True teachers never retire. Their passion to help and share the kindness of their hearts never goes away. Their wisdom and experience is always around for those in need. They step up with incredible generosity and support never expecting anything in return.
It is a great honor for me to introduce Jaan Pill, teacher, documentary writer, Jane's Walk Connector, blogger at Preserved Stories, loving father and husband, and caring neighbor.
I had worked as a teacher, retired from teaching in 2006, and I was looking for some sort of a micro-business. And I thought it would be great to put people’s life stories together in small packages to maintain family memories. I joined a business network and among the people I met was a web developer, Bruce Walden. Together we came up with Preserved Stories, as the name was available and represented what we were about to do. Then the site was developed over quite a bit of time with help from Walden Design in Toronto.
When it was almost all ready to be launched I was working one day as a volunteer at John English Junior Middle School. They have a program called “Healthy Bites” – it’s a program for healthy eating, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, for children at the school. One of the other parent volunteers that I met that day, while working a shift at Healthy Bites, was a web designer for a company called Maestra Web Design. Her name is Mary Bella. She does web design for artists, singers, and performers. She helped me to get the site launched and after many years of development it was finally up and running.
Is it hard to maintain? I know when dealing with the blog you have to be very organized and post regularly to maintain interest.
It is not hard, as I use the site for many purposes. One of the purposes is to organize my own thinking. The website also serves as a database. If I talk to someone about local history, I would often write a blog about that meeting, about what I’ve learned. One of the problems that come up is that I have my other work that involves a lot of transcribing, and it’s too easy to spend too much time on the site. So I had to cut back the amount of time I spend on writing blogs. But what I really like about the site is that people can visit it at their own convenience. I have people from around the world who visit the Preserved Stories website.
And in terms of local history, I live in Long Branch in South Etobicoke and many of the people who visit my site, are people who used to live in Long Branch perhaps fifty or sixty years ago. And they have stories! One person contacted me from British Columbia. This person as a child, he and his brother used to play at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek in the 1950s. They used to have a raft and they would take the raft and tie it to a tree, then they would take a running jump and fall into the water. And that image has stayed in mind, for the person who contacted me, for all these years. Those few years they spent in Long Branch as children were the happiest memories of his life. I was able to share this story with others. Quite a few people who now live in Oakville or Mississauga or other places, they contact me and I get to share their stories. This website has become a community resource in terms of local history.
It is also very relevant in terms of current issues. One of the recent interesting things we shared concerned a redevelopment project in Mississauga, under the name of the Lakeview Waterfront Connection Project. This is a great project, in which input from the Lakeview community in Mississauga is a key element. It will take many years and millions and millions of dollars. But the most important thing is that it springs from the community.
However, we had a situation in the past year when a plan was announced, with reference to the sand beach at Marie Curtis Park, on the west side of Etobicoke Creek. Instead of having it remain as a sand beach, the plan was that it would become a pebble beach. So the famous sand beach would be gone, and it would be replaced by a beach made of small and medium size pebbles.
This story has a connection to the history of Long Branch. We often think of the border between Mississauga and Toronto as being determined by Etobicoke Creek. That is how it works in areas that are at some distance to the north of Lake Ontario. But the situation changes when you get south of Lake Shore Boulevard West.
The relevant history is that Etobicoke Creek used to have a western branch. There used to be an island between the western and eastern branches of Etobicoke Creek, south of Lake Shore Blvd. There was a large cottage community on the island from around the 1920s up until the 1950s. After Hurricane Hazel, which occurred in 1954, the western and southern branches were removed. Two of the branches where the stream used to run were filled in. Around that time the eastern branch of the creek was also channelized into a straight line. Despite all these changes, however, the boundary between Mississauga and Toronto is based on where the western and southern branches used to run.
The outlet to the lake used to be located quite a ways to the west of where it empties now. And so – that part of Marie Curtis Park is part of Toronto, part of Long Branch. That west beach between Etobicoke Creek and Applewood Creek actually isn’t in Mississauga. At the meetings that were part of the Lakeview Waterfront Connection Environmental Assessment project, these proposals for the sand beach were discussed, but residents of South Etobicoke weren’t aware of these plans to remove the beach – even though the beach was in South Etobicoke, in Toronto.
