Leaving Toronto – top 8 things I’ll miss

I’ve had a lot of beginnings and endings in my life and although the cities and the people have been different, the feelings are always the same. The sweetness of adventure is always lined with the bitter taste of goodbyes. Because the reality is, once we leave a place, it will never be the same ever again. Nor will you. Each return to home is a new beginning and each time I think it should be easier than it turns out to be.

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Lake Ontario at sunset

Every place I live feels like a new lens that I collect for my eclectic set of multi-coloured glasses. Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at old familiar places with a full spectrum rainbow, which paints my home in gorgeous rays of stunning light and occasionally the colours mix in a way that only shows an ugly shade of brown. Living anywhere else changes our views as well as ourselves, and with any luck, makes us more open and thoughtful people and citizens.

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Zeke and I at the end of our adventure, just as we were really finding our groove.

When I first arrived in Toronto in the middle of winter I was more than a little bit skeptical of what the coming months would hold. We lived downtown for what seemed like an eternity and everything was concrete, grey and well, to be honest, kind of ugly. I felt my nature withdrawal keenly and sometimes the need for anything natural was so strong that I’d run down to the waterfront (quite literally) and just stare at the slightly frozen lake and this in turn would give me a chilly kind of comfort. But, as the winter progressed and the sun shone more than it ever did in Vancouver I came to terms with this new city, and tried to see it as a new adventure.

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As the spring weather arrived we explored the city more and found some lovely parks outside the downtown area. This is the Sheldon Lookout near the Humber River.

For the first time in my life I had the chance to just write and work on a novel I’d started years ago. I wrote and created and experimented with story and words and read about storytelling and threw myself into the craft of writing a novel. I delved deep into my creative mind and learned how to unlock that part of myself. I took a class on writing fearlessly at the University of Toronto with a fantastic teacher (and writer), Mary Paterson, who pushed each of us to be emotionally honest and vulnerable in our work and taught us how to tell stories that connect with others on a deeply human level. I found that the introverted part of myself, though not nearly as dominant as my extroverted self, loved attention too and was in fact a bigger part of me than I realized.

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Neil Gaiman once said that he schedules four hours a day to either write or stare out the window and that’s all he’s allowed to do in that time. For me, walking is my own “staring out the window” and it works like a charm. I loved this little path on the University of Toronto grounds.

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Rainbow CN Tower!

In a relatively short time – almost eight months – I not only overcame my initial Toronto culture shock – yes you can experience it even in your own country – but I also found a way to embrace the city and really begin to enjoy it. So, as Zeke and I sat down for one of our last dinners at our favourite Italian restaurant in town, Enoteca Sociale, we ended up going through a list of things we’d miss the most about Toronto and we were surprised to see that the list was pretty long. I’ve included the highlights here.

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My parents visited us in July and on their first night we took them to Enoteca Sociale and luckily got a spot on their lovely patio.

   1. Discovering new and funky neighbourhoods.

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Kensington Market

Toronto is all about the neighbourhoods and it took us a while, and a new friend to help us figure this out. After spending the majority of our time right downtown, which is not at all a neighbourhood and most definitely not our style, we were thrilled to spend the last chunk of our Toronto time in Little Portugal which feels old school European, yet funky and cool all at once. Honestly, it feels like an entirely different city. A colleague of Zeke’s told him that he grew up in the neighbourhood around where they work and to him this feels like his hometown, not Toronto itself and now I really get that. To know Toronto is to know and discover its neighbourhoods. It’s also amazing to me how much you can discover by simply walking one block further. The city is full of interesting nooks and crannies and you just don’t know what you might find around the next corner. We’ve loved wandering down side streets and admiring some of the gorgeous old brick houses, beautifully kept little gardens and weird and wonderful architecture that constantly catches us off guard. Every day is a like an exciting little micro adventure. I just hope I can look at Vancouver now with newly curious eyes.

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Oh you know just a grand old entranceway to a beach cafe.

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Flower art or artful flowers?

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There has to be a great story behind these two houses. Duplexes with completely opposite colours are found all over Toronto, but this dark versus light battle takes the house painting cake.

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Toronto street art is fantastic.

    2. The patios.

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My dad and I enjoying Solita’s patio in Little Portugal.

