Accidental Activist


How many times have we seen this happen? Main Street, Quaint Town, Ontario becomes, well, Anytown USA.

By Ben Bull
Published January 27, 2006

A couple of years back, my filthy rich football friend Phil moved into a new pad in the heart of Toronto's Cabbagetown. Like most ex-Pat's I know, Phil's choice of location was heavily swayed by the proximity of one very important amenity: the pub.

Phil's local is, or rather was, The Duke of Westminster on Parliament. Now, I'm not one for poetic portraits of buildings, that's more Trevor Shaw's sort of thing, but I can say this about the Duke – it's a stunner.

More importantly for Phil, this pub was the focus of his neighbourhood - a central point where all of his well-to-do friends could go and compare stock prices and salaries and cell phones on a Friday night.

But not anymore. Last winter, the owners left the building. Now Tim Horton's is moving in.

"So what?" you may say. Phil the Yuppie can still hang out there. He can trade stock tips over coffee instead of Caffrey's – what's the difference?

Well - a lot. And it's not just the beer.

Phil's missus, Allie, explained it best when I was walking with her to the bus stop the other day. "What do you make of it all?" I asked, expecting her to bemoan the imposition of Corporate America (and don't give me this Baloney about Tim Horton's being Canadian!) .

"The thing that upsets me the most," she began, "Is the homogeneousness of it all."

"The homogenousn…what?" I asked, searching for my mental dictionary.

"Everything just looks the same," she replied, "Cabbagetown is losing a landmark and gaining, well – another Tim Horton's."

She was right. I knew it.

How many times have we seen this happen? Jack's Café calls it quits and Captain Starbucks moves in and begins another Main Street assimilation. Main Street, Quaint Town, Ontario becomes, well, Anytown USA.

Before I moved into Dundas, I found myself talking to one of the local booksellers about the 'blight of globalization' (don't ask me how I get into these discussions – I'd only called to order the latest Harry Potter…).

He told me this story:

"I was traveling across the States by Greyhound a few years back, and I fell asleep on the bus. I woke up in the center of a town, and didn't know where I was. I tried not to panic, and looked around instead for a sign, a landmark – anything to tell me where the hell we were. And all I saw, as we drove along, was Walmart, McDonald's, Starbucks. I was lost."

I remember the birth of McDonald's in the UK, the palpable sense of excitement in my home town of Leeds, when we first heard the news that Ronald the Clown was coming to town.

I also recall the time I visited a College Campus in High Wycombe – a small town just north of London. "Is there anything to do here?" I asked the Dean, wondering if small town life was really for me.

"Well," he replied, scratching his head, "we have a McDonalds!"

He was serious. Back then the arrival of the gangly clown, the beardy Colonel or 'Uncle' Sam Walton meant only one thing – you'd arrived.

These days, with the anti-Wal-Mart movement and the ongoing demise of Main Streets everywhere, I would like to think that Corporate assimilation is on the decline.

But then I call my friend Phil and ask him where he'd like to meet.

"I don't know," he says. "Anywhere is fine."

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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