One of the things I love about Toronto is that it’s a city of neighbourhoods. Every little chunk of the city — every ten-block stretch of commercial/retail development surrounded by residential streets — has a unique flavour. There’s a Chinatown and the student district, of course, but there’s also Greektown and Little India and the hippie corner and the hipster stretch. Like many different cities all inhabiting the same space.
The neighbourhood where I’ve lived for the past seven years is one such place, a microcosm unto itself — or maybe several.
It’s full of Ukrainians and Russians, with a Ukrainian Orthodox church and Ukrainian lettering on some of the storefronts and delis selling Old World specialties. At the same time, it’s an upscale enclave full of spas and hair salons, yoga studios and coffee shops, the streets very clean. And at the same time, the houses are big old brick structures under massive trees, living history.
Next week, I’m moving away.
I remember eating many meals at a now-defunct Irish pub when we first moved here because we didn’t have any furniture for days. (Our first apartment, and the first time we’d lived together. So many memories here, and hereabouts.) I took knitting classes at a yarn shop in the same block as the pub; the store is now gone elsewhere and the knitters have shifted to a house not far away, where we still meet weekly. All the coffee shops and restaurants have had their chance, and I’ve long since settled on favourites — the Italian brunch place with the amazing herb-roasted potatoes and oven-baked eggs, the coffee chain with the extra space on the second floor where I’ve often gone to write with others.
I’m going to miss living half a block from the subway. I used the local dry cleaner, health food store, health and wellness centre, video store, bank, old-style butcher — all within walking distance, or two subway stops at most.
There are places I regret not visiting more — the second commercial strip that I just never walked to, the Cuban restaurant with mediocre food but great live music, the indie coffee shop, the recently reopened movie theatre that I’d only just discovered, the local library.
Most of all, I’m going to miss the huge park that I never spent enough time in. Leafy, full of paths and waterways, the park made me feel almost as if I weren’t in the city anymore. Coming in by the main entrance, you pass picnic areas and hot dog stands and sports fields along the park road, then drop down a hill full of Japanese cherry trees to a quiet sylvan path that winds along a creek that eventually opens up to a large pond. Swans and Canada geese strut across the path; people play Frisbee on the grassy parts of the hillside, or stroll through the flowery parts, or fish in the pond.
Far at the end of the pond, a freeway cuts off the park from the great lake beyond, Lake Ontario, but one can walk beneath the road and right out to the beach — something else I didn’t discover for ages. The beach isn’t the most beautiful one I’ve ever been on, but it’s still a beach, with sand and a boardwalk and even a waterside cafe, and amazing views at sunset.
Thankfully, I’m not moving so far that I can’t return. The park isn’t out of reach. And I’ll be back regularly for my knitting group and the health food store. But in my new neighbourhood there’s a park and a cemetery full of trees; there’s an amazing gelato place; there are new restaurants waiting to be discovered.
It’s a bittersweet goodbye.
What neighbourhoods have you loved and left behind? If you’ve moved out of your parents’ home and/or your college dorm, where did you live first and what was it like?