Travel Journals

Toronto, a city of contrast and joy!

toronto_skyline

This story is similar to many other stories, yet it provides a unique perspective on what makes someone want to experience the vibe of Toronto, move to Toronto and enjoy life in Toronto. We hope you enjoy the read, learn a bit about what to do in Toronto if you are a visitor, and discuss some of the benefits of living here, should you consider moving.

In early 1973 a young teenager, Karim Ladak, came to Toronto all the way from East Africa. He came for a short visit. He loved the city, and decided to move here in 1974 to complete high school. “Even as a teenager, I felt safe, and ventured to live on my own, sharing an apartment, eager to show the world that I could be independent, and get this! That I could even cook my own food. Never looked back, and 42 years later, after visiting over 125 countries and having lived in 10, here I am – deeply in love this city which has grown on me and with me.”

Over these years, Karim developed personal rating system for cities around the world. At the bottom, there are cities which are hell holes. Dirty, polluted, unsafe. Best avoided. Next up are cities with the basic hygiene factors (schools hospitals, etc) but still deathly boring. Then cities with a unique character and “charming”. These are normally visited once and you say “check”. 1 star. Then we have cities which are large and offer a variety of entertainment, cultural activities and arts, hard to get bored. 2 stars. Then there are cities with a “vibe” with a “soul”, and “people”, all three of which form a magnet. 3 stars.

In the last 4 decades, Toronto has moved from being a 1 star city to 3. Let us elaborate all three fronts, the vibe, the soul and the people.

The VIBE

When to visit. In the summer, the city is bursting with street festivals, annual events and cultural celebrations, restaurant patios, tons of things to do outdoors both in and out of town. Fall is exceptionally beautiful, may it be walking through a city park or hiking or cycling through some trails, the colours are simply unreal. The Niagara wineries or the Muskokas lake district are very accessible as well, for folks who wish to venture out. Winter time has other things to offer, still vibrant, accessible and filled with both indoor and outdoor activity. Then we have spring, which is like a renewal, an energy and an innocence which never fails to energize, year after year.

People who have not visited Toronto often think it is “too cold”. While there is some truth to it, the cold part of the winter is short and not brutal. The city is designed for all four seasons, and this is not just theatre, concerts and sports. The Nuit Blanche festival for example brings art to the streets in early October. The Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario are world class destinations all year around. The Aga Khan Museum also has exhibits and performances which will appeal to a different aesthetic, and unique on this continent. The Christmas market in the Distillery District is so crowded, it has elbow room only, in December. Our list goes on. Our top ten neighbourhoods will be attractive destinations in all four seasons. Yorkville, Greektown, Distillery, Little Italy, Roncesvalles, Waterfront, New Chinatown (and Kensington market), St Lawrence Market, Queen West, The Beach.

The best way to get around is by walking, cycling or using public transit. Streetcars, buses and subways are interconnected into one TTC system. One of the oldest streets in Toronto is Yonge street. It starts at the waterfront Toronto and goes all the way north for over 100 km. Streets to the east and west of Yonge say east or west. You could not get lost in Toronto even if you tried.

The SOUL

What really sets Toronto apart is its diversity and multiculturalism. Difference is not just tolerated but celebrated and appreciated. We derive our strength from our difference, and that is not just faith and ethnicity but also lifestyle and outlook. Toronto gets as excited about the an-nual Caribana Carnival, as it does about the Saint Patrick’s day parade, as it does about Diwali and Hanukkah celebrations. This year’s annual LGBTI Pride parade which typically attracts a million people, was be attended by Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario’s premier Kathleen Wynne (open lesbian elected by a province of 14 million people) and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will join the parade.

In the summer time weekends are also filled with walks, runs, bicycle marathons, and many other events to raise money for health and social causes. Quite often the parades are sponsored by a major corporation and the not-for-profit merges with the corporate world for a common goal. Community.

