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Monday, August 31, 2020

Home sales in Toronto are now the strongest they've been in almost 15 years

The housing market in the Toronto area somehow continues to defy the downturn that virtually every other industry has faced during the health crisis, with new home sales the strongest they've been since 2007, according to a new housing report from the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD).

Following a very brief lull earlier in the year, the numbers from last month are startling, with 3,544 real estate transactions for new homes taking place in the GTA, which is 36 per cent higher than the same time last year and a whopping 40 per cent higher than the 10-year average.

Unfortunately for anyone hoping to buy in and around the city at some point, prices also continue to rise, hitting a benchmark of $993,811 for newly-built condos — up 18.5 per cent year-over-year — and $1,182,199 for new single-family homes, up 8.3 per cent.

Other recent reports have shown that the average condo apartment purchase price from Q2 2020 in Toronto was equal to about two decades worth of rent, while the average purchase price for any type of home in Toronto hit $943,710 in July.

Sales were predominantly single-family homes such as detached and semi-detached homes and townhomes, which surged 187 per cent from July 2019 and were 78 per cent higher than the 10-year average.

This is thanks in part to a rush to finish construction projects that were delayed or otherwise impacted by the pandemic, but finally got the green light to proceed as lockdown measures and on-site restrictions eased.

With more industries rebounding and more people returning to work, many residents are also enjoying more economic security than earlier in the year, enabling them to comfortably make big financial decisions once more and act on what experts call "pent-up demand."

Numbers were overall highest in York Region (855 sales of condos and single-family homes in July), followed by Peel (809) and Toronto proper (783).

BILD's CEO said in a release that these high numbers and the demand they indicate “is heartening but not surprising," adding that "even as our region makes its way through recovery, it continues to be a very desirable place to live and work."

Would-be buyers have long known that home ownership in the GTA has been and will continue to be out of reach for most for a slew of reasons, regardless of any economic recession or global health crisis that should realistically threaten it.

by Becky Robertson via blogTO

29 must-see movies at TIFF 2020 according to its programmers

TIFF movies in 2020 will be shown under very different circumstances, but there are still dozens of features and short films to seek out through virtual screenings, socially-distanced in-person events or even drive-in presentations. Tickets to the general public go on sale Sept. 5. Make sure you get familiar with the full TIFF schedule.

Here are the must-see films at TIFF 2020 according to this year's slate of programmers.

Cameron Bailey (Artistic Director & Co-Head)
Concrete Cowboy

Idris Elba stars as a rough-hewn Philadelphia cowboy and Stranger ThingsCaleb McLaughlin as his estranged son. This story of family reconciliation invites us into one of America’s most unique subcultures, a generations-old world of Black horse trainers on the streets of Philly.

Lift Like a Girl

For over 20 years, Captain Ramadan coached world-class weightlifters in Alexandria. Ramadan led his daughter Nahla, one of Egypt’s most famous athletes, to become a world champion. Mayye Zayed’s observational documentary dives into the training of Ramadan’s new protégé Zebiba who dreams of lifting on the level of the captain’s past stars.

Joana Vicente (Executive Director & Co-Head)
Shiva Baby

From the very first shot of Emma Seligman’s outstanding debut you know that this is not going to be your Bubbe’s Shiva. This hilarious emotional roller-coaster of a film, carried out by a stunning ensemble cast, and featuring spot-on performances, never ceases to surprise.


Chloé Zhao’s NOMADLAND celebrates a rarely seen aspect of the underside of the American dream. Zhao expertly interweaves veteran actors (Frances McDormand, David Strathairn) with others who have never performed in a film, to create an interweaving of fact and fiction that feels as real as a road-trip across today’s United States.

Diana Sanchez (Senior Director, Film)

The film strikes a beautiful balance between humour and reality as it addresses the international refugee crisis. We follow Syrian musician Omar as he awaits news on his asylum request on the desolate Scottish moors while he attends cultural classes. Meditative and quirkily filmed.

