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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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Happy Canada Day!

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.

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.

Through My Lens: Snowy Rocks on the Beach

Typically, in February I am posting photos of crocuses. Instead, here’s a photo I took this morning of the snow-covered rocks along the beach at English Bay.

Which means it’s not a typical February. (Although … come to think of it, last year’s February wasn’t so typical either.)

Vancouver got dumped with about 25 centimetres of snow yesterday and last night. It’s not an unusual amount of snow for us — we often have one, maybe two good snowstorms every winter — but what is unusual is to get so much snow so late in the season. It’s almost March, folks.

The crocuses, I assure you, are in full bloom, but are well buried today. And tonight’s forecast is for rain, so tomorrow is going to be an unholy muddy mess.

Through My Lens: Winter Hay Bales

It actually doesn’t matter how I get around in Canada — the view is always spectacular. I took this from the Greyhound last week. It’s somewhere near Ponoka along Highway 2.

Through My Lens: Geese on Lost Lagoon

I have nothing to say about this photo, except that when I took it this afternoon, I was having another one of my “I can’t believe I get to live here” moments.