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#TORONTOSTRONG

Robert Burns is credited with the phrase ‘man’s frequent inhumanity to man’ although probably relates to Pufendorf’s quote in 1673 and probably has even more history than that. The following article, written by two exceptionally wonderful men from Toronto, shows that even when incidents that might trigger that phrase occur, such acts can spark the absolute best in the rest of us. I am delighted to call these two friends, as well as colleagues on Toronto based projects.

A warning though, the content of this presentation may trigger you to seek more information on the incident that led to this exceptional piece of work by the still traumatised City of Toronto and its employees. Indeed, I would beg you to do just that. But, be warned, you will discover material online that is truly shocking, and I will never be able, nor even want to understand, the mentality of a person carrying such hate that they wish to cause death or injury to another just because of their race, religion, ethnicity or in this case, gender!

Ladies and gentlemen; read on for the story of how a small group of people worked long hours and with a very short planning time to rebuild peace and trust in a city attacked through hate, and in doing so, created #TorontoStrong.

– Eric Stuart, UKCMA Chairman

On Monday, April 23, 2018, Toronto experienced a horrific tragedy.

That Monday, one of our team members exclaimed, “Something is going on at Mel Lastman Square!”  At first it appeared to be some kind of traffic accident, but through the afternoon it became clear it was an act of violence.

A man drove a van onto the sidewalk to run down pedestrians. The incident occurred adjacent to a civic centre and public square during a busy lunch hour. The driver was arrested a mere two kilometres from where he first mounted the curb, just seven minutes after the first 911 call. Days later the names of the people injured and killed were released; almost all of them were women. It was a deliberate and sinister attack, specifically on women.

Our team, like the residents of Toronto, spent Monday evening and Tuesday confused by feelings of fear, anger, and powerlessness.

On Wednesday, our team, City of Toronto Cultural Events, was invited by the City’s Protocol Office to supply a stage manager for a community vigil being planned to honour the victims and their families.

Our team produces large scale, free events such as New Year’s Eve celebrations, Nuit Blanche, one of the largest outdoor public art events in the world, and the cultural programming of international sporting events such as the Pan American Games and the Invictus Games. We also organize the City’s Canada Day festivities, which occur annually at Mel Lastman Square, so our team was very familiar with the site of the planned vigil.

We knew from experience that the event would need much more support than just a stage manager. We spent the morning brainstorming possible set-up options and estimated the number of people expected to attend. Four of us attended the meeting, eager to translate our feelings into using our planning skills. There we learned the event would be a community group-led, multi-denominational vigil. We would work closely with local community representatives, including a coalition called We Love Willowdale, to ensure the vigil reflected the diversity of the neighbourhood and the City of Toronto. To strike the right tone, no political figures were invited to speak.

Quick but careful planning was needed as the event was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, just four days away. Our always prepared colleague, Trevor Hyland brought a ground plan of the site and its immediate surroundings and sketched out the areas for the estimated audience. The site itself was too small for the expected attendance, so we suggested road closure options to allow people to use the road allowance. Our team left the meeting and immediately began building the necessary plans. We had 99 hours until the most important and certainly most sombre event many of us had ever produced in our careers.

The four of us divvied up the immediate work: planning and inter-agency coordination; budgeting, finance and staffing structure; technical equipment specification; coordination, drafting and drawing; and traffic and crowd management and emergency planning. We worked simultaneously on a preliminary site plan, schedule, staffing plan, and brainstormed a list of City divisions and outside agencies to coordinate with. We made lists of regularly contracted event-specialist staff, suppliers and colleagues and began contacting them.

The City of Toronto does not have a centralized office for coordinating or permitting of events. Permits for events are issued by the office or division that has authority over the space being used. To help event producers navigate the system and coordinate amongst different departments, we have a highly capable Event Support Team. Our team sits at this table regularly, and as a result we had strong working relationships with representatives in the City agencies and divisions necessary to proceed quickly.

love toronto

A critical part of our planning involved actively engaging with emergency services, police, fire and paramedics. We initiated twice daily meetings, at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., with these partners. Emergency services, like us, were committed to supporting and participating in the vigil. They saw it as their opportunity as first responders to come together, support each other and mourn the tragedy they had witnessed. Emergency services approved our draft plan and we worked into the evening refining it.

At the 7 a.m. emergency services meeting on Thursday we identified the divisions and agencies that we would begin to include in the twice daily update planning meetings and later that morning we contracted technical suppliers and the part time staff we would need to supplement our team. We drafted an organizational chart to illustrate the lines of communication and authority for the planning and operation of the vigil.