True Mothers

Naomi Kawase tells an interwoven narrative of a childless couple that adopts a baby boy and the 14 year-old mother who gave him up. Told through interlacing timelines, the film is never predictable as it moves from the story of the couple longing for a child, to a tale of adolescent passion and love.

Jason Anderson (Lead Programmer, Short Cuts)
In Sudden Darkness

This first film by Tayler Montague provides a beautifully-observed portrait of a Black family living in the Bronx during the power outage of 2003.


We didn’t know we could love Zach Woods any more than we did already based on his acting work in The Office and Silicon Valley. We then found out what he could do as a director with this hilarious comedy starring Will Ferrell, William Jackson Harper and Fred Hechinger. Score!

Brad Deane (Lead Programmer, TIFF Cinematheque)

Gianfranco Rosi (Fire at Sea) returns with an immersive portrait set in the Middle East, that brings light to the darkness of war. This careful and patient study reveals the acute sense of humanity and resilience within people facing an unfathomable environment.

Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick’s lucid portrait of the Vietnam War feels as relevant as ever in the way it displays a system willing to exploit its own citizens in the service of a deluded and deceptive cause. Presented at a drive-in presentation in 4K.

Giovanna Fulvi (Senior International Programmer)
The Best is Yet to Come

Inspired by true events, Wang Jing's film is set in 2003 in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic, addressing issues that echo today’s global scenario, where politics and prejudices sometimes conflict with safety and health concerns.

Under the Open Sky

Miwa Nishikawa's latest stars Koji Yakusho as a middle-aged ex-yakuza who must adjust to his "new normal" when he is released from prison after serving a 13-year sentence for murder.

Steve Gravestock (Lead Programmer)

Inconvenient Indian

Michelle Lattimer's seminal documentary brings Thomas King's deeply respected indictment of most North Americans' profound ignorance of Indigenous history and the centuries of egregious crimes committed by the colonizing forces to the screen, in a vibrant, varied manner.

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott's powerful, invigorating and frankly scary film updates the classic doc about corporate skullduggery and fraudulence, dissecting the current rhetoric employed by companies as they claim to be "woke."

Lisa Haller (International Programmer, Shorts)

With standout performances by Michaela Kurimsky and Deragh Campbell and a story that is a perfect mix of humour and heartbreak, director Hannah Cheesman marks herself as a true talent in this endearing friendship drama about the perils of online dating.

The Archivists

Starring the incomparable Noah Reid, this dystopian sci-fi will get your foot tapping when musicians uncover a vinyl album and attempt to re-imagine one of its songs. Director Igor Drljača (The Stone Speakers) has returned to the shorts world with something entirely unique.

Peter Kuplowsky (Lead Programmer)
Get the Hell Out

If "Taiwan parliament" is in the news it usualy is quickly followed by the word "brawl." Director I-Fan Wang brilliantly injects a zombie virus into this setting, and the result is comic-book silliness. Come for the political bites, and cheer through the wild and wicked fights!


I expect this uncompromising and disturbing psychodrama to suck the air out of the midnight crowd's lungs more than once, as it hypnotically depicts a series of traumatic betrayals that push a survivor of sexual violence to an extreme resolve.

Dorota Lech (Lead Programmer)

Dea Kulumbegashvili’s deeply unsettling debut feature follows Yana, a Jehovah’s Witnesses missionary in a remote Georgian village, on a forlorn path to justice.

Spring Blossom

The story of a teenage girl who falls in love with a 35-year-old man.A remarkable and risqué debut heralding a burgeoning talent. Suzanne Lindon, who plays the lead role and directs, penned the script when she was 15-years-old. 

Thom Powers (Lead Programmer)
76 Days

Filmed inside Wuhan for the duration of the city’s COVID-19 lockdown, this stunning film deepens our understanding of the pandemic and of China.

Enemies of the State

Errol Morris joined this film as executive producer for its exquisite craft combined with a dogged investigation that will keep you guessing until the very end.

