A real hodge podge …

Do you ever think about who lives in your neighbourhood — not just your closest neighbours, but even those who live blocks and blocks away.  I can’t neighbourhoodsay I do, but today’s WordPress Daily Prompt has given me pause.

“Every city and town contains people of different classes:  rich, poor, and somewhere in between.  What’s it like where you live?  If it’s difficult for you to discern and describe the different types of classes in your locale, describe what it was like where you grew up — was it swimming pools and movie stars, industrial and working class, somewhere in between or something completely different?”

I live in an area of downtown Toronto called the Annex; and I’m happy to say it is truly a mixed bag. Here you’ll find it all.  Students, young families, singles, seniors, gays, straights and bisexuals, working class, white collar, professionals, professors, not-for-profit workers, creatives, every race, every ethnicity, the wealthy, the middle class (such as it is) and the strugglers.  Home owners and renters.  Those who have lived in the neighbourhood’s grand old houses forever (like the author, Margaret Atwood) and newcomers keen to modernize and leave their mark.

All mixed together like a big ol’ pot of really tasty stew!

In my apartment building alone, we’ve got a little bit of everything from 3 or 4 students sharing an apartment to old folks close to either moving to nursing homes or passing through heaven’s gates … young professionals saving up for their first home purchase to empty nesters downsizing after their kids have moved out … to thirty or forty somethings with school age children.  With pets of every description.  And we’ve got so many nationalities, we really should have a pot luck dinner some time.  I’m sure it would be a deliciously interesting meal.

We’ve got parks, museums, galleries, cafes, schools, University of Toronto, movie theatres, mom and pop shops, boutiques, vets, doctors, dentists, optometrists, social workers, restaurants that cater to vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike, book stores, hardware stores, hairdressers, barbers, yoga studios, gyms, a Y, drop-in centres, seniors centres, daycare and more.  All part of the neighbourhood.

Somehow it all works.

White-haired grannies mingle comfortably with 18 year olds with tattoos and nose rings.  Fashionistas don’t even blink at the sight of flamboyantly-clad cross-dressers.  Businessmen in suits and ties listen intently to students less than half their age.  BMWs and Mercedes are parked right next to shabby bicycles and baby carriages.  People eat huge cheeseburgers at one table and hummus at the next.  Big old homes that have been turned into frat houses are right next to multi-million dollar homes that have been renovated to within an inch of their lives.

All of which is very different from where I grew up, in Montreal.

When I was 9 years old my parents bought their first home, in the suburbs (although it was only about a 15-minute drive to downtown).  Decidedly middle class — which in those days, really was middle class — unlike today, where the middle class is struggling to make ends meet — and is rapidly disappearing.  Ours was a street of virtually identical split level bungalows.  Sort of Edward Scissorhands, now that I think about it.

Every home was owned (no renters) and housed what was considered a traditional family — at least back then:  A mother, a father and kids.  I’m an only child, but most of our neighbours had two or three kids.  There was an assortment of pets — some dogs, no cats, a fair share of budgies, goldfish, turtles and hamsters.  Everyone was caucasian and English was the language spoken at home.

My parents were anything but racist.  In those days that’s how the city was.  The French lived in different sections of the city, as did other ethnic groups.  I much prefer the way it is today, but back then we didn’t know any different.

The dads were lawyers, accountants, dentists or in business — as my father was.  The mothers stayed home to take care of the kids and run the households.  Everyone had a gardener and someone to shovel the snow.  Most were 2-car families.  Most had some form of domestic help — either live-in or weekly cleaning ladies.  It was expected that boys would go to University or college and girls would get married.

Ha!  I sure blew that notion out of the water.

What went on inside the houses — at least in mine — was totally different.  Luckily my parents were true liberals.  I had (as did they) friends of every size, shape, colour, race and religion.  Those who were physically challenged and those who were not.  Those with pots of money and those with nothing.  And those comfortably in the middle.

From as far back as I can remember, our house was a total free-for-all.  My mother always cooked enough food for a small army.  It was a rare night, indeed, when it was just the 3 of us around the dinner table.  And what a cook she was!  One night it was Chinese, another Italian, another Japanese, another French, another Jewish, another Hungarian and on and on it went.  She only had to eat a dish once and she was always able to figure out how to make it herself.

Prep for living in the Annex.  How lucky am I?

And you?

39 thoughts on “A real hodge podge …

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  3. Yes, very lucky! Your current neighborhood reminds me a bit of mine, except that my neighborhood is a suburb of Philadelphia. We’re only 15 minutes to Center City by train (with two train stations within walking distance of my house), and we’re very diverse in terms of race/ethnicity and professional backgrounds (except that there seems to be a disproportionately high percentage of public interest attorneys!). It’s actually where I grew up. After a few years in the city, we decided to move back for the public schools. I love living here.

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  9. I agree. Diversity makes life so much more interesting and flavorful. The Annex sounds delightful as does the mix of residents in your apartment dwelling. How fortunate you are to have had such open minded and accepting parents! It sounds like you and your parents added some much needed color and substance to the otherwise bland palette of cookie cutter suburbia. You are indeed very lucky!

    • I AM very lucky, I know. The ANNEX is definitely a fabulous place to live. And I must admit, Toronto is a multi-cultural success story.

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  14. Your neighborhood sounds wonderful, a lot like the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, where we still keep an apartment but do not currently reside. We are living in suburbia these days for the sake of the kids, so they can grow up in a house with a yard (can’t afford that in the city), opportunities for extracurriculars, and good public schools. It’s a little more bland, but not as much as some communities. Our suburb has a thriving downtown with locally owned shops and restaurants, a small private college, a wonderful parks department, and some racial diversity. It’s not a bad place to live, but I’m a city girl at heart. We plan to return when the kids finish high school. Great post – I loved picturing Toronto through your descriptive prose.

  15. Your neighbourhood sounds so interesting. I live in an inner city, high-rise apartment at the moment. Fabulous views, but the neighbours are a worry (we recently had a serious bashing, involving a lot of blood and a victim who did NOT want the police’s help, in our hallway – originating from the apartment next door) – hopefully moving into a small, heritage cottage on the edge of the inner city soon, fingers crossed 😀

    • Yes, you had a photo of your view in a blog post not so long ago. Absolutely gorgeous. But it’s a shame about your neighbour. Sadly that could, and does, happen everywhere. Love the idea of the heritage cottage. Good luck! I look forward to seeing photos on your blog.

  16. Hmmm… yes I would suggest you were/are very lucky… my childhood memories don’t quite match up to yours! Which makes it all the worse that ‘things’ are going backwards… :-/ More activism needed – the aspirationals have become too privileged and everyone else is too complacent!

  17. I was born in NYC in the diverse Little Italy/Lower East Side (the 60s), We moved out to the Jersey suburbs, along with a lot of other young families at the time. There it was pretty much lily white. What was interesting was because everyone was from somewhere else, it never felt too homogenous. But it certainly was different.(flannel shirts/Lynyrd Skynyrd/keeping up with Jones/subdivision). I wound up moving away as fast as I could! 🙂

    • Yeah, I don’t see you hanging around there for long :). But it sounds like your ‘burbs were pretty much like mine. ‘Twas the times …

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