Originally published in December ’94.
The snow falls silently in Toronto. It is Christmas Eve, and the snow is falling on the rich and poor, on the black and white, on the bag lady pushing her grocery cart and on the high-flying Bay Street broker in his Jaguar XJ-l2.
The snow gives the great city a festive air, and nowhere does it fall more prettily than here in Rosedale, the elite Toronto neighbourhood that is the last word in power, wealth and privilege.
Forty eight people may have frozen to death on the streets of Toronto last winter and beggars may be present in greater numbers this Christmas than at any time since the Great Depression, but the l980s and 90s have been good to Rosedale.
Home renos and discreet additions are much in evidence, (generally more visible from backyards than from the street), and, in the daytime, the quaint, curving, tree-arched streets are lined with the service vehicles of roofers, plasterers, carpenters, and decorators.
As the early dusk of Christmas Eve descends on the neighbourhood the lights wink on inside the stone and brick mansions, and book cases and original paintings and rich china cabinets can be glimpsed through mullioned windows.
The good folk of Rosedale are not much for exterior Christmas decoration, though. Not for them the gaudy festoons of lights so much in evidence here On the Rock, our touching, almost pagan attempt to cast light and cheer through these longest nights of winter.
No, an occasional small tree in the yard might be tastefully lit, or electric candles placed behind the leaded glass windows on the upper floors. A sombre, sedate Christmas wreath with a red bow is de riguer at the front door, however. Shall we enter?
The air is redolent with the scent of pine, the sound of carols and the crackle of a fire blazing cheerily in the fireplace. Our hosts are trimming their Christmas tree and Dick Thornton, in his wing-backed chair, sips his after dinner wine and savours the homey scene.
Dick is a warm and loving family man behind the closed doors of his Rosedale home, but he’s a veritable tiger at his office near Bay Street, just a short, ten-minute commute away.
Dick wields influence and power with ruthless authority in the service of some of Canada’s largest corporations. He’s a long-time member of one of Toronto’s most prestigious private clubs where the dining room is like a temple, the prime rib is a subject of special reverence, and the wines are almost sacramental.
Dick made his small but growing fortune in the last decade when his political party held sway in Ottawa, and parties of like ilk governed in Washington, London and Bonn.
Lobbyists, merchant bankers, investment dealers, brokers, corporation lawyers, and consultants like Dick had a heyday with mergers, takeovers, and poison pills designed to fend off hostile acqusitions of one corporate colossus by another.
That all of this feverish activity actually produced nothing in the way of goods was irrelevant. That the companies traded like poker chips were frequently stripped of assets and employees mattered not.
Dick and his cronies at the club assured themselves that they were simply the agents of necessary and felicitous global change which, coincidentally, enriched themselves. The millions left unemployed, destitute and homeless were a vaguely threatening form of collateral damage requiring better security alarms back home in Rosedale.
Later, after the rest of the family has gone to bed, Dick retires to his porch for a cigar, and contemplates the peaceful, snowy streets of Rosedale. The Jensen’s lights are out, he notes. Thad Jensen had benefited immensely from an especially memorable Bay Street transaction a few years back.
A particular capital company had bet $l00 million that the market would head south but neglected to hedge its bet, a move known on the street as “a naked put.”
In the event the markets boomed and the firm lost the full $l00 million. But Thad Jensen, who was left holding the now bankrupt firm’s paper, still somehow received every penny owing.
Dick also consulted for a particular northern mining company and was on a first-name basis with most of its senior executives, who were also members of Dick’s prestigious club.
The mining company was active in Canada’s north but had recently announced massive offshore investments of which Dick heartily approved because everyone knew that its Canadian operations were losing money.
Dick was unaware that even on Christmas Eve, far from his cozy home, men and women were working in the bowels of the earth in the stench of the scoop and the rumble of the ore pass, on a gruelling seven shift schedule that was driving both people and machinery beyond exhaustion.
Dick cared little that his stock exchange, his bank towers, his neighbourhood and his cherished club had been built by wealth ripped from the earth in the mining camps of Porcupine and Kirkland Lake and Cobalt and Sudbury.
Dick never stopped to think that these same people, who would never live in Rosedale, would never dine on prime rib in a room like a temple, actually had, day in and day out for more than a century, done something that he and his peers never had and never would: they created wealth.
These northerners didn’t inherit, trade, bet, hedge, speculate, accumulate, dissipate, or nakedly put wealth; they actually created it from the fastness of the pre-Cambrian Shield.
We may be forgiven, as we leave Dick in his smokey reverie, if we mutter a most un-Rosedale like expletive sounding like it has something to do with the excretions of an uncircumsized animal of the bovine persuasion.
And so, dear friends and neighbours, you with those gaudy, tacky Christmas lights I so dearly love, know that the universe is unfolding pretty much the way it should here in Rosedale this holiday season.
Your exertions, while not exactly appreciated here, have not been for naught. Know that the fires are blazing cheerfully in the hearths of Rosedale, creating a rich glow on the hardwood panelling, and the year ahead looks bullish for home renovators, art dealers, and nannies, au pairs and maids of all sorts.
Let me bring you greetings from the denizens of Rosedale: Merry Christmas, suckers.