Atiya Jaffar Atiya Jaffar, June 22, 2015

This Blog Post was written by John Clarke, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. 

The March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate will culminate, on July 5th, will end with a celebration in Allan Gardens. A more fitting location for a struggle for a just and sustainable future is hard to imagine. For generations, this park has served as an accessible recreational space for low income and marginalized communities. Homeless and displaced people in the city have used it, and still do, as a place to survive. It has also been a site of struggle and resistance for  communities under attack. Allan Gardens has a long and rich history, which we will build upon on July 5th.

 In the early 19th Century, the whole area in which the park is located was covered by the sprawling estates of the Upper Canada Family Compact. By the 1840s, however, impoverished people fleeing the Great Famine in Ireland moved into the area. The wealthy residents subsequently moved away from the neighbourhood (seeking some distance between themselves and the poor) and this part of town took on a new character over the succeeding decades.

 In 1858, George Allan donated part of what is now Allan Gardens to the Toronto HorticulturalSociety and, in 1901, it took on its present name. Newspaper articles from the first part of the 20th Century are full of affluent indignation about the use of the park by the poor and destitute.

 The unemployed used Allan Gardens in the 1930s as a place to hold meetings. When the police banned them from using this space, a series of  free speech struggles began to take place. On August 13th, 1933, a riot broke out as 2,000 jobless workers resisted forced removal from the park.

  In the 1960s, the authorities launched a renewed effort to prevent Allan Gardens from being used as a place for community action. In response, several poets, including the famous Milton Acorn, held public readings in the park and defied silencing efforts. When Nazi groups tried to take over Allan Gardens and use it for their rallies, the community took action. On May 30th, 1965, 5,000 people mobilized to drive out a fascist gathering.

  Closer to the present, in 1999, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) set up a three day ‘Safe Park’ for the homeless that was attacked by the police and dispersed. The next year, on June 15th, Allan Gardens was the starting point for a march led by  1,500 homeless people and allies to the Ontario Legislature. In recent years, indigenous women have used Allan Gardens to demand justice for their missing and murdered sisters. Rallies have been held there to defend the rights of sex workers.

  On July 5th, when the park is filled with people demanding climate justice, it will be vital to understand that a system that accepts poverty and inequality will not protect the planet and the fight for a sustainable future is, at the same time, a fight for a just society.

Join the Action

On Sunday July 5, thousands of people will take to the streets of Toronto to call for a just transition from dirty energy into a clean energy future. Sign up here to join the action.