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The top 10 cliches about Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / August 25, 2014

Toronto clichesCliches about Toronto have varying degrees of accuracy, even as they shape the discourse about our city. Whether true or fair, cliches are at least a useful way to examine how a city collectively thinks of itself -- or in some cases, how it's thought of from afar. The idea that Toronto is a polite city, for instance, is a something I've regularly heard from visitors but less so from people who actually live here. Our multiculturalism, on the other hand, tends to be universally acknowledged, even if only in the most superficial, let's-pat-ourselves-on-the-back type way.

Here's a stab at highlighting some of the most prevalent cliches about Toronto. Naturally, the list is subjective, though I've reached out to fellow writers, our Twitter followers and others to generate the list. Please join the discussion and add additional suggestions in the comment section.

Toronto is a city that hates fun
Perhaps the longest standing cliche about Toronto stems from our Victorian stuck-upishness. Toronto the Good, we have long been referred to, and it's still rather common to see how our love of rules gets in the way of novel ways of having fun, from bans on pinball machines to dance parties to patio licences. Accuracy rating: 8/10.

People from Toronto are exceedingly polite
Torontonians are notorious for saying "thank you" at every opportunity, and out of that the city has built itself a reputation as one of the politest urban centres in the world. This is a place where people form neat lines to wait for streetcars and buses, one expects others to hold doors open for them when passing through buildings, and you'd never dream of someone stealing your cab. But is all this a matter of politeness or passivity? Accuracy rating: 7/10.

Toronto is the world's most multicultural city
From an international standpoint, Toronto's multiculturalism is what the city is best known for. Is it a cliche? Yes, insofar as it's an overused descriptor and I'm not convinced that there's always much of substance being referred to when people laud Toronto for its diversity. On the other hand, when one goes further and notes how diverse our food and festival scenes are and how crucial the multicultural makeup of our neighbourhoods is to the city's cultural economy, statements about our diversity reveal just how important it is to our identity. Accuracy rating: 9/10 (docked one point because it's hard to prove that we are the most multicultural city in the world).

People from the suburbs hate downtown elites and vice versa
A more recent phenomenon -- at least since the creation of the megacity in 1995 -- the tension between downtown and the suburbs seemed to reach a fever pitch during the last mayoral election in which Rob Ford successfully polarized the discourse, pitting cyclists against drivers, home owners against apartment dwellers, etc. There's certainly real tension between the demands of suburban residents and their downtown counterparts, but the animosity between these groups is just a tad overstated. Accuracy rating: 6/10.

Toronto is the centre of universe
Toronto is often accused of this global egocentrism, but it's probably more apt to say that we're guilty of thinking we're the centre of the country. It's important to bear in mind, of course, that we also suffer from a collective self consciousness that sees us worry about our stature as a world class city. Almost half the country lives in Southern Ontario and feeds off of Toronto's economy, so it's understandable why we might think this way. Accuracy rating: 6/10.

Other cliches about Toronto

Toronto is the best hockey city in the world. -- Accuracy rating: 6/10 (we need to win something).

Toronto just wants to be like New York. -- Accuracy rating: 4/10 (our New York envy has waned over the years, recent posts notwithstanding).

Toronto is as clean a city as there is out there. -- Accuracy rating: 9/10 (For a big city, Toronto is remarkably clean).

Toronto is crippled by traffic congestion. -- Accuracy rating: 8/10 (While some cities have it worse, Toronto traffic is the pits).

Toronto is a city of incorrigible latte-sipping hipsters. -- Accuracy rating: 4/10 (Yes, there's a wealth of indie coffee shops, but conspicuous coffee consumers do not a city make).

Photo by John Tavares in the blogTO Flickr pool.

Discussion

57 Comments

Stu / August 25, 2014 at 03:04 pm
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Since when were Torontonians polite? LOLOLOLOLOLOL
I'mFuckingPoliteDammit! / August 25, 2014 at 03:12 pm
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I've lived here for 20+ years now...and have noticed that as the city becomes more multicultural....the less polite people in general seem to be.

