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.