Toronto is not a beautiful city, in the way that Chicago is. Indeed, because of their similar climate and setting on the Great Lakes, the two cities are often compared, usually unfavourably to Toronto. It has certainly not managed its lakefront as attractively as Chicago’s, though this has improved in the years since I lived here. There’s now a bikeable path, the Martin Goodman Trail, that runs all along Lake Ontario and joins up with the Trans-Canada Trail that reaches the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific Oceans.
Nor does it have the impressive range of beautiful architecture that Chicago does. I fell in love with Chicago when I was very young—she was my first love, and is still my favourite U.S. city. But Toronto also has advantages, and typically, they’re understated if not bland ones. Toronto didn't give the world electric blues, but I can take the subway any time and never wonder if this line is safe or not. Although violent crime is sadly not unknown, Toronto is still remarkably safe compared with most U.S. cities. That may not be saying much. Gun deaths there are so numerous that Chicago cannot even be plotted on the same graph, for example, as the entire United Kingdom.
Most Torontonians are not actually from here. About half the city’s population was born outside Canada, as I was, and many of the other people I’ve met here are from different provinces. But even some who’ve spent their whole lives here don’t love it. Part of living in Toronto, and perhaps other places, is complaining about it. Again, I’m different in that when I was living in the most basic accommodation, at one of the lowest points of my life, I realized how much I really enjoyed being here.
|Spadina Quay Wetland, an oasis where once there was a parking lot|
|Toronto Music Garden, designed by Yo Yo Ma (apparently) to reflect a Bach cello suite|
|Grenadier Pond, High Park|
I was a member of Out & Out before I left Toronto. It’s a group of people who organize all kinds of activities besides going to bars. My most memorable outing with them was in January 2009, when a three-hour dogsledding adventure near Huntsville, Ontario, turned into five hours (the dogs could tell I didn’t know what I was doing). Very cold weather and lots of being dumped into snowbanks.
The leader of this walk happened to be the same guy who gave me a ride up to Huntsville on that occasion, and he remembered it for the same reason I do: toes. We both got frostnip, and still feel those particular toes go cold before anywhere else. Fortunately today’s walk was in much milder weather.
We’ve also had a few opportunities to catch up with our friends Trudy and Maria. I used to work with Trudy years ago, and when Maria, her daughter, was working in England for a while, she was a frequent guest at our place. When we got back to Toronto, Maria suggested brunch at a place called Insomnia.
“In the afternoon?” Trudy said. I assured her that, yes, we were supposed to have been up all night partying!
We walked past the corner of Bloor and Bathurst Streets, where for decades Honest Ed’s took up an entire city block. The pride of Ed Mirvish, a store that seemed to have everything including free turkeys at the holidays, has been demolished by his son, presumably so yet more condos can go up.
We also got together with Marg, another friend from Canadian Tire days, and her son Spencer. Marg and Spencer came to London a few years ago too, and we enjoyed seeing them there. We had so much fun with Marg that I saw her again a few weeks later, along with several other friends who hadn't all gotten together for ages.
|With Arlene, Jay, Marg, Monty, Jay's husband Wayne, Stéphanie, and Tom|
|Interior, High Park library|
Another day we went to Little India on Gerrard Street East. I hadn't been there since my first visit to Toronto. One of the great things about Indian restaurants in North America, that doesn’t seem to exist in England, is the buffet, where you can get a portion of as many different dishes as you went. It suits me perfectly because I never want just one (or even two or three) items from an Indian menu.
Afterwards we had a stroll through Leslieville. More than ten years ago, when I lived in Toronto, The New York Times “discovered” Leslieville, which apparently was where the cool lesbians were hanging out (I was never there). Ever since then, of course, it’s gotten too expensive.
I’ve been taking advantage of our time in one place to study at Toronto’s excellent Spanish Centre. I’ve gone there before to refresh my Spanish, minimal as it is, and Carla from Caracas has proven an excellent instructor. As much as I’m not looking forward to leaving Canada at all, the winter here seems like a good time to head south to Latin America, so I’m brushing up. Sometimes, when we’re working with partners, the level of hubbub in the classroom approaches that of a colonial-era “blab school.”
It’s been humbling to attempt conversation with my fellow students, especially a couple originally from East Africa for whom English is, at least, a second language; they speak Italian too. They proudly say “I am from Canada” in Spanish, but they aren’t even learning in their native language, which I think is impressive. (Incidentally, I find it much easier to say “Soy de los Estados Unidos” when I’m here in Canada. In other parts of the world I don’t feel like I’m from one place.)
The larger world has, of course, intruded while we’ve been here. The week we were in Churchill happened to be the week marijuana, or cannabis, was legalized across Canada. I haven’t noticed many differences but then I’m not interested in smoking anything. One thing I have noticed, as in states where it’s legalized, is signs popping up warning what is and isn’t allowed. Near the U.S. border, and at the airport for example, there are signs reminding people not to attempt to cross internationally with cannabis, which is illegal.
More sobering was the attack on Etz Chaim=Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed eleven people, including a woman from Forest Hill, the first neighbourhood I lived in in Toronto. We heard at the last minute about a vigil in North York and decided to show up. The vigil was held in Mel Lastman Square, named for the mayor of Toronto when I first lived here, who was the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland.
Someone I know from Glad Day Bookshop, who now teaches in Toronto, remarked that his students seem to think that anti-Jewish hatred was a particular episode that happened in the twentieth century. He has to teach them to see patterns, that anti-Semitism didn’t emerge from nowhere, nor does it, sadly, ever disappear. To counter it, an interfaith group in Toronto organized a “ring of peace” to go around the City Shul on the following Sabbath. Jews around the world were organizing to “Show Up for Shabbat” on the Saturday after the shooting, and some of us wanted to be there in solidarity.
|Usher with police officer|
The TV news was there too. A woman asked the man standing next to me (with flower) which congregation he was from, and he explained that he was a Muslim. Later I saw an imam on television, stating that he was there because there should not be “such violence in our world.” To which I can only say, Amen.
Back in our own neighbourhood, T. was thrilled to discover that our local farmers’ market, unlike others in Toronto, doesn’t close for the season. It just moves indoors.
We get our meat there now, and maple syrup. I’ve particularly enjoyed the Stanners Vineyard wines from Prince Edward County—they make dry riesling, which I like better than the usual sweeter kind—and, given the neighbourhood we’re in, pierogi.
|The last outdoor farmers' market of the year, Riverdale Farm|
|City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square|