54 people (and one horse) who made Toronto better this year.
It’s the return of the Mensch Awards (a.k.a. “The Menschies”), The Grid’s annual compilation of amazing people who rocked the city over the past 12 months. (Check out last year’s list here.) In Yiddish, mensch means “a person of integrity or honour”—basically, a good guy. Our 2012 nominees are all of sound character, to be sure, but they also possess a breathtaking mix of other gosh-darn-great qualities. This year’s nominees include the masterminds behind the Junction Flea, an Olympic gold-medal winner, and an artist who works with butter. Oh yeah, and there’s a horse on the list. (Sorry, Ikea monkey, maybe next year.) Once again, the trophy—which features a twister bagel, that quintessential Toronto creation—is up for grabs. And you’ve got a job to do: The Mensch of the Year will ultimately be determined by our readers. Vote for your favourite right here. The online poll will close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 6; we’ll tell you who won in our Jan. 10 issue. Vote with your head, your heart, or your stomach; just be sure to vote.
Illustrations by Andrew Zbihlyj
FOR MAKING ASIAN SUBS MAINSTREAM
Phil, Peter, and David Chau
Banh mi sandwiches aren’t a recent invention—or even new to Toronto, where they’ve been sold at Chinatown takeouts for years. But it was the brothers Chau who put the Asian subs on the city’s radar when they opened Banh Mi Boys in December 2011. Having worked for years at family-owned food businesses, the boys branched out on their own with breathtaking success. They use pork belly, beef cheek, and short rib to create a Canadian spin on Vietnamese subs and Korean tacos. Lineups at their Queen and Spadina shop stretched outside the door this year, and the brothers will open a new location at Yonge and Gerrard in January—further evidence that the city’s appetite for their takeaway magic is insatiable.
FOR BEING ONE OF LENA DUNHAM’S FAVOURITE “GIRLS”
If you define “having a very good year” as “getting a whackload of American attention”—and Canadians often do—then Sheila Heti enjoyed one hell of a 2012. Her drawn-from-real-life novel, How Should a Person Be?, received praise from The New Yorker, Slate, and The New York Times; Girls creator/lightning rod Lena Dunham displayed it prominently on her shelf. We love it when a hometown author makes good, but we’re just as impressed with Heti’s achievements on the page: her ambitious narrative form, her frank sexual writing, and her clear-eyed examination of female friendship in all its messy, vital glory.
FOR MAKING US BELIEVE IN THE JAYS AGAIN (AGAIN)
Admittedly, we’ve been down this road before: Last year was supposed to be when the Jays came alive. Fans put their hopes in Bautista and Lawrie and promising young players; what they got, instead, was a beleaguered bullpen, a shaken starting pitcher, and a homophobic shortstop. But let us never forget that Alex Anthopoulos is the wunderkind who unloaded Vernon Wells and his albatross of a contract. This fall, the general manager got to work, somehow nabbing a sizeable chunk of the Miami Marlins’ entire roster, then signing San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera. His latest ninja move? Snatching away the New York Mets’ Cy Young Award–winning pitcher, R.A. Dickey (whose walk-up song, awesomely, is the theme from Game of Thrones). These moves alone won’t wipe away two decades of major-league disappointment. But it’s nice to see Anthopoulos get some of his swagger back.
FOR REMINDING US THAT LEGO DREAMS CAN COME TRUE
Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad
Before they could legally drink or vote, Agincourt Collegiate Institute students Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, then both 17, had their eyes on the skies. In January, after spending months building a spacecraft out of nothing more than a GPS-equipped phone, a Styrofoam cradle, and a balloon filled with $160 worth of helium—and not for academic credit, mind you—the teens launched a tiny Lego man 80,000 feet into the stratosphere with four cameras on board to document his sky-high journey.
