Life in the Six

6F8F764F-D5F3-42AE-BE96-9708AD9B6251

Living in Toronto has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Its a diverse city with an abundance of culture, food, nightlife, attractions and hidden treasures, but it has also been a second home to me. Because of this, I want to not only talk about what makes life in the Six fantastic for anyone, but also what made Toronto special for me during my time there.

Location

I cannot communicate just how important where you live in Toronto is to your experience of it – living near wonderful restaurants, bars and public transport links makes all the difference when strolling outside means facing -40c and 20 inches of snow on the ground in the depths of the Canadian winter around early February!

0BEEE0EF-E36A-4ABA-8418-07CF91111175

Walking to class in January and February often looked like this!

I lived in a shared apartment in a student housing building that also happened to double up as an Estonian cultural centre (I really can’t explain that one) in Downtown Toronto on Bloor-Spadina. Firstly it was what I, or indeed I think anyone, would call ‘a steal’ in terms of rent for Downtown or the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) – around $500 cheaper or more than the average per month – while secondly being on an intersection such as Bloor-Spadina placed me right in the heart of ‘The Annex’, a bustling student area of the city – similar to Fallowfield in Manchester.

47A16C05-B390-47D0-9669-57CA721A8E02

Bloor Street hosts hot dog stands (on the right) alongside a world famous shoe muesuem (on the left), whats not to love?

Bloor Street itself has also been dubbed Toronto’s ‘Cultural Corridor’ due to the sheer volume of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and niche artisan and ‘thrift’ stores, all designed for a student population on a budget in an otherwise expensive city. Also boosting the profile of Bloor-Spadina is its proximity to not one, but two Toronto Subway (TTC) stations, making it an ideal base to explore and navigate the city from as well shielding you from some of its pricier and wintery elements.

F9D36ED4-151F-43C4-A1F6-1C79CCA994F2

I think I took this photo of the St. George campus as it was the first time no snow or ice had been on the ground since I’d been there as Winter turned to Spring!

Alongside all of this, and of course most importantly, my apartment building lay a short 5-10 minute walk from the University of Toronto (U of T) main Robarts Library and the downtown St. George Campus, although the exact time this journey took during much of my time in Toronto depended on the strength of the wind and the level of snow being blown in my eyes, ears and any other crevice of my body the weather found its way into.

DF493CC2-C9C9-4BBB-A55E-8AA49D7601CF.jpeg

Robarts Library, where I’ll admit I spent more than one night typing away under the shadow of a deadline!

However for daily commutes, late night study sessions and last minute ‘I just woke up and class is in five minutes’ sprints to campus, living on Bloor-Spadina was ideal, allowing me to mostly move around the city on foot if I wanted to, a rarity in Canada and even in some parts of Toronto, liberating me to leave the Uber bills to nights out and days where the winter cold got the better of me.

Things you should, could and definitely will do

As I’ve already partially mentioned, my location in Toronto meant I was close to so much in the Six and I think that now qualifies me as a expert as to the ins and outs of what, as a student there, you should, could and definitely will do if you end up hopping over the Atlantic for exchange at U of T.

2E216423-3426-4D97-9143-2B545649A561

The quirky wall murals and street art of Queen Street.

Bloor, as well as surrounding streets such as Queen, King, College, Harbord and Dundas West host a fantastic array of cheap eateries, attractions and spots for a memorable night out. My recommendation for an all out 24 hour tour of Toronto would be to start by going for breakfast or brunch at The Federal on Dundas West, before browsing various art, craft and music stores on Queen Street, hopping onto College in order to allow yourself to fall into the fantastic, hippie-style chaos of Kensington Market.

55BF6064-96C2-467E-8F2A-92910D0E1783.jpeg

The Federal – A breakfast and brunch heaven.

CD148393-1FFE-4054-B2D1-C779314F4282

The wonderfully bizzare entrance posts to Kensington Market.

Proceed then to pop into Papa Ceo’s on Harbord for a gloriously delicious and highly affordable Pizza experience for lunch, friendly staff thrown in, heading afterwards as the sun dips in the sky to the intimate and quirky ‘Red Room’ bar on Spadina to enjoy your favorite tipple (not neccessarily alcoholic!), finally finishing your whirlwind of a day by going long into the night within the confines of CODA on Bloor-Bathurst, or alternatively getting a good nights sleep.

Sports

So people that know me well, or indeed to any extent at all will gasp at the title of this section. Sports is usually my last port of call in life, understandbly if you’ve ever seen me play/attempt to play pretty much anything, however in Toronto you can’t help but be sucked into the reality that sports is a way of life, and I’m not just talking about Hockey!

CA6CD56D-7FBE-458F-80AE-9679062AF6B4

My first Varsity game at U of T, which fittingly we lost.

