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Port Lands Portraits: The faces of the people in the Port Lands

Work. Live. Play.
Those three words are often used to describe the development goals of the historic Toronto Port Lands.

More than 5,500 people work in the Toronto Portlands in a variety of industries. We want the public to know their stories.

You can see the Port Lands Portraits here or follow us on Instagram as we add new stories on a regular basis.

The Toronto Port Lands Company is a driver of jobs on the waterfront and is a proud supporter of the companies and people in the Port Lands.

Jemelle Williams recently finished the Artist Management pilot program at Canada’s Music Incubator. This program is geared at giving aspiring managers and industry professionals the skills they need to properly develop and manage emerging artist.

“I was first introduced to CMI through Xolisa – I was very impressed by the material they were covering and how the program was being facilitated, so when I was approached to take part in their artist management pilot program, I jumped at the chance.”

Jemelle, who also runs his own digital media company, says that the skills he has learned through CMI’s programming has been invaluable to his career progression. “They provide you with the resources needed to build a strong foundation – they help artists realize their potential as small business owners, at the same time, they are heavily investing in the Canadian music scene.”

The Toronto Port Lands Company proudly provides funding to CMI and the City of Toronto’s Business Incubation programs.

Xolisa (pronounced Koh-Lee-Sa and check out her Instagram) a rising hip hop MC from Toronto who recently went through Canada’s Music Incubator Artist Entrepreneur program. Funded by the City of Toronto and the Toronto Port Lands Company, the program is designed for artists who want to take their careers to the next level – it gives them the skills they need to turn their passion into a successful career.

“I knew that I wanted to move forward with my career, but I didn’t understand the business side of the industry. It was a virtual black hole. Working with CMI has been great because not only do they help you with songwriting and performance workshops, helping you grow as an artist, the main focus is on the business side; royalties, invoicing, how to book a show, where to find a manager, etcetera. The program forces you to venture out of your comfort zone – by the end of it you come out as a totally different person.” Be sure to check out Xolisa’s new album “And Gaps Do Lead To Bridges”.

Need a few extras for your softball game? Chris Cheng and James Gibbons have an app for that. They are the co-founders of OpenSports, a startup running out of Ryerson’s DMZ, one of the leading tech incubators in Canada.

Chris explains the OpenSports platform can connect young adults who want to play recreational sports “whether that’s finding a sub, whether it’s finding another tennis partner, whatever it is. It’s just bringing people together.”
The city’s Business Incubation and Commercialization Program provides a grant for the DMZ’s Industry Night Program, which puts startups in front of potential investors and customers. The grant dollars come from TPLC funding. Read more about them and other startups in our May Digest.

Andrew Grubb is Chief Strategy Officer for Crowdbabble, a social media analytics company that sits as part of the Ryerson University’s DMZ – one of the leading business incubators for technology startups in Canada.

The city’s Business Incubation and Commercialization Program provides a grant for the DMZ’s Industry Night Program, which puts startups in front of potential investors and customers. The grant dollars come from TPLC funding.

Andrew calls his company a “DMZ ambassador” and he can’t say enough good things about how the incubator has helped Crowdbabble get established.
“They provide us with workspace as well as connections to events, community, as well as potential customers. They bring through lots of interesting potential customers for us, all sorts of people and customers we would never have access to.” Read more about them and other startups in our May Digest.

Vel Omazic, CMI's executive director
A magical place for music sits on Lawrence Avenue, just east of Victoria Park. It’s the home of Canada’s Music Incubator (CMI). The city provides a grant for CMI’s Artist Entrepreneur incubator program and those grant dollars come from TPLC funding.

Vel Omazic is Executive Director of CMI and his organization helps newly established artists learn the ropes about the music business. The City of Toronto has a Business Incubation & Commercialization Program to help entrepreneurs start new businesses. The Toronto Port Lands Company provides funds for some of those programs. We’re profiling a few of the people and ideas involved with city-supported incubators. Read more about them and other startups in our May Digest.

Bert at SIRT
See the guy in the booth? That’s Bert Dunk. He started his career in the Canadian film industry more than 40 years ago. (Oh, the stories he can tell you about being the camera operator on the 1979 Bill Murray cult classic “Meatballs”!) Now he’s Manager of Technical Production and Research Projects for Sheridan College’s Screen Industries Research and Training (SIRT) Centre, which operates at Pinewood Toronto Studios in the Port Lands.

SIRT is a “technology clubhouse” that uses state-of-the-art camera and motion capture technologies and is one of the reasons why Toronto produces some of the most skilled image artists in the movie, TV and gaming industries. “A lot of the 3D technicians working around the world came from Toronto,” says Bert. “They were all trained here.”

