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Hogtown Stories is a series of portraits and short stories about Torontonians by Jeremy Korn, a photographer and urban planner. Find more photos of Ian and past stories at hogtownstories.com.

Ian Alistaire McWilfred

I moved to Dawes Road in 1992 in the winter. Coming from Guyana, it was tough to adjust to the cold climate.

In the summers, I used to play baseball here with friends. We used to play in the rolling hills, where buildings are now. Where I came from, I wasn’t interested in any sports. But this was something I was good at. I could swing a bat, I could catch, and it was great.

Ian Alistaire McWilfred came to Canada in 1992 from Guyana (Jeremy Korn for The Globe and Mail)

When I was around 14, I started rapping here. A friend of mine inspired me. I spent a lot of time with others in the “cypher” – the rap circle. I’m well guarded with those good memories, but things were never all good here. Nostalgia will always lie to you.

Back in high school, my mom and I weren’t getting along. I wanted to be an artist, and she wanted me to be an academic. Those were shoes I couldn’t fill. Eventually, she kicked me out. In the middle of winter.

I was homeless for half a year or so, and I did whatever I could to get by. Some things I’m really not proud of. My life was at risk.

Luckily I was able to stop hanging out with the wrong crowd, adjust myself academically and turn myself around. I made peace with my mom and went to night school. Then I applied to Ryerson and got in!

At Ryerson, I became sure of my purpose to become an artist. Now I make music and I’m a writer.

The greatest thing that ever came out of this neighbourhood for me was the confidence to rap, and put words to paper. It feels all right to be out here.

Ian Alistaire McWilfred regularly performs as F.E.L.N. His latest album, T.O. Noire, can be heard at brukenrecords.bandcamp.com.

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