I found out about it through my contacts in the community. I was able to inform people on the Toronto side about this plan to remove the beach. I shared the details on my website and an email list that I use to keep people informed. And as soon as people have heard about it, they would stop me at the local No Frills store where I shop, or just stop me on the street, and inquire as to what was going on.
As a result of this the planners involved in consulting with the affected communities made sure that they explained the plans to people in Toronto. Through a process of consultations, residents on the Toronto side of the border were able to state their point of view and explain how important the sand beach was to them.
As a result of this, the planning for the redevelopment had a short delay. There were meetings involving people from Toronto, and the outcome of all these meetings was that most of the beach between Etobicoke Creek and Applewood Creek would be retained. A small part of the beach near Applewood Creek would become a pebble beach, but the major part of the sand beach would remain.
Wow, I had no idea they were planning such a thing!
Well, this is a good thing about sharing information. I’m pleased that I learned about the plans and was able to share the information with other people.
Wooden Deck at Marie Curtis Park
Yes. This is a trade off – you have the convenience of walking but there is still a problem. In terms of what happened with redevelopment on the eastern side of Marie Curtis Park – I’ve attended quite a few meetings, which the local councillor’s office had organized in the last couple of years. On the whole I am impressed with the fact that the input from the community has been taken into account.
One example is that the original plan for the eastern part of Marie Curtis Park was for the parking lot to be installed close to where Hilo Road meets Forty Second Street. At various meetings people said, in so many words, “That it is a terrible place to move the parking lot to. For one thing, that area gets flooded when it rains.” One person said: “No-one ever complained about the long drive to the parking lot, where it is now. “
Some neighbors organized a petition, to make their views known. As a result of that input the original plan to change the location of the parking lot was changed. The parking lot’s planned location was moved back to where the original parking has been. And this is a great example of the fact that local planners can be receptive to what the community is interested in.
And as a person involved in blogging I am interested in the distinction between rhetoric and substance, with regard to such matters. When planners talk about community input, residents are likely to ask themselves, “Is this all marketing and promotion? Or do the planners really mean what they say?”
I would say that you would be able to see whether the community’s input has been taken into account when you look, further down the road, at the actual construction or building that has taken place. You can also look at the plans, if they are available, and get a good sense of what the outcome will be.
And in terms of the redevelopment process in Lakeview in Mississauga, and in terms of much of the planning that has been happening around the Marie Curtis Park, you get a sense that the community’s input is indeed an important part of the planning process. Other people may see these matters differently, of course. These are just my views, based on my limited observations.
I am not quite sure whether community input has been taken into account, or will be taken into account, in connection with the major City of Toronto wastewater management project involving the area around Colonel Samuel Smith Park. I’ve attended one of the meetings in connection with that project. It remains to be seen whether there will be a match between what the local community would like to see happening, with that project, and what the the planners decide to do.
Also, in Mimico, we have this wall of condos along Humber Bay Shores and it can be argued, as some have argued, that this was what the community wanted. It looks to other Lakeshore residents, however, like it was planned and decided, possibly without much input from the community. Information about how planning decisions have been made with regard to Humber Bay Shores has not been easy to come by. I would say that little solid information is available, that I know of. It would be great to know the history of how planning decisions were made in that part of Toronto in previous years. Many people would be interested to know how we’ve ended up with the situation that now faces us along that part of the Lake Ontario shoreline.
I would add, as I’ve discussed on my website, that City of Toronto planners view Mimico as extending to the Humber River. The Mimico Residents Association appears to have the view that Mimico ends at Park Lane. If I understand this correctly, that means that if you are a Mimico resident who lives east of Park Lane, you are considered to be ineligible for membership in the Mimico Residents Association. Aside from this point, I would add that I’m very impressed with the work of the latter association. They do a good job of speaking out on behalf of Mimico residents – in particular, on behalf of Mimico residents who live west of Park Lawn. Sometimes, as at a recent hearing at Queen’s Park regarding Bill 20, concerning the Ontario Municipal Board, they also do a good job in speaking out on behalf of residents at Humber Bay Shores.
