How one night each year can bond a community and have a lasting effect year round.
It’s one of my favourite days of the year – the day of our Annual Walmer Road Street Party. My husband and I moved on to the street into our third floor apartment when we were fresh young adults, back in 1994. (We later bought the house). We heard about the party because neighbours were selling tickets to a raffle to be held at the party. We were curious, so on the day of, walked up and checked it out. We loved the community feel to it. We enjoyed a yummy barbecue dinner perched on the side on the road. We had fun dancing in the street when it got dark. I don’t think we have missed a party since. I have been wanting to share some of the reasons why I love our Walmer Road Street Party…here goes.
I have always appreciated the inclusivity of the party. It is open to anyone at all who would like to come. We happily put posters up around the neighbourhood inviting people to come to our street for the party. We hold a raffle of items donated by local merchants and sales from the raffle pay for the bouncy castle and other costs incurred. Those of us who live on the street act as hosts and provide salads and neighbours volunteer to barbecue hot dogs and burgers. We sell tickets to the dinner – it is inevitably delicious and very inexpensive.
Sustainability Through Flexibility
The party has been going for over 25 years, rain or shine. I think this is because it’s shape is flexible enough to accommodate the desires of those who are organizing it. Want to run a bake sale? Sure, let’s do it. You love to offer fresh waffles as a snack? Bring them on! You can face paint? Great, here’s a porch to set up on!
We Have to Practice Having Faith and Trust
There is an element of trust and faith, and a letting go of complete control, in running the party, which I find really wonderful. I remember one year when I was helping to run it, roaming the streets with my clipboard, trying to be super-organized but panicking as I realized there were holes in our plan – Where were the tables for the food? Where were the garbage cans? Where were the barbecue volunteers? But I realized that people had their jobs and eventually everything appeared, as if out of nowhere, right on cue, without any work from me. Many of the neighbours had volunteered for the same job year after year and so showed up in time. It was somewhat of an organic process. I just had to have trust and faith and let go a bit… maybe enjoy the party!
Opportunities for Children to Grow Through Volunteering
Volunteering at the street party is really fulfilling for the children, as well as the adults, I have found. It is a low key and fun way for them to contribute and move out of their comfort zone a little. For example, I have recruited kids on the spot in the midst of the party, asking them to go around and sell raffle tickets.
Freedom, Games and Dancing!
I love seeing the kids roaming the block, free from cars and other obstructions, as we always get a city permit to close the block. Oh, and we love when the firetruck can make an appearance! Games are arranged for children large and small, and there are always various versions of tug of war after dinner. Then there is the dancing, as I mentioned above. I firmly believe we need more dancing in our lives! How did we get to the point when most of us have to wait for some sort of special celebration to dance the night away? (One stop-gap measure I have talked about with a number of clients who feel the same as I do: an impromptu dance party in the kitchen, maybe while cleaning up after dinner….)
Feeling Part of Something Larger Than Ourselves
The thing I most love about our street party is the sense of community I feel: a connection to something larger. There are so many pulls away from the street: different schools, different work places, different places of worship. But we have the Street Party in common. This leads to me to two short anecdotes to illustrate.
A couple of years ago, I took my eldest, Ian, to Paris for a few days (see Acts of Kindness Elevate Us – Inspiration from Paris for more). We left on the trip shortly after that year’s street party. So it was fresh in my mind as Ian and I were dining on our first night in Montmartre. It was a beautiful, mild June evening and the streets were full of people enjoying it. I felt like a fly on the wall, eating my stew on the patio of our restaurant, observing the community on that narrow street on the hill. (Amusing side note – our waiter carefully arranged our plates of stew and mashed potatoes so the potatoes formed a dam to keep the stew from running off our plates – we were on a significant angle on this hilly street!) Our restaurant was associated with the bar across the street and the waiters went back and forth between them. World Cup Soccer was on the tv in the background at the bar. Neighbours returning home after work would regularly stop on their way up the hill to greet the waiters as they crossed the street. There was a group of mothers at a table a few feet away from us, at the bar. Their children were roaming and playing in the street and the mothers were keeping an eye on them and also very much enjoying each other’s company and their drinks. Taking all of this in, I thought to myself: “Wow they have a street party here every night!” I felt a pang of envy and yearning as I watched the community in action on a night in June. But, I also felt gratitude for what we do have in the way of community here on Walmer Road in Toronto, even if it’s not a party any old night. It happens once a year and it is one of my favourite days of the year. And wonderfully, it has ripple effects that we feel throughout the year as well.
One particular incident from the recent Street Party was top of mind and close to my heart in Paris. At one point during the party, I was standing on the sidewalk with my youngest watching the bouncy castle being put away. (There was a truck involved so Duncan, naturally, was enthralled.) All of the sudden, a girl from the street fell off her scooter just in front of me and hurt herself badly. I rushed to her and comforted her as if she were one of my own children, even though I hardly knew her, until her mother arrived moments later. During that short time, I felt this sense of connection with her and with our community – it felt so right to be able to be there in that moment, helping my little neighbour. I felt a connection to something larger than myself in the moment and it felt so profound and good! This, to me, represents community.
Here’s a visual illustration of how the Street Party makes me feel and how I felt during that dinner in Paris. Check out this poster How To Build Community, which I first saw on the door of my son’s Principal’s office years ago and promptly ordered for myself. I hope you like it too!
So, those are some of the reasons I love the Walmer Road Street Party. Let me know if you are in the neighbourhood in June, and I will invite you!