Thursday, July 07, 2005

Downtown Toronto (long)

First, some history:

I moved to Toronto when I was 19, to go to college. I lived in Rexdale (Finch & Kipling area), because it was close to the school I was attending, and I got a cheap room in a house I could actually afford. After a year in that house I moved into an apartment in North York (Finch & Weston area), with two other guys, which later became three other guys, and the experience still makes me shudder when I think about it. Some day I'll write about living in that apartment, because it will be cathartic, but for now let's set those memories aside.

I eventually moved out of that apartment, for reasons that I will write about if I ever write the cathartic entry, and moved to a bachelor apartment downtown (College & Wellesley area). This is when my life in Toronto began, and I learned to love downtown Toronto. I grew up in the country, and I understand why people love living in the country, but I understand city people now, too, and I consider myself one of them. I could be content living in the country, but I could be more content living in the city. (Right now I'm doing neither; I live in Rexdale, which is neither country nor downtown. But I'm still content.)

But I digress.

After my downtown bachelor apartment, I lived in Calgary for a few months, and then moved back in with my parents in the country for six months, while I looked for work. When I found a job, it was in Mississauga, so I moved there for a year, before finding a good job, in my field, downtown, allowing me to move back there. Five years ago I moved back to Etobicoke, to the first non-roach-infested apartment I lived in, and then when I got married I stayed in Rexdale but moved into an actual townhouse, if you can believe it. I can't.

So, with that context taken care of, here's why I'm writing:

I love downtown Toronto. I wish I could describe properly how I feel about downtown, but I don't know from poetry, so this blog entry will be the best I can do. I've been thinking about it a lot the last couple of days, because I was downtown on the weekend, at the Harbourfront, and we walked around quite a bit, allowing me to become nostalgic about my downtown days. Not the "bitter/sweet" kind of nostalgia that we sometimes get, where we remember our happy memories but are sad that they're over, but a very warm, comforting, pleasant nostalgia, where I just remembered the sense of happiness and well being I had living downtown, without the sadness that those days are over.

I don't like winter, and I really don't like snow, but I loved walking through freshly fallen snow when I was downtown. Sometimes it would start to snow in the afternoon, and I would leave work at 6:00 or so, after it had gotten dark, and just walk around, instead of going straight home. Nowhere in particular, really; maybe I'd stroll up Yonge Street, and take a look through the stores selling cheap electronics, or enjoy the hustle along Queen Street, with the wannabe bohemians. I'd probably stop in somewhere for supper, and if possible I'd get a table by a window, so that I could watch life in Toronto strolling by, on the streets outside.

The flip side to that is that I love summer. Even when it's really hot, too hot, I love summer. And summer downtown is even better.

In the summer, I almost always walked home from work. Sure, it might take me a couple of hours to get home, instead of 30 minutes on the subway, but I always felt it was time well spent. A couple of hours just to enjoy life, commune with my fellow man as they passed me on the street, and forget about my troubles (if any). There are a hundred stores downtown that I've passed by on these walks, vowed to stop into one day, and never entered. Maybe a thousand. Maybe a million - I'm not good with numbers.

Lunchtime is great too, in the summer. For a time I was working in an office at Church & Esplanade, which meant that we could have lunch in that little triangular park between Wellington, Front, and Scott. Or, we could go to Saint Lawrence Market, and buy our lunch there. It's very relaxing to eat your lunch outside on a warm summer day.

And let's not forget balconies. Every apartment I've lived in has had a balcony with a great view - which I hardly used. But sometimes, in the summer, it's just so peaceful to go out on the balcony with a beer, enjoy the view (usually of the CN Tower, fortunately or unfortunately), maybe read a book, and just be content with life.

Speaking of views, here's how to see Toronto in the best possible way: Wait until it gets dark, and then go somewhere West of Sunnyside Park. Get on the Gardiner Expressway, heading East into the city. When you get somewhere around, oh, I don't know, Jameson or Dufferin, you'll come up over a hill, and there before you will be a view of the downtown, nicely lit up. I always love it when I'm in a car that someone else is driving, when we take the Gardiner into downtown, so that I can enjoy that view. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's breathtaking; for that you definitely do have to go into the country. But it's still a beautiful view of the city I love living in.

As I mentioned earlier, I live in Rexdale now. I don't think I'll be leaving Rexdale to move back downtown - my wife and I care too much about this community to leave it. So my days living downtown are over. I'll go there occasionally, and maybe spend an afternoon, but there will be no more walks home after work, strolling semi-aimlessly through the streets, in a way that makes my arrival home seem almost accidental. Whenever I go downtown now, it will always be with the knowledge that I have to get back in the car eventually, and head back home.

But that's okay. I want to do what I can for Rexdale, so I've given up downtown. I don't regret leaving, not even for a moment. I simply reminisce about my time downtown, enjoy the memories, and use them to make the tapestry that is my life even more rich.

Although I only lived there a few years, altogether, downtown Toronto is part of who I am.

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