I’ve been in Toronto a week now – more than enough time to pass judgment on a city and all of its people.
So far, I like it a lot. I live in the Forest Hill area, a short distance from the intersection of Bathurst and St. Clair. It’s a district not unlike Commercial Drive, with a smattering of restaurants and retail shops of Italian, Spanish, Greek and Portuguese origin.
My home is a one-bedroom apartment in about an 80-year-old building that in a past life could have served as quarters for clerics at the many nearby churches. It’s like a university dorm, with the added perk of stained glass windows.
Really the only downside to the place is the heating. I have radiators instead of space heaters, and they can make the place stuffy because they never seem to turn off entirely. That’ll surely prove useful in a harsh Toronto winter but so far here it’s rarely dropped below zero.
Toronto doesn’t seem nearly as big a city when you live in it. There are five main streets running east to west and, unlike Vancouver, no river to separate the uptown from the downtown. The downtown therefore seems to go on forever, reaching all the way to Eglinton before the high-rises peter out. At their highest, they seem engaged in a headlong battle against the sky (hat-tip to J.G. Ballard, RIP).
By far, the best thing about the city has been the people. In Vancouver and Whistler you hear countless tales of how terse and rude Torontonians are. Indeed, in the weeks before I left, a colleague told me I would be “so freaking unhappy” here.
The stereotype of the rude Torontonian has found its closest approximation at the Service Ontario office at 777 Bay Street – and even there, the terseness was wholly justified. Waiting in line next to me was a young man of about 25. Well dressed in a green sweater, gray Dockers and with a thin Movember mustache, he could easily have been from here.
Then he started talking. In a passive-aggressive tone, he asked the clerks to accommodate him as ICBC had in the past. For what, precisely, I don’t recall, but it sounded like an unreasonable request. The clerk very tersely told him no, but the young man kept on trying to negotiate with an opposing party that wasn’t giving any ground.
He walked away defeated, his disappointment registering in the weight of his steps. My own clerk said after, “We’re a tough province.”
And that’s as rude as people have been. I came out here expecting to have to force my way into subways and retail outlets, and worked out my shoulders extra hard to prepare for that. But by and large people have been incredibly friendly.
What strikes me most about the people I’ve met here is how informed they are. Last night I met up with a friend from Vancouver and a group of her people and we went skating down at the Harbourfront. I met a ton of new people and was just blown away at much they read the news. Similar people I’ve known in Vancouver would never be able to rattle off the words “Bountiful” or “Dick Fuld” in a conversation and still know what they were talking about. But here the depth of knowledge was palpable. People here clearly read the news and know what’s happening in the world around them.
While I’m enjoying myself here, I can’t deny I miss home. There are times I feel a lot like Jim Caviezel’s character in The Thin Red Line, in that scene where he’s jailed for going AWOL. He lights a match to scupper the boredom, then as he blows out the flame he has a flashback to his home life on a farm in the south.
In some private moments, you could take the images of a southern farm and replace them with trees, mountains and ocean and you’d get a good measure of how I’m feeling. I was blessed to grow up in a beautiful place and meet some great people along the way, and there is no doubt that I miss them.
But for the moment, I’m enjoying Toronto. And for a year at least, I’m happy to be in a big, friendly, social and well-informed place that is already giving me broader knowledge of my country.