I always thought that if I was writing a love letter to you that it would be when I was saying goodbye. However, love letters signify appreciation and nostalgia; my terms of endearment for you. Like all great loves, ours has changed and evolved through time.
My childhood was spent in the Beaches running through your ravines, down hills to the boardwalk for plenty of races and hazy summer days of sandcastles and people watching. Now I revisit the neighbourhood now known as The Beach and rediscover the boardwalk as I glide by on my bike on its well trodden path. Queen East is now for movie nights at The Fox or pastries at Tori’s Bakeshop or Moo Milk Bar and less about jewellery shopping at Artisan’s.
As a teenager I traded Queen East for Queen West or at least the Eaton Centre, the shopping mall icon signifying the centre of downtown. Its change is significant on the 501 Streetcar, where you can see one end of the city to the other all in one ride. Little did I know that Leslieville would be the beacon of brunch spots, coffee shops like Lady Marmalade and Te Aro when I was riding that streetcar to Carlaw all those years ago.
It wasn’t until I got older that I started to understand you a little bit better and the intricacies of your neighbourhood. The time spent wandering Kensington Market; perusing fruit stalls as an excuse to peer into the vibrant characters of this eclectic nook just off Chinatown; marvelling at the architecture around campus at University of Toronto; the whispers from Knox College or the hallowed arches of Hart House and Trinity College to the glass structures of Gehry’s AGO and I.M. Pei’s ROM, the juxtaposition of old and new.
As I was growing up, you were too. Portland no longer the middle of nowhere or its ode to that bygone era, MFN nightclub (now Uniun). Actually, it’s now more the center of town than the Eaton Centre. West of Queen West is Queen West West – home to some icons that changed you forever: The Drake Hotel and Gladstone’s upgrade to an art hotel, where the artists no longer live.
Ossington Avenue got an upgrade too: the remnants of those Vietnamese hole-in-the-walls are sparse, now replaced by some of your coolest dining and drinking destinations like Bellwoods Brewery, an ode to the park where those lingering summer days were spent.
Westwards of Queen West West (or QWW lest we continue with our pet nicknames) in Parkdale, those vintage shops like The Future of Frances Watson are holding on to its threads as small businesses are being pushed out in favour of newer, big box chains. But it’s your quirk and those small, local places that makes you you. That’s how I hope you don’t change. I do like your makeover on College Street though – the trifecta of restaurants such as La Carnita, DaiLo, and the exotic wooden interiors of Bar Raval make you smoldering but still approachable and not too far for me to visit.
As you continue to build downtown and those new buildings make you taller, more dense, and alluring to visitors, I have gone back to my roots in the East End. Sometimes, I’ll make it west to other haunts like High Park and am reminded of your allure during Cherry Blossom Season. But what I really like about you are the little things: the cheap ethnic eats from Seven Lives in Kensington or SouvLike on the Danforth; the hidden views of the Toronto skyline that you have to earn; the serene ferry ride to the Toronto Islands, where it feels like you’re mine; the growing Indie theatre scene; the free little libraries (and the big, regular libraries like the Toronto Reference Library too); and the fact that whether or not I say goodbye, you will always be home to me.
About the author: Natalie Taylor is a freelance travel writer based in Toronto. She has written for National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and AFAR magazines. You can find her on Instagram & Twitter @_nctaylor.