DECA’s Veteran Drivers, Scene 9 (last but not least…)

Veggies

Cath in a broccoli costume promoting the Farmers’ Market (with Rebecca!)

If you live in this neighbourhood, your life has likely been bettered by Catherine Porter.  Her colicky baby had her walking  the neighbourhood at all hours nearly a decade ago, and where many would have called their real estate agents and packed up for the Beaches, Cath saw an opportunity to make real and positive change here.  Thank goodness she did.

You know our pop-up shop initiative? (The one that has lowered vacancy rates on our stretch of the Danforth from 17% to 9% in a couple of years) It was Cath’s idea. You know the East Lynn Farmers’ Market? She helped to start it. This year she spearheaded a new social justice group. All of this while writing a regular column in a major newspaper (that rhymes with “afar”) and raising two kids.

Cath always says that DECA is special because we were the first (only?) residents’ association formed to do something, not to stop or oppose something.  We are for positive change, and Cath helped shape that.

Catherine possesses a rare and special combination of passion, honesty and tenacity that draws people in, and yet she is also the first one to roll up her sleeves and pitch in however she can.  She’s really funny and kind too. We are so lucky to have her in our midst.

Here is the phenomenal CATHERINE PORTER in her own words:

My name and age is…

Catherine Porter, and I am eternally 39. (Her driver’s licence says 42)

One thing people don’t know about me is…

While most of you think of me as entrenched in our neighbourhood, I am happiest as a stranger in a strange land. My family and I moved back last September from Senegal, West Africa where we spent a year. At 30, I spent a year living in Ladakh, India. I’ve also lived in Cuenca Ecuador, Montpellier France, Montreal and Vancouver.

I moved to Danforth East …

Eleven years ago this summer. My husband Graeme and I were living in a dreadfully hot warren of an apartment on the second floor of one of those rambling houses in the Annex, and I considered myself a west-end girl. I’d only been as far as Woodbine in high school to visit my friend Tanya. As it turns out, Tanya bought a house a few blocks from where we live on Keystone Ave. We came to visit her and noticed a house for sale. That was it. We were east-enders.

One change I’ve seen over the years….

I know so many more people. When we started this group, a guy from the Parkdale Residents Association graciously agreed to drive across town and give us some tips. One thing he said really stuck with me: His group had been working on the issue of street drugs, street sex work and terrible derelict landlords. Six years later, he said all those issues were still the norm in Parkdale. But he no longer really noticed them because when he walked down the street, he kept bumping into people he knew and had met through the residents’ association…. I feel that way. Plus, you can pretty much walk to everything you need now in our neighbourhood, which is a huge change.

My advice to new neighbours is… 

Be the change you want to see. Gandhi said that, and if it was good enough for Gandhi, it’s good enough for Danforth East. If you see a problem, suggest a way to fix it. If you have a dream to make this place better, get together with a few friends and neighbours and get it started. We started DECA as a group of neighbours around my dining room table, with noting but enthusiasm and wine. Join us or do it yourself and let us advertise for you!

The thing I love most about Danforth East is…

The East Lynn Farmers’ Market. I love the campiness and friendliness of it. When we started it, we decided to feed the farmers’ home-cooked meals before they left for home. A giant crew of volunteer cooks joined us and they still whip up giant pots of stew and pasta each week. That sets the tone of the market I think – unaffected, kind, fun. I set my kids free there, and have since they were babies. They know so many people in our neighbourhood, and so many people know them, I know they are being watched. It feels like a village, which I love.

My biggest local pet peeve is…

The derelict blocks where there is nothing but brick walls, empty storefronts and stores with nothing but dusty plants in the window. It makes me feel like we live in a ghost town. I also hate the giant parking lots, which are almost always empty. They create dead zones. When Paul Bedford said he thinks we should approach the owners of some and demand development there, my brain almost exploded. What an idea! Let’s do that….

My neighborhood secret is…  

Running at night. It is such a great way to learn about your neighbourhood – the best gardens, the best Christmas displays, the most elaborate home renovations, the homes with swings on the porches where couples sit and chat. There is a house on Mortimer with a rock garden that I covet. There’s a house on Beck with a giant tree, and a tiny mouse door at the trunk. And truly, if you haven’t gone down into Taylor Creek Park, you are really robbing yourself.

The place I go in DECA’s stomping grounds that you’ve likely never frequented is…

Well, you’ve likely heard of them if you are reading this blog. So, I’ll go back to a standard: Seb’s Cappuccino (1928 Danforth, ). From the outside, it can seem a little intimidating – packed with loud Italian men. I started to go to Seb’s because it was the only place, other than Coffee Time, to get a coffee around here when we first moved in. The guys turned out to be friendly, particularly Seb and his older brother Mateo. They always greet me like I’m a long lost friend.  And truly, you can’t get a more beautiful and cheaper latte in this city. My kids and I go there regularly to play foosball.

(Check out 2009 this article when DECA’s Business Revitalization Team, led by Cath, made over Seb’s!)

The thing I’ve done as a DECA board member that makes me most proud is…

I was at a giant microcredit conference in the fall for work. A woman I’d never met rushed up to me and gushed, “Are you Catherine Porter?” I figured she was a Toronto Star fan. Or maybe a fan of my mother, who his an author. But no, she was a DECA fan. “I want to start a pop-up shop. I’m so excited to meet you and hear about DECA.” I realized, the small little group of neighbours has become an empire! (Okay, an entity at least.) What makes me proudest, really, is the number of people doing really exciting things with DECA whom I don’t know and have nothing to do with.

This year, I hope to finally…

Transition off the Board. I’ve been part of DECA since it started. It’s time to make way for new folks with fresh ideas.

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