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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Toronto event venues refusing to give back deposits for events cancelled by COVID-19

As the pandemic put a stop to any large gatherings, many people are frustrated that event venues aren't refunding their deposits.

"They have $25,500 of my money. They're holding [my] deposit hostage," said Brittney Pulis, a bride who booked her summer wedding at The Doctor House in Vaughan.

"I just want them to give me back my $25,500 so I can move forward with a new venue." 

And Pulis isn't the only one who's had issues with The Doctor House, several couples reached out to blogTO with the same problem. 

Instead of refunding the clients their money, the venue offered them the "opportunity" to rebook between January and April of next year.

However, as the couples explained, the dates offered weren't comparable. 

"We payed a premium for a summer wedding, so we wanted a summer wedding. We were looking forward to that day for a long time," said Sean Joseph, a groom who was also scheduled to have his wedding at The Doctor House.  

And when the couples who spoke to blogTO asked for a date in summer 2021 they were told they would have to pay an additional deposit. 

"I have to pay an additional $5,000 to get a summer 2021 date? My wedding was gonna be $80,000, I don't have an additional $5,000!" Pulis said exasperatedly. 

"It's just so disappointing to be treated that way," said Joseph's fiancee, Nicole Pinto, comparing their experience with the other vendors they've worked with who have been more than accomodating given the unusual circumstances.  

But this type of behaviour seems to becoming the norm. On a petition for wedding venues to refund the deposits for people who choose to cancel their 2020 wedding there's hundred of comments detailing similar stories of venues keeping client's deposits. The petition has almost 4,000 signatures and is calling for the government to step in.  

Plus, it's not just brides and grooms who feel wronged. One person told blogTO about their experience trying to get their money back for a bar mitzvah brunch they'd booked for 150 people in May at the Eglinton Grand

"I feel victimised. I just want them to pay me my $5,000 [deposit].
It's my money," they said. 

She told blogTO in a telephone interview that she had reached out to the venue quite early in March when she realized that they wouldn't be able to go ahead with the event. 

But at that time the venue wasn't prepared to do anything other than offer hand sanitizer and reassured her about their cleaning procedures.

Once the government mandated that gatherings were limited to five people, the venue offered to postpone and reschedule the event any time in the next 18 months but keep the deposit. 

Dynamic Hospitality and Entertainment Group runs the Eglinton Grand. According to owner Sam D'Uva, this method has worked for 95 per cent of their clients. 

However, as bar mitzvahs ceremonies are time specific the client decided to do a Zoom bar mitzvah instead and requested her deposit back, something she legally is entitled to if a contract becomes frustrated – a legal term that means it's no ones fault that something can't happen. 

A Dynamic Hospitality and Entertainment Group sales representative responded in an email saying: "The company is not in a financial position to offer any monetary refunds at this time." 

"We've been working with all our clients and we've been as hard hit as they have but we still have expenses," expressed D'Uva.  

The Doctor House didn't respond for a comment when contacted. 

by Misha Gajewski via blogTO

Short-term rentals persist at notorious Toronto condo building despite ban

Residents at 300 Front Street West are frustrated that management hasn't put a stop to short-term rentals in the building. 

"Our safety is genuinely at risk," one tenant, who wished to remain anonymous, told blogTO. 

This isn't the first time 300 Front Street West has come under fire for continuing to allow short-term rentals during the pandemic. In April, CBC reported that condo owners were continuing to rent out the units despite government regulations. 

In a letter shared with blogTO from the condo board, a ban on short-term rentals was issued on April 8 and the key exchange was stopped immediately. But these measures haven't been enough to fix the problem, according to one tenant. 

"This building feels like a by-the-hour motel for hookers," they told blogTO, detailing numerous incidents that have escalated enough to warrant calls to the police. 

For example, a month ago someone was stabbed in the building during an altercation. Police later arrested a 25-year-old man and charged him with aggravated assault.  

