Urbs vs. Burbs: “I was afraid Etobicoke would be boring, but raising our kids here is a dream”

Urbs vs. Burbs: “I was afraid Etobicoke would be boring, but raising our kids here is a dream”

Growing up west of Toronto, Caitlyn McDonald felt constrained by suburban life. Now, she’s starting her own family there—and loving it

Caitlyn McDonald and her two children at home in Etobicoke

Who: Caitlyn McDonald, 38, an ESL teacher; Alan Vale, 38, a teacher; and their two young children
Where they live: a 1,450-square-foot rowhouse in Etobicoke with a 14-square-foot deck for $3,000 a month in mortgage payments and condo fees
Where they used to live: a 700-square-foot rental in Bloor West Village with a 550-square-foot backyard for $1,600 a month
Commute now versus then: 25 minutes versus 25 minutes

I grew up in Etobicoke, or as I liked to tell people, Far West Toronto. Our house was by the very last bus stop, and I hated feeling so far from everything. When I moved to Ottawa to pursue a bachelor’s in education, I hoped that suburban life was behind me. 

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When I graduated in 2011, I had an opportunity to return to the Toronto area and live closer to downtown, and I jumped on it. My now-husband, Alan, and I rented a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a house at Runnymede and Bloor. Living there was everything I wanted it to be. I was suddenly within walking distance of grocery stores, my family doctor and the social scene of Bloor West Village. We were also a quick drive from our jobs: Alan is a teacher in the Peel Region, and I worked at Queen and Bay, at the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. Our rental was right across from Runnymede station—we could feel the subway’s rumble in our living room—so it was remarkably easy to get to High Park or meet friends downtown.

Then, in 2018, we had our first child. When she turned one and started walking around, our feelings about our neighbourhood changed. The city had created new bike lanes nearby, and as much as I love cycling and had been looking forward to this very development, car traffic grew out of control. Before we knew it, running errands became complicated. Moving out of the bustle felt like the right call.

Alan and I decided that buying was a better investment than renting, but we were priced out of family homes in the GTA. It was only when I was laid off at the end of 2019 and received severance that buying seemed vaguely possible. Once the pandemic hit and the housing market dipped, we started bidding on places. Finding a place for less than $1 million close to downtown was impossible, so we focused our search on areas west of our apartment. In the fall of 2020, we stumbled across a charming two-bedroom row house well within our budget and near our parents’ houses. The location: Etobicoke, near the corner of Kipling and Bloor. How ironic, I thought. My teenage self would have been very surprised.

Related: “My parks are nicer than your backyards”: An architect explains why young families should live downtown

Caitlin McDonald's 1,450-square-foot rowhouse in Etobicoke

Caitlyn McDonald recently moved to Etobicoke with her young family

Caitlyn McDonald playing with her children in their Etobicoke neighbourhood, near the corner of Kipling and Bloor

It didn’t take me long to realize that it was an objectively great move. Even though our former backyard was replaced by a deck, the house has parking and is right next to Kipling station. Plus, there are three big green spaces nearby. We bought it for $765,000, and the carrying costs month to month are likely less than we would pay to rent a similar place in the city. The secret to living well in the suburbs is to live close to transit. We also have easy access to three major highways: the Gardiner Expressway and Highways 427 and 401. We are five minutes from the GO station, which takes us to Union in 15 minutes; we’re a stone’s throw away from the TTC; and the airport is 10 minutes away. At under 30 minutes, our drives to work remain easy.

We had a second child in 2021, and raising our kids here is a dream. I was afraid that their life in Etobicoke would be boring and devoid of culture. But High Park is five subway stops away, and we often take the TTC downtown on the weekend to visit places like the ROM. Besides, Etobicoke is changing: there are more and more green spaces, and the south end is exploding with new shops and restaurants. The only thing missing are coffee shops other than Tim Hortons. Whenever I’m at a boutique place closer to downtown, I’m trying to convince staff to set up shop farther west. They’re like, “Runnymede?” My answer: “No, west!”

Still, living here is truly the best of both worlds: we feel connected to the city while having a quiet, peaceful place to call home. As our kids get older, I could see us growing out of this house, but I’m definitely willing to stay in this area. Alternatively, there are some pretty nice areas even farther west. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we might eventually look at spots in Mississauga or Oakville—especially if they have good coffee shops.