A Tale of Two Cities

Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to take a two-week vacation from work with my husband and daughter.  Given our recent move and the cost associated with it, we had to make our holiday a ‘stay-cation’.  We enjoyed some wonderful family time.  We ventured out on a few day treks to the beach, enjoyed the city’s wonderful parks, pools and splash pads and spent a few days in Toronto.  It was my time spent in T.O. that prompted this week’s post and a spotlight on a former City Mom.

As I have mentioned before, my husband and I owned a condo in downtown Toronto.  This was pre parenthood, pre monthly diaper budget, pre supplementary clothing and food budget, pre RESP savings plan contributions and the list goes on.  When we learned of my  pregnancy we put the wheels in motion to move back to London despite loving our Toronto locale.  Our main reason was  to be closer to our families.  After all, it is said that it takes a village to raise a child and the extra support is always a good thing.  Financial reasons were a big factor as well.  We needed an extra bedroom and the price of a large three bedroom house in London was far less than a 2 bedroom condo in Toronto.  I toyed with the idea that this unknown baby, once she arrived,  could sleep in our + 1 (den) but reality set in and we made the move. 

From time to time I envision what it would be like for the three of us living in the big city and as we were driving into Toronto for our second time in two weeks I realized some things.  I could not and would not deal with the traffic in the big city.  Anyone who has been stuck in a car with a screaming child for any amount of time would be able to appreciate what I am talking about.    I don’t imagine that I would enjoy being a city mom in T-dot as much as I do in London.  I wonder why that is.  What are the differences between a city like London and a city like Toronto?  Is London a more family friendly city or does this come down to personal preference and specific location within the respective city?  I wanted to dig a little deeper on this topic so I looked within my social group to find the answer.  I decided to interview one of my nearest and dearest friends to gain an alternate perspective.

 Spotlight on a Former City Mom 

Erika is the mother of an adorable 18 month old girl.  Erika is originally from London but is an experienced urbanite;  living most recently in Toronto and Vancouver before that.

QYou were a city mom for almost a year before you moved away from the city for a more suburban location.  What were your reasons for this move?
A:  We lived in the heart of downtown Toronto.  Although it was a great location in terms of amenities, it was loud and I found it to be dangerous.  For example, we had prostitutes working at the corner of our place and a youth centre a block and a half from where we lived. The elementary schools and high schools in the area had a history of violence.  There have been shootings and stabbings in the area and I was not comfortable with little E growing up in a neighbourhood with the type of young people who hung around the area.  I was certainly not comfortable with the idea of little E walking around downtown Toronto by herself when she got older. 

 QCan you highlight the benefits of your new location in comparison to your city location?

  • Currently, we live in a beautiful neighbourhood.  It is quiet, there are lots of kids in the area and everyone is very friendly (people actually say hi when they walk by.  Unlike Toronto where everyone is in too much of a rush to notice anything).  There are parks, trails and all the amenities we could ever need all within walking distance.  I am much more comfortable walking around my new neighbourhood at night (by myself or with little E) than I ever was in Toronto
  • The schools in our new neighbourhood have a great reputation for education and safety.  This is very important for both myself and my husband.  We want little E to have the opportunity to have a good education and extra curricular activities within the area she lives.
  • I like that there are lots of parks and ponds were we live now.  In Toronto there were parks that I used to walk though but there were a lot of homeless people sleeping on the ground and on the benches.  I’m glad little E was too young to remember that.  The parks were nice looking (in terms of trees and flowers) but not nice for her to run around in.
  • I couldn’t find many programs for moms and tots in Toronto.  When we moved to our new location there were tons of programs.  Little E and I were busy everyday doing different things.  In Toronto, if I did not take little E for walks or go to the mall we were pretty much stuck in our apartment.
  • I enjoy having a backyard now.  Little E can play there while we are in the house cooking dinner and watching her from our kitchen.  In Toronto, we lived in an apartment.  It had a nice roof top but it was not child safe and I certainly would not let little E up there alone.  We did have a balcony but it was not the same as a nice quite backyard that we have now (with grass and toys for her to play with).  I am excited for little E’s first winter where we can build snowmen in the backyard.

 QCan you highlight the cons of your new location in comparison to the city?
A:  My daughter goes to school here in town, and both my husband and I work in Toronto so it is far from where we work.  We spend a total of three hours commuting each day and we are away from her for roughly ten hours a day.

