A taste of Toronto, soon-to-be my new home. So as not to be utterly overwhelmed by the novelty, I kept a mission list to a minimum in this, my first exploratory trip. Leaving my adopted city of Boston is going to be tough – roots have grown deep over these past 11 years. I came very close (within inches, really) to moving to the ‘Tdot’ 4 years ago but it didn’t pan out because I was not ready to separate myself from the likes of ‘Beantown’. Over the course of my life, I have resided in and made a couple dozen trips to Europe and yet, scandalously, I have rarely visited Toronto, a major pulsing city a measly 4 hours away from where I grew up: Ottawa. I cannot complain, though….hello, Europe?! But unbeknownst to me, a megapolis was growing, evolving, and drawing people from all corners of the world.
Whilst hitting the streets during my 5-day stay and polling friends and strangers that live there, I discovered that Toronto is indeed a wonderful and liveable city. Naïvely, I thought it was solely a field of skyscrapers. Of those glass high-rises there are aplenty, many having sprouted in the past few years to meet the burgeoning condo demand of downtowners. But there are so many plays of scale there. I was pleasantly surprised to find numerous neighbourhoods or, dare I say, arrondissements, with different qualities, some with a small village feel: you’ve got your industrial-turned-art district, hipster, bohemian, trendy, and posh areas, the financial and entertainment zones, the beaches and so on.
As the world’s most ethnically diverse city, Toronto also has distinctive shopping districts and markets that offer a wide range of unique experiences: vibrant retail areas that’ll disorient you and make you think you’re elsewhere. Ok, perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch to say but the Greek, Portuguese, Italian, Indian, Chinese communities, to name but a few, are each a ‘country’ in itself. I came across scores of teenagers seamlessly flipping back and forth between English and foreign languages, presumably their family’s native tongue – something I can relate to. And it is no surprise to see many business owners from Europe setting up shop there, benefitting from opportunities that they cannot get on the other side of the pond. Toronto is home to heaps of independent shops, galleries and restaurants, suave Internet cafés sandwiched between tattoo parlours and Shawarma eateries. Personally, I was all over the mid-century modern venues stocked with Scandinavian furniture and décor. Put me in front of anything with the ‘Design within Reach’ label (a knockoff of a classic, rather) and look out! I’ll covet it like a treasure trove. The highly acclaimed Toronto International Film Festival may have helped put this city on the cultural map but it goes far beyond that – it has become one of North America’s most dynamic arts and design communities.
People in Toronto have a sense of humour. You can do what you want here (generally speaking) and be whomever you want. (And frankly, coming from Boston, it’s refreshing). You can find everything and anything here. And in my walks I encountered distressingly attractive and stylish people… another bonus to relocating. 🙂 Like anything, there will be pluses and minuses, I’ll give up some things and gain others. But I’m ready for the new adventures a metropolis affords. Word on the street is that initiatives are in place to make Toronto into a New York. I can believe that. With neighbourhoods on the upswing, a booming real estate market (almost as if there was no recession), and an established major banking center: these all bring serious cashola to the once ‘Big Smoke’. It may not have a reputation of being the prettiest of cities (note aforementioned nickname ‘Big Smoke’) but it’s getting better at creatively filling in the blanks. Concrete Toronto is in a form of continuous development.
I woke up with the sun rising over Lake Ontario, a body of water so enormous it might as well be a sea. And as if there wasn’t already enough happening, there is also a massive ongoing revitalization of Toronto’s harbour front. Development plans to strengthen the ‘blue edge’ are still much in the works but I saw various projects already constructed: flexible public spaces and facilities, wave decks, bridges, parks, and beaches, all contributing to create a destination that connects people to the water. The open/green space encourages year-round use so I strolled the waterfront, sans dog, liking the wind-catching willows that create a soft buffer and scoping out informal beach furniture scattered across the south end of the site that transforms it from an urban park to an urban beach. Naturally, being mid-winter, it wasn’t particularly animated (i.e. dogs few and far between) so I’m psyched to see it come spring. While we’re on the topic, let me take this opportunity to clear up the common misconception of foreigners that Torontonians are trudging through snowdrifts in a barren northern climate. They aren’t. If the cityslickers are wearing fur-lined parkas, it’s for stylin’ reasons because those jackets are all the rage!
I saw but a fraction of the city on this short trip, but enough to already come to some conclusions. Toronto is ‘the new black’, at least for me. So stay tuned. In the meantime, be sure to check out what’s happening in Vancouver, a Canadian city with international attention because it is hosting the winter Olympics in just 2 short weeks…