One of my favourite community events in Toronto-St. Paul’s only happens every two years. Rathnelly Day celebrates the neighbourhood’s rebellion in 1967 as the Rathnelly Area Residents Association fought — with the support of Jane Jacobs and Marshall McLuhan — to secede from Canada and become its own jurisdiction: The Republic of Rathnelly! (See www.rathnellyrepublic.com/history.)
Rathnelly Day is a day-long event celebrating the community’s commitment to civic action. They close the streets and take over Pumphouse Park, hold a parade, wear fabulous costumes, provide a delicious breakfast, organize games — all a large dose of Jane Jacobs’ prescription of ‘neighbourliness’. The conversations among the truly engaged citizens of the Republic are always inspiring; rail safety, accessibility, disability rights, inclusion, fairness.
This year’s theme was Heroes and Villains. Late the night before, I cobbled together my hero — that would be heroine — costume. I stapled “Votes for Women” on a sash, found a long skirt and a hat and showed up for the Rathnelly Day Parade. There were lots of neighbours sporting nerdy glasses and Superman logos peeking out from underneath clean white shirts. Characters from Game of Thrones, Sea Witch and so many amusing choices of Heroes and Villains lined up for the breakfast of pancakes, samosas and fruit.
But it was clear the overwhelming choice of costumes was to celebrate our Toronto heroes, the Raptors, with an assortment of Raptors t-shirts, glasses and buttons; a celebration of Raptors pride! In conversation, our neighbours were boasting about the Raptors as way more than a trophy-winning basketball team. They were celebrating the heroes who have united our country behind a common cause. These athletes brought together by Masai Ujiri, Larry Tanenbaum and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment have represented the diversity of our city and our country; the diversity that makes us so strong. “We the North” is now the proud mantra of all Canadians.
The Raptors are indeed our heroes, not only for the unprecedented national pride in their excellence in basketball, but as an example of working together for a common goal! The truly humble Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry exemplify the Raptors’ team spirit.
A Ghanaian taxi driver said to me: “I used to play soccer. What I like about the Raptors is that they play as a team. They are united by one goal — to win. The management, the coach, the players all respect one another. They are all one team without selfishness. They have confidence and enthusiasm as a team even when they are down.”
Steve Paikin tweeted from the Raptors Celebration on June 10: “I’ve lived in Toronto for 40 years and have never seen Nathan Phillips Square that packed before. Holy Smokes. #WetheNorth #WeTheChampions”
Millions took time off from work to celebrate our Toronto heroes.
Employers clearly knew how important it was for members of their teams to come together and celebrate the success of a team that truly inspired a nation to support one another in every quarter, every minute, every second — to show what can be done when we never give up, and to be the best they can be as a team!
It was truly wonderful to see all of Canada united behind the Raptors. It was such an amazing expression of #WeTheNorth pride. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood, we can emulate the Raptors’ secret sauce of unselfishly looking out for one another, recognizing that the sum is great than the parts.
Last month in Parliament, MP Dan Ruimy reminded us of the words of Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
The Republic of Rathnelly gets it, the Raptors get it. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood, we can demonstrate we understand that our country will only ever be as good as the strength of the neighbourhoods of which it is comprised. The true north strong and free starts with inclusion and respect. We can do this … just like the Raptors!