Toronto: Soul-less t-dot


First stop… T-dot.Toronto’s always gotten a bad wrap. Let’s face it, few outside of Ontario like Toronto, and even a good number of Ontarians aren’t big fans. And when you ask Montrealers what they think, well, it’s pretty unanimous. T.O. is a lifelesss, soulless, cold, conservative, concrete desert where good people go to make money, sell out and eventually cash in their souls. Toronto represents everything Montreal isn’t. Its frenzy is contrary to Montreal’s joie de vivre attitude. While Montreal contents itself with good food, good drinks and good conversations around a table, Toronto is far more concerned with achieving goals, having appointments that fill up calendars, and chasing the American dream.Well, those are the general views on Canada’s largest city, and there may be some truth to them. I have to admit, I’ve even held those particular views in the past, but a few trips to the city, proved that there’s much more to T.O. than that. And this last trip, certainly sealed the deal.

The truth is, I didn’t do all that much while in Toronto for almost 2 weeks. I stayed with a great friend and spent most of my time either working, hanging out with him and his family, or just walking around the neighborhood. And, I think it’s the simple fact that I went with the expectation of spending time with a friend rather than exploring a city, that made all the difference. All of a sudden, I was more open to the human experience. It wasn’t about filling my days with activities, trying to see as much of the city as possible, go to as many bars, eat at a bunch of different restaurants. I was free from all of the regular weekend tourism plans that usually accompanied me across the border from Quebec into Ontario, and my appreciation of the city grew massively. Sure I walked around. I mean, I walked. I walked a lot. But I was alone, didn’t have destinations in mind and didn’t have time limitations. I got to just look, listen and feel. I got to see how truly inefficient the TTC is, how much people hate it, particularly the streetcars which the municipal government is stupidly trying to expand. I got to hear how loud the city’s constant hum is. It’s loud, louder than Montreal, and I’d even say louder than NYC. I’m not talking about honking because there isn’t much in TO, but the sound of the city, the background hum is louder than I’ve ever noticed in a city. But noise aside, I felt like something’s shifted in TO since I first started going there.There’s a massive and noticeable trend towards boutique everything. Boutique hotels, boutique restaurants, trendy but sustainable foods, products, everything. Much more than in Montreal, this seems to be a part of the city’s culture now. Restaurants are specializing in random things, and you get the sense that anything can happen in TO and that there’s room for anyone to find success. That’s certainly not something you feel in Montreal, where half the time you ask yourself how the beads store on St. Denis can possibly still be open. Sure Montreal has Pied de Cochon and a slew of other restaurants, and maybe it still has the highest restaurant per capita rate in North America (assuming that was ever true) but if it still does, I don’t think for long. Being in Toronto, you start to feel how much faster the world is moving than it seems to in Montreal. And the restaurants are just a small part of it. Toronto, while much more “tight-assed” by reputation also seems to be more inclusive in the way that it allows people to set up business from almost anywhere. Whether it’s a food truck, street food, or just a conversion of a home into a business, it just seems more friendly to that entrepreneurial spirit, which of course brings about the whole “Toronto is always busy” vibe but also allows the city to move more quickly, letting things die faster, and grow faster. The city is more alive and dynamic. It may not have Montreal’s culture and history, but it is much more metropolitan and seems to have so many more neighborhoods, ethnicities and variety than Montreal. It’s just that it’s so spread out you rarely get to compare one hood with another, whereas in MTL, a few blocks in one direction and you’ve left the plateau for Rosemont, or Chinatown for Old Montreal. Everything is more compact in Montreal, and therefore more obvious. But close to 2 weeks in our biggest and most hated city turned out to be a time to reconnect and participate in a real way in the lives of people I’ve always cared about, talk to old friends, and see more while doing less than ever before. A complete success and an encouraging start to this adventure of mine. Admittedly I had one short moment on the day I arrived that was a bit uncomfortable. While walking into the metro, under the weight of my 2 backpacks, and realizing that I was wearing everything I owned, I had what was the first signs of an anxiety attack. I could feel it coming, just peeking into my thoughts, but it didn’t have enough reason to stick around. I was free and I knew it and there was no reason to ruin this day, which had already started off so well. In Montreal that morning I shared a touching departure from my girlfriend and then got into a rideshare with 2 young American guys who had just met a few days earlier. Conversations flowed and the ride went by quickly and comfortably. It was a good day. It was a good following 2 weeks.

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