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I challenged you to find them all!

Our friend Lindsey told us sometime in the spring, “in Toronto you have two seasons. Winter and patio season.” She wasn’t wrong. We couldn’t believe our eyes when, as soon as the weather started to be half decent on a regular basis, every single cafe and restaurant suddenly had a patio. There are rooftop patios, back alley patios, side street patios, patios that are smack dab on a main street sidewalk, patios that consist of one table and two chairs and everything in between. I think you could spend your entire summer just looking for new patios in this city and you would never run out of places. We also love pointing out cool patios on the houses we pass by, picking and choosing which decoration ideas we’ll steal and not so secretly wishing we could sit and have a drink on many of them. Yes, we covet your patios, Toronto.

   3. Soma Chocolatier.

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Yes, it’s true. One of the things we’ll miss is a chocolate shop. But seriously, this place kept us sane this winter. Their drinking chocolate is to die for. Zeke now has a serious drinking chocolate habit (he may need to go into drinking chocolate rehab now that we’re home) and we couldn’t pass their shop on King Street without stopping in for a quick drink and then maybe purchasing a bag full of chocolate. We just discovered that we can order from their shop online now that we’re home (insert happy dance here), but it just won’t be the same not being able to stop in when we need that little bit of heavenly comfort. www.somachocolate.com

   4. The TIFF aka The TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema aka the Toronto International Film Festival.

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There’s nothing better than having an entire theatre to yourself. Everyone once in a while this happend to us at the TIFF – just add it to the list of reasons I love this place.

Knowing we always had a fantastic theatre screening the majority of the great indie films coming out on a regular basis was a treat, especially when we lived right around the corner from the TIFF. We felt like we’d strolled into film lovers heaven with six cinemas to choose from and a new festival opening every other week, it seemed. I’m pretty sure that Toronto has a film festival for every culture and subculture you can possibly imagine. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw posters for the “Hobby Horse Documentary Film Fest” or the “Three blocks west of Bloor Docudrama Beer Film Festival.” We love the VIFF back home and look forward to going back to our cozy and comfy indie theatre, but, you know, six screens.

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When Zeke’s daughter Molly visited we got to try out the TIFF’s Digiplayspace for kids and had a pretty fun time, especially with the green screen.

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5. Living in a hub.

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When my parents visited we went down to Toronto’s own Time Square at Yonge and Dundas and saw Beautiful, the Carol King Musical. So fun!

There are perks to living in the largest city in your country and one of them includes having a steady stream of visitors coming through. In the nine months we lived here I believe we had at least ten visitors. It also amazed us how many tourists come to Toronto. Okay, so we’re a bit hard on the city since we’re used to the obvious beauty of the west coast, but seriously, Toronto’s tourism department must be pretty kick ass because there is a steady stream of foreigners coming through this city throughout the year. They must really like the Blue Jays and the CN Tower. Foodie tourists though – that I  would understand.

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Speaking of foodies…our friend and food blogger extraordinaire, Rebecca visited while in town for a conference.

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We took Rebecca to Fresh, our favourite vegetarian restaurant in town. Everything here is delicious including these onion rings.

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Torontonians are as obsessed with ice cream as Germans, and that’s saying a lot.

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Our friend Jill stayed with us while in town from Chicago for a wedding and we had a blast giving her our own little tour, which ended up including some Sweet Jesus ice cream.

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Molly and Zeke daring to stand on the glass floor of the CN Tower.

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“We thought it would be bigger!”

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When Zeke’s daughter Chloe was in town she specially requested we take her to Niche for a loaded milkshake. It took three of us to take this tasty beast down.

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Zeke’s friend Jordan was in town for an award’s show so we managed to snag him for a lovely dinner out.

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My aunt and uncle drove up from Western Massachusetts to visit us in Toronto and since they’d never been we had a blast showing them around. They were especially amused by the urban beach.

6. Meeting new people.

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We met so many nice climbers at the various climbing gyms we frequented in town. I love the climbing community. Thanks Max (with the staff shirt on in the photo) for making us feel so welcome at Basecamp!

