Did you die though? A short guide to Scarborough

I’d like to preface this piece by saying, with my whole chest, that Scarborough Town Centre is the centre of the universe and if you are not from Scarborough, I would kindly ask you to nize your beak.

So let’s start this short guide to Toronto’s hidden treasure by giving you all a brief history lesson…

For those of you unlucky enough to live outside of Scarborough, who may have never had the privilege of engaging with such a beautiful landscape before, I, a humble Scarborough resident, am here to share with you all a place like no other. Scarborough, Canada is a charming township nestled in the east end of Toronto. Here, residents are acutely aware of the many privileges they have — beautiful architecture (see: Scarborough Town Center), super diverse and ethnic ass foods (see: Scarborough Town Center food court), and unbeatable hospitality (see: Kennedy Station). Unlike other regions in Toronto, Scarborough is a place unfamiliar with Ls and has, in fact, been the home of many winners. From small-time musician Abel Tesfaye, to ultra-famous alternative rock band (and my personal favourite) Barenaked Ladies, Scarborough is a place where winners go to thrive and engage with like-minded individuals.

So how do you get around in Scarborough?

Unless you’re an actual grown person with job security, you are most likely getting around by way of public transit. Many Scarberians use the TTC regularly to get around the city. The TTC can take you just about anywhere in Toronto, but realistically speaking, anything outside of Scarborough is Babylon, and we would like no part of it. God forbid you have to travel east of Kingston Road into Pickering and/or north of Steeles, where TTC does not run — if you have, you’ve gone too far. Riding through Scarborough can only be described as a ‘pleasant’ experience, where service is nothing short of extraordinary. You may think the bus driver is ignoring you occasionally when you yell “You’re passing my stop!” when, in fact, they are not. Scarborough bus drivers are very intuitive and usually know best. So, it’s not that they dropped you off at the wrong stop —it’s  really that you were going to the wrong place. This other cute thing Scarborough bus drivers like to do with passengers, is literally fight with them. During morning commutes, shouting matches over incorrect fare are a Scarborough favourite, along with the first double-double of the day. I wholeheartedly believe Scarborough bus drivers were sent here by a divine power to acquaint us all with our lanes; and help us stay in them.

I simply can’t explain public transit in Scarborough without telling y’all about Kennedy station.

Entering Kennedy Station is like the video-game moment where you come face-to-face with the final boss. If you’re startled by the homies pedalling fake tokens in and around the entrance, you most likely don’t go here. I always advise those not familiar with East Scarborough to keep their fists up as soon as they enter Kennedy Station and to just keep swinging — there is no need to get ready if you stay ready. Constant tensions in this station may cause a certain feeling to wash over you —it’s  probably dread that multiple fights are about to break out in your immediate vicinity. But don’t feel threatened by any of the seemingly questionable sounds and smells entrenched in every corner of this station because these quirks are just Scarborough’s special way of saying “Hello”.

If Kennedy Station isn’t your final destination, then you’re probably on your way to one of Toronto’s finest shopping centers…

I can’t talk about Scarborough without addressing the slanderous claims made against our state-of-the-art flying streetcar, also known as the RT, which  connects Kennedy Station to Scarborough’s epicenter. Many have hinted at the existence of a sulfur smell that has supposedly seared the inside of passenger’s noses for the last few decades. Do they have receipts though? As self-appointed ambassador for Scarborough, I acknowledge the potential for truth in these claims, but I would also like to acknowledge that it may in fact just be your upper lip.

After a pleasant ride through all the RT stations no one really ever stops at, you’ve finally reached your destination —Scarborough Town Center.

For Scarborough residents, this isn’t just a mall —it’s where one most likely had either their first date, first fight, or perhaps both at the same time (we call this an Ellesmere special). This shopping centre holds a lot of historical significance for many locals, so it’s safe to say its recent rebranding was a valiant effort made by God [and His loyal servants] to erase STC’s nefarious past. Won’t He do it, indeed, because we almost didn’t recognize her. But amongst the chorus of chatter and fragmented conversations between casual shoppers, you can still hear the occasional “Are you dumb?!?” echoing in the newly renovated food court. Here, at STC, you can feel the pulse of Scarborough as you elbow your way through huge crowds of pre-pubescent teenagers. Here, you’ll find an array of sights and smells that are overwhelmingly unique to Scarborough (shout out to Pj’s Pet Store, which was responsible for nearly half the smells that permeated through the mall for years). This mall also has both an Old Navy and a Walmart; need I say more? I don’t think y’all have seen a combo this great since Jay-z and Linkin Park brought us the instant classic “Numb/Encore” in 2008. Either way, whether you’re shopping or simply walking through, Scarborough Town Center is an experience that draws on a collective sense of nostalgia for many living in Scarborough today.

But there’s actually a lot more to this place outside all the glitz and glam.

Scarborough gets a ton of crap from outsiders who really don’t understand its vibrancy, culture(s) and contribution to Toronto’s visibility in mainstream media. Frequent inquiries, like, “Oh…you’re from Scarborough?” and “Isn’t it unsafe over there?”  illustrate this overarching narrative that presents the region as a monolith. This idea that Scarborough is comprised of non-assimilating immigrants and gun-toting gang affiliates erases a long history of structural violence, institutionalized racism and ongoing surveillance, imbued and experienced daily by varying communities here. With that being said, Scarborough is not a place that can simply be understood by outsiders who are unwilling to see it in its entirety. To understand the ways in which people living here (re)imagine and (re)construct the world around them, you have to understand the need for such an unrelenting grind. The collective hustle of Scarborough residents is palpable as many learn to navigate changing markets, gentrifying forces, and blatantly racist policies that threaten individual autonomy. For decades, Scarborough has been home to a collection of intersecting diasporas. Small pockets of niche and distinctly ethnic spaces can easily be found in almost every corner of Scarborough, from the West Indian supermarket across the street, to the many South-Asian shops, halal markets and East Asian restaurants blending into one another. As a child of immigrant parents, Scarborough is one of the few places that allowed me to stay grounded despite often feeling destabilized. Despite its unfavourable reputation, its blemishes and incongruities, Scarborough, to me, is a place I’m proud to call home. With that being said, if you are still struggling to understand Scarborough, its narrative(s) and its connection to a larger Toronto identity, then this place simply wasn’t meant for you. The triumphs and tribulations experienced by many living here cannot be packed into an easily digestible tourist guide and the subtle nuances, especially, cannot be captured by any blogTO list.

As a Scarborough native so blatantly and profoundly put it, “All I’m hearing is we’re the greatest around. To the grave I’m a rep my town”.

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