One of the first times I met Tooker, was at a memorial that he had organized. It was a memorial very much like this one, except Tooker was there, beside me, and he was reading the eulogy. There were 6 other people with us, with umbrellas, in the rain. And another thing that made it different from this memorial was that my car was buried in front of us, on a 40 degree angle, half in the ground with the back wheels sticking out. It was the 100th year anniversary of the death of Henry Bliss who, in 1899, took his final step off a streetcar and became the first pedestrian killed by a car. Tooker wanted to raise awareness about the millions of people who have been killed by cars since then, and he came up with this stunt to get the story in the media.
A few years later, I had caught the contagious bug, of organising street performances and spectacles. I was working on an event called Reclaim the Streets, which is an illegal street festival that temporarily replaces cars with community. That year, we had marched up York Street, to the Toronto Stock Exchange and we blocked off the street to cars and had a big party. There were costumes and drums and a sound system and dancing and celebration…
We worked out an arrangement (with the cops) that allowed us to keep dancing on the street, if we agreed to leave peacefully after 40 minutes… The senior officer… looked at me suspiciously. “Are there any other surprises we should know about?” “No,” I said “this is it.” But before he could respond, his eyes shifted to the side, and slightly upwards over my shoulder, as shock and confusion took over his face. I turned my head to see what he was looking at. There was a dumptruck, full to the brim with rolls of sod. People were on top of the pile, throwing rolls down to others. After a roll was caught, it would be carried to the middle of the road, and unrolled. Tooker was orchestrating the entire thing. Within moments, the entire street was covered, and hundreds of people were dancing on grass in the heart of Canada’s most powerful financial district.
What I’m trying to illustrate is that Tooker was able to take any situation and make the best of it. He could take a sad day, commemorating millions of deaths, and make it creative and fun and worthwhile. And he could take a vibrant street party and instantly transform it into something a hundred times better.
Tooker seemed to be capable of anything, he seemed to defy laws of physics and time. He was like a political version of Harry Houdini. He’d lock himself in a safe, and at the same time, he’d be stopping a garbage dump in north Ontario, blocking a highway expansion in Toronto, burning his Canadian passport on the other side of the world, being an incredible partner to Angela, a great friend to all of us – and running for mayor, too.
Everything he did was larger than life and that’s one of the reasons I’m having trouble really accepting that he’s gone. Because he seemed magical. Because he surprised me so often that, over time, he wasn’t able to surprise me, because I expected to be surprised. Every time I opened the paper, there he was. And if it was anyone else’s picture there I would have thought ‘wow this I unbelievable!!’ But with Tooker, I expected it. I expected him to push the limits, to be oblivious to things that we would see as obstacles, I expected him to be magical. I wouldn’t be surprised if he walked in the door right now, and as the doors flung open we’d see Queen Street covered in grass, and cars sticking out of the ground in front of the church.
I also wasn’t convinced that there was only one Tooker. No one could do all that on their own. I figured there must have been six or seven or them. So when I heard that Tooker had taken his last step, part of me thought ‘that’s okay’, because there’s still five or six left.
But, of course, there’s only one Tooker. And none of us is larger than life. But life is what we make it. And for those who say that his life was too short, I say ‘yes, of course’, but I’m also thinking in my head, that he lived a thousand times more, in his 48 years, than most people live in their lifetime.
Tooker believed in a better world. A world that wasn’t based on hierarchy, competition, and waste. He believed in a world based on sharing, sustainability, love and community. He always believed in that world, and never stopped believing in it. And we all share a responsibility now to continue to carry the torch as we walk slowly towards that world together.
Lastly, and most importantly, and simply put: apart from the great activist and leader that he was, Tooker was a beautiful, loving friend who made everyone around feel good. And once it truly hits me that he’s not coming back, I’m going to miss him a lot.