top toronto news stories 2009

The Top 10 Toronto News Stories of 2009

The top Toronto news stories from 2009 are certainly cause for reflection.

It's been quite the eventful year for Toronto. From union action and garbage heaps in public parks, to wild storms and tornadoes touching down, to Transit City triumphs and hurdles, protests that went too far, a virus that didn't go all that far, and more.

Here's a look at the top 10 news stories that captivated us all in 2009.

1. Mayor Miller Nixes Bid for Third Term

Even his most bitter opponents were surprised when David Miller announced in late September that he wouldn't be in the running for next year's municipal elections. Some say that it was the garbage strike that tarnished his image, or the costly concessions made to city employees that brought that strike to an end; whatever it was, it was enough to convince the mayor and his advisors that it couldn't be overcome or forgotten in the year-plus between Miller's announcement and voting day. Nobody, in all frankness, actually believes that the mayor is really walking away to spend more time with his family.

mayor miller

The news led to a few conspicuously qualified celebrations of Miller's tenure in office, but not as many as expected, underlining the disappointment many people felt with the mayor. With typical but unearned kindness, Torontonians chose not to revive memories of the victorious Miller brandishing his broom -- the prop he used to announce his vow to make a "clean sweep" of a City Hall considered rife with corruption and backroom politicking in the wake of the Lastman years. Nobody believes that any of that promise has been fulfilled, but since Miller's legacy will likely be costly yet overdue projects like Transit City and the renovation of Union Station, a more appropriate symbol of the Miller mayoralty -- especially in light of the garbage strike that seemed to have ended it -- would probably be an air freshener.

2. The Great Summer Garbage Strike

I'll remember the summer of 2009 for two things: it was the year we bought our first home, which was fortuitous, because it meant we had a shabby but empty garage to store the many bags of garbage and recycling we accumulated over the five weeks that city public service workers were on strike, while the deep freeze left behind by the previous owner was used to store our organic kitchen waste in dense, heavy balls of ice, eggshells, orange peels, expired cold cuts and rotting lettuce.

garbage strike

Anyone lacking these conveniences had no choice but to store their household waste in their backyards or alleyways, where they provided a festering feast for the city's rodents, rumoured to have undergone a population explosion. Alternately, you could haul your trash to one of the emergency dumps that took over parking lots, basketball and tennis courts in the city's parks, obliging you to run picket lines of strikers. When it was all over, the clean up meant garbage trucks working overtime, leaving a foul trail of liquid effluence in the midsummer heat up the middle of our street.

3. Michael Bryant And Bike Courier Darcy Allan Sheppard

There are YouTube videos you can watch, but it's still not entirely clear what really happened when former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant killed bike courier Darcy Sheppard with his Saab convertible near the intersection of Bloor and Avenue Road. Allegations that both Sheppard and Bryant had been drinking quickly surfaced, though Bryant quickly disappeared behind the firewall provided by his handlers, emerging just long enough to resign his position as head of Invest Toronto, the city's economic development agency.

Perhaps there will be some answers when Bryant comes to trial in the new year, but the one fact that we can generally agree on is that a slim frame of aluminum, steel and rubber doesn't stand much of a chance against a 1.8 ton car -- a fact that Bryant, who led a public campaign against street racers, was likely to have understood.

4. St. Clair LRT (Almost) Finished

There are still months to go before streetcars on the St. Clair LRT line will be able to complete the run to the end of the line at Gunn's Loop by Keele, but the opening of the line to Lansdowne just before Christmas announced to the city that the job was nearly complete -- several years overdue, and after much suffering by local merchants. That's the good news -- the bad news is that the Transit City plan has LRT routes set to be built along Eglinton, Jane, Finch West and Sheppard East, in Scarborough and along the waterfront.

st.clair lrt

Here's hoping that we've learned from St. Clair's mistakes, but if the track work going on along Roncesvalles is anything to go by -- keeping in mind that it's far less ambitious than an LRT right-of-way -- we could be in for years of business, traffic and pedestrian pain all across the city. The city has decided that subways are no longer in our future, though it might have been nice to have a debate on the subject. In related news, the new year will bring us a TTC fare hike; at least no one's still calling it The Better Way.

