Published: May 6th 2011January 5th 2011
It was the middle of October when we took to the skies once more, up and over the Rockies, across the prairie provinces and into lake country – thousands of them dotted the landscape below us – including the largest of the ‘Great Lakes’ – Superior - and finally Lake Ontario.
Our plan of attack for settling into Toronto life included introducing ourselves to the world of CouchSurfing
, which is an online community which matches up those willing to share their couches with travelling strangers in need of a couch to sleep on and looking for people to meet. We had lined up a couple of couches for our first week in Toronto (or TO or T-dot as locals like us refer to it). Unfortunately our first couch fell through, so we spent our first 3 nights back in the world of hostels. This turned out quite well however, as we were able to experience Canadian thanksgiving with a massive and social dinner with fellow hostellers (namely Australians and Irish). And then, CouchSurfing (or CS as those of us in the know refer to it) came shining through, as we met our ‘second’ host, the wonderfully friendly, creative and good
fun Joey! Joey introduced us to the amazing art scene going on in Toronto, including his studio in Kensington Market where we were to meet lots of friends, see lots of bands and exhibits over the coming months. Occasional attendance at the weekly CS Sunday night meetups at the TRANZAC allowed us to meet many more hosts, travellers and all-round fine people from all parts of the world, over a pint or two. CouchSurfing – two thumbs up!
Needless to say, searching for a house was one of our main priorities in our first couple of weeks in Toronto. It was around this time that I noticed on facebook a status update from our old friend Billy from university. It said something along the lines of “Anyone want to sublet my room near Spadina and College?” What??? You’re living in Toronto?? And you want us to stay in your room for a couple of weeks while you’re away for work?? And you want us to meet all your Toronto friends and make this transition into a new city impossibly simple for us?? Thankyou Billy Strain!
With a bit more time in our hands we set about looking for
long-term rooms at a leisurely pace, seeing the many varied neighbourhoods of downtown Toronto as we went. There were good places and there were bad, some had windows, some didn’t, some had bizarre housemates, some didn’t. But in the end only one place got back to us, and thankfully it was number 2 in our ranking (out of about 15). And so we found ourselves in the very large basement of an old mansion (or at least ridiculously large house) in The Annex
, a well-to-do suburb of the downtown, where well-to-do house owners rent out their basements and spare floors to less well-to-do students and unemployed folk like ourselves. With our new housemates, Jen (yes, confusing) and Nick, both being undergrad students we were immediately reminded of our wonderful years back in the days of student life – although, I’m not sure either of us were ever as studious and/or sober as our new housemates seemed!
The following weeks and months were spent settling in to Toronto life. Job-hunting by day, sight-seeing and café hunting by afternoon, and music venue hunting by night. The days went by, getting short and colder, and the bank account looking worse and worse,
then thankfully Jen hit the jackpot
by scoring a job as a Sustainability Analyst for a consulting company. With the exception of a two-week minimum wage job delivering flyers for a charity (and thereby seeing a lot of downtown Toronto), I remained unemployed, but now having a sugar-mumma! While continuing to search for jobs, I began to devote my afternoons to writing and recording lots of music – a hobby that I hadn’t devoted much time to in quite a few years. As long as I got the washing done and had dinner on the table when she walked in the door, Jen didn’t mind supporting me one bit! Of course when she was getting up early each morning she must have felt slightly different about it all, but I never noticed as I was too busy snoozing and sleeping in!
By mid-December it still hadn’t snowed, even though it was definitely feeling cold enough for it outside. It was at this time that us temperate-zone creatures realised that snow is like rain – just because it is cold, it doesn’t necessarily mean it would snow. On the Winter Solstice
(shortest day of the year), and by sheer coincidence
also the night of a lunar eclipse, we ventured out into the cold night in the hip and happening Kensington Market. Here throngs of people were crowded on the street as fire breathers on stilts and a massive procession of lanterns and strange creatures, horn players and drumming circles, heralded the arrival of the sun-king – half man and half sun on the top of tall stilts. The procession continued on through the streets, celebrating the fact that days were only going to get longer from here, but also that winter had really only begun!
Still the snow wouldn’t come, and we were starting to feel like we were getting short-changed by the ‘Great White North.’ But then one Saturday morning an opening of the blinds revealed a carpet of white outside. IT’S SNOWING, IT’S SNOWING! QUICK LET’S GET OUTSIDE, IT’S SNOWING!!!!
