Category Archives: Toronto vs. Saltspring Deathmatch

Things to Do in Toronto When You’re Undead

IMG_3189We’ve just had a Fantastic Big City Hallowe’en! Even with the rain it was great to be back in the old neighbourhood for trick or treating.

First we dropped in on our old school and their costume parade… Continue reading

Step 92: Pick the School

This chore came up last spring while we were packing. Making this kind of decision can fill a parent’s heart with dread, particularly when it involves a child entering Grade One in a brand new school/town/province. What if I make the wrong choice? Will my child learn and thrive or become stunted and scarred for life?

Saltspring Island has three public elementary schools and a few private school options. I could have tormented myself over this decision, which would be the usual way I do things, but it was really a no-brainer. We went with the school with built-in friends –  the boss already had two excellent friends on the island, both of whom were starting Grade One at Saltspring Elementary, located pretty much in the centre of the island – which is good when you’re not sure where you’re going to end up living.

Done and done!

Our new school, Saltspring Elementary, is the largest school on the island. On the first day one mom informed me, only half-jokingly, that it is locally regarded as the island’s “inner city ghetto school”. This is what it looks like:


the inner city ghetto school

And just for comparison, here is our old school in Toronto – in an upper middle class neighbourhood full of doctors and lawyers and other professionalish types:

the posh neighbourhood school

the semi-posh neighbourhood school

As a further comparison, Saltspring has about 170 students, K-5. The entire school body can go out to sing Christmas carols (in the rain):


In Toronto, Runnymede Public School has about that number of kids… just in kindergarten. (In all, there are 1,100 students K-8.)

So when another island parent actually tut-tutted my school choice on the grounds that Saltspring Elementary was way too big… well it just made me laugh. People are funny, and parents are funnier than most.

One other big difference: at our old school parents were not allowed to enter the school yard until it was time for dismissal. If you entered the school you had to sign in at the office and get a Visitor’s badge. (Or risk being challenged in the hall by the vice principal – which happened to me our first week there.)


In contrast, our new school’s fall newsletter invites parents to join the kids in the schoolyard to play!


I liked our old school, it was a little crazy but it was a busy, BUSY, noisy place, with a million activities going on at any given time, and the teachers and committee-mad parents were terrific.

And I also like our small new easygoing school. Our island-style inner city ghetto school!





Library Love

I came across this last week and it made me nostalgic for the grand old Toronto Public Library system: Ten Reasons to Love the TPL. I worked for the TPL for a while – in the cataloguing department but also in a very busy branch for a few months – and got a bit of an inside look at a very complex organization. I was working there the ominous year that the boss’s title was quietly changed from “Head Librarian” to “CEO”, which sent a chill throughout the organization. The TPL is not without its inefficiencies, errors and information gaps, employee tribulations and politics, but the biggest strain on the system always came from the fact that it is so well-used by SO many people. And the biggest headache has always come from governments prowling about the periphery hunting for cost-cutting measures. It’s a never-ending struggle to keep services available, but the bookish folk of Hogtown are always ready to jump into the fray, armed with their petitions and placards, with Margaret Atwood sounding the charge…

The Runnymede Branch of the Toronto Public Lib...

Runnymede Branch of the TPL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reason the protests usually succeed is that the TPL works and is depended upon and loved by so many. The branches are numerous, from tiny friendly places to grander historic buildings. I lived in many different neighbourhoods and always found a library relatively close by. I could place holds for any title in the vast holdings and have it delivered to my own wee branch around the corner, a feature that I positively adored. And one of my favourite (geeky) ways to spend a day was to head to the Toronto Reference Library to do research, abetted by the truly lovely staff there. I miss it all so!

English: Toronto Reference Library

Toronto Reference Library (Wikipedia)

In my new home on the island, I am incredibly lucky to have a brand new library facility, so new it positively sparkles. And to my utter disbelief, it seems that this gorgeous building has aroused some amount of “I’m agin’ it!” from the anti-whatever-is-going crowd here. The building is too big, too showy. We don’t need anything that large. It doesn’t match the bank across the road. Can’t we just go back to the old library, cramped and decrepit, with the leaking roof?

