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  #1  
Old Posted Mar 31, 2020, 11:19 PM
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Your city, your moment

I was derailing the downtowns thread and thought better of it. But what was your Canadian city for you, in that moment?

I came to Montreal in 1996. I remember my dad driving me over the Cartier bridge, exiting onto Ontario Street. I knew from that moment that everything I saw, was what I always wanted. It was the new baseline for life.

Mordecai Richler has a passage in Barney's Version where, after many years in London, he returns to Montreal and sees Ste-Catherine. What once seemed the world's crossroads now appeared as a seedy, provincial thoroughfare. And I had Ontario... but what a thing it was, all those shoddily-painted old commercial buildings with their turrets and follies. It was noir in its way, everything I wanted to be a part of.

Not even fifteen years later I was grinding my teeth in the dawn, coin de la Visitation, reading Heather O'Neill and fending off an old transsexual who looked like Fred Flintstone doing Lucille Ball.

But you can't make it all about the easy ironies. In between the highs and lows is daily life, the friends you had who you met every day at the Egyptian guy's restaurant on St-Viateur and St-Urbain, those $5 lunches. You had your balcony on Jeanne-Mance, or that room with the view of the Aldred building, and all those visions of what making it in that town might mean.

I left in 2012. I always thought I'd come back, but it seems unlikely now. There are so many cities, so many countries. But even though you might add dawn in Karakoy to your suite of seen wonders, even if you thought that you caught a bit of that old Plateau feeling on a warm May afternoon in Vesterbro, these are other people's lives.

Now I am in a rented Airbnb cabin on an island near Trosa, Sweden, and thinking about how I used to draw the brickwork above Montreal windows in my 2003 sketchbook because of course I had that. Where I once rode early-morning Greyhounds to visit my cousin from Luceville in Spanish Harlem, where he was trying to become an actor, I now think of the lovely balconies of Sodermalm and ask, "and then what?".

The impressions that these places make on us are fragile and fleeting. As they once came by simple observation, they must one day be actively conjured.

It was hot that day on Bernard and Esplanade, reading The Red And The Black because Bell hadn't come for the wifi yet. If I got excessive, the former Hong Kong model would sell me wine at 3 a.m. from her flower shop. To this day, every model of urban completion looks something like that, a half-ratty overlay on an expanse of perfect houses set in rows.

I had a vision that I went to great efforts to make permanent, and it was of Montreal. Others had theirs in Vancouver, or Toronto, or Calgary. I am now in Stockholm and there is no vision left, only real estate. These things happen.

This is the thread in which we can discuss the cities of our dream-worlds, and how they sometimes kind of haphazardly aligned with places that actually existed, and still do.

Even if you're not there.
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  #2  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 1:25 AM
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"Comfort" (in the widest possible meaning of the term) becomes increasingly important as one grows older.

If it doesn't it's probably that you took the wrong exit on the highway of life and simply got used to the shitty surroundings out of necessity because you couldn't find the on-ramp to get back on.

(I realize I am not addressing the OP.)
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  #3  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 1:27 AM
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Originally Posted by kool maudit View Post

Now I am in a rented Airbnb cabin on an island near Trosa, Sweden,
So you were actually serious about that...
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  #4  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 2:45 AM
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Memories are hard things to pin down. The images and feelings are warped by the passage of time and one's own changes.

There are cities I stayed in long enough to consider them home. There are cities and towns that I always knew were waystations on the path of life.

I hated leaving the cities I called home more for obvious reasons. It's the collected residue of life that you leave behind that hurts to say goodbye to. It's almost too personal to post about those, so I won't.

I will type about a waystation.

Ottawa. In a sense, kind of like a first love. You learn a lot of lessons with your first love, but you never forget them. I wouldn't call the emotion I had for the city the same as a 'first love', but it taught me a lot and it's something I look back upon fondly now. The dingy townhouse just on the correct side of Dalhousie didn't prevent the neighbourhood's characters from wandering by. Or the roof from leaking. Or the heat quitting twice, once in February. I still hold some contempt for my landlord.

