Toronto might have a reputation as a multicultural metropolis, but as Christine Bruce discovered in interviewing 150 cyclists across the Greater Toronto Area for her book This Road Continues One Block North, the people in its communities often create small towns of their own.
The 56-year-old author and broadcaster spent a year locating cyclists with stories to tell, often leaving her business card on “interesting” bicycles to instigate a get-together with the owners.
“I got to experience neighbourhoods from their perspective,” she said in a recent interview. “People would invite me to coffee shops, and I’d think, ‘Wow! What a nice gem you’ve invited me to!’
“I never would have known about this place.”
Her project began at the Wychwood Barns Farmers’ Market, where she worked as a bicycle valet.
“I would say, ‘Oh, nice bike,’ and immediately this story would come out, as if I had pushed some magic button,” she said. “I found them very inspiring.”
Few neighbourhoods illustrate what Bruce calls this “small-town element of Toronto” better than midtown, she said.
One of the first of the book’s 60 stories is about Mathieu, a 25-year-old who uses a cargo bike to deliver chocolate to several farmer’s markets around the city, including the Evergreen Brick Works and Wychwood Barns, for socially conscious candy company ChocoSol Traders. His route often takes him through Leaside.
“It’s like having a Mennonite come onto the 401,” Bruce said. “All these people on the Bayview Extension slow down and wave and let him through, and it’s one of those wonderful moments that you realize how small-town Toronto really is.”
Then there is the story of Eglinton and Avenue Road-area massage therapist Jan Eadie, who for five years cycled around one of the Great Lakes every summer with her friend, homecare nurse Ellen Rengers. Bruce interviewed them before their last ride, a three-week rounding of Lake Superior.
In the book Bruce draws a line between the women’s project and their community involvement.
Rengers rode her bicycle to visit patients, and was often called upon when her colleagues’ cars died, while Eadie, who considers herself the “Queen of Flat Tires”, once managed a bicycle rental shop. Both have been cheerful host to other cyclists passing through Toronto on similar treks. They visited City Hall before their first journey to draw attention to the lack of cycling paths in Toronto.
Rengers has since returned to her native Holland. Eadie continues to ride for at least an hour every day, to keep up with her 96-year-old mother, a folk dancer.
“(Eadie) is very community-minded, and finds the people in her neighbourhood are also very community-minded,” Bruce remarked.
Winnipeg-born John Benson was studying plumbing at George Brown College when he discovered his favourite activity in Toronto: exploring the green space along the Cedarvale Nordheimer Ravine, near Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West.
Bruce said the essence of what Benson found there was akin to “how you feel when you get home, open the door, take that big breath and know that you’re done.”
“He was looking for something small-town in Toronto, and loved the ravine for that reason,” she said. “It made him feel very much at home.”
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