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Criss-Cross Toronto on the Rob Ford Tour of Mayoral Infamy


Rob Ford, the mayor of this city (photo: Shaun Merritt

Rob Ford, the mayor of this city (photo: Shaun Merritt)

No matter where you live (well, at least in the Western world), by now you’ve probably heard of Toronto’s embattled mayor, one Robert Bruce “Rob” Ford. A city councillor for 10 years before riding a wave of suburban discontent into the mayor’s office in October of 2010, Ford has long divided Torontonians with his notoriously truculent style and myopic decision making. He’s hardly the first elected official to be lacking in intellectual rigor, nor is he the only politician to have cynically sought to score points by, say, pitting neighbourhoods against each other in a battle for public transit resources. But there’s only one mayor who has, among (many) other things, been caught reading while driving, appeared intoxicated at numerous public events, been the subject of long-term police surveillance, consorted with known criminals, and, most spectacularly, admitted to smoking crack-cocaine.

It seems that Rob Ford has done more to put Toronto on the map than any Cy Young Award winner, livable-city ranking, or new aquarium ever could. So while you’re in town, why not check out the sites of some of our mayor’s most infamous foibles.

When not hosting community barbecues, sticking promotional fridge magnets on parked cars, or personally attending to the mundane complaints of “taxpayers,” his honour occasionally finds time to sneak into his office at Toronto’s City Hall, the distinctive pair of curved towers embracing a saucer-like council chamber (where Ford is now regularly excoriated by his fellow elected representatives) in the heart of downtown. The buildings are, of course, open to the public, and there’s actually quite a bit to see, including a number of fine works of art and an intricate scale model of the city. Ambitious investigators can even partake in a self-guided tour of the facilities. On City Hall’s doorstep sits Nathan Phillips Square, site of a large outdoor skating rink, various public events and concerts, and, currently, a fair amount of chalk graffiti urging the mayor to leave office.

Should your interest in governance be piqued, head a few blocks northwest of City Hall to check out Queen’s Park, the site of the Richardsonian-Romanesque Ontario Legislative Building, where Mayor Ford’s provincial foils and friends alike go about their daily business. Free guided tours of the building are available at various times (call 416-325-7500 for a schedule and to book).

Lately there’s been much ado about the alleged errors in judgment that Ford has made while “in one of [his] drunken stupors.” We definitely do not recommend that you try to match the mayor shot for shot (or pint for pint), but you can indeed have a good time by following in his plodding, unsteady footsteps around town. Start at the Esplanade location of the Bier Markt. Known primarily for its large selection of international brews and up-market pub fare, the watering hole was also the site of what now appears to be the mayor’s most epic bender: on St. Patrick’s Day 2012, according to the Toronto Star, Ford enjoyed the hospitality of a private room at the Bier Markt, where he gorged on poutine before allegedly snorting a line of cocaine and popping some Oxycontin. [Editor’s note: Don’t do drugs, folks!]

This wasn’t the only venue where the mayor of our city managed to get a little sauced. Swanky King West night spot Bloke & 4th boasts pricey cocktails, a few draught beers, and bottle service; we wonder what Ford was imbibing when this photo was snapped at the club last December. And count yourself lucky if you’re invited to a private party at the Liberty Grand or Arcadian Court, two of they city’s elite event spaces. The former, a huge ballroom within a restored Beaux Arts building at Exhibition Place, is a popular location for weddings, as well as the 2013 Garrison Ball, an annual event celebrating the Canadian Armed Forces that our mayor was asked to leave due to “impairment.” Elegant Arcadian Court is a similarly posh space that hosts all manner of functions, including an event in February at which Ford is accused of squeezing the derrière of former mayoral candidate Sarah Thompson.

Left off the guest list at those hot spots? Perhaps you’ll be able to douse your sorrow by partaking in an impromtu Chief Magistrate’s Bar Crawl? Danforth Avenue is always a good bet for a bit of revelry—particularly during each summer’s Taste of the Danforth, where, this past August, our civic leader was captured on video tottering around and noticeably slurring his words while chatting up festival-goers. That said, it’s hard to blame anyone for having a good time in this part of the city; the neighbourhood has a vibrant nightlife scene featuring a number of flashy resto-lounges, plus many Greek eateries to satisfy late-night gyro cravings. More ambitious bacchanalians might consider heading to Little Italy, where the concentration of popular dining and drinking establishments—Bar Isabel, Sidecar, and College Street Bar to name but a few examples—is even greater. It’s also where, during the Taste of Little Italy festival, a woman was alleged to have thrown a drink in Ford’s face.