As event organizers know, we cannot become attached to our preliminary ideas; the situation changes too quickly and our work must serve many people. Thursday was spent revising our work based on new information.

That afternoon we learned that the Governor General, Prime Minister, Lieutenant Governor and two premiers along with our Mayor would attend the vigil, which meant plans would now need to take their security into account. Diplomats and elected representatives from all orders of government would also be in attendance. We scheduled an all-services site visit for Friday morning to tour the event site and coordinate security planning, and we adjusted road closure plans to accommodate the increased crowd estimates. Two planned walks to the vigil from neighbourhood parks now needed to be included in the safety plan.

After the 3 p.m. check-in meeting, we worked into the evening preparing a presentation to the multiple levels of security services and representatives of the Prime Minister and Premier’s offices Friday morning.

The gravity of what we were involved in landed heavily on Friday morning when we met representatives of three levels of government and five security and police services. They were relying on us for vital information, and it was gratifying to know that we had most of it. We toured everyone around the site and provided insight and communication support in planning and setting up the secure cordon for dignitaries during the event.

Our team presented our final plans to the coordinating group, and I stayed at the site to scout vehicle parking for emergency services, technical suppliers and media, and completed site tours with media partners.

On Saturday, the team divided its efforts between preparing the site and final planning activities in the office. Equipment began to arrive and other details filled the day. For the first time since Wednesday, we were able to spend the evening with our families before our early morning start on Sunday.

Our team uses a work back schedule to divide responsibilities, working to our strengths and dividing the work fairly amongst the team members. I drove back to the site at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning to meet the road closure equipment supply company to close every intersection and laneway along the 2.2 km site. With a two-way radio, I walked the length of the site to check that the necessary barricades and fences were in place. As I walked the stretch of road in the opposite direction that the perpetrator had driven six days ago, I came across many small shrines that had been assembled by the community. I was aware of the large display of flowers, candles and signs that had grown on the square, but I had not seen the individual displays. It was deeply humbling, as I paused at each display to read the messages of support left there by community members.

Three small stories of kindness have really stayed with me from that Sunday morning: 

Once we closed the roads and the video screen trailers were parked, I turned around and a green aproned barista asked me if I would like a coffee and if there was anyone else on site who could also use one. He and his co-workers at a nearby coffee shop usually worked at other franchise locations. They had volunteered to cover the shifts for the local workers who had witnessed the attack and were given Sunday off with pay. These lovely folks covered for their colleagues and offered coffee to emergency and City workers setting up the vigil. It was a welcome gesture of kindness and support.

Some of the workers from the large grocery chain across the street from the square also witnessed the attack. They rushed to help the injured. Sunday morning, an employee from the store approached me asking where to put the floral arrangements. Without being asked, she had volunteered, with her employer’s support, to build and provide floral displays to flank the event stage. Later in the day the manager from the same grocery store, sent platters of sandwiches, drinks and snacks backstage, anticipating that our teams would be too busy to stop to eat.

A nearby performance venue generously opened their theatre to anyone from the crowd who needed some warmth or respite. Their video and audio systems played the television coverage of the event.

The Toronto Strong Vigil itself went very well. It was powerful to hear community and faith leaders and local artists speak of and for their communities. I was uplifted to see supporters of love and peace come out in droves to share, talk and hold space together. I still struggle to articulate how moving the vigil was.

Our talented and thoughtful colleague, Adrian Kent, did most of the drafting of site drawings and traffic management plans, specified most of the technical and production equipment and worked the event itself from beginning to end. He also took it upon himself to invite a friend along to document the vigil. Filmmaker Rouzbeh Heydari quietly captured footage throughout the vigil and made this beautiful video, with music provided by the Metropolitan Community Choir:

I am proud of the small part our team played in the Toronto Strong Vigil. We must never forget the horror and sorrow of that deliberate and horrific attack on women, and the work that needs to be done to prevent this from happening again.

Remembering those we lost

Author Bios:

Trevor Hyland, City of Toronto, ON

Trevor has worked for the City of Toronto for eight years in the City Cultural Events, Production Unit leading a variety of projects. He is a leader within the Canadian events industry with more than 20 years experience in various production management, concert touring and technical lead roles. For the last two years Trevor has been working within the Office of
Emergency Management focused on the integration of emergency management principles into special events.

Nathaniel Kennedy, City of Toronto, ON

Nathaniel has worked as a Supervisor within the City of Toronto for ten years in the City Cultural Events, Production unit participating in various projects including: Nuit Blanche, Invictus Games, PANAMANIA and the Canada 150 Celebrations. Nathaniel received his post-secondary education from Ryerson Theatre School and has had a twenty five year career in the live performance and events industries.