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GiveLife.ca

    
The Outsiders
Autumn: 2

Intro
Summer Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Autumn Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Winter Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Full Photo GalleryBehind the Story

By Margaret Philp with photographs by Patti Gower

Just east of Peter's camp, the Don River splits into two. The east branch meanders through golf courses and alongside backyards, snaking beneath the cars and trucks hurtling along Highway 401 and northwestward through a sprawling ravine park that cuts through the heart of suburban Willowdale.

At one time, the area was called Oriole after the small orange and black birds that flitted through the trees in abundance.

In those days, the river banks were dotted with sawmills and farms cleared by Scottish and Irish settlers and United Empire Loyalists who fled to Canada after the War of Independence. Not until after the Second World War would houses be built during the northward creep of suburban sprawl.

At a crook in the river, on a patch of forest once cleared for farmland, is a tent sheltered by a blue tarp. The corner of the tarp is propped up by a pole in a sort of covered porch, and beneath it are cardboard signs warning of the coming Armageddon.

"To my God alone belongs vengeance," one screams in big gold letters. "Dangerous ground, Satan and Christ will meet here. God alone knows when," another cautions.

Taped to one of the signs are tiny yellowed clippings of classified advertisements from newspapers. "Attention: choose Satan or Christ, king for 1000 years. The Peace Lady, for God," one reads.

The Peace Lady is a 59-year-old grandmother named Pauline Davis, who for nearly two decades delivered her message by standing on bridges spanning busy Toronto highways in a flowing white gown and crown of 12 stars, her hands held high over her head in the V-sign for peace.

When the flap of her tent is lifted, a blast of warm air rushes out with the faint sweet smell of perfume. Peering inside is like a trip through the back of the wardrobe, a transition from untamed woods to the refinement of a lady's bedroom.

A twin bed, covered by a bedspread, sits in one corner, a chair at its foot. Across from it is a small painted dresser with four drawers. For cooking there is a two-burner stove and for warmth a floor heater, both connected to a canister of propane.

Two-inch sheets of foam insulation cover the insides of the tent. At the seam where the wall meets the ceiling, teacups dangle from curtain hooks. On the walls are framed photographs, a calendar, religious epigraphs. And pinned across the ceiling is a gauzy curtain covered with silk flowers.

When Pauline moved here 18 years ago, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister of Canada and Mel Lastman had just declared the suburban borough of North York a city in its own right. In the years since, her crusade for world peace has been foiled by successive wars in the Middle East and rampages of ethnic cleansing, all the while enduring winter cold snaps and spring floods in north Toronto harrowing enough to conjure up biblical images of plagues and natural disasters.

If her's is a mission of self-sacrifice for a higher calling, Kurt's tenure in the woods is for nothing more holy than the almighty dollar.

He has lost weight, something he could scarcely afford to do. His cheeks are hollow and his jeans hang loose on a bony frame. He looks ravaged like a crack addict.

For years, he abused heroin and cocaine. But he swears he is clean now, aside from smoking pot and snorting the occasional line of coke. If he is gaunt, he says, it is a symptom of ravine life and eating only junk food. Nothing else.

Up the steep slope to the tent, Terra is sitting in its threshold, a bare inflamed foot outstretched as a visiting street nurse disinfects and bandages it.

She has sliced her foot stepping on a broken bottle that she hurled at Kurt in a fit of rage. In the filthy socks and tattered running shoes she wears on her circuit from tent to panhandling corner to Parliament Street for cigarettes, pot, and take-out food, the wound has festered.

Terra is downcast, like the grey day it is. Late October has come, and with it the dreaded first anniversary of losing her children. The thought of never setting eyes on her boys again, the fact that a year has passed and she has managed no better than to be shivering in a filthy tent in a ravine, curled up against Kurt for warmth, is slapping her hard in the face.

The tighter she clings to Kurt, the more irritable he becomes. They have always bickered like an old married couple, almost for sport, but lately the fighting is unrelenting and nasty. In between bouts, she spends her time sleeping and crying.

"I just went berserk," she says, staring at the gash on her foot.

"It's like another voice I'm hearing. I'm so messed up lately. I freaked on Kurt for no reason. I was thinking, 'Why am I with this asshole?' But then it doesn't last. It's like I'm two different people. First, I wanted to kill him. Then I'm like, 'Please don't leave me.'"
 

Intro
Summer Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Autumn Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Winter Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Full Photo GalleryBehind the Story


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