It was the introduction to the big-ish city hustle. Where one learned not to be the small-town yokel gawking about and how to use an actual transit system or drive on a real highway. A taste of that pulse of something happening and it was steps away - concerts, events and nightlife with friends. That no one gave a shit about your fancy piece of paper if you weren't useful. That New York City - practically Mecca for a young, impressionable mind like myself - was within reach of my crapmobile (I did end up making a trip there)

Maybe it was skating along the canal in the winter or the parties in the highrises of Lees Ave. with the city centre glistening on the horizon. Or maybe it was the spring breeze blowing through that musty townhouse in mid-May with BBQ smell wafting in. Or the oppressive summer heat that wouldn't relent - not even overnight - for a week straight, but walking home from amazing performances at Bluesfest somehow made that a secondary concern. The mobs of booze soaked Canada Day revellers crowding the place made it feel like somewhere important, if only for one day of the year.

In retrospect today, Ottawa is so provincial. A backwater. Almost too clean, too orderly, too nice to be a real city. As if you asked someone from the suburbs to build a model city à la SimCity. But that's time and bigger experiences giving their two cents. Sometimes, however, the spring breeze brings back memories...
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  #5  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 3:21 AM
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Life begins and ends on Brunswick Avenue.

The rattle of the subway beneath my pillow. The pounding bass from the Brunnie a few doors down. Stepping in vomit on the way to Dominion's the morning after. Dreamy chitchat on the patio at Future's. This red brick city had a future.
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  #6  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 4:00 AM
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I got my first camera capable of taking night photography in my Cegep days, back when everyone had a nifty Motorola Razr (or whatever it was called) that took grainy facebook (or was it myspace?) profile pics.

I also got a flimsy little tripod that could barely handle the camera's weight, but I loved it and although I don't use it anymore, it still lives somewhere in my storage locker and when I come across it, I remember nights spent on downtown Montreal rooftops.

We didn't go up skyscrapers and hang off ledges and that stuff, but if you're familiar with Downtown Montreal, you probably know that it is replete with dimly lit service alleys, where one might stumble upon a fire escape or two.

The rooftop we frequented the most was above a strip club and burger joint (one would seem to feed the other), a mere 3 storeys above Ste. Catherine Street. Occasionally, we would be climbing the stair and a stripper would come out for a smoke break on the stair landing. Half covered, she would typically either wave or blow a smoke-ring in our direction. No one seemed particularly bothered that at 11pm on a Friday night, a few guys with lazily concealed camera gear and depanneur-purchased 40s of Black Label were making their way up a fire escape onto a roof.

From this roof, there were unobstructed views up and down Ste. Catherine O., as well as of the Sun Life Building, PVM and the CIBC tower. The Sun Life Building hadn't yet had its lighting scheme upgraded, but there was something very Gothamesque about it, hulking over the square. Today, the cluster of new towers around the Bell Centre would provide another juxtaposing angle, I'm sure.

On humid summer nights, we could be found on various perches downtown, while the action buzzed not far below. We were exploring our city on foot and through new vantage points. The world around us seemed big even endless as streets like Ste. Catherine and Rene-Levesque have the appearance of stretching on forever.

This lasted a few years until, on a previously unexplored, slightly higher roof, we got caught by a hapless security on his night shift who was more annoyed than anything else to be dealing with fools. As we laughed, he told us that the police were waiting for us at the bottom. We made our way down to find no one waiting for us, just a row of ground floor retail windows proudly displaying diamonds.

Last edited by Zeej; Apr 1, 2020 at 4:13 AM.
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  #7  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 2:47 PM
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Moving to Toronto in 2007 through to 2009. I was doing my Master's and felt relatively well off plus had a lot of free time. I'd split up with my long-term girlfriend before moving which resulted in living in fairly sketchy apartments that were a fraction of what they'd cost now.

