Iskotew Iskwew: Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl

by JaneFairburn on July 22, 2021

Hello all,

I’d like to share news about the recent publication of a Cree poetry collection, written by lawyer Francine Merasty, and published by BookLand Press. I was honoured to write the Foreword to the book.

Iskotew Iskwew: Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl illuminates Francine’s lived experience in this extraordinary project we call Canada/Kanata — her life at the Pelican Narrows Reserve in the 1980s, her memories of her close and loving family, together in the wilderness, and her experiences as a residential school survivor.

Francine Merasty, July 2021

I’m just back from Saskatchewan, where Francine, her Uncle Wil and I celebrated the publication, and continued our own journey of reconciliation. Check out the CBC television interview we did on July 18th, 2021 that brings voice to our journey!


Infrastructure Transformed to Art

by JaneFairburn on October 9, 2020

Imagine a time in Toronto’s not-so-distant past – the first fledgling years of the 1900s – when the water that flowed out of the taps could kill you. Go farther. Imagine the city as a random assemblage of former hamlets and villages, with no common civic fabric. In many sections, residents hobbled home from work on little more than dirt tracks, loosely connected to arterial roads.

Many folk lived out their lives in cramped quarters in the city’s downtown core, bereft of leisure facilities and the psychological relief that wide-open public space affords. Transportation services were held ransom to private interests, and Toronto’s invisible geography of ravines and sunken-river valleys left residents in developing parts of the city stranded and unable to imagine, let alone access, life in the urban core. Petty criminals served out long sentences in Dickensian prisons, without hope of rehabilitation.

These would be some of the challenges faced by Toronto’s first Commissioner of Works and greatest city builder, Roland Caldwell Harris, who was responsible for much of the foundational infrastructure that underpins modern Toronto. His capacious vision for the city gave us many of our most beautiful and important public structures and open spaces, including the iconic Waterworks in the Beach district, the Prince Edward (Bloor Street) Viaduct that spans the Don River, and Sir Winston Churchill Park, whose subterranean passages contain the St. Clair Reservoir.

R. C. Harris with the Saturday Evening Post, likely in the Beach district’s Kew Park. Family photo album, CTA F432

Despite his importance to the development of Toronto, Harris remains an enigmatic figure and his contributions to the city are under recognized and little celebrated. (Some may recognize R. C. Harris as one of the characters in Michael Ondaatje’s novel, In the Skin of a Lion. The book, though luminous, inaccurately portrays Harris as an ego-driven autocrat.)

R. C. Harris and his wife, Alice (neé) Ingram in front of their residence on Neville Park Avenue, which in the early years had an unobstructed view to the site that would later be developed as the Waterworks.

I was privileged to be involved in the creation of a plaque that memorializes R. C. Harris through the Toronto Legacy Project. You can read more about the legacy of R. C. Harris and my involvement here.

For those of you who wish to learn more (and I hope you do!), please check out this wonderful profile by leading Harris expert, Spacing Toronto’s John Lorinc. (Reprinted with permission. Originally published in Spacing Magazine (2006).)

Finally, a word about the critically acclaimed Spacing Toronto Magazine – for close to twenty years, it’s been producing in-depth articles from a wide range of perspectives on urbanism and the public realm for the Toronto scene. Consider picking up a yearly subscription here, for the price of four Starbucks coffees – I recently did!




City Hick 3.0
Sustainable Agriculture: Reimagining Our Relationship to the Land

September 25, 2020

Septembers in Ontario, like the vine, are perennially bittersweet. Children, still kissed by the summer sun, hasten off to the serious business of school. Routine and order reign, as parents get down to the task of making a living. Cooler days give way to blacker evenings and the certainty of hard frost, while maple leaves […]

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City Hick 2.0: Muir Bogs and Belonging

June 8, 2020

Gardens, hen and hoop house, Meadowcliffe Bluff. © Jane Fairburn, 2020. Come to think of it, I’m pretty much sure I’ve always been a city hick. Like many Canadians, my story of ‘back to the land’ is rooted in the experiences of my ancestors and married to the policies of British Imperialism and colonization that […]

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A Tribute to Ted English 1928-2020, and Further Information on the Legacy of the Hanlan and Durnan Families of Toronto Island

May 25, 2020

This tribute was written by Richard MacFarlane, 45-year rowing veteran and historian, and member of the Hanlan Boat Club, Cherry Beach, Toronto. The story of the Hanlan and Durnan families, including a 2013 blog I authored with Ted’s assistance, may also be found in a series of links below. Ted English, present-day. A 1948 graduate […]

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City Hick: Pandemics, Broken Dryers and Back to the Land

April 12, 2020

First of all, the dryer went on the fritz. That’s a key piece of infrastructure in a pandemic — especially when you and your spouse are self-isolating with four young adults. So being the practical type, and quite frankly, with few other options, I bought a clothesline. But not one of those $19.99 specials from […]

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“Tír gan Teanga, Tír gan Anam”: Ireland and the Language of the Land

November 29, 2018

Irish revolutionary Pádraig Pearse said, “Tír gan Teanga, Tír gan Anam.” In English, “A country without a language is a country without a soul.” Irish, the native tongue of Ireland, continues in the present to be poignantly expressed in the mythology, poetry and language of the land. 18th and 19th century Irish immigrants to Ontario […]

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Longing for the Land: Greenwood. Rock. River. Field.

August 12, 2018

 I had the pleasure of visiting David and Louise Bazett-Jones in May of 2018. They run a small organic farm in Prince Edward County, and appear in this video with Natalia Shields, the photographer for Moorlands: An Ancestral Memoir of Loss and Belonging. We covered many topics relating to the project, including the Bazett-Jones’s […]

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Saving Grey Abbey Beach: Progress, At Last

June 2, 2018

I’m very happy to report that significant progress was made on the preservation of Grey Abbey Beach at the City’s Executive Committee on May 14, 2018. The beach, located directly to the east of Guildwood Park, was slated for destruction as part of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Scarborough Waterfront Project. The Committee has […]

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Sinfonia Toronto — Toronto Hunt, with Jane Fairburn

May 22, 2018

I’m on the Board of Sinfonia Toronto, one of the city’s premier chamber orchestras. See: A fundraiser for the orchestra is taking place at the Toronto Hunt on June 21, 2018 — I hope you’ll consider joining me. Please click on the link below to order tickets. Order tickets here

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