Saturday, September 26, 2015


When I turned 18, and was legally able to drink beer, my family took a trip to England to visit our relatives over the pond. It was one of the pivotal events in my life. I was, of course, thrilled to connect with family members I'd not seen in several years, or hadn't  met at all. As a person passionately interested in history, I was like a kid in a candy shop. And, as a new beer drinker, I was fascinated to learn about the beverage. My dad was an enthusiastic beer drinker and he taught me much about the "suds". But being in England with my dad, and joining my granddad, and several uncles and cousins who were beer drinkers, I had a new world open up to me. In Ontario in the early 70's, there were the standard beers to enjoy: Canadian, Blue, OV, 50, Ex and the lot. But in England, a variety of ales, porters, bitters and creams exploded on my young palate. I was hooked.

As years went by, the opportunity to travel continued to come my way. And, of course, the opportunity to sample the world's varieties of beers presented a seemingly endless chance to challenge my taste buds. But, sadly, the variety of beers in Ontario remained in neutral. True, the traditional beers started to give way to brands like Sleeman's, Creemore and Upper Canada. But it was a trickle only, and compared to the vast ocean of brews available world-wide and even as close as the United States, it created some degree of frustration for me.

Now, we are in a full-fledged beer revolution. Craft breweries are springing up all over Ontario, and I am a complete fan of the trend. Over the last few days, I have been able to sample some little known varieties in small towns and big cities. My friend from Manitoba, Don Sourisseau, has visited recently and it has been a veritable beer festival for us. We sampled a couple of local crafts in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Silversmith Brewery and Oast House brewery, and Don brought some Black Swan back from Stratford. I had laid in some offerings from places as far afield as St. Thomas, Muskoka, Brantford, Ottawa ( my personal favourite, "Old Tomorrow" Canadian Pale Ale ), and various locations in Toronto. It was a road map through our wonderful province and the taste ranged from terrific to horrid ( the brew from St. Thomas was "The Witty Traveler" ... too much clove flavour for us ).

I had enjoyed some of the craft beers in Manitoba a couple of years ago. Don and his wife Joy introduced Lou and I to the Half Pints brewery in Winnipeg. Don reports the brewery is doing well and expanding into Ontario.

This is all good news if you enjoy beer. National brands are all well and good. I like Canadian, Keith's, Moosehead and Rickard's. In the US, I think Coors and Pabst are fine. Australia's Fosters, Japan's Sapporo, India's Kingfisher, Cuba's Crystal and China's Tsingtao are all good brews. But, as I get older, I find I want something different, something challenging, something with "umph" in the flavour. Craft beers deliver that "umph".

Long live the revolution !!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

     Mark Twain

Mayor John Tory announced today that Toronto would not submit a bid to the IOC for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. The mayor cited a lack of support from the public and from the corporate sector. Tory said that he was of the opinion that Toronto would someday host the Games, but now was not the time to submit a bid.

Undoubtedly, most people will be happy by that announcement. A bid would cost several million dollars just to put the city's name on a list of contenders. Then, a campaign would ensue to convince the IOC that Toronto would be a deserving host. And, should the bid prove successful, it would cost at least a billion dollars to prepare the venues and infrastructure to host the event.

"Sigh", is the sound of the collective multitudes. They would not want to "foot the bill", or put up with the endless construction of facilities, or the event itself. Looks like sanity has prevailed.


Toronto should have launched a bid. An Olympic bid would have been a bold declaration that Toronto is ready to take its place in the realm of world cities. An Olympic bid would have provided a much needed vision of what the city would become in the near and distant future. An Olympic bid would force Toronto to face itself in the mirror and realize, once and for all, that it is no longer the city most of the old order still thinks it is.

Peter Ustinov, the late British actor and raconteur, once famously said that Toronto was like New York, but run by the Swiss. This was back in the 70's, when Toronto was trying desperately to get the rest of the world to notice it, much like a pre-adolescent child. It billed itself as "the city that works" ... implying that it was a place that hummed along and solved all problems sent its way. In reality, the slogan really meant that Toronto was all about work: commerce, labour, a serious and slavish devotion to the Protestant work ethic, devoid of humour or fun. Toronto traced its virtuous ethos to its Orange Order origins: very much a product of its whitebread past.

Fast forward through the next forty years. Toronto is now a multi-cultural city, more than 6 million strong in the GTA, putting it in league with places like New York, Chicago, Lima, Mexico City, Los Angeles and others. Culture finds a fertile home, producing some amazing talent in the arts and entertainment. The best and brightest in the world come to the city to ply their trade and make their fortunes. And the poor and working classes, as elsewhere, struggle to find their way in the new order.