Geoff MacNaughton (Lead Programmer)

Michelle Latimer's much anticipated adaptation of award-winning Haisla and Heiltsuk writer Eden Robinson's novel. Her interplay between score and imagery sets an energetic pace, and most importantly, her respect for the novel and the trickster figure in Indigenous storytelling is evident.

Andréa Picard (Lead Programmer)

Canadian-Mexican auteur (and former Torontonian) Nicolás Pereda does the impossible by creating a breezy and super-smart comedy about the glamourization of violence in Mexico, from a tale of sibling rivalry that morphs into an unlikely send-up of Narcos.

The Interitance

This timely first feature by filmmaker and DJ Ephraim Asili looks back at his formative experiences in a Black Marxist collective in West Philadelphia, as it renders homage to a lineage of Black resistance through books, movies, political movements and music.

Kiva Reardon (Lead Programmer)

Cathy Brady’s debut is an emotionally stirring exploration of two sisters struggling to emerge from a traumatic past. Brady frames this present-day family drama within the history of The Troubles, exposing how the past impacts the present.

Bandar Band

The latest from established filmmaker Manijeh Hekmat is a music-infused twist on a road movie that’s laced with poignant and timely political commentary. Unfolding on the road as a band journeys in their van to Tehran, this is a stunning visual ode to the shifting landscapes of Iran.

Ravi Srinivasan (International Programmer)
No Ordinary Man

Revered American jazz musician Billy Tipton gained fame throughout the United States in the 1940s and ’50s but his transgender identity was not revealed publicly until after his death in 1989. This moving new documentary from Chase Joynt and Aisling Chin-Yee that tell of his incredible journey.


Based on the Oka Crisis, a 78-day standoff between Mohawk communities and law enforcement, Tracey Deer's poignant debut feature takes us back to one of the biggest watershed moments in Canadian history told through the lens of a young Mohawk girl.

by Jason Gorber via blogTO

The famous Cake Boss vending machine is now at the Toronto Eaton Centre

Toronto is getting another Cake Boss vending machine — this time in the Eaton Centre. 

An ATM spitting out cakes from New Jersey-based Carlo's Bakery is being installed at Toronto's largest downtown mall. It'll be up and running by Tuesday morning, when the mall opens at 11 a.m. 

There are already eight of these vending machines located across the GTA, including at Square One, the Scarborough Town Centre and College Park. 

The first ones to appear in Toronto's PATH nearly year ago caused a frenzy that saw huge lineups and sold out cakes before noon

This newest Cake Boss ATM will be located in the Eaton Centre's Yonge Street atrium, next to the H&M and Uniqlo entrances. 

It'll be filled with four essential flavours of Carlo's cakes: Chocolate Fudge, Red Velvet, Carrot and Vanilla Rainbow. Vending machines will be restocked daily with deliveries shipped from Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, N.J. 

If it's anything like the other ATMs, queues are inevitable, but they'll be physically distanced. It's unclear how the mall will enforce the distancing. 

by Tanya Mok via blogTO

Toronto health officials say a second wave of COVID-19 is inevitable

When it comes to another major outbreak of COVID-19 in Toronto, it's not a matter of "if" it will happen, but "when" and "how," experts say.

This was the main message put forth by Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa during a press conference announcing the city's new COVID-19 Resurgence Plan Monday afternoon.

Speaking alongside Mayor John Tory, city manager Chris Murray, and health board chair Joe Cressy, de Villa spoke to the almost-certain possibility of a "second wave" hitting Toronto in the coming weeks or months.

"The first stage of this outbreak is behind is," said de Villa, but "there is no question that we will see a resurgence."

Toronto's top doctor spoke of three potential scenarios for the forthcoming second wave, based on projections from the University of Minnesota's Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Scenario 1 would see a series of small, successive waves hit the city throughout the course of 2021. Scenario 2 would involve "a large wave in the fall or winter, with successive smaller waves in 2021."

The third scenario, described as a "slow burn," would simply see ongoing tranmission of the virus with no significant patterns.

Being that there is no way to tell what will happen, the city has devised a comprehensive and flexible plan which "outlines priorities and associated actions that the City will implement in the event of a resurgence of COVID-19."