But just a little over a month later another fight  broke out in the hallway that was so aggressive the police had to come break it up.   

The incident reports the tenant has submitted to management describe people in the lobby with suitcases, multiple large parties and a revolving door of people being allowed into the building without keys or fobs. 

"There have always been short-term rentals in the building. Property management usually helps facilitate the short-term rentals by holding keys with the concierge and booking through Del Suites. When COVID-19 became a bigger issue, management stopped accepting keys and urged owners to enter long-term leases," they said. 

But a quick search through Del Suites site shows there are still plenty of condos available for short-term rentals. 

"What’s happening now is owners are putting keys in lockboxes out front, literally hanging [the boxes] on a tree next to the Starbucks, and just having guests bypass the concierge completely," explained the tenant. 

When blogTO reached out to the Toronto Standard Condominium​​​​​​ Corporation No. 2238 (TSCC2238),  who governs 300 Front Street West, they said that they were aware of the situation. 

"The Corporation actively monitors its property to ensure that lockboxes are not posted in contravention of its governing documents. We are aware of two lockboxes which have been installed on City of Toronto property nearby to our building (but off of our property) and have contacted 311 to have them removed," they said in a statement.   

And while there hasn't necessarily been more short-term tenants coming in the building than usual, the tenant blogTO spoke with did note that the type of people coming into the building is concerning. 

"I witnessed a parade of escorts coming into the building while waiting for Uber Eats to show up," they said, adding that him and his girlfriend almost got into altercation with some of the short-term tenants in the elevator when they began making racist remarks. 

"We’re not happy about the situation," they said.  "[Management] won’t interfere with people coming into the building with suitcases and the concierge told me that if someone has keys, they’re allowed in. I was shocked at how little effort they’re putting into this." 

The tenants blogTO spoke to say they fear for their safety and feel powerless about the whole situation. 

"Management [needs] to actually enforce the rules. Tracking the keys and fobs, imposing minimum lease-terms and actually speaking to the owners would go a long way," added the tenant. 

TSCC2238 assured blogTO they're doing what they can to enforce the regulations and emergency orders. 

"If the Corporation becomes aware of owners who are renting their unit in breach of the emergency orders, it has and will continue to take appropriate enforcement action to obtain compliance," they said.

They also noted that short-term rental accommodations were allowed if they're for people who need housing during the emergency period – like healthcare workers who need to self-isolate. 

 "Outside observers should not assume that all persons arriving at our property are doing so in violation of the emergency order," said TSCC2238. 

by Misha Gajewski via blogTO

This is what it was like for one woman at an Ontario long-term care home

Many Canadians are just becoming aware of the appalling conditions in long-term care homes after a military report was released on Tuesday, but for Sharon Chandar it's been her everyday nightmare for the last two years. 

"Bed sores, pneumonia, left in diapers for hours daily, undressed wounds, left in bed clothes covered in urine, physically abused, left on the floor with a broken hip ...," Chandar listed all the horrible things she witnessed. "It didn't get worse over COVID. Now COVID is showing what has happened before."  

In 2018 Chandar moved her 74-year-old mother, Gloria, into Villa Colombo Vaughan Di Poce Centre after taking care of her full-time for two years.  

"I felt fortunate and lucky that my mother was in the home. I felt proud that she was in this home," she told blogTO in a telephone interview. 

The home appeared to be clean, well kept, had nice facilities and Chandar was promised full-time staff to look after her mother who has Alzheimer's, diabetes and strict dietary needs.

But soon Chandar noticed that things weren't what they appeared.

Sometimes it was little things like despite Chandar's clear instructions not to give her mother beef or pork because she's Hindu, they still fed it to her.

There were also more concerning issues, such as Chandar frequently finding her mother soaking wet, having been left in soiled diapers for hours on end. Or the staff not properly cleaning her mother, instead slathering her genitals in barrier cream that gave her sores and several infections. 

She attributed it in part to the floor being frequently understaffed.

