Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Returning home after a four day visit to Toronto, I am struck once again how much that city is a City and my home town, Vancouver is not even close.

It's in the air.

There is incredible human energy all around you. Not all of it good, of course, but it is there.

The streets are loud and boisterous with cars and trucks and cabbies and people shouting and bikes (with almost no one wearing a helmet, by the way) and streetcars. Below ground the subways are busy at any time of day.

There are dozens of distinct neighbourhoods, each with its main "high street" of restaurants and shops. On a beautiful evening such as we had yesterday, everyone is strolling, whether they are off to a Greek or Italian or Chinese restaurant or simply taking their after-dinner-at-home passiagata.

The head offices are here and the Blackberry People are in large supply. The Masters of the Universe are all about you, conquering, conquering, conquering. In bars and cafes they are very loud and insistent about practically everything.

How people who have never read a book or sat still for ten minutes to listen to a piece of music are so full and sure of themselves is a baffler, but that's how they are.

There is no Downtown East Side.

Oh, there are poor and suffering for sure.

In the downtown core, the immense divide between the very rich and everybody else is painfully apparent. Most people are struggling. Young, old and in between, you can see the burdens of daily life on their faces. We are just surviving, just barely. A woman from Ethiopia engaged me in a conversation while we both waited far too long for a streetcar on Dundas. All her concerns were about unemployment ("Are there more jobs in Vancouver?"), rent, taxes and deductions. Just enough left for food.

The neighbourhoods are beautiful, but not in the way that Vancouver neighbourhoods are often beautiful. In Toronto, the attraction is in the dense packing together of the old, brick houses and the shops on the main streets, not, as in Vancouver, the trees and gardens.

The Art Gallery of Ontario with its new face-lift is imposing. It is a city block long and when you enter on what should be a quiet Tuesday afternoon, late in the day, thousands are milling about in groups and guided tours. The gift shop is on two floors and is much larger than many entire galleries.

This all proved too much for your weary blogger who had already taken the subway and the LRT to the Harbourfront and lunch at the Queen's Quay. I slipped across the traffic to a french cafe, got my cappuccino and oatmeal cookie, sat outside under an umbrella, took out my latest Philip Roth novel and found myself in traveler's heaven.

Later, I walked back to the hotel first through Chinatown and Spadina and then the U of T. In the evening, my old high school buddy drove us across the Don Valley Parking Lot to the Danforth for some wonderful Greek food.

Toronto can be demanding and exhausting, but it is truly a City.

Vancouver is my home and I love it, but let's be honest. It is a burgh, an adorable little hamlet by the sea. It isn't even remotely like what a City might be.


Anonymous said...

While Toronto is certainly not my favorite city, not by a long shot, I agree with you that it is a city. I also agree that Vancouver is a burgh, a sprawling burgh, but a burgh nonetheless. Those of us wanting to experience the energy of a big city need to travel away from Vancouver, something I happily do as often as I am able. We may not be an interesting city, but we are a city with many beautiful vistas, close to some pretty spectacular countryside and I where I am always happy to return. And as you say, Toronto is exhausting, which is true of most big cities. I hate to be positive about my city, because that really isn't the Vancouver way, but on a day like today, in my favorite season of the year, I daresay Vancouver is a pretty nice city. Just don't think about local politics.


Anonymous said...

I agree 100%, David. Born here in Vancouver, I went to live in Toronto for 3 years to see what all the fuss was about. One of the first things I noticed is that I didn't feel sluggish there. The air is, if not less polluted, then at least crisper somehow in Toronto. The air seems heavier in Vancouver. Thicker. Closer. Seriously. It's as if the air here drugs us somehow. Same when I lived in London, England. I had way more energy there too. When I came back to Vancouver? *Boom*. Sluggish. I'm always kind of sleepy here, despite getting my 8 hours a night and living drug-free. And I've always wondered if Vancouver's sleepy air is why the Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup. Has anyone ever tested our air versus that in Toronto?

Robyn McCorquodale said...

I have not spent enough time in Toronto to comment on your exact analogy, though your monologue reminds me of my past comments comparing Vancouver to New York City: the former, where I was born, raised and am currently based; and the latter, where I moved to post 9/11 and now visit on a regular basis.

I used to have a love-hate relationship with Vancouver. It was my home with family and friends, but I was frustrated and bored by it’s seemingly provincial character. Needless to say, when the opportunity came, I jumped at the chance to move to NYC where I immediately connected with an amazing spirit that filled the air, buildings and people. The city’s incredible vibrancy and infectious enthusiasm of what I call a ‘positive aggressiveness’, made everything feel possible and raised the bar for me to achieve personal and professional growth that I doubt I would have attained had I never left Vancouver.

However, when I traveled overseas for work, proudly telling people that although I was from Vancouver, I lived in Manhattan, I was shocked by the response. Not only did everyone around the world actually know Vancouver, but also, the reply from people living in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, the Americas and even Antarctica, was almost always the same: “why would you move to New York City when you come from such an amazing city like Vancouver”?

These remarks did not make me love New York any less but they did evoke a renewed civic pride in me about where I grew up and made me rethink my harsh criticisms of my place of birth. Certainly any city that had gained such global affection deserved a new review on my part. My travels to all seven continents also allowed me the opportunity to see first hand that Vancouver truly shines as a multifaceted and rare jewel, not to mention one of, if not the most beautiful city in the world. But it’s more than it’s apparent beauty that gives it its status. While I agree it does not come close to offering the same exhilarating energy or quantity and assortment of opportunity, services and products as does a huge urban mecca like New York or Toronto, what it does offer in magnitude is Quality. Quality in it’s setting. Quality in it’s skyline. Quality in it’s boutiques where I buy dresses that receive more compliments than those purchased in NYC. Quality in fine dining restaurants that I believe rival those in NYC. Quality in the health-conscious lifestyle it allows.

Once I began to see Vancouver for what it was instead of what it was not, my expectations changed and my perception shifted. Vancouver and New York are the perfect yin yang for me. Both magnificent. Both inspiring in their own unique way. Each deserved of being a world-class City.

A burgh? A hamlet? I have to disagree. I think perhaps that Tiffany & Co. and Disney Cruises might disagree too.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Toronto for 18 years.
I regret not coming to Vancouver the first day I came to Canada.
Maybe then I could have afforded a home in Vancouver.