Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Little Scadobia: an oral history

The following is an excerpt from Little Scadobia: an oral history by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Tasaday Press in March 2009


It is rare to watch a culture fade from existence from the window of your local Tim Horton’s coffee shop.

In fall of 2008, a Frames of Mind retail outlet (a big box store devoted to picture frames and other picture displaying sundries) opened on the north end of Toronto’s Walker Street. The development required the levelling of 4 city blocks. Those four city blocks housed the last remnants of Little Scadobia. Little Scadobia was possibly the most unique ethnic neighbourhood in Canada. It also remained one of the most marginalized despite its ability to provide visitors exactly what they looked for.

Before the wrecking balls struck I had the pleasure of meeting the long time residents of Little Scadobia and preserving their stories

The 1950’s

The first wave of Scadobian immigrants arrived in post war Canada and sought out the cheap housing of Walker Street which once housed a mercury thermometer factory and was considered toxic even by 1950’s environmental standards.

Soon Little Scadobia was established.

Maria: The thing I remember the most about growing up in Little Scadobia was the food and the music. There was always someone cooking in the kitchen and singing. Mamma would always be making up great big plates of hot dogs, but served Scadobian style with mustard. Mamma sang all sorts of Scadobain songs while she cooked. Scadobian songs were just popular songs. ‘Whatever you liked’ she explained. The Scadobians had their land and traditions stripped from them so long ago there were no Scadobian folksongs left. We just sang a song with Scadobia in our hearts and it would become Scodabian music. In our house a lot of Frank Sinatra was Scadobian.

Jarod: I just remember playing stick ball. My father joked that stick ball was our national pastime.

Frankie: There was a lot of prejudice then. People treated us like nothing. If you said ‘ I’m Scadobian’ they would laugh in your face and call you stupid and say that you weren’t even from a real country, or that you spoke gibberish, and that we had to be putting them on or something. There was just so much ignorance about our culture. A joke in Toronto went ‘How many Scadobians does it take to screw in a light bulb? None please, we would rather you didn’t shine the light on us?’

Lisa: The prejudice went both ways. We weren’t allowed to talk to anyone outside the neighbourhood. From a young age I was told not to tell outsiders about us, about our ways. They wouldn’t understand and we just wanted to be left alone. I think that had to do with our history. As Mama and Papa told it the Scodobians got beat up a lot. They were the victims of a lot of wars so naturally there was a tendency to withdraw. So many times I would ask something about a holiday or food or something and they would say ‘we don’t know. That information was lost when So and So invaded. Anyway, it was made very clear I was never going to date outside of the neighbourhood.

Mickey: Secretiveness also hurt us. We weren’t allowed to talk about Scadobia with anyone outside of the neighbourhood but we also wound up not talking much about the country at all. Most of second the generation guys. We don’t even know where Scadobia was on a map

The 1960’s
The cheap rent and feeling of remove from the rest of society attracted groups of hippies to Little Scadobia in the 1960’s and 1970’s

Nick: Oh man, that place was just the best. The rent was next to nothing, you got cheap hot dogs at the Scadobian cafe and they would sing these Scadobian folksongs that sounded just like the psychedelic stuff I dug then.

Melanie (formerly Starshine): They were such a proud race of people. It really made me humble you know, it was really an honour. They showed me a picture of one of their revolutionaries from the 1800 and he just looked so stoic. I put his face on silk screen and the red on black made him look even more profound. His spiritual eyes and strong wide moustache. I started making a good living selling those shirts, enough to pay for the loft and hot dogs. I made some money, yes, but I think in a small way I also restored some dignity to the Scadabian way of life.

Andrew: to be honest I did even know I lived in Little Scadobia. I mean, it pretty small and really only talked to roommate. I think I remember there was hot dog stand though. The guy there would sing Beach Boys songs.

The 1980’s

In the 1980’s Little Scodobia had its only real brush with prosperity. A small outlet front began selling Scadobian folk art and landed a large contract with a national coffee chain to sell traditional Scadobian Snow Globes.

Edward: Those snow globes were gorgeous. I discovered the first one at a 2nd hand store in Scodobia. I mean, it was one step above junk collected from the trash. The woman told me it was a traditional snow globe. The bubble represented the fragility of the Scadobian world. She told me to come back in a few days and she would have more.

Lydia: The globes were just beautiful and they would take requests of who you wanted to be in them, Santa, The Queen, one of them even had Duran Duran in there. It was still very traditional though

Carl: Of course after the contract was landed with the Coffee chain there wasn’t enough skilled Scadobians to meet the demand. I think there was actually only 4 or 5 Scadobians left then. So they set up workshop that was operated by older Asian ladies that could still produce these things effectively and yet also traditionally


As the snow globes were recalled due to mercury toxicity, Little Scadobia fell into even harder times. As a response the only ever Scadobian Cultural Festival was held in 1995.

Simon: I was in University then and it seemed like a really important thing to do. I had always heard how Scadobia had been under attack for so many generations. I thought organizing a festival like this would let them reclaim their culture and hold it up

Margret: The festival was so much fun. We took a lot of popular songs, Chemical Brother, En Vogue, Oasis, and really Scadobianized it. It was a great culture that way. It was designed to adapt. We also took a lot of Buddhist ideas and Scadobianized them into the festival. It was freeing to realize that it wasn’t just music. You could do it to anything.


I talked to the last surviving Scadobian in 2004. He was in his late nineties and on an oxygen tank. As a result he spoke so softly that even those around him never heard what he was telling me, or maybe they just didn’t want to hear

“There was no Scadobia. We made it up. We were a group of Nazi war criminals. Held in P.O.W. camp outside of Winnipeg. After the war we served small sentences and moved to Toronto. This was the only land anyone would sell us. Of Course we were ashamed. We never wanted to say who we were. One day one of made up the name Scadobia, on the spot, when someone asked. We just kind of ran with it.

The history was that we had no border or homeland; it was destroyed by invaders, most of the culture too. It helped to explain the gaps in the logic. The best part was, after all we had done, we made up for it. We punished Scodobians with the most defeats of any nation in history. Nobody has suffered like the Scadobians.”

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