The best way to describe my 2007 move from Halifax to Toronto can be summed up in one short phrase: culture shock.
So much culture shock.
We had to move because my then-boyfriend, now-husband Matt had been unable to find work in his field in Halifax. And while we loved the city and its people, it didn’t make any sense for Matt to be working in the electronics department at Sears after having spent so much time, effort, and money on a degree in computer science. On top of that, three of our four parents were living in Ontario, and my grandmother, who lived in Halifax, was gone to Spain for half the year. So moving seemed like a good idea. In retrospect, I’ve come to realize that it was, in fact, a great idea, but there have been times in between when I’ve very much doubted that fact.
In case you’re unfamiliar with either or both of these cities, here is a handy-dandy chart comparing the two.
|People (strangers)||People in Halifax are super friendly! If you are walking down the street, strangers will smile at you and say hello. If you seem lost or hurt, they will ask if you need help. If you are trying to jay-walk, they will actually stop their car in the middle of the street and wave you across with a smile.||No one in Toronto ever makes eye contact with strangers. No one smiles. No one says hello. If you are lying on the ground bleeding to death, they will step around you so as to not get blood on their nice new shoes. Every time you cross the street, even at a crosswalk, you will nearly be killed.|
|People (acquaintances and friends)||It’s easy to make friends in Halifax! You can meet someone at a bar somewhere and by the end of the night you feel as if you’ve known them your entire life! People in Halifax don’t care if you went to school or have a good job; they only care if you’re nice, funny and can drink like a fish.||If you do not have a high-powered job or a PhD in some ridiculous field or (preferably) both, no one in Toronto wants to know you. Seriously, when you introduce yourself at parties, they will sneer and turn away. This is, sadly, a true story.|
|Parties||Always end up in the kitchen||Never end up in the kitchen|
|Music Scene||Amazing local music scene, with tons of community support. In fact, there’s even a name for bands that are super well-known in Halifax but largely unheard of everywhere else: Halifamous!||There is a decent-ish local music scene, but you really have to look for it. On the other hand, actual famous bands that sell actual large amounts of albums come here on a regular basis! If your favourite musician is touring, chances are that they will make a stop in Toronto.|
|Museums, Art Galleries, Cultural Festivals, Etc.||Halifax has a few decent ones. The Museum of Natural History is pretty good, and it boasts a 90-year-old tortoise named Gus who I’ve been visiting since I was a toddler. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has a nice but unexciting permanent collection, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has a pretty nice bunch of Titanic artefacts, and Pier 21 is always interesting. The theatre scene is decent, with the occasional blow-your-mind production. Most cultural events, though, only happen in July and August, during the height of tourist season.||Toronto wins this one. The art galleries, especially the Art Gallery of Ontario, are great, and tend to attract fantastic feature exhibits. I’ve been a sucker for the Royal Ontario Museum my whole stupid life, and we’re only a couple of hours from the Stratford and Shaw festivals (plus we’ve got all kinds of theatre stuff happening all the time in town). There are multiple festivals every weekend in the summer, and even during the winter there’s a ton going on. The only thing that’s missing is a half-decent waterfront, but sadly Toronto decided to stick approximately one billion hideous condos on theirs.|
|Weather||Shitty and rainy 95% of the time||Mostly tolerable|
I think that it’s pretty clear that, for the most part, Halifax comes out on top (unless you love assholes and hate kitchen parties, I guess). So what changed my mind? Why would I ever say that coming to Toronto was a great idea?
When we first moved here, Toronto seemed vast, cold and heartless. I couldn’t get used to its unfriendly people, its frenetic pace of life, its constant demand that you do more work, climb higher, and succeed, succeed, succeed at any cost. I missed Halifax, where even just having a job was considered to be an accomplishment. I missed the way that people worked to live, instead of lived to work. When I was pregnant, a Montrealer friend and I joked that my kid would be born a true Torontonian, wearing a tiny suit and tie and clutching an expensive leather briefcase. And really, I was sort of kidding, but sort of not, you know? I worried about my ability to raise a child in this city. How would I make sure that he understood that family and friendships were more important than a high-powered job? How could I teach him to be open, friendly, and kind-hearted? Most importantly, how would I make sure that he grew up to cheer for a half-decent hockey team?
But having a kid was what taught me to love this city. Overnight, Toronto became a happier, friendlier place. People who would normally have looked the other way when they saw me smiling at them were suddenly downright chatty, cooing over my adorable baby and asking how old he was, what his name was, and whether or not he was sleeping through the night yet. Strangers offered me their seats on crowded subways, or else offered to help lift my son’s stroller up and down the streetcar steps. Other new mothers approached me at playground and coffee shops to trade tips on dealing with teething or colic. I realized that Toronto wasn’t so bleak and unfriendly after all; it just doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve the way that Halifax does.
Becoming a parent has taught me to look differently at this city, and has helped me to recognize all of the wonderful things it contains. I discovered the Early Years Centres, for example, which are free drop-in centres for parents and children up to the age of six. Our local centre has a separate room for infants, and runs all kinds of interesting workshops and classes. I learned that both the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum have special play areas for children, and that both places are surprisingly kid-friendly. I’ve spent countless hours letting my son explore Riverdale Farm, the High Park zoo, and the Toronto Islands, all of which are free (although you do have to pay for the ferry to and from the islands). We’ve taken stock of all of our local parks, swimming pools and splash pads, and have made mental lists of which ones we like best. Having a kid has made me learn more about my city than anything else has.
Before I had my son, Toronto was just a place where I happened to live. Now, Toronto is home.
I love being able to raise my kid in a big city. I love how much fun stuff there is to do, how many learning opportunities he has, and how happy he is here. Toronto has had other benefits for me, too. As much as I miss Halifax’s work-to-live attitude, I was becoming much too complacent there. Being in Toronto has forced me to grow and change (two things which are not my strong suits), and living here has almost certainly led me to become a yoga teacher and a writer. And having learned more about my city and all of its nooks and crannies, I’ve discovered that there are people here that I actually want to spend time with. I’ve finally made friends here, real friends, friends who don’t judge me based on what I do for a living or whether or not I own a house (hint: I don’t). I’ve learned that there’s a whole, hidden, wonderful life in this city that, up until now, I didn’t know about.
Yes, I still miss Halifax. No, I don’t think that I’ll stay in Toronto forever. But honestly? It’s perfect for right now. And although I know that Le Clown has visited my city and is somewhat familiar with the lay of the land, hopefully my half-rant, half-tour has helped him see a different side of it.
Welcome to Toronto, Le Clown. We don’t have kitchen parties, and we don’t make eye contact with strangers, but other than that, we’re pretty all right.