Fifty people (well, 48 people and two penguins, to be precise) who made Toronto better this year.
Introducing the Mensch Awards, The Grid’s first annual “people of the year” compilation. For those unfamiliar with the word, mensch is a Yiddish term that means “a person of integrity or honour.” Basically, one of the good guys. For our purposes, it’s someone who made our fine city even finer over the past 12 months. To find our 50 nominees, we scoured all parts of the cityscape and beyond; the end result is a list that salutes international superstars (’sup Drizzy), local heroes (teenage LGBT activist Leanne Iskander) and at least a few rebels with causes (a graffiti artist, a street-meat crusader and the almighty Joe Occupier). We’re happy to report a good mensch is not that hard to find. But ultimately, there can be only one Mensch of the Year—and that’s up to you. Vote for for your 2011 favourite here. The online poll will close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 1; we’ll tell you who won in our Jan. 5 issue. Choose wisely.
We hereby present your 2011 Mensch Awards recipients, in no particular order:
For giving us so much more than street meat
It ain’t easy being an aspiring sidewalk-level food star in this city, what with the almost impenetrable amount of red tape that has kept talented cooks from peddling their delicious wares to the public. Enter Hassel Aviles, a Toronto mother of two who dreamed of a street-food utopia and then cut through the tape to make it happen. Her Toronto Underground Market (now prepping for its fourth installment in February) is like Canada’s Wonderland for the culinarily obsessed. Held at the Brick Works barns (where chefs can prep food in government-approved conditions), the inaugural event saw 1,200 salivating chowhounds sampling snacks like savoury smoked-salmon ice cream sammies, fried bacon-and-egg dumplings and beef-tongue tacos. That’s crack for the foodie set, judging by the hour-long lineups and blood-hungry-zombie–like devotion.
For making “Headlines” for his love of Toronto—and taking it around the world
Repping the T-dot is nothing new—from indie-rockers to bestselling authors, our city’s cultural exports are adept at name-checking Toronto. But few make as much of a concerted effort to be an emissary on behalf of this city as Drake. From his Toronto-centric “Headlines” video (shot in the Rogers Centre and around the dilapidated structures in Scarborough’s Guildwood Park) to his near-compulsive shout-outs to his local OVO crew to his commitment to childhood pal/producer Noah “40” Shebib, Drizzy wears his hometown pride on his Missoni sweater sleeve. And though T.O. hip-hop has a history that stretches back to before Aubrey Drake Graham was even a zygote, it’s high time folks around the globe realized there’s more to this city’s cultural fabric than Broken Social Scene and, uh, Degrassi. (Though to be fair, Drake’s Jimmy Brooks will always have a special place in our hearts.)
Jack Layton, 1950-2011
For making our city’s heart grow three sizes (at least)
However you felt about Jack Layton and his politics, his death reminded us that (1) life is short and (2) deep down we really want to love our leaders.
Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner, The Smythe girls
For putting local fashion on the royal runway
When the newly crowned Duchess of Cambridge made her first royal tour this summer, her wardrobe became the most clucked-about subject since sister Pippa’s perfect rump. Getting a lot of attention was the just jaunty enough, prep school–inspired blazer that Kate sported on day one, designed by Toronto BFFs-turned-business-partners Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner (a.k.a. The Smythe girls). Hours later, the label was an international trending topic on Twitter, and the racks at Holt Renfrew were sparser than a certain royal hairline. No offence, Wills.
For making the streetcar experience slightly more bearable
Tired of waiting for the streetcar in sub-zero weather with no idea when your overcrowded, freezing and/or urine-scented chariot will appear? There’s an app for that. Spurred by his own transit frustrations, Schwabe, a 28-year-old interactive designer, created Rocket Radar, an app that tells you when your streetcar will arrive, down to the minute. It’s simple, reliable, user-friendly and, above all, it might give you a few extra minutes in the cozy confines of your living room. Or Starbucks.
SlutWalk founders Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis
For reclaiming the S-word
Toronto police officer Michael Sanguinetti now regrets telling a group of York University law students that women should “avoid dressing like sluts” to prevent crime, but given the end result—an international, in-your-face feminist movement that started right here at Queen’s Park—we’re kinda thankful for his faux pas. Fed up with the all-too-common victim-blaming mentality exemplified by Const. Sanguinetti’s comment, SlutWalk co-founders Barnett and Jarvis organized a protest under the intentionally cheeky banner. On April 3, over 3,000 “sluts” showed up at the Toronto event (dress ranged from tube tops to bulky sweaters, illustrating that what a woman wears does not define her). Since then, SlutWalks have taken place in dozens of cities, including Ottawa, N.Y.C., Chicago, Dallas, London, Melbourne and Singapore.
For kick-starting the Rob Ford piñata party
The summer of Rob Ford’s discontent began a little late—on the evening of July 22, around 9 p.m., which is when Ottilie Mason and her six-year-old daughter spotted a familiar face yakking on his cell behind the wheel. A quick glance at the “ROBFORD” vanity plates confirmed the lawbreaker’s identity. Mason expressed her objection with a thumbs-down, and she says the mayor responded with an equally familiar one-finger gesture. For the record, Ford denied (and still denies) the bird-flipping part of the story, but the bad PR train had left the station. True, most of that had to do with public outcry over proposed service cuts—on July 28 and 29, 169 citizens spoke at a marathon City Hall meeting. Before July was over, Team Ford had tanked in the polls.
For being the foil in the year’s best feud
When she tweeted a petition protesting library cuts, Margaret Atwood probably had no idea that she was going to become the figurehead of the anti-Ford movement and provide one half of the best Punch and Judy show of 2011. Atwood’s commitment to preserving library funding further highlighted Doug Ford’s commitment to, um, Tim Hortons. Her Twitter-launched zingers made him look like a twit and the fact that Ford said he didn’t even know who Atwood was—well, that just made us wonder who he paid to pass high-school English.