Only in Toronto

We all know the stats. Half of Torontonians were born in another country (and an additional number of us were born elsewhere in Canada.) How we negotiate this diverse urban landscape plays out in daily life.

For instance, awhile back my Facebook status noted that I had listened to live music from four continents over the course of a week-end.

Or, at Christmas, I hosted guests from Russia, Malta, Israel, Tunisia, and Columbia.

Or one of my favourite moments on the TTC happened when a kindergarten class, tired from a long class trip, sat waiting for their stop. The little guy who sat in the seat by me fell asleep on the long ride. The streetcar was crowded, so the teachers were nervously shepherding their charges. As their stop neared, all the children were roused, but my little guy nodded off again – repeatedly. I tried. Other nearby adults tried as well. None of us spoke each other’s language, but we saw the problem, nudging him and guiding him to the exit where his classmates were clambering off. After the streetcar pulled away, him safely on the sidewalk, we all smiled at each other, nodding, and our task accomplished.

But this pattern of wide and disparate intersections, centred in this city, resurfaced yet again today.

This morning I popped in for a cup of tea with my neighbour, Daryl, and, as he often does, he began to reminisce. The cold weather had put him in mind of his rural childhood, in New Brunswick. He spent hours skating along the river which ran by his house with only a pail with lunch and some tea bags. When he and his friends and brothers got hungry, they would stop in the curve of a river, scavenge through the nearby forest for some dry branches, make a fire, boil some tea and eat. He explained in detail, as well, how a rabbit snare is set, with a bit of carrot as the bait. Anytime he caught a rabbit, his mother made a bony stew.

Then this afternoon, I learned from a fellow researcher that he had done his Master’s in India, writing about modern-day debt slaves, many who worked in the quarries of India. He spent fifteen years doing community development there. And finally, this evening, I sat at a mainly Afrocentric celebration, listening to a tall, young Native woman drum for us.

All this, in one day.

I try not to be awed. It’s such an unsophisticated response. But it does amaze me, the breadth of all of us, here.

The writer Dionne Brand, talking about this diversity, said it best: Toronto is “a city that has never happened before.”

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