Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Toronto and Chicago: A Tale of Two Cities



This is a tale of two magnificent cities, Toronto, Ontario and Chicago, Illinois, which recently engaged in some friendly and not-so-friendly rivalry over their respective populations.  This all came about because Toronto proclaimed itself as the fourth largest city in North America (after Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles), relegating Chicago to fifth place.

Full disclosure: I was born and raised in Toronto and I have never lived anywhere else.  So yes, I'm biased and I'm not going to pretend otherwise.  I will, nevertheless, attempt to be as fair and factual as possible.  I refuse to disparage the Windy City because although Chicago can never have the same place in my heart as my beloved T.O., it really is my kind of town.

Earlier this month, Statistics Canada released census data showing that as of July 1, 2012, Toronto's population was 2,791,140 compared to Chicago's 2,707,120, a difference of about 84,000. This prompted Toronto economic development staffers to declare that the largest city in Canada is now the fourth largest metropolis in North America.  It may not seem like a big deal, but it seams to be a point of civic pride between the two sprawling urban centres.

Chicago's mayor, Ralm Emmanuel did not comment on the Statistics Canada findings.  Neither did the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.  A Chicago Sun-Times columnist, however, come out swinging.  Columnist Neil Steinberg. remarked, perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the mere comparison of Toronto to Chicago is "an insult to our city," meaning his city, not T.O.  He sarcastically congratulated Toronto on its extra 84,000 who will be able to sit in the slush.  He then proceeded to further denigrate the Canadian city by listings its prominent features as Tim Hortons outlets, the monument to multiculturalism and the “nondescript skyline whose only noteworthy element is a TV antenna.”  Nasty! Nasty! Nasty!

Certainly the greatness of a city can not only be measured by its population.  Culture, art, architecture, the environment, transportation, poverty, crime and other factors must be taken into consideration when assessing the quality of urban.life  It's true that there aren't many well known films set in Toronto, although even if there were, most American would be unaware of them because they don't watch Canadian movies or television.  Nevertheless, there is an outstanding array of Canuck talent as evidenced by the large number of Candian entertainers working south of the border.  It's no secret that they move there for economic reasons and greater exposure.  The U.S. is a huge market and there are obviously more opportunities there.  Unfortunately, only Canadian patriots such as the late Stompin' Tom Connors, are willing to stay in Canada and are prepared to pay an economic price for their patriotism.

Speaking of Stompin' Tom, who passed away very recently, he sang scores of songs about people and places in Canada.but, aside from "The Hockey Song,," his music is largely unknown in the United States.  The fact is that the vast majority of Americans are not interested in Canadian themes. That is why Canadian authors usie American settings in their books.  If they want to attract the gigantic American market, they often have no choice but to play down any Canadian elements in their stories.

Take for example the film that won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture, Ben Affleck's Argo.  It's really a Hollywood version of the Canadian Ambassador to Iran's rescue of six American diplomats in late 1979.  Back then, it was dubbed "The Canadian Caper" and Ambassador Ken Taylor was the real hero.  Although Affleck and Co. have attempted to credit Taylor and the Canadians, the CIA still comes across as the hero of the rescue.  It doesn't matter if history is distorted.  American audiences want to see American heroism, not Canadian.  That's the way Americans are and they will never change. In terms of representation in popular culture and music, therefore, it is almost pointless to compare an American city with a Canadian one.

Toronto and Chicago are sister cities.  In September of 2012, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, accompanied by a large contingent of Toronto business leaders, travelled to the Windy City. During his thee-day visit, Ford resigned the 1991 Sister City Agreement between the two cities along with his Chicago counterpart, Rahm Emmanuel.  The agreement now includes a promise to form "a more business-oriented partnership.  According to Mayor Emmanuel, he and and Ford discussed opportunities to learn from each other regarding such matters as city management and municipal infrastructure.

I have had the pleasure of visiting Chicago twice in my life, my most recent visit having been last summer.  I truly hope to return in the future, especially if the Toronto Blue Jays play the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.  Now wouldn't that be something!  For the record, on October 14, 2003, the Chicago Cubs were leading the Florida Marlins by a score of 3-0 in the eighth inning, only five outs away from winning their first World Series since 1945.  Disaster struck when a fan at Wrigley Field tried to catch a ball about to be caught by Cubs' outfielder, Moises Alou.  The Cubbies argued fan interference but the umpire ruled against them.  They never recovered from the incident and lost the Series to the Marlins in the seventh and final game.  The Lovable Losers have not won a World Series championship since their back-to-back victories in 1907 and 1908. The Blue Jays have only been in existence since 1977 and they won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993.  They have not made post-season play since then, but are expected to be much improved this season.  U.S. President's Barack Obama's favourite baseball team, the Chicago White Sox of the National League, won the World Series in 2005.  It was the franchise's first World Series championship since 1917.

