Earlier this month I wrote an essay about my growing ambivalence towards Toronto. Amongst rising costs for housing, closing storefronts, and an unreliable transit system policed by plain clothes fare inspectors, my love for the city has been dwindling. Recently it was revealed that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is now $2,300. To comfortably afford that apartment a person would need to make over $80,000 a year. Next week metro fares will rise again, despite protests from commuters. Days after my essay was published, the bar and concert venue at the bottom of my street—a place that had been open for 83 years—abruptly shut its doors. Lately these facts have been getting me down.
The unaffordability of Toronto has made basic tenets of adulthood—stuff like buying property or starting a family—drastically out of reach. And while I don't even know if I want those things, l resent not having the choice. It’s made me think a lot about leaving. I’ve wondered if my quality of life would improve in some place new.
To get some perspective on life after Toronto, I spoke to people who moved away about how aspects of their lives have changed since leaving. You can read their responses below.
Culture and Nightlife
Gentrification, rapidly rising property taxes , and noise complaints have made running concert venues, restaurants, and bars exceedingly difficult in the past few years. As a result, venues which once defined Toronto are disappearing en mass , stripping much of the city’s culture.
I’ve run several bars in Toronto, including Handlebar, Farside and The Avro. It hasn’t been easy, but it also hasn’t been that hard. Having good staff, and treating them well makes a world of difference. But I guess the thing I find most challenging is knowing your bar will likely have a short life. With neighbourhoods gentrifying so quickly, rising rents, and commercial buildings being taxed like they are condo towers (even when they aren’t condo towers) you know that when your lease is up, negotiating a new rent at “fair market value” will hardly feel fair. Most likely the new rent will feel impossible and you will have to close, and watch all of your neighbours close, and feel the soul of your neighbourhood disappear. That makes me pretty bitter.
Recently we sold Handlebar and moved to Hamilton. Our baby grew into a toddler that needed space to run around. To afford a larger apartment we would have had to change our lifestyle and work drastically. It didn’t seem worth it. In Hamilton we could get more space for less money, and even had the chance to buy a house so I don’t have the fear of renoviction looming over my head. Stable housing has really improved my quality of life. Other things have improved too. I walk more. I feel safer when I bike, especially with a kiddo in the bike trailer. I get out into nature more. People want to stop and chat here. I don’t suffer from the FOMO of missing the 150 events that happen each day in Toronto. -Rachel Conduit, bar owner
I grew up in Toronto and began visiting Berlin in my 20s. Whenever I came back to Toronto from Berlin I'd feel a huge depression set in, as if I had learned what it felt like to not walk around with a corset on, only to have to tie the thing back up as soon as I got home. People in Berlin treated me differently and I felt it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn't move here. It's almost unfair to compare the two in terms of nightlife. In Toronto you're lucky if a place is open until 4 AM. Here, most clubs only open at midnight. Every weekend there are world class bookings and one can get spoiled and obnoxious about that. But beyond that, in the fine arts, music festivals, etc. compared to Berlin, Toronto appears deeply culturally conservative. Like a little Protestant hamlet that fancies itself a world class metropolis. But that likely comes down to my taste.
Berlin does much better than my hometown with addressing topics of gender identity/sex positivity, but I feel very lucky to have been raised in Toronto, which is an internationally multicultural place. We grow up hearing Cantonese, Bengali, Tamil. We share space with people from all walks of life and cultures and think nothing of it. This place is definitely considered multicultural for Europe, but I get the sense that when people say that word here, they mean on a trans-continental level. Is my quality of life here better? Yes and no. The party vortex can swallow people whole. I've seen it happen in my life and in those close to me. It's easy to stuff one's real feelings here as there is always some extremely intense stimuli with which to distract oneself….but to this day all I have to do is walk down an unfamiliar street, and I'm in love again like it's my first hour here. -Michael-David Blostein , performer
Toronto’s current vacancy rate for rental housing is 1.2 percent. Rents in the city are expected to go up another seven per cent this year. It has made finding and keeping an affordable apartment in the city difficult.
