Finding Toronto’s soul

When we first came here, there was one thing of which I was certain: I would never want to live in Toront. This was a city with no soul, no emotion, and certainly nothing much to recommend it. We even chatted about this with a friend who OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA coincidentally was here on a press trip. “I asked the PR guy why people in the UK should choose Toronto when New York is so near and he said New York was obviously miles better – then he realised and went back on what he’d said,” our pal told us.
The problem was that at that time, we were living in an area called Victoria Village, although it’s better known as “Where?” Here, to be exact. Not knowing Toronto, we had taken faith in a description that said it was 20 minutes from Downtown, not realising that the description was written for superheroes with their own cloaks. Mere mortals relying on public transport had on average a 45-minute trip. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe photo above shows Downtown in the distance – our admittedly not bad view from the supermarket. Also, apart from a Tim Hortons and a very nice pizza place, there was nothing around except a school and lots and lots of houses. This is clearly car country, with the nearest supermarket and signs of life being a 25-minute walk away. There’s not even a pavement to walk on, turning our evening paseos into a daredevil venture as 4x4s went shooting by us. (The manicured lawns come right down to the road and as you can’t go into someone’s house without taking your shoes off, we dreaded to think what the reaction would be if we walked on the grass in our boots.)
The worst moment came when we were spending an afternoon in a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlocal park (pictured). There’s a huge greenland area next to Victoria Village, with parks rolling into forests and then back to landscaped areas again. We’d gone for a wander a few days previously and had found a nice spot to rest just outside one of these woodlands not far from our apartment. It wasn’t until we were leaving that Ged pointed out some of the rubbish on the ground. “Drugs,” he said. Sure enough, our return to that area turned into a walk home as we saw a group of young men on what I’d hoped to call “our seat” smoking a variety of substances. Which is why we ended up in the landscaped park, determined to enjoy the rare sunshine in what had turned out to be a wet cold and very disappointing spring.
But our enjoyment was not to be. Resting on a bench after competing with each other to go higher on the children’s swings, I noticed a young man close by muttering to himself.
“Pyschos always come from quiet suburbs,” joked Ged. “All the mass murderers lived somewhere like this.”
We kept on chatting, with me keeping one eye on the young man – who brought out a meat cleaver and started throwing it into the grass, angrily shouting at it all the while.
We left. Quickly. And never went for a walk again.
It wasn’t all bad, however. One of my abiding memories is the advert OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfor a car salesroom (above). The woman on the swing moves backwards and forwards and for some reason, I always felt like Marty McFly was about to land right next to it. Also, about 20 minutes walk away was this gorgeous little church, which dates back to the 1850s. Wandering around the gravestones and seeing all the history of this little area was amazing.
We were there for six, looooooooong weeks before transferring – via Montréal, which yes I will get round to writing about – to our present place in The Annex, right here. We’ll see out the rest of our time in Toronto here, and wOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe couldn’t be happier.
Apart from being a little hipster hub – thank you Yelp for confirming this. We’re exactly on this little orange spot in between Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue (which is pronounced Spah-diner, not Spad-eena) – this is a brilliant location for a holiday in Toronto. It’s filled with bars, restaurants, take-aways, delis, coffee shops, music stores, health food stores… The local neighbourhoods hold farmers’ markets and street fairs and the streets are always busy. Waiting for Ged one night, I got into a lovely conversation with this amazing Colombian, who showed me the badly mangled legs a motorcycle crash had left him with and how the doctors said it was a miracle that he could walk. “No miracle,” he added. “I wanted to see the beautiful ladies so I had to walk.” If you’re in Madrid, think of Lavapies without the fear you could get mugged and the mounted policeman; if you’re in Edinburgh, we’re talking Newington meets Marchmont meets the buzz of Hogmanay; and if you’re in Newcastle – well, there’s nowhere like this, which is something the city councillors might like to think about.
Above is the view from the end of our street, showing where we buy our bread (Cobs, which has heavenly cinnamon buns and the best lemon tarts ever) and KO Burgers, where we may also have sampled one or two delights. Or four or five. I lose count.
Far from being miles away from Downtown, we can now walk to the Y OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAin 25 minutes, through the beautiful greenery of Queen’s Park (below) and the impressive buildings (here) of the UofT (that’s the University of Toronto, for those of you not in the know). The Beaches are 30mins by subway, Koreatown and Little Italy lie close by but best of all – or perhaps worst – we’re within staggering distance of Kensington Market and the Cloak and Dagger.
Kensington Market – I may have disOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsed you when we were still living in the Hellmouth (actually, I did, here) and for that I am eternally sorry. Now the sunshine is here and we no longer are flying visitors but near-enough locals, I love you. Yeah, it’s hipster-tastic and wanky things regularly go on, but it’s alive and buzzing and still has the best tacos and I’ve also found a place that sells pear cider. Best of all, I get to practise my Spanish when we buy tomatillos for green chilli. “Ahhh, you’re British,” they say, “That’s why your accent is so… different.”
I still think Downtown is very bland, with poser pubs and no atmosphere, but here in The Annex, I think we’ve found the real Toronto. And it’s going to be very, very sad to say goodbye to it at the end of September.