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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Toronto is the only North American city deemed on the verge of a housing bubble

We all know that Toronto's real estate market is the most intimidating in the country, but did we know that it's the only North American city considered at serious risk of a housing bubble?

Real estate in the city — along with in places like Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco — is considered to be officially overvalued by experts, but now, we've gone one step further than even the priciest and hottest locales in the continent.

A housing bubble happens when there is high demand and big investor spending amid limited supply, creating quickly accelerating and untenable prices that do not match where local incomes and rents sit.

Though Toronto may not be there just yet, it seems that we're getting a little too close for comfort.

Even amid the health crisis, home prices in the city are way up to levels unaffordable for most, and sales volumes are rising, too, with more new homes purchased in the GTA last month than in any August on record.

The average price for a detached home in Toronto proper hit a staggering $1.5 million last month, with absolutely unliveable places getting listed for nearly $900,000 and shacks selling for $1.8 million.

Some are hoping measures like a vacant home tax could help spook wealthy investors, foreign and otherwise, who buy up properties for ghost hotels and/or capital gains.

According to the 2020 index by Swiss multinational banking company UBS, Toronto is actually third on the list of the cities worldwide closest to the verge of a housing bubble, preceded only by Munich and Frankfurt.

Hong Kong, Paris, Amsterdam, and Zurich are also up there, with all of the at-risk cities seeing, on average, huge jumps in price growth rates over the last year, to an unsustainable point, UBS says.

As we move into a second wave, UBS says that things remain uncertain as far as how changes in unemployment and income may potentially come into play, though these factors did little to dent Toronto's market during the first wave.

The one good thing about a bubble? Demand tends to drop (or at least stagnate) just when supply starts rising, leading to a burst.

by Becky Robertson via blogTO

Some restaurants in Toronto are switching back to takeout and delivery only

Some restaurants in Toronto are choosing to close for dine-in service on their own even without a mandate from the government to keep themselves and staff safe as COVID-19 numbers spike

Beast, Donna's, Grand Electric, Fox on John, all Kibo locations, Miss Pippa's and more have all announced they'll be rolling back to takeout, delivery and/or patio service only, forgoing dine-in. 

"Nate and I feel that with the increasing numbers and second spike in effect we need to continue to curb the spread and keep our staff safe," wrote Scott Vivian and Nathan Middleton of Beast in a statement.

"This will be the first week that we are closing the dining room, but we will still have the bodega open for groceries, bottle shop and takeout. Our patio is still open (weather permitting) for dine-in. We're hoping that our customers will continue to support us through our other channels like they have been since we reopened in May."

Fox on John actually took precautions to close for dine-in service before any of their staff were infected with COVID-19, and rightly so it turned out, as one of their employees tested positive soon after.

"At the time of posting, we had no positive confirmation of staff; however, we have one staff member that has tested positive. The exposure time frame currently is September 23 to 24. We chose to close as our team and guests' safety is of the utmost importance and the last day of service was September 28," says Pragash Sritharan, Fox On John Management.

"The staff did not contract COVID-19 at the Fox On John. For us to reopen, all staff, management, and ownership returning to work will have to be tested negative. We are and have been working with our Public Health inspector to ensure we are following all procedures. We will reopen when we have the go-ahead from TPH officer."

Sritharan says they've been adhering to all bylaws, including having all guests and staff complete a health log with temperature check, tables spaced apart with plexiglass, sanitation stations and sanitizing between guests. He also says the response from guests and staff to the decision to close for dine-in has been positive and supportive.

Few changes @misspippas effective immediately

A post shared by Miss Pippa’s (@misspippas) on

Miss Pippa's had their last day of dine-in service for the time being on Sept. 27. The charming coffee, flower and wine shop continues to operate on a takeout basis.

"With the current rise in COVID cases we just wanted to be cautious and do our best to protect our customers, staff and ourselves. With no dine in, masks are required to be worn by anyone who enters, so it's the safest way to operate at the moment," says Adam Moco of Miss Pippa's.

