It’s already been a week since we came back from Toronto. In any other year, it would have been just a typical short break, exciting but forgettable. However, I’m clinging to the memory of the fun interlude even though it’s not exactly a one-in-a-lifetime journey. I mean, it’s just Toronto!
It’s definitely the most exciting I’ve done in the past four months and it turned out to be pretty relaxing despite the ongoing situation. I read a book instead of the news, we got takeout instead of queuing at the supermarket, Mark wasn’t bored and most of the time, I was too focused on enjoying a different scenery to actually worry about how we’re supposed to handle… well, you know, life.
At this stage, we still have no idea if school will start—and if it does, how. I’m scared I won’t have much work since several of my biggest clients are still badly affected by restriction related to COVID and overall, the economy isn’t doing well. Ottawa isn’t exactly fun right and the city only entered stage 3 of reopening today.
Each country took a different path. In a way, we’re all experimenting. Most US states took the “don’t give a fuck” route, Europe reopened pretty fast after a two-month draconian lockdown and Canada adopted the super, super cautious approach because “look at the US!”
I’ve always felt pretty safe in Canada, or at least spared from many things but weather chaos—before the pandemic and even now, as the world is in turmoil. We politely flattened the curve and the population at large respected the new public health measures. However, they are taking a toll on the economy and people’s mental health.
This was even more obvious in Toronto than in Ottawa.
Ottawa is a bit of a bubble. It’s often described as a “picture-perfect national capital” with a nice mix of heritage buildings, green space and landmarks. It’s clean, safe and family-friendly—if it was a movie, the rating would be G. I mean, it’s the capital, it has to look good even though we don’t exactly make it to everyone’s bucket list. Streets are plowed, roads and buildings are maintained and a friend of mine got a follow-up call from the City of Ottawa after a neighbour complained her lawn was “neglected.” Ottawa is this place where twentysomething new grads apply for a government job straight out of university, skipping the typical gap year(s), because “good benefits and a pension.”
So yeah, Ottawa is probably weathering the pandemic storm better than other cities in Canada and in the world. First, federal employees comprise nearly 20% of Ottawa’s employed labour force. Trust me, around here, some people admittedly hoped for a long lockdown—working from home and getting paid without risking losing livelihood, hell yeah! Some departments did get very busy (health, transportation) but in others, the motto was “stay home, enjoy your regular pay cheque, take care of yourself, we will let you know when you’re needed.”
Of course, they are small business owners, unemployed professionals, low-income families, etc. in Ottawa. Hell, Feng and I are self-employed and the pandemic ain’t making us rich. But if you’re stuck in your typical suburbia where the main complaint is the fact kids are bored at home and that you can only meet a limited number of relatives for birthday parties, it’s easy to forget about dire economic situations everywhere else.
And this is probably why I found Toronto and Niagara Falls looked tired, and locals weary. Toronto is a commercial, distribution, financial and industrial centre and it was definitely affected by the economic lockdown. As for Niagara Falls, it lives off tourism, not exactly a booming industry right now with all the travel restrictions.
I saw way too many small businesses closed for good and homeless people in bad shape wandering around. Situations get heated fast too. One evening, walking on Bloor, I noticed one, two, three, four police cars speeding by in the empty street. They stopped a few blocks down, at Bedford. There was a small and pretty orderly protest of tenants demanding rent forgiveness—I kid you not, at least 25 police cars showed up, which was a complete overreaction and a recipe for potential disaster.
For the first time ever in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, foreigners were also eyed suspiciously—and by “foreigners,” I mean anyone not from the neighbourhood, regardless of cultural background.
“It’s funny, I don’t remember you coming here before,” the barista noted on my third day of grabbing coffee from the same Starbucks around the corner.
“No, I’m just travelling, visiting for a few days.”
I saw the look on his face.
“Not from the US,” I added quickly. “From Ottawa. We’re fine, we’re good.”
Locals give dirty looks to cars with US licence plates as well, even though there are hundreds of perfectly valid and legal reasons why you’ll find a few American cars here and there (dual citizens, healthcare workers, etc.).
I hope things get better soon enough. It’s definitely a weird summer.