"The [nurses and personal service workers (PSW)] are at a 200 per cent capacity. They're overworked and underpaid. At times there was only one PSW for 30 residents," she said. 

Villa Colombo Vaughan have not responded to requests for comment. 

ontario long term care home

Sharon Chandar shared this photo of her mother's diapers while in care at the long-term care home.

Chandar also noted that staff who are brought in from temporary agencies were never brought up to speed on the care plans of the residents. 

"One agency PSW told me: 'We go in blindly'. They're just told which rooms [they're] looking after," she explained.

And the lack of staff meant that sometimes when Chandar asked for help with her mother she was blatantly ignored. 

"The nurse ignored me and wouldn't come look at her mother despite me telling her that something was wrong," Chandar said, speaking of an incident where her mother had a vaginal infection that needed medical attention.  

Another time when a Villa Colombo resident was being aggressive and racist toward Chandar, she went to ask a nurse to get the situation under control. 

"The nurse laughed and ignored it," Chandar said in disbelief. 

The situation with the resident escalated and Chandar ended up snapping and yelled at them; a misstep that got her banned from Villa Colombo Vaughan for a month as it was deemed abuse. 

"They threatened that if I ever come on the property they will call the police and charge me with abuse," she said. 

This particular incident was investigated by the ministry and, according to Chandar, to get both sides of the story they would only speak to the resident in question and Chandar's mother, who can't speak due to the Alzheimer's.

"That's discrimination!" said Chandar, who is her mother's power of attorney and her only advocate.

"They ignored my voice and told me to move my mom or I will be banned. My mom shouldn't be the one who is being effected by all of this." 

Shortly after Chandar was able to move her mom to a different floor in the home. Her mother's care improved but then the pandemic hit and things quickly spiraled. 

The home closed mid-March and residents were eventually confined to their rooms after five cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on the floor. But family was allowed to see their loved one's via FaceTime. 

"The first time she was smiling and laughing. The second time she wouldn't wake up. She refused to open her eyes. The third time she looked ghastly pale. I didn't understand what was happening," recalled Chandar. 

But the staff told her everything was "fine". 

"She's 'fine'? Was I seeing something no one else is seeing? I questioned my sanity over and over," Chandar said.

ontario long term care home

Sharon Chandar shared this photo of soiled diapers at the long-term care home.

Turns out her mother had a raging fever, although tested negative for COVID-19, and hadn't been eating. On April 21, Chandar was then given permission to go into the home to try and get her mother to eat. 

"I took a look at my mom and I was mortified. I didn't know what I was looking at. I thought she was a cancer patient. She was ghastly white, her skin was dry, she was contorted in a pretzel. Her legs were bent out of shape, she was laying on her back moaning, and crying," she said.  

Her mom had an infection in both eyes that had gone undiagnosed and untreated. She hadn't been fed anything but water in four days and had also developed pneumonia in both lungs.  

"No one noticed any of this! I was bawling my eyes out because I'm leaving her in a nursing home and she's gone through so much in the last two years. She has no voice. She can't tell them that she's in pain or that she has pus in her eyes. All I see is she's flinching and I don't know why! My heart is breaking for my mom," she said through tears. 

When the pandemic hit most of the regular staff left and were replaced with workers from temporary agencies and this caused even more problems.  

"Nobody's around. There are supposed to be four people on staff," she said, describing her difficulties getting staff to get medication, assist residents in pain or to change diapers.

For example, after Chandar finally got antibiotics for her mother, the combination of her existing medication with the new antibiotics gave her mom severe diarrhea.

While Chandar brought up concerns that the mixture of drugs was problematic she was told it was "fine". 

Yet, her mom was left sitting in her soiled diapers for hours and as a result developed open wounds and bed sores. None of which were treated, Chandar alleges.

"Every day I woke up I was afraid that they would stop me from coming to see her and that was the last time I would ever see my mom," she said. 