You could still find $5 pints at decent bars (you still can, but only on certain days) and stuff just seemed a lot cheaper in general. Lots of afternoons / nights at the Victory but also random gallery openings and shows at weird spots all over the place. Ossington was starting to get a few nice places but was still a bit sketchy, and Bloorcourt / Bloordale were where you went for Ethiopian food, not to go to fancy cocktail bars.

It was kind of a blur in retrospect. There was a bit of a resurgence of this in 2011 when my best friend moved from Ottawa and I'd finally begun to get somewhat steady work. Too many 5am nights at my friends place on Dovercourt that ended in a morning at the Lakeview... I would quickly die if I tried repeating that at this point!

Toronto's still great, but I don't quite get that same feeling I did back then. I'd planned to stay here permanently, and though I'd prefer that if possible aren't as committed to the idea.
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  #8  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 3:35 PM
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^ not a terribly different experience than me, but move it from 2007 to 2013.

First year I lived in shitty student housing for dirt cheap, spitting distance from Hooker Harveys. Second year I upgraded to a shared tiny apartment with a buddy in West Queen West. Cost about 1/2 what it would today in rent. Spent days in classes, evenings biking around, hitting up dive bars in Chinatown, the Annex, and Dundas West.

I launched my professional career, and moved in with my now wife in a tiny 1 bed apartment which we were paying significantly more for than I paid for the 2 bed apartment just 3 years earlier.

I hadn't really planned on leaving when I first moved to Toronto. Prices were high, but not too crazy. You had to make some sacrifices to make it work, but it felt like a young working professional could still live relatively well. Buying a townhouse on the subway would have been a possibility given my career trajectory at that time. I recall seeing 3 bedroom stacked towns in the West Queen West area going for about $500k. Today those same units go for for 900-1mil.

Fast forward to today, and rent for a 1 bed apartment is more than most people's mortgages in more affordable markets. Salaries are barely higher than the rest of the province. I found myself going out less and less, so started questioning why I was doing it.

Made the call about a year ago to plan an exit path.. My wife is from the Hamilton area so we decided to do that. The city offers more than a typical suburb, still feels "urban", and doesn't come with the absurd costs.

Found a job late last fall, she followed suit, and made the move a few months ago. My mortgage on a detached house is less than what my university friends are paying for a 1 bed apartment a 35 minute subway ride from work. Just not worth it to me anymore.


I don't regret a day I spent in Toronto, and loved the years I spent there. I still go back regularly to hit up my favourite spots and just crash at friends for the night occasionally. The cost you pay to be in that energy is just too much though.
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  #9  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 4:06 PM
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I grew up in Peterborough, so Toronto was always my yardstick. Even when I visited foreign cities, I'd say things like "oh, this reminds me of X neighbourhood in Toronto" or "if somebody opened this in Toronto, it would be a gold mine".

The "great years" were 2005-2008 when I had my first job, met new people and had a combination of disposable income, a lot of youthful energy and a lot of free time. One fond memory I had was when a friend from NYC came up in 2006 and I showed her around. We encountered something like a dozen people I knew by coincidence in our walk around town, and I felt like the King of Kensington in that title sequence where he goes around patting people on the back and whistling.

Another fond memory I had was how I would use Saturday night to go wild, and then Sunday morning to sober up and Sunday afternoon as reflective alone time, where it was just me and the city. One of my favourite activities was to get on a streetcar with no destination in mind, fire up my iPod on shuffle, and just stare out the window and think about life.

Anyway, in 2008 I left to do grad school in the US and then wound up in Vancouver, which is a city that I lived in for nearly 7 years, and where I met my wife. Now, Vancouver is a very interesting city with its own, unique vibe, and you can consume pretty much the same food and beer and entertainment in Vancouver that you can in Toronto, but it didn't occupy the same place in my mind, so I didn't miss it that much when I decided to come back to Toronto. Almost all of my good friends in Vancouver left by the time I did, so that just sealed the deal.