The topic of development in South Etobicoke is also related to the role that the Ontario Municipal Board plays in the City of Toronto, with regard to how final planning decisions are made. A related topic concerns recent City of Toronto proposals to set up a Local Appeal Board system, and a Development Permit System to address the current problems that come up when Toronto residents seek to have input concerning planning decisions that affect their local neighborhoods.
So, I share information on my blog about the potential ways to ensure that condo development in South Etobicoke can take into account what the residents want, instead of taking into account only what the developers are interested in doing. In terms of the Mimico 20/20 planning process, my sense is that, on the whole, input from the community has been made an important part of the planning process. I have the sense that the results of the most recent planning, related to future development in Mimico, is that some residents are unhappy and some developers are unhappy. And when everyone is unhappy there is a potential for finding some solutions to meet the major concerns of everyone.
However, there’s an issue related to the current City of Toronto planning environment. That issue – which is a big issue – is that if the developers aren’t pleased about planning proposals that have been agreed upon, with help from community input, they can go to the Ontario Municipal Board. By going to the OMB that can in many cases ensure that that the interests of the developers drive the final planning decisions. In effect the OMB in alignment with the developers becomes to de facto urban planner.
So, you are saying that those condos in Mimico south of Lakeshore were built against the public best interest. How did that happen? Wasn’t the community aware of the planning or their opinion simply wasn't considered?
I think this is a very interesting question and I have to make sure I take extreme care to ensure that what I say is based on evidence. I am not clear with regard to the evidence. I do know that the community has tried to find out what had happened in the past. I would say in my experience, and I speak just as an ordinary resident, that attempts to find information have been met in many cases with a lack of cooperation on the part of people who might be in a position to share that information.
In terms of contrasts between how the things are done in different cities, the City of Mississauga has made it clear – has underlined the fact – that when they build high-rise and mid-rise condos they take into account what the community wants. Much of the development that is planned in Mississauga, as I understand, tends to be along the major arteries, as part of a twenty or thirty year year plan to bring exciting development and business opportunities into Mississauga.
In terms of how the Lakeview area has been planned, as I understand the process, all of the sight lines, the views toward the lake, all of the shadow patterns, have been planned with the input from the community, and with the assistance of students from the University of Toronto. And I recall a meeting I attended in Mississauga, where Hazel McCallion, the Mayor of Mississauga, came to speak. It was a meeting concerned with the future of the Lake Ontario Waterfront.
And one of the first things she said – and I paraphrase – was that, “In Mississauga we don’t build tall high-rises on the shoreline of Lake Ontario. We don’t do that. If you want to see tall high-rises on the shore of Lake Ontario – you go to Toronto.”
This is mean!
This is a reality. Also, I recall a meeting I attended, an annual general meeting of Lakeview Ratepayers Association, which I have highlighted on my website. Jim Tovey was the head, the president, of the Lakeview Ratepayers Association. He’s now the Ward 1 Councillor for the City of Mississauga. And he was a key part of that community’s efforts to make sure that Lakeview would be developed in the way that keeps in mind the needs of the residents. There will be some medium-size condos in Lakeview, but many of the homes would be townhouses, because townhouses are the affordable means for young families to get started in the current economic situation.
Another thing that Jim Tovey said, at the annual general meeting that I attended in 2013, he said – I am paraphrasing this, and I have the recording – he said, in so many words, “In Lakeview, we are not going to have this tall condos by the lake.” He also said (and I paraphrase): “The local councillor of Etobicoke, I like the guy, but he surely likes those tall condos.” And to me, this is the part of the narrative, the part of the distinction between what is happening in Mississauga, and what is happening in Ward 6, in South Etobicoke.
Also, as part of the planning process for Mimico 20/20, at one point the local Ward 6 councillor made a motion at the Etobicoke-York Community Council meeting. He said what we needed to do was give incentives to the developers to make sure that they would be happy proceeding with the construction of housing on the Mimico shoreline. And the local councillors representing Etobicoke-York said this was fine. The motion then went to City Council. And the councillors representing the rest of the City of Toronto began to ask: “What are you trying to tell us?”
