ANOTHER VIEW

Pitying Toronto is not natural

Canada needs Toronto to succeed, to preen once again. It is part of the national character for Toronto to be envied and loathed

CHARLES GORDON April 3 1989
ANOTHER VIEW

Pitying Toronto is not natural

Canada needs Toronto to succeed, to preen once again. It is part of the national character for Toronto to be envied and loathed

CHARLES GORDON April 3 1989

Pitying Toronto is not natural

ANOTHER VIEW

Canada needs Toronto to succeed, to preen once again. It is part of the national character for Toronto to be envied and loathed

CHARLES GORDON

Any minute now, the baseball season opens, and in Toronto, that means only one thing: countdown to SkyDome. The SkyDome is Toronto’s own domed stadium with a retractable roof, and it opens officially on June 3.

It will be a magical moment, from all accounts, with stunning displays of this and that, and perhaps the most stunning being executed by the SkyDome itself, which will demonstrate its ability to open and close its roof at will and in only 20 minutes. The first successful retraction of the retractable roof will mean a lot to Toronto, and it should mean a lot to us all.

Now it is true the SkyDome would have meant even more if it had a name more imaginative than SkyDome, which sounds like the kind of thing a committee of advertising copywriters for tobacco companies might dream up. The SkyDome could have been named after one of the great baseball players to play in Toronto in the old days, such as Rocky Nelson, perhaps the most famous of the old Maple Leafs.

Better still, the SkyDome could have been named after Lester B. Pearson, a great prime minister and a great baseball fan. Then the Toronto airport, which has been bringing increasing dishonor to the Pearson family name over the last couple of years, could quietly be named after somebody else—who is the patron saint of overcrowding, anyway?—or be given a name like SkySomething.

Whatever its name, the SkyDome, when it successfully retracts its top, is going to make the world sit up and take notice, Toronto hopes. It is going to give Toronto the opportunity to gloat in the direction of Montreal, which has a much more expensive roof over a much more expensive stadium, and it is suspected that the much more expensive roof isn’t going to work as well as the SkyDome roof.

When the SkyDome finally works, Toronto will be Toronto again, and not a moment too

Charles Gordon is a columnist with The Ottawa Citizen.

soon. “Oh no!” some of you are saying. Not that again. And it is true that there have been periods during which the rest of Canada found Toronto a bit hard to take. For many Canadians, there was almost a decade’s worth of those moments, beginning with the mid-1970s, when Time magazine (remember Time magazine?) put David Crombie on the cover and declared Toronto “the City that Works.”

After that, in rapid succession, came the construction of the CN Tower, the world’s tallest something, also the Eaton Centre, one of the earliest and most lavish downtown shopping centres, and a proliferation of restaurants featuring ethnic food that Toronto somehow claimed to have invented. In the mid-1980s, the baseball team started to win. Toronto’s active media celebrated all these, as well as the city’s functioning neighborhoods and new chichi stores. The visitor found it all a bit overwhelming, his every step dogged by choruses of proud Torontonians chanting alternately: “Isn’t Toronto fabulous?” and “How about those Jays!”

While a successfully retracting SkyDome involves the risk, not pretty to contemplate, of those days returning, a moment’s reflection will convince you that it is necessary. First, you

have to keep in mind the depths to which Toronto has sunk in the last six months, and how quickly it happened.

It seems only hours ago that the streets were filled with prosperous young men in Mercedes talking on car phones. It seems only yesterday that the Economic Summit showed Toronto to the world, showed the world that Toronto was—yes!—World Class. And yet it is easy in retrospect to see that the Toronto of the summit was only a facade, that the prosperous young men with car phones were lonely and scared and probably talking to Diala-Prayer. Because it was all to come crashing down. Seemingly within minutes, Toronto, the City that Works, became Toronto, the City that Doesn’t.

All of a sudden, Toronto woke up and discovered that house prices had gotten to be obscene. Nobody could park anywhere anymore. Nobody could drive anywhere anymore. The newspapers discovered crime, then discovered teenage gangs, then discovered teenage gangs in shopping centres.

Where Torontonians had once been viewed with a mixture of resentment and envy, now they were not. Employers found that prospective employees would not move to Toronto. Instead of hated, Toronto was beginning to feel pitied.

That is why the SkyDome must work, why the rest of Canada needs the SkyDome to work. Canada cannot pity Toronto. It is not a natural state. Canada needs Toronto to succeed, to preen once again. It is part of the national character for Toronto to be envied and loathed.

There is no alternative. Can we hate Montreal? Not likely. Those who hate the English part will love the French part, or vice versa. We can’t hate Vancouver because it is too far away, and isn’t paying attention anyway. Why waste time hating a city that doesn’t know it is being hated?

Hate Ottawa? Nah. Most of Canada dislikes Ottawa. But it is not feared enough to be hated, doesn’t brag enough about itself to be envied. No one hates Winnipeg. The big oil cities of the West could be hated when they were booming, but they’re not booming now.

An alternative is to hate nobody. But in Canada, that seems impossible. So it’s Toronto or nothing, which means the SkyDome will have to work, in order for the city to regain its excessive self-respect.

If the SkyDome doesn’t work, trouble is on the horizon. Already, there are early indications that Toronto is coming to you. Torontonians are tiring of their city’s ailments and moving out, to smaller towns and cities within driving distance.

There are cities two or three hours away from Toronto where real estate prices are already jumping. After June 3, if the SkyDome doesn’t retract to its full potential, Torontonians may be arriving in your town, having sold their Toronto houses for an exorbitant price, ready to bid up the local market. Once settled, they will demand that your town become world class. It will need many improvements, not the least of which will be a domed stadium.

You can see how high the stakes are.