Report from the 50th floor – Stuff You Learn Living the Condo Lifestyle Downtown Toronto for 3 Days (Part 1)

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The driving distance from Toronto to Ottawa is 450 kilometres, which is “basically next door” in Canadian English and “kind of far for a weekend trip” in any European language.

The five-hour drive on the wide 401, one of the world’s busiest highways, is pretty unremarkable—and frustrating when you get stuck in traffic—but it becomes interesting when approaching the Greater Toronto Area. Past the first urbanized section and the usual bland shopping malls in Yorkdale and Scarborough, Highway 401 climbs toward the Don Valley Parkway, which provides access to downtown Toronto. The best place to actually appreciate bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions is the elevated Gardiner Expressway that cuts through downtown Toronto’s forest of buildings and passes the Rogers Centre, the CN Tower and the Air Canada Centre as well as many condominiums and office towers in the Harbourfront and the Financial District. It’s a voyeur’s dream—you’re so close to the fancy boardrooms of big corporations you can almost wave the shareholders hello and expect them to wave back.

Over the years, we’ve stayed in many different hostels and hotels in Toronto. I spent my first night in Canada at the Canadiana Backpackers Inn on Widmer Street and we stayed at the HI Toronto Hostels when we came back from Niagara Falls after getting married. We booked a room several times at the Neill-Wycik Cooperative College, a very basic student residence open to backpackers in the summer. We stayed at the Bond Hotel at the corner of Yonge and Dundas twice, in 2010 and 2017, both times because we got a good deal on Expedia. We stayed in several tired airports hotels when flights and connections were missed. We stayed in faraway suburbs as well, when we couldn’t find a room in Toronto.

The Victoria Day long weekend trip was a last-minute decision and there weren’t many affordable options left. The HI Hostel was charging $200 for a private room and sadly, we couldn’t find a good deal for the Bond Place Hotel, arguably my favourite place in Toronto—can’t beat the location.

Eventually Feng found a condo for rent on Booking.com. Apparently, this is the new trend—hostels are a thing of the past, nowadays you just rent an apartment for a few nights.

Sorry, not an apartment—a condo unit.

A “condo” (short for “condominium”) is a North Americanism for what the rest of the world call an “apartment unit.” While many residential buildings in Canada are managed by a single property management company leasing out units to individual tenants, condo units are owned by individuals and usually managed under the umbrella of that condo community’s homeowner association.“Condos” are typically newer, fancier and offer high-end amenities like a pool, a concierge, a gym, etc.

After building entire neighbourhoods of mega-homes with supersized driveways, many Canadians are now rediscovering the fact that you may not need six bedrooms and four bathrooms and that living in an apartment actually kind of make sense in big cities. But you can’t tell people, “look, you can’t afford that million-dollar house, alright?” So instead, Canadians are being sold “the condo lifestyle,” a sales pitch that invariably includes words like “convenience” (“you don’t have to do any yard work or shovel snow!”), “freedom” and “state-of-the-art something something”.

“Are you serious? The fiftieth floor?”

We stayed in tall apartment buildings before, including in Shenyang and Santiago but I think the highest unit was around the 30th floor.

“Are you sure you didn’t book the CN Tower by mistake?” I joked.

We left on Saturday morning, dropping Mark off at my in-laws on the way. “Why do you have backpacks in the car?” he asked suspiciously. “We’re going to Toronto,” I shrugged, still half-asleep. Then Feng gave him pocket money for a toy and for all he cared, we could have been going to the moon, he was going to buy whatever he wanted.

I slept for the first three hours of the trip and I woke up when Feng stopped at the Newcastle Travel Plaza, a fancy name for one of the 401 rest stops with the usual Tim Hortons, convenience store and clean bathroom. It was rainy and cold.

Canadian souvenirs at the .. Hwy 401/Newcastle Rest Stop

Canadian souvenirs at the .. Hwy 401/Newcastle Rest Stop

 

“Shit. I don’t have a jacket.”

I didn’t bring much, just a small backpack with three t-shirts, three pairs of underwear, the jeans I was wearing and a pair of shorts. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had stopped watching The Weather Network after the last snow storm—many people were rushing inside the rest stop, underdressed and shivering.

The last 100 kilometres went by fast and soon, we saw Toronto’s skyline. Well, kind of. It was so foggy half of the CN Tower was missing.

At least, we couldn’t miss the two 67-storey buildings on York Street.

The check-in process was as efficient and modern as the condo lifestyle claims to be—no human interaction, the keys were inside the apartment and the parking spot number was provided over the phone.

“Do people actually live there? This is so weird…” I muttered as we walked through the immaculate white lobby, unlocking doors with our pass.

There were two rows of elevators face each other—half for low-rise units, up to the 37th floor, half for the high-rise units, up to the 67th floor.

I felt my ear pop around the 30th floor.

(To be continued…)

Arriving in Toronto, foggy skyline

Toronto condos on York Street

Lobby of 14, York Street

The elevator at 14, York Street

In the elevator at 14, York Street

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

14 Comments

  1. Martin Penwald on

    Fucking Toronto trafic. You can avoid a big part of it if you take the 407 tollway… as long as you aren’t too attached to your kidneys. It is very expensive.
    I like to take the Gardiner expressway, especially because it connects directly to the QEW at the west end, but it’s habitually not the fastest to cross the area.

    • That would probably be the exact opposite of your current lifestyle in BC, actually! I’m not sure I liked it either… I’m writing my report on part 2 😉

  2. Yeah, that elevator panel is wicked! But nice to see it has a 13th floor. For a very long time it was normal for apartment buildings to skip 13, because it’s a traditional “unlucky number” in some western cultures. (Of course those living on the “14th” floor were really on the 13th all the time, if they cared.) I think this kind of superstition has largely passed, and these days I would be more expecting to see the 4th floor being skipped, since it’s the bad number in Chinese. Pity those poor Montrealers who have the telephone area code 514. Does 五一四 sound a bit like 我要死 to you?

    • Eh, I never thought of that 514/我要死 but you’re right!

      I remember buildings in Hong Kong that didn’t have a fourth floor. Not on mainland though, this was mostly a Southern/HK thing.

      It’s funny how “13” can be both a lucky and an unlucky number in some cultures.

  3. Ugh, I felt sick just reading 50th floor.
    I understand the concept of condo… but why so high?
    Can’t wait to read part 2 😀

    • Most towers don’t look that high, even I was surprised when I realized we were on the 50th floor. I’m more used to 20- or 30-storey buildings.

  4. Yes, travel story!

    I never thought about how condos are a North American thing. I grew up in a condo– it was new at the time and nice, though no gym and amenities that I can think of. I’ve heard of a crazy one in New York that has everything, almost like you never have to leave the building. Convenient, but I’d want to leave the building when the city has so many options!

    • 🙂

      I also grew up in an apartment, that’s pretty standard for most French people living in cities, I guess. I’m not sure I appreciate the “value” of the amenities high-end condos offer. I mean, how many times do you actually use the gym or the pool? I know I never do in hotels (well, until Mark, who looooves swimming pools).

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