Aaron at CRS
Aaron Laycock is the branch manager of the Contractors Rental Supply outlet in the Port Lands. The branch opened in January of 2015 and is one of 27 CRS facilities in Ontario. CRS caters to contractors who use big equipment, but every day DIYers can also find something they need in the shop (like one of those huge ladders for cleaning out your eaves troughs). Aaron joined CRS two years ago and says as someone who’s not originally from Toronto, he was unfamiliar with the Port Lands district before working here.
“It is a little off the beaten path,” he says with a laugh. Some of his clients come from the area. “We have generated a fair amount of business across the street at Ashbridges Bay, GFL over at Cherry Street and there has been some new business drummed up in the area…. Things have been successful off the get go.”
Al Saunders checking truck's load
Construction continues to boom in Toronto and much of the cement and concrete used to build those projects comes from the Port Lands. St. Marys Cement has 34 ready-mix plants in Ontario and one of its busiest plants is located in the eastern district of the Port Lands. About 30 St Marys/CBM (Canadian Building Materials) trucks operate out of the plant on a daily basis.

Here driver Al Saunders checks a load he’s taking on before heading out to another construction project. The plant is a beehive of activity, with drivers coming and going in a carefully orchestrated process aimed at getting to nearby sites as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Nandan at Toronto Port Lands
Nandan drives a front end loader for Strada Aggregates in the East Port Lands district. And if you live in a downtown Toronto condo, it’s likely that Nandan has helped load the raw materials from Strada that a construction company used to pour the foundation for your building.

Nandan has been with Strada for a year, but has worked in the Port Lands for more than a decade.

Omar standing behind the bar
Shakir Omar has been the co-owner of The Keating Channel Pub and Grill for 12 years. His business is a welcome refuge for people working in the Toronto Port Lands – or those who want to escape the nearby downtown core for a more relaxed setting.

“A lot of people like the aspect that it’s not a Planet Hollywood, a Kelsey’s, you know, one of these touristy destination points that people are trucked in and out steady all day long. A lot of people don’t even want to tell people about this place – except their close friends. It’s comfortable. Our food’s great. It’s relaxing. We do service differently than the places downtown. It’s a lot more personal. We like to get to know the people that come here. That’s an aspect as to why they come here in the first place, matched with the fact that we have great food. If you don’t have good food, God help you.”

Nilton in boat inspecting Ship Channel Bridge
The Ship Channel Bridge on Cherry Street serves as an important structure that helps the flow of industrial traffic down in the Port Lands – as well as being a gateway for the public to Cherry Beach. The bridge was first built in 1930 and has been under construction for more than two years. Built as a two lane bascule bridge, it was closed for a time in 2012 when it was discovered the beams supporting the bridge were weakened from wear and tear.

The new work on the bridge is being done by people like Nilton Sousa, who has worked throughout the winter and spring to get the bridge ready for the coming shipping season. Nilton works for Facca Inc., a firm that specialises in bridge repair and construction. The Toronto Port Lands Company has been working with the Toronto Port Authority to make sure this historic bridge meets modern-day safety standards. Even upon completion, the bridge will require ongoing maintenance work, keeping jobs down in the Port Lands

Desiree working at The Keating Channel Pub and Grill
Desiree Beausoleil has worked at The Keating Channel Pub and Grill for the last three years. “I love working here because of the atmosphere. Our guests aren’t just guests. They’re more like friends. I know just about everyone’s name when they come in. Most people actually treat it like a hidden gem. They won’t let other people know about it because they want to keep it a little bit of a secret.”

Before it opened as a pub and restaurant 12 years ago, the property that is now The Keating Channel Pub had a rich history in the Port Lands. It once housed a leather hide house and a facility that fed molasses to the Distillery district for the production of rum.

P.J. Tremblay at SIRT
P.J. Tremblay is a Bachelor of Game Design student at Sheridan College and is finishing up his co-op internship at Sheridan’s Sirt (Screen Industries Research and Training) Centre.

“I’m a virtual reality research assistant specializing in audio,” says P.J. “I create and implement sound and music for virtual reality experiences, and also augmented reality.”

The challenge of “creating” sound means P.J. has to use his imagination in very creative ways. For example, he’s found that bubble wrap sometimes is the best thing to imitate the sound of fire. Check out P.J.’s Instagram profile to see more about how he works with sound.

Sirt is located at Pinewood Toronto Studios in the Port Lands. It’s an amazing place – Sirt describes itself as “an industry and academic `technology clubhouse’ dedicated to exploring digital image capture and creation processes for film, television, gaming and other screen-based industries.”

Photography by Chris Young.

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