“Ugh, Toronto?”: On Place, Change, and the Centre of the Universe

IMG_7126_2A few months ago, I took a walk from my Victoria apartment down to the ocean, as I’ve done so many times in the years I lived in Victoria. The Salish Sea glittered in the June heat and the Olympic mountain range dominated the horizon. The snow-capped peaks recede a bit in summer, but I love how I can look down Cook Street all year and see them in the distance, sometimes looking like they’re floating in the sky above the clouds.

As I faced this scene, I couldn’t help but think: Why am I leaving this place?

I know others are thinking that, too. In the months before I left Victoria, I’d tell people I’m headed to Toronto for grad school. They’d wrinkle their noses. They’d crack jokes about the Centre of the Universe and the concrete jungle. They’d lean over as if to impart a secret. “You know they have real winter there, right?”

I mean, I get it. I left a lot behind in Victoria: a steady job related to my interests; a relationship with someone I care about a lot; community that I found in unexpected places, like my young adult choir or my fellow World Refugee Day organizers. I’ve only seen a fraction of the natural beauty and adventure the West Coast has to offer, and I already miss sunny days spent exploring in a kayak.

There are a lot of reasons I’ve chosen to move to Toronto for grad school. Some are related to my program and my school, but the reasons I find most compelling are about the need for a change in perspective.

I’ve lived in BC my whole life, except for brief travels that have taken me to other countries. But I know that Canada is more than just this province and more than just the way things appear from our west coast. Victoria has shaped my perspective on a lot of issues that this country faces, but that’s just it: my perspective is one view of many, from a particular geographic and social location.

And I’ve realized that where you are–your geography and the culture of that place–can have a major effect on how you see the world. I know living in Victoria has influenced the kind of person I’m becoming. My views on environmentalism, my sense of Canadian politics, my connection to the outdoors, my anti-consumerism values–I can’t help but think that these parts of me would be different had I chosen instead to move to, say, Calgary instead of Victoria. (This is no knock on Calgary. It’s different, that’s all.)

How do things look from the heart of Toronto–from the “centre,” looking out? That’s the question I’m most excited about. I want to get outside what I know and what I’m comfortable with, and allow a new place to influence me in different and unexpected ways. I want to find beauty and adventure wherever I am. I want to soak in all that big city life has IMG_7489_3to offer so that I can have a better understanding of the big picture.

To meet people who are different from me; to encounter opinions that are contrary to my own; to find my way after landing in an unfamiliar location. These are the kinds of experiences that enrich us. That’s what I hope to find in Toronto, real winter be damned.

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