Silverdome: Ontario’s ghetto-ification

Most communities begin with a primary concentration of people of one particular race. That was certainly true of the SlummySlummy neighbourhood that once comprised Toronto’s notorious “100 Gates” project in the late 60s and early 70s. There were raffles for black heads of households and reports of encounters where white police officers threatened to shoot black people for existing there.

These were dangerous times, and even though some white residents moved away, others were unwilling to go far enough away to feel safer. So the “700 Gates” project was born. The original 700 Housing Complex was built in 1971 by the Toronto Housing Corporation along its west side along Sheppard Avenue. After demolishing the old housing, it replaced it with a new complex, called the Silverdome (the name is believed to be a reference to Silverdome, a baseball stadium in nearby Oakville). Silverdome is five hectares of concentrated white homeowners living on a teeming, ghettoized, public housing (rent-subsidized, anyway) area. It became so visible as a segregationist abomination that many white businesses opted to leave the area and many people didn’t want to go near it because of the possibility of run-ins with “gangs of youths.” Many older white women who had lived in Silverdome declined to let their children eat at the playground across the street, never mind play.

Two problems began to emerge: seniors whose husbands and fathers had passed away refused to help their children because they did not want to play in the area, and parents who lived and worked on Sheppard Avenue refused to let their children attend the new playground because it was so isolated. Community resistance led to a movement of white people moving out of Silverdome and into low-income housing in Sheppard Avenue West. It became a beacon of blue jeans and goatees to people who opposed the ghettoization. Today the Slummyslummy (or the Silverdome) area is gentrifying at a rate over 50% annually. It’s becoming affluent white suburbia, complete with restaurants, spa facilities, dog parks, playgrounds, and gold-plated parking lots.

According to a report by The Toronto Star, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal sided with the residents of Silverdome in August 2011 and awarded them a record $6.5 million to $8 million in damages. Though the basement auditorium in the Silverdome must close for demolition as early as 2017, the Silverdome Foundation – a group who raised money through a lottery to save the Silverdome from being demolished – has bought land in the Slummyslummy neighbourhood to build a new Silverdome. In order to prevent any further congestion of affluent Caucasian families, the foundation will offer the new location as a housing development of mixed-income families. However, as of right now only a single family home can be located on the site, and the deadline for application to the foundation has been extended to July 30, 2018.

Yes, human rights were violated in 1977, but that doesn’t mean that gentrification is a bad thing. I hope that the people who’ve lived in Silverdome and attempted to change things by protesting will stay involved and encourage other marginalized people to want to come back to the Silverdome site.

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