There are many things I like about walking in Toronto. Of course since I live here you could say I have no choice, but even if I didn’t live here I’d find these things fascinating were I to visit and wander. Here’s just a few of the many things that make walking Toronto so much fun.
1. Sidewalk dates. Within the city, it’s been the practice for many years to stamp the concrete used for the sidewalks with the year they were laid. Thus you get a time capsule view of the age of the neighbourhood you’re wandering through. Also, when sidewalks are repaired the new stretches have new dates, so you can see a history of renovation in the neighbourhood by comparing the dates almost house by house – sidewalks are often pulled up to put in new drains or driveways when homes are renovated – so without knowing anything else you can see the evolution of the houses. When I walk, I like to look out for the oldest sidewalk dates I can find, and especially look for those older than I am. I was born in 1963, and the oldest I’ve seen thus far is from 1958 (Avenue Road and Hillcrest), in the Lytton Park neighbourhood. Considering our winters and the amount of salt tossed about, that’s pretty impressive.
2. Ravines. Toronto’s park system is one of the city’s crown jewels, and some of my favourite city walks have made extensive use of the trails through the ravines that cross the city. The Moore Park ravine, the Cedarvale Ravine, the Don Valley, the Humber Valley, and Taylor Creek are just some of the trail systems I’ve explored. Use them, enjoy them, respect them, and protect them.
3. Neighbourhoods. Toronto, like any city, has a diverse set of communities, but what sets Toronto apart is that these are formed by the many people who have come to Toronto from around the world. The city is one of the most diverse in the world, and that diversity is a massive strength and a source of endless inspiration. A random 10k walk across just about any part of the city will take you through a dozen “countries” where you can sample foods, hear languages, and people watch with endless fascination.
4. Seasons. Ok, all places are subject to seasonality. Still, Toronto’s latitude means that we get the full effects of 4 distinct seasons. Wags will point out there are only two seasons on the roads (construction and winter) and only two seasons recreationally (summer and hockey). Ignore them and focus on what you see when you walk. Spring takes you from cold rains in March through April showers and May flowers. Summer sees parks in full bloom starting in June and into the heat and humidity of July and then the dryer heat of August. Autumn starts warm in September and leads to the rich colours of October and the grey skies in November. Winter’s greyer days and short nights in December lead to cold clear days in January and February. Every month is distinct in its weather and that is played out in everything you see on your walks – the trees, the rivers and creeks, the parks, the people. You can walk the same path 12 times over the year and get 12 very different experiences just because of the seasons. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s -20C or +30C the walk can be a slog, but it’s never boring.
5. Dogs. I have to confess that while I like dogs (and children), that goes more for my dog (and child) than than yours. My dog (and child) is perfectly behaved, it goes without saying. Yours, on the other hand – let’s just say that while you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, I suggest that you can judge a person by the behaviour and appearance of their dog. Nevertheless, watching dogs and even more so watching dog owners is an endless source of fun. Why do people put dogs in clothes? Why do they put them in strollers!?! Why do people have multiple dogs? Why do people with big cars have small dogs and vice-versa? Who puts blingy jewelled collars on dogs? What self-respecting dog lets them? Why does the dog-to-people ratio increase with the value of the houses in a given neighbourhood, and what does it say about that neighbourhood? Has anyone ever measured the relationship between the number of Starbucks in a neighbourhood and the number of dogs? So many questions ….