More positives from the pandemic

February 22, 2021

We can sit around and wring our hands, that everybody but Canadians is getting the vaccine. Or, if we want to socialize, we can get outside and join friends for a physically distant walk. 

On a recent Sunday, with a blanket of fresh snow coating the city, my wife and I, and our dog, joined friends at a park in Rosedale to walk down to the Brickworks and stroll the Beltline Trail. Le Tout Toronto had shown up; one impossibly lithe woman had staked out a wooden platform, in full sun. With the temperature steady at a balmy -2C, she had stripped to yoga gear and sat twisting herself into glorious shapes, bathed in the noonday sun. Families sauntered past, a parade of skiwear competing with wool coats and fantastic fur hats.  

These walks are a function of the pandemic; in normal times we would have gathered for brunch, or more likely a boozy meal. This year I have explored my city on foot, and shared walks with friends, more than at any other time. This is a positive side of Covid-19.  

“Promise me something,” I told our foursome at the end of the walk, as we meandered through an exclusive neighbourhood of glorious stone piles flanked by stately oaks and maples. “When the pandemic ends, we will continue to meet up – for walks.” 

A week later, a friend proposed a walk along the Humber River. Imagine our surprise to arrive and find the river frozen solid: covered with snow, and citizenry. The tableau spread before us like a woodcut torn from the pages of a Victorian magazine: couples and families on foot, pairs of snowshoers, caravans of cross-country skiers, all piled on the river. In an hour walk downstream we passed a dozen or more rinks. Shinny games abounded. Smiles proved contagious. 

Even in the heart of town, a walk on a frozen river is a democratic and profoundly calm experience. No rules apply: nobody snarls if your dog is off their leash; people wear or don’t wear masks as they see fit. Walking 15 metres down from street level, one is far from the traffic. There is no need to watch out for cars.  

One man had a pink plastic cube the size of a shoebox, with one side open. He packed it with fresh snow and popped out bricks, which he used to make an igloo. He smiled and shrugged. “Something to do,” he said. 

Having never walked on the Humber before, I can’t say that more people enjoyed the frozen river of a Sunday than in a normal year. It certainly felt that way. I certainly would not have been there.  

The physical isolation forced by months of lockdown in Toronto; the inability to go to a movie or a restaurant, or even ride the streetcar to work, has taken its toll. Psychiatrists have warned of the grave mental health consequences of sequestering us, over long periods, from society. A trail or a frozen waterway is no panacea. That said, if it gets us out of our rat trails, to travel a bit further to explore the wonders of wherever we call home, and to socialize while enjoying fresh air and exercise, then we can safely say that something very good indeed has come out of Covid-19.

All photos by Francis Mariani