These priorities, which you can read about in full right here, include the implementation of public health measures, supporting vulnerable populations, supporting City employees, mitigating the impact to Toronto's economy and ensuring the resiliency of municipal services.

Among the potential measures listed by the City are a return to emergency child-care services for front-line workers, enhanced bylaw enforcement and establishing a voluntary self-isolation site for people with COVID-19 who cannot safely quarantine at home.

"While scientists are working with speed and determination, we still don't expect highly effective treatments in the very near future, and we aren't planning on vaccine availability before the spring of 2021 at the earliest," said de Villa.

"Until then, we have to find a way to live with COVID-19 in our city."

Toronto Public Health says the best ways to keep everyone as safe as possible are wearing a mask, washing your hands, watching your distance from others and adhering to the provincial government's social gathering restrictions.

"Our success in living with the virus depends greatly on the choices we all make to minimize risk to ourselves and others in the coming months," said de Villa. "Making the right choices as individuals will strengthen the work by Toronto Public Health and our partners to limit the impact of COVID-19 on our city."

"These plans are based on the same clear and fearless public health advice we have had throughout this pandemic, advice which we have always accepted and acted on," said Tory of the city's planned response to a second wave.

"We've said many times that COVID-19 is a marathon not a sprint. The public should know that we have the plans in place for the next phase of this long marathon."

by Lauren O'Neil via blogTO

Toronto landlord and tenants in legal fight over $55K in unpaid rent

A Toronto landlord is not happy after claiming that tenants renting his parents' property worth $5 million owe over $55,000 in unpaid rent. 

Real estate agent Varun Sriskanda says that his parents have had numerous rental properties in the past but this incident is "boggling everyone's mind."

According to Sriskanda, tenants living in the house located in the Bridle Path neighbourhood - yes, just minutes away from Drake - have not paid their $7,800 monthly rent since February 2020.

He claims they've been living in the house since 2016. 

"We have not received rent since February and we are not expecting any rent for September," Sriskanda said, adding that he was told the tenants were looking for another place to live last October but never ended up moving.

At that time, they were paying rent, so there was no problem, he said. 

He claims things took quite the turn though.

After months of not receiving rent, Sriskanda says he decided to put a for sale sign up in front of the house. 

"I put a for sale sign up and immediately after I put my for sale sign up, they realized that their time is up and they may have to move soon."

Sriskanda claims that instead of paying rent, the tenants retained a lawyer who told him that he could not show the property to any potential buyers, even after giving the 24-hour notice legally required, due to concerns with COVID-19 and the health of the tenants.

"The biggest frustration is that they are paying lawyers to help them fight the ability to stay in the property longer rather than pay the $55,000 that they owe," Sriskanda said. 

Now, Skriskanda said he is waiting for his day in court. 

"We really cannot do anything, they won't even let us show the house."

When reached for comment, Skriskanda's tenant Leonard Waldman claimed otherwise. 

"This is not a black-and-white issue, it's far from a black-and-white issue," Waldman suggests.

"There are many outstanding repairs that were never done in this house and so as a result of that, rent was stopped because repairs were not being done to the house."

While he did not give details as to what the repairs entailed, Waldman says the matter is before Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board and is going to be dealt with in a legal manner.

"We enjoy a very good name in the community, we pay money when we owe money but the reality is that there is outstanding work that was never done in this house and so we held back rent as a result of that."

Sriskanda told blogTO the only damage he is aware of is to the garage door, which he claims only broke about month ago. 

"We refuse to repair that until we get some money. We stay on top of repairs and there are no other repairs that they have told us about."

by Tanja Saric via blogTO

Toronto allows short-term rentals again but Airbnb listings are still dwindling

The number of Airbnb apartments in Toronto continues to trend significantly downward, even though the official ban on short-term rental apartments that the province set in April due to COVID-19 concerns has been  lifted for nearly two months. 

