Toronto the Good and Bad

Three things I really appreciate are live jazz, modern languages, and descent people. Toronto has all three in abundance.

Jazz at Massey Hall "The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever"

Jazz at Massey Hall “The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever”

On Friday, I was thrilled by the “Molly Johnson and Friends” jazz concert at Massey Hall, which is a splendid and venerable concert hall. Molly Johnson, who was delightful as always, is one of my favourite singers. One of her many fine guests was Denzal Sinclaire, whom I well knew would be worth the price of admission on his own. Her pianist for the evening was the outstanding Robi Botos. What a show!

On Saturday I met with a local international group a couple of blocks from home and spoke in Portuguese for two hours. On Sunday I went to a cafe a couple of blocks in the other direction and signed in ASL for two hours. On Wednesday I am going across the street to a Spanish/French evening where people from a dozen countries will switch from one language to the other every 30 minutes. Fun!

Today I heard a woman at the health food shop checkout say, “Last time I was here, the cashier undercharged me by two dollars. I hope it won’t screw up your accounts if I pay that back now.” Good!

What’s not to like about Toronto? Maybe it is just this: Toronto is a place where you hear great musicians giving a dazzling performance at a terrific venue, and the audience conducts itself as if it is trying not to get noticed, as if everyone snuck in on a school night and they are afraid they’ll get caught if they make too much noise. Decades ago, my mother saw the one and only Louis Armstrong play at [Massey Hall] the O’Keefe Centre, (which later became the Hummingbird Centre) and she says that the audience was so reserved he rolled his eyes and grumbled, “What a swingin’ crowd.” Same thing when I saw Ray Charles at the venue formerly known as the Hummingbird Centre; I wanted to shout at the audience “Come on, everybody; it’s Ray freaking Charles!” and I would have been heard without needing to shout.

Toronto has all kinds of good stuff, from the world’s greatest public library system to North America’s most comprehensive municipal recycling program, and of course endless opportunities to immerse yourself in food, music and languages from every corner of the globe. But somehow, Hogtown has no personality. Toronto is less than the sum of its parts.

It is said that Toronto looks down on the rest of Canada, and that the rest of Canada hates Toronto. From both sides, this is unfortunate and uncalled for. For better or worse, Canada and Toronto are not so different from one another. Both could and should be so much greater than they are. If only more parts of Canada had some of the stupendous resources Toronto has. If only Toronto had some of the personality that other parts of Canada have.

Sorry if I sound ungrateful, but I have to be honest about how I feel. I’m glad you’re here, Toronto, and I definitely don’t hate you, but you make me feel like a Toronto audience.



Filed under geography, languages and communication, music

11 responses to “Toronto the Good and Bad

  1. S

    What will you say about SJ?…

    • Hundreds of years ago, Saint John became Canada’s first incorporated city. In the Golden Age of shipping, Saint John was the fourth most important harbour in the British empire. When the automobile was invented, Saint John had the first one in Canada.
      Not much has happened since then.
      Oh, wait. The shipping industry kind of vanished a bit. Otherwise, nothing new to report.

    • Kevin Hendry

      I was at the Louis Armstrong concert at Massey Hall in 1953 too . The second session went on till 1 am .

  2. Dave

    If you want to ‘be the change’, why didn’t you holler and cheer and cause a ruckus when you saw Ray Charles?

  3. I can identify with everything you say, but perhaps you have defined Toronto’s personality, rather than lack thereof. Although it may no longer be referred to as Toronto-the-good, which was never meant in an admirable way, it still is Toronto-the-reserved – current mayor notwithstanding. Perhaps what is needed is ‘reserve with verve’, and then gradually work up to wild enthusisam. With you in the audience, I’m sure Ray Charles heard your hyperorthodox appaluse and it was music to his ears. Your contagious enthusiasm my yet wreak wonders (without havoc of course. It’s Toronto.)

  4. Yes, you’re right. Toronto’s personality is “reserved”. I suppose that’s better than the other extreme: Vancouver rioting when they lost a hockey game last year, or Montreal rioting when they won a hockey game the year before. (Fortunately, Toronto doesn’t tend to host hockey games of any significance.)

    It may be splitting hairs, but I’d prefer an expression of joie de vivre that falls somewhere between a polite golf-clap and looting amidst flames.

    • Oui, joie de vivre! Peut être in a few hundred years – or after December this year if the Mayans were right, Toronto et Montréal will be flung together and we will finally have the best of both worlds.
      Joyeux Noël!

  5. marcuspeddle

    About 17 years ago I went to a heavy metal concert in Daegu, Korea. It was held in the concert hall of a department store and before the show a man dressed in a suit came out to explain the therapeutic benefits of relieving stress through hard rock. He then introduced the first act. The band came out dressed in the usual metal-garb and the lead singer, a slightly chubby-faced man with a cute voice (my friend’s description) introduced his band very politely. Then he turned into a raving maniac, complete with shouting, jumping and using the microphone to demonstrate how he masturbates. The audience was strange as well. They sat politely in their seats until the music started and then they quietly walked to the front of the stage and started jumping up and down with the sign of the horns. When the song ended they would stop jumping and go back to their seats in an orderly manner. It was a very odd experience.

  6. Pingback: My Hometown and the Ballad of Johnny Montes | Good Evaning

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