Toronto is a calm, clean, well-ordered, cosmopolitan, peaceful city. If one long weekend in this city of two-and-a-half million people there are a couple of murders it is an alarming law and order crisis. And Canada as a whole, as a friend of mine describes it, is a blessedly fangless country. It is strongly democratic, well-run, friendly, progressively aware of its responsibilities as a world citizen.
The cultures of all countries and creeds increasingly gather here with little friction. World-class exhibitions, plays, concerts, festivals and sporting events find a stage. The economy is flourishing, the currency is strong, the abundance of natural resources is never-ending in this immense land of endless opportunity. Even the dreaded onset of global warming seems to be bringing the benefits of longer summers and milder winters to the land. “A miraculous country: miraculous in its peacefulness, its diversity, its tolerance and its determined non-Americaness.” It is no wonder that Nigerian-born Daniel Igali, Olympic gold medallist in wrestling, when asked recently on his induction to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame what his new home signifies to immigrants, softly and very simply said “Canada is heaven.”
Right now the fall season, late this year, is throwing a technicoloured dreamcoat over the landscape and it is strikingly lovely. The mists that float amidst the dying leaves of gold and red are something quite new to me in their different beauty. Nothing like the matchless scenes I have grown to love forever in Guyana, but it is something new and wonderful to experience in my life.
The canker in the rose is the canker that is growing in all the gardens of the world – the rich are getting immensely richer at the expense of all the rest. The income gap between the richest and poorest has been steadily growing and is now at an all-time high. In Ontario, for instance, the average annual income of the richest ten per cent of families raising children was twenty-seven times greater than that of the poorest ten per cent in 1976; by 2000 this had risen to seventy-five times greater. The average earnings of families in the lowest ten per cent income bracket in 1980 was C$24,000, in 2005 this had sunk to C$15,000, while the average earnings of families in the highest ten per cent grew from C$123,000 in 1980 to C$160,000 in 2005. The top one per cent of Canadians have seen their average incomes increase by eighty per cent in 22 years while those in lower income brackets have not grown at all. A report just released in Ontario states some alarming facts starkly: while those at the top have greatly increased their wealth and annual earnings, “fully 40 percent of Ontario’s families have seen almost no income gains or, worse, actual income losses compared to their predecessors 30 years ago.”
Something therefore is not right, if not exactly rotten, in this land of shining good examples. And, even more ominously, in order to keep up with the rich the lower and middle income earners are sinking into deeper and deeper mortgage, consumer loan and credit card debt. As an example, lines of credit exploded to C$68 billion in 2005, from C$29 billion six years earlier.
But let me not end with sad statistics such as these, all too common now in every country in the world, but end with poetry as I like to do whenever I can. All great cities are blessed with great bookstores. Toronto is no exception. This week I was down town and having wandered through the marvellous St Lawrence market and bought a bag of plums and a jar of honey and some curry spices, I visited the Nicholas Hoare bookshop on Front Street to spend a few hours with their beautiful and varied collection. What blessed time is time thus spent at one’s leisure! Nicholas Hoare has a fine poetry section and I indulged myself. Almost the first poem I found as I browsed was by Miroslav Holub in his volume Poems Before and After published by Bloodaxe. Here it is, lovely to find on a lovely day:
Brief reflection on the sun
Thanks to the systematic work of our meteorologists,
and altogether thanks to the general labour effort,
we have all been witnesses of many solstices,
solar eclipses and even
But we have never seen the sun.
It’s like this: we have seen the sun
through the trees, the sun above the Tatra
National Park, the sun beyond a rough road,
the sun drenching Hasek’s village of Lipnice,
but not the sun,
Just-the-Sun, of course, is unbearable.
Only the sun related to trees, shadows,
hills, Lipnice and the Highway Department
is a sun for people.
The Just-the-Sun hangs like a fist over the ocean,
over the desert or over the airliner,
it doesn’t cast shadows, it doesn’t flicker from move
And is so unique it almost isn’t at all.
And it’s just the same with truth.