And the Chief Planner for the City of Toronto, Jennifer Keesmaat, she said, in so many words, that developers don’t need these kinds of incentives. If I recall the news reports correctly, she asked why these kinds of requests are being made. And the local councillor’s request was turned down, by the City Council. And I applaud that because we don’t need developers to be the people who make the planning decisions. We have planning staff, who in theory work with input from the community to arrive at planning decisions. And we don’t need a situation where a councillor is trying to step in, to help the developers.
Why would they need incentives, period? High-rise or townhomes, they are still making their x-amount.
Exactly, and this is what Toronto Council, in its wisdom, decided, but the local councilor and the community council, they went along with what developers thought was good for the community. And I am really pleased that this decision went in favor of the community and not in favor of whatever interests the local councilor represented when he made that motion.
You are saying some dangerous things here…
Well, I have to be very careful, but this motion is on the public record, and it was very well covered in the Etobicoke Guardian. I would add that, in other areas, such as the planning for the Colonel Samuel Smith Ice Trail, and for capital improvements at Marie Curtis Park, the local councillor has made a point of ensuring that community input was an integral part of the planning process.
Which school were you teaching at? John English?
No, I volunteer at John English. I help out as a volunteer with the Healthy Bites program, where the focus is on preparation of nutritious lunches for students who have signed up for the program. But for the last eleven years of my career I was working for the Peel District School Board. I worked as an elementary school teacher. The principal I worked with, his name is Mike James. He now is also retired. Mike and myself, we organize what are called Jane’s Walks in Long Branch. And this year, our third year of Jane’s Walks will be held on May 3rd and 4th and we will start at 10:30 in the morning of each day and we will start at the East Parking Lot at Marie Curtis Park.
This is a photo from the May 4, 2013 Jane’s Walk. The photo is taken at Marie Curtis Park at the start of the walk. One of the all participants is sharing some information. One of the walk leaders Jaan Pill, is on the right. Photo credit: Gay Chisholm.
It is called a “walking conversation,” where people simply get together – we have a walk in the community, and we, as walk leaders, point out and share historical information. It is not some lecture, it is just a walking conversation. I also interview people during the year who are in their eighties and nineties. I ask them questions about what life was like when they were 7 or 8 years old. And I share this information with others. In some cases, some may not have the physical stamina to join us for walk, although wheelchairs are welcome, but they can still participate.
I have to thank the local councillor’s office, as they encouraged me about three years ago to find out who in the community would be able to organize a Jane’s Walk. I contacted my network, I looked around, I couldn't find anyone. Then I asked my friend Mike James, who agreed to help. Otherwise I wouldn't have started. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the councillor’s office for the help to arrange the Jane’s Walk.
How many people do you normally get?
In the first year we had a lot of time to advertise, so we had eighty people. In the second year we had two walks, and we had about twenty-five people on each walk. But whether it‘s large or small – we are prepared for any size.
Do you think it is worth getting local students involved in this walks? There should be a lot of things for them to learn?
Absolutely! We would like to do more networking and marketing. One of our long term plans is to have more young people involved. I was always interested in leadership succession, and people taking over some of the things I do. So, certainly we want to get more people involved. I will make sure I contact the local Trustee for Toronto District School Board, Pamela Gough; she’s been always helpful.
I would also like to add one more thing about students. When I was younger and first began working with computers, when I was getting stuck I would always ask someone who is thirty years younger to help me. Now, when I get stuck, I know to ask someone who is at least fifty years younger than I am.
I know, kids are so much smarter than us with technology; I go to my son for help all the time.
True, when I have issues with my smartphone I get help from kids. It’s like learning a language. If you are growing up with it, then you become totally fluent with it. But if you are not growing up with the language of computers, you will have to make a bit of an effort to maintain your fluency. And one thing about Ryerson, I’ve taken two courses so far and I hadn’t taken any courses before for a long time. I was really concerned – can I keep up with these young kids? And I was very pleased to learn, that yes, I can keep up! Yes, I can learn as quickly and as well, and I can get grades, which are equal or better, than students who are thirty years younger than me. Of course, I do have a lot of time to study – that helps too!
