One year after mass shooting, the Danforth remains steadfast and strong
Residents say historic neighbourhood will not be pigeonholed by tragedy
Chris Christodoulou can still hear the crack of gunshots and see bodies lying on Danforth Avenue.
It's been a year since a man went on a shooting rampage in Toronto's Greektown neighbourhood, but what Christodoulou saw that night still sticks with the restaurateur sometimes when he shuts his eyes.
"You just live your life, you learn to deal with it … and try not to think of it too much. When it comes to your mind you just brush it off and say 'no, enough,'" he said.
"It was a black day that is going to be, unfortunately, remembered for many years to come."
But one year on, those few blocks remain a hub of activity — a vibrant, walkable community full of shops and restaurants that residents say will not be pigeonholed by tragedy. People who live there say it's important to mark the lives lost that night, but to also remember the neighbourhood will go on as it always did, bolstered by the strength of its community.
Christodoulou is the general manager of Soulas Modern Greek Cuisine, and has been running restaurants on the Danforth — as that particular section of Danforth Avenue is known — since 1979. He's seen a lot over the years — but nothing like that night.
No matter what happens … as long as my building is here, I'm going to stay.— Cecillia Son, shop owner
He was working at another of his restaurants when Faisal Hussain walked through the neighbourhood on July 22, 2018, shooting at people on the street, on patios and in restaurants.
Hussain killed 10-year-old Julianna Kozis and 18-year-old Reese Fallon, while 13 others were injured. Hussain, 29, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after a gunfight with police.
Christodoulou had a full patio of customers that night. He rushed them into the back of his restaurant, then headed onto the street.
He remembers seeing wounded all over — two girls, lying on the sidewalk; a teen, shot in the leg; a man in his 30s, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the stomach.
But amid the carnage, the strength of the Danforth emerged, Christodoulou said. Even before emergency crews were on scene, people were trying to help.
"There was a lot of people, all of us trying to help the wounded," he said. "It wasn't a situation where you see people running away and the whole thing is evacuated and it becomes a ghost town.
"There was still a lot of people there trying to look after everybody."
'How this community?'
That sentiment also struck Peter Rotolo, chief commander with Toronto Paramedic Services.
He got to the scene that night amid a flurry of 911 calls. While trying to organize his crews among the chaos, Rotolo couldn't help but notice what was happening around him.
"The community, they [were] the true first responders," Rotolo said. "No one ran away. They were all dealing with people. They were helping people every step of the way."
For some, the scars from that night run deep. Cecillia Son, who runs the clothing shop Grace Mee, still gets spooked when she hears sirens.
"It's hard. Really, really hard," she said.
"Why? How? How this area? How this community? Because we've never had it."
Son has been running her shop for 10 years, and in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, she wondered if she should move elsewhere.
Her customers answered that question for her. The next day Son opened up after the shooting was the busiest she's ever had.
"That day, I realized I had to stay. I cried many, many times. Still I cry," she said through tears.
"I'm going to stay. No matter what happens … as long as my building is here, I'm going to stay."
More established than a single moment
For others in the neighbourhood, leaving was never even a question.
Marium Carvell-Page has lived in the area for over 20 years. She hasn't forgotten what happened, but a single act of senseless violence doesn't define the Danforth, she said.
"I get reminded of it many times, but walking up and down the street, it's a lovely neighbourhood — that's what I think. I don't think, 'Oh, that's where it happened,'" she said.
"It's more established than that moment."
Gail Whillans has lived in the neighbourhood for 45 years. She says the anniversary isn't even on people's minds that much, and is more a product of media-manufactured hand wringing.
"We're all still here. We're doing our thing and we're not leaving because of it," she said.
That sense of ownership is what makes the Danforth such a special destination for tourists and Torontonians alike, Christodoulou said.
"The Danforth has that draw of people. It's always been one of the destinations of everybody," he said.
"We continue to support one another."
A community vigil to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting is happening at 8:51 p.m. ET. Monday at Alexander the Great Parkette, at the northeast corner of Logan and Danforth avenues.
With files from Kate Cornick