Dundas West Fest: Memória of a changing neighbourhood

Post 11 Atkins and Brock

Post 11 Atkins and B rock Avenue

This June marks the third anniversary of the participation by Memória Luso Vox Portuguese Canadian writers (Humberto da Silva, Aida Jordão, Irene Marques, Antonio Marques, Edith Baguinho, Emanuel Melo) in Dundas West Fest.

In the first year, we read on the street near the intersection of Dundas and Sheridan. Last year we read on the sidewalk in front of St. Helen’s Church as parishioners, mostly elderly, made their way to Mass, oblivious to our presence. Festival goers strolling up and down the street looked our way and kept on walking, but some stopped for a few moments to hear us read our stories and poems, shouted into microphones; yet the words were still carried off by the wind, drowned by several competing musical booths, until they vanished and blended with the sounds of the festival. But we were happy to be part of the cacophony of life on the street.

Perhaps some time later, a casual yet curious passerby, might remember having heard our words: the name Anita; or something about guns and a bird; or that eternity cuts and that words are dripping out of me and I need a bucket; and that a grandmother spent Easter alone. Perhaps then that person will seek out and look for MEMÓRIA: An Anthology of Portuguese Canadian Writers.

After the performance, I stayed behind to revisit the neighbourhood I had lived in decades ago. A time when mostly Portuguese immigrants occupied old Victorian row houses painted red or yellow. Now, there are condos going up, and a new cluster of townhouses has already appeared at the corner of Brock and Atkins, replacing an old evangelical church. There are fewer Portuguese businesses in the area. Some remain, crammed between new restaurants, coffee shops, bars, clothing stores. The sign for the Portuguese Barber shop is starting to fade, but at least it’s still there. With all these hipster guys moving in, needing haircuts and beard trims, maybe, just maybe, it will survive.

I saw gentrification asserting itself insidiously with the intent of staying. I observed young men with their tattoos and turn-of-the-century beards coming to and from apartments and houses long left by Portuguese families, who moved to Mississauga and Woodbridge and other suburban neigbhourhoods. It’s the old pattern of migration that is in the blood of all Azoreans, always looking away from their islands, whatever the definition of island may be, towards better and far off places.  Not all have moved away. Some are still comfortable staying in the “Dundash” area – their numbers in decline as they age and then…

What I found surprising was the effortless ease with which the remaining Portuguese were living side by side with the new immigrant group in their midst: the Anglo hipsters and the Vietnamese. I wonder what they think of each other and how they get along. Perhaps the newcomers are smug and proud of their ability to co-exist, to even learn to say, Bom Dia, to their elderly neighbour. Isn’t that the coolest thing?

There was a fundraiser in the lawn in front of the parish house; a maze of spread-out tables displayed the usual garage sale items. A young man whose facial hair would have won him a part in an Edwardian period movie, despite his green checkered shirt, shorts and tattooed leg, rummaged through bins full of kitsch, plaster figurines and colourful wall clocks in the shape of cats.  He smiled and waited patiently for his girlfriend to decide whether the glass grape cluster bottle full of some ancient liqueur was worth getting for their new apartment. In front of the church hall, a Portuguese brass band played, parish women sold homemade malassadas “yummy” at $1.50 each, (as written on the sign draped over the table), bifanas at $5 a sandwich, doce or picante, delicious! I ate two bifanas, the sweet juicy meat with sautéed onions on a bun dripping over my hands, sticky and satisfying.

Now I had enough of nostalgia for one day, and crossed town on the subway, feeling the long distance growing between the world I had just visited and the world I live in now. When I got home, I sat in my garden and ate the last of the malassadas, my fingers sticky from the sprinkled sugar that still reminds me of those days when my parents would come home with bags of these sweet treats, happy with their abundance and their life on Dundas.

Luso Vox Memória reading series launch at Dundas West Fest, June 7, 2014 and June 6, 2015 

Dundas West Fest June 11, 2016

Luso Vox writers Aida Jordão, Humberto da Silva and Emanuel Melo will be reading paulo da costa’s poem “ser português/to be portuguese” at 6 PM in front of the Toronto Housing Building at 1525 Dundas, just west of Dufferin.

About thetorzorean

The musings of a torontonian azorean on identity and belonging. You can find me at https://thetorzorean.com/
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1 Response to Dundas West Fest: Memória of a changing neighbourhood

  1. Ilda says:

    I was there, Emanuel, and remember it just like you wrote it. So good of you to take note and share it with the rest of us.


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