Bay Street Ghost Town

April 24, 2020

The other day I went for a bicycle ride to the epicentre of Toronto’s financial district. I wanted to experience that particular spot, about a month into strict government pronouncements asking people to maintain social distance to defeat the novel coronavirus.

It’s a great time to ride a bike downtown: the streets are deserted. It’s pretty incredible to see what a virus can do the pulsing heart of Canadian capitalism. There is absolutely nobody around. The streetcars are vacant. The taxicab stands, normally clogged with cabbies looking for fares, are empty.

I went to First Canadian Place, the home of the Toronto Stock Exchange. At first I thought the security guard at the big white marble front desk would stop me, but he didn’t look up. I stood there, on a Monday at lunch hour: the sole human in the vast lobby with 10-metre ceilings. The Bank of Montreal bank machines stood glowing against a wall, but had no customers.

This 72-storey tribute to commerce, built by the Reichmann Brothers and opened in 1970, is today a ghost town. I went downstairs. The hallways of Toronto’s PATH system, the underground tunnels that link all the bank towers, stood gleaming and empty. A lone security guard walked by, looking bored. The Longo’s was open; the cashiers wore masks. I bought a sandwich and a soup and a San Pellegrino and decided to eat upstairs and across King Street, by the bronze cows of the TD Centre lawn.

If you time it right, on a sunny day you can find a spot where the sun sneaks through a space between all the towers. I certainly had no competition for my patch of sunlight. I leaned against a resting cow. The lawn was abandoned on a fine lunchtime in early April.

Then I looked over. A mom arrived with two little children. They had come prepared with toys. She used a blower to make soap bubbles, and they floated across the grass. Her daughter and son, each armed with a plastic sword, ran about squealing and swatted at the bubbles, to pop them. Alongside them rose Mies van der Rohe’s 40 and 50-storey rectangular towers in sober black steel. It was a marvelous playground for them: they had the whole place to themselves. No investment bankers walked by discussing the latest tranche of securitized debentures. No lawyers hurried past en route to settlement conferences. No office administrators sat discussing their plans for the weekend.

I wonder how many people actually miss catching the 5:41 a.m. from Derry Road West at 9th Line, to arrive at Union Station at 6:40 a.m.? Maybe they’re having a nice time at home with their kids.