Newsletter: Welcome to #GTADiscourse. Let’s talk, Toronto!

Welcome to our weekly newsletter on all things #GTADiscourse. We’re Emma and Sadiya, reporters at The Discourse.

For the month of June, we’re working on a reporting project aimed at uncovering untold stories and perspectives in Greater Toronto Area (GTA) communities that aren’t well served by existing media. We’re listening to people in Little Portugal, Brampton, Willowdale and Scarborough — and want to share what we hear with you (to learn more about how The Discourse chose these four communities, read this).

We started in Little Portugal by listening to long-time residents, artists, elders, business owners and activists. Our goal was to find out how locals are currently getting information about their neighbourhood and city, as well as what topics they want to know more about. We’ve done in-depth interviews with 16 people so far, asking everyone the same 11 questions, and we’re hearing some consistent themes. As Little Portugal has experienced rapid change, residents are concerned about housing affordability, lack of commercial rent control and even parking — all issues that they say threaten its diverse and inclusive roots. 

What we learn will help us decide what to report on in the GTA. Here are some highlights from our interviews:

What do you love about Little Portugal?

Little Portugal residents
Francisco Mendonca, 76, and his wife, Herondina, 70, have lived in Little Portugal since immigrating there from Portugal over 50 years ago. At the time, Ossington Avenue was dominated by Portuguese immigrants. Sadiya Ansari/The Discourse

 

“I like this area. Before, there was lots of Portuguese people in this area. That’s why we say it’s Little Portugal. Now, a lot of people moved to the area,” long-time resident Francisco Mendonca tells us.

Over the years, Francisco and his wife Herondina have watched a younger crowd take over their neighbourhood, replacing older Portuguese vendors on Ossington Avenue with bars and boutiques. Despite all this change, though, the couple says they’ll never move. Francisco and Herondina say they love the energy on Ossington, and have made friends with their new younger neighbours.

“Nice people in this area. Lots of new people, young people. My neighbours I like so much.” Francisco says. “I had friends that moved from Toronto to Mississauga. I’ve been many times there, and I don’t see anybody in the streets. I like to see people.”

What issues get covered the most by media in Little Portugal?

Little Portugal residents 3
Dancer Andrea Nann and singer Andy Maize have lived in Toronto’s west end since the early 1990s. They love the diversity in the area, especially in public spaces like parks and libraries. Emma Jones/The Discourse

 

Andrea Nann and Andy Maize say Little Portugal gets great media coverage, thanks to the West End Phoenix, a 1-year-old monthly local newspaper. They also tell us engaged neighbours contribute to an excellent email list that keeps community members in the loop, but that its coverage is primarily driven by events. “A lot of the community papers are more about parties and gatherings, and they’re not so much about really investigative news,” says Andrea.

Both Andrea and Andy hope to see deeper coverage of development, transportation, arts and community discussions from local media. “What’s happening? What are the questions people are asking? What are art people’s concerns? How is Sistering [a local agency supporting vulnerable women] doing?” she adds. “Are people getting the services they need? How are we doing as a community? Are there people getting left behind?”

What issues are your friends and family most concerned about about right now?

Little Portugal residents 2
Julia Tuitt-Mann, 31, has lived in Little Portugal for a year, after moving from Montreal with her husband. The pair are interior designers. She loves her neighbourhood, but is worried about being able to stay long-term. Emma Jones/The Discourse

 

“I wish that as [a] younger generation that’s up and coming, and supporting the economy — just like the whole housing market thing — I think it freaks a lot of us out. Everybody in this age group that I talk to is panicking, but yet we don’t feel supported,” says Julia Tuitt-Mann, neighbour of Francisco and Herondina. “Then you see the reports on TV and … [they] only gives certain facts but not any type of advice to how we could approach [high housing costs]. They’ll say, ‘The average home in Toronto is now $1.3 million’ and you’re thinking: Is it even worth trying?”

Help us report on the GTA.

Whether you live in Little Portugal, the three other communities we’re covering or elsewhere in the GTA, we’d love to hear from you. Fill out this survey or reach us at [email protected] to share your thoughts on what local stories we should know about. Then follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates from the field, and for information on upcoming Discourse pop-up events across Toronto.

Hidden gem.

Little Portugal
A quiet side street that branches off bustling Ossington Avenue in Toronto. Despite the influx of a younger, artier crowd, many of the area’s homes are still owned by Portuguese families who’ve lived in the area for decades. Emma Jones/The Discourse
  

When Portuguese immigrants started buying houses in Little Portugal in the 1950s and 1960s, housing was much more affordable than it is today. At the time, dividing a house into rental flats was a common way for community members to quickly pay off their mortgages. 

As a result, Portuguese immigrants are resisting being pushed out by gentrification, according to research by Carlos Teixeira, a geography professor at the University of British Columbia. Today, the Portuguese diaspora has some of the highest levels of home ownership of any immigrant group in Toronto.

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