The other day my husband and I and our taxi driver were presented with the sight of a young man standing on the corner of Yonge and Dundas with a live boa constrictor draped around his neck. Yes. At least I think it was a boa constrictor. The driver pulled over for a few seconds. The three of us were speechless.
But on reflection I have come to the realization that supremely unusual apparitions are not that unusual in the city of Toronto. I have seen a young woman of colour whose halo hair arrangement could be said to be three times the size of her head. I have seen a fun grown woman at the counter of Timothy’s Coffee wearing a tutu. I have seen an elderly man step out of his chauffeur driven Rolls Royce wearing a brilliantly coloured full length silk coat.
Are these outliers motivated by a need to be noticed? Is this is so, congratulations to them. They succeed in spades.
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In the early 1970s when we first moved to Toronto from Vancouver I felt that I had finally entered the real world. Toronto appeared to me to represent the ultimate in sophistication. The core domestic architecture, my main interest at the time, ranged from pre-Victorian row houses (unknown in Vancouver) to stately generic mansions in Georgian, Gothic Revival, Italianate or Second Empire styles – built mostly of red brick and less commonly of quarried stone.
Returning to the city after a rural retreat from Toronto in 1990 has exploded my mind. We now live in a vast construction site where ‘façadism’ reigns – the currently accepted nod in the direction of heritage preservation whenever a new residential glass tower is erected. It is clear that developers are now required to built over and around those structures of the past which are considered designable under the Ontario Heritage Act. So what we get is the front elevation of a heritage building with a 80 storey tower rising a few feet behind and around it. It makes one laugh if not at lest smile.
On the other hand, one can appreciate the vitality, the energy that vast new populations bring to the city core. And elongated glass boxes, although they add nothing to the architectural narrative of Toronto, can be credited with establishing a new kind of stimulating and exciting environment.
One of the anti-pleasures of living in downtown Toronto (Bloor & Bay) is that of being awakened at 2:00 am (or 3:00 or 4:00 or whatever) by the ear piercing sound of fire truck, police car or ambulance sirens. Instantly wide awake, one braces for the quacking horn that announces the vehicles’ approach to an intersection followed by a resumption of the siren which then fades into the distance. The utter necessity for such dire warnings of the approach of such vehicles does not escape me. Forgive this complaint dear reader but leave a little room for my regret.
Which brings to mind other more salubrious patterns of traffic which I have noticed since moving back into the city after a decades-long absence. Taxi drivers are scrupulous about observing stop signs. In the 1970’s, I remember these drivers were known for the “taxi-driver stop” – a slowing of the vehicle only. Another change I have noticed, with pleasure, is the ease of hailing a taxi which is travelling either up or down the street. The ubiquitous u-turn allows for a quick pickup from either side of the yellow line. In the country town near where I have lived for many years a turn is looked on askance – likely followed by the comment – “must be someone from Toronto”.
Dear Toronto – a surprise around every turn.
Bloor Street is awash in colour. The side walk planters have lately been planted with forsythia, pansies, tulips and daffodils. By planted I mean jammed solid. The soil of these planters must be ultra rich to support such profusion. Our country friends sympathized with us on the basis of losing nature by having to move to Toronto. They are mistaken. Our first spring in the city has been a revelation. We have found ourselves in the midst of vibrant colour and scent. The city fathers are to be thanked. THANK YOU TORONTO.
My husband and I moved into a high rise apartment building in the Bay/Bloor area of Toronto last November (2016). This, after living in the country for the twenty- six years of our retirement. I have discovered a whole new mini social milieu in the “elevator”.
There are two broad categories of elevator users – the non eye contact category and the eye contact category. The first group would clearly prefer to climb the stairs than to acknowledge by eye contact that other human beings exist within the severely limited space of an elevator. This group is composed mainly of hand-held device proprietors and of old men. The less said about the former, the phone obsessors, the better. The latter, men of a certain age (old) have clearly never been taught the social graces. For this they can be forgiven. Their mothers neglected them. To be fair, I suppose I must include introverts for whom any form of human interaction is not always worth the effort.
