Canadians outside Toronto snickered when its media began discovering chinks in the city’s armor. Crime. Pollution. Traffic. High prices. A shortage of affordable housing. Drugs. All that big-city stuff. Something was wrong with Toronto, Toronto suddenly discovered.
The first reports of an outflow began only a few months ago. Now, all of a sudden, you can hardly open a newspaper without seeing another story about some more people leaving Toronto for other places. It is a world-class exit.
Like so many things that happen to Toronto, it echoes something that is going on south of the border. In the past year, more than a quarter of a million people have moved out of California. The number leaving this year is almost 60,000 higher than that of two years ago. Bothered by smog, traffic and crime, Californians are moving, many of them to the northwest—Washington and Oregon—but some to states as far away as Texas, Florida and Arkansas.
Where are Torontonians moving? To kinder and gentler places, if you’ll pardon the expression. The people who are leaving Toronto don’t like the fast lane anymore. They don’t like the pace. They don’t like the competitiveness. They are worried about their health. Years ago, they came to Toronto because they wanted to reach the top. Now, they have decided that the top is not worth reaching. So they are going beyond the suburbs. They are going away. They are going to Peterborough and Kingston and Owen Sound. They are going beyond Peterborough and Kingston and Owen Sound—they are going to Halifax and Victoria and Regina.
If there was snickering at Toronto’s troubles, it has stopped in Halifax and Victoria and Regina. The first Torontonians are beginning to arrive. More are expected, and the fear is that they will bring some of their erstwhile home’s hard-driving lifestyle with
Charles Gordon is a columnist with The Ottawa Citizen.
Rid of the slowermoving types who only clogged things up, Toronto’s honkers and tailgaters will have the city to themselves
them; there is terror at the thought of Victoria becoming full of expressways and restaurant critics.
But early indications are that it will not happen. Descriptions of the first phases of the world-class exit portray a breed of expatriate Torontonians who are looking not to conquer but to slow down. It is a nice thought—oncefame-crazed, money-hungry Torontonians coming to their senses, heading off for green fields, gentle breezes and friendly communities where there is no rush hour and people say howdy. Those of us who live in communities like that—and of course Ottawa is certainly one—prepare to extend a hearty welcome to ex-Torontonians, as long as they leave their car phones at home and don’t start insisting that their children be taught accounting in fouryear-old kindergarten. Perhaps a saner, more peaceful nation will be the result. The only thing is .. .
Well, the only thing is what Toronto becomes after all the people who hate traffic and the rat race leave Toronto. By process of elimination, the only people left in Toronto will be people who like traffic and the rat race. There are people like that. They are what’s wrong with Toronto and every other great city,
and the world. They honk, tailgate, break into line, get ulcers and give them. They push their children, their schools and their brokers. They panic-buy and panic-sell. They drive up the price of housing. Now, they and only they will be left in Toronto—they and the poor unfortunates who can’t afford to move out. Rid of the slower-moving types who only clogged up the fast lane, the honkers and tailgaters will have the city to themselves.
And that, the horrible thought continues, means that the honkers and tailgaters, having opted to stay, will run the country, to an even greater extent than they run it now. We all know that Toronto runs the country, even those of us who live in Ottawa, where people are paid fairly large sums to pretend they run the country. Toronto is the business centre, the media centre. Toronto sets the style for the rest of Canada. Think of the style it will set now.
Those who run from the top are leaving the top to somebody else. They may, in some instances, think it is now possible to get to the top without going through Toronto on the way. In a story entitled “Harried Torontonians swapping urban trendiness for tranquillity,” The Globe and Mail quotes literary agent Peter Livingston as thinking he can do all right in Halifax, with computer and fax and maybe a couple of visits a year to Toronto keeping him in touch. That, of course, was the dream a few years ago when the term “electronic cottage” was on many lips. The computer and its communications software would free us from the office, free us to live and work wherever we pleased.
The dream had a hard go of it initially. It was not that people were unable to work outside the office; it was that bosses didn’t much care for the idea, once they had seen it in action. They liked their workers where they could see them. And the workers found the electronic cottage was ill-equipped to allow them to shine in meetings and play the kind of office politics that would enable them to merge into the fast lane. They put the electronic shutters on the electronic cottage and scurried back to the office.
Perhaps this new generation of ex-urbanites will find what they are looking for. Many of them seem to be severing even their electronic links with those big Toronto office buildings and taking up new careers and new jobs in their new cities. They deserve happiness. But if they find it, they will leave a gap behind.
It is not pleasant to consider it, but face it we must. There will be empty offices in Toronto. Somebody will have to fill them. As the worldclass exit gathers speed (assuming it can get onto the 401), there will be empty tables in cute restaurants in Toronto. There will be empty limousines, unleased cellular phones. All of which can mean only one thing: it will be incumbent upon Canadians with the right instincts to make the supreme sacrifice and move to Toronto, to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. You out there: you gentle, slowmoving, not-terribly-ambitious Canadians; you in the right-hand lane, going a steady 100 km/h: your country needs you.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.