From One of the Front-Lines

For years we have been using #justanotherdayatthedale, mostly to describe the events that, outside of our context, might be difficult to relate to or sometimes even believe. We are accustomed to being a transient church and organization, one that literally does not have our own walls. As such, we regularly need to get creative about how we do things.

During this new age of COVID-19 we are fortunate to feel comfortable trying new ways of providing food and connection to our community, one that already knows too much social distance because of poverty or addiction or mental health challenges. On Sunday a small number of us gathered in a circle outside the church we usually meet in, more than arms-length apart from one another to sing, pray, and share gratitude and concerns. On Monday we screened people at the door of the drop-in space we use each week, set up a hand washing station in the foyer, and placed chairs the appropriate distance apart in the main area. Food was cooked, safely served by only three people, and consumed outdoors. Today, bagged breakfasts will be given out at the door of the Health Centre we usually meet in for breakfast and art making.

Through the week we have also been asking community members to fill out a survey, one that helps us to know what their biggest needs are right now and how to reach them. Some people want a phone call each day, so we are setting up a schedule for that. Others have provided an address or coordinates (if they are living outside) so that we can deliver food.

Though we know our plans could be subject to change at any time, all of these things mean The Dale can continue to operate. What it doesn’t do is help with a place to go throughout the day, or a bed to sleep in at night. With the closure of many drop-ins, all libraries, and community centres, and now, for instance, any Tim Hortons or McDonalds to sit in, there is nowhere to go if you don’t have a home. In a city where there was already a shortage of shelter beds, multiple Out-of-the-Colds had to shut down early. While the city is beginning to respond with things like an isolation site for up to 50 people and an additional 200-250 beds, it is truly not enough. The strain this puts on people is very real. Many of our friends at The Dale are clearly anxious and scared, while some are downright angry.

Organizations across the country require extra support right now, and that includes The Dale. We are very grateful to those who have already given money, made sandwiches, offered to help deliver food, are committed to praying, etc. It is amazing to be a part of such a collective effort. If you are wondering how to participate, here is a list of our needs:

  • brown paper bags for to-go meals
  • new food containers
  • grocery gift cards
  • Tim Hortons and McDonalds gift cards
  • pre-packaged snacks, e.g. granola bars
  • new socks
  • bottled water
  • hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes
  • a lot of good thoughts and prayer
  • money

A donation right now enables us to purchase any needed items ourselves. To give online go to:

In closing, this is a prayer I read just this morning and found encouragement in: “Lord, guide us to act, live, and pray as the times determine. Make our faith grow to accommodate the needs of your people and the fulfillment of your kingdom”. May each of us experience a renewing of hope and peace on this day. Amen.

Missing Person

Julie Gold is a member of The Dale community and a friend. We have recently learned that Julie has been missing for eleven days. The last time she was at The Dale was June 24th. Though from Uxbridge, Julie made the long trek to Parkdale on a regular basis (always to my amazement). There is evidence that she may currently be in the Toronto area. We join together with Julie’s family in deep concern that she be found.

We have been instructed by the police to ask the following should you have any information about Julie:

Please contact the Toronto Police at 416-808-2222, or in case of emergency, 911. This is Durham Regional Police case #18-136926. The officer in charge is Police Constable Gerritts, Badge #3521, 905-579-1520 ext 2000. PC Gerrits can also be reached by email at

Julie is 5’8″, has a medium build and shoulder length brown hair. Those are important features to know as you look. Please also know that Julie is the kind of friend who consistently encourages me to take time out for myself and regularly offers to meet for a drink (she doesn’t like coffee, but knows I do) or a lakeside walk. She is: a loyal friend and a lover of cats; can be very quiet and has a great laugh; is quick to help with the dishes and gives good hugs.

Julie: may you know deep in your core that you are loved. I hope you are safe. We all do. 36636842_10156213384211223_3177978359669850112_n





The Tragedy of Violence/The Challenge of Love

It is all over the news: a van, moving at high speeds, intentionally drove along a more than one kilometre stretch of sidewalk in Toronto’s north-end, killing ten people and injuring numerous more.

I have been thinking about this traumatic, violent event a lot. For this born and bred Toronto girl, it touches my home. I read an account of a woman who was left unscathed, while the friend walking alongside her was swept away by the van. I walk these city streets all the time…it could have just as easily been me. For too many, it WAS their loved one. Tragedy has struck close.

One of the reasons I feel so sad is that while we begin to process and grieve this incident, other incidents are already underway. There is a trail of carnage in this world. It is shockingly easy to feel as though violence will always only touch the “other”. But as Mr Rogers so aptly said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.”

