Sunday, November 27, 2011 | Categories: Michael's Essays
There was a time in this fair land when to admit to being born and brought up in Toronto was like admitting to serial adultery. Or to playing the accordion.
People either dripped sarcasm all over the conversation or sneered with a withering self-righteousness.
Toronto was smug. Toronto was unfriendly. Toronto was money-mad. Toronto was joyless.
All true in the Toronto of my growing up.
It was a closed, pinched, claustrophobic society, governed and guided by WASPy FOOFS, or Fine Old Ontario Families.
It was snow white where it wasn't Orange and proud of it. There was a whiff of anti-Semitism and Anti-Catholicism in the air.
My father could still remember the days of the NINA signs downtown---No Irish Need Apply.
There were no good restaurants. The culinary highlight was the rice pudding at Murray's.
Sundays were all about church; no stores, few sports, not much of anything. Boredom was considered a civic virtue. No wonder I could not wait to get out.
But that was 40 years ago. Immigration changed everything.
In the 1950s, Italians, Hungarians, Jamaicans, East Indians, Chinese, dozens of different nationalities flooded the city and changed it completely. And forever.
It became less mono-colour. Almost overnight, you could find decent restaurants with exciting menus.
The character of the city changed. The city opened up, its people for the most part embraced the newness of everything to the point where as the cliché goes, it became the most multi-cultural city in the world.
It is now a city of more than two-million people with all the travails and triumphs that that entails.
And we are still hated by the rest of the country.
Recently the polling firm of Leger Marketing conducted a poll for the National Capital Commission and the Association of Canadian Studies.
The poll asked about 2,5000 Canadians what they thought of certain cities.
Nearly 20 per cent of the people polled had higher negatives for Toronto than for any other city. They favored any other city over Toronto.
Much of the resentment was in the West. Some 30 per cent of Albertans hated Toronto, 27 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and 23 per cent in British Columbia.
I suppose the West's anti-Toronto prejudices are rooted in the mists and myths of history; Eastern banks, eastern railroads, the national Energy Plan, Bay Street barons; they all have a kind of Toronto tinge.
Part of it is envy, the kind of schoolyard envy that kids have for the biggest kid in the yard.
Which is odd. Toronto lost its smugness decades ago. It has had too.
There is a lot wrong with the city. Its infrastructure, its roads and bridges, are reminiscent of pre-1989 Albania.
The transit system is collapsing under its own weight.
Traffic is gridlocked almost from morning to night. The governance of the city makes ultimate fighting seem like the Kirov Ballet.
Architecturally it is a mess. We have more high rise condos under construction than any other city in North America.
And we managed somehow to uglify a beautiful natural waterfront with mile after mile of sterile condos cutting the downtown off from the harbor.
Marcus Gee, the excellent urban affairs columnist for The Globe and Mail, has pointed out that for all its faults, Toronto is still safer in terms of crime than any other city in the country.
Gee says that what Canadians feel about Toronto is not unlike what some adolescent boys feel for a big brother.
As he writes: "Most boys grow out of it. Canadians should too."