Editor’s Letter: The pull of this sometimes infuriating, always intoxicating, chaotic, dense and vibrant city
When Toronto came back to life, the Covid expats started returning home
As far as ideas go, driving from Keele and Lawrence to King and Spadina at rush hour during TIFF was an objectively bad one. There were three of us, all colleagues, and I was at the wheel. The distance was 13 kilometres; the duration, as it turned out, was one hour and 10 minutes. At that pace, even a semi-fit runner would have beaten us. Horrendous, right? Except somehow—scout’s honour—it wasn’t.
We started slowly, wending through the leafy side streets near Bathurst and Lawrence, where we caught sight of kids freshly liberated from school zooming around on bikes. Farther south, in Forest Hill Village, we spotted a hive of shoppers, sun worshippers and patio sitters. At Sir Winston Churchill Park, as we turned left, a kite lifted off into the sky. We took a right off St. Clair and beheld the handsome cityscape as we rolled south on Avenue Road. In Yorkville, busy, elegant types swished past one another. In the Annex, students, professors and residents commingled. Through the heart of the U of T campus, swarms of backpack-toting students passed the car on all sides. At Richmond and John, we came to a standstill, which sparked an unholy din: honking motorists, gesticulating cyclists, opportunistic jaywalkers. The culprits: five merry dudes in a Dodge Caravan who were driving with the sliding door all the way open and a keg in the back, cutting across the opposing lane.
Finally, we got to the TIFF Bell Lightbox on King. A street drummer was lost in the trance of his polyrhythms. A crowd gathered behind the Princess of Wales Theatre, waiting for a star to emerge. A neon-vested traffic cop blasted his whistle indiscriminately. Hip hop blared from a speaker somewhere. We had arrived.
From start to finish, the journey was pure anarchy. It was also wonderful. And that is Toronto in a single snapshot: chaotic, dense, agonizing and yet simultaneously beautiful, vibrant and intoxicating. Toronto, in all senses of the word, is teeming.
That combination of density and vibrancy is what makes big cities appealing. When the pandemic touched down back in March of 2020 and the streets went quiet, Toronto no longer made sense. Condo elevators became large-scale petri dishes. Apartments felt small and claustrophobic. And many Torontonians—more than 70,000 in the first year alone—left for elsewhere. The countryside was a big draw, where space and solitude were in abundance.
Yet, over time, many of those who moved away began to feel hunger pangs for what they had left behind. They missed their friends, family and old haunts. And, as it turns out, it’s not so easy to recreate an unforgettable night out in a village of 1,100 people where the only bar closes at 10 p.m.
Meanwhile, the city slowly came back to life. Toronto’s streetscape returned to form, bars reopened, the downtown core filled up. Incredible new restaurants and concert halls opened their doors. Sports arenas were packed. When office managers began to gently summon staff back to their desks, many expats decided it was time to reverse the big move.
In our November issue, we deliver a collection of memoirs from a group we’re calling “The Homecoming Club.” Their return helps revive the energy and density we so sorely missed. Is it enough to vanquish road rage? Not even close. But it does help.