The Toronto Fringe Festival opened its doors on Wednesday July 4th, but one of the most inspiring events of the festival was closed to the public. On the morning of Friday, July 6th, the Toronto Fringe Festival and Scadding Court Community Centre co-hosted a Canadian Citizenship Ceremony, followed by a party at the Postscript Patio, to welcome new Canadians into the community.
Ninety-one people from twenty-seven countries were granted Canadian Citizenship. Families, children, young professionals, and a ninety-year old woman took their Canadian Citizenship Oath led by Judge Wong. Witnessing the ceremony from the back row, one could feel the immense joy and excitement in the room. As a Canadian and an experienced fringe-goer, a standing ovation was absolutely warranted. It was an honour to stand, a privilege to speak the oath and a blast to attend the party.
Hosted at the Fringe Bar, new Canadians were welcomed by live music, pictures, pizza and cake. Young children lined up to write their names on the Love Wall, a featured wall dedicated to phrases, thoughts, notes and names typically written by artists.
About a year ago, Lucy Eveleigh, Executive Director of the Toronto Fringe Festival, collaborated with Rebecca Keenan, Senior Manager of Scadding Court Community Centre, on the concept of hosting the event. “It seemed like an opportunity to invite people into our space and let them know that it exists, that Toronto is a vibrant city full of art and culture,” said Eveleigh.
The collaboration seemed like a perfect marriage, but a perfect marriage usually stems from an imperfect journey and Eveleigh had a fascinating one. She became a dual citizen herself five years ago when she emigrated from the UK. She laughed as she remembered the strain of cramming for the test but opened up about re-living the experience of finally passing it. “It kind of reminded me about why Canada is such a wonderful place to live and how those people in the room had come up from real difficult situations and had long and difficult journeys to get there.”
The event was a first for the Toronto Fringe Festival however Scadding Court Community Centre has helped hundreds of families adjust to life in Toronto through settlement services, youth programs and recreational programming for families. In 2009, Scadding Court Community Centre was awarded the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations and in 2013 SCCC’s Market was the recipient of a Special Jury Award from the Toronto Urban Design Awards.
Two years ago the fringe community lost its home in Honest Ed’s Alley along with its fringe tent. It was the after hours hub where the community got to know one another, drank, argued, swapped horror stories and discovered new artists. The change in location to Scadding Court was devastating to some, but may prove to be an opportunity for the fringe community to discover new voices, perspectives and stories.
Eveleigh spoke about opportunities for new creators, “We have one participant who’s never performed before and he’s doing a one man show. That to me is totally inspiring. He has a story to tell and he has a right to have a platform to tell that story.”
Elliot Delage, a writer and director from Paris, France, has performed in three fringe festivals around Canada. He and collaborator Anastasia Wells performed in 25 at the Robert Gill Theatre. Delage says the Toronto Fringe Festival has been his favourite since performing in Canada. “This fringe does go the extra mile for that sort of thing. We also do our own land acknowledgements live. It’s definitely heading in the right direction for inclusivity.”
Despite the hard work done by the Fringe Festival and SCCC, there is a harsh reality looming outside of the festival. This past week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province will not work with the Federal Government to aid Asylum Seekers. It’s a stance that has created controversy and many fear it will lead towards more divisiveness within the province. It may also be a wake up call for communities like the fringe to speak up and work towards a solution.
Perhaps next year, there may be more connecting new Canadians and Fringe Artists than the Love Wall.