Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunshine in the centre of the universe

I enjoy Toronto most on cold Sunday mornings. I don't know why, but the city seems to be at its best and is most interesting on Sundays. If you trace Toronto's history as a sleepy Protestant city where the subway still doesn't start until 9 on Sundays, you get a good taste of old Toronto on Sunday mornings. When the weather is cold, the streets are empty and shops closed except for Tim Hortons, you're getting the full Toronto experience.

In all honesty, it's the full Toronto experience because I often end up running on Sunday mornings for up to 30 km, meaning that I see a lot of Toronto. If it was my habit to engage in low-speed sightseeing tours of Toronto on humid, smoggy Wednesday afternoons, I might feel the same way about those sweltering afternoons, you could argue.

Humid, smoggy summer afternoons do express the fact that Toronto has one of the most miserable combinations of weather anywhere in the world. They don't quite express Toronto's past as a quiet native settlement and then Canada's straight-laced second city that unexpectedly became the centre of the known universe when the first city imploded. Cold Sunday mornings are more fitting than warm ones because cold ones make the streets seem even deader than they are.

Much is made in Toronto of whether or not this is a world-class city, a term that's as nebulous as "a pile of stones". It's not a city without its flaws, but I'm constantly amazed at how many people I've met that have a familiarity with Toronto: a Great Wall bus tour, an LG Twins baseball game in Seoul, an Australian traveling in Paris, a museum guard in Istanbul, and so on. That's largely due to Toronto's status as a magnet for immigrants, you could say, but clearly Toronto has made a name for it that goes beyond its comparatively small size.

Cold mornings in a city that takes its staid Sundays seriously is interesting because Toronto is otherwise a maddening potpourri of architecture, people, ideas and cultures. A good way to see this is to stand at the corner of Dundas and McCaul. The view south is jam-packed with towering monuments to bizarre architecture: the comparatively normal Art Gallery of Ontario is in front, just behind it is the table-top OCAD building, and in the distance is the CN Tower. You're standing just east of Chinatown, but west of the hospital district (official name: Discovery District), south of the university and north of whatever it is that you call Queen Street.

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