Toronto skate school keeps kids on track with education

Toronto Star piece on downtown skate school for teens


PDF of Skate School here.


Sierra Leone, a west African nation of extreme contrasts

Sierra Leone is a country of great beauty and great poverty. I travelled there in 2011 for 10 days where I experienced this firsthand.

In the rural areas, you are met with beautiful scenes as depicted in the pictures below.

But the capital Freetown is squalid, dirty, overcrowded and the people live in unsanitary, unsafe conditions. (Click Clare Keogh link for those images)


Extract from Irish Examiner article:

IT IS eerily quiet in the gloomy wards of the Princess Christian maternity hospital in the heart of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

There are no crying babies or proud new mothers, and far from being a vibrant bustling place, there is a melancholy air.

Long empty corridors lead to basic and unsanitary delivery suites and wards where worried women lie in wait.

Read more:

PDF here: Sierra Leone

Photography and blog links:

Read about Irish making their way in Toronto, Irish Examiner

Emigration tales: The Irish finding their way in Toronto | Irish Examiner.

AS the sun goes down on another steamy summer day in downtown Toronto, guests at the city’s largest hostel while away the evening.

Some chat over beers, others watch movies; more tap away on their computers, messaging home, or updating resumés for the job hunt. 

Amid the chatter are Irish accents, from every corner of the country. 

A group of 20-something Limerick lads have been at the hostel since the start of May ; they’re working in construction and are moving out soon. 

A Mayo lad has been in situ for three months. 

He’s landscaping and just “hasn’t gotten around” to finding a place. 

A 30-something Cork woman, fresh off the boat, has left behind a stressful HSE job, and there is a group of Roscommon women. 

The Canadiana hostel, on a quiet leafy street, steps from the bustling entertainment district, has long been a landing place for Irish immigrants, but the numbers have ballooned, and the Irish — from students to architects, bricklayers to bar workers — often fill one third of its 200 beds. 

Two of those are Dearbhla Hevican and Mary Finnerty, both 23 and from rural Rosocmmon. They arrived in Toronto six weeks ago. They haven’t secured long-term accommodation, but it’s not from a lack of trying. 

“We’ve looked at about 40 houses I’d say,” says Dearbhla, a law student who has just completed her final exams, but is taking time out before seeking an apprenticeship. 

“We didn’t think it’d be this hard to find a place,” says Mary, who’s returning home in August to go back to college. “There’s so many places advertised, but it’s harder than you’d think.” Gillian Plummer, of Student Work Abroad Program (SWAP), which assists people on working holidays, doesn’t recommend finding a permanent place to live for the first month. It is better for people to wait until they know where they’re working, and how much they’re earning. 

“The hostel environment is a great way to help people get settled; they can find roommates, jobs, make great friends. You’ve got a network of people all in the exact-same situation,” says Plummer. 

The numbers of Irish coming to Canada are well-documented: all 6,350 IEC visas were snapped within days earlier this year, and more than 10,000 will be given out in 2014. 

What’s not known is how many come to Toronto. 

Cathy Murphy, executive director of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre, says, anecdotally, there are more new arrivals than last year. 

“We can tell by the amount of daily traffic. That said, we are not keeping tabs. It’s just too busy to mark every new arrival,” she says. 

Plummer says the Irish migrate towards Canada’s largest city, as many of them know someone from the last big influx, in the 1980s and ’90s. 

Unlike travellers from other countries, the Irish who use SWAP’s services aren’t just students, but range up to their mid-30s, and tend to be male. 

For older migrants, looking for professional work, the jobs are there, but they can take longer to secure, says Plummer. 

“Remember you are trying to break into a brand-new network. People need to be prepared for the scope of the place. It is a tough slog to get those professional jobs, but it’s tough for everyone, not just the Irish. 

The job market is quite good for those willing to take anything, though,” says Plummer. 

Most of the Irish at the hostel are working, but in casual jobs. Dearbhla and Mary are sales ambassadors with a Toronto city tourism company. 

“We thought, the house thing isn’t working, so let’s try the jobs thing. We applied on a Thursday and started on Saturday,” says Mary. Living out of a bag isn’t ideal when you are employed, but the girls say they’ve “accepted it”. 

“It does get a bit annoying sometimes,” says Mary, “if you are sharing a room and you want to stay up late, or have a shower at night, but what can you do.” 

For two other Irish girls, hostels have become a way of life. Dubliners Sandra Davis, 30, from Blanchardstown, and Mary Dempsey, 28, from Clonsilla, landed at the Canadiana last June. Friends for 13 years, they wanted a change and came over with SWAP, a package that includes one night at the hostel. 