This one shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who has ever lived somewhere else. I love meeting new people. I love learning their stories, what makes them tick and allowing them to flood me with their insider knowledge of whichever place I’ve ended up. New friends often come into our lives when we need them the most and this was the case for my friend Lindsey and I here in Toronto. A mutual friend connected us and we quickly discovered that we had a ridiculous amount in common. We also discovered that we were both writing in various places around town and as extroverts we found the experience quite lonely at times. So, we started writing together at coffee shops around the city, finally settling on Black Rock Coffee, owned and operated by Basecamp Climbing gym, which also happened to be one of our go-to climbing gyms. It has the chill climber vibe, plus yummy food and coffee, air conditioning (in Toronto this is pretty crucial), and you can watch people climb through a giant window in the coffee shop. It became our home away from home this past spring. We met so many lovely people during our time in Toronto, through Zeke’s work, my writing class, connections in the music world and through friends. I realize now how much it means to have someone reach out to you in a new city. It’s a lonely business starting fresh in a new place, and it’s a wonderful feeling when someone goes out of their way to invite you out or make you feel part of their busy lives. Thank you to all our new Toronto friends. You will be missed and I hope that I can now be as warm and welcoming to newbies back in Vancouver as you all were to us.

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Now this woman deserves some massive praise for making my/our time in Toronto SO much better than it would have been. Thank you Lindsey for being our own personal Toronto tour guide and welcoming committee!

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We got all dressed up in 90s gear for a drunk feminist film night. Much fun was had.

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While my parents were in town we managed to convince Lindsey and our friend Paige to try out a Casa Loma escape room with us. Alas, we didn’t quite make it out, but we had a blast. Casa Loma is incredible and the escape rooms here are tons of fun.

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Zeke’s time at Ubisoft was fantastic and the lovely farewell party that his producer, Louis, hosted for him warmed our hearts and made us wish we could live in two cities at once. Louis even made Zeke a custom-made climbing hold complete with a toy of the main character from their game, (Starlink – Battle for Atlas) and lovely notes from his team members embedded inside. We were blown away by the gesture.

7. The friendliness of Torontonians.

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Dear Vancouverties – please stop giving Torontonians a hard time. They are not rude. They are not all business. They don’t have weird accents. They don’t have a tax on wicker goods (a little Radio Free Vestibule reference there for ya). They do go out of their way to be polite and keep the Canadian stereotype alive. They do hold doors open for you, go out of their way to help you and are some of the warmest city dwellers I have ever met. No, not every single person is polite or warm, but in general I have been blown away by the friendliness here. It makes me proud to be Canadian. So thanks, eh? *You’re very welcome, eh* says some polite Torontonian in response.

8. Little Portugal

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My dad soaking up Little Portugal.

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I have to give a shout out to the lovely neighbourhood that we got to live in the last six weeks of our stay. Right outside our door we had at least ten cafes, an amazing cheese shop with the best pastries in town, a 24 hour Brazilian bakery, a meat and deli shop, a specialty Italian gourmet store, a Harry Potter themed bar, an organic foods store, Lula Lounge – an incredible world music venue down the street and so many other adorable places that we lost count. The neighbourhood also felt like its own small town, with beautifully kept gardens, old Portugese men and women sitting on their patios, almost like the unofficial neighbourhood watch, and cute little lending libraries sprinkled throughout. We discovered quaint and delightful little streets, houses dripping with character and sweet little parks, or “parklettes” as they call them in Toronto. It was as if we’d moved to an entirely different city. Word to the wise – if visiting or living in Toronto, get out of the downtown core. It made a huge difference to our happiness as well as our wallets – everything is pricier downtown. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list and there is so much more we’ll miss too but I’ll stop myself here. Thank you so much Toronto and all the lovely people we met there! I’m sure we’ll be back some day and thanks for showing us what Canada’s biggest city has to offer. Keep it friendly, eh?

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Goodbye kisses to all our Toronto friends!

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Yes, this is real Toronto sidewalk art. Buh-Bye you friendly folks!

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4 thoughts on “Leaving Toronto – top 8 things I’ll miss

  1. Star Weiss says:

    Love the enthusiasm, and I agree–a new place gives you the chance to find another part of yourself—-and that’s something worth doing anytme!
    Well done—and colourful too.
    Mom

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