Toronto is a vibrant city with a burgeoning waterfront; in fact the city plans to invest billions in a waterfront revitalization project. The project is progressing in stages with a projected completion date of 2020. The plan includes converting a driving lane into a pedestrian/bike lane along Queens Quay West, with a large walking promenade and plenty of space to enjoy the outdoors. The Toronto Waterfront Nautical Festival took place only one week prior to our own Charleston Harbor Fest, and in fact, both cities share a common thread in their celebration of the beauty and history of their home harbor and the historic ships that charm their ports. At the festival we learned of the city’s excitement in preparing for Canada Day weekend 2010 (June 30-July 4), when Toronto anticipates 1 million visitors. The city will host an international fleet of Tall Ships, serving as key port in the Great Lakes United Tall Ships Challenge.
The skies cleared and the sun broke through just in time for the welcome launch of the Toronto Waterfront Nautical Festival sponsored by Redpath Sugar, where a special reception aboard the Tall Ship Sandy took us on a cruise through the Toronto Harbour beneath a flawless blue sky. At the festival I enjoyed the pleasure of meeting City Councillor Michael Thompson, who taught me the city motto, “Diversity is our Strength,” a motto reflective of his own Jamaican heritage- “Out of Many one People.”
Councillor Thompson shared memories of his treasured childhood in Jamaica, where he enjoyed many material comforts and the security of a large extended family. However his time there was cut short; when he was still a young boy he was torn away from his beautiful island home to join his mother- a hard working nurse with a demanding work schedule- in a Toronto suburb.
As a black boy with Jamaican roots growing up in Canada, Councillor Thompson longed for a sense of influence, and he understood with wisdom beyond his years that the path of politics would serve as his best instrument of change. He envisioned an ethnically diverse city respectful of differences, and now as representative of ward 37- the Western half of Scarborough- he continues to fight passionately for the dreams of his childhood. He strives to maintain the integrity of distinct cultural communities and practices in Toronto while also promoting the common awareness of Canadian Culture.
Councillor Thompson has fought passionately to snap people out of complacency, pushing them beyond their comfort zone by challenging them to talk about difficult issues like on black on black violence among inner city youth. He has worked diligently to reduce gang violence, promote community safety/crime prevention, and beautify the city parks and waterfront area. He introduced the concept of youth forums throughout the city designed to teach young people to connect with a cause, find their true voice and develop the confidence and conviction needed to bring about change.
For me, Councillor Thompson became the friendly face of Toronto- a face representative of a city where multiple waves of immigration have resulted not only in a celebration of diversity but also a deep sense of peaceful integration- an exceedingly liberal city where an entire neighborhood is dedicated to the celebration of gay life (in fact one million supporters are expected to attend the gay pride parade). With all that Toronto is today and the ideals the city continues to strive for, I was not surprised to find myself sitting on a park bench in the midday sun with a man like Councillor Thompson. He is a rare and special soul who- despite his busy schedule- somehow created the time to roll up his shirt sleeves and share with me the story of this very special city as seen from his own eyes.
I wish I had more time to spend in Toronto. The city is bursting with intrigue and offers something for everyone- trendy designer boutiques for the shopaholics, a multitude of outdoor festivals (Jazz, Blues, Nautical, Tall Ships, ethnic, art, etc.) gorgeous city parks, gardens and a bustling waterfront for the nature lovers, Rogers Centre and some of the finest public golf courses in North America for the athletic minded, art galleries, theatres and music venues for the art connoisseurs and even something for the entire family seeking amusement for easily bored youngsters. Ontario Place, for example, offers water parks, rides, and others attractions for the entire family, as does the Toronto Zoo, Hockey Hall of Fame the Ontario Science Center and the impressive 399 acre High Park, home to many forms of wildlife, rare plant species, a nature center and a children’s garden. Toronto is the entertainment capital of Canada, and home to one of the largest film festivals in the world.
Toronto is a city of nearly 6 million people, and it offers a wealth of experiences unmatched anywhere else in Canada. Perhaps the single best feature of the city is its striking sense of contrast. Toronto maintains the energetic pulse and rich ethnic diversity characteristic of a large city, while also cultivating the laid back vibe of a small waterfront community where beautiful parks, outdoor festivals, friendly faces and blue skies beckon. Travelers with an adventurous spirit and appreciation for premium service should check out Porter Airlines at www.flyporter.com. The flights leave out of Newark and arrive directly in the heart of downtown Toronto- a 5 minute ferry ride from the city’s beautiful and welcoming harbourfront. Should you find yourself in need of a big city fix, why not try something different this time with a visit to our neighbors north of the border? If you do make the trip, I am willing to bet you will not be disappointed.