Then one day Villa Colombo Vaughan told her she was no longer going to be allowed into the home to help care for her mother. But after she showed them a picture of her mother's condition she was granted a few more days.

On May 14, Chandar made the decision to remove her mom from the care facility to live out the rest of her days at home.

"My mother is my world. If my mom is going to die, she will die at home with dignity, love, and respect. I made a mistake to believe she was better off. I failed her when I put her in long-term care. I listened to others tell me it was the best thing for her. I put her life in the hands of a corporation looking for profits and cost containment. I failed her," she said. 

Gloria is now back at home with her family, but many other people are still inside the long-term care facility. 

According to Villa Colombo Vaughan's website, 18 people have died from COVID-19, but Chandar says many more died from lack of care. 

"There's no care and they're left in the corner to die. This has been happening for the last two years to my mom and many other people. They are left in their rooms, confused, crying, suffering, neglected.  It has to stop! They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,"she said.

She emphasized that it's not the nurses or PSW's fault, but rather places blame on the corporations who run the homes and the government. 

"These PSWs and nurses are so undervalued. They're heros. This is the responsibility of the corporations and the government to be on top of it. They should be held accountable."

"My mother suffered because of the management and the ministry of long-term care is 100 per cent aware of what's happening. No one cares for the elderly because they don’t generate cash flow," she added.  

by Misha Gajewski via blogTO

A man threw a bucket of bleach on protesters at the Justice for Regis march in Toronto

Protesters marching on Bloor Street West yesterday for Regis Korchinski-Paquet had bleach thrown on them from an upper floor apartment.

The bleach was thrown from the window of an apartment at 436 Bloor Street West above a Home Hardware.

Photos show an angry crowd of hundreds of people below. Video shows a huge bucket of liquid being thrown out of a window which quickly shuts and protesters shouting in opposition from the street afterwards.

At first, protesters even thought what was actually bleach might have just been water, but those splashed below are saying that it was in fact bleach.

While bleach is a dangerous and harmful substance and a huge amount was hurled out the window, social media reports indicate that no one was directly hit or seriously hurt by the attack.

Apparently someone threw an orange at the apartment window after the bleach was poured.

People are also reporting on social media that initially a man in the apartment came to the window to yell at protesters, which is why they had stopped outside the apartment before the bleach was thrown.

Yesterday's protests were peaceful overall, with no escalation to violence from the participants.

by Amy Carlberg via blogTO

Toronto restaurant famous for its perogies has shut down permanently

A Toronto restaurant known for its all-you-can-eat perogie nights has become another casualty of the pandemic.

Tennessee Tavern will never reopen, according to a statement by owner Grant van Gameren.

"We're saying goodbye to Tennessee Tavern, which is tough," said Gameren. "I loved that place but I just don't think heavy, Eastern European comfort food is the best concept right now. I wish we could have had a sendoff: one more night of all-you-can-eat pierogies.

In true Gameren fashion, though, the Tennessee space isn't laying dormant. It's been re-purposed into a Detroit-style pizza and burger place that's already open for takeout.

"In its place will be Gianna's Pies and Patties, a place for burgers and Detroit-style pizza, which we don't have a lot of in Toronto, or at least not in the west end," said Gameren. "It'll be a neighbourhood spot where people can grab a beer and a burger or a pizza and watch the game—whenever sports come back."

Gameren's other restaurants El Rey and Rosalinda have already reopened for takeout, Harry's has been operating out of Bar Raval, Bar Piquette is reopening as a wine and mortadella sandwich shop, and Quetzal's massive open fire is being put to use for a new concept called Don Pollo selling Sinaloa-style grilled chicken and sides.

by Amy Carlberg via blogTO

Another worker tests positive for COVID-19 at a Loblaws store in Toronto

Loblaws wrote to inform customers that a worker tested positive for COVID-19 at yet another store recently.

The worker tested positive for a presumptive test, and was last in the store on May 26.

Customers who recently transacted at the 50 Musgrave location of Loblaws near Victoria Park and Gerrard were notified of a worker there testing positive.

