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This martial arts instructor moved to Toronto during the pandemic. He found a $1,800 a month rental in High Park-Swansea

By Ali Amad| Photography by Antony Creary
This martial arts instructor moved to Toronto during the pandemic. He found a $1,800 a month rental in High Park-Swansea

Who: Babak Cheraghi, a 30-year-old martial arts instructor (@babakch91)

The history: Cheraghi was born and raised in Tehran, the capital of Iran. There, he taught an Iranian martial art called Nearu, which teaches self-defense with an emphasis on mindfulness and self-empowerment.

In 2019, Cheraghi immigrated to Canada for a new experience, and to teach Nearu in a different country. He considered living in Toronto, which has a large Iranian community, but ultimately opted for Montreal because his younger sister lived there. Plus, rent for an apartment—as well as a gym to teach classes in—was cheaper in Montreal compared to Toronto.

Cheraghi rented a one-bed, one-bath apartment for $1,300 a month in Shaughnessy Village, in downtown Montreal. He also leased a gym with capacity for 40 students, for $1,000 a month. The winters in Montreal were harsh, but Cheraghi liked living there.

The only downside was Cheraghi couldn’t speak French. Despite that language barrier, Cheraghi built up a following, teaching upward of 30 students at his gym, along with another 30 in a fitness course at Concordia.

When Covid hit, Cheraghi continued teaching his classes virtually from his apartment. He also began taking courses to improve his French. But by 2021, he was still struggling to communicate, especially online, where he couldn’t work one-on-one with his students, demonstrating different movements.

In the fall of 2021, he decided to look into moving to Toronto, where he could find more English-speaking students.

The hunt: In early September, Cheraghi drove down to Toronto for a house-hunting day trip. He wanted a one-bedroom close to public transit, for under $2,000 a month. Another must-have: a parking spot.

He’d never visited the city before, so he asked some friends in the GTA for tips on where to look. They told him about Richmond Hill and Thornhill, where many members of the Iranian diaspora lived and worked.

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Cheraghi liked the Iranian shops and restaurants in those neighbourhoods, but he preferred being closer to downtown Toronto.

Other friends recommended he check out High Park-Swansea. The neighbourhood was in a great location: the downtown core was just a short TTC ride away, but it had peaceful residential streets, and nature trails in nearby High Park.

The park also had good public amenities, like a swimming pool and tennis courts in the summer, and a skating rink in the winter.

Towards the end of his day trip, he found a listing for a one-bed, one-bath apartment, located across the street from High Park. The building was old, but the apartment had a large living area and a south-facing balcony with a view of the park.

The place also came with a parking spot. It was available for a doable $1,800 a month. The building was even offering the first two months rent-free because they were struggling to get tenants during the pandemic. Cheraghi snapped it up, and in October, he moved in.

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The outcome: Two months later, Cheraghi is still adjusting to the city. During his first month in the city, he took a trip to the Toronto Islands, where he marvelled at the downtown skyline.

And prior to the latest Omicron-induced lockdowns, Cheraghi enjoyed shopping at the abundant Iranian supermarkets near Yonge and Steeles, which sell ingredients for his favourite childhood dishes, such as Halim, a meat porridge, and Dizi, a traditional lamb and chickpea stew.

He also frequented several Iranian restaurants—one of his favourites is Takht-e-Tavoos in Dufferin Grove.

As for starting up his new gym, Cheraghi struggled to find an affordable space close to his High Park apartment, so he expanded his search to the outskirts of the GTA.

On Kijiji, he found a spare room advertised by the Victoria International Ballet Academy in Vaughan. It was a one-hour drive north from his place, but it was available for a bargain of $600 a month. The room also comfortably held up to 20 students.

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In November, Cheraghi started teaching classes there. So far, 10 students have signed up.

Once he builds up his business, Cheraghi hopes to open a gym in downtown Toronto. Beginning in January 2022, lockdowns permitting, Cheraghi will also be teaching Nearu classes at community centres across the city.


Did you move to Toronto during the pandemic? We’d love to hear about it: realestate@torontolife.com

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