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Coming Back to Toronto

In the last year, I was lucky enough to travel quite a bit.  I mean like San Fran, Napa, St. Lucia, Cleveland, New York, Montreal, London, Austin, Chicago and Milan.  I’ve always felt my children should see other places, meet other people and get a different perspective.  And not like one of those people who goes to Rome and comes back to Toronto calling it “Roma” telling all their friends they wished they lived there.  

Every time I come back to Toronto, I look at the place I call home with a different set of eyes, with a new appreciation for it.  Here are a few of my observations in coming back from a few of those places.

Despite what the Cheet0s-in-Chief at the White House says about Chicago, there was zero hint of the epidemic of violence and hatred there.  In addition to being a beautiful city full of creative and historic architecture – we were approached by random people to welcome us.  That’s right – we were wearing Blue Jays jerseys and random people welcomed us and thanked us for coming to visit the city.  Even Wrigley Field flew the flags of the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and the Blue Jays.  Some very classy people.  But then I thought, hell – we are like that ALL the time here.  I don’t need to go to Chicago to be surrounded by friendly people.  All I need to do is walk out my front door to Queen Street East to find people who welcome visitors to our town.

On the other hand, when we wore Blue Jays jerseys in Cleveland (at a Browns NFL tailgate), we were threatened, yelled at and even spat on.  You can read more about THAT visit here.  I’ve been to my share of sporting events in Toronto, and I have NEVER witnessed that kind of abuse to visiting fans.  At best, we are very funny hecklers.  At worst we quietly make fun of someone wearing opposing colours.  I cannot fathom a situation where someone from Toronto would actually spit on or verbally abuse visitors.

I’ve been to Austin a couple of times now (Keller Williams Realty is based there) and they have a cool music and culinary culture in addition to being the home if the United States Grand Prix.  But what continues to stand out in my mind is a conversation I had with some locals at a crowded Four Seasons bar about their gun laws.  Without getting into it too much, we were informed that despite the laws, it was not uncommon for a Texas native to have a handgun in a bar.  It was just unsettling, and SO foreign to someone coming from Toronto. 

While I loved the scenery, food and attractions of San Francisco, there was a dark reminder of how big a problem homelessness is there.  While Toronto has approximately 5200 people who meet the definition of “homeless” out of population of 2.6 million, San Francisco is struggling to put a roof over the heads of almost 7500 of their 864,000 people.  And it shows – my experiences walking from The Golden Gate bridge to Union Square or from Haight-Asbury opened my eyes to just how many people were on the streets.  Nevertheless, there was a warmth and hospitality there that was unforgettable.  Driving North to Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the people were even more hospitable.  Kind of like driving from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

I travel to Montreal annually for the Canadian Grand Prix, and in the words of a close friend of mine “if you can’t make it to Europe, go to Montreal’.  After all these years, I continue to look forward a city that prides itself on its culinary culture.  And that is high praise, coming from a city that boasts restaurant venues from communities such as Ossington, King West and Yonge and Eglinton.  But then I go out to dinner at Dundas and Ossington, King West or Yonge and Eg and am so grateful I come from a city that offers so many types of restaurants to our own visitors.

Similar to Montreal, New York and London are an annual destinations for me.  Lately, we’ve been picking one community and just staying there to show to our children.  This year, it was South London and New York’s Lower East Side that we focussed on.  When we got back to Toronto however, I realized that visitors to our city could enjoy exactly the same contrasts; the feel of Toronto’s Queen East and Queen West offer visitors two totally different textures of the city.  Or party in The Village or King West and experience two very different vibes.  Or eat on College Street vs Kensington Market.  Ours is a city that can be VERY different from one community to the next.

Recently I took my daughter to Milan for an Opera and the Italian Grand Prix.  One of my favourite moments was taking the train to the race track and feeling the energy from the fans around us; the smells of the train station food, the sounds of the crowd songs and the colours of the various F1 teams.  Definitely a cool atmosphere.  But then last Saturday night I was driving with a friend to a concert at the Amphitheatre and there was a similar kind of energy.  The Jays were playing at the Dome and TFC was playing at BMO.  The Weekend was playing the ACC and Queens of the Stone Age were playing the Amphitheatre.  TIFF was on downtown.  My guess was that there were over 120,000 people in a really good mood downtown.  And these kinds of weekends are many.  Have you ever gone to Toronto Island on Sunday of the Labour Day weekend?  If they Jays are at home and the Air Show is on, it makes for a FANTASTIC vibe in our city.

If you ever experience true boredom, check out my instagram account here.  I am always looking for new places to visit and new street foods to try.  Above all though, I am looking forward to coming back to Toronto.

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