Roncy did get its liquor store, and the local fans did save The Revue – without a $300,000-sign. I’ve been so impressed by their heroic efforts, that I recently decided to take some ‘supportive’ action and actually see a movie there. I saw “Monsieur Lhazar” – a moving film from Quebec – and while the English subtitles were difficult to read, and my seat wobbled a lot, I decided to return.
There was just something charmingly human about its old-fashioned quality and aesthetic. The employees actually looked you in the eyes, unlike the fake-friendly attitudes in the big chains. And it was a surprisingly nice feeling to realize that the other people watching were most likely my neighbours. Not at all like the huge, loud, flashing neon theatres with fast food, alcohol, and countless doors leading to small, sophisticated theatres with expensive, subtle sound systems.
I’ve had similar feelings about some of the restaurants and my favourite coffee shop; but lately more trendy places are opening in which the owners or managers live elsewhere, and evidently couldn’t care less about the community. One typical example: refusal to have a poster in the window about a community event. But I suspect to some extent we romanticize the theoretical ‘community’ feeling – and look at businesses through rose-coloured glasses.
For a long time, the neighbourhood has been dominated by Polish culture and population — it is said to be the largest “Polish” population outside of Poland. (Somehow I doubt that — for example, I imagine there are proportionately more in the Chicago area. But that’s beside the point.)
In any case, the community has been ‘gentrifying’ as well as becoming more mixed, proportionately less Polish. The next generation has been moving out to the suburbs like many first-generation Canadians have done. Chinese Canadians now outnumber Polish in the neighbourhood, but at the same time, it is becoming more heterogeneous.
For me, this is a good thing. While some have been charmed by the idea of a “Polish neighbourhood”, I am never very charmed by what I see as cultural ghettoes. They make me nervous. It might be fun to travel to a neighbourhood in order to buy an “authentic” Polish (or Italian, or Chinese, etc.) sausage, but the downside is the lack of integration of social groups. The downside is the reinforcement of otherness and difference and separation.
Eliminating ‘otherness’ is one of my lifelong obsessions: I dream of the day when all differences are celebrated – even nourished in our neighbourhood, instead of in “go to” ghettoes. A day when neighbourhood character is determined by common interests and dreams, rather than a common past. I may be dreaming in technicolour…