Just my own personal observation...no need to brand me a racist.
yuck / August 25, 2014 at 03:20 pm
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blogto = buzzfeed canada
bev replying to a comment from I'mFuckingPoliteDammit! / August 25, 2014 at 03:23 pm
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I agree with I'm.....PolitDammit!
More ethnicity less polite...learn Canadian manners everyone!
Daria / August 25, 2014 at 03:24 pm
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Torontonians polite? Hahaha, try again.
p / August 25, 2014 at 03:26 pm
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"Toronto is a city that hates fun"

I don't think that has been true ever since Mel Lastman was mayor. He definitely didn't have a problem with the Barenaked Ladies... unlike Barbara Hall, his predecessor.

"People from the suburbs hate downtown elites and vice versa"

Yeah except that many from the suburbs come downtown to have fun... LOL

"Toronto is the centre of universe"

Economically speaking and within Canada, that's true... and has been getting more and more true since the 1980s. Once upon a time, it was Montreal. But that was before the separatist movement got big.

"Toronto is the best hockey city in the world. "

More like the most blindly optimistic hockey city in the world.

"Toronto is crippled by traffic congestion"

I disagree with this. Just this past weekend I got downtown easily to get to a Jays game from the west end/Etobicoke. I had to run some errands before going... used my car for that. And when it was time to go, I drove to the nearest subway station (Old Mill), parked for free nearby, and took the subway the rest of the way. I could have also taken the GO train, the street car near me or my bicycle.

The only people who are "crippled" are the dimwits who can't imagine going anywhere without a car... and that's mostly suburbanites who never take public transit, don't want to figure out how to get somewhere with public transit and insist on taking their cars from their home right to their destination.
Mike Harris / August 25, 2014 at 03:29 pm
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I created the Megacity in 1998, not 1995.
WMEIW! / August 25, 2014 at 03:37 pm
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Worst Mayor Ever In World! 10/10
cynthia replying to a comment from p / August 25, 2014 at 03:38 pm
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It was actually not Barbara Hall who had a problem with Barenaked Ladies, it was June Rowlands. Many people get that fact mixed up.
WPE-MH / August 25, 2014 at 03:38 pm
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Worst Premier Ever-Mike Harris!
Captain Obvious replying to a comment from Rick / August 25, 2014 at 03:58 pm
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so why are you still here?
Steve replying to a comment from Rick / August 25, 2014 at 03:59 pm
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Sad to be you to feel that way about yourself.

Toronto people are generally polite, don't confuse those you interact with at Yonge and Dundas, or events they are the 905ers you are meeting.
Mister LJ replying to a comment from Stu / August 25, 2014 at 04:06 pm
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I find that people anywhere are as polite as you allow them to be, meaning if you are polite, they will be to.
I'm not a born Torontonian, but I've lived here for a decade, and I have found that Torontonians are (for the most part) very polite compared with other cities in Canada.
RH / August 25, 2014 at 04:09 pm
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It's hard to prove we're multicultural? That's pretty weak. Grab the most recent census info and compare.
Mister LJ replying to a comment from Rick / August 25, 2014 at 04:09 pm
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That seems like a large generalization that you are making about close to six million people. It seems like you may have a confirmation bias that makes you notice rude or obnoxious people more than nice ones. I assure you that Toronto (like any population, large or small) has its share of idiots, but most Torontonians (just like anywhere else) are perfectly pleasant, approachable, decent people.
I think your comment says more about you than it does about Toronto!
Becca / August 25, 2014 at 04:15 pm
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...this is satire, right?
Cal / August 25, 2014 at 04:26 pm
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Polite? Are you frigging kidding me? It never fails to amaze me how downright rude people are in this city on a daily basis.
Toronto / August 25, 2014 at 04:33 pm
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Might as well expel Irwin Mimico while your at it.
davidd replying to a comment from p / August 25, 2014 at 04:35 pm
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Not barbara hall, june rowlands.
Craig replying to a comment from Steve / August 25, 2014 at 04:44 pm
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It is usually the transplants that out themselves with the 416 vs 905 idiocy.
Kim / August 25, 2014 at 04:51 pm
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I'm amazed that anyone still characterizes this city as "clean". Part of the reason is that I've lived in this city all my life and in 50+ years I've seen it deteriorate due to crumbling infrastructure (we never used to accept weeds growing from the edges of curbs or concrete medians, for example), as well as a general increase in people who don't care and who litter freely. It's not terrible, but it could be much better and I think a lot of other cities have made great strides in cleanliness in recent years, to the point that what was once a selling point now makes us just average.