This is at the end of the May 4, 2013 Jane’s Walk, which went from Marie Curtis Park to the Lakeshore Hospital Grounds. The buildings at the site used to be part of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. Now they are part of Humber College. Photo credit: Gay Chisholm.
I like to walk, like to keep fit. I lift weights and try to keep in shape. I like to read things that teenagers like to read. One of the books I read now is called “The Baby Experiment.” This is a book that some of the Grade 8 students at John English are reading.
Also, I have an interest in mindfulness meditation. I became interested in meditation because when I was teaching at elementary school, I found that some days I would get angry at my students. Some people have said, that sometimes I am very nice but sometimes I am very prone to losing my temper and so, I found, with the stress of teaching, I was becoming angry so often, I was afraid I was going to have a heart attack. I thought my health was a great concern.
And so ten years ago I took an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation taught by a family physician in Toronto. Students from all walks of life took this course and I learned how to meditate. And for the last ten years I have been meditating every day, and I practice this concept called mindfulness, where you simply tune into the here and now, which is not as easy to do as a person might imagine, but I do it. At first it was only a few seconds at a time; now I do it more often – a few minutes at a time, sometimes more.
As a result of learning this technique, my interactions with my students became much better. Instead of screaming at a student I learned how to speak in a normal voice, explain what my concerns were and as a result I was happier, the students were happier, and at the end everybody was happier, because I learned how to explain things in a nice way instead of the other ways that could occur to me.
I bet you quite a few people could use this course.
Yes, I think so. And this requires motivation. And in my case the motivation was desperation.
Also, all through my life I was involved with working and communicating with very young children, infants and toddlers, and also very old people. One of my friends is 95 years old. I speak with her several times over the phone during the day. I visit her regularly. I really enjoy the concept of being connected with very young people and very old people.
And the reason I became a teacher, when I was in my twenties, I learned that whenever I walked into a room, and there was at least one infant there, that infant would pick me out, would notice me at once and feel right away, that, “Here is a friend.” I would always know how to relate to them.
They feel it no doubt!
Yes, they feel it. Once a visited a daycare in Vancouver, when I was a student at Simon Fraser University, and I found I enjoyed it. When I came to Toronto after I graduated I had heard there was a job opening for a supply teacher at a day care center at that time located at 228 McCaul Street in downtown Toronto. I became involved as a supply teacher and eventually I became involved in the running of the center even though I had no training as a day care worker.
We needed to get a supervisor for the day care center that I was involved in running. One of the people who turned up was a young woman in her early twenties who had very good credentials. We hired her. And her name was May. And May is my wife. Years later we got married – so all of these things are connected. In fact I still remember that day – I stood on the sidewalk outside of the day care center, when I went to apply for a job there as a supply teacher. I stood on the sidewalk, I was looking at the front door and something in the pit of my stomach or my gut told me – “You move through that door right now!” And that was what I did. I felt that walking in there was something very important in my life.
What would you say is the most challenging thing when dealing with teenagers? How do you get them to listen to you?
It is very easy. This is how I get a teenager to listen to me: I listen to her. I tune into her concerns, what her interests are, how she sees the world, how she wants to do things. And also I knew at the age of 12 as much as an adult, about how the world is and how everything works, so I tune into that fact. I have tremendous respect for the kids. Of course, I have some knowledge that I can share, but to begin any conversation it is important to listen. The first thing I do when talking to a teenager, I listen, with my ears, with my heart, with my sense of body language.
This is how I start the conversation. I don’t start the conversation by saying, “You should do this, you should do that, you should feel this, you should feel that,” because as soon as an adult does that – the doors are shut. And I know this because I was a teenager, I was a young person. Having said this – this is me. Someone else would have a totally different way to approach it. If it works for me, it is not necessarily going to work for other people and I seldom give advice unless I am asked for it.
You are a very unusual teacher. Teachers normally are very easy to pinpoint, because they have this constant urge to teach. You don’t seem to have it.
No, I don’t. In fact as a teacher I especially enjoyed teaching Grade 4. Students taught me so many things. One of the things they taught me was that friends are very important – also that recess is one of the most important times in a child’s life. What you do at recess, the friends you spend time with at recess, and all your activities with them are very important.