The second broad category of elevator users is that of the eye contact passenger. These persons pat the dogs, including the forbidding-looking Saint Bernard the size of a small pony who lives here, make way for the walker and mechanized wheel chair users, enquire about the weather of the coated passengers who enter, and discuss the latest Donald Trump idiocy. In fact, some conversations become so compelling, even entertaining, that the elevator door is held open until the conversation comes to a close.
I am convinced, that for certain people the elevator provides a welcome social milieu. For others it is a necessary but unwelcome entrapment.
Toronto pedestrians, with the exception of those with their faces in their devices or those who are intensely preoccupied, are exceptionally civil. As an ancient pedestrian tottering along Bloor street I am met with courtesy. I am given room in which to totter. Those in my age group exchange smiles with me.
But it can go beyond mere civility. A friend who uses a walker told me this story. She had headed outdoors for her daily walk on a cold winter day when she realized that she was not adequate dressed for the weather. As she hesitated, wondering how to handle this state of affairs, a young man, alert to the situation, approached her and offered her his coat. She grateful accepted and they chatted on their way back to the high rise where she lives. Her rescuer accompanied her into the building before taking his leave.
As David Foster Wallace has written, “There is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless human kindness.”
My husband and I (eighty-eight and eighty-five years of age) are recent returnees to the city of Toronto. It differs radically from the city we lived in from 1970 to 1990. As I explained in my last posting, Toronto in those years, with a few exceptions, extended upward four or five stories. Today the city centre is a forest of towers – 50 to 80 & more stories in height. This means that a massive population lives downtown. Adjacent municipalities have their own high rise centres. The GTA, Greater Toronto Area, is the very definition of urban. And the sidewalks are crowded with people – actual people. Contrast this with say the sidewalks of a small Canadian city – let’s say Owen Sound in Ontario. There the population is to be found in the malls on the outskirts of town. (Although now I understand the malls are beginning to shrink because of online buying).
There is so much to discover and enjoy in Toronto downtown. The massive planters along Bloor Street have been planted in the last few days with pansies and tulips. The sidewalks themselves are constructed of paving stone. To walk on Bloor street from Yonge to Avenue Road for example is aesthetically pleasing. The city is not a wilderness as some rural people like to claim.
Then there is the sheer stimulation of finding yourself among so many different examples of humankind. Ethnic diversity and age range define the downtown. Skin colour ranges from white through all shades of brown to coal black. Age ranges from infants in their strollers, to the young glued to their devices, to the middle-aged glued to their devices to the ancient like myself.
Next time I will talk about the civility of Torontonians – yes civility.
In 1970 my husband, four children – ages 10, 12, 13 & 15 – and I moved from Richmond B.C. to Toronto. We had travelled overseas before moving east in our own country and Toronto appeared to me to be a clone of some of the great cities in England. Vastly different from the young cities of western Canada. Toronto was sophisticated, worldly in comparison to Calgary or Vancouver. We were impressed.
The Royal York Hotel dominated the skyline downtown. There were a few European style restaurants – Fenton’s – on Yonge & Glouster as an example. The Victorian and Edwardian architecture in the city centre was impressive. The lovely residential enclaves of Rosedale and Forest Hill were forested with mature hardwood trees. The shopping district of Bay and Bloor offered international name brands.
Of course there were the usual big city problems of festering neighbourhoods and urban crime but Toronto, by and large, presented itself as an uptight, well governed, largely homogenous (WASP) city.
Then after twenty years of Toronto life and in retirement (1990) – the children away at university – my husband and I moved to the country. Country life suited us. Our neck of the woods was the escarpment of the Bruce Peninsula and the beaches of Lake Huron. Idyllic.
However, it is now the year 2017 and we find ourselves back in the big city. In the very centre of it at Bay and Bloor. The vast changes that have taken place here since 1970 is what I want to contemplate and write about.
So forward tomorrow.
These are the impressions of an 85 year-old woman who has just moved to the city after living the last 35 years of her life on a farm.