Etobicoke, ma belle

August 31, 2020

I don’t go to Etobicoke that often. Etobicoke got a bad name after our daughter spent four years at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. From my experience, high school can poison you on any place.

Etobicoke is the first suburb west of downtown Toronto. The other night my wife and I got on our bicycles to ride to a dinner party for a friend turning 50, on a road called Park Lawn. We rode down to the Martin Goodman Trail, the path that runs along the shore of Lake Ontario, and turned west. We crossed the Humber Bay Arch Bridge. Twin arches made from steel tubes painted white support 44 stainless-steel hangers that hold up the bridge deck. What’s unique about this bridge, apart from its graceful design, is that it’s only for pedestrians and bikes. No cars allowed. When David Miller was Mayor of Toronto, someone asked him for his favourite spot in the city. Miller singled out this bridge, completed in 1994. Once you cross the Humber River (as this bridge does) you are in Etobicoke.

We crossed the bridge and arrived in Etobicoke. Suddenly, our adventure became very colourful. We like to brag smugly about Toronto as a racially diverse, harmonious, multi-culti paradise. In truth downtown Toronto, where we live, is a pretty white place. You might call Rosedale or Forest Hill pasty-white, but believe me, Little Portugal, where we live, is not much more diverse.

Cross the river into that part of Etobicoke, and suddenly things change. At 6 p.m. on a Saturday, the trail was absolutely mobbed. With families. Most people were on foot. And suddenly I saw turbans and saris and hijabs. I heard Spanish and Bengali and Urdu and Hindi. We had to dramatically slow down to avoid running over little ragamuffins who had barely learned to walk, zigzagging all over the trail while their parents called to them in a Babelian variety of tongues.

Even more remarkable is the civil effort our government has invested in the landscaping of the trail on this stretch. Once you cross the bridge, you are in a forest of very new apartment towers, each taller than the last. Between the towers and the lake, the trail is now paved in a colourful array of interlocking bricks. The bricks serve several purposes, from what I can guess: first, water can seep between them when it rains, taking pressure off the sewers. Water can then get to the roots of trees and shrubs planted along the trail. Second, the cobblestones are attractive. Third, they have the subtle effect of slowing down cyclists and inline skaters. It made me happy to see that these new Torontonians had such a beautiful stretch on which to enjoy the sunset over Lake Ontario.

Our friend’s party took place at a Thai restaurant in a new neighbourhood of condo towers. It was hard to know what to expect, but this Thai place proved remarkable. The food was flavourful and the presentation lovely.

On the way home we discovered that our civic mothers and fathers had deigned to shut the south side of the Lake Shore Boulevard to cars, on a huge stretch through the city. With COVID there are fewer motorists, and so we shared the highway with runners and riders on electric scooters, electric unicycle scooters and even bicycles.

We enjoyed Etobicoke.

(Thanks to photographer Juan Rojas for putting this image on Unsplash).