When I came to Toronto to attend HackerYou on January 21 of this year, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. The only other time I’d ever visited Toronto was four years ago during winter break from school. It was freezing cold / snowing / hailing the entire time and my best friend (Rachel!!!) had pneumonia. Needless to say, we didn’t see much of Toronto and we mostly spend the weekend watching the Vancouver Winter Olympics (I still had an amazing time! I guess it was the good company I was in!).
I remember one of my first thoughts after landing in Toronto being, “Well, 3 and a half months isn’t that long.” I had a full week before classes started to get settled, and in retrospect, coming to Toronto a week before the course started didn’t help me out with getting adjusted. That first week in the city, entirely alone, and in the dead of winter felt like the loneliest and longest days of my life. After 3 or 4 days I already found myself mentally counting down the days until I could move back to Halifax (which was over a hundred). Toronto in the winter isn’t a welcoming place and it isn’t the type of city that feels like love at first sight, either.
Once the course started the weeks began to breeze by. I guess when you’re doing an intensive learning session for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and then plugging some additional hours of homework over the weekend, the time tends to go by pretty quickly. Torontonians kept asking me my opinion and first impressions of their city and for the first few weeks the most I could muster was, “It’s…nice…”. Toronto was not nice those first few weeks where it was -25 every single day and totally dark by the time I got home on the subway. Over time, I’m happy to report that I got to really love this city. It took some time, but once I found my friends, my regular places, and a sense of routine, Toronto started to feel like a home away from home.
So here, in no particular order are some of the things I’ll miss about this great city:
1. Running on one of Toronto’s many trails in the giant trail network. I think my favourite was the Leslie Street Spit, where I took the photo for this post. This is such a Toronto hidden gem (let’s face it, it’s really out of the way) and on weekend mornings it’s so quiet. Best of all: no cars allowed for the whole five kilmetre stretch.
2. Hanging out and being a part of the community at The Lab. The Lab was an incredible work environment. Being entirely surrounded by awesome people who know about what you’re learning and attending the tech events that happened in the space was amazing. HackerYou and Ladies Learning Code have mastered the tough art of making web development inclusive and welcoming and part of that comes from The Lab itself. Toronto’s tech community is incredibly diverse and it’s growing so fast. It’s a great time to be in this city if you’re a developer and I’ll miss that exposure to new things.
I remember leaving my house in Halifax 3.5 months ago, standing in my porch and just feeling so sad. I felt like it would be so long before I would standing in that porch again. On Friday as I was leaving The Lab for the last time, I had that same feeling. The Lab became a home for me over the past few months and I’ll miss that inspiring environment so much.
3. My wonderful neighborhood. I lived in Riverdale, which is in East Toronto, meaning that I had about 45 minute commute each-way to downtown every morning. While this is typically the idea of my own personal hell, I really didn’t mind. The neighborhood has such a community vibe and doesn’t feel at all like the city. Plus, I discovered my favourite café, Rooster Café, just down the street. The view of the Don Valley and the city skyline really can’t be compared to.
4. The Toronto People. Let me just say right now that I had the wrong impression of Torontonians going in. I thought everyone in Toronto had to be like the New Yorkers of the North – like they just don’t give a shit about anyone and they’re kind of snobby and maybe even mean at times. This was so wrong. Torontonians are super nice, incredibly optimistic for the future, and they want you to have the most fun ever in their city. Last night before going to the Wye Oak concert, my friends and I stopped into a little bar in Parkdale called Local Kitchen and Wine Bar. When our server heard it was my last night in town, she gave us all a free shot. “If it’s your last night, then you’ll have to make it a good one!”
5. In a similar vein the Toronto energy. When the Raptors made the playoffs this city went bananas with home-team pride. Suddenly #WeTheNorth was all over twitter, spray painted on walls, and plastered on t-shirts like an internal rallying cry for a city that was always the underdog. I feel like the other not-so-sportmanslike “F*ck Brooklyn!” trend still united Torontonians in a great way. The energy in Toronto felt different for those couple of weeks, the city felt alive in a different way than it typically does, and you felt a little more united with the people on the street wearing Raptors hats.
6. The Food. Everyone in this city is a foodie. Everyone knows an awesome little hole in the wall that “you just gotta check out while you’re here.” It’s amazing, but also really difficult to try all the food. There are SO many restaurants in this city and by the time you eat your way through all of them you could start all over again and have a completely different experience. I did my best while I was here, but I definitely didn’t make a dent in the food scene.
7. All the quirky only-in-Toronto things. Like how the busiest restaurant in town may only take cash or you can only purchase tokens with cash at a subway station. Or how while walking down my street, I’ll see at least 5 enormous squirrels within a 10 minute walk. Or the way Torontonians still talk about how embarrassing it was when they called in the army for assistance when they had like a foot of snow about 15 years ago.
I was doubtful of Toronto when I moved here, but this city was quick to prove me wrong. I’m not sure how soon I’ll be back again, but I hope it’s not too far from now.