Of course, if you’d rather save yourself—a taxpayer!—a bit of cash, you could always head to one of Toronto’s many LCBO stores and purchase something to enjoy in the comfort of your basement—or hotel room, such as the case may be. [Editor’s Note: No matter where you choose to get your drink on, please do so responsibly!]

It has become tradition for Toronto mayors to promote inclusivity by marching in one of the city’s signature summertime happenings, the Pride Parade. Mayor Ford, however, has been conspicuously absent from the event during his first three years in office, preferring instead to spend the time at his family’s Muskoka cottage. We admit that the summertime march through Toronto’s LGBT epicenter, the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (especially if you’re not a fan of crowds), but there are still many reasons to venture to the gay village at any time of year. Cocktail bars like Church on Church and Boutique Bar are particularly bustling, as are such restaurants Guu Izakaya and Smith. Or book an appointment at ElmSpa if you find yourself needing to respite from all the Ford-related hysteria.

This year, there’s also second big to-do that you probably won’t find the mayor participating in: the Santa Claus Parade. Ford has been asked to stay away from the November 17 event, lest the candy canes that he typically tosses into the crowd get thrown back at his head.

The Rob Ford brand has long focused on “stopping the gravy train,” an entirely nebulous notion that city business has been conducted with reckless abandon that has led to runaway spending on all manner of unnecessary and ineffective public services. So of course his keystone policy initiative has been to put subways in parts of Toronto where doing so is largely unwarranted and, by any rational measurement, prohibitively expense. Specifically, he managed to secure a truncated bit of underground transit for Scarborough. Thus, in a decade you’ll be able to ride a shiny new subway train (instead of, say, an equally shiny but above-ground light rail car) to the heart of our underappreciated east-end suburb; for now you’ll want to acquire a car to visit some of the area’s attractions. The Toronto Zoo is obviously the big one, what with its collection of photogenic animals like polar bears, giraffes, and pandas, but also inviting is Rouge Park, a vast expanse of “urban wilderness” with numerous hiking trails and an abundance of natural beauty. Also notable, particularly in the summer, is Bluffer’s Park, home to a large sandy beach and great views of the geologically unique Scarborough Bluffs.

Further reason for venturing to the ‘burbs can be found in Scarborough’s eclectic assemblage of ethnic eateries. Craving dosas? Step into The Nilgiris for flavourful South Indian fare. Seeking some shawarma? You’ll be hard-pressed to find it done better than at Shawarma Empire. Like it spicy? the Szechuan fare at Ba Shu Ren Jia is well-known across the city. Or perhaps you want to grab some Malaysian take-out: One2 Snacks (8 Glen Watford Dr.) is your meal ticket. There are many more options like these restaurants—unassuming, affordable, authentic—and though they’re far off the beaten (downtown) path, dining at a few of them is arguably the best way to experience Toronto’s much-vaunted multiculturalism first-hand.

Ford and his family famously live in a modest bungalow in Etobicoke, a mainly suburban area in Toronto’s west end. It’s at this residence that Ford has threatened a journalist for doing his job and called 911 on a performer from a CBC comedy program; you can identify the place by the gaggle of reporters camped outside. There are parts of Etobicoke you may want to avoid—like the purported “drug house” at which Ford was photographed with three alleged gang members, and the apartment complex where the notorious crack video may once have been held—but the community at large is worthy of exploration. Chic shopping centre Sherway Gardens is arguably the area’s best-known landmark, stuffed as it is with high-end retailers, but foodies can get their fix, too, at highly regarded restaurants including Sushi Kaji and Via Allegro. Famous People Players, the renowned black-light dinner theatre company, also makes its home in Etobicoke, should you wish to be entertained by Torontonians with exponentially more dignity than our elected leader.

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