And while most of these assessments are largely subjective, the point about traffic congestion is not. Statistics about commuting times and highway 401 as one of the worst highways for congestion on the continent for congestion are well known.
Chris Lea / August 25, 2014 at 04:53 pm
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Toronto has a political class and plenty of NIMBYs who are a bit afraid of fun (the Mayor obviously excepted), but despite this there is no shortage of ways to have fun in Toronto.

It seems more likely that strangers will react kindly if you are kind to them. Really it makes life easier and many people in Toronto understand this. Many newcomers come from unkind places, so it can take them a bit to figure this out. On the other hand many are attracted to Toronto (and Canada) because it is so often gentle and quickly adopt the more usual habit of the denizens of this city to be polite.

While Rob Ford did what he could to cleave the 'burbs from downtown, the bigger divide is the development of an underclass whose needs are ignored or at odds with those driving Escalades. All really large cities have an underclass, it will take concentrated effort to minimize the negative effects of our growing underclass, which will only get harder if the social contract of kindness is lost.
RM / August 25, 2014 at 05:06 pm
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Best "Hockey city" is Montreal. No contest. Arguably the best team in the NHL, unarguably the most passionate fans, the biggest arena, one of the longest histories... the Hall of Fame might be in Toronto, but that's just because it's the only way we'll ever get near the Cup in person. Montreal is the Hockey Capitol, and that's it.
SteveM / August 25, 2014 at 05:10 pm
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That "politeness rating" also ranked NYC first so...
RM / August 25, 2014 at 05:13 pm
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Oh, and general note: in my experience, people who think that everyone is rude are usually rude themselves. Most people give what they get- I believe that nothing is ever solved by rudeness and politeness is my default, but if someone is rude to me, then eventually I'll just stop trying.
It's like people who complain about bad service wherever they go. If you're consistently experiencing poor service, then you're probably being an asshole to service people.
ROB FORD ON CRACK / August 25, 2014 at 05:15 pm
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FORD MORE YEARS PINKOS!! The Filipinos love me!
Gary replying to a comment from Rick / August 25, 2014 at 05:31 pm
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Toronto is not only the most multicultural city in the world but it also has the best mix. Our ethnic groups are not pushed to one side of the city, we are everywhere. There is also a great mix of nationalities, from all parts of the world. The best thing is, we maintain strong ethnic areas, yet we all mix together and get along so well. What other city offers so many options? No city mixes it up like this city. It's all in the mix!
Steve replying to a comment from Craig / August 25, 2014 at 05:36 pm
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Was born here, grew up in north Etobicoke, lived downtown for the past 35 years. It takes time but you learn who is polite and who is not, and more often then not it is the visitor to the city.
Goin on down the road / August 25, 2014 at 05:38 pm
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I heard there was lots of Doctor'in and lawyer'in jobs up there in Toronto
Kirsten replying to a comment from bev / August 25, 2014 at 05:56 pm
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Sadly, I agree with your observations. I alas believe kindness breeds kindness. I try to lead by example. I was raised to use good manners and I live accordingly regardless of what comes back to me.
Kirsten replying to a comment from bev / August 25, 2014 at 05:57 pm
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Opps, I meant " also" not " alas".
W. K. Lis / August 25, 2014 at 06:50 pm
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Toronto public transit users generally like streetcars, 7/10.

Toronto single-occupant automobile drivers generally hate streetcars, 7/10.
Toronto / August 25, 2014 at 07:10 pm
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Rick is still shit. So is Rob Ford.
MK / August 25, 2014 at 07:22 pm
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I agree that Torontonias are freaking rude, and it's not like we live in an overpopulated and congested city. There're no excuses for being such a-holes.
William / August 25, 2014 at 07:44 pm
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Let me tell you a story some white folk told me when I was a teen going to a high school near a retirement home. He told me that back in the 70s, his neighbourhood knew each other, very friendly, would help each other out, and most importantly, everyone is nice. Then new people started coming in; how new immigrants only hang out with their own, which was rude of them, forming cliques in the city like Chinatown, Little Portugal...etc. So people started moving further away like to Oakville to avoid the city. And then he told me since I grew up knowing English, I would have a more civilized future.

