Why Canadians Hate Toronto

Virtually every part of the country has reason to resent Toronto, for sins both real and imagined.

Ishmael N. Daro

Yeesh. Look at that thing. Photo via Flickr user Prayitno

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Resenting Toronto is a basic part of growing up in the Canadian prairies, where I am from.

We are taught from an early age that those who live "out East" are selfish swindlers intent on fucking over the rest of the country, and many people are still mad about policies that privileged Central Canadian elites over the Western provinces going as far back as John A. Macdonald's first government.

This hostility is by no means confined to the flat provinces, though. Virtually every region has reason to resent Toronto, for sins both real and imagined, but it usually comes down to the fact that so much of the country's wealth, power, and influence is based there. Hatred for the city is so universal it even spawned a documentary in 2007 titled Let's All Hate Toronto.

Having lived in Toronto for the past two years, I can confirm that exactly none of that hatred is misplaced.

Last week, Globe and Mail sports columnist Cathal Kelly helpfully reminded many Canadians why the country's largest city is so loathed outside its borders. In a lazy column about the FIFA Women's World Cup, Kelly lamented that the competition was kicking off in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium and not in Toronto. After gratuitously insulting Edmonton by calling it ugly and bush-league, and claiming the stadium holding the World Cup opener "says 'high school'" because it has a track around the field, he even suggested that "the real victim here is Toronto."

Kelly, who has many bad opinions, managed to provide in one piece of writing a perfect encapsulation of what makes Toronto so obnoxious to the rest of the country. The column both reinforced Torontonians' arrogant self-image of being the center of the country, if not the larger universe, while also making the city seem like a bunch of thin-skinned whiners.

While some people in Edmonton are up in arms over Kelly's column—the city famously has no chill—the most it truly deserves is some heavy eye-rolling. What, after all, does Toronto have to brag about?

Toronto considers itself a global city but can barely keep its aging infrastructure from crumbling. The transit system hasn't seen any meaningful expansion since the 1980s (as I write this the entire subway system has unexpectedly stopped working and we've been told there won't be any buses as backup). Taking a streetcar during rush hour? Then prepare to rub up against a dozen sweaty strangers on your way through the door as you pack yourself in like a sardine while elderly pedestrians on the sidewalk outpace your stilted progress. And good luck dating anyone who lives outside the areas served by this woefully inadequate transit system. Torontonians also incessantly talk about their commutes, much like I'm doing right now.

Everyone in T-dot (an awful nickname) wants to live south of Bloor Street, but housing is so damn expensive you'll end up in a tiny matchbox apartment or living with roommates well into your 30s. Nearly half the city's workforce gets by on precarious, often minimum-wage work, and they are increasingly priced out of core neighborhoods. The real estate market is even more insane than the rest of the city's economy, and a complete absence of any government action on the matter means more than 100,000 people are on waiting lists for public housing at any given time.

Downtowners hate the suburbs; the suburbs hate downtown. The only thing they agree on is that being forced into the same city through amalgamation was a colossal mistake, and they use every election to remind each other and produce city councils full of gridlock and infighting, with the biggest fight right now over a downtown overpass that you only really care about if you drive on it, like during one of those aforementioned commutes, which means you are from the suburbs, a delivery truck or a rich asshole. And there are a lot of rich assholes in Toronto.

Toronto gave us a mayor who called in the army for snow removal, something westerners and Maritimers only stopped laughing about when voters inflicted four years of Mayor Rob Ford on themselves. Despite the city's vaunted diversity and multiculturalism, it took years to convince the police to abandon the racist practice of carding, and only 14 people of color have ever been elected city councillors. The summer humidity makes it feel like you're walking through sweat soup. The SkyDome (sorry, Rogers Center) and CN Tower are not that interesting, even for tourists. The Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto's affairs also get universalized in a way that just doesn't ring true to the rest of the country. It leads to a minor story about a high school dress code becoming an issue of supposed national importance, as happened with "Crop Top Day" in May. Or consider the Toronto Raptors' obnoxious marketing tagline, "We The North" that claims ownership of the entire country's identity, even though the NBA is an afterthought in much of the country. This from a city where I have known people to boast about having never travelled west of Etobicoke.

Are there just as many reasons to love Toronto? Yes, for Torontonians. But the rest of the country doesn't give a shit about how nice the Don Valley is or how many street festivals are held for mac and cheese, how historic certain neighborhoods are or Drake's tattoos.

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Hating Toronto ultimately serves a much more important function than mere venting. For a country of only 35 million people spread out across a continent spanning six time zones, it can be hard to find meaningful national symbols upon which to forge common values and identity. Beavers and maple syrup? That's just tourist kitsch. But hating Toronto? Ah, now we're talking about a real common purpose.

The most painful part of the Toronto/Canada relationship, though, is that so many people eventually end up here whether they want to or not. Many journalists, for a personal example, can only get so far in their field before they have to consider moving to the Big Smoke. Same goes for comedians, actors, or any other creative field. Hell, you probably end up here if you're a lawyer or banker, too, if you want to make it to the top of your profession. With more than 5 million people in the Greater Toronto Area—about one seventh of the whole country's population—there's no denying the city has many opportunities simply not available elsewhere, and other parts of the country have for generations lost many of their young people to the megacity.

Like it or not, in a lot of ways Toronto is the best we've got. Toronto may not be the most prominent city we deserve, but it's the one we need... as a convenient focal point of our resentment, mockery, and hostility, while those within the city are mostly blissfully unaware of their awfulness.

Follow Toronto resident Ishmael N. Daro on Twitter.