Toronto is my favourite city in the world.
Let me explain.
Toronto is the cultural capital of Canada. A thriving arts scene, five sports teams, shopping centers, festivals, diverse neighborhoods, and a developing waterfront on Lake Ontario make Toronto a top travel destination for Canadians and Americans alike. The nation’s biggest city is the home of the continent’s tallest building, largest public food market, and Drake. Ironically, it’s not the big things that make me love Toronto, but rather all the unexpected little interactions I have every time I travel there.
Imagine this: you and your friends are taking the train into Toronto. The trains into Toronto have upper and lower levels. Recently, the city began an initiative called “quiet cars,” making the upper levels of trains designated silent areas where people can rest or read.
Here’s where things get interesting.
You and your friends sit in the lower level. Presumably, you plan on talking. Someone sitting in a seat nearby is traveling alone, but he’s sitting in the lower level even though he just as easily could have chosen to sit in the quiet area where he wouldn’t be disturbed. Guess what? He’s planning on talking too!
Complete strangers socialize and share stories on trains in Toronto. It’s not rude to join conversations – on the contrary, it’s considered a cool way to pass time.
One time, a woman asked if she could practice her English with me. She said that she’d just moved to Toronto from Busan, South Korea, because she got a job at Scotiabank, one of Canada’s big 5 banks. She was trying to get a feel for what living in Toronto is like, which was tough for me because I’m not actually from Toronto. Thankfully, another person sitting near us said that he actually works at Scotiabank too.
“And you live here?” she asked him.
“No, I live in Mississauga. Everybody works in Toronto but nobody lives there.”
“I have apartment in Liberty Village,” she said.
“We walked past that apartment complex,” I chimed in. “They look nice!”
That was an understatement. The man sitting next to us explained that the gorgeous apartment complex next to Lake Ontario was actually just built in the past few years.
“Those aren’t for Canadians, though,” he continued. “They’re for all the internationals moving in. Canadians don’t rent. Everybody wants to own a home in Canada — it’s a cultural thing. We’ve got so much land and so few people that practically anyone can own a house. But there’s been a bit of a housing crisis lately, especially in Toronto.”
Later, she asked him about fun things to do downtown.
“Walk around. Talk. Check out the St. Lawrence market, for sure. People from all over the world rent little stands and sell food. Jays games are fun, too.”
“You like baseball?” I asked.
“Not really, but everyone loves going to Jays games cause it’s an excuse to come into the city in the summer — we had the highest attendance in the league last year. Plus, they let you bring whatever you want into the stadium, so these past few times I’ve tried bringing more and more obnoxious food from Dollarama into the stadium just to see if they’ll say something. They never do. Now, a pro darts team — that’s something I’d get excited about.”
Another time, while my friend Josh and I were taking the train back from a Toronto FC soccer match downtown, we overheard a family discussing the game. Once one kid said he was surprised to see “top quality football on this side of the pond,” we couldn’t help but ask where they were from.
“Across the pond,” the kid replied.
You don’t say, I thought.
When I asked which English soccer teams they supported, the husband and wife chuckled. One said Plymouth, and the other Essex – rival small-town teams. They explained that one of them was born in Plymouth, the other in Essex, and that it wasn’t until after they married that they both moved to Essex. Josh and I can’t remember which one of them was originally from Essex, and to be honest its become a bit of an inside joke between the two of us. But even if we can’t remember whether the wife or husband supported Essex, we’ll never forget when complete strangers from across the globe shared their life stories with us on a train in Toronto.
For all its glamour, Toronto’s hardly a perfect city. They’ve had a comically corrupt mayor, a high cost of living, and about seven weeks of sunshine / warm weather a year. But it’s my favorite city in the world nonetheless. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Toronto, nor can I remember what I did each time I went. At this point, I don’t go simply for the shopping or soccer games. The reason I return is I’ve exclusively had positive experiences every time I’ve visited Toronto. The city is special because it reminds me how much better life can be if only I act a little friendlier to everyone I see.