Canada 2017

Wait, how do you say 'Spadina'? Lessons from a Halifax to Toronto move

This filmmaker left Canada’s Ocean Playground for the 6ix and found more differences than his accent

This filmmaker left Canada’s Ocean Playground for the 6ix and found more differences than his accent

Samson Learn has travelled across Canada and now makes Toronto his home. (Adrian Comeau)

Trans-Canada Culture Shock explores the small surprises, unexpected discoveries and rude awakenings that come with making a move within our borders.

Samson Learn has spent the past year traveling on his vintage motorcycle all the way across Canada and back, shooting a documentary, TransCanada, on the lives that transgender people live. Last September, Learn relocated to Toronto, and has plenty to say about the cultural differences he has experienced in his new home city and in his cross-Canada journey.

Are there any dead giveaways that you weren't from Toronto?
My accent, and my mispronunciation of street names – such as Spadina or Dundas or Yonge which are all pronounced differently to how I was pronouncing them (Spa-deen-a, Done-das, Yong) when I first got here, which has provided some comedic relief and helped me bond with new friends. Also, someone had remarked that I was very kind, and when they found out I was from Nova Scotia they said, "That explains it."

Someone had remarked that I was very kind, and when they found out I was from Nova Scotia they said: 'That explains it.'- Samson Learn

Is there any new vocabulary you've heard since moving?
Everyone says, "It's lit," to describe something that's exciting and I hadn't heard that before moving here. They'll say, "Oh yeah, we went to that party and it was lit." Maybe that's everywhere but I hadn't heard that before.

Samson Learn in Saskatchewan (Samson Learn)

What have been the biggest culture shocks for you in your travels across Canada?
Moving to Toronto hasn't been much of a culture shock at all, but it was in the prairies that I experienced the biggest cultural differences. There are fewer resources for trans people there, or if there are resources they're out of reach, so the mood there was a big culture shock. We had just come out of Ontario where services were well-funded and everybody would talk about the sense of family in the trans community, to then move into this sadder area where it was just hard stories of addiction and abuse, and that was the biggest shift in the whole trip and my heart broke a little bit. The middle provinces were really hard, and so different from what we saw elsewhere.

What was your biggest misconception about Torontonians when you arrived?
That they were all going to be rude. I heard a lot of jokes about everybody here believing that Toronto was the centre of the universe, but that's not the truth. Everybody does have their heads down and they're going where they're going, but that's because the city is fast paced, and I get along well with that. The born-and-raised Torontonians that I've met here have been remarkable, very kind, and generous.

Samson Learn in Halifax (Jake Ivany)

What unexpected similarities have you found between Halifax and Toronto?
How many east coasters there are here. There are so many! It is kind of like an east coast kitchen party smack dab in the middle of Toronto. I have a lot of the friends that I had in Halifax who've taken part in that mass exodus to here because of the collapse of the film industry in Nova Scotia and because they were seeking a more supportive arts scene, so I have a built-in social network that I didn't really plan for.

What unexpected pleasures have you discovered about the culture of Toronto?
I live in the Parkdale area, and there's a strong community vibe here. I wasn't expecting that in a city the size of Toronto. But each little borough has a sense of community and I'm living in a smaller contained one. That has been very comforting to me.

What do miss most about your home city, and what's been the hardest thing to get used to?
I miss my loved ones, and bumping into people that I know on the street. It has happened a few times here in Toronto, but in Halifax I'd walk a few blocks on Agricola Street and was bound to bump into six or seven people that I knew. Also, now when I want to see the folks I love, I have to put a significant amount of money and planning into that in order to come home. When I'm home I really have to pack in seeing everyone.

Samson Learn in Toronto. (Tate Sameshima)

Does Toronto feel like home?
I think that home is where you make it, and I haven't made Toronto my home, yet. My heart is still in Halifax and I'm navigating that.

Samson Learn is a photographer and filmmaker based in Toronto.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

About the Author

Freelance writer Lola Augustine Brown moved to Canada in 2004, but was born in England and has lived in the U.S. and Australia. She loves her adopted homeland and is settled in Nova Scotia with her husband, three kids, two dogs and 12 chickens.