Evenings come later and yesterday I went out on my bike for the first time in months. It was an unseasonal 15 C today and the joy in the air was contagious. The sunsets are more beautiful than usual.
It’s a Canadian reality that if you are not from Toronto or don’t live here, odds are you hate this city. A similar situation can be found in most countries. New York, Madrid, Paris, London, São Paulo, are all the object of ambiguous feelings by Americans, Spaniards, les français, Brits, and Brazilians respectively. So the Vancouver billboard promoting a brand of beer with the words “colder than people in Toronto” was not surprising even if it annoyed a few Torontonians and allowed Vancouverites to laugh and puff their chests in self-satisfaction.
I’m not a Torontonian and Alan and I came to Toronto from the city that perhaps hates this city the most – Montreal. Montreal’s attitude towards Toronto is steeped in the complex conflict between English and French that marks this country but also in the fact that Montreal only recently lost its position as financial and cultural capital of the country to Toronto, when most of the multinational corporations’ headquarters left Quebec because of the separatist movement. Even the most level-headed Montrealer can’t avoid holding negative opinions about Toronto. When we announced to our friends that we were moving to Toronto we might as well have told them we lost a cherished family member or were diagnosed with a terminal disease. Every single one of our well-traveled, open-minded, and otherwise cheerful friends reacted in exactly the same way. “Oh no! Why?? You’re going to hate Toronto!” they exclaimed, before starting a long list of stereotypes Montrealers believe fiercely about Toronto beginning with the Coors commercial line and going on to say that Torontonians only think about money and work, they don’t know how to have fun, they only talk to you to know what you do for a living, there’s nothing to do in Toronto, everything closes early… the list goes on and invariably ended in my favourite: “Toronto is not as multicultural as Montreal”. That one always makes me laugh as it shows that either the speaker had never been to downtown Toronto or hadn’t been here in over 30 years. We usually simply nodded, pretending to agree.
Alan and I had never been to Toronto before so there was no point in arguing. Initially, even Alan had the typical Montrealer reaction when I told him I had decided to do my PhD at the University of Toronto. “I’m not going to Toronto!” Fine, I said, I’ll commute. Eventually he came around and accepted the inevitable. By that point I had convinced him to arrive with no expectations and give the city a fair chance. I didn’t know Toronto but I’ve always been suspicious of easy generalizations so I didn’t take any of what we were told seriously. I arrived in the city with the same attitude I have about any place I’ve ever lived in – an open mind and determined to like the place so I can make the best of my time here. No point in being miserable for minimum of five years we would have to spend here.
Even with our positive attitude, we were pleasantly surprised. Every person with whom we interacted in our first few weeks here was welcoming and friendly. As soon as we mentioned we had just moved here, they would say “welcome to Toronto!” Granted, we live in the gay village, perhaps one of the friendliest places in town but we’ve had similar experiences hanging our in other neighbourhoods. We found that much like in most places in the world, if you are friendly and make an effort to talk to people, they will talk to you. Alan quickly got to know everybody on the subway platform on his way to work and we are on first name basis with all our neighbours and all the people that serve us in all the stores and restaurants we frequent regularly.
In time, we found that every single stereotype held about Toronto was at most, a myth. Torontonians are not just focused on money – the city has its Bay street lawyer types but it is also home to a very vibrant artistic and bohemian community. If you follow my friend JP’s blog, you’ll find that the indie music scene is quite impressive and it’s easy to watch live shows and have a lot of fun for next to nothing. Toronto’s diversity is perhaps one of its features that I will miss most when we finally leave. Alan used to get home from work full of excitement telling me he overheard people speaking Swahili on the subway. For the nature lovers, the big city of Toronto can be an oasis as well. Its green spaces and ravines make it indeed a city within a park.
The only thing we initially missed about Montreal was hearing French on a daily basis and the food culture. But as my food blog indicates, I’m slowly discovering that Toronto has much to offer in the latter regard as well. If only our Montreal friends would come to visit us so we could show them…
The Toronto Bicycling Network is a volunteer run cycling club that organizes hundreds of events throughout the year. Among their many activities are sociable, evening rides, in which people simply meet and a designated spot and head off for a 1-2 hour cycle eventually ending up at a patio or restaurant somewhere for dinner. We went for a Friday night ride a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it so much that we joined the club this past week. So yesterday we set out for another Friday night ride. This one took us through the core of Toronto – most of the path was through bike paths or quiet streets but there were enough of us (at least 20 cyclists) that we felt safe even on the busy streets. Here’s the map (I missed a bit by the lake, but you get the idea):
We started at Riverdale Park, passed through Cabbagetown, the Gay Village (which was in the midst of celebrating Pride weekend!), U of T, Harbord St, then up to the Junction, down through High Park, to the lake, then it was on the Martin Goodman Trail (lovely at dusk!) all the way to Jarvis and then up Church st to our place. We separated from the group at Jarvis (they continued on to the Danforth to have dinner) but thoroughly enjoyed the evening. We did about 32 km in perhaps one and a half hours and the night was simply magical – warm but with a nice breeze. Cycling through some really nice neighbourhoods made me once more aware of how nice this city really is.
I had heard much about Dark Horse Espresso Bar, so when Alan and I found ourselves with a little over an hour to kill last Saturday and with a transit pass on hand, I suggested we hop on the Queen St Streetcar and make our way for a quick coffee at this Riverside cafe. I had a capuccino and a lemon-ginger scone and I have to say it was quite nice.
The place itself was pretty nice and we weren’t disappointed.
I even had time to read some newspapers while we drank our coffee.
Next time we’re in the area, I want to try this other place we walked by…
Summer in Toronto is very frustrating.
Last night we went to check out the opening of Luminato at Dundas Square but could only stay for an hour since we had to go to the other side of the city where Alan’s guitar teacher was playing his final gig with his bad. The evening was nice, we discovered an amazing band at the concert on Dundas Square but we also got the program for the Luminato festival. Turns out that the main theme of the festival this year is the guitar so within Luminato, there’s also a guitar festival, which immediately caught our attention. But it turns out that most of the events are happening today, when we have already committed to a potluck dinner at a park on the city’s east end.
The tendency is for things to get worse. Soon, there will be four festivals happening at the same time on any given weekend, making it impossible for us to check them all out. Particularly this summer when I’ll be teaching a course – and thus probably marking or preparing during weekends – and have Hebrew class on sundays… Sigh.
We discovered a new place today. Chabichou is mainly a cheese shop but also serves quiches, sandwiches (grilled cheese with a choice of brie, cheddar or swiss) and tasty tarts. I had noticed it last time we cycled by and today we decided to stop for a light lunch after our market rounds. Loved the atmosphere, the cheese display, the thought of homemade butter, and the smell of fresh-baked croissants in the air. Very nice indded.
This video was referenced in the previous post but since it’s available on YouTube, I thought I’d simply add a link here. Originally part of this article.
The city of Toronto is celebrating its 175th birthday today. Despite what our friends in Montreal might think, Toronto is a great city.
Check this great article on the city’s past anniversaries for some great pictures and a bit of history. Wondering what Toronto is like? Watch Torontonians of all walks of life describe their city in 6 words. For a schedule of all the events marking this date, check the City of Toronto website.