As some of you may know, I am a born and bred Montrealer. Being a Montrealer of a certain generation, we were inculcated with a profound mistrust and contempt for Toronto. We looked down our nose at Toronto because it symbolized everything staid and boring and grey. When I was growing up, Montreal was Canada's biggest city: its nightlife was legendary, its hockey team supreme, its arts and culture vital to the people. When the Parti Québécois and Bill 101 made it difficult for unilingual anglophones to imagine a life in La Belle Province's new reality, over 100 thousand or so fled down the 401 to settle in staid and boring and grey Toronto, I being one of them. It felt treasonous. How could I ever adjust to this place of 11 p.m. closing times and rehashed British influence? With the last name of Bennett I would have an easier time fitting in, but I could not relate to Toronto's bland reason. I was used to being surrounded by a culture that, by birth, was not mine, but one that held tremendous influence on me. I loved being in the midst of the French because I admired the way they lived (too bad I didn't listen more in French class when in high school). I didn't want to live exclusively with people who looked like me and spoke the same language as me. So for many years I worked and lived and played in Toronto, all the while feeling superior to the denizens of the city unlucky enough to have been born and raised in Hogtown.
And then something happened. Toronto transformed. It became a welcoming city for people from around the world who wished to settle here and raise their families. It became a city that truly embraced diversity, not just paying lip service to it, but actively promoting it as a source of strength. It opened up and began to celebrate the LBGTQ community, one of the most important groups in the city today. It moved with societal change, not against it. Today, it is a powerhouse for investment and business, science and academia, arts and culture. Who the hell would have thunk it? Not this ex-Montrealer.
So in the aftermath of one of the worst mass murder in Toronto's history, I will tell you now that ... I love this place. This bagel chewing, Hab loving, St. Catherine Street loitering woman loves T.O, the 6, YYZ. I love the stretch of Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard, where you can get the best Korean food anywhere, where the North York Public Library has provided me with books and a quiet place to write, where I've danced to big band music in Mel Lastman Square. This unassuming, unpretentious stretch of Yonge Street north of the 401 is home to Canadians from many different backgrounds and ways of life. It is wonderful to see Korean businesses next to Persian businesses next to Russian businesses. Keep your food coming! is what I say. While this city is not without its racial tensions, on the whole Toronto comes pretty close to harmony. The biggest threat to this city is rampant greed, but that is another blog...
Toronto has been good to me. It's time for me to give that expression.
There is a vigil Sunday night at Mel Lastman Square for the people of Toronto to stand together and support the victims of the van attack tragedy. On Sunday I will take the TTC up to North York, and demonstrate my sorrow and solidarity with the community in Willowdale. My god, I love you. All who died, who are injured, who are hurting -- I love you. We'll get through this, together. Toronto is our home and we've built it together. No one can take that away from us.
Toronto is not all that has been transformed.