First off, that proved the old folks weren't nice polite people at all. Seeing someone new, struggling with a new language and life, they criticized them for seeking out help from people they can understand? So much for being a helping neighbour. Leaving the 'rude' behind.

Toronto isn't a rude city at all. It's full of immigrants/second+ generations. People may look to their newspaper, close their eyes on subway rides, and not saying hello to people, but that doesn't make them rude. Torontonians keep to themselves, that's it. Cause that's how the folks from the 70s taught us to be. If you engage someone in a conversation, you'd see a different side of 'rude'.

Living in Toronto during the 80s and early 90s was tough. Racism was pretty much common. The rudeness now is nothing compared to back then. So yeah, I would agree how accepting and polite Toronto is now.
linden / August 25, 2014 at 07:50 pm
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"Toronto is a city that hates fun"-it is not that hates fun but the idea of fun is more on the boring side. Maybe, one day, when people are allowed to have a glass of wine or a beer in a park or other public spaces, I may change my mind.
Over the years I also observed more rude people on the streets of Toronto and unfortunately kindness is not contagious; no matter how many time you offer your seat on TTC, act politely, let people pass in front of you, you will encounter people who push and charge you. Rush hour is like a zoo, you can ask any parent with young children or pregnant women taking TTC. Pushing a child just so one does not miss that 5:05 GO train must be the highlight of their day.

John / August 25, 2014 at 08:05 pm
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You have no control on the politeness of others however only worry about yourself, be polite and it will be contagious...
Röbbe Fjord / August 25, 2014 at 08:25 pm
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Our cousin robbie & duggie say they have giant ferris wheel in toronto harbor, yah?
More tired articles / August 25, 2014 at 09:11 pm
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"Toronto is a city that hates fun"
_______

Yup. One too many ex-Montrealers on your staff. Can smell it a mile away, and it would explain the Poutine Love Fests that occur on BlogTO weekly. "ROC'ers" (Rest of Canada) work hard to keep alive every negative stereotype about Toronto. It is all so boring, so old and so predictable.
iSkyscraper / August 25, 2014 at 10:08 pm
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Toronto's cleanliness is a matter of context. Overall, sure, the city is pretty clean because most of it is still comprised of healthy neighbourhoods with lots of home ownership, something that is rare in many big cities.

But in its showcase areas, Toronto is not clean. Not at all. NYC or Chicago or SF or any other city take much more care in keeping their downtown and tourist areas neat and shiny. Toronto hides behind "messy urbanism" but is really just plain messy in many ways.

One other myth - City in a Park. Please. Most arterial streets in Toronto have NO street trees, or sickly ones. The city depends entirely on its side streets and residential zones for tree cover. Other cities have fantastic street trees even on their commercial streets - the only wood you'll see on such streets in Toronto is a telephone pole. It's a shockingly concrete and barren city if you focus on the showcase areas.

Mar / August 25, 2014 at 10:27 pm
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We aren't the centre of the universe and we don't think we are. Canadians say we think we are the centre of the universe because we think about our place in the world while the rest of them think about their place in canada and are unable to see themselves in the big picture. That's their problem not ours. :)
Jacob / August 25, 2014 at 11:35 pm
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I've lived in three major Canadian cities, and every time I moved I was warned about how rude everyone supposedly was wherever I was headed. It's always nonsense, most often spouted by people who are, themselves, huge jerks.

Oops replying to a comment from I'mFuckingPoliteDammit! / August 25, 2014 at 11:45 pm
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@"ImFuckngPoliteDammit" -- Your own observations is precisely what brands you a racist, though.