The store was thoroughly deep-cleaned and sanitized overnight while it reached out to health authorities to investigate the worker's direct contacts and recent shifts, and any potentially exposed staff were instructed to self-isolate.

"We will work with the local public health team on any further directions and encourage you to reach out to them if you need more information," concludes a letter sent to customers, which was posted to Facebook.

by Amy Carlberg via blogTO

Fostering baby ducks is the latest quarantine trend in Toronto

Stuck at home and struggling with boredom, a Toronto family decided to foster ducklings this spring. The three ducklings brought a little joy to the family, said Roncesvalles resident Cristina Dias, mother of two teens.

“The kids are coping with so much now being isolated from their friends,” said Dias.

Dias said her 13-year-old son heard from a friend about Critter Visits — a Kawartha Lakes area farm, which runs a duckling foster program.

“He would not stop bugging us,” said Dias.

The ducklings roamed around the house, swam in the bathtub and fell asleep in the kid's hands.

critter visits

The ducklings swim in the Dias-Sorry family bathtub.

The ducklings were tiny when they picked them up on April 30 but grew to the size of a football three weeks later when they brought them back.

“They get big very quickly within the first week they (nearly) tripled their size,” Dias said.

Taking care of the ducklings was not only a diversion but a learning experience for the kids.

“I think they learned about empathy in taking care of something that is so little and vulnerable.”

It was a fun experience but there is some dirty work.

“They poop everywhere.”

Dias said neighbourhood friends heard about her experience and have also decided to foster ducklings.

Critter Visits owner Karen Woolley said the duckling program is popular. This year more than 2,000 ducklings have gone out to foster families since just before Easter.

“With COVID people really needed to have a pet when they couldn’t have a pet,” Woolley said. Those thinking of fostering ducklings should check local bylaws. Toronto’s animal bylaws technically prohibit keeping ducks and there is a $240 fine.

The boom in business led the 40-acre hobby farm to hire eight more people and bring in duck breeders from across Ontario to provide more ducklings.

The farm has a COVID-friendly pick up system. The ducklings come with a manual, food, shavings and other supplies. Families drive to the farm and load up everything without contact.

It's not too late to foster some ducklings this year. Woolley said the plan is to keep the program going through to September.

by Karen Longwell via blogTO

How a food supplier to Mexican restaurants in Toronto pivoted to home delivery

Those looking for grocery delivery options in Toronto and missing their favourite Mexican restaurant, may want to check out a new service.

With many Mexican and Latin American restaurants like La Carnita temporarily closed, Sombrero Latin Foods has pivoted to home delivery.

Sombrero now offers free GTA delivery on orders over $40 of products like cream, cheese, tortillas, sauces, spices, Peruvian purple corn, Dominican Coffee and sodas such as Jarritos and Inca from popular brands like Pirucream, Havanna and Cafe Santo Domingo.

La Carnita as well as Mira, Fonda LolaKay Pacha and other Venezuelan, Brazilian, Peruvian and Mexican restaurants know Sombrero Latin Foods as Tropical Trading, and Comal y Canela has even used their products for their food bank project.

Sombrero first realized they could connect with consumers at a retail level last year when they started an e-commerce business selling dry goods like chipotle peppers through Amazon.

Corina Pardo, business development for the family-run company, says she expected to sell mostly to Latin American people, but soon realized the market was much bigger.

She says she had been thinking of Latin American food in terms of little Mexican restaurants and tiny shops in Kensington Market, but Sombrero has received orders from places like Iqaluit, St. John's, Alberta and BC.

Pardo says they "work with experts and support small family businesses, people that know their craft," and the majority of products are locally made. For example, cheese is made using 100 per cent Canadian milk, and chorizo, churros and empanada dough are made locally too.

In this way, Pardo says, Sombrero is "building a network of small businesses" to strengthen not only their own business but others as well. 

