Thorncliffe Park celebrates diversity

Imagine that you have a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. According to the University of Toronto’s website, your career options include aircraft design or bioengineering artificial organs; or maybe you’d enjoy being a physicist or mathemetician. Muhammad Irshad has master’s degree in mechanical engineering. But his current vocation might surprise you: “At this point, I’m driving a cab.”
But while he continues to look for a better job, Oct. 29 was an occasion for celebration by Irshad, his wife and their two daughters. They were among a group of 40 people gathered in the gymnasium at Thorncliffe Park Public School on Oct. 29 for a Canadian citizenship ceremony. An audience of more than 300 looked on, including all of the school’s Grade 5 students.
Irshad moved to Toronto from Pakistan almost five years ago. His family settled in Thorncliffe Park, a common destination for immigrants and one of the city’s most diverse neighbourhoods.
In fact, that diversity has put Thorncliffe Park in the spotlight lately.
As part of the citizenship festivities, CBC’s Metro Morning radio show held a remote broadcast from the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office (TNO) Youth Centre. Before the ceremony, citizenship candidates, residents, fans and the show’s crew and guests packed into the small TNO hub. Spirits were high as the captive audience munched on complimentary local pastries.
The crowd hushed as directed by producer Nick Davis, and clapped enthusiastically for guests throughout the three-hour show. Host Matt Galloway discovered the neighbourhood on his bike and became an admitted fan of its vibrant culinary offerings. Galloway considers these kinds of events to be a critical part of the job.
“This is the most important thing you can do, in what I do,” he said. “We usually do a show and there’s two or three people on the other side of the glass and you talk about communities. When you come into a community and talk with the people, it’s incredible, it’s energizing — and it’s about community radio.”
In the recently released Arrival City by Doug Saunders, European bureau chief and foreign correspondent for The Globe and Mail, Thorncliffe Park is noted for embracing immigrant populations.
The largely high-rise neighbourhood — roughly bordered by Overlea Boulevard to the north, Don Mills Road to the east, the Don Valley Parkway to the south and Millwood Road to the west — has also garnered attention all the way from Germany. On Oct. 21, the German consul general to Canada and German members of parliament toured the neighbourhood, to see its multiculturalism first-hand. The Thorncliffe Park Neighbourhood Office hosted the tour. Its executive director, Jehad Aliweiwi, is happy for all the positive attention.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “There has been a lot of recognition that whatever is happening in Thorncliffe, it seems to be, for the most part, working.”
Aliweiwi hopes the positive attention bolsters residents — after years of mixed media coverage of crime and other social issues arising from the neighbourhood’s socio-economics and density.
“It’s important to show that this neighbourhood needs a lot of things,” he said. “But it’s also vibrant and alive and people should be proud of where they are.”