Pan Am torch comes to Jane-Finch


Francis Atta and Sharon Joseph carry torch to and from Driftwood Community Centre


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By David Ros

On a sunny Wednesday morning, dozens of people gathered in front of Driftwood Community Centre eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Pan Am Games torch relay.

Before Cirque du Soleil's mesmerizing performance in the opening ceremonies July 10.  Before a torrent of Canadian medals right out of the gate caused many Torontonians, cynical from the increased traffic strain on many of the city's major routes caused by the games' temporary HOV lanes, to embrace the competition, the Pan Am spirit was alive and well in our community.

It was a joyous atmosphere on July 8 when people young and old burst into applause at the arrival of the Pan Am torch carried in front of the community centre by Francis Atta.

“I literally felt like I was a part of the flame just burning up, the feeling was overwhelming,” Atta, said. “It was an amazing feeling just being able to inspire the people in my neighbourhood and just being able to be selected, I'm still overwhelmed, and that image is going to stay in my head for the rest of my life.”

Atta, a youth worker and motivational speaker, ran a loop around the front of the community centre before handing off the torch to Sharon Joseph, who continued down Driftwood Ave., turning south down Jane St., before handing off the torch once again on its way to Yorkgate Mall where a community barbeque was held.

“I felt on top of the world,” Joseph, a community advocate, said of her experience. “I felt a good thing has come to Jane and Finch, because of all the years we worked so hard for that peace and that unity and to see all the community members come out to support something like this, I feel so wonderful.”

Relay began in Mexico

The local stop on the torch relay, which began in Teotihuacan, Mexico in April and ended when basketball player Steve Nash lit the Pan Am torch at the foot of the CN Tower on July 10, was organized by the Jane-Finch Pan Am Games host committee, formed among a number of community organizations to organize community events to coincide with the games, including this one.

Lorna Schwartzentruber, manager of the York University – TD Community Engagement Centre, and co-chair of the Jane-Finch Pan Am Games Host Committee, said that pulling together the event was a bit of a challenge, citing a lack of significant funding from the city of Toronto and the lack of available space as two challenges faced by organizers.

The rally itself had to take place on the front lawn of the Driftwood Community centre because the city was unable to provide access to the facility due to a day camp which serves more than 250 local children.

“It's been a great day, I think it's been a really fabulous event and the goddesses of the weather have blessed us and there's been a great turnout,” Schwartzentruber said. “This [event] was really pulled together by Winston LaRose who co-chairs the host committee along with myself, really, the whole point has been to showcase Jane-Finch as a vibrant, dynamic community and to start to help to shift the narrative that happens, in the media and around the city about what Jane-Finch is.”

The Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games hold a particular significance in this community with some of the games' marquee events happening right in the neighbourhood.

The track and field competition will be held at the brand new CIBC Pan Am and Para Pan Am athletics stadium at York University, built especially for the games and tennis, which will be held at the Canadian Tennis Centre, also at York.

Games legacy likely won't create long term jobs

Schwartzentruber said that while the games will definitely leave a legacy on the community, she's not sure what, if any, positive economic benefit they will provide.

“The key priorities around economic development around cultural celebration and athleticism was an area that the [host committee] really wanted to focus these activities around,” Scwartzentruber said. “Hopes that there would be jobs for community members, hopes that York would kind of open their space to community, they're not sure of what that would mean now to have the legacy Pan Am Stadium at York, what will that mean in terms of schools who have no tracks or undeveloped tracks and great athletes.

“Are there opportunities there that the local community can benefit from these resources, and that hasn't been sorted out yet.”

According to Schwartzentruber, the Pan Am Games likely won't do much to bring more long term jobs to Jane-Finch, but that the legacy will be more one of community togetherness.

“These kind of events are really important in terms of strengthening our community's narrative and strengthening how it can work together,” she said.

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