“I didn’t think my commute would be that bad. I was very wrong”: Why I returned to Toronto
Leaving the city made perfect sense during the pandemic. Then I was told to come back to the office
Who: Amanda Whalen, 31
What she does: Public relations
Her trajectory: King City, Ontario, to the Annex to Churchill, Ontario, to King West
My first time living in Toronto was supposed to be a new adventure. It didn’t quite turn out that way.
I had been living with my mom and brother in King City and making the 52-minute commute to my public relations job in Toronto, slowly paying off my student debt. Finally, in 2019, after five years of running to catch the evening train after work, I had saved up enough to move to the city.
A colleague of mine was living in the Annex, which seemed like an affordable area close to my office. I started looking on Kijiji and property management sites and jumped at the first place I found. It was a 550-square-foot bachelor in an older building at 44 Walmer Road. It was far from perfect. There was no air conditioning, no dishwasher and no in-suite laundry. There was also no gym, no rooftop patio, no locker and no concierge. But it was $1,550, which was in my budget, and it would be all mine. I would no longer have to share a bathroom with my brother. I could stay out late in the city and even host parties.
When I finally made the move, in May 2019, I fully immersed myself in Toronto. My commute to work became a 10-minute subway ride. After work, I would walk to yoga classes or meet up with friends. On weekends, I would go to Christie Pits on dates or hop over to Paupers Pub for drinks. I loved that I could easily walk east on Bloor and explore shops in Yorkville or walk west and explore restaurants in Koreatown. I was also a frequent visitor at Ramsden Park, where I would play tennis. For 10 months, I was living the dream. Then the pandemic struck.
I had just returned from a New York business trip when my office announced that we’d be working from home for the next week. That week quickly turned into months, then years. The whole reason I moved to the city was to be close to work, and I thought that justified the high rent.
As the pandemic dragged on, loneliness and fear consumed me. I was anxious about hanging out with friends because I didn’t want to catch Covid, so I had very little human contact. I was even afraid of taking the elevator. My unit became my whole world. I would work, exercise, sleep and hang out in the same small space. Soon, I felt the need to go home and surround myself with family.
For the next few months, I split my time between King City and my Annex apartment, spending a few weeks at a time at each location. I eventually found that I was spending more and more time at my family home, staying longer each visit. Being around my family was comforting. It took my mind off the anxiety and unknowns of the pandemic. The King City house was located in a private golf-course community. I enjoyed having the extra outdoor space. I would go on long walks to Dog Tales, an animal sanctuary about a 47 minutes down the road, or to the paths at King Valley Golf Club with my mom and brother.
In September 2020, my family decided to move to Churchill, Ontario, 84 kilometres north of Toronto. That would add another 36 minutes to my commute if and when I returned to work in the city. I tried to make the best out of living at home, doing a lot of outdoor activities like hiking and skating. I would meet my friends from the city halfway, at Fairy Lake in Newmarket, for trail walks. I thought, What are the odds that they will call us back to the office in the next few months?
I was wasting money by keeping the unit in the Annex. I decided to give up my lease, and in May 2021, I officially moved out. But the joke was on me.
We got the return-to-the-office memo in October 2021, just five months after I left the bachelor unit on Walmer Road. My manager asked our team to come in once a week, which was reasonable. I didn’t think my commute would be that bad. I was very wrong. To get to my office from Churchill, I had to drive 20 minutes to Bradford, where I caught the 6:51 a.m. GO train for a 73-minute ride into Union Station. I then rode the subway up to Queen’s Park station. All told, I typically spent four hours commuting every time I went into the office.
The first time I took the GO train to Toronto from Bradford, I was under the impression that the same line would run direct in the evening. That was not the case. At certain times in the evening, the Barrie line stops in Aurora, where passengers need to transfer to a GO bus. The commute was turning into a nightmare—I was getting home from work at 8 p.m. Once, I called my mom in a panic, asking if she could pick me up in Aurora, not realizing that I needed to transfer over to a bus to get to Bradford, where my car was parked.
Despite the commute, I am thankful that I was able to return home during the worst part of the pandemic. Although I was paying about $500 in rent to my family, I was able to save about $15,000.
But dating—while in a pandemic, while living at home, while it’s winter—is rough. I had to put my love life on hold. I also missed my friends downtown. So all of those factors really motivated me to search for a place in Toronto again.
Around November 2021, I started to look at condos with a different lens. This time, I wanted air conditioning, a dishwasher, in-suite laundry, a gym, parking and maybe, if I was lucky, some fun stuff on the roof. I was expecting to see a significant decrease in rent because of the pandemic and mass exodus from Toronto. But my $1,500 budget did not match my wish list. Prices were still high, especially with the amenities I wanted. I knew I would have to increase my budget and likely compromise on a few things.
I spotted a 390-square-foot bachelor for $1,600 a month in King West. Immediately, I sent the agent on the rental listing an email. By the next day, someone else had leased the unit. I felt panicked. I was terrified that I wouldn’t find anything.
At the same time, a friend reached out about a possible condo-and-roommate opportunity. I hadn’t considered having a roommate, but I agreed to see the condo and meet the friend of a friend.
This unit was on Lombard Street, on the 37th floor, with an amazing waterfront view. The rent was $1,500 with parking included. Although I would have my own room and bathroom, the idea of living with a roommate and paying $1,500 was a little off-putting to me. And and the laundry was in the would-be roommate’s bedroom. I decided I would rather up my budget by a few hundred dollars to live by myself.
And that’s when I found the unit in King West.
It was a 449-square-foot bachelor with a 70-square-foot balcony, a Murphy bed laid out at the front of the unit and a living area at the back. It came with a dishwasher, air conditioning and in-suite laundry, and the building had a rooftop lounge, an outdoor pool, a fully equipped gym and visitor parking.
But there was a catch. The owners of the condo were also considering selling the unit and had listed it as a rental for $1,850 a month or to buy for $578,800. There was an open house for potential buyers while, at the same time, private bookings could be made for renters. I knew I needed to move quickly on this property in case a buyer made an offer.
After viewing the unit, I submitted my rental application on Sunday morning. The owners liked my application but were reluctant to lock themselves into a year-long rental in case they wanted to list it on the market again. After four days of back-and-forth negotiations, we settled on a 10-month lease.
It was a stressful experience. I had to review multiple contract versions and research industry jargon to understand what I was signing up for. But it was all worth it.
I moved in on July 4 and can now breathe easy and enjoy my summer. After a few trips to IKEA and painting and assembling furniture with friends, the condo is starting to reflect who I am. I brought my cat, Lexi, with me too. Surrounded by my plants, salt lamps, new couch and cat, I feel like I’m finally settling into my new home.
I’m appreciating the convenience of having an 18-minute commute and taking advantage of what the city has to offer. I’ve joined a softball league, attended an after-work dinner with my colleagues at Mercatto and tried my first Pilates class at Studio Lagree on King West.
Although it was hard to leave home again, especially with so much uncertainty in the economy, I believe I made the right decision to relocate to Toronto.