I left because my partner got a job in Montreal. It wasn’t until I left that I realized how limited and maxed out I was by the city without noticing it. I’d been there my entire adult life and assumed it would be the only place I could live in the country but I was wrong. In Toronto we were paying $2,000 a month. It was a recently remodeled place but in a really rough neighborhood. A shooting murder happened outside our place a few weeks before leaving. Now we live in a luxury apartment in old Montreal. It has floor to ceiling windows and a porno shower for … the exact same rental price. I didn’t realize how abusive Toronto was around affordability. Every day me and my partner share links of [a Montreal] walk-up or detached house for under 450k. That buys you a storage unit in Toronto. -Matt Thomas, producer
I had just turned 25 and had a bit of an existential crisis manifest as a breakdown.Wanting a change, I moved from Toronto, traveled for a bit, and settled in New York for about four years. New York had a more diverse social scene, and even though it was more expensive it strangely felt cheaper. I was working under the table, so I was only living off of tips. But there were some nights where I would make my rent in one shift. New Yorkers know how to tip. I’ve been back in Toronto for awhile, my visa was up around the time Trump was elected, and the rent I’m paying for my bachelor apartment right now in Toronto is only marginally cheaper than the rent I was paying for my apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And when I left my apartment in Williamsburg, I had New York City at my feet. Whereas here I have the lovely sights of Sherbourne and Bloor. I was paying just over a thousand a month in Brooklyn. I was one of three roommates in a three bedroom three bathroom three balcony two floor apartment in Williamsburg. A stones throw from my favourite queer hangouts, and two blocks from the subway line. And now I’m paying around $1,050 a month for a bachelor apartment. The only reason it’s $1,050 is because I’ve been here for a number of years. The people who are moving into the building now are paying about $400 a month more than I am. -Raymond Miller, bartender/actor/occasional go-go dancer
Public transit in Toronto has been plagued by controversy this year. The service has experienced frequent shutdowns , the PRESTO card payment system has been heavily criticized for technical issues, fare evasion has been met with increased policing on subways and streetcars, and proposed improvements have continued to be delayed . Despite all this fares continue to go up.
Paris’s metro and RER train system is excellent. Sixteen different lines, over 300 stops, with an average of only like two minutes between trains. I’ve never seen a line out of service in my time here aside from the strike earlier this year. The French love protesting. It is in their DNA and it might be why they’re blessed with 40 days holiday a year, great health care, and a bitching transit system. Like Toronto the trains aren’t 24 hours, but that’s about where the similarities end. Paris has a solid night bus system though. Paris is cheaper to ride, organised, and actually promises you can cross town much faster than in a car. In Toronto, Uber was the only way I could make a meeting on time. It may have been unaffordable but was genuinely quicker to drive compared to a streetcar situation. As much as I judged, I understood why people had cars living in Toronto, the transit alternative—ancient trams that go off the rails, two lines that somehow are always down, busses that may or may not show up—is just not reliable. The RER trains are I guess like the GO trains in that they connect the suburbs except in Paris they are part of your same transit ticket and connections are complementary and run all the time (again meaning no one has to drive into the city, the train is cheap and high speed). The bus system is also fast, new buses and every stop has live tracker signage to say when the next bus is arriving and some busses have USB cords. -Sarah Szloboda, digital marketer
[New York’s] MTC though a bit more chaotic and grimier than the TTC, but it is way more reliable. I don’t want to overly romanticize it but travelling around NYC is great because you can get off at any stop and experience something that feels unique to that corner of the city. Also it feels more like a cultural experience to ride, guerrilla spoken word, rap and dance performances. I feel like the TTC doesn’t have a culture outside of really bad fare evasion ads. The TTC never feels worth it, and each time there’s a price hike I get more comfortable walking everywhere; because I don’t have the money or the time and the new system barely makes sense. -Fatuma A., publisher
While tech jobs have been growing in Toronto, many in entertainment find it hard to make a living here, despite the city’s supposed world class status.
Leaving Toronto was really hard for me. I loved it, but it didn’t love me. I even kept my apartment for an entire year, paying double rent in two cities, in hopes that I would somehow come back. I had amazing representation in Toronto, but they couldn’t get me in the room for auditions. When I was home I was barely going out, and when I did, casting was cold and completely uninterested in me. But in L.A. I was auditioning all the time, for big projects, even though my resume was way more impressive to the Canadian eye. In Toronto my rep would call and say, “I have no idea why they just won’t see you for this, you’re perfect for it.” In L.A., I immediately booked a spot in the CBS diversity showcase within a few months of getting there.
When I booked the showcase I knew it was time to leave for good.
I have been hustling and working my ass off for seven years here, but I have seen periods of incredible momentum. I have had huge, colossal opportunities. I have been in rooms I had only ever dreamed of. I’ve met all my childhood idols, worked with some of them, and met people who had the same the sky's the limit attitude I have always had. When I come home now, I am amazed at how much more pretentious people are. L.A. has a superficial reputation, and it certainly lives up to it a lot of the time. But L.A. is self-aware. L.A. knows who it is and where it stands, and I like that. And I love, love, love Toronto with my whole heart, but it feels like a small town full of snobs to me now. If I had stayed I would have had to go back to school, and acting would’ve become a hobby. My immigrant mentality of always striving for bigger and better would’ve been stunted. -Tara M., actor
Interviews have been edited for length/flow.