By Paul Alex Treadaway, University of Toronto
After six months away from the University of Toronto and the city itself, here are just some of the many things I miss about the city and my time studying there!
1. Tim Hortons
Tims is an institution – its hard to explain why. It’s simply always there for you when you need it, morning, noon and most of the night. Coffee, TimBits, surprisingly addictive Chilli where you’re not entirely sure what all the ingredients are but somehow that doesn’t matter, it has almost everything you could want in the vicinity of fast food. Yes there are places where you could and probably should go to get better coffee, but its the sheer warm feeling you get when you see that iconic red signage, knowing that after a night of slaving away on an paper, Tims has got your back and it was all worth it.
2. Talking to people in stores?
Now as every single person who is British, or who has even been to the UK for around five minutes will know, talking to people in a que in a shop, or even just as you browse the aisles, is strictly forbidden. Not by law, but by the far more serious boundaries of unspoken social convention. Having a conversation with strangers will result in some ‘what pills are they on?’ horrified expressions and subtle glances of fear. I mean even when we see our friends while shopping we try and avoid them for as long as possible with a shop-scale game of human tetris before, inevitably, having to at least say a passing ‘You alright?’. In Toronto meanwhile you ask?
Not only will I and the person working at the checkout ask eachother how the weather is and if we saw the playoffs game last night, but I will have also mutually exchanged the details, trials and tribulations of my day with the mum in Aisle 7, trying her best to contain two young children in a passive way while attempting to gather the weekly groceries. At first it was all a bit of a tidal wave of a social rules culture clash, but during my time in Toronto it became one of the things I loved about the city and Canada as a whole. People talk to one another, and I’ve come to see that as only ever a good thing.
3. Going direct to your Professors
Yes, before you all ask I spent a worrying amount of time deciding if there were one or two ‘F’s and exactly how ‘S’s were indeed in the word ‘Professor’. At U of T, I needn’t have pondered this question alone. What I loved about my studying at the University of Toronto is the connection and ease of contact students have with their Professors and seminar leaders. Teaching staff have far more control over the content of courses and methods of assessment than they do for the most part at Manchester (at least within the general field of humanities), which means if you have any queries you go straight to them via email or in person, which I have to say I found refreshingly direct and personal.
All of this meaning that if you did run into your Professors whilst in the real world, for example grocery shopping; a universal nightmare in the UK (what do you say?), you could usually add them to the list of people you talked to on your tour of the store, along with obviously the person at the checkout and the mum from Aisle 7.
4. Great Korean food, all the time.
Toronto is one the world’s most diverse and multicultural cities, with over 200 languages spoken in the city. One big cultural community within Toronto is Koreatown, which happened to be five minutes away from my apartment, full of fantastic food and somehow wonderfully affordable. Don’t get me wrong, in Manchester we have the gastronomic shrine that is the Curry Mile, but I’d kill for an all-you-can-eat lunch of Kimchi and some spicy prawn noodles for $7 right now.
5. Free Gym and Swim facilities
As we all know, every January the world seeks to lose all of its Christmas bodily indulgence and make a fresh start by ‘getting fit’. This leads to an epidemic of gym membership purchases, often at extortionate prices and a subsequent epidemic of ‘I’ll go next week syndrome’. One of the best things about the U of T campus is that all the gym and swim facilities are not just for the ‘look how toned, fit and attractive I am’ individuals who have been on sports teams their entire lives and were looking at graduating not to an office but to the NHL – everyone has equal access! This, I must say led to a strange phenomenon, albeit motivated by the ‘free-ness’, where I actually went to the gym?!
Especially during January and February where even breathing some days forms a icicle in front of you, being able to get some heat into yourself and actually start ‘getting fit’ was weirdly fun, made better by the fact in one gym there was a indoor running track suspended off the floor above a basketball court (I’m guessing space was at a premium?). You effectively got two things for the price of one, your own personal running session alongside entertainment during it in the form of a free varsity basketball game, whats not to like? Toronto Raptors eat your heart out.
This one may seem strange, and it is. But trust me, when you’ve lived alongside the stuff for four straight months and despite it making walking, up to and including, eighteen times slower than it normally is, you come to love snow. Its part of the rhythm of your life in a city like Toronto; watching a storm come in overnight and blanket the street, trudging through it the following morning to class, slipping on black ice and cursing yourself for not stepping more carefully. Finally, watching it slowly melt away to reveal a wealth of greenery you forgot existed and indeed reintroducing you to the concept of non-dormant plants completely. Snow is sometimes a foe in Toronto, but over time and especially after its gone, you miss it like a friend.
‘You can get that for a the equivalent of 60p? [1 Canadian dollar]’, you think to yourself as you wander round this unique experience of a store, almost as if you’d combined a child’s eclectic dressing up box, WH Smith and the reduced section of Aldi and then tasked someone with a budget of precisely $5 to set all the prices. Dollarama is a mystery and a paradise all at the same time and I’m sorry Poundland, but Dollarama wins the international competition of ‘Mishmash shops with worryingly low prices’ that isn’t happening for some reason? Someone needs to get that thing going.
8. Thrift Stores
Dear Fallowfield hipsters and University of Manchester students who like to cultivate a look of ‘I can’t afford expensive clothes’ while paying tooth and nail in the thrift boutiques of the Northern Quarter, I have news for you. Thrift stores in Toronto, especially in areas like Dufferin, Kensington Market or Little Italy, are the best places I’ve encountered in my, admittedly short, life so far to buy genuinely amazing second hand stuff that you’ll love and wear far more often than anything you’ve ever bought brand new at any number of well known high street brands.
Though saying that, even thrift has its own brand in Canada; Value Village, which is like if someone took a TK Max and was asked to make it even more disorganised, but the quality of the clothes and shoes was inexplicably better? I miss trawling through its aisles, and so much of the stuff I wear now came from that one place in Toronto that its almost ridiculous.
Ok, so I think this one might honestly just be me but before I lived in Toronto I couldn’t stand peanuts in chocolate. Snickers bars were one of my worst food enemies. However, by mistake I bought a mysterious thing one grocery shop in my early days in Toronto, packaged in shiny yellow and purple wrapping and I have to say it changed my life. A Wunderbar [I think its known own as a Starbar in the UK?], is just peanuts and caramel surrounded by chocolate but is quite literally one of my favourite foods. I developed my addiction in Toronto to the point where a friend sincerely encouraged me to stop buying them at such a rate for fear I might explode. If you’ve ever been sceptical about peanuts in your chocolate, this one is a must when you’re in Canada and I have to say I had a mourning period exclusively dedicated to them when I left.
Easter with some Canadian family friends of mine, I promise not just random people.
To bring this Top 10 list to a close, I thought I’d round off with the thing I miss most about U of T, Toronto and indeed Canada. Its a mushy one, but I have to say I miss Canadians themselves. How they are constantly ever so slightly nervous; what of? I’m still not sure. How they continually, even in the face of incredible adversity, have a gleefully positive attitude; I have to admit it was a nice break from the British national pastime of constant underlying scepticism, enjoyable though it is. How they are so hospitable I think some people might even give you their house out of a sheer sense of social obligation, despite you having only just stepped inside their front door and said one or two words that might amount to ‘hello’ or ‘hey’.
How no matter what you look like or where you’re from, you always get a ‘welcome to Canada’ and ‘its so great to have you here’ when someone notices your foreign accent, not a ‘you’re not one of us’ or a ‘go back to where you came from’ which has sadly so often dominated our recent national discussion here in the UK. This is a gag-inducing line, but I’ll include it anyway because its what I want to say: the Canadians make Canada, and I miss both enormously.