Despite going on my third year living in this country I have actually experienced precious little of the Anglo-Canada that dominates popular perception. The Quebecois, among whom I have made my home, are an entirely different sort from the excessively apologetic, moose-riding, denim-wearing, blandly earnest stereotypical Canadians that Americans joke so much about. I’ve always been fairly certain (OK, 100% certain) that the rest of Canada doesn’t quite fit this mold either, but I haven’t had the proof, so I leapt at the opportunity to go for a quick weekend jaunt to Toronto with a club at school to see for myself.
Our three days were largely spent within the curved walls of Toronto’s City Hall, but we managed to cram a few ad-hoc walking tours into our spare hours.
It is hard to get the feel of a city in a couple of short days, and so I will not presume to have done so. I did manage to glean a few things, however.
1) Toronto fancies itself the New York of Canada, and this is an aspiration city planners appear to have taken very seriously. I always knew that many TV shows and movies use Toronto as a Manhattan stand-in, but apparently it’s for reasons beyond its tax incentives. I mean, look at this mini Times Square in the Yonge District!
2) Fittingly, as the New York of Canada, Toronto is a hub of economic activity and the city, as a result, has a more pristine, put together quality than its eastern franco sister. Businesses fled Montreal amid tensions about nationality and language laws, and Toronto has benefited from this exodus. Montreal may technically have the most extensive underground tunnel system, but it is a relic. Toronto’s Eaton Center is massive, gleaming, and supremely impressive where Montreal’s is a bit shabby and utilitarian.
3) Toronto has a pretty cool developing foodie scene that even extends to its grocery stores. On what was supposed to be a casual run to a Loblaws (a supermarket as typical as a Stop ‘n Shop or a Publix) we found a wondrous cavern filled with the usual aisles of packaged foods and produce, but equally as many truly gorgeous specialty sections. We circled the beautiful bakery like hungry sharks, before being captivated by vats of vivid gelato, only to run towards the most gorgeously aromatic cheese display I have ever encountered (and I mean that with all sincerity). And then – something odd. Flavored goat cheese balls, the likes of which I had never seen. Valentine Chocolate Cranberry, Dill Pickle, Chocolate Orange, Maple Walnut with Cookie…? I have never seen cheese like this, but I appreciate odd combinations of flavor. They look weird, but they work more often than you think. I only wish I could have tried them all. Right on, Toronto grocery stores.
My other good Toronto food experience came in the form of Thai food. This little hole-in-the-wall was packed and they didn’t take reservations, but boy was it worth the wait. After a long day of (mock) negotiations and meetings, we reveled in plates of sumptuous pad thai and a crisp Singha (or two).
4) Though no longer the mayor, Rob Ford (of “I’ve got more than enough to eat at home” fame) is still very much in office. I knew this, in the abstract way you know things that happen far away from you, but when I accidentally sat in his seat in council chambers, I was giddy with that tangible reality.
A Rob Ford magnet taken from his drawer is my only Torontonian souvenir, but I think that’s perfect. Not only because I was stuffed in a bus on my way home and a magnet was really all I could fit, but also because I think Rob Ford spits in the face of all those dumb, flattening, infantilizing Canadian stereotypes that grate me so. Granted, crack-smoking and crazed outbursts aren’t exactly suitable replacement stereotypes, but he is just so outside of that passive image that it just about shatters the idea.
5) While the second ‘t’ may be silent, in this bustling city nothing else is.