We will get back to Chile but first a little more on Toronto.
Toronto is the largest city in Canada and, even decades ago, when I made my first visit and the population was considerably smaller, it was an overwhelming place. I was fortunate in that, in the early days, I always had local guides.
As a child, Toronto seemed as remote and glamorous as Oz and I had no idea how I was going to get there – just that it was a goal. My interest was further piqued when I met Nancy who was visiting relatives in my remote middle Canada small town. She didn’t actually live in Toronto but rather in one of the bedroom communities surrounding it. A trip into the city was no big deal. We became pen pals and I plied her with questions about the city.
My first Toronto guide was Marissa. Somehow my Toronto stories always begin elsewhere. Marissa was living at student residence in the University of Calgary that summer. It was a popular accommodation choice for students with well-paid jobs in the oil industry. She was Italian, the first I’d really known. The Prairies are too cold to attract many immigrants from sunny climes.
At the end of that summer I was heading to London, Ontario to attend the previously mentioned fancy business school so would be about a two hour train ride from Toronto. She invited me to visit and stay with her family in Downsview. The Prairies are scarcely populated. Not all countries are represented but there is a lot of diversity. Lots of people have several different national groups in their DNA. Toronto is different. There are enough immigrants from certain countries that they can band together and create a replica of the old country within the new.
So I was introduced to Toronto by way of Italy! Marissa was first generation. The house was decorated with lots of Roman looking knick-knacks. We ate Italian food. We went to the neighbourhood bakery to pick up cannoli. There was great controversy because her brother’s girlfriend was Jewish. I wasn’t used to cultures with so many rules.
That’s when I discovered there were all sorts of cultural communities within Toronto. Almost any cultural group had enough members immigrating to Toronto that they could band together. Often a few people started the pattern and then others followed because they knew there was a community to welcome them and immigration would be less daunting. The early arrivals established a safe place, which attracted new arrivals looking for a mix of new opportunities and familiar tastes and smells.
Modern day Toronto is possibly the most multicultural city in the world. About half the population is composed of immigrants and over 200 ethnic groups and 140 languages are represented. This means that Toronto is full of festivals and events. If you are OK with crowds, that’s when I would come. There are festivals for almost any interest you might have.
One of my most significant festival memories was a festival called the International Caravan. Apparently, it died out in 2005 and it wouldn’t be the same even if it did still exist. In those days, Toronto was smaller and it was phenomenally safe for a large city. Its nickname was “Toronto the Good”. The concept of the International Caravan was to get a passport and go to national associations all over the city to try the food and see the music and dance of the old country.
The festival was created in 1969 to try and bring together the various national groups who tended to live in their silos in different communities. I went to my first Caravan the first year I actually lived in the city. My boyfriend had grown up in the city and we journeyed all over town, walking countless blocks, even to neighbourhoods with a shady reputation. Sure, there was haggis and elaborate Ukrainian dancing and I was young and desperate to learn about all the countries I couldn’t yet afford to visit but what it really taught me was that there were all these different neighbourhoods, each filled with a unique character developed by the melding of all the cultures that had settled there.
1985 Toronto was a harbinger of 21st century Canada. 21st century Toronto is a city where you experience the entire world. Next year is Canada’s 150th birthday so the celebrations are likely to be better than ever. Check out a festival. Or just pick a neighborhood and wander. That’s where you will find the real Toronto, the one that left such an imprint on my life…