I moved to Toronto in 1969, right after high school, and lived here for the next decade, only returning, after twenty years in New York, five years ago. Consequently, I find myself living in two Torontos: the one I discovered as a boy of seventeen, and the one I returned to as a man approaching fifty.
My first residence was Rochdale, a “free school” on Bloor Street that instantly morphed into a vertical Haight-Ashbury reeking of pot and incense. Wave the magic wand of thirty years and poof! It’s a seniors’ residence. I fully intend, the minute I require a walker, to reclaim room 701.
I’m constantly bumping into the ghost of the 130-pound youth with the Jim Morrison hair and his notebook full of poems. Occasionally I sight him dining on goulash with fellow students at one of the Hungarian restaurants lining Bloor Street West. A delusion born of nostalgia, I’m afraid, because the restaurants, too, are now ghosts, replaced by colorful Korean establishments.
These days my friends would be more likely to meet up in a British-style pub or a Second Cup. While I was gone, Toronto developed a café culture that is almost European in its obsessiveness. Okay, they’re not Deux Magots, but these comfy joints draw coffee lovers to chat, to catch up on correspondence, or to confide heartbreak to a journal. The first harbingers of spring in Toronto are neither crocuses nor robins but the first brave souls hunched on Starbucks patios in scarves and sunglasses.
My new Toronto has gone culture crazy, lavishing a fortune on the arts. A gorgeous opera house has opened; the Art Gallery of Ontario is being reshaped by native son Frank Gehry; and the Royal Ontario Museum has unveiled its new Crystal addition. Many Torontonians love its angular audacity, though to my mind it resembles nothing so much as a collision of Quonset huts.
New buildings are shooting up everywhere in this town, but what I like even more is the imaginative reuse of old buildings. My favorite example is the Distillery District, where the majestic Victorian architecture now houses shops, galleries, and Balzac’s Café.
I meet an old professor there for lunch and within days he’s introducing his Jurassic student to interesting people, helpful contacts. That, to me, is the essence of Toronto. Despite their frosty exterior, Torontonians are friendly, they’re inclusive, and they wish you well. Indeed, these engaging qualities have gradually merged my two ghost selves into one that is all too corporeal—but happy to call this city home.
Toronto resident GILES BLUNT grew up in North Bay, Ontario. He is the author of Forty Words for Sorrow, for which he won the British Crime Writers’ Macallan Silver Dagger; A Delicate Storm, winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel; and Blackfly Season, one of Margaret Cannon’s Best Mysteries of the Year. Blunt also has written scripts for Law & Order, Street Legal, and Night Heat.
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