When I returned, Toronto was expensive and I couldn't go around being the King of Kensington anymore - I basically just kept in touch with 6 people who became lifelong friends, but they were mostly still here, albeit moved away from downtown to more quiet neighbourhoods to the north and east. Aside from the financial district, where I work, most of Toronto south of Bloor is new territory for me again, since the city has changed so much. I mentioned this in a post a few years ago, but Toronto is not a city that rewards long term relationships. You have your carefree time, and then you promptly get out, almost like you're in a line for some popular attraction. This is mostly a function of the exorbitant costs of living here, but I also get an unscientific feeling that Toronto is a place that doesn't want hangers-on; it welcomes the new and throws out the old, no matter what contribution you made to the city in the past.
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  #10  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 4:12 PM
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Originally Posted by hipster duck View Post
I also get an unscientific feeling that Toronto is a place that doesn't want hangers-on; it welcomes the new and throws out the old, no matter what contribution you made to the city in the past.
That's an interesting observation. I think there is a very broad cultural dimension to this as well.
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  #11  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 4:23 PM
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Originally Posted by hipster duck View Post
This is mostly a function of the exorbitant costs of living here, but I also get an unscientific feeling that Toronto is a place that doesn't want hangers-on; it welcomes the new and throws out the old, no matter what contribution you made to the city in the past.
Isn't that most major cities these days?

I mean, London, Hong Kong, New York or San Francisco are hardly places to make a lifetime unless you're in the top 1%. The competitive pressure is ratcheted up to 11.

Canada's somewhat behind the curve due to us not being the centre of it all, but it makes sense given the way the world is (was?) going.
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  #12  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 5:36 PM
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Originally Posted by hipster duck View Post
The "great years" were 2005-2008

That was a pretty special time for me too. I was in high school then, so too young & poor to get to do everything I wanted, but that's when I at least got to start exploring the city and experiencing it in a meaningful way - when it was all still fresh and full of unknowns & surprises (also when I joined SSC & SSP!). When you could first discover some lovely little street that you hadn't already walked down a hundred times before.

I had another round of "great years" from like 2014-2016, when I was finishing up school and was newly independent with a bit of cash, though that was a much different feel and not quite as directly predicated on the excitement of the city itself (it certainly made a good backdrop for a cliched sex-and-drugs 20-something experience).

Still, I feel like the "objectively best" years in Toronto was the late 00s-early 10s. It was dirtier & less polished then, and there were still the vestiges of the quirky city of old; but with enough growth & development to start filling in the gaps and giving it a sense of true metropolitan bustle. That was that moment where cost of living and population growth and quality of life and creativity all existed in near-perfect equilibrium.

Of course, I could also be totally biased and clouded by those being the years of my teens & early 20s...



Quote:
I mentioned this in a post a few years ago, but Toronto is not a city that rewards long term relationships. You have your carefree time, and then you promptly get out, almost like you're in a line for some popular attraction. This is mostly a function of the exorbitant costs of living here, but I also get an unscientific feeling that Toronto is a place that doesn't want hangers-on; it welcomes the new and throws out the old, no matter what contribution you made to the city in the past.

There is a certain transient nature to Toronto, but what you're describing is also more typical of the transplant experience. That is - come when you're young & newly independent; get out once the responsibilities start piling up. Or, you get the types that just seem to perpetually drift from place to place (with who's path you just happened to cross when you were both young in this place).

Having grown up here though, most of my extended social circle is also comprised of locals - and most of them that grew up here are still in the city. With one or two exceptions, those that I've known who left the city were the ones who were never really had any attachment to it in the first place. People for whom Toronto was like your version of Vancouver.

If it's your home though, I think there's just less of even so much as a consideration that it's possible to live somewhere else.
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Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 5:40 PM
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Isn't that most major cities these days?

I mean, London, Hong Kong, New York or San Francisco are hardly places to make a lifetime unless you're in the top 1%. The competitive pressure is ratcheted up to 11.

Canada's somewhat behind the curve due to us not being the centre of it all, but it makes sense given the way the world is (was?) going.
True, but that's a bit different from what we are talking about.

