City of Neighbourhoods

Toronto is many things to many people. For me, it is the city where I found my tribe, in that clichéd manner of speaking.

It’s where I moved to strike it out on my own as a young university grad. Back then, employment prospects in the Vancouver area — a region still struggling to rebound from a recession years after the rest of the country had recovered — were slim to non-existent. After a year of working at a dead-end job, I realized I had no chance of a meaningful career if I stayed. I didn’t know what I would find in Toronto, but I knew I wanted my chance to find out.

And so I loaded up my trusty Honda Civic with my belongings and drove across Canada. When I arrived in Toronto, people were shocked I hadn’t arranged for a place to live — the vacancy rate in the city at the time was close to zero. But as I perused the postings at the job centre, I knew I was in the right place. Toronto was booming. And, despite the naysayers, I soon found a place to live — a small post–World War II bungalow near Yonge and Finch that I shared with a college friend and some other people. The neighbourhood was called North York, but I knew it as Willowdale.

Back then, Willowdale was very much a white, suburban neighbourhood — not nearly as diverse as it is today. I had easy access to both the subway and the 401, but I was eager to move closer to downtown. I left Willowdale for Davenport — a neighbourhood on the edge of one of Toronto’s Italian neighbourhoods — and then, a few years later, on to Roncesvalles Village, the centre of Toronto’s Polish community. Another neighbourhood I got to know well was the Danforth, the largest Greektown in North America. Many of my friends lived there — still live there — and it is where I now stay when I visit Toronto.

This is the thing: Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, each one as diverse and different from the others as one person is from another. It’s what makes Toronto feel like a small town, even though it’s so much not.

Once my Civic was unpacked, I signed up with a temp agency to give myself some time to figure out what I wanted to do next, which soon led to a permanent job. Grad school was beckoning, but so was a real job, and within a year, I was launched into the world of publishing, an industry that to this day I find extremely satisfying to work in. For that opportunity, and for the life-long friends I’ve met working in the industry (they would be my tribe), I will always be grateful to Toronto.

So when Toronto is hurting, so am I.

I started writing this post a few months ago, after the van attack in North York that killed ten people. The stretch of Yonge Street where all those people died on a sunny Monday afternoon in late April was the stretch of Yonge Street I drove or walked on an almost daily basis my first two years in Toronto. I wasn’t at all surprised that someone I know knew someone who witnessed the immediate aftermath of the attack. It’s a small world, after all.

Sometimes words fail and I gave up trying to write about what I was feeling at the time. But it has not been a good summer for Toronto. Once again, tragedy has hit close to home. Last Sunday’s shooting on the Danforth began only a block away from where a close friend of mine lives, and she missed being on the wrong street corner at the wrong time by a mere 15 minutes.

I’m still not sure I have the words I need. Hashtags are well meant, but I suspect will soon be forgotten by most of us in today’s world of five-minute news cycles.

Those five-minute news cycles are the result of our constantly changing world. I was reminded of this yesterday in my own neighbourhood. The garbage and recycling bins on Davie Street were taped shut in preparation for last night’s fireworks and city dump trucks were parked at the end of my street to prevent a van attack. Precautions like those are the new normal, but, truthfully, they do not worry me, just as going through security at an airport does not. I walk the streets of my neighbourhood in full confidence that I will return home again.

Sometimes the difference between making it safely home or being in the wrong place at the wrong time is only a matter of minutes. Why someone is spared and another is taken are questions we will never know the answers to.

What I do know is this: I have never felt unsafe on the streets of Toronto, nor do I believe I ever will. And I can’t wait until my next visit, when I will stroll the Danforth with my friend on our way to dinner on a patio.

Because there is nothing better than hanging out on a warm summer evening in one of the liveliest neighbourhoods in the City of Neighbourhoods.

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Through My Lens: Stork on a Red House

Hee.

It was late this afternoon before I was reminded that a year ago today I arrived in Amsterdam for the summer.

That kind of anniversary certainly calls for a photo.

This Amsterdam house was the home of a midwife back in the seventeenth century. If you look closely, you can see a statue of a stork perched on the corner right above the door. That stork was the midwife’s business sign, so to speak.

Through My Lens: Vancouver Clouds

OK, so I lied. Vancouver does get some spectacular clouds every once in a while. Just not very often.

