Is Toronto cool?


I understand why so many people from coast to coast profess to hate Toronto.

I felt that way too, until I lived here. It had to do with traffic, crime, pollution, and urban sprawl, not to mention the oft-repeated truism that Toronto thinks it’s the centre of the universe.

Now I’m a passionate lover of this city. It helps to live downtown, mind you, where you don’t have to be dependent on a car, or deal with the vast car-centric suburbs.

So you’d think I’d be happy to see Toronto declared “cool” by the Huffington Post.

Unfortunately, Lauri Lyons, the author of the article, may have missed half of what’s “cool” about the city. And crucially, she seems to conflate Torontonians with Canadians – a matter that calls for some clarification. (See “centre of the universe” above.)

True, Torontonians are Canadians, in the sense that they live here in Canada. Most are citizens of Canada, though many are not, and many more were not born here. Of course citizens, no matter where they were born, are Canadians – I’m not arguing that. The issue is, should you say “Canadian” when you mean “Torontonian?” You wouldn’t say “American” when you mean “New Yorker.”

That’s what Lyons is doing when she says “If you haven’t noticed by now, Canadians are crazy about art” just because there are lots of art galleries and arts festivals in Toronto. The sample size is way too small to make sweeping statements about what Canadians like! And any Canadian, especially one of the 30 million or so not from Toronto, will tell you that Toronto doesn’t speak for Canada. Most Canadians have no clue where the Gladstone Hotel is, for goodness’ sakes. I’m sure even most Torontonians have only the vaguest idea.

The truth is, Toronto’s urban hipsters with money to spare may be crazy about art, while lots of other people across the country couldn’t care less, and there are plenty of ordinary folks whose notion of “art” is far from “cool.” They think art means carved loons, or impressionist prints, or posters of Mario Lemieux. Who’s to say they’re wrong?

Saying “Canadians are crazy about art” because there are some art galleries along King West in Toronto is like saying “Canadians are crazy about bagels” because there are some good bagel shops in the Mile End section of Montreal.

Speaking of bagels: hip art, plus hip festivals (Caribana, Luminato and Nuit Blanche, TIFF but not Pride, for some reason) plus hip food, apparently equals cool in Toronto.

We even have an expression for it, according to Ms. Lyons. “Believe it or not, Torontonians refer to food as ‘the art that feeds people’,” she gushes. Um… we do?

I’ll give her credit for not calling Torontonians “Canadians,” in this case (perhaps she rightly guessed that the expression hasn’t got much currency in Moose Jaw). The thing is, though – I’ve never heard anyone say that here. EVER. We do like food, yes it’s true. And the food here is terrific, multi-ethnic, often local, and frequently creative, sometimes cheap. We just call it food though, honest we do.

These are niggles, mind you. I agree with Ms. Lyons’ basic premise – Toronto is cool.  And she rightly notes that multiculturalism is a huge part of that, although why she’s surprised by how diverse we are, I have no idea. I thought that was the one thing everyone knew about Toronto.

However, I think most of the ways Toronto is cool got left off her list – how long was she here for, anyway?

Not long enough to notice our lovely lakeside location, apparently. Lake Ontario is only the 14th largest lake in the world, and although you can see it from the moon, I guess it’s easy to miss if you’re not from around here. To be fair, a lot of locals are totally out of touch with the water, too, but sheesh. For what it’s worth, I took the above photo of Toronto’s skyline from my canoe!

Lake Ontario is literally the coolest thing about Toronto, responsible for the evening breezes and occasional humidity-breaking thunderstorms, even high tech cooling systems in downtown buildings. Not to mention defining the islands, the beaches, the Leslie Street Spit, and the views from the condos where art-loving food-eating festival-attending hipsters live…

Equally critical to Toronto’s coolness: humanly scaled architecture in the downtown core, neighbourhoods with real identities, plentiful parkland, green space in the ravines, trees, trees and more trees, patio culture, a collective design fetish, bicycles, breweries, gardens, co-op housing, live theatre, music, and media-savvy citizens. Plus there’s our vibrant ukulele community.

I’d say Toronto’s cool partly because it’s a little nerdy. I think Lauri Lyons missed that.

We’ll take the publicity, I guess. We can always use the tourist dollars, and it’s nice to get a pat on the back. But Toronto doesn’t stand in for the rest of Canada, anymore than New York represents the rest of the U.S.A.

And yes, thanks, we are cool. But spend a little more time here and we’ll show you just how cool we are.

Gotta run. I’ve got a date with my playing music in one of my favourite local venues in an interesting untrendy neighbourhood where I’ll be beating the heat with one of my favourite local microbrews.

Cool, eh?

One comment on “Is Toronto cool?

  1. Yes we’re nerdy, even hot people in TO have slight nerdisms that they wear with pride. But the coolest thing about Toronto is how the United Nations of GTA live, thrive, survive, love, and suffer together. We’ve proven that when left to manage our own cultural integration, we clearly opt to live together, equally, and peacefully. This is the miracle of Toronto.

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