Both cities have great museums, great restaurants and a lively cultural life.  There is some excellent theatre in Toronto.  It attracts the third-largest theatre-going audience in the English-speaking world, after New York City and London.  Toronto is also home to the Royal Ontario Museum and the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario.  The redesign is the work of Frank Geary, the Toronto-born world-renowned architect who created the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.  Chicago has the Field Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Toronto doesn't have a planetarium while Chicago boasts the impressive Adler Planetarium.  A new aquarium is scheduled to open by the Roger's Centre in Toronto this year and it will be called Ripley's Aquarium of Canada.  Chicago is already home to the beautiful Shedd Aquarium.

Although Toronto is on the shores of Lake Ontario, one barely notices with all the ugly condos blocking the lake.  What a mistake!  What a sell out to developers!  It's irreversible too.  All that concrete is not coming down any time soon.  The Chicago waterfront, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is marvellous to behold.  This is where Toronto really falls short of Toronto.

Both cities are very cosmopolitan but multiculturalism is one of Toronto's greatest assets.  It is among the most diverse cities in the world and half its population was born outside Canada.  "Diversity is Our Strength" is the city's motto. Over 140 different languages and dialects are spoken here and 30% of Toronto residents speak a language other than English or French at home.

The biggest difference between Toronto and Chicago can be seen in the homicide statistics.  The City of Toronto recorded  54 homicides in 2012 while Chicago recorded an appalling 506 murders last year.  Mayor Emmanuel has expressed deep concern about the proliferation of automatic weapons and wants to strengthen gun control laws.  Poverty and unemployment are definitely root causes that must be dealt with.  Chicago's South Side  is where Barack Obama worked as a community organizer and it is the birthplace of First Lady Michelle Obama.  They are keenly aware of the difficulties there. Toronto has had its own problems with guns and gangs but the city has never had anywhere near the number of murders that Chicago has had.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Carl Sandburg, who worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News,  immortalized the city of Chicago in his poetry, describing it as "City of the Big Shoulders." and "Hog Butcher for the World, " a reference to the fact that Chicago used to be the centre of  America's meat-packing industry.  Companies such as Swift and Oscar Meyer opened plants in the city.  In 1865, after acquiring acres of swampland in southwest Chicago, a consortium of railroad companies opened a centralized processing area known as the Union Stock Yards.  The Yards, which closed on July 30, 1971, was the meat processing district in Chicago for over a century.

Ironically, one of Toronto's nicknames is Hogtown.  According to Toronto historian Mike Filey, the reason for the nickname could be that the William Davies Company once operated the second largest pork processing plant in North America in Toronto back in the 1860s.  It was located on Front St. East near the mouth of the Don River.  In 1927, the William Davies Co. was absorbed by Canada Packers, which is now known as Maple Leaf Foods.

Pen of hogs, William. Davies Co., Toronto. circa 1920

Union Stock Yards, Chicago, 1947

Chicago Nicknames: The Windy City, Second City
Toronto Nicknames: T.O., Hogtown, The Big Smoke

Some Chicago Historical Events

* Great Chicago Fire destroys the city - October 8-10, 1871
* The Jack Dempsey-Tunney "long count" heavyweight boxing championship fight takes place at Chicago's Soldier Field - September 22, 1927
* Shootout in a garage in North Chicago between Al Capone's gang and a rival gang led by Bugs Moran, known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre - February 14, 1929
* Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger shot dead by federal agents after attending a movie at Chicago's Biograph Theatre- July 22, 1934
* Richard Speck murders eight student nurses in a townhouse in Chicago's Southeast side - July 13, 1966
* Riots at the Democratic Convention and the trial of the Chicago Seven - August, 1968
* The Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) opens on the western edge of downtown Chicago.  At the time of its completion, it was the tallest building in the world, surpassing New York City's ill-fated World Trade Centre towers - May 3, 1973   (Note: The Willis Tower is still the highest building in the United States).

Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), Chicago

Some Toronto Historical Events

* Mary Pickford, silent film star (known as America's Sweetheart), is born at 211 University Avenue, current site of the Hospital for Sick Children - April 9, 1892
* 19-year-old Babe Ruth hits his first professional home run at Hanlan's Point Stadium in the Toronto Islands while playing for the visiting Triple A Providence Grays - September 15, 1914
* Insulin discovered by Frederick Banting and a team of researchers at the University of Toronto - winter of 1921-1922
* Pablum becomes available in Canada after being developed by a team of doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children - 1931
* Marilyn Bell becomes the first person to swim across Lake Ontario - September 8-9, 1954
* Hurricane Hazel wreaks havoc on Toronto, especially  with  heavy flooding in the  October 16, 1954
* The CN Tower, a concrete communications and observation tower, opens in downtown Toronto and becomes the city's most prominent landmark - October 1, 1976 (Note: At the time of its opening, the CN Tower was the largest tower and the largest free-standing structure in the world. (It remains the largest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere).

CN Towr  (Attribution: Vladyslaw)

Note to Readers:  I would especially like to here from Chicagoans - by the way, can we trade your mayor for our mayor?  Rob for Rahm?  (Just kidding, I think).

- Joanne