Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Truth About Toronto

Having just returned from the city of my birth, I am struck by the bad rap Toronto gets. It is true it is not a pretty city. While there may be pockets of beauty or areas of stunning architecture, as a whole what we saw was rather shabby.

That said, I appreciate its patchwork construction.

Toronto is really an umbrella for a grouping of smaller communities. Little Italy. Chinatown. Little Portugal.Greektown. Kensington Market. The Beaches.

A person could live her life in Toronto feeling that she lived in a neighbourhood. An actual neighbourhood. The sort of place where people get to know you. Where you have your favourite coffee shop and the servers say hello. Or chat and wave goodbye as ours did on our last day there. Or buy us an espresso as ours did at a restaurant we ate at.

I was struck also by how friendly everyone was.

Sure, no one thinks twice about colliding with you in heavy foot traffic. I was the only one hollering 'sorry" over my shoulder.

But -- like most places -- if you take the time to extend a greeting or make a comment while waiting in line, Torontonians will chat with you. On different occasions, strangers offered assistance without being asked.

I was on an elevator with a young man wearing the most colourful sneakers I'd ever seen. I told him that I liked them and his grin was as big as the outdoors. He made polite conversation by asking me about my plans for the evening. It was a lovely interchange.

The downtown core is built for walking. Streets run on a N/S & E/W grid so newcomers will find it easy to make their way around. Just look for the CN Tower. That's south. Go any further and you'll get wet.

Those who don't want to hoof it or who have to travel further afield (and this city sprawls!) will love the public transportation system is.

I can see now why a transit strike is so calamitous. Everyone uses it. Not just those who can't afford a vehicle. Everyone. And it works well. Streetcars, buses, the subway. They blend seamlessly and without the long waits I am used to.

Union Station is a wonder. Its subterranean level acts as a hub for commuters from other cities and the 'burbs. Filled with fast food outlets, dry cleaners and other shops, the Station is home to the GO Train, VIA Rail and the Greyhound Bus. Doors swoosh open and hordes poor through, rushing purposefully this way and that. Here, there is no time to greet a fellow traveller though the staff are helpful and will take time to explain how to find one's way around.

After walking my niece to her platform, I turned back to find a group standing with bowed heads waiting for a train to arrive. For a moment, I thought they stood in prayer. Until I saw the ubiquitous Blackberries in their hands. A Norman Rockwell tableau for the new milleneum.

I'm still not sure that I'd ever be comfortable living there and I still have to deal with the idea that my son will someday soon be on his way, but I can see some of the charm of this somewhat grubby, bulging place.


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