Saturday, July 16, 2011

In Which I Debate What it Means to Live in Toronto (plus photos!)

Alas, I am officially convinced that the iPhone takes the lousiest photos ever. But I feel compelled to show you a little Toronto gem: Wychwood Park.

Its most famous inhabitant, Marshall McLuhan, the media theorist who defined our understanding of modern communications, lived at No. 3, a seriously happening hot bed of intellectualism. And fucking gorgeous. (That would be the neighbourhood, not Mr. McLuhan, whom I never met.)

I've written of Wychwood before but, finally, allow me to present some substandard pics.

Opulent little cottages (above) mingle with opulent mansions (below)! C'mon, how democratic.

Residents even have their own nature preserve swamp...

...complete with quicksand!

Toronto has never been known as "easy". By this, I don't mean loose - which it most definitely is not - but inclusive. Friendly people abound (well, they're out there), but many new Torontonians, which is to say residents of less than 15 years, often feel strangely looped out. Don't get me wrong, they know their ways around, they have equal access to all the cool things, but there's an element of club to TO. There are things you can't possibly understand until you've been assimilated. And you do not assimilate until you've earned it. Don't ask me why. It's just the way.

It's one of the things I love and loathe about this city. So utterly bland in so many ways, and yet so richly subtextual. You'll never see homogeneity convene more perfectly with diversity, each sect keeping its own secrets, giving a little, then a little more.

The first thing you ask when you want to get to know someone here is, "where do you live?". It says everything (unless the person in question is new to town).

There are more affluent spots than Wychwood, but none so discreet. Perhaps a mere 40 houses display themselves beneath a canopy of trees the likes of which you'll rarely see elsewhere. (Finally a group of frickin' trees this city can't cut down!)

When you say you live in Rosedale, it tells people you are wealthy, probably WASPy, likely indigenous, and on weekends you leave town. When you say you live in Wychwood Park - and btw, I've never known anyone, in 35 years, who's actually lived in the gated enclave, only in the surrounding area which is sometimes given the same name - it speaks to a kind of exclusivity the Rosedale inhabitant can only imagine.

For what it's worth, I'd settle for Rosedale.

So tell me: Do you live in Toronto? If yes, do you agree with my take or do you think I'm high on drugs? If you don't live here - do you feel the same way about your town? Or do you live in a bastion of newbie inclusiveness? Let's chat.


  1. I agree, Toronto is a bit of an enigma. I have lived here my whole life, and at times, i don't really feel like i really know hte city.

    My own neighborhood is a bit of a secret too. I live in Guildwood, which is in South East Scarborough, on the bluffs. Many people only hear the Scarborough part and think high crime, gangs and Chinese restaurants. In reality, Guildwood is a former artist's colony, with some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the city and one of the lowest crime rates (there isn't even any graffiti around here). I had never heard of this area until we bought our house, 3 years ago, and now i don't think i will ever leave. There are multi-million dollar lake front houses, next to modest bungalows, and some amazing mid-century architecture. We also have the Guild Inn and park, which is where old Toronto monuments and architecture pieces went when all the high rises were built downtown. All of this with the gorgeous backdrop of the Scarborough bluffs and lake Ontario.
    Newbies have't a clue about all this city has to offer, and I think we keep it that was on purpose. there is a lot of NIMBY attitudes in Toronto, and i think people are afraid that if everyone knew about our hidden gems, they wouldn't be hidden anymore.

  2. Nifty! It looks gorgeous.

    I kind of feel the same way about my (much, much smaller) hometown, Saskatoon. I know (almost) every inch of that city, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. I know where is safe, where isn't, which areas are high-class, low-class, snooty, artsy, up and coming or down and out. I'm not sure if that feeling is comforting or limiting. I don't have anything like the same sense of Calgary, even though the wealthier areas are much wealthier than any at home. Maybe it's just something that comes with time.

  3. From what I've seen of your lovely city, it looks like an amazing place to live.

  4. I love visiting Toronto. Been there many times mostly because it is closer in distance to where I live in USA than New York City, my other favorite big city to visit. I love Toronto's diversity. So many ethnicities and it has the best variety of authentic Chinese food available.

  5. I like Toronto for a visit (and even then, the most I can handle is about two days). Compared to the (Essex County) area that I live in, TO is just too busy and overcrowded. I always feel stressed out if I'm in TO for too long (well, except for the garment district of course - I could stay there forever!)

    My BIL lives in the Beaches area and although it's nice, it is so overpriced for what you get. The same sized homes down here (with much more property) would be 1/2 to 1/4 the price. Yes, it's close to the water and shopping and activities, but he is also living ten feet from his neighbouring houses. He likes it, but it's too cramped for my liking.

    But, to each his/her own, I suppose. I think I'm just a small town girl at heart, so I don't appreciate the "culture" that TO has to offer.

