It began as far back as I have memories.
I was born in Toronto and until the age of 7, I lived in Toronto. I don’t remember a lot about those days in the city. When I was 7, that’s when my family and I moved to this “small” suburb called Mississauga. I didn’t know the difference between Toronto and Mississauga, just that a new home and a new school were in my future and having to make new friends was going to be involved. We did go to visit the grandparents practically every weekend in Toronto, so I knew we didn’t live far from where we once had lived.
The age of seven. This was about the time when my memories of Toronto began to flourish.
The ride into the city, and for those of you old enough to remember, the Gardiner “bump”. The excitement I would feel knowing I was close to Toronto. The Palace Pier condos were the sign that you were almost there. And then you would see her – that beautiful tall structure named the CN Tower. And if we were lucky enough to be heading east into the city in the evening or night, to see her lit up so lonely in the sky was spectacular for this kid.
I didn’t know much about the tower. My mom always told me that I had only ever been up the tower once, when I was just out of mommy’s belly. And I didn’t really have any desire to go up her now. I was so happy as I admired her from a far. It was not so much what she was, but for what she stood for. That beautiful city of Toronto where I was born.
As I neared the teen years, I would get more and more excited about coming into the city. Being able to see the CN Tower from the highway always meant we were almost there. These years I was coming into the city with my friends who could drive and we would go to the famous Yonge Street to shop. We’d stop at all the head shops and looks for old concert t-shirts and posters. I would personally spend my allowance, and my pay cheques at the record stores. You know them – Sam the Record Man, A&A Records and my favourite, Starsound Records. I would buy as many LPs and EPs as I could afford. I don’t know why, but I thought buying records at Starsound in Toronto was way better than just picking the same ones up at Sam the Record Man at the local mall.
Leaving the city I always waved at my friend, the CN Tower. Wishing I would be back again soon to see her and the wonderful city she so proudly guarded.
Many of our teenage weekends were spent driving up Yonge Street on a Saturday night while stuck in traffic. Kids stopping their cars on the main road to show off their sound systems and their pretty girlfriends. Sitting in the car inching our way up the Yonge Street traffic, I began to memorize all of the Yonge Street cross streets. I would practice them with my mom when I would be home, proud of my memory and how I was ‘getting to know’ Toronto, without knowing Toronto.
Staring at the CN Tower from a car driving around the streets of Toronto, I would always wonder what those streets looked like from high up in the sky.
Fast forward to when I was 18 years old and I was applying for University. I had no dreams of moving far away from home, living on a campus residence, living the college dream. I applied to 3 Universities, but I knew I only wanted to go to the one that would let me be the closest to Toronto. And I got in! Accepted to Ryerson Polytechnic University. Ryerson’s first year as a University and I WAS GOING TO MOVE TO TORONTO! My memorizing of streets would finally pay off! I would be able to see my friend, the CN Tower daily. I couldn’t contain myself as excitement exploded out of me for the few months prior to having to make the move.
I moved into an off-campus residence beside ‘Hooker’s Harvey’s’. For those who know Toronto, you know exactly where I am talking about at the corner of Gerrard & Jarvis Street. I just happened to be living on the 18th floor of my building, high in the sky, with a bay window facing south towards… you guessed it, the CN Tower! I hope I never forget that view. The non-obstructed view from Gerrard Street, of the CN Tower. She became my obsession. At night, I would sit on my bay window seat and relax to the lights of the city. The CN Tower mesmerized me. It held so much meaning for me and I was so drawn to what it was. During thunderstorms I would stare out the window afraid to blink, in case I missed a lightning striking the top of the tower. In white out snowstorms I would try to figure out where the CN Tower was in the skyline that was blurred by the white snow. I would walk down to the tower and stand at the bottom and stare up. I loved my city so much, and the CN Tower was representing everything my city was.
Going to Blue Jays games when there was an open dome at the Skydome (it was still really called that back then) but making sure you were on the right side of the Dome to look up and see the tower. Playing mini golf for double the price because you were at the base of the tower. Feeling proud that we had the tallest standing structure IN THE WORLD. IN MY CITY. (*Note* We held on to that title of tallest free standing building for 35 years!) While in University everyone talks about their school, their campus, making new friends. I would tell everyone that what I was getting as my playground wasn’t a school campus. My school campus was the streets of downtown Toronto.
During my first year of University I met a boy. Who then became my boyfriend. Who had worked the previous year at the 360 restaurant. (This was the fancy schmancy restaurant in the top of the CN Tower and it still is in operation today.) I was enamored with the stories he would tell, taking the fastest elevators to the restaurant. When summer arrived that year, he asked if I wanted to work with him for the summer at the CN Tower. AT THE CN TOWER! Okay, this story could end here. All of my dreams just came true.
I worked as a cocktail waitress in the base of the tower, serving cocktails to tourists, locals, and really tall basketball players in town for the FIBA World Basketball Championships that Toronto was hosting. I worked as a hostess in the observation level lounge and was lucky enough to look at those beautiful views of Toronto regularly and get this, for free! The lucky summer didn’t stop there – I was also able to meet famous people like Henry Thomas during the newly named Toronto International Film Festival, Shaquille O’Neill during the World Basketball Championships and Dave Stewart during his nights off. (To recap, Henry Thomas was Elliott in the movie E.T., Shaq is a famous NBA Player and Dave Stewart was an awesome baseball pitcher (my opinion) for the MLB’s Oakland A’s and then the Toronto Blue Jays.) I met amazing friends working at the CN Tower who I’m still in touch with today. My favourite part of the job though was riding the super fast elevator after my shift at night, until I reached the Sky Pod. Sitting on the floor of the empty Sky Pod room and looking down at the Toronto streets. It was breathtaking. I would trace my fingers along the lights finding of all those streets I had memorized, but from high up in the sky. This was 1994.
Fast forward to 2016. 22 years later and I’m still obsessed. With Toronto, my city, and of course the CN Tower. I have never pictured myself anywhere but in the heart of my favourite city. In fact, my heart beats with Toronto. I’ve travelled the world with my boyfriend Jon while working on cruise ships. One of the best parts of that experience was being able to come home on vacations with him to live in and explore our own city, Toronto. Getting off a plane, jumping in a cab and heading down the Gardiner brought the same excitement as it did when I was just a kid. Now my lover, the CN Tower, is flanked by condos and business buildings galore, but she still stands out, showing her colours, literally. I never tire of looking at her; I never tire of taking photos (some might say I go as far as to stalk her), of walking around exploring my favourite city and finding where she peeks out. Decades of wandering this city’s streets and I still feel like I’m always finding something new around every corner. Toronto still lives up to all of my highest expectations. Toronto surprises me and entices my eyes, ears and taste buds, around every corner.
I live with Jon in the heart of the city and whenever we were home from the ships we would wander the city… trying to… I guess something similar to me memorizing the street names when I was young. Discover the city, inside and out. We always want to learn about each neighbourhood, see what new stores and restaurants and parks are new. Without always realizing it we have constantly compared our Toronto explorations to cities we had been lucky enough to explore while on the ships. And we have come to a whole hearted conclusion. There is no place like home.