After a nineteen year absence I went back to Toronto in June with my partner. It wasn’t the city itself or my remaining relatives that drew me back, rather we went to welcome our closest Tibetan friends to Canada from Dharamsala India. But the results of the trip were quite unexpected.
We are their “Canadian family”, and we promised to fly to Toronto to greet them after their arrival. Ten days after they landed we were sitting in the living room of their apartment in the downtown area, having walked a considerable way in pouring rain to get there, the subways and streetcars not running. (Between the fire on the east-west line that evening, with riders being evacuated through the tunnel, frequent breakdowns, police incidents and scheduled weekend maintenance, it felt like there were closures daily).
On the surface, our friends appeared to have transplanted themselves rather quickly from their small apartment in Dharamsala to the large one in Toronto, lovingly prepared for them by their father, who had been awaiting them for three years. The teenage boys came and went from the home, exploring and playing pickup basketball, much like they had done at home. Highly motivated, they lost no time applying for government cards and taking ESL tests. But of course it was early days, and their hearts were still in India.
Our first of several visits to the family lasted about twenty-four hours! With the rain and subway problems, we were invited to stay overnight and accepted, putting the boys out of their room. They didn’t seem to mind, and we slept peacefully in the apartment that was already imbued with the gentle, prayerful Buddhist energy of the family.
Toronto is known as “the city of neighbourhoods”, with 140 separate areas. Our base was in the Dupont and Christie area, west of the Annex, a bus and two subway rides away from the family. It was a lovely B&B on a quiet, tree lined street in a very old area of Toronto.
When I graduated from University in my early twenties I lived in that area of the city, and enjoyed the feel of being in the “real” city, rather than living in a suburb. There was more character in the neighbourhood, I felt, and we even had a theatre down a back lane a few blocks from our flat where Sunday was “pay what you can” matinee.
What made our recent stay in the area especially meaningful to me was that both my parents grew up in the neighbourhood. I was very familiar with the names of all the main streets from my mother’s many stories throughout my childhood. Several generations of her family lived in a big old house on Barton Avenue from the time they immigrated to Canada from Wales in 1929, until they married and bought their own homes. I spent the first fourteen months of my life in that house. We didn’t get a chance to go there on this trip, but will next time.
Learning to navigate the subways again and getting used to the crowds and noise was our first task. We walked miles each day, to access restaurants, buses and subways and our Tibetan friends’ home. The walking I did was way beyond my normal capacity, particularly with the old foot injury that had arisen a month earlier. I believe I was helped by the Grandmothers and other angel guides, to push myself past my normal limits. Also, my “magic” compression socks were a big help.
We found many Toronto residents to be helpful with directions, and the crowds were remarkably peaceful on the buses and subways. We enjoyed high quality jazz music in the subway stations. There was no edginess in the air like in Vancouver, although the city is many times larger. Many cyclists travelled to work daily through our neighbourhood on the north-south route of Shaw Street. The city and its inhabitants had worked hard to ensure that pedestrians came first, cyclists second and cars last, our friend told us, also quite different from Vancouver.
During the long gap between visits my link to the city and to my family had felt tenuous, but going back this time I experienced a deep satisfaction on reconnecting with my roots, both those of place and of people.
We visited two cousins, both within five years of my age, and that brought back many memories. The first cousin, who has lived alone since leaving her parents’ home, lived through a tragedy as a child, when her brother, older by three years, died. Simply seeing her, being in her home and seeing a picture of her, her brother and mom, taken during his last summer, was very poignant.
Our seventeen days in Toronto were very rich, packed with new activities and people almost daily. The trip was challenging physically and emotionally, but very wonderful. We had just the right amount of time to do most things we wanted to do. The entire visit, with the exception of meeting and welcoming our newly arrived Tibetan friends, was a trip down memory lane for me.
There was one blot on the visit, when I took my Tibetan friend out on the day of the Raptors’ Parade, Monday, June 17th, four days before we left town. We were both traumatized by the experiences we had that day. That will be the topic of my next blog.
Love & Light
Copyright 2019 Ellen Besso
Ellen Besso is a former Life Coach & Counsellor & is an energy worker. She is the author of An Indian Sojourn: One woman’s spiritual experience of travel & volunteering, and Surviving Eldercare: Where their needs end & yours begin, both available through Amazon.