"The response from customers has been supportive and agreeing that it's the right move currently. We started as a one-stop-shop and continue to be that. Yes, we will lose some income by taking away dine in but we believe it's worth the loss for the safety of everyone."

The dining room at Donna's was last open on Sept. 26, with a meeting held on Monday after a significant spike in COVID-19 numbers where they decided to close it immediately. Their patio is still open, and they're allowing people to come inside only to use the washroom and pay.

"So far, we have only received positive feedback and messages of support. Our guests have been understanding. Our staff are also happy about the decision. After reopening we put all our staff on salary, so their income is much more stable even if sales are not," says Ann Kim of Donna's.

"We also offer all our staff paid sick leave for when they are not feeling well, or to cover days waiting for COVID test results. Thankfully, we haven't had anyone test positive for COVID."

They're also looking into expanding their business by producing wholesale items for coffee shops, preparing packaged foods for retail, and widening their bottle shop and takeout offerings, all in anticipation of a second lockdown. Places like Field Trip have already been stocking their sandwiches.

"We are counting on these little side hustles to make it through the winter, and next spring, when it's warm enough, we'll also try to do a series of pop-ups on friends' patios like the Shrimp's Corner event we did at Pompette in August," says Kim.

"Signing onto third party delivery apps like Uber or Skip the Dishes is also an option, but one that we are trying to avoid."

While suspending dine-in service and more restrictions at restaurants and bars may help curb the spread of COVID-19, we can all still do our best to support local businesses safely so our favourite spots in the city don't disappear.

by Amy Carlberg via blogTO

10 schools in Toronto are now teaching students in tents

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) has launched a tent classroom pilot project in 10 of its schools across the city — and now they’re hoping to find heaters to keep them warm in the coming winter months.

The project is similar to the models Denmark and Norway have adopted for students, which is focused on outdoor learning and education that isn’t restricted to indoor classrooms.

“We had many meetings in July and August that went to 3:30 in the morning, and one of the motions that got passed was to try out some outdoor attendance because we all know the outside is a much safer place to be than indoors in this COVID-19 world that we find ourselves in,” said Norm Di Pasquale, TCDSB trustee for Ward 9.

The tents which cost $100,000 were funded by the federal contingency funding for local initiatives and priorities. They were set up between Sept. 24 and Sept. 29 and welcomed their first cohort of students on Wednesday.

The schools that have been selected for the pilot project are Blessed Margherita of Citta Castello, Immaculate Conception Catholic School, Father Serra Catholic School, St. Eugene Catholic School, St. Fidelis Catholic School, St. Simon Catholic School, St. Jerome Catholic School, St. John Vianney Catholic School, St. Conrad Catholic School and St. Michaels Choir School.

Di Pasquale said the school selection was focused on the city’s COVID-19 hotspots and only for elementary schools, as well as a choir school “where they're going to try singing inside” —  singing indoors is not permitted under COVID-19 restrictions.

A few schools across the country have also introduced outdoor learning environments, and one private school has actually brought in plexi-glass barriers.

School boards however and the Ontario ministry of education have not created a streamlined outdoor option.

The tents are similar to those that are used for outdoor weddings and can accommodate up to 60 kids. The tents can also be tied up and closed at night for safety measures and to prevent anyone from entering them. 

“Two different classes could potentially go in. The pilot is scheduled to last for four months, so we'll probably start with one class at a time and then sort of see if we can make more work,” Di Pasquale said. 

Dan Kajioka the CSPC Chair at St. Victor Catholic School and CPIC Chair of Ward 7, said it would give him peace of mind to know that his daughter can socially distance herself from other kids all while learning outside. 

“Because maybe they’re learning and then it snows and then they’re just learning in a different way...It could be a permanent thing, you know, potentially normal. It's an exciting thing. I think you're making a difference in how kids learn,” said Kajioka.

