The Globe ran a piece this weekend about the last of the Jewish shops on Spadina that got me thinking about how much the Roncey area has changed in a few short years. We moved to Parkdale sixteen years ago this past January. It wasn't called Roncesvalles Village back then, - that's a real estate agent's creation from sometime during the last decade - it was officially and locally known as simply “Parkdale”. It wrapped around the corner at Queen Street and wandered up Roncey as far as Fermanagh. North of there (and on the west side of Roncey) it didn't really have a name, acting as just the acreage you had to go through on a trip between Bloor West Village and Parkdale. It was a neat place back then, a wacky collection of dykes, dealers, dropouts and drunks and something about this weird amalgam of fuck-ups drew us to the area. The further north you went, the less quirky it was and by the time you got to Howard Park, it was all straight, white and fancy-panted, but the south end was pure Parkdale, brimming over with mental cases, earth mothers, Edgewater whores and zig-zagging Poles. You'd have a hard time believing that these days looking up and down Roncey on a weekend afternoon. The chatty class started arriving and gentrifying the hood in the late '90s and Roncesvalles began to feel a little like I imagine Berlin did to the locals, circa 1946.
This cancerous gentrification has not been without its upsides. A loaf of bread isn't weighed in kilos anymore and there are fewer Tourette's sufferers wandering about but other, authentically urban things have disappeared as well. The tapestry of loons that peppered the 'hood have been replaced with a uniformly duller sliver of a demographic that may not take a shit in the middle of the street like the old days, but one wonders if even they poop at all. Roncesvalles has morphed into a giant on-leash zone with a serious case of buttoned-down political correctness that precludes spontaneity and or much of the exuberant energy that makes living in the city worth it. Now it's all play dates, supervision and Autoshare.
It's fascinating to me that the new arrivals don't have a clue that the natives would prefer they went back to the Annex. It would probably stun them to hear that some of us miss all those weaving piss-tanks and skanky prostitutes. A crazy-ass white Rastafarian family lived across the road from us back in the Ridley Garden days and they played reggae at distort volumes about 14 hours a day all summer. Most days the Wailer's were drowned out at some point by Marie, the lunatic wino who lived a couple of doors down. When she wasn't yelling at the world, she was pumping out the Donna Summer tracks and draining her third bottle of Andres' Domaine D'Or down her fat gullet by 2:00 in the afternoon. Ahh, the good old days. The kids ran wild and stole things and nobody gave a shit. The only cherry bombs that got lit back in those days were the real kind. The houses were crooked and so were the landlords. A suburban co-worker of mine once remarked that we lived in the “inner city” and I imagine he pictured it looking like downtown Detroit. I took great pride in that and didn't correct him. He never came to visit.
The other milestone that occurred around this time of year was the opening of the Film Buff ten years ago. I don't remember the actual date, but it was around mid-May 1999. We've since had a decade of interaction with a neighbourhood in transformation, rented just over a million movies, employed a little under a 100 people and served well over 100,000 litres of ice cream. While the old 'hood is gone, a new one exists in its place. The newbies outnumber the old guard these days and that changes who's in the shop, but interesting (and with some pride), we're still selling Yorkdale products at Parkdale prices.
Just like we did when we started.