3 Things You Need to Know about Living in Toronto

Toronto Skyline

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.

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Looking South down a part of Yonge street that was relevant to my home search

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 shouldn't be too surprising that the Entertainment District is where two twenty-two year olds found to be the best place to call home
The Entertainment District by night

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.

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This is a shot of the crowd on Bay street during Occupy Toronto, but surprisingly the day to day crowds are three times as full as shown here

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.

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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.

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To avoid your own Toron-uh-oh experience, find out what neighbourhood matches you best. Visit Lett.io!

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3 of the Best Neighbourhoods in ‘East Vancouver’

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One of the most memorable experiences I went through in University happened on the first day. At UBC, we were asked to come dressed in our Department colours and as an Arts student, I was dressed in a purple blouse that I was quite fond of – I was feeling very posh.

We were divided into groups of about a dozen and started the conversation with a few ‘get to know you’ questions. We went in a circle, introducing ourselves by our name, the city we came from, and offered an interesting fact about ourselves. When it was my turn, I didn’t make it to the interest fact before sharing that I had come from East Vancouver when – gasp – two of my classmates earnestly asked, “how did you make it out alive?” At the time, I was a little confused but it’s rather funny to think back on… and of course, makes for a great conversation piece.

Sure, East Vancouver isn’t the first consideration when awarding for safety, but it’s home to a number of neighbourhoods that through this local’s perspective, are pretty darn cool. Here is my list of the top 3 neighbourhoods in ‘East Van’.

  1. Hastings-Sunrise: Foodie heaven and trendy thrift shops

My first childhood memories come from Wallie’s on Hastings. I would spend hours afterschool sorting through the different Spice Girls memorabilia and reading the free comic books. When I was hungry, I’d visit Bao Chau, the neighbourhood go-to for Vietnamese spring rolls. On days when it was nice out, I would hang out at the Skate Park next to the PNE or watch the highschool kids play basketball at Hasting’s Community Centre. That was over twenty years ago, but little has changed about this neighbourhood. Today, Hasting’s street is lined with family-run businesses that range from thrift stores to cafes, local markets to pho restaurants. If you’re looking for some delicious eats and trendy finds, this is your hood.

For more on this hood, I loved this article from the Georgia Straight, titled:

Hasting’s-Sunrise basks in the area’s rebirth

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  1. Renfrew-Collingwood: Diverse families with an active community spirit

My parents bought their first home in Renfrew-Collingwood on Moscrop Street, just north of Joyce skytrain station. On move-in day, we were greeted by this adorable Portuguese couple next door. I couldn’t tell you how many times I misplaced my keys and spent the afternoon hanging out with them as I waited for my parents to return home from work. Let’s just say that I’ve since picked up um monte de português. The neighbourhood is full of warm and welcoming families just like them, but from different backgrounds and in different stages of their lives. The one thing that connects everyone though, is this shared active community spirit. You can always count that there’s something fun going on at either Renfrew or Collingwood Community Centre. Oh, and don’t forget about the countless Chinese restaurants, pizzerias, or bubble tea shops along Kingsway.

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The best look into this community-oriented neighbourhood is from the vancouver.ca website, where you can read about their latest initiatives: turning streets into mini-parksand revamping the Renfrew Ravine.

  1. Victoria Fraserview: Little Saigon with an urban twist

As an adult, this is where Matt (my significant other) and I chose to open our first business. Why? Because it’s really an up-and-coming part of the city that’s home to some of the most unique and charming businesses. Victoria Drive is full of vibrant and clever takes on ethnic foods. My favourite is Chau Veggie, a modern-day twist on fusion vegetarian cuisine. Along this Drive, you can find dispensaries, fresh produce markets, the best noodle shops in town, and in paying homage to my ancestry, parts of ‘Little Saigon’. There’s a quaint little park right across our supplement shop that plays host to a number of soccer games and down the street is Trout Lake, home to the annual Lantern Festival.

There you have it: my top 3 East Vancouver neighbourhoods. Yes, I’ve included every neighbourhood that I’ve lived in, in some capacity. It should be no wonder now how “I made it out alive.” The question should really be how I ever left in the first place. In the last few years, I’ve moved to Richmond – stay tuned for blogs on my favourite spots in this city.

They’ve since taken down the wall in between Satori Factory and Chau, but this is one of my favourite shots of the people in the Victoria-Fraserview community at the Vegetarian eatery.

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For more on East Vancouver and to find out what your perfect neighbourhood match is, visit Lett.io – don’t forget to sign up for beta-testing!

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