Five things I’ve learned about Toronto

I left Toronto yesterday to spend the holidays in BC, and as I sat in the airport for a few hours due to a delayed flight, I thought about my new city and a few lessons I’ve picked up living as a Torontonian these last four months.

  1. To fit in, complain about the transit.

I quickly discovered upon arrival in Toronto that commiserating about public transit is a favourite Toronto past time. The TTC – the Toronto Transit Commission – is chronically underfunded and infamous for its service disruptions. As it turns out, Toronto transit receives far less in government subsidies than other transit systems in Canada. The subsidy is about $0.78 per ride, compared to $1.62 in Vancouver or $1.16 in Montreal; two-thirds of the TTC’s budget comes from fares. Plus, not only is the TTC’s logo outdated (it looks vintage, but I think it just hasn’t been updated since the 50’s) but operations don’t seem to be keeping up with the changing times, either—the Presto transit card system roll out has been spotty at best, and transit to fast-growing suburbs like Scarborough is still sorely lacking. Considering the TTC’s poor reputation, it was probably predictable that when it recently opened a shop for transit-themed goods like t-shirts and mugs, someone quickly opened a parody shop with similar items that didn’t exactly “celebrate” the TTC. (“Just in time to be late for the holidays,” the site’s tagline reads. I laughed real hard.)

ding-dang-dong
Photo: notinservice.ca

Here’s my unpopular opinion, though: I kind of love the TTC. I’ve never had to wait long for a bus, streetcar or subway, and you can get within a few blocks of pretty much anywhere downtown by transit. On buses and streetcars especially, the next stop is always clearly announced and displayed so you don’t have to frantically check Google Maps for where to get off. Consider this the ravings of an unsophisticated suburbs girl enthralled by the transit of a big city (I still think taking the subway is novel).

  1. If you’re going to something cool, be prepared to wait in line.

In November, I went with some friends to a famed Friday Night Live evening at the Royal Ontario Museum, where you get to party among the exhibits, drink and eat tasty things, and dance to live music. Doors opened at 7; we arrived to stand in line at 6:15; it was probably 8:15 by the time we finally entered. I’ve learned that if there’s something interesting happening in the city, you’d better be prepared to wait for it, because it’s likely that a whole bunch of other people will also want to go. Sometimes people seem to line up for no reason at all. I’ve walked down Queen Street West or Dundas West on Saturday mornings and I see lineups of young people outside some store and I have no idea what they would be lining up for. The release of some cool new item? Entry to some hidden brunch spot? Ah, the mysteries of the city.

  1. The story about Toronto vs. the rest of the country? It’s true.

In BC, Toronto is usually spoken of with a hint of derision—“Oh, the Centre of the Universe. Torontonians, they think they’re so important.” And with 6 million people (a full 17% of the Canadian population) in the GTA, one can understand why Toronto seems to feature so prominently in the Canadian consciousness. (This might also have something to do with the fact that most major English-language Canadian media are headquartered here.) I’ve discovered that Torontonians have, in fact, embraced this narrative in a way that seems strange and antagonistic to me. They literally have t-shirts. Walk around the city and you’re bound to spot someone sporting the popular “Toronto Vs. Everybody” shirt sold by the clothing company Peace Collective.

Photo from Peace Collective
Photo: Peace Collective

(Oh, except apparently this slogan may just be a knock-off of the “Detroit vs. Everybody” tag line – Maclean’s calls this a symptom of Toronto’s “pervasive lack of self-esteem.”)

  1. It calls itself a “city within a park.”

Toronto’s city parks—even the postage-stamp-sized one that’s steps from my house—all have signs announcing the name of the park with the tagline: “A City Within a Park.” Apparently, this stems in part from the network of ravines that the city is built on. Ravines run through several parks in Toronto, including those along the Humber River or the Don Valley that are supposed to be very beautiful. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t done too much urban-park exploring, though I’m inspired by the story of this guy who visited parks in every one of the 44 wards of Toronto in 2015.

Photo: City of Toronto
Photo: City of Toronto

I do, however, get a little snobbish about urban parks and the claim of being a “city within a park” doesn’t resonate too well with this girl who loves Victoria. Living in Toronto, I long for wild walks up PKOLS (also known as Mount Douglas), watching sunsets over the Salish Sea from Dallas Road, or looking out over the city and the ocean from Gonzalez Hill. I’m sure by this point that my new southern Ontario friends are quite sick of hearing from me about the natural beauty of BC.

  1. Everywhere you go, there’s the CN Tower.

Maybe this is my tendency to personify things, but it always seems like it’s just peering out from behind buildings, keeping watch over the city.

But let’s be real: I’ve spent most of the last four months with my head in the books. There’s lots more to be learned about this city–so see you in January, Toronto.

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2 thoughts on “Five things I’ve learned about Toronto

  1. Happy holidays! I hope you have a wonderful time back in BC. To answer a couple things… Very often people are lined up outside of electronics stores for video games, Apple store for phones, or Foot Locker for shoes. Other things too I’m sure… But those seem to be the big things.

    Also! I’m slightly biased but I think the parks and amount of greenspace is pretty cool even if it definitely doesn’t compare to beautiful British Columbia. Some history for you: there used to be lots of homes in the valleys near the Humber river, but Hurricane Hazel in the 50s caused so much destruction and flooding that those areas were deemed green spaces and could no longer have housing built there. Huge portions of the city are accessible by the bike trails that connect these parks.

    1. Hey Miranda, thanks for the comment and happy holidays to you too 🙂 I’m excited to explore more of the parks and green space of Toronto in the new year and I do love the bike trails of the city!

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