Get a sneak peek at Philip Preville’s Toronto Life September issue cover story “Exodus to the Burbs”
Brian Porter and Carrie Low thought they’d hatched the perfect plan to avoid the eight-lane gridlock they faced every week on their drive to the family cottage in the Kawarthas. Porter, a soft-spoken 41-year-old Toronto firefighter, would arrange his work schedule to be home on Friday. He’d pack the car at noon and pick up his daughters, Lily and Amelia, from daycare shortly after lunch. Then, rather than head from their home in the Beach to pick up Low downtown, he’d drive to a strategic pit stop in Oshawa. Low, a slim 41-year-old redhead, works as a lawyer with RBC in the financial district, her days and nights packed, respectively, with meetings and paperwork. Her role in the escape plan was to get off work early and catch the GO train to Oshawa Station. Often, she’d end up working a pressure-packed day until 5 p.m. anyway, leaving Porter and the girls waiting at the station for hours. In the end they never gained that much time—it could still be a challenge to get to the cottage before nightfall. But at least they’d avoided the worst hours on the DVP and the 401.
Porter and Low’s weekend escape strategy was symptomatic of their over-engineered city lives. To juggle all their needs and obligations—two careers, mortgage payments, bills, kid drop-offs and pickups, groceries, meals—they had built a life that resembled a Rube Goldberg machine, and any misstep threatened to collapse the entire contraption. Grandparents were often called in to shuttle the kids to lessons and play dates and birthday parties. “My mother-in-law would phone me at work and ask, ‘Where is Amelia’s dance outfit?’ and my stress level would go through the roof, ” recalls Low. “I’d say, ‘Why are you calling me at work for this? It’s in the house somewhere. Don’t ask me, ask Brian.’”
The problem, they decided, was not each other or their careers or their kids, but the city itself—a surprising diagnosis given that they had both grown up in Toronto, happily, in the Beach. They bought their 1,600-square-foot detached home on Benlamond because they wanted to raise their family there, too. But living in the city required too many contortions. They decided to divorce it.