We the East is the Scarborough Campus Student Union’s adaptation of the Raptors’ proud affirmation of Canada, We the North. I love it. The slogan edgily proclaims our deep-rooted pride in the University of Toronto Scarborough, the surrounding neighbourhoods of Scarborough and our determination to make our institutions stronger.
To be sure, our campus and Scarborough are integral to larger entities, the tri-campus University of Toronto and the City of Toronto in particular.
But there has been so much thoughtless scorn about Scarborough, and partly as a result, a woeful under-investment in transit, hospitals, education, housing and the economy, it’s time to assert the tremendous strength of the area and what people are missing, in the interests of a fairer share of public and private investment.
It’s not only the bluffs, ravines and beaches, the most beautiful in the entire GTA. The last census affirms that this part of Toronto is what the future of our city and our country will look like. We have one of the largest urban Indigenous populations in the GTA. People here come from many backgrounds and are learning to live together, establish businesses, and create vibrant communities in remarkable ways that York sociologist Ranu Basu calls “integrative multiplicity.”
This is the Toronto and the Canada that is becoming.
Catherine Hernandez, author of the novel, Scarborough, and a finalist for this year’s Toronto Book Award, thinks being in Scarborough gives people license to be more authentic, more at home in their skin—whatever the colour. She finds people here are quirkier, too, which makes for a very interesting place that goes way beyond the good food our fellow Torontonians make the trek to enjoy.
I call Scarborough a social experiment. Those who take the trouble to have a look will find an experiment in really good shape. Canada itself is an unfinished project. Our sesquicentennial made it clear that we struggle with our imperfections every day. We’re learning from the darker moments of our past, so future generations—aware of our history, warts and all—can charge forward rather than go backward. Scarborough affords many of the necessary lessons.
The challenge is to make more of the decision-makers in Toronto and the GTA take a ‘whole city/region’ approach. Scarborough is home to remarkable civic leaders at all three levels of government, who fight for improvements that go beyond immediate neighbourhoods. Like Mitzie Hunter, who has been working to secure more funding so students from disadvantaged backgrounds from all over Ontario can get a higher education – not just her constituents. Like City Councillor Glenn De Baermaker, who worked to keep the Rouge Valley free from development and has been a leader in the effort to save the Oak Ridges Moraine from that fate, too. And Gary Anandasangaree, a tireless advocate for both Scarborough and human rights worldwide.
But we need others, especially those who represent the well-developed downtown, to take a ‘whole city’ approach to Scarborough’s needs. We the East should be a reminder that they can no longer neglect us.
I’ve been at U of T my entire academic career. You could say I bleed blue. I’ve enjoyed an incredibly rewarding professional life, and finishing with my leadership at U of T Scarborough is the icing on the cake. Not everyone gets that. There were some who wondered why I wanted to leave downtown to come here.
Our campus is a microcosm of Scarborough, just like the strip malls Catherine Hernandez describes. You just have to look beyond the surface to know that Scarborough represents the Canada that is becoming.
I highly recommend completing one’s professional and personal journey in a place like Scarborough, a place that is taking a leap to the next level, where people from around the world come together.
I’m not done just yet. So you can count on me to devote much of my blogging in the coming months to the stories of Scarborough.