Some neighbourhoods that are extra notorious for vacation rentals, such as the dense pocket of towering condos at CityPlace, saw a staggering drop of 30 cent in listings this month compared to the pre-pandemic Airbnb heyday of December 2019 to January 2020.

Across the city, listings have been falling month-over-month since January, and are down 16.8 per cent to 23,524 as of mid-August, as per data from Inside Airbnb.

Meanwhile, the vacancy rates of apartments meant for actual residential tenants have gone up and rent prices are cooling for the first time in what feels like eons — a welcome, albeit strange development for a city long bemoaned for its ghost apartments, high rents and housing crisis.

The health crisis represented a massive blow to the industry, with short-term rental hosts worrying about a drastic loss in business to to travel restrictions and widespread caution around vacationing and leaving the house in general, even before the moratorium.

An increasing number of property owners have been converting their units into longer-term rentals to adapt, leading to fewer listings, an influx of new units on the market and lower rents.

The City has also vowed to tighten up on its rules and regulations around Airbnbs post-COVID, asking that hosts who rent out their homes for less than 28 days at a time to register as short-term rental operators.

Owners will also only be able to rent their units to tourists for  a maximum of 180 nights per year, and will have to pay a four per cent Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT) on a quarterly basis — all measures meant to ensure that people aren't buying up properties for the sole purpose of renting them out temporarily, and only listing their primary residences, as per existing guidelines.

"This is good news for Toronto residents and a step in the right direction when it comes to regulating short-term rentals and maintaining the peace and quiet of our neighbourhoods," Mayor John Tory said about the move last week.

"This system will provide crucial oversight of operators and ensure that they are held accountable."

There is also the fact that specific condo buildings have started enforcing their own rules around short-term rentals, up to outright banning them in the wake of partiesshootings and the pandemic.

With most people still extremely wary of hopping on a plane for a trip, the persistence of health and safety measures in public places and international travel still at an acute low, the future of Airbnb rentals is uncertain at best — certainly good news for tenants, but perhaps not for the city's travel and tourism industry.

by Becky Robertson via blogTO

The history of the 100-year-old Leuty Lifeguard Station in Toronto

The Leuty Lifeguard Station, the often-photographed Beaches landmark, is celebrating its centennial this year. The station was constructed back in 1920. Such an anniversary gives us the chance to view the Beaches as they looked more than a century into the past. 

The station itself was built by the architectural firm of Chapman, Oxley, and Bishop, whose career in Toronto spanned several decades between the 1920s and 1940s.

Some other buildings they are known for are the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, the Palais Royale dance hall, and a wing of the Royal Ontario Museum.

A crowd watches canoeists at Kew-Balmy Beach in the 1900s. City of Toronto Archives. 

The Station was one of three built by the firm in partnership with the Toronto Harbour Commission.  Two other, similar stations were located on the shores of the Humber River and the Western Channel, and were later demolished.

Later on, an almost identical station to the Leuty Lifeguard Station popped up on Cherry Beach. 

Leuty Lifeguard Statio

The Leuty in its original location on the Beaches. Photo via City of Toronto Archives. 

The Leuty Lifeguard Station would have been one of many buildings that dotted the stretch of shoreline of Woodbine and Kew-Balmy Beaches in the early part of the twentieth century.

The area of the present-day Beaches neighbourhood was home to a series of amusement parks.

Victoria Park operated from 1878 to 1906, later giving its namesake to Victoria Park Avenue. Munro Park succeeded Victoria Park and was in operation from 1896 to 1906. 

Leuty Lifeguard Statio

The Chutes log ride at Scarboro Beach Park. Photo via City of Toronto Archives. 

Perhaps the most famous of these parks is the long-gone Scarboro Beach Park. A hotspot for tourists and beach-goers alike, the amusement park featured a Chutes log flume ride, a Tunnel of Love,  and an open-air Velodrome that hosted bicycle races.

Scarboro Beach Park was in operation from 1906 to 1925, and would have shared the same beachside spot as the Leuty Lifeguard Station.

Leuty Lifeguard Statio

A bicycle race at the Scarboro Park Velodrome. Photo via City of Toronto Archives. 

