Almost four years ago, I moved across country to start my post-grad education in Toronto. In less than 10 months, I was forced to move and situate myself into 3 different neighbourhoods. As a starving student, I couldn’t afford the luxury of enjoying my ever-changing living situation.
I wouldn’t say that I was the most technically savvy person, but if my university education had taught me anything, it was how to do my research. I had a specific budget set in mind and knew that I needed to be nearby my new school. I spent hours online googling ‘the best neighbourhood for x, y and z’ but to no avail.
My final takeaways: Yonge was a popular street and that the TTC needs to be my neighbour.
I even made it a point to come to Toronto a couple of weeks early, rent a car, and explore the neighbourhoods for myself. I only had one friend who knew the city, but she had only moved there herself a few months earlier. I was completely out of luck. I ended up on Craigslist, where neighbourhood insights were nonexistent.
I eventually found myself in a basement suite along Yonge street that was well within my budget. It only cost me $600 a month for my own private washroom and a shared kitchen with 3 other students. Within weeks, I was faced with the realization that my home was not in the safest neighbourhood. I was warned on multiple occasions by classmates and even my roommates not to dress in white as that seems to be an attractor for sexual assault. Days later, I restarted my search for a new place. I had no clue what it meant then, but I was living in a particularly high crime area: Yonge & Finch. Oh, and Yonge street is almost 2,000km long.
My next home was in a much safer neighbourhood: North York, otherwise known as ‘The Original Korea Town’. I have to admit, the food was great (I discovered that I’m a huge fan of kim bap), but it never really felt like home. I spent most of my time on public transit or cooped up in my room – we were about 45 minutes from Downtown Toronto, where I went to school and worked.
I was lucky enough to eventually find a roommate three months into my move. The both of us had had a terrible time locating a place that felt right so this time, we found our own neighbourhood expert. Our rental agent was incredibly helpful, but unfortunately came at a hefty fee. We were required to pay her 1/2 of our month’s rent to help us in finding our space. We lived a 15 minute walk from my school, 10 minute walk from the mall, and 5 minute walk from my work. There were bars, night clubs, and restaurants all around us. There was even a grocery store downstairs from where we lived. We were in the heart of the Entertainment District.
It took us hundreds of dollars in moving expenses and a ton of headaches, but we had finally found home. The best part of it all was probably our concierge. He greeted me every morning with a warm hello and welcomed me home every night as I returned. The people in our neighbourhood were young, fun, and active. It really was a shame that it took us months to find this spot so that we could enjoy our time living. I met some really cool people, ate at amazing restaurants, and spent every weekend getting to know the places around me. I was truly living inspired.
Though 10 months doesn’t quite make me a local, here are some of my notes to Toronto newcomers:
1. Always wear comfortable shoes when trekking through the morning street crowds between the Entertainment and Financial Districts… or start your travel 15 minutes in advance. The herds of people that walk to work in the early hours (7am-9am) is reminiscent of animals being released from the zoo. Everyone’s got somewhere to be, so don’t mind if they’re not overly polite about bumping into you.
2. The best Asian food isn’t in China Town, but actually in North York. I hard a tough time finding any Vietnamese pho restaurants or Hong Kong style cafes that were as tasty as back home in Vancouver, but the food superseded my expectations when I was in North York. They also have great Asian-supermarkets, where I discovered K-Mart.
3. For an affordable and fun night, try to sneak into a pre-game event at Maple Leaf Square. The Air Canada Centre is home to the Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. Before every game, ticket holders celebrate with street food and beer. Toronto is known to have the best, most enthusiastic sports fans so if you can find a way to pass security, be ready for a great time.
To avoid your own Toron-uh-oh experience, find out what neighbourhood matches you best. Visit Lett.io!