Both work the night shift and live in staff quarters. The staff accommodation is hostel-like — a bedroom with four bunks and a shared kitchen and living room. But the girls don’t mind. “The people here were great, it’s homely, we are very happy,” says Sandra. “The job is a bit of everything: security, cleaning, reception, you name it, we do it.” 

“You have your days when you want just a door to close, your own bedroom, but, other than that, it’s great,” says Mary, who met her boyfriend, a Wexford man, through the Canadiana. 

The Dubliners have seen plenty of Irish who haven’t been as fortunate. “You see some who arrive and think they are going to walk into the perfect job, and aren’t willing to settle for just anything. We’ve seen people go home, because they thought things would be easier,” says Sandra. 

“They think they’re on a sun holiday, some of them,” says Mary. 

Both want to stay in Canada for at least two more years. “It’s mad, because we had money at home and here we are scraping by, but we are happier,” Mary says. 

Sandra agrees. “I was working in a nursing home, working ten-hour shifts. I’d go to work, come home, have a shower and go to bed. I’d, maybe, have one night out a week, and that was my life. Over here, it’s totally different, there’s always something to do, always someone around. We are ten times happier here.” 

Dearbhla and Mary are feeling lucky, too. Eight weeks after landing in Toronto, they’ve finally moved into their own place. 

“We have our own space, and freedom to move around without disturbing anyone,” says Dearbhla. “It’s absolutely brilliant.” 

Irish famine park in Toronto still closed after three years

Generation Emigration

Irish famine park in Toronto still closed after three years

Monument funded by the Irish and Canadian governments remains completely inaccessible due to ongoing construction works

Mon, Jun 3, 2013, 20:00

Jennifer HoughA Toronto park dedicated to Irish famine victims and opened by former president Mary McAleese in 2007 has been shut for the past three years due to ongoing construction around it.Funded by the Irish Government ($500,000CND), Canadian government and private donors, the waterfront park is completely inaccessible, blocked by a building site with barricades and “no trespassing” signs.

When open, the $3.5 million park, run by the Ireland Park Foundation, is a moving memorial to Irish immigrants who arrived in the city in the late 1800s but died shortly afterwards from their illnesses. Between May and October 1847, 38,000 starving Irish arrived on Toronto’s Lake Ontario shore. More than a thousand of them died that summer.

The park houses a wall made of Irish limestone with the names of the dead immigrants who could be traced carved into it, and five bronze sculptures by international renowned artist Rowan Gillespie, depicting tragic famine-stricken figures.

The impressive wall is visible behind the steel barricades, and tourists can often be seeing trying to get pictures of it from the adjacent downtown carpark.

The closure has been chronicled in the city’s media as far back as 2010. In March of that year The Toronto Star reported that Ireland Park was “almost impossible to find, let alone reach” and that the city of Toronto was finally building a pathway in the area to make it easier to access the park.

However, that construction turned out to be more complex than first envisaged and reopening was delayed by further plans to build a pedestrian promenade along the waterfront.

In 2011 another story in the Star reported that: “A waterfront park that honours refugees from the Irish famine has been closed since 2010 and is unlikely to reopen until next year.”

In response city officials stated “access to the park should reopen early in 2012”. This date came and went too and still the park remained closed.

Chair of the Ireland Park Foundation Robert G Kearns said he would be thrilled to see the park reopened, but that it was a complex issue. He said currently a $5-million extension to the quay wall is being undertaken and once complete it will significantly enhance the park.

Mr Kearns said when finished it will provide a tree-lined lakeside promenade adjacent to the park and be a lasting legacy for hundreds of years to come.

According to the City of Toronto, the park is slated to be reopened by December. Watch this space.

Jennifer Hough is an Irish journalist living in Toronto. She previously wrote a feature for Generation Emigration on the Irish community in Saskatchewan in Leaving Ireland for Canada´s prairie provinces. Find her at @jenniferhros and

Toronto’s first ever Irish shop and deli: A sign of the times

A tiny shop with a big following got a lot of attention this week after two articles were published one in Canada, and one in Ireland.

Both Newstalk radio and Today FM picked up on the story and according to owner Maeve McCarthy people are coming from far and wide to see the place.

The only surprise is that it took so long for someone to open a place like it, given all the Irish in Toronto. With lots more to come!!

Here are links to both articles:

And a link to the store’s very own Facebook page.