Category Archives: Community

Lights, Camera, Kindness!

If you’re in the Dundas West neighbourhood of Toronto this Thursday and looking for some fun and warm-fuzzies, stop by Dundas Video. This establishment is known for serving up retro video games and movies alongside its alcoholic beverages. If that’s not enticing enough, on March 23 you can stop in to watch a new documentary about goodwill.

ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens & Compassion is a short film about Bunz Trading Zone, a community-based favour-swapping, item-trading, connection-forging group. (ISO means “In Search Of” and is frequently used in Bunz messages, as in: “ISO someone to help me remove my storm windows,” or “ISO beginner accordion lessons.”)

Clearly, the Bunz platform serves as a catalyst for many acts of kindness. It helps the cash-strapped. It helps the environment. It helps the community. It even helps the lonely.

It’s fitting for this documentary to make its debut in Toronto, since it’s here that Bunz first launched in 2013. But it’s gradually spreading around the world, with total membership now at 120,000.

“It’s cool, because you meet new, cool people, and you develop a sense of community,” a guy (short on adjectives, long on sentiment) says in the movie trailer.

“I think people are in need of some kind of… personal connection in this kind of alienating society we live in now,” someone else notes.

If Bunz can fulfill that need, good on it. You can find out more about the trading group in this news article.


In the meantime, I’m contemplating what I might be ISO (drywall repair? Post-apocalyptic fiction? Homemade french fries? The possibilities are almost endless…) (Image courtesy of Justin Lee)

Kindness on the Canadian Commute

You’re late for a job interview, you’ve got a killer of a headache, and you’re battling nerves and a bad hair day. Could it get any worse?

Of course not. It gets better. A fellow passenger on your subway train expresses concern and asks if you’re all right. Another commuter gives you an Advil for your head pain. Someone else passes you a juice box to help you swallow it. Several subway riders start prepping you for your interview, giving you advice on making a good impression. A teenager hands over a hair elastic so you can tie back your unruly hair.

This short sequence of events epitomizes what it is to be Canadian, at least according to witness Salma Hamidi, who posted a quick-to-go-viral note about it. (She’s the subway passenger who donated the headache pill to the man in need.) According to Salma, the individuals committing the various acts of kindness were a beautiful and benevolent mix of men and women of different ages, colours and religions.

And as far as she’s concerned, that’s typical of this country. “If this isn’t the ultimate Canadian experience, short of a beaver walking into a bar holding a jar of maple syrup, I don’t know what is!” she wrote in her jubilant note on Facebook.

That’s our true north, strong and free. Don’t let anyone tell you different.


With glowing hearts we see thee get the job… here’s hoping, anyway. ( (Kriss) Szkurlatowski)

He’ll Help You Reach for the Stars

If you’re headed for Nova Scotia anytime soon, take a side trip to the tiny eastern Canada village of Quinan. There, you can visit this community’s newest landmark: the Deep Sky Eye Observatory. It’s owned by Tim Doucette, a man with superhuman powers.

Tim, who is blind, had corrective surgery as a child to remove his lenses and achieve some useable sight. During the daytime, he works with 10 percent vision. When night falls and the stars come out, it’s a game changer.

Without his natural lenses, Tim can see ultraviolet light that’s filtered out by most other people’s eyes. So when Tim looks through a telescope, he can spot incredible stellar phenomena that are normally invisible to inexperienced astronomers.

Tim has long had a fascination for the starry night sky. Now, he wants to share his passion with others.

It took Tim and his family two years to construct a domed observatory, built from reclaimed wood. They’ve installed a high-definition telescope and opened their site to the public. It’s in the perfect spot, remote enough from urban areas that the skies are dark and inviting. There’s a fee, but it’s not exorbitant, and kids eight and under age are free.

Already, more than 150 people have stopped at the Deep Sky Eye Observatory to check it out. When tourists show up, even unannounced, Tim will drop everything to teach them about the beauty of the starry night. Apparently, he never puts out a closed sign.

“I’ve always relied on other people, but now, other people are relying on me to help them view the night sky,” he recently told a reporter. “So that’s kind of a great feeling, to show somebody something else that makes them excited.”


All together, everyone: “Road trip!” (tungphoto /


Community Service

Somebody in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood wants you to know that you matter.

Admittedly, he or she doesn’t know you. But he or she nevertheless cares how you feel about yourself. In fact, his or her intentions are so heartfelt that he or she –

Okay. Because English can be awkward and unwieldy, henceforth we are going to refer to this person as “Hoh” instead of him or her. For decency’s sake, we shall pronounce this a way that rhymes with “paw.”

Hoh recently invested time in printing and preparing a series of eye-catching posters. Then Hoh distributed them around the community. Each poster includes ready-to-remove compliments: “You matter.” “You are amazing.” “You make a difference.” Passersby are encouraged to take them, keep them or pass them to others who need them. A sweet idea!

The downloadable posters were originally created by Scholastic Books in New York, as part of a campaign against bullying. Nice to see it’s spread beyond the borders of the Big Apple.

In the Toronto neighbourhood where Hoh lives, these compliments have clearly been welcome. By the time my friend Lorin spotted a couple of them, one had already been completely stripped of its compliments. The other was more than half depleted.

“You matter.” Doesn’t it feel good to have a reminder?


“You absolutely do!” Photo creds to Lorin, intrepid community reporter.

