The hours are counting down until ‘our’ Syrian family arrives in Toronto. It has been quite a journey since the Mother’s Day meeting that Andrew and Claudia organized in their home in Riverdale and the idea of helping sponsor a refugee family was first floated. In the months since then, there have been many meetings, much discussion and a lot of legwork. And funds have been raised through generous charitable contributions from many individuals to support the costs of sponsorship. The 17 individuals in our group have grown into a strong and competent team, guided by Andrew’s strong leadership as Chair, with each of us involved in one or more of the complicated challenges of sponsoring and settling the family.
Along with Rebecca and Claudia, I am on the Housing Committee with the task of identifying both short-term, as well as longer term, accommodation. The best part of this task has been our scouting trips to vibrant communities on the east side of Toronto that I knew of but had never visited.
Apartment buildings with affordable rents in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park looked promising, as did their surrounding communities. However, we settled on the Victoria Park and Lawrence area when we discovered that there was a strong Syrian community already there. The apartment building that we identified for the family is close to a public school, as well as a medical clinic, shopping and transit, and has abundant green space. It seems like a good spot to start life in Canada.
On one of our visits to Victoria Park and Lawrence, Rebecca took us to Crown Pastries, a Syrian bakery at 2086 Lawrence Avenue East that she had discovered the week before. Beautiful pastries reminiscent of baklava, but not quite, were arrayed before us and we stocked up with yummy treats for our upcoming meeting of the Ripple Refugee Group.
In an effort to gain more information about the community, Rebecca approached a family who was also buying pastries in the shop. We learned that they were originally from Iraq and had traveled from Buffalo that day to come to the bakery!
These discoveries of community and food have been a wonderful side benefit of the housing work and a reminder to me to embrace Toronto’s diversity with gusto.
They have also made me prickly to the backlash that has occurred in the city following the Paris attacks of November 13. The assault of a woman wearing a hijab as she walked to pick up her boys from school was shocking in its own right but struck close to home because it occurred in Flemingdon Park, one of the communities that we had visited.
(By Pegi Dover)