Pattys and Punks: Couple of Market Docs

This is a pretty great short documentary about the Canadian government’s bizarre fight with Jamacian Pattys in one of my old neighborhoods. I moved there at age 18 in the mid-nineties, at the end of the heroin wave, which hit the place hard, and was able to get a room in a hostel for Chinese students with a shared kitchen, shared bathroom, and shared showers for $260 a month — $40 below the $320 housing allowance offered by welfare. That was cheap even then. Just another Market Rat, I lived in that building for 3 years — until we were forced out by the new owners. They turned the building into a spot for European backpackers. I think it’s still that.

That’s a whole other story — involving harassment by thug janitors hired out of the homeless mission, fights in the hallway, and the sudden formation of a tenant’s association. At the time I was sort of sick of The Market and its drama –there was always some– and I wanted to move anyway. So I made the new owners pay me off. They gave me a bunch of money, few months free rent, and I took that money and fucked off to Costa Rica.

Although this doc has a nice light touch, I think it’s important to mention a couple of backdrops to this whole thing. Canada of that era had a lot of anti-black, anti-Caribbean, and, specifically, anti-Jamaican racism. It likely still does. I don’t know if things have improved or changed but, back then, that shit was pretty dire.

In the Market itself, there was also a thing going on. A sort of longstanding attempt to gentrify the place through regulation and ticketing. Back then, Kensington Market was a low-rent open air market. It was immigrants, working class, punks, hippies, anarchists, artists, all brought together in a small, tight-knit but undeniably urban community. There was no where else like it in Toronto. But aside from being so totally culturally different from the rest of the city, it was also on some prime real estate. Everyone was always fighting to keep the condos out, keep the creeping boutiques in check, and let the market retain its character.

We didn’t even have a word for gentrification then. Way we all thought about it was, no one wanted to see it go like Yorkville –a former hippie stronghold full of draft dodgers, which became a playground for the rich. The war to keep The Market went on for ages. It was lost slowly then very quickly. Some of The Market still remains, I’m sure but . . . Well, shit changed a lot. And probably not for the better.

I don’t want to get too nostalgic about it. The Market had its problems. It could be unbelievably petty and snobbish. A lot of people were stuck at age 17 forever. There was a crabs in a barrel feel and the feel of crabs in a lot of other places. And, of course, drugs and drink chewed a lot of people up. There was a reason I wanted to leave. But The Market was the first place I ever moved, and there was a reason for that too. A punk could survive in The Market. You could scavenge. If you didn’t mind a little rot, you could feed yourself pretty well off the waste from the fruit markets. We were called Market Rats for a reason. That place really formed me in some important ways. Whether I loved or hated it, it was a sort of family.

And the other thing I want to say about this doc, is the whole scenario was just so fucking typical. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe in socialism. But all this happened when Canada and Toronto was probably about as socialist as it ever was and it was a typical thing to happen. There’s a sort of stupidity you can get under socialism and it looks a lot like this.

Like, I’d vote NDP (though usually just voted Full Communist or for Steve Goof) but that doesn’t mean I liked the NDP. I mean, they were better than the alternatives but Jesus . . .

Living in Canada often felt like an endless struggle against this sort of thing –small and large– and the racism of food inspection is a real fucking thing. But it’s almost impossible to describe to, let’s say, Americans, without sounding like a nut or making the place out to be some terrible dystopia. For a long time, if you heard a Canadian describe themselves as “libertarian” it largely meant that they were against this sort of bullshit, not that they were against universal healthcare. Some things just don’t translate well.

I mean, I once tried to explain that bag of shit Jian Ghomeshi and his crap band Moxy Fruvos to some yanks and well . . . You sound crazy. It’s like, due to Canadian content laws and the national broadcast system, the government shoved this shit band down our throats for a long time –a sort a peppy twee garbage band for university WASP socialists with a future in politics and no interest in real change– until their nostalgia got him a radio show on the government station, then BAM, turns out he’s scum. Like, none of that makes any sense to an American. The government made a band popular? It just sounds paranoid. And it all sounds worse than it is.

So yeah, this doc is pretty good because the tone is sort of light but it still gets across the seriousness and ridiculousness of the whole thing.

And here’s another one about the same era in the same place but more the punk thing.

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