Becoming “a Torontonian”

Toronto is pretty much my favourite place to be. In case it isn’t clear to those who don’t know me, I live in the suburbs right outside Toronto, called Mississauga. It’s a very uninteresting place that is not really completely accessible unless one has a car, and thus I actually know my way around Toronto better than I do the place I’ve lived my entire life.

It’s funny, though, that my change of attitude toward Ontario’s capital didn’t really develop until I actually started going on a regular basis. Actually, I’m sure it’s not much of a coincidence. Starting in a new place is bound to make one start thinking about one’s roots, and where one’s “heart” truly lies.

When I was younger, I only went to Toronto maybe a few times a year. I’d always go to the Canadian National Exhibition every year, sometimes Ontario place, sometimes to see a concert. But it was just that—a few times a year—and thus Toronto seemed like something alien to me. It was so much bigger than Mississauga, and so, it seemed, inhospitable. I more acutely noticed the homeless and the general “sketchiness” of certain areas.

And I had a pretty sour experience after my school’s journalism-program orientation. I was stopped by someone I was naive enough to think was giving away a small pamphlet for free, only to find out that he wanted money, so I ended up giving him the few quarters I had jingling around in my pocket, and came out really bitter.

Luckily this only happened once, and as I started regularly going to school at Ryerson I became more and more accustomed to dealing with people looking to get money, including the homeless. So in a way, one might argue, I’ve become a little less feeling towards people calling out to others on the street, but it’s been a natural part of me for some time now.

Eventually on my commutes I began to enjoy my rides on the subway, delayed as they sometimes were. I would always appreciate the musicians playing at Bloor-Yonge and Dundas Stations (last year I remember briefly singing with a guy playing “Redemption Song” on his acoustic guitar), and seeing how long it would take me to memorize all the stops along the route I take. That didn’t take too long, by the way.

But I began to really fall in love with Toronto once I started to go to shows, forcing me to explore all kinds of streets and places I might not have ever gone to otherwise. It’s easy to confine oneself to a single spot, so I’m glad I didn’t and branched out a bit. Had I stayed in the Yonge and Dundas area, I would have never had the chance to thoroughly explore Queen Street West.

My first explorations were all done without the aid of streetcars or buses. When I had an interview scheduled or a show to attend, I would to the nearest subway stop and walk, and with that strategy I began to know what streets like Ossington, Dufferin and College looked like. Eventually, of course, I managed to gain the confidence to start trying out streetcars and buses, having got over my irrational fear that I’d end up in some unknown end of the city if I missed a stop,

And of course it helped even more that I started to make friends who lived in the city, some who have lived in Toronto their entire life and some who have just moved recently. Either way, having people you know always helps.

Now I always enjoy going to places I’ve not visited previously. Last night I began the four-night extravaganza that is the Wavelength Festival, and the first venue was in Parkdale, an area of Toronto I’ve only scratched the surface of as far as exploration. I walked along Queen Street West for a bit, west of Lansdowne, and while the place has a kind of shady reputation, I really only walked by one guy who was angrily ranting at no one in particular.

And I’m still far from a city expert. South of Bloor Street I can probably find my bearings, but send me north and I’ll probably flounder a bit before figuring out where I’m supposed to be going. I’ll be getting a bit of a taste of the northern half of Toronto Sunday when I head there to record some stuff for a radio assignment I have due soon.

Toronto is awesome.

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