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May 2004 / elsewhere :: email this story to a friend

The Big TO
By Tara Hunt

Although the city of Toronto has many of its own movements underway, I am relatively new to the city so I do not feel comfortable representing them. My role in my new home is of an entertainer. My 'movement' is to provide quality nightclub experiences that recall historical moments unexplored and expand people's minds through music (read about this more at: www.creamsodafunk.com). I also do not feel qualified at this time to talk about the history of Toronto.

However, the quest for a 'national identity' (or a nationalistic spirit) in Canada is something I am part of and have been part of all of my life, and my move across Canada one year ago has given me a whole new perspective and appreciation for the Canadian city.

I grew up in Alberta. For nearly 30 years, I lived in this lovely prairie/foothill/ mountain/badlands province and enjoyed the prosperity of the various industries housed there. Western Canada, and especially Alberta, has a very different interpretation of Canadian history than Eastern Canada. The Oil & Gas industry that boomed in Alberta in the 1970's was called upon by Ottawa to share the wealth with the rest of Canada. To this day, Alberta has never forgiven Ottawa for the National Energy Policy brought in by the Trudeau government. With its relatively small population, Alberta has not had the 'voice' in our Eastern-based National government that it would like.

When I first moved to Toronto, it was supposed to be a stepping stone for me between the small city of Calgary and the big metropolis of New York City. Little did I know that I would fall in love with Canada's most cosmopolitan centre. Even I had the perception that Toronto was a lesser version of the great American cities. Whether it was growing up in a province that abhorred everything that Toronto stood for (Liberal stronghold, left-wing social beliefs, eyes to the world) or being over-stimulated by the American popular culture icons that are NYC, LA, Chicago, etc, I was looking to get in and get out of Toronto as fast as possible.

The magic of a great Canadian city is less glittery and sparkly than the magic of a great American city. The buildings are younger and shorter, the number of people on the streets is smaller and the neon is less prevalent. The images of Broadway I grew up with took my breath away when I saw the live version in New York. Walking down Yonge Street in Toronto in the dead of winter seemed lackluster in comparison.

Comparing a US city to a Canadian city is akin to comparing apples to oranges. There is quite a bit of discussion in my country about whether there is a true difference between Canadians and Americans. I believe that there are similarities to be drawn between a Canadian identity and a Canadian city versus an American identity and an American city. The parallels I draw derive from my experience of New York City and Toronto, both internationally focused cities that are seen as arts centers for the country.

Driving into Manhattan reminds me of the scene in Metropolis when the cityscape first spreads out before the audience. I can imagine how awed and stupefied those early audiences must have been. The beauty of the buildings, the sheer size of the inner city, and the shining enormity of the various glass and steel structures takes your breath away. I couldn't stop looking up the first time I was in New York City. It wasn't until my subsequent visits that I discovered the beauty of the doorways and street-level details. It truly takes a first-time visitor's breath away. On my inaugural visit, I was actually compelled to grab random New Yorkers and ask them if they know that they are the luckiest people in the world to be living in such an amazing city.

Toronto's first impression is less awe-inspiring. I was not moved to accost a Torontonian with the same na´ve question. The buildings are later vintage, the rooftops are lower, and the shapes are more standard. But it isn't Toronto's architecture that makes you fall in love. The heartbeat of Toronto is the diversity and character of the city. I fell in love with the fresh markets & vintage clothing shops of Kensington Market. Then I was seduced by the raw rock and roll energy of Queen Street West. The laid-back easiness of The Beaches fulfills so many other desires. Every day I uncover a new nook or neighbourhood with its own quirks. I see pieces of all of Canada in every neighbourhood. Interior British Columbia in The Annex, Alberta on Bay Street, the Maritimes in the Harbourfront, Quebec in Cabbagetown, and Vancouver in Yorkville.

The two cities, New York and Toronto, have been compared (mostly by Canadians) thoroughly. Greenwich Village and The Annex are both intellectual and grassroots activist communities, filled with eclectic coffee shops. SoHo and Queen Street both house the hot fusion cuisine and the fantastic boutiques. There are similarities to be drawn between all of the two cities' neighbourhoods.

Canadian identity works much like our cities do. We may not give the first impression as being fiercely proud of our country. Individuals are silently proud of their nationality. We would all die to defend our freedom, but do not bother to talk about it openly. Our diverse and interesting makeup creates the proverbial cultural 'mosaic' that both lends to and detracts from a common national bond.

Like our cities, our identities are different yet the same.

We handle our political issues differently, but end up with similar outcomes. We take a stand on international aid much the same, but execute our involvement slightly differently. We discuss the same social topics, with the same amount of support and opposition, but approach the solutions from different angles.

With more history behind Canada, our cities may become shiny, sparkly metropolises in time. But then again, perhaps this isn't our style. Travelers may just have to spend an extra week exploring our neighbourhoods and meeting our local characters to begin appreciating the savvy of a Canadian city.

I'm still attracted to the flashy, beautiful cities of the south, but I've also learnt to stop and appreciate the subtle intricacies of my native home. I would like to eventually live in a great city like New York to experience if the glamour persists when you get to really 'know' the streets.

Until then, I truly do know what a lucky person I am to live in such a great city as Toronto.

Tara Hunt is the chief mischief maker for Rogue Strategies.

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