An artist's guide to falling in love with Scarborough: Waterfront dancing, open mic nights and FOOD!
Escape the chaos of downtown with 'Scarborough' author Catherine Hernandez
Everyone knows about the art scenes in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — but what about Lethbridge, Sudbury or Victoria? In CBC Arts's new series "I He(art) My City," a local artist offers an insider's guide to the city they call home. Here, author and playwright Catherine Hernandez shows you her Scarborough (which, yes, is technically part of the amalgamated city of Toronto but doesn't get the same art world love).
Last year, Susan G. Cole interviewed me about my book Scarborough while in Scarborough for her article in NOW Magazine. She wanted me to show her various locations that had meaning to me. I still chuckle to myself remembering her eating a Jamaican beef patty at Warden Station like it was a foie gras served at Scaramouche (it was no surprise — if I still ate gluten, I would have been all over it too). So when CBC Arts asked me to pen this travel guide to Toronto's notorious east end, I jumped at the opportunity to share more of a place I call home.
Admittedly, my unusual take reads more like a Michelin Guide, featuring more restaurants than sights. This is partly due to the fact that, while downtown has its Distillery District or the CN Tower, we don't have a wealth of iconic monuments to represent Scarborough. Instead, our monuments are the spaces between us and the space we lovingly share. (Also, full disclosure, I am on the Keto diet, which means that I would die for a potato chip right now and this guide is helping me visualize my current food fantasies.) So fasten your seatbelts, you lucky folks who can eat still eat carbs and sugar. We're going for a ride!
My favourite Caribbean restaurant closed back in the 90s and I thought I would never find love again. Thankfully, when looking for community partners for my theatre company's co-production of Jivesh Parasram's Take d'Milk, Nah?, I turned to this family-owned gem. They catered the show's opening night, and instead of mingling, I hovered over a tray of their Doubles, delighting in the soft texture of their bara. Besides D'Pavilion's tasty eats, check out the lounge's regular dance parties to work off those Doubles.
R.I.S.E. Edutainment Monday open mics
Founded by the ever-smiling, ever-inspiring Randell Adjei (who, funnily enough, lives on the same street I lived on when I was a teen — that's how tight-knit Scarborough is), R.I.S.E. is a community initiative that creates platforms of self-expression and healing through performing arts. Their open mic Monday nights will change everything you feel about open mics. Every performance will leave you ripped open and raw. Every artist is a gem. It starts each Monday at 7:30pm, but get there at 6:30pm if you want to sign up to perform — first come, first serve.
If I could eat everything on the Halal menu, then dip the menu itself into the roti sauce and eat it, I would. Located in what I would love to name Nom Nom Alley (please trend #nomnomalley on Twitter — these are some of the best restaurants on Sheppard from Markham to Victoria Park and they all deserve attention), Gourmet Malaysia lives up to its name serving insta-worthy fare. Even if the mouthwatering dishes of Crispy Butter Prawns or Belecan Beef doesn't amaze you, perhaps the buttons at each table, which summon their expert staff, will.
Brick and mortar dedicated arts spaces are hard to come by here in Scarborough. While some do exist, in my opinion, the best arts experiences one can have in the east end are in alleyways and pop-up events. Cultural Hotspot, whose focus this year is North to Central Scarborough, features these exciting happenings occurring right in our neighborhoods, from photography/GIF-making to portraiture curation of the LGBTQ community.
My partner and I are regulars here and the staff know us well. As a visibly queer couple, we find very few places — inside or outside Scarborough — where we feel absolutely comfortable and respected. This is one of them. We have toasted the book's shortlist achievements over a plate of oysters (just ask the shucker to make suggestions because they know better than you do) and grilled salmon. Be sure to end your meal with their flourless chocolate cake.
Scarborough Arts is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to serving the Scarborough community. At their interactive imaginative events, artists like me share the wonder of a place we call home. (Be sure to keep up with all of those events over on their Facebook page!)
Best Coin Laundry
When I was penning the first drafts of Scarborough, I was living in a basement apartment below a white supremacist who would scream the N word at the television and randomly search our suite. My daughter and I feared for our lives daily. A resilience practice of mine was heading to this laundromat, loading our clothes, then watching HGTV over the communal TV. I still remember sitting on a dirty plastic chair staring into the wall-mounted screen, visualizing a future for my daughter in these safe, secure houses. It wasn't so much the chevron backsplashes or heated floors I was gawking at, but the idea of a place we could call home. Pro tip: don't be tempted to walk away and return when your load is done — I lost about four panties that way. I never caught the pervert who stole my panties, but whoever you are, you're welcome.
Dollarama at Morningside Crossing
When people ask me what parts of my book are based on true stories, I tell them the most outrageous parts are — like the chapter where Sylvie visits the dollar store and a fight suddenly breaks out in front of the unphased customers. This did in fact happen at the Dollarama at Morningside Crossing. My daughter and I witnessed a drunken fistfight between some rowdy locals, and despite the cops handcuffing folks amongst fallen shelves, people still lined up for their purchases like it was just another day in Scarborough.
After we finally moved out of that white supremacist's house, we moved to a home facing the lake, just steps from these dancing Chinese elders at dusk. In that house I was finally able to write to the cadence of its waves and Scarborough's final draft was authored there. I am in constant dialogue with this lake. I lost my dog on these shores. I have watched full moons spill onto its undulating surface. I have built a fire on its rocks, surrounded by my queer family to commemorate the lives of those lost in the Orlando massacre. I exchanged dedication vows with my daughter on Mother's Day by the pagoda. I prayed under a blanket of stars for a partner who would honour me. I then married the partner I prayed for by the lake one year after. And all this time, the water has witnessed my growth, witnessed me become the fullest expression of myself — so the least I could do was write these words of thanks.
...and dancing at Port Union Waterfront
If you travel to the southernmost end of Port Union, you will find a group of Chinese elders dancing together. There's no hard science to their gathering other than they gather at dusk, set their boom box to max and dance. This group has grown from a mere five or so participants to well over 25. They welcome any participants who want to join in on the fun. Just remember to be respectful and earnestly learn the choreography.
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