a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘toronto’

the evolution of toronto

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.

toronto-iconic-streetcarSo 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…

since Canada is trending ;)

I’ve been travelling all over the world as a Canadian for a long time.  It’s not a bad passport to have.  People generally have a favourable view of Canadians but they generally don’t know much about Canada, probably assuming it’s just America with fewer guns.

I’m OK with people not knowing much about us.  One of our virtues is that we are understated and polite.  It was refreshing to see the patriotism first hand at the Winter Olympics in 2010 but I hoped it wouldn’t change us too much.  What I saw when I saw the photos was how integrated and multi-cultural we were.  We are no longer a country full of white people and most people are cool with that.

I grew up just as Canada was starting to embrace multiculturalism so that has been part of my cultural identity my whole life.  It’s partly what makes me a great traveller.  I was taught to be curious and respectful of other cultures and to seek out interesting festivals and customs.

I am better able to represent Canadians than the average passport holder because I have seen most of the country and lived in five of the ten provinces, in both big cities and small towns.  I have had friends or family living in the missing provinces and territories so I have a strong sense of the country as a whole entity, not just my own backyard.

It’s my great familiarity with my own country that makes me think of it as “home” rather than “travel”.  I was just in Toronto recently and one of my friends there asked why Toronto never made the blog.  I told her it was on the list but it always got punted by a more exotic locale.

But since Trump has sparked interest in Canada and next year will be the 150th anniversary of our confederation, I thought it was likely a good time to write about Canada 🙂

I know a LOT about Canada so will certainly post more once I get some of the other travels caught up but, for now, we will talk about Toronto since I was a genuine tourist there twice this year.

My first serious boyfriend grew up in Toronto.  I met him in Calgary.  By that point in my life, I had managed to get to London, Ontario to go to a very fancy business school.  Toronto is the “big smoke” in Canada.  They used to share the power with Montreal until they passed Bill 101, making French the official language, and sending the English speaking elite to Toronto.

As a child, I spent a lot of time talking to my father who was surprisingly cosmopolitan in matters of business, history and politics so he seeded the dream that one day I would work on Bay Street (the Canadian equivalent of Wall Street).  Just the idea of GETTING to Toronto seemed an impossible dream in those days.

And the truth was that I wasn’t really prepared for it.  But I was lucky.  Michael was an extraordinary guy and introduced me to the city of his birth in a way that inspired and empowered me.  Toronto was where I came of age.  Where people started to think I had grown up in the city – not knowing how to clean a seed drill.  The transformation wasn’t instant but Mike allowed me to feel confident enough in the big city that I could eventually feel confident anywhere.

I’ve lived in Toronto twice and have had friends move there at various stages in their careers so it has been a constant presence in my adult life.  My most recent visit really demonstrated how tied I am to the city – celebrating the 21st birthday of the daughter of one of the friends I made at the fancy business school.  Why it’s so hard to approach it as a tourist.  Toronto to me has some of the same allure Montreal has for Leonard Cohen.

cn-towerToronto doesn’t have a ton of sights and must do’s for tourists.  That doesn’t mean it has none, just that it isn’t New York, Paris or London.  Its most famous attraction is the CN Tower.  It was completed in 1976 and was the world’s tallest tower at the time.  The record held until 2010 when Asia got rich.  It is definitely worth a trip.  My most memorable trip up the tower was on a rainy day where the rain changed to snow by the time we reached the top of the tower.  It appears there are a few other options now and I may need to relive the experience on my next visit to Toronto.  It also looks like the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower is a lot more sophisticated.  And for the daredevil, you can go on an EdgeWalk around the tower.

mind blowing chihuly

mind blowing chihuly

Another place tourists should check out is the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).  Given that there were a lot of dinosaurs ACTUALLY roaming around in Canada, that part of the museum is especially impressive.  The ROM also hosts a series of intriguing temporary exhibitions.  Until Jan 8, 2017, they are hosting an exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s phenomenal glass work.  It is spectacular!the-very-popular-persian-room

The other place I would send tourists to in Toronto is Casa Loma.  It has a long and turbulent history, which is as interesting as the estate itself.  Canada doesn’t have many robber barons and their spoils but Casa Loma defies that stereotype.  Henry Pellatt was a financier at the dawn of the twentieth century and bought up 25 lots of land on a hill from developers in 1903 and then engaged 300 workers to build a dream estate in Gothic style.  History wasn’t kind to Casa Loma.  First, World War I and then the Great Depression…  In 1933, the city seized Casa Loma for back taxes, which is why you can visit it as a tourist.

There are other formal tourist attractions as well.  If it is a first visit, the best is to buy a City Pass.

MY Toronto, though, isn’t the stuff on a City Pass.  There is a lot more to the city than is obvious as you step out of Union Station.

A topic for another post 😉


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