Beautiful Books: Toronto as Community

A former Toronto city planner, Vincenzo Pietropaolo turned his scrutinizing eye to photography, specifically, photographing his fellow Toronto citizens in moments where they engaged with their communities. It’s our lucky day: Vincenzo has shared some of the remarkable photos and stories from his new art book Toronto as Community: Fifty Years of Photographs (Cormorant Books) with us.


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“Fruit and vegetable shops in Kensington Market”One of Toronto’s most famous neighbourhoods is Kensington Market — a unique place of diverse shops and ethnic social groups, where at one time you could buy virtually everything from clothing to spices, and even live chickens. It became a hub for immigrants, and despite the fact that they spoke a plethora of different languages, through the years, the local population would stand together against continual waves of development pressures that would have obliterated it. In its struggle for survival, the Market fostered a culture of diversity and inclusiveness that helped Toronto develop into a respected city of immigrants.
“Lesbian wedding”Everything pointed to an ordinary wedding, but this was not an ordinary occasion.The bride kissed her bride, and history was made in my friend Frank Lewinberg’s family when his daughter Tanya married her beloved Jina Bortner. For many of the guests, it was their first lesbian wedding. Same-sex marriage had been legalized in Ontario only three months earlier, on June 12, 2003, and the guests were humble witnesses as the couple broke social and political barriers, in an extraordinarily moving traditional Jewish ceremony underneath a chuppah.
“Indigenous dancer, Powwow”An Indigenous dancer in the Powwow during National Indigenous Day on the grounds of Fort York. Indigenous roots in the Toronto area go back thousands of years. The very name of the city comes from an Indigenous word, Tkaronto, which in the Wendat language “refers to a fishing weir constructed of sticks in the water.” As the “seasonal gatherings of fish” involved numerous spots and different Indigenous groups, the name Tkaronto came to be associated as a gathering place “where people came together to meet on positive terms” for trade and ceremonies. The Anishinaabe, Huron-Wendat, and Haudenosaunee variously have made their home here for thousands of years.
“White Oak”Toronto’s urban forest constitutes one of the largest ecosystems in the world. Few large cities can boast such an elemental presence of trees in the daily life of their citizens, especially with its unique system of ravines running cheek by jowl with dense residential neighbourhoods, Among the great survivors of urban development are a handful of “ancients,” trees that are remnants of the aboriginal forest, such as this White Oak. Standing at over twenty metres in height, on a private property on the top of the escarpment overlooking the city, its limbs encircle the home almost like an embrace.
“Raptors fans, jubilant”Toronto had never seen anything like it. Canadians across the country were watching the game in unison, in real time, as the Raptors “lived” on everyone’s cellphones. The unprecedented frenzy had been building relentlessly, and on the night of victory, pandemonium broke out, as thousands of fans spontaneously converged near Union Station in a state of frenzy and delirium. Two days later, between one and two million people descended downtown on June 17, 2019 for the parade celebrating the Raptors’ NBA Championship.
“The CNE during the pandemic, May 9, 2020”As the harsh realities of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and lockdowns were imposed, city streets became eerily empty of people, cars, life, except for essential workers who were called heroes, and unhoused people who set up encampments in parks.Photos © Vincenzo Pietropaolo. Reprinted from Toronto as Community with the permission of Cormorant Books.

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About the book: Toronto as Community represents more than fifty years of photography by Vincenzo Pietropaolo, whose life’s passion has been to photograph Toronto, its people, and its buildings. The photographs document the daily life of ordinary citizens, at work, at play, in celebration, in protest, and in mourning, and are grouped around short essays. These images will provoke the reader’s sense of nostalgia, inviting reflection on the city that once was, how it became the city it is, and how it continues to develop and grow into a city of our imaginations. About the author: Vincenzo Pietropaolo was a city planner with the City of Toronto for over fifteen years before turning to photography full-time. His focus lies in social documentary photography and photojournalism and his projects have taken him to many cities around the world. Pietropaolo is an award-winning photographer and has been deemed “one of Canada’s pre-eminent documentary photographers” by Canadian Geographic Magazine. He and his partner still live in Toronto, ON where they are avid urban farmers in their own backyard.