5. City Wins 2015 Pan Am Games

The smart money was on Lima, though Bogota was the underdog, but Toronto ended up winning the bid to host the 2015 Pan Am Games -- a deeply discounted consolation prize after losing out on the 2008 Olympics, and along with our winning bid for 2014 World Pride, a further part of David Miller's legacy. The city was promised that the province would be on the hook if (some would say when) it all goes over budget, but since Toronto was still part of Ontario the last time we looked, we'll still end up paying the bill. The good news is that it's supposed to mean accelerated completion of at least two LRT lines and a firm go on the development of the West Donlands for an athlete's village; the bad news is that almost no one watches the Pan Am Games.

6. Humane Society Raid

Animal welfare societies were among the last public institutions untarnished by scandal, but that came to an end here in November when the Toronto Humane Society's River Street headquarters were raided and THS president Tim Trow and four senior staff were charged with animal cruelty. The story that emerged was horrific -- cats and dogs left to suffer and die because hardline animal rights ideologues had taken over and alienated longtime staff and supporters. Public trust was shaken, and adoptions from the THS' satellite centre are down; suddenly pet stores and puppy mills, so long vilified, didn't seem as onerous.

7. H1N1 Vaccine Lineups

Maybe it was because folks were washing their hands, but the only thing that seemed to have prevented this fall's flu outbreak from turning into a pandemic disaster was the relative mildness of the bug itself. Public vaccination certainly didn't go well -- after some tragic early deaths encouraged the media to whip up public hysteria, the roll-out of public vaccination clinics was spotty, and well-publicized lineups dampened eagerness. There's no way to quantify such a thing, but faced with hours-long lines, parents of young children probably decided to stay at home, despite the apparent danger the H1N1 virus posed to young people.

h1n1 toronto

The bug itself was even a disappointment; the worst part of my two-week convalescence was a headache, a secondary lung infection, and the endless, listless hours I spent watching daytime television.

8. Tamil Protesters On The Gardiner

While the Sri Lankan government ended their long civil war against the Tamil Tigers, the city's Tamil community took to the streets in March. By May they were occupying stretches of the Gardiner Expressway as the military offensive in Sri Lanka closed in on the last pocket of LTTE guerillas fighting on the island.

While it might have made the conflict in Sri Lanka more relevant to Toronto motorists at the very least, it did little to attract widespread sympathy to the Tamil cause.

9. Weird Weather

Lightning storms over Toronto in August, tornados in Vaughan the same month and all over the province all summer -- this year's local weather might have seemed like it had been directed by Roland Emmerich.

toronto lightning storm 2009

Maybe we've had weather on our minds a bit too much lately -- the steady playing out of the "global warming" meme toward pet rock/mood ring/streaking status as cultural mania probably played a factor -- or maybe it's just our Canadian tendency to steer the conversation toward a topic upon which we can all agree.

10. Winter Power Outage

Anyone blessed with insomnia could have told you that the city was suffering from brief blackouts for much of last winter, but unlike the brief outages that made you reset your digital clocks, the blackout that engulfed most of the west end in mid-January was a real inconvenience. As temperatures reached -15C, a water pipe burst in the Dufferin and Bloor power complex shared by Toronto Hydro and Hydro One; workers shut off the transformers to prevent them from exploding, depriving an area stretching from Queen to St. Clair of power for almost two days.

Like much of the city's infrastructure, the power grid is in need of refurbishment, and one mayoral candidate has promised he'd sell Toronto Hydro. Until then, no one living in older parts of the city can deny that they'll make it through another winter without spending at least a few hours freezing in the dark.

Mayor Miller photo by danepstein.
Garbage strike photo by severes-babylone.
Lightning photo by Toronto Paul.

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