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Ed Sundukovsky shares stories from Toronto’s West End

We live in a pretty diverse neighborhood in Toronto. Parkdale has had a reputation for exemplifying many social issues including high crime and drug abuse rates as well as a marginalized lower middle class. These and other factors have contributed to making the rents low, drawing a larger than average immigrant population from some very poor and impoverished countries. Families that want a better life in the land of the “Strong and Free” come here for a fresh start.

I’m all for people starting over in Canada. Both my mother and father came to Canada with very little, fleeing communist Russia with essentially no money, having to bribe their way out of the “Iron Curtain.” When they finally landed on Canadian soil, they didn’t have two nickels to rub together. The only thing they brought with them was a strong work ethic. My dad at one point drove a cab, delivered pizzas and sold watermelons just to make ends meet before he learned to speak English well enough to get a white collar job. My mother who was proficient enough in English got a job in a hair salon.

They moved into a area of Toronto called North York, affectionately known as Little Odessa by its inhabitants. Eventually they decided to have a family. Soon after, my sister Diana was born, followed by me five years later. When Diana was school-aged, my folks did something unexpected. They registered her in a school that was an hour away from our apartment, in another neighborhood called Willowdale. They did the same with me when I was finally old enough to go to school. It was a long commute every morning but my mom and dad insisted that we both go there, instead of to the school in our own district with the other kids from the neighborhood. Whenever either one of us asked why we had to travel such a long way to school, we would always get the same answer: “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

They believed they were keeping us safe from the negative influence of the (other immigrants) people that lived in Little Odessa. These are their people and they tried to keep us away from them. My ‘rents didn’t let me play with any of the local kids. I always hated that. I felt like a huge cultural piece of me was hidden away. Like it was bad to be a Russian from little Odessa. That might have worked with Diana but it couldn’t have been further from the truth for me. I gravitated towards trouble, or fun as I called it, while my sister was a star student and athlete, but the most vanilla white bread person I could think of, a real square. I didn’t know shit back then, but I knew this, it had nothing to do with geography. It was a question of character more than anything. My parents and I fought over who I would hang out with. They tried so hard. But I had my own plans.

Now, I’m a parent on the cusp of sending my own kids to school, only I’m not sending them to a “better” school out of district to limit the bad influence on them. My wife and I are teaching Sophia how to make her own choices about who would be a good friend and who wouldn’t. We are giving her the benefit of doubt when it comes to how and who she decides to play with. It may not be the ideal way to play it, but we are steadfast in our beliefs that she is a capable young lady who knows the difference between right and wrong. If she happens to mess up along the way, well, kids these day, right? But Kris and I will never take away her right to choose for herself. This is what’s going to make her a strong woman in adulthood. We are going to let her make mistakes. Building character is about choices.

Sophia starts her first day of full day school on September 6. I’m terrified and excited all at once. To Sophia its no big deal; to us, it’s monumental.

Ed Sundukovsky is a butcher living in Toronto’s West End with his wife and two daughters. You can read more from Ed at his blog Big Sexy Dummy and on Twitter @bigsexydummy.

Photo by cinziaborello via Flickr

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