical.

I was walking by Tibet Kitchen when I noticed it was absolutely packed and had an event on. I decided to check it out and found out the restaurant was hosting a fundraiser for Machik, a non-profit organization which aims to strengthen communities in rural Tibet, and CanEngage, a community project which formed as a direct result of the Mosaic Institute’s initiative  “New Beginnings: Young Canadians’ Peace Dialogue on China and Tibet.”   Machik supports communities through projects such as building schools, bringing clean energy and safe drinking water and assisting with healthcare missions to the region, while CanEngage brings young Canadian Chinese and Tibetans together to raise funds for the education of rural Tibetan children and youth in Litang County in Southwestern China.  Sunday’s event was a meal and art auction, with the proceeds going towards these important projects, which I was more than happy to support. It may have only been a small contribution to start with, but every bit helps.

The event was really enlightening and everyone was so warm and welcoming.  I learned a great deal and talked to some really interesting members of theTibetan community whose stories I will share in my next blog.

Some of the images of Tibet available at the fundraiser.

Some of the images of Tibet available at the fundraiser.

I also got talking to both a board and staff member of the Mosaic Institute, which is an amazing Canadian grass roots organization. The institute promotes peace in Canada and abroad through a series of projects, including “New Beginnings: Young Canadians Peace Dialogue on China and Tibet.” This awesome project brings young Canadians of Chinese and Tibetan descent together to meet on neutral ground, take part in constructive discussion about their cultures, beliefs and issues and build bridges.

I got talking to Zhengyun Lu from China and Mosaic Institute Project Manager Tenzing Jigme.  Zhengyun, who has been in Canada for ten years, said he first noticed issues as to how China was perceived regarding Tibet in 2008 when the Olympic Games was held in Beijing. He said he saw there were misunderstandings and the Mosaic Institute in Canada has given him the opportunity to talk to members of the Canadian Tibetan community, hear their view points and to share his in a non-political way. He said he found the process very cathartic as it offers him a fresh start where he can meet Tibetans and become friends with them without the pressures of the current political situation between China and Tibet sabotaging constructive discussion. Tenzing agreed that the process was an excellent one for both parties. “We start as friends first. We may not all agree but we gain an appreciation for each sides’ positions.”

It’s great to see that activism is alive and well in the Canadian Tibetan community, and that it is happening in a constructive way with both sides talking. I’d encourage anyone to get involved in learning more about the situation in Tibet and the community here in Canada if possible.

Visit the creative hub of Roncesvalles at Jewel Envy and see artists at work

If you’re are a fan of unique and exquisite jewellery and/or wish you could create your own then make sure you visit the talented goldsmiths at Jewel Envy in Roncesvalles.

Gillian's display

Jewel Envy is a Roncesvalles showroom and working studio which currently houses 13 resident goldsmiths who sell their own unique designs, create custom made jewellery, carry out repair work and offer a range of jewellery making classes to the community.

The studio, which originally opened downtown in 2006, relocated to the Roncesvalles area in 2012. The building is hard to miss as it is a bright blue building on the corner of Roncesvalles Ave. and Marion St.

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The Local is my new local

The bizarre yet charming exterior of The Local

The bizarre yet charming exterior of The Local

Last Friday I met up with a friend who was leaving Toronto for the glories of Whistler and we decided to try Roncesvalles pub “The Local” for our farewell beer.

The Local proved to be a good choice as when we got there it was close to 11pm and I still was able to get dinner. I don’t know many pubs that would still be offering their full dinner menu at that time of night, but I was able to get an Irish stew and it was good.

The Local has been a Roncesvalles institution for nine years (according to the barwoman), however for a pub that specializes in folk, country and blue grass music most nights the pub’s exterior is quite unusual. The building looks like a Swiss chalet where Heidi and Peter the goat herder might be churning butter inside. Obviously before The Local was established the building was occupied by another business but my investigations didn’t get too far. I simply found out the bar had been “May’s Café” beforehand, but I was unable to establish the theme. If any readers know anything more about the history of the building I would be interested in hearing it.

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Roncesvalles’ Review Cinema is a much loved icon

Roncesvalles' beloved Review Cinema

Roncesvalles’ historic Review Cinema

The Roncesvalles community is proud of its Review Cinema, and rightly so, as the much loved icon has been providing entertainment and an appreciation of film to local audiences for 100 years.

The Review Cinema, which is situated at 400 Roncesvalles Avenue, opened in 1912 and was one of the longest running cinemas in Canada until 2006 when its then owners closed its doors and decided to sell. According to the review website the community launched into action to save the theatre, and “it was reopened in October 2007 when the Revue Film Society was born”.

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