Out and about we wandered for hours, up past Casa Loma (an over the top early homestead/castle of one of TO’s early elite), through parks, throwing snowballs at each other, and then back inside for a bit mug of hot chocolate! This is what Canada is all about!
Without fail, subsequent Friday nights produced beautifully timed
Bernie (as in 'Weekend At ...') and The Restaurant Table
snowfalls as we walked home from seeing bands out and about the town. From swirling white hazes of windy blizzards to majestic calm falls of beautiful snow on still and silent nights, the only thing that was wrong with the world was how that late night slice of piping-hot pizza went stone-cold in seconds! And so, Saturdays were spent tobogganing at nearby parks , mostly amongst five year olds and their parents, but occasionally similarly excited childless adults like ourselves! On one particular day we managed to make a toboggan-train of 5 overexcited Australian adults (ourselves, Billy, Kaylee and Lawry), with a combined age of 140, going a similar speed down Christie Pits’ steepest hill! As is often the case, such good fun was always accompanied by bruising and soreness the following day(s).
Other winter activities included going ice-skating down by the lakeshore, making snow angels, and spending long nights inside playing great board games with our housemates and regular visitors Tom and Brad. Some other Toronto happenings: Christmas
– Whilst a white Christmas didn’t quite eventuate, feast and festivity were heartily enjoyed at our friends Laila and Anne’s place. Laila put together a massive Lebanese-Australian lunch
which was enjoyed with eggnog and spiced rum! Latino Sabor
- In order to keep up our Spanish skills and get involved in the community Jen organised for use to volunteer at Latino Sabor (Latin Flavour) - a night of cooking, eating and socialising for Toronto's spanish speaking community. Jeff becomes a Field Naturalist
– with no job or volunteering opportunites presenting themselves throughout the Winter, I decided to join the Toronto Field Naturalists in order to get myself outdoors and gain familiarity with the local flora and fauna. I was greatly relieved when I turned up to my first walk and discovered I had not mistaken the whole naturist v’s naturalist thing, especially considering the average age of the participants. My retired friends seemed quite excited to have some young blood in their organisation and all were more than willing to help me identify oak from maple and chickadee from robin in the freezing cold mid-winter weather. Jeff joins an Aussie Rules football team
– In an attempt to break the winter slumber I had been on the lookout for a new sport to play. So when one of the many Australian Rules football teams recruited
me at an expatriate pub Australia Day (by plying me with free beer!), how could I say no? Had I ever played the sport? No. But I’m ‘stralian, it must be in my blood right? Pre-season training suggested otherwise, as I attempted to hand pass for the first time in my life, and took many, many attempts to get my kicking radar back on track. But it was lots of fun, and the skills slowly came and I met a whole lot of folks. But I must say, I was somewhat relieved when I learnt that my upcoming move to Alberta would cause me to miss the entire playing season! Canadian Music Week
– one of our favourite facets to Toronto is its amazing music scene. Every small bar (and there are countless of them) seems to have musicians and bands playing several, if not every night of the week. From the Dakota, to Lee’s Palace, the Bread and Circus, to the Horseshoe, this is our kind of city! So when Canadian Music Week, Toronto’s second biggest music event after NXNE, came around, we were all in a buzz of excitement. For five nights we would be going from
venue to venue trying to see as many of the 600 odd bands that were in town and trying to make a name for themselves. My unemployed status also allowed me to go to daytime instore’s and showcases. What a week! A Musical Residency
– inspired by Canadian Music Week, I set about organising some shows for my latest musical offerings. Armed with a xylophone and melodica, Jen joined me on stage for several songs and made her singing debut at two of my ‘Sunday residency’ shows at JangBang – a cosy little bar in one of the more exciting parts of TO. Is it Spring yet?
Not only are Canadian winters cold, but they are also extremely long! Thinking we had survived the worst of it (-18C with a wind chill of -26C is the coldest that I recall) we were expecting the 1st of
March to bring warm, sunny weather, birds chirping and flowers in bloom. Not quite the case. Sure it wasn’t that cold anymore, and the days were getting longer, but Spring sure took its time. At first there was an American Robin at our window, and then large flocks of migratory birds heading
north overhead, and the snow melted (but then it snowed again), and flowers began to pop out from every space imaginable and joggers were no longer covered from head to toe in lycra and all of a sudden it was evident that we had not only survived, but enjoyed one hell of a Canadian winter!
(ps. there should be 38 photos here for this blog - not sure if you'd easily see that with this new fandango layout the site has)
There are more photos below