I took this photo of Burrard Inlet from Stanley Park a few weeks ago.

Through My Lens: Prairie Clouds

So, yeah. I’ve been a little quiet lately on the blog front. What can I say? I did warn you.

Here’s a photo I took last weekend in Lacombe County, Alberta. I was there to visit family and get my landscape fix.

We don’t have clouds like these here in Vancouver. Not very often, at any rate. Which is why I think they are quite spectacular.

World’s Most Boring Place

The Internet is rife with rumours that Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex are honeymooning in Jasper National Park.

Yeah, right. And I’m the Queen of England.

What I find most remarkable is that one of the online tabloids’ headlines said the couple were honeymooning in “the world’s most boring place.”

Canadians are known around the world as polite folks, typically slow to anger. But mock our icons — like one of our oldest, most spectacular national parks — and we sit up and take notice.

That headline got noticed. And ridiculed.

As for that most boring place? Here’s what it looks like.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

We’ve just finished a second consecutive weekend of summer temperatures, so I am starting to believe that, just maybe, summer has finally arrived.

To celebrate, here is a photo of a Yellow-headed Blackbird — a new-to-me bird I saw the other day at Piper Spit on Burnaby Lake. These birds like freshwater wetlands, which is exactly where I found this fellow.

Wandering Through the Lake District

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
—William Wordsworth

The photo of daffodils I posted the other week had me thinking back to my lovely ramble through the hills of England’s Lake District. It was a sunny, autumn afternoon a couple of decades ago, and although it had been many years since I had studied English romantic poetry, William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” was firmly imprinted on my brain.

Likely because I was wandering. And alone. And in the middle of the Lake District (aka Wordsworth’s backyard). I believe I took this photo above Rydal Water on my walk from Dove Cottage to Rydal Mount.

I had arrived in Windermere around dusk the evening before and started off that morning intending to walk to Ambleside. All over England are public footpaths, known as right of ways, where anyone can walk, even if the land is private. The delightful thing about these footpaths is you can take a bus or train to the start of the trail, do your walk, and then hop on another bus or train to get to where you need to be.

To my memory, the paths are well marked. However, I was soon confused and turned around and, well, lost. I asked another walker for directions, showing him my tiny hand-drawn map bought that morning at the Windermere Tourist Information Centre for 20 pence. To his credit, he did not laugh, but he immediately pulled out his full-size Ordnance Survey map — at which point my map felt woefully inadequate and I felt like a silly tourist.

This gentleman set me straight, but it was not long before I was once again lost. I gave up on that path and made my way back to the road where I knew I could catch a bus to Ambleside.

After lunch, I tried another footpath and this time successfully found my way from one of Wordsworth’s former homes (Dove Cottage) to another (Rydal Mount). In the end, it all worked out for the better because by cutting short my morning walk I had more time for my afternoon walk — a walk so beautiful it turned out to be one of the most memorable walks of my life.

A walk so beautiful I started reciting poetry to myself. And, believe me, I’m not the reciting-poetry type.

Several of the English Romantic poets lived in the Lake District, so they are also known as the Lake poets. And the Lake District is truly one of the most spectacular parts of England.

Because I was there in autumn — a lovely time of year, for sure — I saw no daffodils. But someday, one day, I hope to go back in April and see me a crowd of golden daffodils.

Through My Lens: Daffodils

Is this not the wettest, coldest spring ever?

I know, I know. I have no right to complain considering how many parts of the country are experiencing their longest winter in decades. Southern Ontario is in the grips of an ice storm as we speak, Edmonton has broken a 44-year record with 167 consecutive overnight lows below 0 °C, and Calgary’s forecast is for 10 to 20 centimetres of snow.

I have absolutely no right to complain.

And yet, I am. See the dark clouds in this photo? That’s what the skies in Vancouver have looked like for the better part of this winter and our oh-so-cold spring.

I’m posting this photo because these daffodils have been the one bright spot for me this spring. They appeared about a month ago along the seawall in English Bay, a new addition courtesy the Vancouver Parks Board. I love that they were planted in the middle of the grass, rather than set off in some flower bed somewhere.

Nothing says April like a crowd of daffodils.

Except in Canada, I suppose, where nothing says April like one last blast of winter.

Happy Easter!

Ceiling of the Grote Kerk, Haarlem, August 2017