Big successful cities are always a bit "out with the old, in with the new", but Toronto in my experience takes that to an extreme level.
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Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 6:10 PM
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I am not sure I had a city moment but there were definitely a few fun times. When I was growing up I lived in Halifax, Toronto, and Vancouver. My family members were all "city people" and Halifax was viewed as a small town. I lived mostly in very boring suburban areas when I was younger so it was great to hit an age where I could explore on my own. I did this first in Halifax and then in Toronto on trips. I knew Toronto circa 2005 pretty well. I have been back since but get a lot less time now. I am lucky to get a week off work to go visit somewhere these days.

Vancouver's where I was first truly out on my own and lived in the city. I came here for grad school and now I have a lot more friends here than anywhere else. But strangely I never became attached to exploring the city in the same way. I do think it's a nice place to live though.

First trips to New York, London, and Paris were also big deals. But I am too settled now to move to one of those places.
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Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 6:14 PM
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That's an interesting observation. I think there is a very broad cultural dimension to this as well.
I didn't even notice it much at the time but I come from a family of "city folk" who value education and careers and all they ever emphasized was doing well in school, getting a prestigious job, and probably moving away as part of that. Family or cultural connections were given almost no emphasis whatsoever.

This seems to be where we're moving as a society now. My partner's family is more rural and they had a totally different outlook; school was okay but working "hard" was important (nebulous office jobs or educational attainment are comparatively unimpressive), as was being around family and ideally having kids.

I have had a lot of turnover in my social connections in Vancouver as people have come and gone. I am a fortunate person who doesn't have to worry about getting priced out, but the high cost of living and lack of stability for younger people still has a big impact on my social group. I know very few 20-30 somethings who own property and have successful careers. Few younger people here can be "settled" here even if they are rich. It's a thing Baby Boomers got that Millennials didn't.
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Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 6:18 PM
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Originally Posted by MonkeyRonin View Post

Still, I feel like the "objectively best" years in Toronto was the late 00s-early 10s. It was dirtier & less polished then, and there were still the vestiges of the quirky city of old; but with enough growth & development to start filling in the gaps and giving it a sense of true metropolitan bustle. That was that moment where cost of living and population growth and quality of life and creativity all existed in near-perfect equilibrium.

Of course, I could also be totally biased and clouded by those being the years of my teens & early 20s...
Yeah, there's a certain moment in life when everything comes together. Life is untamed possibility and you've enough freedom to explore where ever your heart leads to.

I have a bit of a passion for cars, but anything recent doesn't pluck at the heartstrings like cars of the late '90s and early 2000s because that's when I was really into it. Modern cars are nice, but there's only a handful of them I kind of care about these days (and it seems like the car is dying in the face of the SUV). I'd imagine that music is similar, too.

So, my "objective best" Toronto would be the late-1990s through the early 2000s. Compared to where I lived, it was in another world of prosperity and excitement. The Leafs were doing decent, the city was kind of affordable (I only visited, but locals could probably attest) and it seemed to be embracing the shift in momentum from Canada being a laggard to Canada being somewhere much more prosperous. I guess it followed through to its natural conclusion.
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Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 6:39 PM
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I guess none of you remember the 70s and 80s. That's when all Canadian cities were at their best. Living costs were low relative to wages giving people more money to have fun with and the nightlife and music scenes in just about all of the big cities were superb. Plus society was so wonderfully free. I know in Vancouver the nightlife in recent years is a shadow of what it once was, despite the fact that the population has more than doubled in the past 40 years. Half of the pubs and bars have disappeared. Before the current situation, it was actually quite dead downtown on most nights in comparison to how it used to be, and so many of the old neighbourhood pubs are also gone.
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  #18  
Old Posted Apr 1, 2020, 6:44 PM
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Offline, I've begun typing out my (unconventional) city moment story, but geez it's so bloody long... and I am not even finished.

I feel like I am writing a novel.
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Still a really nice group of people to spend Christmas dinner with, though.
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