I moved to Toronto in September 2007.
I did so reluctantly. As someone from the East Coast, I was taught to hate Toronto. Toronto was stuck up. Toronto believed it was the centre of the universe. Toronto was rich and privileged. Toronto was big and busy. Toronto was concrete and glass and highways and assholes.
I came to Toronto because I decided to pursue a career in book publishing. And Toronto may not be the centre of everything, but it’s the centre of book publishing in Canada. I enrolled in a year-long book publishing program here with a plan. Get my diploma and a few years of experience under my belt, then, somehow, someway, make my way somewhere else.
Life never goes according to plan.
I got the diploma. I got a job. I quit that job. Then I floundered. Then I freelanced. Then I got THE job. The job I went to school for. The job I dreamed about once I decided book publishing was a thing I wanted to do.
It’s hard to leave a place when you love your job.
But the job wasn’t everything. With that job came a community. A community of people love who loved books and culture. A community of people I’d see two, three, four times a week as I went from event to event, networking. Building my career but also building a home. Some of my closest friends are from that early career grasp-at-anything-because-god-I-need-a-job-and-to-be-good-at-that-job-and-also-friends-are-nice-too moments.
With the job came a need for hobbies.
I decided to say fuck it to my fear of biking in the city and just do it. The first time I ever got on a bike in Toronto I repeated “I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die” over and over in my head until I got to my destination. Spoiler: I did not die.
Biking opened up the city for me – it seemed smaller and more manageable. I could get places on my own time, on my own terms. I could buy more groceries. I did not have to crowd on to a TTC subway car during rush hour. Deciding to become a cyclist is one of the greatest choices I ever made when it came to embracing living in Toronto.
The other was becoming a runner.
I decided to start running because I wanted to take control of my health. I wanted a physical activity that fit into my busy, scheduled life and had some sort of competitive element.I was always fit, so a half-marathon seemed like an achievable thing to do. I hated it. But I kept going. From there, I ran another half, and another, and another and – finally – a full marathon. But what that did for me was open up the city. I’ve run to Mimico. To Port Credit. To the Junction. To Scarborough Bluffs. Through Open Streets. Through a Labour Day Parade. To Kringlewood. To Drake’s House. Around Toronto Island. To Evergreen Brickworks. Through the Belt Line. Running showed me that Toronto isn’t that big. You can literally run a marathon through the city without ever hitting a city street. Toronto is a patchwork of communities, each with a unique identity. I’ve heard that, but I didn’t believe it until I ran through so many of them.
Community. I have my book people. My running people. But what really did it? The little street I live on.
We bought a house in 2010. I recognize now how fucking fortunate we are we were able to purchase property at a reasonable price in the downtown core. But at the time, I was 25, had a partner who was keen to buy and had 5% down. I didn’t really think about it. I figured if it all went to hell, we could just sell. I realize now, my 25-year-old self was a stupid as she was lucky. But we moved into a neighborhood where people knocked on our door to say hello when we moved in. A neighbourhood where we learned our neighbours’ cats names. A neighbourhood where people tell me they heard me on the radio or they liked my partner’s most recent column when I see them. A neighbourhood where we gossip about the neighbours who moved or the neighbour who fell ill. A neighborhood where we all know the homeless man who collects our cans and I can’t go outside without running into someone who knows me and knows my business.
Which is as about small-town East Coast as you can get.
Sure, the scale is different. My hometown has 3,000 people in it. Toronto has three million. But, at the end of the day, Toronto became home because I live in a neighbourhood I care about, hang out with people I care about, do things I care about and have a job I care about. And that is bigger than any place you can call home.