How 'bout THEM apples?
Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice / August 26, 2014 at 12:36 am
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I hear there's lots of doctorin' and lawyerin' jobs in Toronto.
Douglas / August 26, 2014 at 01:02 am
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Torontonians are polite? Ask any waiter, waitress or retail salesperson. After 35 years as a server I rarely ever hear a thank you from guests.
TJ / August 26, 2014 at 08:04 am
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I moved from Toronto to London UK in 1991. And I LOVE coming home. Take it from someone who's spent 22 years in Europe (and 2 in NYC before that): compared to other major capital cities around the world - Toronto IS polite. And clean. And friendly. Please. If I had my way, I'd move back in a fucking second.
Amy / August 26, 2014 at 08:29 am
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As a customer I rarely here a "thank you for coming" or "welcome to our restaurant" from servers as well.
Amy / August 26, 2014 at 08:35 am
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So many restaurantsnow act like theyre doing a big favor for cutomers just by being open. Theres a whole "you're lucky to be here" "you lucky to get a seat here" mentality. Get over it! Your in the service industry give me great service and good product without attitude and we'll all be happy. Otherwise I can take my business elsewhere. Ohh and I say thank you with my tip.
Hatty / August 26, 2014 at 11:43 am
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Relax and learn how to take a compliment, Toronto. You don't have to automatically bristle with rage and defend your honour as being third rate. I mean really, how perverse is that? I've never seen this kind of Pavlovian response in any other city I've been to. People need to travel around the world and go outside the tourist areas of other cities a bit to discover how impolite, and how filthy most other big cities are. I suppose if you've lived all your life in small town Canada and Toronto is your only big city context then you may not think it is all that clean. But compared to other big cities around the world it is spotless. Friendly? In Canadian terms I find Toronto as friendly if not more so than other Canadian cities. I've never found Western cities to be particularly friendly, especially Vancouver and in Montreal there will always be a slight barrier to comfortable friendliness because of the language.
Fun? I have PLENTY of fun in Toronto, in plenty of different neighbourhoods. If you aren't having fun then maybe the problem is you. Toronto is a relaxed, liberal city with tons to do and see. It's actually okay not to deny it.
JMB2 replying to a comment from Amy / August 26, 2014 at 02:03 pm
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I've live in a number of "bad service cities" and it can definitely add to the stress of everyday errands. But I'm not so sure a city can or should base it's "friendliness rating" on the friendliness of low wage, high stress industry workers like servers and waitresses. There's just too many fallacies with doing so.

If anyone in Toronto would have cause to be pissed off at life in Toronto, it'd be the "typical wage" waitress. They experience the worst in humanity, only to get repeatedly stiffed by the same customers who have $500K-$2M socked away in investment accounts.

(note: I'm not talking about the 5-star waitress with high dinner check averages.)


to JMB2 / August 26, 2014 at 02:38 pm
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And, that is any different anywhere around the world? How happy do you think low end waiters are in the UK, and how friendly do you think the average customer is to them? Ditto for most cities around the world. People are no "friendlier" or "unfriendlier" in Toronto than anywhere else. In my experience those who claim everyone around them is unfriendly are usually responsible for their own loneliness. What you give out is what you get back. Period.
Basshat / August 26, 2014 at 03:09 pm
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A pedantic point but diverse and multicultural are not the same thing. The former is simply the racial/ethnic mix of a city and can be measured with stats (and so it can be proven or disproven). The latter is dependent on whether or not individuals in a community have adopted some of the variety of cultures present in their city as part of their own culture. There's no accurate way to objectively compare that between cities.
Toronto / August 26, 2014 at 06:17 pm
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Rick is shit.
I'mFuckinPoliteDammit(2) / August 26, 2014 at 09:22 pm
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IMFP(1) is the very soul of racism, just like Rob Ford. Losers all.
Tdawg / August 27, 2014 at 01:18 pm
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Most of these can be applied to any major city.

Every major urban center believes it's the center of the universe not just TO.

Multiculturalism is nothing new and not unique to TO.

In any city you will find rude people, TO seems to have a few less.

TO can no longer be labeled a boring, there is so much to do if you look beyond the tourist attractions and shopping.

Most North American Cities secretly want to be somewhat like NYC.

Living in LA now I really miss and appreciate TO and all it has to offer, well except the weather.
Michelle / August 30, 2014 at 10:00 am
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New York envy?! I dont think so. After a recent trip to NYC I realized that we are indeed a polite bunch. Things that we take for granted in TO were rare: saying thank you and you're welcome instead of "ahaa", holding doors for each other, smiling at other people, lining up (non existant in NYC). Toronto's not definitely perfect and wecan do with shorter winters, but its a great city compared to other metropolitans.
leprechaunvict / September 10, 2014 at 02:30 am
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Mr. Flack! You should make a correction-- the megacity came to be in 1998, not 1995.

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