Flower Power

It’s my favourite time of year. There’s no longer any trace of snow, ice or general subzero misery. Just last week, the mornings finally warmed up enough for us all to leave our hats at home – even mittens, if we were feeling reckless. Yet it’s not yet so oven-stuffy hot that we want to peel off our skin. The grass is a vibrant green, not the hue of dead swamp that it will surely have taken on by the end of July.

Oh, and those spring flowers. I love them: the way they look, the way they smell, the way they wave jovially at me whenever I walk by.

Last week, a friend’s much-admired flowerbed became the backdrop for a few spontaneous Kodak moments. As she tells it, two passing ladies were so enchanted with her front garden that they arranged themselves into various poses on her property, sitting on one of her rocks and even lying on her grass, while they snapped photographs of each other.

My friend wasn’t perturbed. In fact, she took care to stay indoors so she wouldn’t disrupt them. Gardens are conduits for spreading beauty and joy.

It reminded me of a spring afternoon years ago, at my first house, where my new husband and I had carefully nurtured a front yard jam-packed with perennials. The outgoing little girl who lived across the street was celebrating her first communion in the Catholic tradition. She was outfitted in a showy white dress and her parents had hired a professional photographer. But instead of posing for pictures in front of her house, the precocious child dragged the photographer across to our front garden, preferring our blossomy backdrop to her own plain yard.

Flowers lift spirits. Sharing flowers lifts them higher.


Happy New Year, and Peace Out

Picking up some other dog’s poo is a little like changing the diaper of someone else’s baby. It’s just so much more disgusting than dealing with your own infant’s nappy, the contents of which are somehow less gross and more perfect. But my daughter walks three or four dogs besides our own, so she’s somewhat inured to the filth factor. And when she’s picking up after our pooch, spots a towering turdpile that another dog owner failed to collect, and reaches over to get that one too, I can’t help but admire her fortitude.

I’m trying to tie this into a New Year’s theme. As we slit open the shrink wrap on our new songbird wall calendars (you all have one too, right?), we’re probably reflecting on what a 12 months it has been. Without question, there have been devastating tragedies. They’ve touched total strangers across the ocean, and people we know, close to home.

But these horrific events don’t define us. And they don’t ever, it seems, transpire without a responding surge of human compassion, sustenance and love. I suppose in that way, maybe these tragedies do define us.

I continue to steadfastly believe in what science keeps demonstrating – that we are designed to do good. As much as this year has had its moments of utter dogcrap, there have been countless counterpointing miracles of giving, sharing, kindness and caring.

It’s what we do.

I wish you all joy in your hearts this holiday season. And if, as you go about your day, you happen to spot a little poop – literally or metaphorically – hey, why not clean it up?


As we ring in 2016, let’s all take a little inspiration from Andie MacDowell’s character in Groundhog Day, and raise a glass to world peace. Catch you on the flip side. (Photo courtesy of Theeradech Sanin /

Not in My Backyard… or the One Next to That

It got a lot of people hot under the collar. Which was the point.

It started one Friday morning in a certain Toronto neighbourhood populated by a lot of, let’s say, fairly comfortable people. An empty store was boarded up as though in preparation for new construction. And then a large sign was hung – to announce the new homeless shelter that would soon be built here.

A toll-free number was helpfully added in case of “questions or concerns.”

Concerns is rather an understatement. Residents called and left emotional, angry messages. One caller was “distressed.” Others called this an “awful idea” that would “ruin a neighbourhood” or “affect my business.” Put it somewhere else, they suggested. It was “absolutely absurd” to bring drug addicts into a perfectly fine neighbourhood, said someone else. Said one caller, self-congratulatingly: “I’m a very tolerant person. But this just really is going over the edge.”

A hidden camera captured passersby grabbing information flyers, taking pictures and trying to peer into the construction site. “People were very upset, people were crying,” a journalist in the community told The Toronto Star. Pardon us, did we ruin your Friday?

Next day, the sign was replaced with a new one: “You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we.” It was followed by an appeal to help solve homelessness.

The brilliant stunt was revealed as an exercise to raise awareness. According to Raising the Roof, the Toronto charity that set this up, at least 35,000 Canadians will have nowhere to go home to tonight. About 235,000 in total will be homeless at some point in the year. That doesn’t even take into account the 50,000 couch-surfing “hidden homeless” Canadians with no place to call their own.

Click here to watch a video showing the community’s negative – nay, completely bitchcakes – reaction. The video ends with a pointed comment:

“What would happen if we were this passionate about ending homelessness?”

Oh, peevish Toronto neighbourhood: Like a campfire marshmallow, you just got burned.

Maybe now these folks, and anyone else who hears about this stunt, will find themselves all fired up for a very worthy cause.

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof. You nailed it, friends.

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof ( You nailed it, friends.

Deviants, or Do-Gooders?

For the record, I’m not a fan of the defacement of public property. But some vandals appear to have a bit more vision than others. There’s no limit to the swear-words, slang and slander that could be scrawled onto a wall or a guardrail. And that’s why I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the letters “L-O-V-E” pasted onto a roadside hazard sign in my neighbourhood (you can relive the moment here). Two years later, I can report that the letters still haven’t been removed.

So when a person with a spray-paint can in hand chooses to write a few words of enlightenment instead of obscenity, you have to admit: It could be a whole lot worse.

Naturally, I captured it on proverbial film for you, dear readers. What do you think… contemptible, or commendable?

Don’t be confused, as I was momentarily, by the inadvertent placement of the shadowy line in the concrete. The sign is NOT telling you to “Drop your Lego.”

Don’t be confused, as I was momentarily, by the inadvertent placement of the shadowy line in the concrete. The sign is NOT telling you to “Drop your Lego.”