People Lived Here, Now Look At It

Image from lomo_iberico on Flickr

Biking on Lakeshore East, you can see the remains of posters pasted over trespassing signs that commemorate the Tent City and its residents who were evicted by Home Depot in 2002.

PEOPLE LIVED HERE,
NOW LOOK AT IT…
THANKS HOME DESPOT!

IS THIS A BETTER USE OF SPACE?

Shop. Destroy. Rule.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/30/101060034_d180e02257_z.jpg?zz=1

Image: boukesalverda on Flickr (link inactive, clearer image of the poster with the text above)

While looking for a an older, more complete image of the poster, like the one above from 2004, I stumbled across stories and images from an earlier squat that took place in the silos next to the Tent City site, known as the Rooster Squat for the faded 30-foot rooster mural on the side of the silos (unfortunately I couldn’t find any photos in which the rooster is visible).

Now? Image by booledozer on Flickr

Rooster Squat 1998. Images from x-squeegee’z in canada Facebook group photo album.

c. 1998 View from Rooster Squat by David Barket Maltby

Rebels Rule video by Will Munro, music from Joel Gibb. Note the visit to the silos by the rebels.

Tent City images by red_rocketship on Flickr

“In the winter of ’98, a collection of youths was found living in the Rooster Squat, a derelict building on the old Canada Malting site, at Lake Shore and Queens Quay, beside the port lands.

The city wanted to tear it down but the squatters wouldn’t leave. In January, Councillor Jack Layton convinced some of them to move to the lot next door. Two insulated trailers were donated by the Canadian Foundation for World Development. Independently of Layton, several street men showed up, building the first permanent structures- little lean-to shanties.

A few months later, Layton delivered some donated tents. By summer, drivers on the Cherry St. bridge could look down and see a cluster of campers. The name Tent City was born.

In the meantime, Home Depot finalized its land purchase, taking possession of the site in April, 1998, with an eye to developing it as a downtown location for a big box store.”

– Moira Welsh, Toronto Star, Sept. 25 2002.

I haven’t had a chance to view it yet, but the Housepaint blog linked to a documentary, Subtext: Real Stories, that focuses on Tent City. Embedding is turned off, so you have to click here to watch.

Housepaint was a recent art project that brought together graffiti/street artists to commemorate Tent City with live painting at the site. The final pieces were eventually displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum and sold with proceeds donated to Habitat for Humanity.

For me, the history of Tent City and the Rooster Squat definitely speaks to the need for affordable housing, but charity-based approaches do not go far enough. Charities and narrow affordable housing campaigns tend to ignore the overall economic system that makes people homeless and criminalizes their efforts to produce their own housing solutions.

Squats are not just indicators of what is wrong with a society and its distribution of resources. When people exercise their power to create their own autonomous communities, they are inspiring examples of what is right.

“…they took matters into their own hands in a manner that truly frightens those in authority: they squatted abandoned and commercially ‘unproductive’ land. Like all squatters from Berlin to Vancouver they threatened the very foundation of our system: private property and the right to stop someone else who needs it from using it as shelter.”

– John Richmond, Briar Patch, Nov. 1998.

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2 comments

  1. I was one of the rooster squatters, and I have a tattoo of it on my arm as a reminder of that time in my life. I haven’t seen a picture of the squat taken before the back was blown out and I am sitting here in tears remembering so many people who’s lives touched mine. Thank you SO much for posting this. It really means a lot.

  2. Aww shucks, thank you Evan, it’s great to hear from a rooster squatter, and I’m so happy that you appreciated this post.

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