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Toronto’s fabric is weaved by a community of immigrants, may it be art or cuisine or dress. In fact, 60% of Torontonians are immigrants. This is the bedrock on which the city is built. To illustrate, Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to Toronto last winter to receive the first set of Syrian refugees, and often cites the examples of several other communities like the Chinese, Sikhs, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Sri Lankans, Ismaili Muslims and many others, who have helped shape and define the city we know today. Recently the Armenian community marked the 100th anniversary of the genocide (lest people forget), and several leaders were out there to show support and strength. This is the “soul” of Toronto which one comes to love.

The PEOPLE

Anuradha Sen, a friend and a mentor, a first generation Canadian, says:

anuradha_sen“When I first arrived in Canada from India, 33 years back, this vast country was known around the world for its peace-keeping missions and universal healthcare. This was the early 80’s, before the days of the world wide web, and all the information I could gather before arriving were through libraries and the High Commission in Delhi. Little did I know how hospitable Canadians are, and how the government had instituted programs to encourage diversity and cultural pluralism.

Whichever city or town you live in from ‘sea to sea’, you will find there is a sensibility of acceptance and inclusiveness. For decades the Canadian government has instituted social programs to provide support and services to the disadvantaged and marginalized. Rights and entitlements of every human being in Canada is protected by law, regardless of differences in race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age and other axes of identity. While a new immigrant learns to adjust and integrate into the mainstream society, Canada also provides a social mosaic to maintain their unique distinctiveness. This is what is best about this splendid country.”

sheniz_janmohamedSheniz Janmohamed, World renowned Author, Artist Educator and Spoken Word Artist, says: “I was born and brought up in Toronto where the seasons change as drastically as the fashion trends. I learnt how to write in cursive, to spell words in the British way, to sing the national an-them. But there was always this other world, separate from my Canadianness– an uncharted, unmarked world, only present within the depths of my growing mind. I listened to Filmi music, danced along in front of my mirror, dressed up in Indian fabrics. I also knew the scent of Kenyan soil, dreamt of my grandfather’s house in the hills of Eldoret, Kenya, and knew a handful of Swahili words. My house became a breeding ground of culture, books filled with ideas and pictures of places beyond my comprehension. I have become a child of many cultures, divided between my need to understand my ancestry and my desire to transcend labels. Toronto is also a city of many cultures and intersections– which is why it feels like home to me. It gives me permission to belong in not belonging.”

David Bock – a Californian, landed in Toronto recently – first time in Canada. After spending few days in the city, he says: “I see the city and it’s people comfortably grow together around its amazing historical charms. Toronto has many wonderful attractions of a big city and also, unexpectedly, has all the best features that you’d find in an old friend.I would not be surprised to find myself living in this community.”

Toronto has earned its place on the world stage. We have evolved from taking pride in simply our physical structures like the CN Tower which now celebrates its 40th year. We now also take pride in being hosts for events like the annual Toronto International Film Festival and several other artistic, intellectual and business forums which make Toronto a truly cosmopolitan city. No wonder 10% of the condo sales are now international. Everyone wants a piece of this pie.

In the next several years, Toronto will continue to its spiral growth and will become a flagship city for the United Nations…vibrant, alive, diverse, energetic…a city where difference is valued and celebrated. We have some work to do but we will get there.

And here’s an excerpt from an article posted by The Guardian on July 4th, called “Welcome to the new Toronto: the most fascinatingly boring city in the world”:

“What Chicago was to the 20th century, Toronto will be to the 21st. Chicago was the great city of industry; Toronto will be the great city of post-industry.

The fundamental contradiction of the new Toronto, however, is that it has come into its own by becoming a city of others. In the Canadian context, Toronto is no longer first among equals in a series of cities strung along the railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific. It has become the national metropolis, the city plugged into the global matrix. At the same time, Toronto is 51% foreign-born, with people from over 230 countries, making it by many assessments, the most diverse city in the world. But diversity is not what sets Toronto apart; the near-unanimous celebration of diversity does. Toronto may be the last city in the world that unabashedly desires difference.”

Authors: Alexey Rikhva and Karim Ladak

PS. You can learn a lot more about what’s happening in Toronto through:
Blogto. Check the events, top of, and top weekday/weekend activities
Toronto.com. Alternative coverage for the key events coming up.
NOW magazine. Good insight, generally critic’s choices are good.