Reasons to Love (and Not Leave) Toronto

To people fleeing the city for more square footage and less density, we say pffft. Pandemic or not, Toronto is thriving. Let us count the ways

A pandemic can’t defeat a city. Remember how, a week into the lockdown, you could zip the length of the Gardiner in under 15 minutes—during rush hour? The emptiness of our streets, sidewalks, malls and parks felt like a terrible omen. Where had three million people gone? The talk was that all cities are doomed, that we’re entering a Great Reordering in which the temporary emptiness becomes a grim forever as more of us flee to the suburbs and beyond.

21 Reasons to Love Toronto

Then we figured something out: we don’t need to flee anywhere, thank you very much. We live in this city because we thrive here, even and especially during the toughest times. We can see our friends from a polite distance (or at least virtually), we can find creative ways to make a living, we can leave the car on the parking pad and safely (albeit with abundant caution) ride the TTC, and we can dance in the streets with every Raptors or Jays or Leafs win—or simply because we’re happy to be alive.

And we’ve learned a lot in the last eight months. The lockdown underlined with a thick permanent marker that this is a city of proudly resourceful and creative people. Can’t eat in restaurants? Block off street lanes for instant patios. Can’t attend orchestral performances at Roy Thomson Hall? Host quartet recitals on your creaky Edwardian porch every Thursday at dusk. Exhausted your Netflix library? Hit the makeshift drive-in set up in the alley by the guy with the collection of Super 8s. A few years from now, we’ll look back and be amazed at all the community activist groups, parent support networks and lasting neighbourhood bonds that took root.

This year seemed to simultaneously speed everything up (check the news cycle) and slow our daily lives way, way down. For many of us, it was a shock to have so much time to ourselves. Instead of going nuts, we became tourists in our own city, counting the windows filled with kids’ hand-drawn rainbows, discovering how the last decade’s growth spurt had changed corners we hadn’t seen in a while, and Instagram-stalking the wild animals who started colonizing our otherwise quiet world. Even the pandemic-reality ritual of waiting in line outside the supermarket and hardware store, initially irritating, has turned into something quasi-meditative, since we now accept there’s almost never anywhere to rush to. It’s just how things are. Slowing down has also made us nicer. Have you ever had so many friendly, life-affirming exchanges with cashiers before?

Okay, it’s true, not every day has been perfect. But for every low point there were dozens of acts of love for our fellow citizens. This was the year that the Rogers Centre, Ritz-Carlton and Ontario Food Terminal donated tons of food that would otherwise go to waste. This was the year that landlords gave tenants a break and homeowners shared sunny backyards for communal gardens. This was the year that we marched to Queen’s Park, two metres apart, in support of Black lives. And this was the year that the term “essential workers” took on new and profound meaning.

The pieces in this package are a celebration of all that’s exceptional about this city, from the home chefs who are feeding the hungry to the artists decorating walls with front-line-worker shout-outs to the great minds at our research hospitals who are leading the race to find a viable vaccine. This year, more than ever, there’s a surplus of reasons to love Toronto. These are just a handful of them.

The full package appears in the November 2020 issue of Toronto Life magazineTo subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.