The Equinox Holistic Alternative School holds outdoor classes, as well as schools in Northern Ontario, said Di Pasquale, so outdoor learning has always been on the periphery.

“The purpose of the pilot is just to see, ‘Is it viable? What are the challenges?’ [Then] we address those challenges and should we have a successful pilot, I think we would start to tend to the rest of our schools.”

After the end of the pilot, data will be collected on staff experiences, student experiences, custodians, and presented to the Board of Trustees with the recommendation on whether the pilot should continue, be stopped or expanded.

However, with the winter months right around the corner, the trustees are hoping to find arrangements to keep the project running smoothly and are hoping for businesses to donate heaters or lend them to the classroom tents.

Di Pasquale said it would not be ideal to buy heaters because the pilot project could be temporary. 

“I mean, if there are people out there with industrial heaters who would be willing to lend them to us, it definitely knocks out like a significant question that's raised by the community.”

Kajioka shares his concern and said the board could end up stuck with heaters if they buy them so he’s hoping the community can step in as well. 

“We’re asking ‘do you have heaters basically?’” and because it’s a pilot it still has to be determined what equipment will work, so there could be a risk, he explained.

Since schools reopened in September the TCDSB has reported cases in 18 of its schools with no closures. The TDSB has reported cases in 63 schools with one closure.

The pilot project is the first streamlined project of its kind in Canada.

“There's definitely a lot of excitement from the community, from teachers, from staff. We’re all very excited,” said Di Pasquale.

by Raneem Alozzi via blogTO

This is what fall colours look like in Toronto right now

Fall is arguably one of the most beautiful times of the year in Toronto — what with the crisp autumn air and brightly-coloured leaves — and thankfully you don't have to travel far to see some of the gorgeous foliage the city has to offer.

In fact, you don't have to travel anywhere at all (which is a good thing considering the whole pandemic situation), because the city itself is now filled with beautiful trees covered in yellow, red and orange leaves.

Take Edward Gardens, for example, the botanical garden located on the southwest corner of Leslie Street and Lawrence Avenue East. The trees in the area have begun to give off that fall splendor, making it a perfect spot to take in the beautiful colours.

fall colours near toronto

The fall colours at Edward Gardens. Photo by Clement Lo

The leaves at Sunnybrook Park in North York have also begun to change, and photos of the trees show a fall-lover's paradise.

fall colours near toronto

The leaves are changing in Sunnybrook park. Photo by Clement Lo

Even Trinity Bellwoods, the park everyone loves to hate, is looking quite picture-perfect these days thanks to the changing leaves.

fall colours near toronto

Trinity Bellwoods is looking beautiful thanks to fall colours. Photo by Jeremy Gilbert

The trail around the top of the Scarborough Bluffs has also begun to transform, which will hopefully draw peoples' attention away from the dangerous cliffs for at least a short while.

fall colours near toronto

Beautiful colours on the Scarborough Bluffs trail. Photo by George Hornaday

And if you do choose to leave the city and head out further into the GTA, you'll find that even some plain old residential streets look like the backdrop for a fall rom-com thanks to the foliage.

Take this street in Markham, for example:

fall colours near toronto

Fall colours at Highglen Ave and Markham Road. Photo by Clement Lo

The colours are also pretty remarkable out in Headford right about now.

fall colours near toronto

Colours have just begun to change in Headford. Photo by Slava Poliakov

So while COVID-19 will soon force all us inside for pretty much the entire the winter season, be sure to get outdoors and take in the beauty of Toronto's fall colours before the real cold weather sets in and leaves the trees barren for the next seven months.

by Mira Miller via blogTO

Salmon are being spotted jumping from Toronto rivers

It's the onset of autumn in Toronto: the winds are cooling, the leaves are changing, the midges are swarming and the Chinook salmon are putting on a show as they spawn in local rivers.

