Cynthia’s Walks

On Cynthia’s passing: It was peaceful. She was surrounded by family. And it was too soon. “Damn, damn, damn.” Her memorial has been set for September 11th, 1 p.m. at St. John Norway.

She had a long stride, so she moved fast. It’s the way I remember Cynthia, arms swinging, backpack on one shoulder.

Neighbours at the 2009 Terry Fox Walk

Cynthia’s wearing her Breast Cancer T-shirt on the Terry Fox Walk. We were walking for another dear neighbour.

We walked a lot, me less eagerly, hoping instead to sit on her couch, she striding ahead, explaining that she couldn’t walk slowly. There were the shopping trips, brisk evening walks with other neighbours, and longer fundraising walks. Always walking.

When Cynthia heard about the first Jane’s Walk, she said, “We should lead one in our neighbourhood.” She had already talked to the head of a local community agency. I was working, at the time, at United Way Toronto on issues around building strong communities. But, as a researcher, stepping out in front was not my first inclination, so I demurred, offering only to speak at one of the stops. That first walk became Ashbridges to Little India. The next year, Cynthia and I led a group of forty through a torrential rain, stopping at the Mahar Restaurant for chai and samosas that Cynthia had arranged through the local BIA.

Cynthia Brouse, award-winning magazine writer, editor and my friend and neighbour for nearly fifteen years, I was proudest of a Toronto Life piece for which she hadn’t won an award: Indian Summer, the story of living in our east-end neighbourhood. (She was kind enough to omit the story of our first meeting, when, toddlers in tow, I had brushed her off and, instead, she included a quixotic story about my son and I dancing with a sparkler. And about how “dense, multiplex networks” function.)

Last year, our Greenwood Coxwell walk gained some profile, being written up by a Globe columnist, but Cynthia wasn’t well enough to lead the walk again with me. Her breast cancer had returned. Another neighbour, a historian, stepped in graciously to help, and Cynthia came to listen this time, her mother pushing her wheelchair.

However this year, within days of the annual walk, Cynthia said good-bye to her home and, for the last time, has been admitted to hospital.

Still, we talked about this thing we had joined together, this celebration of neighbourhoods, and the convergent theme of neighbourliness. I told her how this year the walk had grown again. Crazily, I had decided to do two walks, a reprise of our earlier ones and a new one I had thought up. And, crazily, two new walks had sprung up in the neighbourhood, led by others!  (The media coverage also grew with a Spacing radio podcasts of my walk and of Jane Farrow’s east end tour and also a CBC interview on Fresh Air about Jane’s Walks across the province which profiled our neighbourhood.) Our conversations had taken a life of themselves.

These ideas of local community, social networks, neighbouring, how we manage, or how we come to rely on each other, these themes were what Cynthia and I considered, continuously, until the end.

Earlier this spring, when things looked pretty gloomy, I joked with Cynthia, “I’ve had enough of sick and dying neighbours.”

Looking at me steadily, she said, “You will be happy again.”

Now, I remember that, and I imagine her offering me a cupcake to enjoy — because we can always walk it off.

Ironically, or perhaps not, one of Cynthia’s other best pieces of writing, on the death of her dear friend Adele, focused on these themes too. The piece won her a gold medal at the Canadian National Magazine Awards in personal journalism.

Cynthia’s blog, of her illness, is listed in my blog roll. See The Clothesline Saga.

East End History Re-discovered, 2009

A Neighbourhood by Any Name, 2009

Greenwood-Coxwell Jane’s Walk, 2009

Cynthia’s Walks, 2010

5 Comments to “Cynthia’s Walks”

  1. I love this Cynthia story. Thanks for sharing. I also wrote about visiting her in Princess Margaret Hospital. I have known this woman since the third grade and its very hard to be letting go.


  2. A lovely tribute, capturing so much of Cynthia’s multitude of gifts and pleasures. I, too, have walked many miles with her in person and then many more reading her stories.


  3. Hi there,

    I think your site is great… I’m trying to offer something similar by providing local neighbourhood information to those looking to move. It’s quite new and only built around the London area with a few pages published… Wondering if you would be open to adding a link to my site? I’d be happy to return the favour if you’d like as well!



  4. I too have walked a few miles with Cynthia! My heartfelt thanks to everyone for such kind words. I recall the days when she would trek home on the bus for holidays, lugging a load of assignments to complete marking at her leisure and her leisure she did love! Yes she could procrastinate!…We miss her terribly and are immensely grateful to everyone that has brought such joy to her life.

    Jean (her mom)


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