  6. There's a big piece in the Saturday Globe on McLuhan, coming up to what would have been his 100th birthday.

    I've only had one good visit to Toronto, a few years ago, and then only for a few days. Got shown around by a few friends and my daughter who was there cooking at C5 (my SIL was at Colborne Lane -- so between the two, I got to eat some pricey good food!). I can see the city's potential but am not yet as keen on it as Montreal -- as you suggest, perhaps it yields its treasures up more slowly.
    While growing up, even by 13 or 14, I used to think of my small city (really small, 40,000, but urban enough as one of a series of cities and municipalities contiguous w. Vanc'r) that you could give me an address and I could tell you something about that person. There was a lot of Daughters of the Empire stuff there at the time, and very definite enclaves -- old money and new, clearly demarcated.

  7. Your substandard photos are very pretty!! I've got to take a trip one of these days...

  8. Well I lived on the edge of Kensington Market, in a place where my neighbors were immigrants and college students. I was there to work at TWH, a neighborhood hospital where most of the patients didn't even speak English and hardly ever left their respective cultural enclaves. Many of my coworkers were 1st generation Filipino or in from the suburbs. In short, I don't think I even knew a long-term native Torontonian! Maybe that's why I loved the area around the uni and Chinatown/Kensington Market, because there were so many newcomers and people who had set up their own kind of TO. Rosedale and other neighborhoods like it were completely foreign to me. I definitely get what you are saying about being looped out.

  9. I agree with you, in part. I'm "new Canadian" (by which I mean to say I have lived in Canada, and more specifically, Toronto, for 20 years) and while it’s true that people in Toronto form a picture of you and your lifestyle based on where you live, I find that there is also a lot of acceptance and openness to “newbies” in this city. Maybe the acceptance comes form other “non-natives”, or maybe it’s geographically based, as I imagine that it would be harder to get a ticket into the exclusive clubs of Rosedale, Forest Hill and Hoggs Hollow if you are not a “native”. There are certain areas where people of all walks of life mix and live in harmony. Think Parkdale, Kensignton Market, and most recently the very east end of the Danforth where more and more urban professional families are settling alongside aging immigrants form southern Europe, devout Muslims, and working class Torontonians, creating viable neighbourhoods. So you are right, it’s hard mixing with the Rosedale crowd, but there is also a lot of acceptance elsewhere in the city.

  10. Marshall McLuhan -- my first thought is always "You know nothing of my work!" Bwah ha ha ha ha.

  11. I only get to see Toronto from the sidelines having grown up in Brampton and now live in Mississauga. I love going into the city, mostly for music (NXNE, Cameron House, Hugh's Room, Not my Dog, that kind of thing). We used to go more when my husband worked in Toronto (on Front Street, then in the Scotia tower) and took the GO train, I'd drive in after work and meet up. It's more difficult with him working in Waterloo now.

    There are certainly neighbourhoods that say a lot about who you are, but it's true everywhere. I met a couple who were Swiss Germans and worked for the consulate, she talked about how hard it was to make friends in Toronto. I wonder if living at Yonge & King was part of that. Maybe if they had lived elsewhere it would have been easier.

  12. Sadly, I don't live in Toronto, but the last time I was there I went running in Wychwood twice and imagined that I was just going for a little jaunt in my neighborhood.

  13. I'm new to Toronto (4 years) - I think people are really friendly and nice - maybe cause all the unfriendly people keep to themselves? And yeah, Wychwood Park is gorgeous... (and I love the new Brewers Market at Wychwood Barns - beer and pizza, outdoors! Best idea ever.)

  14. What well considered responses, everyone. Thank you!

    Farah: Ah, you do live in a little gem... I'm a west end girl so I don't get out there much, but it's so beautiful in your neighbourhood.

    Taran: I'm sure it does come with time. Maybe we need to feel ready to embrace the inner circle?

    Monkey: It really is. And it's very welcoming on many levels.

    Sue: You are so right about the chinese food!

    Shannon: It can be very overwhelming in this town, so I hear you. (Though NYC makes it look like a village :-)) And the Beach is a very insular place, for geographical reasons if nothing else. It's not my preferred neighbourhood, but the houses are lovely - if expensive!

    Frances: What's so bizarre is that I read this comment just after coming back from C5, a place I'd never actually gone before. Hilarious! I have boycott the ROM since the Chin Crystal. I think it's the ugliest thing ever built. And I love modern architecture. Note: TO can't compare with Mtl, IMO. No matter how well you get to know it. It's got a whole other thing going on and its name is Finance.

    Stacy: Why thank you!

    Heather: You are def living in a very inclusive part of town. And an excellent one.

    Andrea: I don't know if I've expressed myself adequately. I don't mean that we all here in TO aren't welcoming to newbies. I mean, we've got the whole diversity and new people thing down to an artform - and it makes us what we are. But it's not just the richies who keep the treasures hidden. There are enclaves all over this city that are only for those in the know. You can walk through them, but you won't really know them until you've been here long enough to learn the subtext and nuance. I wish I could give an example, but it's hard to pin down. Maybe the Queen's Club fits. It's not chichi, but it is a tennis club that practically no one knows about.

  15. Wendy: You know I don't read anymore! Seriously, I just don't get Coupland.

    chutchings: I think that King corridor would be the hardest place to live in this whole city.

    Ray: That's the ticket. And I'm sure you looked entirely native! When I was walking through to take these shots, it was all runners all the time. Going down hill, I might add :-)

    Reethi: May the unfriendly people always keep to themselves!