Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Joanna Lavoie
Meet Joanna. Many of you probably know her from her Inside Toronto and Beach Mirror postings on The Leslieville and Beaches community Facebook pages. She’s a prolific ‘digger’ and seems to be literally ‘everywhere’. She’s one of those people you can attach this adage to: ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’. She’s a million places at once, but gets the job done.
I first knew of Joanna from her posts, then when she contacted me about doing a story during the ‘A Day in the Life of Leslieville’ project. We never met, and after 18 months of communicating, story telling, chatting via phone or Facebook, I finally met her for the first time just a few weeks ago in a coffee shop re; the story about the book launch. Petite and effervescent, she exudes the kind of positivity/energy you need to have as a journalist/writer. She’s covered everything from gallery openings, deaths, missing persons, political events, crimes, accidents, unveilings, store openings, ‘hums’ and tree tragedies.
Hailing from Brantford, she is ‘proudly bilingual’. Her father is French Canadian, and her mother, Ukranian. Joanna was involved in both communities growing up; language-wise and culturally, dancing in various festivals throughout her youth. She continued her love of the French language and joined Francophonique in 2002, Toronto’s urban French connection and continues to meet with the group to keep her French tip top.
As for the dance, she left the Ukranian folk festivals behind when she was 15. In 1998, while attending Ryerson for Journalism, she joined a salsa class to meet new friends. She not only fell in love with salsa, it became a passion of hers and today, Joanna is a professional salsa dancer who teaches (including at her alma mater, Ryerson U), choreographs and performs regularly – at weddings (including her own), conferences, charities, clubs and festivals, including the 2015 Pan Am Games. In 2003 she was a founding member of Baila Boogaloo Dance Company. That same year she met her husband, Peter, an entrepreneur and owner of Rowe Design Studios, a custom design/build/craft enterprise, also a salsa dancer, and later the father of their daughter, Serafina, now 3 1/2 years old.
Wow, who knew? I asked. She smiles wryly. “I’m the dancing journalist” she laughs. I’m not sure how she does it. A full time journalist with Inside Toronto/Beach Mirror, professional dancer and mother is one busy schedule!
Joanna started at the Beach Mirror in 2005 when she was offered a mat leave placement and has been there ever since. Part of the Torstar Group, her articles can appear in up to 9 newspapers including the Toronto Star, the Metro and more. “It’s my life, not my job,” she smiles. “I love connecting with people and developing relationships.” She sees herself as a ‘connector’ and stays as neutral as one can in the harried world of social media. “I’m an observer and information gatherer. I remember stuff” – the perfect combo for successful journalism. She loves that social media has opened up the doors to the community. “It’s more intimate. I love working and contacting people directly. It’s a great networking tool”. She’s broken quite a few stories in the neighbourhood, some which ended up getting the attention of the Star ie; the closing of Jim’s Westerns and others, more ‘international’ acclaim, like the ‘Leslieville Hum’.
When I ask her about stories that appeal to her emotions and which ones can be difficult to stay neutral about, she doesn’t hesitate. “The rise and subsequent passing of Jack Layton impacted my life greatly”. She also has a soft spot for champions in communities and telling people’s stories. “Obituaries can also be very emotional for me”. Other stories that have elicited emotion from the community include the Real Jerk closing at Broadview/Queen, the Leslieville Men’s Shelter, Coyote attacks, Portlands Energy Centre, the G20 story and more recently the death of Peggy Ann Smith.
She finds people have confidence in local reporters and she loves being a ‘newshound’. “I also try to keep my relationships solid with community politicians and police as well. Social media has put us all on an even footing in terms of helping each other out which is great”.
Joanna currently has over 5.000 twitter followers and nearly 2,000 likes on the Beach Mirror Facebook page. She loves speaking at schools, about her career and various aspects of journalism. To inquire, contact Joanna at [email protected] If you haven’t met her before, you’ll recognize her now. She’s very approachable and friendly and if you bump into her in the street, say ‘Hi’. If you’re lucky, she may even give you a few salsa dancing tips!
You can follow Joanna on @JoannaLavoie and follow the Beach Mirror FB page at The Beach Mirror – insidetoronto.com
Top Dance photo – Hugh Gordon
B&W photo – Bedlington Photography