Some years ago, I began an annual custom. On my birthday, I do something I’ve never done before. It doesn’t have to be anything flashy, which gives me an out if my creativity flags, but I like to keep the bar kind of high when I can. This year I’d planned to attend a citizenship ceremony, but the only ones scheduled on my birthday were in west Mississauga, which I feel is a cruel price to require of prospective citizens; why not go all out and send them to Churchill or something? What I chose instead was a city bus tour of Toronto. I’ve lived downtown for 20 years and I love the city, but I was interested to see what perspectives I might get by approaching it from a new angle.
I was happy to learn that the tour’s northern-most stop is a 20 minute walk from my house, so on a bright chilly noon, my fellow adventuress and I boarded the red double-decker bus which, while undoubtedly picturesque, may have seen its finest hour sometime during World War II. I had assumed that people jockeyed for a place on the top for the view. I hadn’t taken into account that sitting down below approximated how I think the chickpeas felt when I used my food processor to turn them into humus last week. When we scored a seat up top, my companion immediately remarked with delight that she instantly felt like a tourist in her own city. The indifferent eyes of urbanites passed over us all as such, and some of the many people lined up outside the Museum waved in a comradely way as we drove by.
Our guide was a cheerful and cheeky British lady. She informed us that the Queen’s Way and Queen Street were named for Canada’s favourite queen, Queen Latifah, and smoothly injected her running commentary with lovely little practical asides such as, “Are all 9 of the Spanish school children still on board?” She imparted nice but familiar information about multiculturalism and same-sex marriage, and also told us several things I didn’t know.
* There are bee hives on top of the Royal York hotel
* The upscale shopping area of Bloor west of Yonge is referred to as Mink Mile
* There was a protest in front of the King Edward hotel in the 1960’s when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton shared a room before they were married
* The Toronto Reference Library has a reading room decorated like Sherlock Holmes’s study
* At one time it was a crime punishable by hanging to whistle or sing Yankee Doodle in Toronto
* Disney/Pixar shows every film to the kids at Sick Children’s Hospital before it’s shown anywhere else
My companion and I agreed that, living here year by year, it’s easy to lose track of what a major city Toronto is in terms of finance, research and culture. I wondered a lot about the other riders on the bus: why they were here, what they thought of the city, what they were comparing it to.
When nice announcer lady said we were driving by St. Michael’s Hospital, I got a pleasant little thrill; that’s where I was born. 43 years ago that moment, my mother was saying, “Ow!” My friend suggested that next year, I should consider walking up to the nurse’s station in the maternity ward with flowers or chocolates just to say, “Thanks, you guys did a great job! My life’s going really well!” I’m tickled by the idea, and might make it my next birthday novelty.