QDo you miss anything about the city?
A:  I miss the convenience of getting to and from work and the easy access to all the amenities (shopping, theatre, restaurants, city events etc.) that Toronto has to offer.

QWhat were your views regarding living in Toronto pre-baby?
A:  I loved living in the city.  I loved being able to meet friends after work or on the weekend and go to bars, restaurants, etc. and all within walking distance from where we lived.  I loved the fast paced environment of Toronto as well.

QWould you have considered remaining in the city in a place like London had you lived in a similar building after having a child?
A:   I never really thought about it.  London has some great neighbourhoods that are very close to downtown London.  I would consider living in an area like Old North,  but not right on Talbot or Richmond Street (in the heart of London) for example.  I like the quiet.  I do not like living on busy streets anymore.  It is not only noisy but it is not safe for little E to run around.  I don’t have to worry about cars zipping through were we live now.  The only cars that come on our street are the ones that live on our street ( which is not that many).  I like looking outside my window and seeing old trees and lots of greenery as seen in suburbia.  Urban locations do not have the same richness.

QWould you move back to Toronto?
A:  No.  I really liked downtown Toronto but not to raise a family.

After reviewing Erika’s responses I am no better off than when I began my investigation.  The results are inconclusive due mainly to the fact that my sample group only had one person in it.  Her answers are subjective and based on the particular location she lived in and her personal preferences in general.  Not all areas of downtown would have the same drawbacks or benefits.

Toronto has a larger footprint than London and a much bigger population.  The more people you have the more occurrences of crime, homelessness, etc..   I have concluded that London’s core is set up to cater to  students, young professionals, retirees and families, alike.  There is a child-friendly park located every few blocks.  Many of which include swimming pools and/or splash pads.  Family programs exist in a variety of locations and most of the wonderful events that take place in Victoria Park are family friendly.  Downtown London is also bordered by  some very affluent neighbourhoods which helps to provide quality educational institutions and many extra-curricular activities. 

So I am left with the feeling that I am proud to be a Londoner.  I love this city and all it has to offer.  It’s interesting that after living in London for most of my life, it is only recently that I have come to see it in this light.  Am I finally growing up and learning to appreciate the less complicated things in life?

Thank you to Erika for candidly sharing her opinions.


13 responses to “A Tale of Two Cities

  1. Kel, we were another family that moved from Toronto to London after finding out we were expecting. My husband grew up in Toronto, but went to university here. As you know, I grew up here. London was the obvious choice for us as my family was here. Mark’s family was in Toronto, but in all honesty, if I needed someone when my kids were very small, it was my mom, or my sister.
    So we moved. We picked up our lives and our jobs and started over. Mark obtained a transfer through work but it was contract only. When that contract expired he was not able to find work again. He has been a stay at home dad ever since (although he went back to school last year) This is a luxury we could never have had, if we had stayed in Toronto.

    Now unlike your friend Erika, I have found it difficult to find exciting programs for kids here in London, as compared to Toronto (but this could be because many of my friends in Toronto are having babies and doing fun things and none of my friends HERE are).

    I love living in London, you couldn’t pay me to move back to the big city. I remember being in Highschool/university thinking one day I would live in the big city of Toronto. I did it, loved it while I was there, but am SO happy to be back.

    • Thanks Steph. I didn’t know that you had moved to Toronto. I’m so happy to have another City Mom to perform research on. I’m curious, what programs you are referring to in both T.O. and London. Can you give some examples? I have a few different reasons for asking. 1. Maybe it is a good post idea for City Mom – devote it to all the kid friendly programs available and 2. I would like to know what Toronto offers that we don’t have here in London.

  2. It’s a great post idea Kelly, one I thought of myself when I first moved back.
    I guess there are a few things that pop into my head. I find it insanely easy to find mom and me classes in Toronto (mom and baby yoga, mom and baby salsa classes, mom and baby blah blah blah) but in London, I find I really have to dig to find info.

    There are also places like the ROM in Toronto – I don’t think that ever gets old, but the children’s museum here lacks excitement for me (I know it’s not about me LOL). There is centre island, ontario place, Canada’s wonderland. There is just SO much there. I also found that play groups were a-plenty in Toronto, but the few times I made an attempt to go to places like the OEYC for playgroups, I found that if you didn’t know someone there, you were hanging by yourself. It felt cliquey (or maybe I am just not outgoing enough!)