So what does that even look like? I am admittedly overwhelmed. The problems seem too big, too pervasive, too bleak. And yet, there is light piercing through the darkness. It comes when people choose to listen to one another, to extend hospitality, to share resources, to weep when the other is weeping, to hold one another to account in love. We are invited to respond to one another’s needs. It isn’t easy. The best things rarely are.

Tonight I grieve for the victims here in Toronto. I pray for those left behind, the ones who saw it all happen, and the neighbourhood as a whole. I pray for the man responsible and against violence. I also pray for the many people who are intimately acquainted with tragedy across this globe. You are not simply the “other”.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13:4-7





Campfire Songs with a Happy Throng

I’d like to introduce you all to Daniel Pearce, The Dale’s Summer Student! Daniel is currently studying Film at Humber College. He is a lover of comedy: films, traditional stand-up and definitely Monty Python. Daniel enjoys all kinds of music, especially Punk Rock and Folk and is an avid reader, including poetry. Daniel recently turned 19. He calls Milton, Ontario home.

I am excited that Daniel has agreed to guest blog here during his summer with The Dale. He is quickly becoming a part of the fabric of our community and will have, I’m sure, stories to tell.

Daniel, serenading one of our youngest community members.
Daniel, serenading one of our youngest community members.

A campsite full of energetic kids and mosquitos may not sound like a fun few days to most Torontonians, but The Dale’s three night retreat to Camp Koinonia ended with an entire bus full of folks who didn’t want to go back home. And if you look at all the activities that were crammed into just a few days up at camp, it’s not hard to understand why most people would rather live in their cabin the rest of summer. From campfire stories to canoe escapades, between archery lessons, jam sessions, and enough ping-pong to make it Canada’s national sport, saying Camp Koinonia was a good time would be an understatement.

It is pretty close quarters in the Koinonia lodge, which is a very good thing, because just about everybody had a chance to interact with each other at some point. Every mealtime different people were sitting at different tables, but no matter who was sitting with whom, there was some good conversation going on. We had relatively good weather for our visit, save for a ton of rain on Tuesday. On the plus side, most people spent Tuesday together in the lodge, playing card games and catching up on World Cup soccer. It was so nice to watch people make the best out of a bad situation!

A big part of the entire trip was music, as is usually a big part of the The Dale. There were various instruments brought to the Monday night campfire, such as an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and even a ukulele! Of course, there were also a ton of voices joining in for classic campfire songs. During the day, almost any point of the day, music could be heard from the lodge. Various people tried out playing a few songs on the keyboard and guitar, but the biggest musical highlight was a big group sing-along, with a full songbook and different people playing guitar, keys and percussion!

Of course, the trip wouldn’t have even been possible without the Camp Koinonia staff, which was phenomenal the entire time we were there. Each meal was better than the last, culminating in a birthday cake served right before boarding the bus home! Staff was very friendly to all of us, and a few of them even joined some Parkdale musicians for a jam session, playing hits such as “House of the Rising Sun” and “Sweet Home Alabama”.

When you live in a city like Toronto, constantly rushing through subway platforms full of sharpened elbows and breathing in air that would make a tailpipe cough, it’s a blessing to have a few days of peace and quiet in the great outdoors. Everyone I’ve talked to was grateful for the opportunity to get away from the big city, and we’re all looking forward to another great trip to Koinonia next year!

Community Gardening

Spring is finally here and I’ve got gardening on the brain. I love getting my hands dirty. I love the way soil, fresh air and plants smell. I really love that there is a community garden in Parkdale that The Dale gets to be a part of. The garden is nestled beside a Community Centre and feels like a little oasis: when I am inside the gate I suddenly feel very far from the hustle and bustle of Queen Street.

Over the years we’ve endeavoured to grow an assortment of things to various degrees of success: tomatoes, carrots, swiss chard, lettuce, etc. We always plant a serious amount of herbs. During one of our more prolific harvests we were able to regularly send people home with packages of fresh food. I dream about being able to do that again.

I believe there is a lot that is important about community gardening. First, it reconnects people to the land: as city dwellers it can be easy to forget where our food actually comes from and gardening allows us to be in closer touch with it. Second, too often people forget the taste of fresh food because the cost can seem prohibitive or they simply have no place to store or cook it. Sharing smaller amounts of food from our own plot helps to combat this. Finally, gardening can help break down the kind of alienation that occurs when people are isolated. Gardening gets people outside where they must work cooperatively toward a common goal. There’s truly something satisfying about seeing a garden come to life.