Also, as a teacher, it just happened that one of the things I learned was that a very good way for a student of any age to demonstrate their mastery of a concept – it could be mathematics, literature or social studies; it could be anything. That way is: Get together with one or two friends, and rehearse some form of role-play. It might take a few minutes of rehearsal, and then you present it to the class.
In class we always had lots of role-play and drama and the kids loved it. And every year I had at least one student in my class who would discover they had a particular skill in drama and I am really pleased they learned it. And also, I’ve made many presentations over the years, and have appeared in many media interviews. As a young person, I had speech problems and I really had to work on that. So, I’ve made many presentations and I learned how important it is to rehearse, how important it is when talking to the audience to sense their body language, sensing when they are getting bored, sensing what they really enjoy and working with that, because this is back-and-forth communication.
And role-play and drama in elementary school is one of the many wonderful ways of learning these kinds of communication skills. And mastering these skills of being at ease in front of the audience, it’s a key part of public relations, it’s a key part of marketing, a key part of sales, of negotiating, a key part of conversation with a child or a neighbor; it’s a key part of life.
And drama now is a part of the curriculum and there are many good reasons for every child to have a chance to get involved in drama. And also what is very interesting, the kids who can be introverted or even those who might have speech problems can often become very good at acting. In fact a few actors, like Bruce Willis, for example, as an adolescent, he stuttered – had a problem with getting his words out – but he found when he was acting, for various reasons, perhaps because he was playing a role or because he was acting and had total control of his breathing, he was able to work very well as an actor.
And for people of the older generation, Marilyn Monroe, also as a child, she stuttered, but she found that she could develop this kind of breathy voice; she would have some extra breath in her speech when she was acting. She became a brilliant actor. Of course, she had other qualities, she had a way of connecting with audience, that had nothing to do with her speech, just her whole persona. All these things are so interesting and the way we find out is by being attentive and learning from our experiences.
What do you think about all the anti-bullying programs launched at schools these days? Do you think they cause the opposite effect?
Different people will say different things on this. I like to adopt an evidence-based approach regarding bullying. Bullying is a relationship problem when kids use power and aggression to cause harm to another person who is not in a position to defend himself, or herself. Often it is a group activity where some kids work as a team to focus on one particular child.
Conflict is a regular part of life; everybody can have disagreements, everybody can argue and have conflicts, but when one person uses power – as an example, because of larger size or because of being older – in order to cause harm, we as adults are in a position to model better forms of behavior. We can teach children to deal with relationships in a way that is helpful for everyone and we have to go with the research. Conflict is normal, but bullying does not have to be a normal part of life. When bullying occurs – it is a form of warfare.
And we know from the research, that the kids who are bullied in elementary school, in high school, university, in the work place – suffer, they suffer tremendously, to the extent that their chance of committing suicide is increased. We can say, as some people do, that it’s just about kids being kids, and adults being adults. But in a civilized society, this is not a sufficient answer.
We realize that, in a civil society, we have a reason to be concerned for the life and well-being of every child, of every adolescent, of every adult – and I am a strong supporter of effective and well organized anti-bullying programs which are based on evidence of what works. In that regard, the PREVNet website shares some great information about anti-bullying programs that work.
I've spent time in my volunteer work in years past organizing workshops about bullying. And, in fact, if you do a web-search with my name and the word “bullying” you would find information that I've shared with parents and other people. And certainly the key thing is if one child is being victimized, it is very helpful when one person in the group has the courage to step up and say: “You need to make this stop.”
And I think this is very important, especially for every adult who is in the position to use wisdom to make bullying stop. Stepping in, making it stop, could literally save the person’s life. It can change the atmosphere in a classroom, it can make a big difference. And it is very important for kids to be feeling comfortable and knowing that they can go to an adult to deal with problems. And I encourage every effort to keep those lines of communication open. It’s among the most important things the adult can do – to help to defend those who otherwise can’t be defended and will be beaten down and destroyed.
Thank you very much, Jaan!
And here are some useful links to Jaan's site:
Compliments of Marina Gavrylyuk
Real Estate Agent with Sutton Group Summit Realty
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