In rushing through life in a big city like Toronto, population 2.7 million and growing, I sometimes forget that I grew up in a small town. I went to school in Gangtok – the capital of what used to be the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim. For 12 years, I went to the same school with a 1000 other students and by the time I was 16, I was ready to blow that joint. I knew the place, the people and all the hidden corners blind-folded. I wanted adventure and anonymity. I wanted to be recognized for myself and not by whom I was connected to. Or better yet, I wanted to not be known at all. I wanted to dive into a new city where I was free to observe, to reinvent myself, to explore and try new things. The west shone like a beacon on the horizon with promises of new, different and better.
Cut to about 20 years later, I’m not so sure that I want what I have. Turns out this city mouse may be a bit of a country mouse at heart. Don’t get me wrong – I *love* Toronto. I love it’s diversity, the culture, the enclaves that make it the world in one city and the acceptance of the different. I love the variety and authenticity of different cuisines. I love how I don’t feel like an outsider here or rather how being an outsider is almost the norm.
However, I recognize that whenever I look for a home, I’m always looking for “something that has a small town feel” or “a self contained village of sorts”. This is why I picked the Beaches, this is why I never grew truly affectionate of my home on Somerset Ave and why I now live in Leslieville. I miss small town living. While I hated how quickly gossip seemed to travel, the flip side of the coin is comfort that comes with knowing everybody and everybody knowing you. While I disliked the monotony and small selection of shops, the flip side is the warmth of family-run local businesses where people cut you slack if your kid’s having a not-so-great day. While I dislike the everyone being in your business, the flip side is being able to count on people and having that support network. I miss being able to see the stars at night. I miss the open air. I miss the space. I miss the sense of community. I miss my family. And darn it, I miss the mountains.
Now while I can’t necessarily do anything about moving my extended family to North America, I can move my family unit to a small town. The question is where? And being an immigrant adds a whole whack of other considerations. Will I fit in and be accepted? Will my child feel like he belongs in his community? Will I be able to find a job? Will I be able to easily find what I need in terms of ethnic groceries and so on? Will we be okay with what is sure to be a limited degree of diversity? Honestly, we talk about diversity and multi-culturalism in Canada but just travel an hour or two out of the major cities and it’s a very different scenario. The time I stopped off at a Tim’s in Ajax or the time I was eating at a restaurant in Burlington comes to mind. However, Toronto must have once been like that – mostly white, mostly Anglo-saxon, mostly Christian. The question is do we want to be on the front-end of adding a bit of colour to a town.
I’ve looked longingly at Burlington a number of times. It’s a lovely town. It’s probably exactly what I’d choose but the questions keep bouncing around in my head. Luckily, time is on my side. There’s no rush. And really, we never have to move if we don’t want. But the call of small towns are now starting to grow ever-louder in my head.