We're currently at the height of the annual migration season for the fish, who venture upstream from Lake Ontario toward the surrounding suburbs to release their eggs.

As such, residents out hiking and enjoying nature in parts of the city have observed the creatures swimming through the Humber, Rouge, Credit and Don Rivers, among others, in recent days.

The lucky ones have even been able to catch a glimpse of the aquatic animals jumping through the rushing waters with a flourish, in all of their glory.

The leaps are a very necessary part of the journey, on which the fish have to push against the strong current and even clear major obstacles like dams. 

Fortunately, conservationists often install helpful tools such as fish ladders (yes, they're a real thing) to help the scaley boiz and gals on their journey (yes, both sexes make the trip together).

salmon torontoThousands of the salmon course through Toronto's rivers for about a month each fall, carrying their millions of eggs that can end up dozens of kilometres away.

They're quite a sight, especially with how large they are: adults average around 20 kilograms in weight and can reach more than a metre long.

The best vantage points to experience the phenomenon include the Lower Don Trail, the Glen Rouge Campground, Morningside Park, Erindale Park and Etienne Brule Park.

Unfortunately for anyone who may find themselves cheering on their fishy friends, Pacific salmon die after spawning — but their offspring will be back to do the same thing next year.

by Becky Robertson via blogTO

Marc Gasol is leaving the Toronto Raptors

It seems the Toronto Raptors are sadly losing yet another valuable and beloved team member today, because Marc Gasol has officially decided to leave the NBA and will end his basketball career playing in Spain.

According to reports from Spanish podcast host Sergi Carmonetti, Gasol, who is originally from Spain, has signed a contract with FC Barcelona and will return to his home country for the remainder of his sports career.

Gasol first signed with the Raptors in 2019 and has made fans undeniably proud over the past two seasons.

Raptors fans are meanwhile taking to social media to share their fondest memories of Gasol's time with the team, and there's no question that he'll be missed by many in Toronto.

Some fans are reminscing about the enthusiasm with which he celebrated the team's championship win last year, with a few even sharing videos of him chugging a bottle of champagne during the parade. 

Others are meanwhile thanking him for helping to lead the team to victory in 2019 and saying there's simply no way they could have done it without him.

"There's no NBA championship in Toronto without Marc Gasol. Period," wrote sports reporter Chris Walder on Twitter Wednesday afternoon. 

"His interior defense. His sheer presence in the paint. His passing around the basket and ability to stretch the floor when necessary. Forever a Raptor. Forever a champion."

by Mira Miller via blogTO

Man punched at Toronto convenience store after asking someone to wear a mask

Toronto police are looking for a man who may or may not be named Faisel after someone got punched in the face and lost some teeth in an argument over face masks.

The suspect in question is said to have entered a convenience store near Don Mills Road and Gateway Boulevard around 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18, without a mask — putting him in clear violation of Toronto's mandatory face covering bylaw.

Another customer "questioned the unknown man about not wearing a mask," according to police, and an altercation ensued.

The maskless man ended up punching the other guy in the face, breaking some of his teeth, and is now being sought as the suspect in an assault causing bodily harm investigation.
toronto mask fight

The suspect, seen here, was wearing a light sweater and light jeans at the time of the attack. Images via Toronto Police.

Police released security camera footage on Wednesday in the hopes of someone recognizing the puncher, who is described as "22-23 years, brown skin, tall, black hair, wearing brown clothing, spoke Dari, and was possibly called Faisel."

This isn't the first mask-related freakout we've seen in Toronto since the city's new COVID-inspired bylaw came into effect on June 7, but it may be the first physical fight involving an outbreak of fisticuffs.

One man destroyed a display shelf at Pizza Pizza in July, for instance, while raging about another customer's lack of mask usage. Another man responded to a question about masks with a racist tirade at T&T Supermarket.

