Sitting in a Starbucks drinking a decaf flat white, Anne Golden recalls how she was “in the vanguard of women going on to have professional careers.”
Golden is an academic down to the bone. “I can’t just dive into a subject without understanding context,” she explained to Women’s Post in an interview. Her background is in American history, a subject she studied at the University of Toronto for both her BA and PhD.
Her own history is a bit of a roller-coaster, and Golden tells it with a hint of dry humour, almost as if she herself can’t believe how much she has done in her lifetime. She is now a distinguished visiting scholar and special advisor at Ryerson University, where she teaches a class on successful cities in the 21st century. She also holds a position on the board of Metrolinx and participates in a number of panels and task forces relating to issues of city building and transit.
Her career had a rocky start. First, she was discouraged from pursuing a career in law after one of the only women in the field told her she would never be allowed to work on any real cases. Then, she was convinced to give up a promotion in the department of history because she was married to a dentist and didn’t need the money.
“The interesting part was I said I understood. I didn’t say ‘injustice’,” Golden said. “I wasn’t bitter or angry. I just said [the other candidate] just got married and needs the job, and I was married to someone who was already a professional and I would survive. I mean, today, that would be cause for protest, but it wasn’t for me.”
From there, Golden took every opportunity she could get her hands on. She was always interested in politics, so when David Crombie ran for mayor in 1972, she was one of the first people to call and volunteer. Golden eventually coordinated the campaign that led to Crombie’s victory.
“New progressive ideas were coming on stream. There was an understanding that there was a new vision for cities beyond expressways, beyond sprawl, beyond imitating the American example.”
The jump from history major to politician, philanthropist, city builder, and transit aficionado was a relatively easy one for Golden. She describes it as “a result of very good luck,” but, in truth, she is an avid learner, ready to jump into any position that was offered to her.
As a board member at Metrolinx, Golden reads about 500-1,000 pages worth of contracts and files before every meeting. She also reads a daily roundup called a “Media Analysis Report”, which includes every single article or radio report published in Canada that relates to transit. Board members then go back and forth, discussing the issues and trying to find solutions to various problems. “I always felt that if the public saw how hard we worked they would be less cynical,” she said.
Some may argue that this cynicism comes from years of failed transit promises and miscommunications between politicians and transit agencies. According to Golden, the main reason for this lack of collaboration is that each institution is protective of its own turf.
“Where you stand is dictated by where you sit,” she said frankly. “If you are sitting in the [Toronto Transit Commission] building at Yonge and Davisville, you may see things differently than if you are sitting in Metrolinx on Front St. having to look at the whole region.”
In addition to city council, the TTC, and Metrolinx, there are about 160 organizations in the Greater Toronto Area dedicated to city issues, including transit. With so much competition, Golden says it is important to stress what makes each group unique. If an organization fails to do so, it may lose its voice and therefore its chance at being part of the formal discussion. She also suggests merging smaller organizations to gain legitimacy.
Despite the many interests of each decision-making power in Toronto, Golden acknowledges that there are good people running each of them, and that a lot of collaboration is happening to ensure the city gets the best possible transit system.
Golden is currently reading Margaret MacMillan’s History People and The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park.