On Friday I was in Toronto’s Discovery District for a morning meeting at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) where I’ve volunteered to take part in research studies examining treatment for the prevention of depression relapse. We’d driven up together, K, les enfants and I, hoping to do some exploring after the meeting was over.
We took the 401, and then travelled along the Don Valley Parkway, enjoying the views of the valley from above before taking Bloor Street into downtown and approaching CAMH from the north, but you could just as easily get there by taking the GO train to Union Station, then a ride on the subway to Queens Park, home to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. We’d never visited this area of Toronto before and the car gave us greater freedom to move around. Street parking is available but spaces are hard to find. $5 buys you a couple of hours. We struck lucky right outside of the CAMH building. The weather was shaping up for a warm and sunny spring day; with memories of winter still fresh in our minds, the promise of some coat-free outdoor time filled us all with a drunken exuberance.
SO WHAT IS THE DISCOVERY DISTRICT?
The Discovery District is the cerebral hub of Toronto, packed with numerous important centres of education and research, particularly in the field of Biotechnology. It’s home to the many schools and faculties of the University of Toronto, as well as the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Royal Ontario Museum, with its diverse anthropological and natural history collection. Several of Canada’s most prestigious hospitals are located here; the Hospital for Sick Children, Mount Sinai, Princess Margaret Hospital and the Toronto General Hospital stand alongside some of the country’s prominent centres for medical research such as the MaRS Research Facility and CAMH. Toronto’s research community has a long history of “Firsts” from anti-rabies vaccines to the heart pace-maker. Recent breakthroughs include isolating T-Cell and Dopamine receptors and isolating genes for muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer.
“Hmmm, sounds like heavy going”, you might think, but as we drew closer to CAMH the large numbers of cyclists sans lycra, and throngs of casually dressed youth with varying degrees of commitment to facial grooming told us we had entered student territory. There’s nothing like a student community for making a place seem a little… how should I say this?… lived-in.
EATING OUT AND KITTING OUT
All the necessaries of student life are catered for here, starting with a large and varied selection of eateries. With Koreatown, Little Italy and Chinatown ranged along the eastern side of the district, there’s huge potential for global gastronomic adventure. On College Street itself you can choose from exotic Lebanese and Pakistani fare whose tantalising aromas fill the street directly outside, or pick up your usual bite from Subway or Pita Pit. To equip your average genius for academic brilliance there are technology shops offering deals on the latest iPad or Notebook, whether new or pre-owned, all helpfully manned by knowledgeable and amiable students who know their stuff. Maybe you’re after cut-price books or a U of T sweatshirt – this is the place to come. A beautiful building that has watched over the changing faces of the passing decades, houses piles of books on all manner of subjects. Degree level engineering textbooks rub shoulders with the latest fiction, while outside in the sunshine a range of casual wear sporting the university logo hangs from metal clothes rails on castors, while students hand out flyers advertising a new computer store on the corner of College and Spadina. As is the case with so many of Canada’s young adults they are warm and well-mannered, especially when compared to their sullen British counterparts who often have an air of bored resignation when it comes to communicating with anyone outside their peer-group. Despite being in the midst of a place of serious scientific study there’s a very easy-going atmosphere, none of Oxford’s “prim and properness”, this feels much more egalitarian.
Toronto wears its outgrown origins on its sleeve.
Perhaps that’s down to the curious mix of buildings. Like a favourite old shirt you can’t throw away that turns up among your new acquisitions, between the towering edifices you’re likely to find a residential homestead or church, dwarfed by its regal neighbours on either side. Glancing up a side street, you see unexpected glimpses of small-town life, as streets of homes and gardens breathe and co-exist in the downtown area, a stone’s throw from lofty skyscrapers. A man sits on his porch contentedly watching the city go about its business, as the streetcars roll up and down, ferrying people to and from their commitments. It somehow gives balance to the frenetic pace that most cities run at.Toronto might be the cultural, entertainment and financial capital of Canada, but it still has that small town friendliness. Here, you don’t experience the feeling of anonymity that other metropolitan behemoths exude. It’s a welcome change.