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Everything Haligonians say about Toronto is true

Former Halifax Magazine columnist and expatriate American Jack Florek recently relocated from Halifax to Toronto. In this guest essay, he reflects on how Halifax prepared him for Canada’s largest city.

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Toronto

Living in Halifax, I would spend a good part of my day in rush hour-traffic, ambling up (or down) the Bedford Highway at the proverbial snail’s pace, sometimes with 20 centimetres of snow crunching beneath my all-season tires, in bumper-tobumper traffic, grinding gears, listening to the radio, staring out at any cargo ships that happen to be passing by on my daily commute.

I did this for years, twice a day, like just about everyone I knew. Although I never enjoyed it (who would?), I never questioned it. After all, at least I had an ocean view, right? Besides, Haligonians were so polite they would always let me merge into traffic with nary a beep of the horn.

Then I started thinking: Is this all there is? Doesn’t there have to be a better way, somewhere, somehow? That’s when the idea of moving to Toronto started to permeate my skull.

To me, Toronto was like New York City (without all the guns) filled with cultural diversity, big-city entertainment, and some of the best eateries in the world. There I would find beautiful fashion models and movie stars stalking the downtown streets. I would ride in high-speed electric rails that would whisk me across the flattened landscape to my high paying uber-cool job filled with happy metrosexuals. In the evening, I would indulge in a martini or two at a local pub, perhaps engage in meaningful conversation with someone like, say, Jose Bautista.

And as for cultural diversity? What can you say about a city that boasts 20th century revolutionary, Emma Goldman, and the 21st century mega-fraudster, Conrad Black, as former residents? Still, everyone I knew tried to warn me. Neighbours, friends, co-workers, and even the Eastlink cable guy, all took great pleasure in besmirching the very character of Toronto, Torontonians, and Southern Ontario in general. “‘Toronto’ must be a First Nations word meaning “filled-withjerks” and “Autumn in Toronto is when you watch the birds change colour and fall from the trees.”

One neighbour, while helping me push my car out of a snow bank, wished me luck in my move to “that stinking behemoth by the lake.”

There was, of course, a veritable avalanche of Rob Ford jokes, all questioning the sanity of a city populace that would allow a smarmy, crack smoking, buffoon to be mayor.

But I didn’t believe any of them. After all, my friends were having so much fun telling me these things, surely they “doth protest too much?” Didn’t the fact of the city’s then-mayor just show Torontonians had a really great sense of humour? Besides, isn’t Toronto really a land of culture, opportunity, and, well, baseball?

Reality was quick and harsh. In Toronto, except for the weather, there is a sameness to every day that rivals Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. Driving onto one of the multitude of Southern Ontario’s 400-freeways on my way to work is like merging into a can of snakes at 130 kilometres an hour: a tractor-trailer grill fills my rear view mirror, horns blaring, the smell of burnt rubber fills the air.

All this induces in me a special kind of terror that only the guy who fixes my car upholstery can describe. It is a terror that I have never quite gotten used to.

I have learned not to take things personally, however. It’s not that Torontonians are “angry all the time,” as one Haligonian friend bemoaned. It’s just a fact that in order to survive here one has to form a kind of thermochemical surface. You have to achieve a hard, wear-resistant outer shell while retaining a normal inner core.

OK, that is my plan. That’s what I will do in order adapt. But I do miss the Bedford Highway.

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