What defines “public” and how we are part of the public are an ongoing theme of our group discussions. We became aware of the fact that street naming in Toronto is anything but inclusive for women of all colors and backgrounds. Streets, however, form a huge proportion of our urban experience and public spaces.
We therefore studied the street naming policies of Toronto and based on the guidelines we submitted a proposal to name a small, insignificant and pretty ugly lane that runs parallel to Queen St. West into “Miss Toronto Promenade”. Our several attempts to receive an answer to our proposal have so far been unsuccessful.
W. Kowalenko, City Surveyor
Technical Services, Survey and Mapping
18 Dyas Road, 4th Floor
Toronto,ON M3B 1V5
September 26, 2008
Dear W. Kowalenko;
RE: Application for Street Name
The names of many Toronto streets are a rich record of the city’s history which, however, disproportionately focuses on the significance of male public figures. On behalf of the Ditchwitch Brigade, I would like to propose renaming an alley – north of Queen Street West, running East/West between Lansdowne Avenue and Roncesvalles Avenue – in Parkdale to Miss Toronto Promenade. By doing so, we will honour and recover the contributions of all Toronto’s women – both past and present – in order to be written into the female-shaped voids of the monolithic, patriarchal, and exclusionary construction of our street-naming history. Miss Toronto will act as a trace for the Parkdale neighbourhood to the halcyon past of the Sunnyside amusement park and its beauty competitions that marked a breakthrough for many of our working class women into the public sphere. A predominant event throughout the Depression Era, the Miss Toronto beauty pageant was a significant cultural event in Toronto’s pre-Second World War history
Miss Toronto also gestures toward the present and possible futures of our city’s young women. While the term “Miss” historically has constituted gender and social discrimination marking a young woman as not entitled to a higher title (read: position in society), present women are embracing this term rather than “Ms” because it has not lost sight of the “I”, which is a political, self-reflexive state referring to and recognizing the importance of one’s self and “I”dentity. As such, “Miss” is a potential means of empowerment for all women and all those who identify as such. Moreover, the name gestures toward the male community as a number of men in Toronto participate in drag shows in which they perform various “feminine” identities.
Miss Toronto transcends generational, class, race, and sex divisions in its proposed inclusivity and fluidity. Parkdale, as a community of endless diversity with an office dedicated to intercultural understanding and programming – women’s culture notwithstanding – is home to many “Miss Torontos” who would gain much by seeing their contributions and position in the public space affirmed and recognized. So too would their sisters residing in Toronto’s other neighbourhoods.
Jacqueline C.D. Taucar
On behalf of the Ditchwitch Brigade