Despite the growth, though, Toronto seems to be mired in the small minded thinking of its Orange Order roots. Transit is a joke. Only this year have we seen a rail link open up between the airport and downtown, something that other major cities have had for decades. Roads are crumbling. Sewers and water mains give way to sinkholes and ditches regularly. The working poor live in substandard housing, and the glass and steel condos that spring up in the urban core shed windows onto the ground below with regularity, signalling that developers can build without any standard or oversight. And gangs and guns proliferate, despite reassurances that the city is still "safe compared to other major cities." Rightly or wrongly, citizens see crime as out of control and unsolvable: they may be right because there is no real solution from the city's leadership.

Yet we are told that Toronto is a world class city. A major financial hub, with markets and investment on a par with other world financial centres. Our markets are attractive, we are told. Corporations have offices here: our banks are the envy of the world. Money lives here.

Oh really? The immense fortunes accumulated by the wealthy corporations are kept in a modern equivalent of Fort Knox. Accountants jealously guard funds in the billions of dollars, kept as a hedge against the coming economic Armageddon , watched over by financial overlords who resemble Ebenezer Scrooge, or Silas Marner, or Gollum, who lugubriously wrings their hands over their piles of gold and whisper "my precious" over and over.

This is no longer the "city that works". It is no longer "Toronto the Good". It is, instead, a smug, little town that looks like a huge city in the 21st century, but acts like the "Hogtown" or "Muddy York" it was a hundred years ago.

Toronto could have dreamed big. It could've broken the shackles of its dull past. It could have presented a vision of a new city of the future. It could have used the recent Pan Am Games as a springboard for bigger and better things, as Rio de Janeiro has done. It could have gone alongside great cities like London, Paris, Sydney, Beijing, Seoul, Rome, Tokyo, Berlin, Moscow, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Athens. Even second tier cities like Atlanta, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Barcelona have dared to dream big. But not Toronto.

Dreams don't reside here.

Taxpayers don't want to pay. They cite the example of Montreal in 1976, where the costs were irresponsibly burdened on the citizens. But they ignore the profits earned by modern Games. They don't see the potential economic gains that a successful bid would bring.

Governments don't want to pay. They point to deficits and complaints of taxpayers. But they ignore the fact that infrastructure needed for a city to survive and grow must be provided with or without the Games. In the case of Toronto, the infrastructure needed has been woefully ignored or delayed in the name of "respect for taxpayers." Infrastructure crumbles, and taxpayers complain anyway. A successful Games bid would be a spark for further and rapid infrastructure development which would last well beyond the Games.

Corporations don't want to pay. All this despite record profits in the banking and financial sector. All this despite untold billions held in reserve by most major corporations doing nothing, accomplishing nothing. The windfalls that corporate backing would bring to a successful bid is ignored. The Games in 1984 in Los Angeles realized huge profits for the corporations which involved themselves in the Games. But Toronto corporations seem to be great accountants, but bad history students. They don't want to speculate in a future that seems to have plenty of upside: this is a microcosm of Canadian business ineptitude that has plagued our country since its earliest days. "Let someone else do it," is the corporations' mantra. "Leave us alone to go along as we've always done." No entrepreneurialism here.

Toronto doesn't like to compete. It doesn't want to risk defeat. It is worried about being branded a "loser", especially since it failed in its bid for the 1996 Games. A loss like that didn't make Toronto want to come back fiercer and more determined. It made Toronto slink back into its corner, licking its wounds, whimpering like a small child pleading "please don't dislike us, please don't make fun of us .... let us just go away." Indeed, Toronto became a loser, and hasn't come out of the shadows.

The opportunities for the youth of the city is ignored. Athletes are just the tip of the iceberg. Volunteer opportunities abound. And employment in the construction of the venues and infrastructure would provide a shot in the arm for the city's youth.

The taxpayers are undoubtedly heaving a sigh of relief. "Thank God there's no Olympics", they may say. "Just think of the traffic chaos, the disruption caused by endless construction, the amount on my property taxes ...."  Yes, none of that will happen now that the Olympics aren't on the horizon. Right?

Toronto, you're so small. Your time to grow up was right in front of you. Your time to strive for the big prize was there for the taking. Your opportunity to be bold, visionary and brave was there. But you took the easy way out. No risk, no reward. Instead, an empty promise from a lacklustre mayor who is the perfect embodiment for his people and his city."Someday, we'll be really, really good" .... but not now.

Enjoy your protracted adolescence.