Off topic: Open Up and Spend the Night in Parkdale

I’m moving.

This blog isn’t about my personal life, and I don’t wish to discuss the circumstances leading up to this move, but suffice it to say it’s a sideways upgrade at best, and I’m not entirely happy with the situation.

Homes in ParkdaleThis isn’t just a changing of apartments, either. I’m leaving Toronto entirely and heading for a small hamlet in the country.

The move itself is still a week or two away, but in the meantime, I thought I’d take this moment to reflect on what I’m leaving behind: the neighbourhood I’ve called home for the last seven years.

Tall trees and public enemies:

The part of Toronto I’ve lived in is called Parkdale. Now, it’s not a nice place by any stretch of the imagination. It’s colourfully referred to as “the armpit of Toronto.” It’s still not the worst part of the city; there are other places that have earned the title of Toronto’s… “sphincter.”

We don’t have a huge amount of gang activity or violent crime, but we are hotbed of drugs, prostitution, and general greasiness.

An old wall in ParkdaleAnother name for Parkdale is “the mental asylum with no roof.” This comes surprisingly close to the truth; there’s a mental institution not far from where I live, and most of the halfway houses and support centers for released patients are in this area. So a lot of people in Parkdale are quite literally mental patients.

What kind of place is Parkdale? Once, a few months ago, there was a used mattress lying in the front yard of a local home. Not only that, but it had been graffiti tagged with the phrase, “drunk as fuck.”

However, it was so poorly written that it looked more like, “drunk as pork.”

That’s what Parkdale is like.

Once, a black fellow in a fluffy purple cowboy hat stepped in front of a streetcar outside my building, hurled a box full of shredded newspaper onto the track, and held up traffic by standing in front of the streetcar and screaming at it.

The autumn leaves in ParkdaleMonths later, that same fellow started scrawling political slogans on the sidewalk in chalk, got up on a post box, and began screaming insults about Mayor Rob Ford — a political viewpoint I can only sympathize with.

Another time, a woman in a red dress — most likely a prostitute — spent at least an hour lying on the sidewalk across the street, weeping uncontrollably, and begging for help from invisible people.

Those are the more noteworthy oddballs. Then there are the normal, everyday ones: the people who talk to themselves in languages no one else knows, the hookers, the Sun-Fa drunks, the blind Buddhists, and the screamers.

But not everything in Parkdale is surreal, greasy, or disturbing. It has its positive side as well.

Parkdale is a very old neighbourhood. The parts of it that aren’t filthy and covered in graffiti feature beautiful architecture dating back to the turn of the last century and lots of lovely side-streets canopied by massive trees from the same time period.

A street in ParkdaleIt’s a little known fact that Toronto has so many trees that the city technically qualifies as a forest.

Parkdale is in an odd state of transition. It’s become somewhat trendy in recent times. So in amongst the crack whores and used condoms are chic antique stores, yuppies walking their greyhounds, and fancy restaurants serving local produce.

I’m in a bizarre spot because I literally live directly on the border of a very nice area and a very bad one. Walk north, and it’s nothing but well-tended gardens and affluent young couples taking their kids to the park. Walk south, and it’s nothing cigarette butts and piles of stuff that I’d really rather not think about what it is.

Parkdale is also an interesting cultural melting pot — though that’s really true of all of Toronto. Where I am, I live at the border of Poland, Portugal, and Tibet.

Another interesting fact: Toronto boasts the largest population of Tibetan people outside of Tibet or Nepal. And most of those live in Parkdale.

The graffiti in ParkdaleFascinating people, the Tibetans. One of my regrets is that I never really took the time to get to know any of them, but the ones I’ve met are nothing but pleasant and polite. Quite a humble and decent sort.

Their food is also the most delicious thing in the universe. If there is one thing about Toronto I will miss, it is the Tibetan food.

Into the worst, out of the best:

So Parkdale is a strange place, full of contradictions. The air is a heady melange of curry, cigarette smoke, and human misery.

It’s a place of contradictions for me personally, too. I came here during the worst period of my life, with virtually nothing left following a family cataclysm.

It was a terrible time for me, and I lived in misery for many months. But alongside this was a strange sense of freedom. With everything I’d known gone, it was a chance to start anew. I began to think for myself for the first time in my life, and Parkdale — and Toronto as a whole — represented an exciting new frontier for me.

Halloween in ParkdaleI grew up in the country, and the bright lights and bustle of the city dazzled me. I saw Toronto as a place of limitless potential, and it encouraged me to grow as a person.

Looking back, I didn’t really grow that much. The truth is I’ve barely scratched the surface of the opportunities this city has to offer, and I have no one to blame for that but myself.

I don’t feel the same sense of renewal or potential about this coming move. I feel only a contraction, a narrowing of my future.

I hope to return to Toronto some day. Maybe even to Parkdale. This may be a place ripe with devils, but they’re the devils I know.

But for now, my path is set, and I must leave Parkdale behind.

Parkdale isn’t a nice place, but it’s been my home for seven years. It’s become a part of who I am. And I will miss it.

And the best thing about Parkdale? My favourite band named a song after it.

Finally, it almost seemed authentic

As we headed farther west

Into the worst, out of the best

5 thoughts on “Off topic: Open Up and Spend the Night in Parkdale

  1. Have tons of friends who live and work in the Parkdale area, I myself lived right near it, and worked in the Junction. There’s lots to love and hate there, but its a fascinating area, that’s for sure. Can’t say I disagree with the guy in your post regarding our mayor, either. I moved closer to mississauga in the past couple of years but I sometimes do miss the liveliness of the Parkdale part of the city.

    Sorry to hear you’re leaving T.O., all the best to you and hope your move is stress free.

  2. Sorry for posting twice last night, by the way–posting via blackberry is exasperating to say the least–it seems to hate Word Press specifically, erases my posts, and sticks and freezes, so I never know whether I’ve posted or not half the time as it constantly comes up with errors.

  3. Good lucky Tyler – I’ve been through some rather radical changes myself the last couple of years so I can empathize 😉
    If you find you’re missing the more ummm…”colorful” elements…well, there’s always the West. I remember seeing a news report when the police arrested a violent serial killer…three blocks from me.
    Canada is way too soft on crime…

  4. I just found your blog and this was the first post I read. I have since circled ’round a bit and read more but wanted to say that I really like your writing style! You are very engaging and I could almost smell your ex-neighborhood from your description. Best of luck with the “Hire me”. I’ll be back to see what new things you cook up. 😀

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