It’s been five years since I was last in Toronto. I get off the streetcar under a mesh of streetcar wires in the downtown area and spend the next two hours walking around with my mouth open, looking up up up.
It’s every migrant’s fear. Sure. We’re allowed to change, but our favourite city? No way. It must stay true to the picture in our memory. Even if we’ve read about the changes, and know they are happening, it’s a completely new feeling of foreignness to experience it. It a variation on re-entry shock and it’s happened to me in Paris, London and now Toronto. Disappointment. Awe. Confusion. Adaptation.
Toronto is taller. It’s grown in my absence like a teenage boy. Gangly high rises loom over what’s left of the red brick buildings that I knew. I think of Gulliver in the giant land of Brobdingnag from Gulliver’s Travels
.Without warning, a box of claustrophobia thows itself around me. The towers seem to be leaning in towards me. Threatening to collapse on me. Precariously balanced on the uncertainty of incomprehension.
I’m not claustrophobic and no other city has done this sort of intellectual mauling to me. I can only guess that it was because this looming jumble of concrete and glass was unexpected. I was not prepared. I had a different picture in my head. This is not what I remembered.
According to one article by Bloomberg News (where I used to work) Toronto has more high rises under construction than any other metropolis in the world. After New York, it’s the second-largest financial services centre in North America. Other articles say Toronto is building more high rises than any other city in North America. The city of almost 6 million (Greater Toronto Area) has experienced a decade-long housing boom.
No wonder I didn’t recognize it.
It’s a different city with a bolder brasher city centre. It’s lost some of the charm that I saw as distinctly Canadian. It’s lost some of the history and cosiness it used to have. That’s been replaced by a new energy. I’m not sure what kind of energy but part of it is definitely a running-out-of-the-way-of-traffic energy. I wouldn’t ride my bike downtown now, the way I used to in the late 1990s.Would I want to live here?
Not downtown in a high rise condominium, but it doesn’t take long to leave the tallness and the CN Tower behind. There are still lots of leafy green areas with squirrels and raccoons (which the locals don’t like, but I do).Canada has a huge mix of cultures and this is evident in Toronto. In Canada, there are people from 200 different ethnic origins and more than 200 languages. At least 19% of the population consider themselves a member of a visible minority and 21% of the population is born overseas, according to Statistics Canada. You can see this walking down the streets or in the subway and I find this exciting.
But, this city is so different to the one I carried in my head all those years. I ask myself the question, can I belong here?