It has been nearly two years and I have to say that time has just flown by. I don’t think about how long I have been away from home that often because quite frankly, it doesn’t feel that long. I then find myself in the middle of the night, trying to get to sleep, my mind wanders off and I think back to my first memory of arriving in Toronto. It’s at this moment that it suddenly dawns on me how long it has been, because while this memory seems fresh, it feels like a lifetime ago.
I remember it so clearly, it was a freezing February night and I was on the streetcar (tram) heading south on Spadina Ave. I arrived at Spadina and Dundas where I got off the streetcar, right on the border of Chinatown and Kensington Market and eager to find my hostel. My first experience of snow was seeing disgusting grey piles of the stuff on the side of the street with cigarette buds all over it. As bad as it looked, I couldn’t help but smile because I felt as though I had arrived. If I wanted to see pretty snow everywhere, I would have followed the pack and gone to Whistler.
Moving to the other side of the world on my own held no fears for me. My only fear was failure. Failure to find a job in what is a tough market and having to go back home with my tail between my legs and an empty bank account, knowing I didn’t succeed in what I set out to do. Between the time I arrived in Toronto and finding a job, you would find few people who were more determined than myself. For me, failure was not an option because this was more than just a working holiday, it was fulfilling part of a dream to live and work abroad.
Toronto is a great city, but it’s not easy to break in on a work holiday visa (although, i’d imagine it’s difficult in most places). I saw people come and go who were not able to find enough work to fully sustain themselves. Needless to say, I was relieved after two and a half months to finally start a job earning a decent income in what is an expensive city, evidenced by the small fortune I am paying each month for my shoebox of an apartment on the ninth floor of an old building in midtown Toronto (location, location, location).
Now that I was working, I really felt like I was a part of the city as opposed to an outsider looking in. This allowed me to really immerse myself in the culture and the way of life here. In Canada, hockey rules, it’s as simple as that. Sure, there are other sports that they appreciate but it’s hockey that they can’t live without. Funnily enough, the national sport is lacrosse (I have no idea why and I don’t think most Canadians do either).
Their enthusiasm for hockey is infectious and I would find myself wanting to get home on a Wednesday night after work to catch the ‘Leafs’ game (Toronto Maple Leafs). The most famous and wealthiest hockey team in the world, worth 1 billion dollars, they are the Manchester United of hockey. Unfortunately that’s where the comparisons end as they have not made the playoffs in donkeys years. Still, Torontonians love their leafs and you can be assured that every game of the season at the Air Canada Centre will be sold out , regardless of how much success the team is having, and regardless of the fact that a “cheap” ticket will cost you around $100. Beginning to see how they are worth 1 billion dollars now?
For those who have never been to Canada, when you think of this country your first thoughts would probably go to winter, hockey and the famous maple leaf. Having lived here, I would also still think of these things, but there is something that I would add to the list now. When I think of Canada, right there alongside hockey I will think of Tim Hortons. You will see this Canadian coffee shop franchise everywhere you go. While Toronto and Montreal share a fierce and bitter rilvalry when it comes to their hockey teams and their cities in general, the one thing they can both agree on is Tim Hortons. It’s almost like Canada’s unofficial national treasure and personally I can’t get enough of this place. Where else can you get an over sized coffee and bagel for $2.80?
While the winter is what this country is known for, the cities really come alive during the summer and it’s a lot of fun to be here at that time. There was nothing I loved more than grabbing a beer on the patio, and I could see that Canadians were eager to do the same. They are anxious to make the most of the warm weather at every opportunity they get because they know that their hibernation period is long, dark and for some quite depressing.
Festivals also never seem to end during summer with several occurring every week, particularly in Toronto and Montreal. Some of the headlining festivals in Toronto are the Taste of the Danforth which is a huge Greek street festival, The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Caribana which is all about Caribbean culture and is Toronto’s answer to Carnival.
I’m into my last month here in Canada and I have to say that i’m quite sad to leave, but I know my travels will one day bring me back. Until then however, another destination awaits me.