SOME OF MY GREATEST MOMENTS HAPPENED THERE. When the Little Red Roaster coffee shop closed up for good this past weekend, I realized that the journey of my life in the past 18 years could be traced through the hundreds of meetings I had in that little coffee shop over the years.
I remember when I took my Sudanese kids there for their very first hot chocolate. They didn’t know English very well, but the sheer delight on their faces as their taste buds relished the chocolate and whipping cream could be translated into any language. I ended up buying them two each. Everyone in the coffee shop that day knew of their story and gathered around in celebration. It was my kid’s first real exposure to community in Canada and all they saw around them were friendly and welcoming faces.
Then there is the recollection of seeing two Canadian prime ministers there. They sat down in the midst of all those citizens, drank their coffee, and got an earful of insights from the good people of London. It taught me early the importance of citizen engagement and the need for politicians to get back to the grassroots.
Over the years I became good friends with a former Conservative MP at various tables in that shop and learned afresh that good-hearted people can cooperate across any divide if the spirit is right and the community comes first.
My heart broke as I took a dear friend there for his last taste of French vanilla coffee before he passed away a few days later.
I met teachers, principals, businessmen and women, kids, parents, scientists, economists, politicians, priests, media personalities, doctors, nurses, and those from so many other walks of life at those tables over the 18 years I frequented the place.
And citizens and groups took me there for hundreds of coffees, as they sought advice on all aspects of citizenship and responsibilities to community and to offer their opinions in return. I met so many people interested in running for politics – women and men – in these last few years that I became inspired by their fervent desire to better their community. I told them that the “Roaster” was the very first place I frequented the day after my political sojourn was brought to an abrupt end and how the community in that place enfolded me in their midst, encouraging me to keep fighting for a better city. I recaptured hope in such times.
Jane and I went there immediately after learning I had a baseball-sized tumour in my stomach that would have to be removed, along with the stomach. I still recall to this minute Jane’s gaze as she sought to reach out in our own moment of private and quiet despair. I also recall going there an hour after my chemo treatment had concluded and how everyone gathered around in congratulations. That 18-month journey could also be mapped out in the tables around that coffee shop.
And then there were the various meetings with ElectroMotive, Ford Talbotville and Kellogg’s employees who weren’t merely staring into their coffee cups, but into a black void in which they felt entrapped. There were the tears, the worry for the children, but ultimately the resolve to find a new future in our community. I will never forget the sheer dignity of those folks in the midst of great difficulty.
It’s true that I was attracted to that coffee shop because of all the people I knew, but somehow it developed the ability to move out into the community through the efforts of its patrons. Its offering of free coffee and amenities to some 150 charitable ventures across the city is well-known. The greatest demonstration of that to me was dropping by the Red Roaster in the mornings, picking up the thermoses of coffee, and taking them out to the locked-out workers at ElectroMotive during the coldest days of the winter. Those coffees were the community’s way of demonstrating their compassion for those workers and that coffee shop made it possible.
This past Saturday was the Red Roaster’s last day being open in Wortley Village, and in typical fashion it donated all of its earnings that day – 100% – to a local charity. They were ending their tenure just as they lived it.
I sat alone in those final few moments, at my favourite table and feeling sentimental. So much of what I have attempted to do for my city happened within those four walls and within the reach of all in my community. I was alone at closing, in the end realizing that I had grown so much in those familiar surroundings. To Kendra Gordon-Green and Adam Green, the owners, I offer a fond “thank you” for providing a solid place where I could discover a broader community. Their work will continue in the catering business, and the brand will continue at other locations, but the memories of what we had while that place served its community will remain with many of us for years and years.
This story could be told numerous times in similar venues and coffee shops across the city, and we thank all of them for providing that “third place” where we could interact as citizens, families, and friends. They teach us the possibilities of engaged citizenship on so many different levels. The Roaster’s door might now be closed, but my mind is more open than at any time in my life because it gave me a place to become my best. If all of our coffee shops can do that, then our community will be fine.