With coronavirus case numbers rising quickly again and people in Toronto more adamant than ever about wearing their face masks, it stands to reason that this won't be the last such scuffle we see.

by Lauren O'Neil via blogTO

This is how Toronto restaurants and bars are reacting to new restrictions

Toronto bars and restaurants were recently ordered to impose an 11 p.m. last call under new restrictions, much to the frustration of many who argue they make most of their money after that time of night.

Lloyd's on Queen posted a photo of Eileen de Villa to their Instagram story recently with the text "We're not going to shut down bars and restaurants. We're just going to create a scenario where it's nearly impossible to stay in business," tagging de Villa and several media outlets.

It's not the first time they've spoken out against the curfew on social media, posting a photo of a sandwich board reading "come in for a drink, unless you're Doug Ford" with the caption "Open until midnight because 'nothing good happens after midnight,'" attributing the quote to Doug Ford but it was actually Toronto Mayor John Tory's words on the earlier closing times.

"I feel as though all bars are being punished all across the province due to the wrongdoings of a few. King West comes to mind. John Tory has repeatedly mentioned that bars and restaurants who are playing by the rules are not significantly contributing to the rise in cases," says Ryan Lucier, owner of Lloyd's.

"So why do I lose my most profitable hours of operation? I have been playing by the rules since day one, and so have a lot of other businesses. Yet, we're being vilified. The very first day of 11 p.m. curfew I looked at my Instagram stories and after the bar, people just ended up going to house parties."

He feels the spread of infection would actually be more easily curbed at bars, where rules and sanitation practices are in place, and that the city and province are letting bars operate to pretend to be pro-business while restricting the most profitable hours. 

According to Lucier, Lloyd's is busiest between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Rachel Conduit and Mike Reynolds of Farside echo that those are their busiest hours as well. They recently posted on social media they'd be open earlier for "fuck it hour" from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

"It's limiting our ability to generate enough income to stay afloat. Cutting three hours off the end of our service means we need to make our earlier hours busier. And in the current climate, bars and restaurants shouldn't be 'busy.' I would say most bars and restaurants have been following the safety precautions very well," they wrote in a statement.

"This 11 p.m. curfew insinuates that we aren't capable of keeping everyone safe and distanced. Instead of a blanket curfew, I think bars and restaurants would appreciate an inspection based system. Just like Alcohol and Gaming officers come into establishments to ensure rules and protocol are being followed, Toronto health could do the same."

They think operators would appreciate knowing if they're on the right track or could use improvement in terms of safety protocols, and that fingers are being pointed at restaurants, bars and young people going out right now while many other factors might be ignored.

"On a social level, the curfew is a deterrent for all night life, sending the message that going out to eat or drink is irresponsible. That social fear is going to have a huge effect on bars and restaurants. We don't want to have to compel people to take risks," wrote Conduit and Reynolds.

Chez Nous owner and operator Laura Carr shares Lucier's concerns about people going off to unattended parties after bars close early, saying "the latest restrictions seem pretty short-sighted," and "drinkers are going to drink regardless of when you tell them to stop."

"Driving them out of places where at least there's someone, i.e. bar staff, keeping an eye on the social distancing/mask wearing/etc is only going to drive people to gather at house parties or illegal after-hours or doorsteps or wherever," says Carr.

She says most of her customers around the hours of 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. are non-rowdy industry types stopping in for a quiet drink on their way home from work, and argues that if we want to keep up social distancing bars should actually be open longer so people aren't pressured to cram into spaces all during one set of hours.

"It seems glaringly obvious to me that the people who make the rules have no real sense of how the industry functions," says Carr, discouraged by the constant uncertainty she lives with as a small business owner. "This makes it impossible to plan, or project, or even do simple day-to-day things like order stock."

Carr says the analogy she's come up with is that being a business owner right now is kind of like training to play baseball and then being told you're going to play cricket. The effect this curfew is having on independent bars is a reminder that we still have a long way to go before getting back to anything resembling "normal."

by Amy Carlberg via blogTO