Final Thoughts on Toronto

Photo by John Bolitho

Dear Readers, by the time you read this we should be home in London, after 15 days spent in Collingwood, Montreal and Toronto. When we arrived in Toronto, I spoke about it feeling ‘hollowed out’ after the pandemic, and there are definitely downtown spaces that are much quieter than they used to be. To my untutored eye it also feels as if there are many more homeless people sleeping on grates, and many more folk with mental health problems, but I suspect that this is not unique to Toronto – the pandemic has been terrible for many people, and for anyone who was already feeling mentally shaky, the past two years can only have made things worse.

We were on the subway yesterday sitting next to a woman who was double-masked (masking is still mandatory on transport in Ontario unless you are exempt). A young woman got on who wasn’t wearing a mask. The masked woman asked/told her to put a mask on. She refused, and went back to her phone. The masked woman took a photo of her. At this point I was fully expecting things to escalate – in London there may well have been fisticuffs at this point, but fortunately Canadians are generally more laid back. Then three more people got on who weren’t wearing masks. The masked woman pointed out that they should be wearing masks as she got off, but she was clearly fighting a losing battle. I would say that probably 90% of the people that  I see on public transit are wearing masks, and I suspect that in London someone would have moved if they’d felt vulnerable rather than taking on the world. I could understand the masked woman’s fury, but it also seemed to me to be an indication of how divisive the whole masking thing has become, and how polarising. It felt as if this poor woman was trying to hold back the tide, like King Canute, rather than looking after herself.

I saw a friend who said that, basically, everyone in Toronto is stressed. You can sense it in the air. We have all lost a layer of mental security, even though it was only an illusion in the first place. I don’t know if it’s more acute here than in other places, but you can even see it in the restaurant menus. People are looking for comfort food – chicken pot pie and mashed potato, bread and butter pudding, stews and pasta and that Montreal favourite poutine (basically chips, cheese and gravy). Retro food is cropping up – I saw Irish Coffee on several menus, something that I haven’t seen for years. People want their safety back, something familiar and homely, and who can blame them? I jumped at the chance for some custard earlier this week. It felt like an old friend.

Cannabis is now legal in Canada as well, and one big change has been the sheer number of shops selling the stuff. In fact, there are so many that cannabis shops are now putting one another out of business, in much the same way that Starbucks did a decade ago. I am not sure that it’s good for productivity though – in a visit to a coffee shop recently all the baristas were clearly stoned, and kept messing up the orders, though the vibe was delightfully friendly and laid back. There was no uptightness there, and I do wonder if some people have turned to cannabis to help with their anxiety as opposed to that old favourite, alcohol.

But in general, Toronto is still here, and in the sunshine  of our last day here it looks modern, and vertical, and exciting. It is still a pleasure to visit, and to spend time with friends and family. It has the feeling of a second home, after all these years, and it will be good to be able to come more regularly now that things are easing – even though I know that Covid hasn’t finished with us yet, there is a tiny chip of hope in my heart. It’s certainly reignited my passion for travel, in spite of all the hassle of getting to and from my destination.

Photo by John Bolitho

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