Pardo describes the experience of restaurants closing temporarily as "zero to 100," saying "We went from being at the [Restaurants Canada Show] at Enercare Centre to everything being shut down."

Their concern was how to survive as a business while also supporting their employees, many of whom are young, students or immigrants.

"When this crisis started, we thought we would have to lay off  the majority of our team because restaurants make up a large part of our business," says Pardo.

"We actually managed to keep our entire team, mostly immigrants, and are now delivering authentic Mexican and Latin food directly to people's homes."

She says the biggest challenges in shifting to home delivery have been "shipping and managing refrigerated and frozen products like cheese and cassava fries" and helping drivers adjust from delivering kilos of products on pallets to mere grams in small bags.

They've also made their meeting room into a miniature warehouse.

They "eased into it" by trying out Uber Eats in March with a five kilometre radius, and saw that there was demand for what Sombrero Latin Foods was offering.

Pardo says introducing home delivery slowly has allowed them to learn how they can continue the service in the future, for example figuring out how to estimate delivery windows.

Pardo says she's enthused by the way people can connect with Latin American food through nostalgia, trips, family or curiosity, and that "in Toronto, nobody ever feels like a foreigner because everyone's from everywhere, people are super open to tasting things from different places."

by Amy Carlberg via blogTO

These are the rules for outdoor fire pits in Toronto right now

Outdoor fire pits in Toronto do exist and nothing says summer like a bonfire chill sesh around one of them, but these are no ordinary times.  

Nearly 30 parks around the city are home to fire pits, all of which — in a pre-pandemic era — could be booked fairly easily during normal circumstances. 

And people have been seen using those pits in recent weeks — residents in The Beaches, for example, have reported multiple people using the pit at Orchard Park (and leaving garbage behind, no less) despite calls from health officials to help curb community spread. 

fire pits toronto

Using fire pits at Toronto city parks is currently illegal, though people appear to be using them anyway, and leaving garbage behind. Photo via Beaches resident of Orchard Park. 

But thanks to a global virus that's claimed more than 2,000 lives in Ontario, the City of Toronto says that bonfires in parks and green spaces are not allowed.

According to a city spokesperson, permits are no longer being issued, meaning no one should be using the fire pits at all, full stop. 

"The COVID-19 enforcement team is patrolling parks and the waterfront to ensure compliance," said the city spokesperson. 

Anyone caught at a bonfire risks getting a $300 fine. And if you spot a bonfire or hazardous debris being left behind, make sure to call 311. 

It appears we'll have to sacrifice this beloved tradition for the summer, and maybe even into fall. Goodbye, bonfires at Toronto Island (not like we can go there anyway). 

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

Toronto butcher shop to be transformed into a vegan deli

A new vegan deli in Toronto will be taking up residence in a fitting space: an old out-of-business butcher shop.

Called Jinglepear Deli, it'll be taking over the space at 245 Greenwood Avenue where Strickland's Choice Meats was for over 40 years.

Jinglepear owner Sinead Hammons says she wants the place to stay the "friendly place" and community hub it's always been, just meatless, and is "keeping cost in mind."

A mom of two, Hammons named the place "Jinglepear" after an inside joke with her family — one child once had trouble getting the hang of singing "and a partridge in a pear tree."

The space has essentially been left as it was so Jinglepear will be able to do only minor renos and use the cases and fridge space that's been left behind, of course completely cleansed of any leftover animal juices, just to be clear. Hammons is even "going to have a little ceremony reclaiming" the space.

She describes her vision for the business as a "Sobeys deli counter but all vegan," with options for prepared meals, skewers, cutlets, sauces, seasonal items, breakfast items and salads like potato and macaroni as well as sandwiches like tofu salad, chickpea salad and Montreal smoked "meat." Most products will be made in house.

Jinglepear Deli should be opening in mid-August, and has plans for contactless pickup and delivery if they're not yet able to welcome customers into the store at that point.

by Amy Carlberg via blogTO