    There’s more, but I am working – will write more later!

  3. I wish I knew of some mom and tot programs (in downtown T.O) that I could have taken my daughter too. I think I would have been less board. Don’t get me wrong I hung around some friends that had babies but that was far and few. Unless I was exercising with her I could not find specific circle groups where I could talk with other moms. I don’t know may be I was not looking in the right places.
    I found that where I am now they have activities everyday in various locations throughout the city (you get to meet some nice people and see them every week). I like that the groups are specific to your childs age. That way I did not have little E laying on the ground while everyone elses child was running around and we were left by ourselves. With everyones children developing along the same time frame it was nice to talk about your childs progress with them.

    • I agree Erika. When I see the ones Steph has listed, I wish that I could have found all of those here in London. And maybe I too wasn’t looking in the right places. I think I am going to make a strong search effort and make it an upcoming blog post for London at least. Sounds like you don’t need the help though. Thanks again for your help with this weeks post!

  4. As a non-parent living in London, I can say that I have always wanted to live in Toronto and LOVE travelling to the big city. The traffic jams, busy streets and vibrant city life appeals to me a lot. However, I can imagine once you have kids, that would change. Not that I would suddenly not like the busyness of the city, but more that to have things like a yard and space would mean $$$ which most average people can’t afford right in the city part of Toronto.

    London is a perfect mix of big city-ish but still affordable for families as well. I love London! I want to experience living in Toronto (not that I probably ever will) but I know I would be back here to raise a family for sure.

  5. I love the non-parent view Lindsay! I agree with you on all fronts expect the traffic. In my opinon high traffic volumes are never welcomed and it seriously causes me anxiety to think of all the time wasted sitting in traffic, not to mention the hazzard it provides to the enovironment!
    I love London for the same reasons – its seems the perfect mix.

  6. I just wanted to add something if I may. I realized after reading my answers that it sounded like living in downtown T.O is like living in the ghetto. It really wasn’t that bad. With that being said, T.O is a big city and with that comes prostitution, crime, some inner city schools with a bad rep, etc… We were not inundated with it 24/7 but it was around us. Once little E was born and we could afford it I would have seriously considered buying a place just outside the downtown area (forest comes to mind) 🙂

    • Having a child changes everything! It changes your views on the entire state of the world and the future of the world. The theme of City Mom is the view of London’s city centre as a child friendly place and a good place to raise kids. Your answers demonstrated very well the point I was trying to make. I know where you lived and agree that particular area was not child friendly. When it comes to our kids, we can’t be too safe!

      We would have liked to stay in T.O. as well and purchased a house in a nice area…but as you say…we couldn’t afford it. The more desirable the location, the higher the price tag.

  7. Kel!  Great topic for discussion….I too understand the feeling of not knowing what the better option is. If I look at my life as if I’m a bird and that I migrate to where I can “survive” then it tells me that London is the place to be!  I love Toronto for many reasons but I couldn’t survive there. Both physically (Angela can tell the story where I lipped off a gang of hoodlums who made it obvious that if i didnt shut up and leave i’d be shot) and from a mental perspective. I hate traffic. Growing up in London taught me to know better!! You don’t have to waste HOURS of your life staring at the car in front of you. It’s just so pointless….and for what do we do this for? A job that we don’t like?!  It’s all just so crazy. But hey, if you can find a balance and love what you do then by all means, sit in traffic. My other issue was knowing what kind of house I could buy with the same or less money in London. Again, growing up in London made it hard to swallow the 700sqft condo pill. Toronto can be great at a certain point in your life, but to live a quiet, simple, family oriented life……I’d make the same decision I did last fall…..London is where it’s at!

    • I like your bird analogy…you may see the reoccuring theme throughout City Mom that we all have individual likes and dislikes and that makes our world turn. I happen to agree with you and seems so do most. I have liimited experience though on what it would be like to raise a child in Toronto. Had I tried it for a while I would be in a much better position to be able to make a valid comparrsion.

      THanks for the comments 🙂

  8. Located your blog via msn the other day and absolutely adore it. Continue the truly great work.

  9. Pingback: London Votes 2010 Part II | City Mom

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