Reading letters to the editor moaning about our unnecessary “rolls royce library” makes my blood pressure sky rocket, so I won’t go into this issue much further, save to say that the nay-sayers seem to have forgotten about the existence of children on the island. Even if there wasn’t a single adult who used the library, the mere fact that there are children here warrants the best and most excellent library we can possibly build.

Saltspring Library (photo credit John Cameraon)

Saltspring Library (photo credit John Cameron)

And when you build a large library, with awe-inspiring architecture and a spacious, serene interior, what message does that pass on to the following generations?

Reading is important.

Books and knowledge are valued in our community.

Take a look at these – 11 Beautiful Libraries From Around the World – and tell me you don’t get that message from these buildings!

I can tell you, you wouldn’t get an iota of opposition to a new library – any new library – from the embattled library patrons* of Toronto, be it Rolls Royce or Studebaker.

*I prefer the old term “patrons” to the new one that was brought in when the Head Librarian morphed into a CEO: “customers”

Santa Comes to Saltspring

What a gorgeous day! We walked down to the dock at about five minutes to 1, and Santa flew in pretty much on time. The small crowd greeted him, high fives were exchanged, and we were strolling outta there by about half past one.

A little easier to take than the cold, crowded marathon event of the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto…

The Grass is Not Only Not Greener on the other side of the fence, It Appears to be Dead

Talking here about schools. Our public school here in Toronto is over 90 years old, has 1000 students (capacity 800) and is literally falling apart, but rather than spending money on basic infrastructure the Ontario Dept. of Education would rather splurge on forcing every school  – whether they have the space or not – to make the switch from half-day to all-day kindergarten.

(Deftly turning a daycare issue into an education system issue. What we really need are affordable daycare spots, not a plan to shoehorn more kids into an underfunded school system!)

It’s a simple, predictable problem. In our school, as in others, the morning kindergarten classes share the same classrooms with the afternoon kindergarten classes, naturally. Soooo, if everyone does full-day, you need twice the number of classrooms.

We’re just lucky we got through kindergarten here before our school switched, because I don’t know where they’re going to put everyone – in the hall? the gym? the furnace room?

And luckily we got through our two years of junior and senior kindergarten fully staffed with teachers and teaching assistants before they lowered the axe on the TA’s just recently. Also thankfully the teachers the Boss has had have been extraordinary – warm and caring and professional and helpful despite being constantly hobbled by gov’t directives. Also also also thankfully we’ll be moving before she becomes immersed in the teach-to-the-test idiocy of the upper grades.

And don’t even get me started on the french immersion mania that goes on in my neighbourhood. (Recently leading to boundary changes for the school and much parental hysteria.)

And yet…

We seem to be headed to an even more dysfunctional Dept. of Education, in B.C., where they’d rather spend money putting iPads in the hands of every child than pay teachers a decent wage and allow them to do their jobs.

I am a staunch supporter of public schools, I am loyal to them and believe in public education with all my heart. But heavy-handed government interference and lack of adequate funding is really starting to make home-schooling look darn good.

In the end, however, we’ll stay in the system, just because the teachers are so wonderful.

Reasons to Leave

… are numerous, I suppose. They seem legion on some days, meager on others. Currently #1 with a bullet:

1. Mayor Rob Ford. (I couldn’t bear to put an actual photo of him here.) If anyone can make it easy to leave, it is this man. I feel weary just thinking about what he’s doing to this city.

2. People who write letters to the editor like this:

“Environmental gardens in residential neighbourhoods should be kept to the backyard. … most of them grow out of control very quickly and are done in poor taste. Sometimes, the growth is so out of control even the sidewalk is overgrown with their idea of what is attractive. …”
(letter to neighbourhood newspaper The Villager)