The red-and-blue clad plastic figure soared at three times the altitude of standard commercial jets, a serene perma-smile stretched across his little yellow face. Though the figurine landed in a field near Rice Lake, south of Peterborough, Ont., after being airborne for just 97 minutes, the subsequent 90-second video went viral (over three million YouTube views to date), and scored the teens a Twitter trending topic, speaking engagement offers, and kudos from the folks at Lego. Thanks to some impressive scientific know-how and a dash of adolescent ingenuity, Ho and Muhammad took us where no child’s toy has gone before.
FOR BURSTING THE REAL-ESTATE BUBBLE, ONE BLOG POST AT A TIME
You may have lost a good few hours this year peering down the rabbit hole that is FML Listings, a blog highlighting the worst examples of a real-estate market that has spiralled out of control. Following a futile three-year search for a reasonably priced two-bedroom house anywhere in Toronto, advertising project-manager Melissa Hart took to Tumblr to vent her frustration—and quickly found that even realtors were entertained by her candid commentary on the silliest, most ridiculously hyperbolic, crazy overpriced listings.
FOR PUTTING THE “JUNK” IN THE JUNCTION
Micah Lenahan and Paul Mercer
Homemade popsicles, screen-printed leather bags, Tarot readings, Mason jars as far as the eye can see: Back off, Brooklyn, ’cause two can play the curated-flea-market game. All it took was a couple of storeowners with the urge to shake things up in a budding west-end neighbourhood. Enter Micah Lenahan, owner of the vintage emporium Russet and Empire, and Paul Mercer, the man behind furniture shop SMASH. Lenahan and Mercer organized the first Junction Flea in a lot near Dundas and Keele in June, and continued to run the market on the second Sunday of every month through to the end of August. But summer came and went, and the people demanded more vintage Art Deco jewellery. So Lenahan and Mercer moved the flea indoors to the Great Hall to keep it running year-round. (The event is scheduled to return to its outdoor location in May.) It may winter in Queen West, but the flea has quickly become the Junction’s calling card. It’s almost enough to make you forget about that just-past-prohibition thing.
FOR BEING SOMETHING OF A HERO. TWICE. IN ONE NIGHT
Here’s how Geoff MacBride spent a recent Friday evening. First, a van ploughed into his car, buckling its frame and sending him flying half a block through the air. Then, he saw that the van was on fire, so MacBride, a paramedic, sprinted back to the crash, grabbed the driver, and pulled him to safety across three lanes of traffic. Finally, after the fire fighters left the scene, and while MacBride was receiving medical attention, he noticed that the van had caught flame once more—so he booked it out of the ambulance, fire extinguisher in hand. What did you manage to get done last Friday?
FOR COACHING A TORONTO PRO-HOCKEY TEAM THAT DIDN’T SUCK
If you were hanging around the Air Canada Centre this year looking for signs of intelligent hockey, well, we can assume the NHL lockout came as a blessed relief. But a few kilometres west, at the Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins took his team all the way to the AHL final this past spring. (They lost to the Norfolk Admirals.) In addition to that quality known as basic competence, what really endeared Eakins to local puckheads was his gracious response after being passed over by the Leafs’ “brain-trust” for their head-coaching job after GM Brian Burke deep-sixed the perpetually sour Ron Wilson. “Thank you to the City of Toronto for your overwhelming support,” Eakins tweeted. “Disappointed, yes. But if not me…no one better than my friend Randy Carlyle.” With his squad off to another solid start this season, it’s just a matter of time before Eakins get his shot at the big time; sadly, it probably won’t happen here.
FOR GIVING CONDOS A KICK IN THE ASS
David Mirvish and Frank Gehry
There are plenty of good reasons to get excited about the trio of Mirvish-Gehry King West condo towers: They’ll offer a 60,000 square-foot (free!) museum, a giant learning centre for OCAD, and new housing in the heart of downtown. But here’s the real selling point: These towers aren’t typical glass boxes. They’re sculpture. And if you’re going to remake the city’s skyline, you might as well do it with art.
Next Page: More Menschies!