I think we should each experience the wonderment of seeing a tiny seed buried in the ground, sprout, grow and produce fruit. Have you ever seen a child pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time? I remember the astonishment on my daughter Cate’s face when she yanked out a beautiful, long, bright orange root. I look forward to being similarly amazed this season.


Here to Thrive

Our homelessness was born out of necessity and is now one of our greatest gifts. This is the story I need to tell about The Dale.

During the early summer of 2012 The Dale moved out of what had been our home for years. We didn’t have anywhere to go, except we knew we must continue to gather as a community. I recall saying, “if we have to, we’ll host our drop-in in the park” and I meant it.

Since that time we have found new places to gather around the neighbourhood. Relationship and partnership have sustained and strengthened us. Various organizations generously opened their doors, including: St Francis Table, Sketch, Parkdale Community Health Centre, The Jeremiah Community, Epiphany and St Mark Anglican and Bonar Parkdale Presbyterian Church. We got creative and decided to meet in unexpected places such as the back of The Salvation Army Thrift Store. A home also known as Junia House became a meeting place and occasional host to Board meetings and even baking parties. We wander the streets, visit on park benches and frequent a large number of coffee shops. We host a Bible Study in a Coffee Time which has generously waived the maximum loitering limit. We are, in a word, mobile. This mobility means that the neighbourhood knows us in a whole new way and us, it.

With this in mind, it has become clear that the next step for The Dale does not include finding a building large enough to fit everything we do. We are dreaming about maybe a storefront or a small Winnebago. Either way, we will remain committed to being a presence that roams. By being a church without our own walls we have increased our visibility and yes, our viability. The money we save by not having to manage the general upkeep and day-to-day costs of a building is huge. Instead, we can use it to staff and run programming that directly impacts our community. With additional money we can do more of the same.

Are there challenges? Absolutely. I don’t carry keys (other than a few internal ones) to a single building that we use. Our storage is minimal. People need to remember where to find us on any given day. I will be the first to admit that some days my own optimism gets worn down by these limitations. Though I suspect everyone can, to some degree, relate to that feeling. The truth is, these cons pale in comparison to the very real pros of our situation, which include that our friends who know transience see that we have learned about it too; that we are working together with more and more groups; that we know our neighbours better, including residents, store owners and even the police; that we do a lot with very little.

Homelessness is not something I would hope for anyone. I long to see its end. I am grateful that The Dale can stand alongside so many who are under-housed in a different kind of solidarity now because of our own limited experience. In that sense, our homelessness is a gift. I believe too that it has led us to a clarity of vision and mission. We survived a terrible crisis and are stronger now. We are here to thrive.

City Girl

When I tell people that I was born and raised in Toronto the response is more often than not the same. And it goes like this:

Long pause.

Head cocked to the side, “really?! From TO RON TO?”.

I often use the word “incredulous” to describe the reaction. From what I can gather this response is usually born out of the belief that no one is really from this city, everyone moves here. Though sadly I know it also rooted in the wonderment that I would choose to stay.

I do not think Toronto is the centre of Canada or the world. In fact, the thought has never crossed my mind. I’m sad and sorry every time I hear people talk about this notion. Quite simply, Toronto is my home. As such, I intend to love it.

There are many things that I love: I can eat dim sum for breakfast, a burger and fries for lunch and curry for supper; I can walk along the beach and yes, even swim in the water; I can take a subway, streetcar or bus; I can take a ferry to one of three islands; I can hear great music or see beautiful theatre pretty much whenever I’m able…

Much of what I love though is really not about the amenities. I live in a great neighbourhood where I know my neighbours. When I manage to lock myself out of the house (cough) I can call a number of families who have a spare key. I can walk through Parkdale and stop to talk with people I know on every block. While caring for the PNC plot in the community garden a fellow gardener/stranger offered to water our herbs and tomatoes whenever she noticed it might be getting a little dry. I have friends who live rough outside and friends who live in large old Toronto homes. I can wander the downtown core or have a picnic in a park.

Yesterday I walked out of a grocery store in the pouring rain with a large cardboard box of food. The bottom of the box went out. 12 cans of beans rolled every which way, a jar of balsamic vinegar smashed while a shard of its glass sliced open a bag of milk. What a mess. Suddenly eight people surrounded me to help. The store manager came out and replaced the damaged food- for free. An elderly gentleman walked up and said, “a lot of people sure came to your rescue!”. This is the stuff that naysayers say never happens in the city.

I know that Toronto is far from perfect. Not everyone is polite. It can get dirty. There is violence. Those are all very human conditions that exist everywhere, including in my own heart. As a result, I intend to remain here in order to seek the peace and prosperity of the city.

I’m staying put. Just call me a Torontonian.