The Leuty Lifeguard Station is still the headquarters for many of Toronto’s lifeguards and the staff have been credited with saving over 6,000 lives during the Station’s 100-year history. 

As fears began to grow about the erosion of Toronto’s waterfront, buildings were torn down in the 1930s, and work began on artificially expanding the shoreline. 

leauty lifeguard station

The Leauty Lifeguard Station in 2017. Photo by Bruce Reeve.

The Leuty Lifeguard Station weathered the erosion, but gradually began to fall into disrepair. In the 1990s it was slated for demolition, but a group of Beaches residents launched the Save our Station initiative to see the restoration of the building. 

leauty lifeguard station

The Leuty Lifeguard Station threated by flood waters in 2017. Photo by A Great Capture.

The Station came under threat once again in 2017, when flooding on Toronto beaches reached an overwhelming high. The city poured in $200,000 in restoration funds to build a platform to keep the Station from falling victim to flooding

leauty lifeguard station

The Leauty Lifeguard Station during sunrise in 2009. Photo by Evidence.

The Leuty Lifeguard Station has been a landmark of east-end Toronto for a century; it is emblazoned on postcards and is the favourite subject of artists and photographers.

It stands out as a reminder of an earlier time. 

by Alice McMurtry via blogTO

An employee at JOEY restaurant at Yorkdale Mall just tested positive for COVID-19

Another business within Toronto's sprawling Yorkdale Shopping Centre had to temporarily close, according to mall management, on account of a COVID-19 infection.

Yorkdale confirmed on Monday that an employee of its multi-level JOEY restaurant had tested positive for the virus after last working a shift on Thursday, Aug. 27.

The restaurant only notified mall management of the case today, but has reportedly reopened after closing down for deep sanitization over the weekend.

"We can confirm there has been an isolated case where the individual contracted it away from the restaurant," said the Vancouver-based restaurant chain in a statement, noting that the employee is now self-isolating.

"Zero transmission has been detected due to extensive safety protocols in place."

Yorkdale said in a statement of its own that JOEY closed down voluntarily after learning of the case, and that a mall operations team "performed a deep cleaning of all exterior surface areas in addition to frequent cleaning of all high-touch and high-traffic areas."

The shopping centre, Canada's third-largest, similarly said in an email to all tenants on Friday that it had fully disinfected common areas and customer touch points "in compliance with PHAC's pandemic cleaning protocols" after a separate worker in the mall was diagnosed with COVID-19.

It was later revealed that the employee in that case worked at Foot Locker inside Yorkdale, and that multiple employees had actually tested positive for the deadly virus.

The footwear retailer told 680 News on Monday that "a couple of our team members have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in Toronto Yorkdale location," but would not confirm how many.

by Lauren O'Neil via blogTO

The Mars-like Cheltenham Badlands near Toronto is finally reopening

The Cheltenham Badlands is finally reopening but planning your visit will be a little different this fall.

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) announced a new set of rules on Monday and an online reservation feature for the Mars-like attraction as well as the Belfountain Conservation Area.

Reservations for the Cheltenham Badlands are set to open next week. 

In order to manage crowds and help ensure proper social distancing during the busy fall season, the conservation authority says visitors will have to book a date and time during regular hours.

Booking for each site can can be done up to two weeks in advance.

"These parks are popular destinations that consistently see high visitation, which can be a challenge to manage," said Terri LeRoux, senior manager of property, assets, recreation and conservation areas for CVC, in a press release. "For this reason, we have put a new system in place at each park to keep everyone safe."

"Our reservation system will allow us to limit the number of people who can enter each property at a time and create the conditions needed for physical distancing."

To safely enjoy the conservation area properly, visitors are asked to maintain a two-metre distance from others and to limit groups to 10 people, as per Ontario guidelines. 

Stay on the trails, only stepping off to give others space to pass, CVC recommends. 

A full list of the conservation authority's COVID-19 rules can be found on its website. 

by Lauren Scott via blogTO