I just spent a week in Toronto with my son, daughter-in-law, and three granddaughters, and had some time now and then, while they were elsewhere, to walk. I love wandering this city. Would you care to join me?
It’s a nice crisp day, grey sky, no snow. I leave their house and walk through the nearby park where the girls often play, though it’s utterly quiet today. Imagine with me the shady green in other seasons, imagine the high happy sounds of children. I pass the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral with its attractive awnings and roof dome, and then the school where the younger two girls attend (the oldest has moved on to a junior high school). I head for and follow the Rail Path.
Maybe it all looks a little blah. Well, it’s winter, but there’s an energy in the air, and a sense of community. Someone commented recently that Toronto is composed of villages, and I’ve certainly noticed that spirit in the community my children have forged in this particular village. It’s one originally settled by immigrants and now full of post-immigrant families. Old and renovated and new bump against each other, and there’s a lovely messiness and diversity about it all. I climb the stairs to the pedestrian bridge over the rail lines, look down at the tracks (for Go Train, UP Express), look at downtown Toronto in the distance (though objects clothed in grey are closer than they appear), and descend the stairs on the other side, where I see some amazing art. There’s lots of graffiti here! Much of it wonderfully skilled and colourful! We all good is announced in yellow on red.
Now I’m on a commercial street. I pass a Shoppers and a large grocery store, but also a little cafe called Hula Girl and a flower shop that’s selling Christmas trees and an arts building and a film studio place. There’s lots of density here, population-wise, as the highrise residences beside me attest, so lots of traffic and people on the street. Variety, variety! (Example: yesterday on my walk I saw a guy in the near-zero temperatures in bare feet going through some kind of yogic ritual on the sidewalk.) Now a dry cleaners, a hair studio, a dentistry place, the Slovenian centre, a delicatessen, and a storefront called One Stop Shop that has its blinds drawn and is apparently not available for stopping after all. And the local subway station. I lived in Toronto for a year before my marriage and I think I could still, with just a little re-orientation and practice, find my way around this city.
I’m talking these notes into my phone as I walk and no one pays the least heed. It’s a common enough sight and it will be assumed I’m talking to someone else, not myself. I’m not gesturing wildly as I talk though, like the man who just passed me. Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School, which has a greenhouse on the roof. Loblaws. A tire place. A couple of men selling flags, probably in good demand during FIFA. Ah, a Starbucks. (It’s in a former post office building.) I know, I know, Starbucks, but I’ve gotten a little too fond of their chai tea latte, so I stop for one. While I wait for my drink, I contemplate the names filling part of a wall dedicated to Black Lives Matter. Once again outside, at that corner is a quiet little spot called a peace “garden.” All the plants are more or less dead, but there’s peace also in death, right? This spot marks the indigenous origins of the area with youth art in the bricks of the circular ground.
It’s nearly 3 c’clock and the girls will soon be home from school, so I’m glad to return too and see them, but also reluctant, I confess, because, like I say, I really enjoy wandering around this place, with its mix of the rejuvenated and the run-down. Ah, this crazy beautiful city. The walk back takes me by a curious sign about seniors and a large (half) full cup painted on a building, which encourages me with its realistic optimism. There are flashing lights and sirens now, some emergency beyond my view that must be attended to. In the midst of all the noise and people, birds find rest in a row.
I circle back under the train overpass, into the residential streets, and one block after another and I’m once again — both “at home” and guest — at this welcoming door!