Growing up in in the suburbs outside of Toronto gave me an appreciation for the value of community and familiarity. We lived on a small street, knew all of our neighbours, and there wasn't a lot of choice where shopping, restaurants, and entertainment were concerned. Everything was very familiar.
Upon finishing university, I moved to downtown Toronto where, admittedly, it's a lot more difficult to connect with your neighbours and community because everyone is so busy going from place to place. It seems to me that the more people you see, the less you tend to notice them.
I discovered that the best way to make the big city feel more intimate was to create a sense of familiarity within some of my daily and weekly rituals. Here is how I've made Toronto feel like home:
The Local Dog Park: Believe it or not, it was actually my dog who introduced me to my neighbours. One of the most amusing things about a dog park is that you get to know the dog's names and personalities long before you ever discover the names of their owners. There is a great sense of community at our park. We discuss everything from pets to local politics. I've made some great friends this way; both two-legged and four-legged!
A Morning Run: Now that it's getting warmer, I'm getting back into my daily ritual of a morning run along Toronto's waterfront. Seeing the boats and the sun glistening on the water almost makes me forget the torture of the exercise. And, because I run at the same time every day, I tend to see a lot of the same faces along my route, people I may never know by name, yet we smile in acknowledgement of one another. As silly as it sounds, sometimes that acknowledgement pushes me harder and encourages me to keep going.
My Local Coffee Shop: Everybody needs a local coffee shop. Last year I moved from the east end of Toronto to the west end. My heart is in the west, but my favourite coffee shop is in the east. I consider F'Coffee the coffee house version of Cheers. The owner, Rob, is like Sam -- everyone in the area knows him. He's friendly but also a bit snide and cranky at times and somehow, that makes me like him even more. It's a great place to sit and write; the breakfast bagels and chocolate chip cookies are more than worth the trip.
To Market, To Market: My favourite weekend ritual is going to St. Lawrence Market to buy groceries for the week. Being a bit of a creature of habit, I always head straight to the back of the market to see what my friend Marty has in the way of organic vegetables. Then I hit up my favourite Cheesemonger, scoop up some fresh seafood, and join the line at Butler's to wait patiently for my fave fish sandwich: fried halibut with extra coleslaw. Yum!
The Local Video Store: I work in television but freely admit to not having cable so I spend a TON of time at my local video store, Queen Video. The staff is super knowledgeable and are always on hand to make suggestions. The good news is I've been going there long enough to recognize whose suggestions to take and whose to run away from! They're forgiving about late fees too -- if you plead your case well!
The Tower: One of the best things about my job is that it's allowed me to travel to some really cool cities around the globe. But nothing makes me happier than that moment on the Gardiner, when you're driving in from the airport and you catch that first glimpse of Toronto's skyline and the CN Tower, which I will admit to being unabashedly in love with. I love the night lights program that was started in 2007, as I feel that unites our city both in celebration and in mourning: red when the Leafs score, green on St. Paddy's Day, rainbow colours for Gay Pride, orange when we lost Jack Layton. I always say that the CN Tower points me in the direction of home.