Firstly at U of T we have ‘Varsity’ level sports, where Universities from across Canada and the USA come to see what they’ve got against Toronto’s ‘Varsity Blues’, with games being free for current U of T students and heavily discounted for visiting family and friends; I attended Hockey and Basketball Varsity events during my time in Toronto but Swimming (Competitive and Sychronised), Water Polo, and I’m sure a million and one other events were also crammed into a single semester at U of T!

Varsity events are fantastic way to integrate yourself into life at U of T and into that of Toronto itself as the University, along with its younger downtown rival Ryerson University, go a long way to giving Downtown Toronto a student-heavy and busy atmosphere, dominating the cultural and demographic environment and forming a major component of life in the Six.

2044AE27-C832-4ACA-A33C-3592F5AB9386.jpeg

I genuinely have no idea why I’m trying to be a pirate in this photo from a Blue Jays game?

Alongside Varisty sports at U of T, be sure to check out sports within Toronto itself; A Maple Leafs hockey game is obviously the golden ticket, but unfortunately it is quite literally that and so didn’t fit into my student budget. However, you can go see the MLB Toronto Blue Jays play baseball at the Rogers Centre (the big stadium next to the CN Tower) from March onwards for $15 for the cheapest tickets, which are some of the best if you ask me!

Things to look out for

119EFC3C-9F8D-4C0B-8E4A-3F8B0DC7C75F.jpeg

Signposts on the Toronto Islands pier act as instagramable attractions rather than giving actual directions!

To conclude I want to mention a pair of things I particularly loved about Toronto that you might not think or even hear of on a typical tourist whirl around the city.

74137BA5-54E1-4315-B393-1914D8B5BC03

Be at the back of the ferry to the Toronto Islands to glimpse the postcard view of the skyline!

Firstly, make sure to head over to the Toronto Islands about a 1km off the city shoreline in Lake Ontario; an oasis of calm in a busy metropolis and a great place to take a leisurely walk or cycle looking across the water to the USA or back towards the Toronto skyline, especially once Spring has sprung, catching a 5 minute ferry from Front Street.

4179A28B-69F7-4C8A-A343-B4C16C7A19A1

By the time we’d looped around the rink for an hour, my rookie skater friend was already better than me?!

Secondly head on over to the Bentway overpass just back from Front Street to ‘Skate the 8’! Skate round a figure of eight ice rink completely for free, skate hire included, in January or February – great fun whether you’re a Robin Cousins style skate pro or taking to the ice for the first time, as my friend in the middle of the photo above was!

61EC863E-7089-4BC0-A19C-D2620A6BD544

I loved my life in the Six, and I encourage anyone who goes to embrace this wonderful, albeit often cold city and the University of Toronto within it with both hands. I hope this can be a small guide for when you do go, from one part-time Torontonian to another.

The Word is Yes.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life so far it’s that, most of the time, saying yes is usually a good idea. Do you want some cake? Obviously yes. Are you coming out with us tonight? Yes! I mean what could possibly go wrong? Do you want to go to study and live in Canada for six months? Yes.

So far that last one seems to have been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. A few weeks before I left the UK to come to Toronto, a friend from home turned to me and said “So you’re moving to Canada, isn’t that scary?”. Even though I’d been planning and talking about doing this semester abroad for what seemed like forever, the question really hit me. I mulled it over for a few seconds in my head; I didn’t really know anyone in Toronto, I was leaving behind friends and family who meant the world to me in the UK, I was going to a whole new country, with a different culture and on top of that I was going to a university with an entirely different academic system. On second thoughts, maybe it was kind of ‘scary’ after all. However, it was what rushed into my head next that decided my reply.

2019-01-12 00_42_06.068

“I’m nervous” I said, “but when else in my life am I going to get to travel and live in another part of the world as easily and meet and make friends from anywhere and everywhere?”. When I said that, those thoughts were what I hoped would happen, now they are my every day. In the last week I’ve spent my life with people from Denmark, Singapore, Germany, China, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Italy, as well as obviously the UK and most of all Canada. My days and nights have been filled with people telling me the stories of their lives followed by me recounting mine. There’s a sense amongst all of us that we’re just beginning to discover how we fit into the wonderful chaos of culture that not only defines Toronto, but also Canada as a whole. A Canadian friend of mine said to me today in our class that to him, a child of immigrants himself, Canada was “everyone and everything” and right now it definitely feels that way to me.

2019-01-21 20_34_27.586

That’s not to say there aren’t moments where you miss home or get things wrong; on my second day in Toronto I meant to get the tram (they call them Streetcars here) to one side of the city, forgetting that Canada drives on the other side of the road, and went in the completely wrong direction for longer than I’m willing to admit, before realising and hastily getting off at the next stop. But when I’m walking through the snow, watching an ice hockey game (I know, it had to come up at some point, I am in Canada after all!), looking up at the CN Tower or simply meeting people from anywhere and everywhere, it all feels totally worth the mishaps and mistakes you inevitably make along the way. Every day I wake up to my view of the Toronto skyline and feel as if I’m one of the luckiest men alive and it’s all down to one word. The word is Yes.