Toronto’s History

This sermon excerpt comes from our second week of Creation Time, as we explore how we “live with respect in Creation” when we live in the city. This week we heard Genesis 1:26-2:4a as our Creation Reading, while our second reading was Ecclesiastes 3:18-22. Unfortunately, the service was not recorded this week, so I am including a slightly longer excerpt. If you would like to read more, please contact me for a copy of the sermon or for a summary of some of my reading on the History of Toronto (until 1900 or so), which I put together as I prepared for this week. Finally, thanks to all who have already responded to the call for city photographs – already there have been some wonderfully evocative and beautifully taken photographs, that we look forward to sharing during and after worship in the next few weeks.


In the Ecclesiastes passage that we heard today, we are reminded of our closeness to animals. The author asks us: what makes us different from the animals? We all come from the dust of the earth (or in more scientific terms today: we are all made of the same atoms and molecules), we will all die – and how do we know that what happens in death will be different for any of us? While we could choose to hear this as a cynical look at life and death, we might also hear this remembering some of the wisdom we have learned from First Nations people, who remind us of all our relations. The idea that we are all interconnected – all humans, all animals, all creation. . . Living in this country, this is part of our starting point, part of our story: we are all made of the same dust. We are all earth.

When we remember how close we are to the animals, to the land, to all of creation, the divisions we put up between groups of humans become arbitrary. Why are we intent on defining who is Canadian? And, if we are all the same – all the same stuff, all interconnected – what place is there for notions of getting what we deserve? If one suffers, we all experience that pain regardless of deserving. If there is poverty, it gnaws at all of us at the level of our spirits, whether or not we experience it physically. This is not about what we deserve, because any notion of deserving is arbitrary.

In that first creation story, we are named very good, all of us human beings. In that first story, we live with the animals in a place where the earth is enough, where there is food for all, where destruction is not necessary. In our history as a city, we know of what went wrong, the racism, colonialism and other suffering of our past. We know also of the dreams and the potential, the people who have worked together to imagine somewhere incredible, the services that care for each other, the possibilities and services and fun and the awareness of what still needs to be done that accompanies it. Here in the city, we hear God calling us, again, to see all humans as very good, and then to live that out. Here in the city, we remember that we are not better or apart from creation, and that the lives of insects, and the shapes of buildings have meaning and value too, and require our care.

In “I Love Infrastructure” [from the book Utopia: Towards a New Toronto edited by Jason McBride and Alana Wilcox] Dale Duncan tells us about his friend Matt Blackett who said: “When I first went to England, and I came back, I didn’t like Toronto, because it felt like there was no history here. But later I came to realize that Toronto is full of history; it’s just more hidden.” Duncan reminds us that to see our history, we need to pay attention to the clues in the spaces of our city, from sidewalk stamps to signs of no longer used transit routes. Duncan comments, “There is a sense that Torontonians tend to search elsewhere for their stories, looking to New York, London or Tokyo for the real legends of urban life. But perhaps, like our history, they’re just more difficult to find. . . . It’s when we sense these stories and seek out the details of our history that our city becomes an interesting place to live.” We might add, our city becomes a more meaningful place to live.

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