Archive for October 2007

Woodbridge, ON is the new ‘Assyria Town’

It used to be ‘Jane and Steeles’ and ‘Kipling’. But these are now the old Assyrian spots in Toronto. Welcome to Woodbridge, the beautiful town, part of the bigger municipality of Vaughan: welcome to the new ‘Assyria Town’  Yes, this is where a big wave of the Assyrian population has been relocating to, since the year 2000. That is the year where a large urban sprawl started taking place here. If you go back just 10 years in the past, this land was nothing more than a big empty space, with a few houses here and there, and lots of farms. Forward to the future, about 10 years later, and you will be amazed to find that Woodbridge and the city of Vaughan in general is undergoing some major construction and development, making it one of the fastest growing cities in all of Canada. Woodbridge (as well as Maple, which are both part of Vaughan) have got some of the biggest theaters, theme parks and malls in all of Canada. This includes the VaughanMills, Canada’s Wonderland, Colossus Theaters and much more. So it is no wonder that a lot of Assyrians have been relocating to the North, and settling in this great developing city.

Business  and Retail Presence

This city doesn’t deserve the title of ‘Assyria Town’ just due to it having a big Assyrian population. That alone is not enough. It also got to do with all the Assyrian businesses that have been opening in the area, commercial and retail. In addition to that, Woodbridge has got some of the most popular Assyrian hang-out places, mainly Tim Horton’s Coffee spots and restaurants. The main one of course is on Weston and Rutherford, followed by the one on Weston and 407, and many others. There are also all the new Assyrian stores and retail businesses opening in the area. Baghdad Food Market was the first, opening in Vaughanmills Mall in 2005. It was followed by Sam’s Food Market in Woodbridge. And just this year alone, 3 other stores opened in Vaughanmills, including Kristine Hair Salon, Alexandria Boutique and Gril4U Shawerma Restaurant.

Social Presence

It is not just about the business and retail presence in this city, that would make it the obvious ‘Assyria Town’ of choice. There is more to it. The social side of it. When Iraq won the Asia Cup in the summer of this year, most of the celebrations for the Iraqi Assyro-Chaldo-Syriac community was centered in and around Vaughan. More precisely, at the Tim Horton’s on Weston and 407 and on Weston and Rutherford for the rest of the night. You had people coming from other parts of Toronto, to celebrate here. These celebrations clearly stamped the city as the new Assyrian front and their major new hub. The Assyrian Church has also taken some interest in the city of Woodbridge, holding their summer picnics in the ‘Polish Army Park’, located in a beautiful spot in Woodbridge.

Woodbridge is the Future and the Future is Now!

Given all this interest and visible presence by the Assyrian community in this city, it will be natural that more and more Assyrian businesses and even organizations will relocate to it. Consensus and urban trends in the GTA point to the fact that people keep moving to the North, and more 416ers are turning into 905ers. So the time has come for Assyrians elsewhere to follow up and take a look at relocating to this city, and be close to the community. Be it for business or living.  Of course, this is not to suggest that Assyrian communities elsewhere in the GTA, such as in Toronto itself, Mississauga etc. are becoming a thing of the past, as they are very established and rooted in their areas for decades. But Vaughan and its daughter towns including Woodbridge and Maple, remain the hottest new destinations for Assyrians in the city at this moment. Looking forward to getting a franchise Assyrian Society social club here in Woodbridge!

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Calling on Shabeh Raqada to Start the First “Assyrian Dance Academy”

I don’t like dancing. I never liked dancing. I will take it further and hope that by the time I get married, we will have found a substitution for it.  I think of dance as a waste of time. I don’t hate it. But I don’t like it either. Until I saw the following video. That is when my feelings about Assyrian dance changed. That is when I realized: ‘hey, dance is not bad after all’. I still wouldn’t dance, no matter what the occasion is,  or even if Miss Assyria is asking me to hold her hand in the Khiga.  But I have now come to realize, after watching this video, that our Assyrian dance can serve as a cultural preserver.

Our dance is not just for fun. It is full of meaning and historical lessons.  That dance from the video is called the “March to War” dance, which Assyrians practiced in one form or another, in the past.  I didn’t know people like Khoshaba Zaya (The man holding the sword, leading the khiga in the video-aka Shabeh Raqada) still exist, but they do. And we have to treat them as a national treasure, because our dance is one of many things we can do to preserve our traditions, culture, and link with the past.  Therefore, it is only natural to propose that Mr. Assyrian Dancer, aka Shabeh Raqda, started the first ever academy for Assyrian dance.

An Academy for Dance: a Priority?

If you have read my articles in the past, you will be shocked to hear my proposing such an idea. And you have all the right to question me.  I mean, why not an Academy for Science? or an Academy of Assyrian Language? why Assyrian Dance? well fellows, like I explained above, dance may not be a priority, as we have more urgent needs to look at first. But dance can revive an entire nation, at least in a symbolic sense.  Assyrian Khiga, for those who have never been interested in it, is nothing more than going in endless circles.

Actually, Khiga represents the state of our nation best: going in circles, with no end in sight.  But the one who holds the head of the Khiga, (Rishet Khiga) is our leader.  He leads us into the war and the future. He is the leader in this march to war.  You see where I am going with this? we can choose to make our Khigas more fun and symbolic, or we can choose to keep them the way they are; going in circles, with not much meaning to them.  So in essence, while an Academy for sciences or language would be more beneficial, when it comes to the cultural significance, a dance academy will have a huge impact.  Especially when our dance is taught to mean something, and not just as a way of fun.

Global Appeal for the School

Such a school will have to include, as part of the program, the history behind Assyrian dance, and how it has evolved to look like what it does today. The idea is to teach the dance with a cultural mind set, and for the fun part of it to come second.  If administered correctly, with the right mix of dances, this school can be a big success. Assyrians from around the world could send their sons and daughters to this school, and learn the right way to dance the Assyrian style.

Dance schools are very common in North America, teaching all kind of dances, costing parents hundreds of dollars. Those parents have different reasons for sending their kids to dance schools. Some think it helps in the character development of their children.  Others see it as a way of giving their children a much needed exposure to a rare mix of people and art under one roof. For Assyrians, these can all be reasons for sending their children to learn the Assyrian dance, in addition to the cultural advantage they will gain, when they master the dance and know the history behind it.  In the long term, you could see non-Assyrians showing interest in learning our dance; an easy way to export our cultural traditions to other nations and in return get some much needed recognition.

It can be Done

Yes it can be done. It can be profitable too. In return, we will profit ourselves too,  by becoming more aware of our rich culture and history. It is never a bad idea when we become a little more knowledgeable of our history and active in preserving it.  Dance is one way of doing this, and to benefit as many Assyrians as possible,  an Assyrian Dance Academy would come in very handy.  We already have a teacher in Shabeh Raqada, whose video we saw earlier.

Of course, Mr. Khoshaba is in Syria, and unless he was to relocate to Europe or North America, such an idea wouldn’t see much success. The idea is not to commercialize such a school, but keeping it free is not the best option either. Sure, it can get more people interested and coming. But we also need to have the resources to fund the academy, its administration and staff.  In the future, you could teach more things at this school, relating to our history and culture, including music, poems etc. Dance is just a start. In the long term, and looking through our binoculars to the future, we can see such an academy expanding to become a complete Assyrian Academy for Arts and Culture.  Boy, these binoculars have a good optical zoom, let us keep zooming to see an even better future!

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