Longtime city workers share stories from decades-long careers in Toronto

Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was the City of Toronto.

CBC News Toronto spoke to city staff members from engineering to child care to fire

“I decided to become a surveyor maybe because my father was a surveyor," says Giancarlo Padoan, who has been the district supervisor for the City of Toronto's engineering and construction services department for 22 years. (CBC)

Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was Toronto.

To better understand how it has evolved, CBC Toronto spoke to three employees who have worked for the city for at least 40 years.

These are stories of their experiences serving the community for such a long time. 

Constructing a 50-year career

Giancarlo Padoan has worked for the city for nearly 50 years, and says he has witnessed first-hand Toronto's growth into a thriving metropolis.

For 22 years, Padoan has been the district supervisor for engineering and construction services. He manages 16 employees and oversees infrastructure projects in every corner of the city.

"I decided to become a surveyor maybe because my father was a surveyor. And so he kind of influenced me to continue the profession," he said. 

After getting a degree in civil engineering in Italy, where he was born, Padoan says he came to Canada to learn English. When he moved to Toronto from Milan in 1966, he was immediately struck by its diversity. 

"I come from a very monolithic society. We are Catholics, we are Caucasians, we all talk about soccer. And so when I came to Toronto, my mind blew up," he says.

"People from all over the world, different cultures, different races — I loved it. Fifty-three years later, I'm still here."

I was able to learn from different cultures and learn different ways to approach a job.-Giancarlo Padoan

Padoan says advancements in technology have changed his line of work immensely over the years, with tools like Google Earth and software that lets people build 3D models.

"We've moved from a map created by drafting to computer-generated maps, which is completely revolutionary," he says.

Padoan plans to retire this year but says he has learned a lot in his career from his co-workers.

"I find strength in a team environment," he says. "I was able to learn from different cultures and learn different ways to approach a job. That was a great experience for me."

Bringing joy to the Danforth for generations

Joy Henderson-Gregg has worked for the City of Toronto for 41 years in early child care. She supervises the Danforth Early Learning and Child Care Centre and says she sees the children as her own. (CBC)

For the last 41 years, Joy Henderson-Gregg has watched the youth of the Danforth grow up and become members of the community.

Henderson-Gregg is the supervisor of the Danforth Early Learning and Child Care Centre, and says she knew she wanted to work with children since she was in high school.

"Children to me are like sponges. They just can't get enough of what you're doing," she said. "Every day is a new adventure."

Henderson-Gregg has supervised children — from infancy to age three and a half — and staff members for the last 20 years. She says the centre encourages "learning through play" to prepare children for success in school.

"I think it's important for child-care workers to really closely monitor children's developments and document what their interests are and what they're doing every day," she said.

"We follow their lead and then we expand on what they're doing."

I just feel really proud.- Joy Henderson-Gregg

While Henderson-Gregg doesn't have any children, she treats the children at the centre like her own and says her staff are like family.

After the children go from "little school" to "big school," they often return years later with children of their own, she says. 

"We look at what we have done and what we've accomplished, that they've been able to go on to become great citizens of Toronto and have value and do something with their lives," she said.

After 41 years, she says she is grateful to have contributed to both the children's and community's development.

"I just feel really proud."

Keeping cool for decades as a Toronto firefighter

Bob O'Halloran said he didn't know what to expect when he applied to be a firefighter, but 49 years later, he's found helping people to be one of the best parts of the job. (Supplied by the City of Toronto)

Before spending nearly 49 years in North York's Fire Hall, Division Commander Bob O'Halloran spent two years behind the wheel of a TTC bus.

But the hours just weren't for him. Having heard good things from firefighter friends, he decided to apply and landed the job in November 1970.

"When I applied I didn't know everything that the job entailed," he said. "But I quickly learned and I enjoyed it right from the day I started."

One of the major changes he's seen since donning the uniform: a bigger emphasis on safety both for firefighters and for the residents they respond to.

"CPR wasn't even used when I started and that was developed while I was on the job, and [defibrillators], which we carry now."

More personnel are also available today, meaning firefighters can take breaks instead of handling a whole call themselves, O'Halloran said. As well, both the technology behind breathing equipment, and the usage of it, has significantly improved.

Still, the job takes a toll. 

There are some bad memories from calls with tragic endings, O'Halloran said, but his colleagues, and the people he continues to meet on the ground, are what keep him going.

"It is a real pleasure, as far as I'm concerned, to be able to assist someone when they're having a really bad day," he said.

"Whether it's a medical call or a fire or a flood or whatever, when they don't know who else to call, they call the fire department."

One of the best things about the job is the people.-Bob O'Halloran

And in a city like Toronto, each call can mean you're headed to a situation unlike anything you've experienced before, O'Halloran said.

"Sometimes the people that you're trying to assist ... have wealth way beyond your wildest dreams, houses or property or whatever, something that you wouldn't even imagine would be available. And then ... sometimes you're dealing with somebody that lives on the street, and our job is to try and help everybody."

Diversity can also be seen in the increasingly changing makeup of the fire hall.

"At one time the fire department was virtually all male and all white males," he said.

Now the department better reflects the city that it serves, he adds. 

O'Halloran and his wife, who's already retired, are discussing a day for him to hang up his uniform for good, apparently coming in the near future.

"I still really enjoy coming to work and enjoy the job a lot. So that's why I'm still here."

With files from Taylor Simmons


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