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Bay Street, Toronto: Always busy

Bay Street, Toronto: Always busy

Bay Street has the same cache as Wall Street to a New Yorker. But staring down the avenue from its north end at Bloor Street, the vision is one of upright solid stone buildings set like standing grey dominos against the faded blue scalp of the sky.

But like Torontonians, the street changes as you get to know it.

Bloor Street, downtown Toronto’s main east-west strip divides most of the city’s 3 million residents into psychological east-siders or west-siders. Where Bloor meets Bay at its center, the credit cards come out to play. Here, expensive designer name shops like Tiffany’s cater to the Blackberry crowd. From here, Bay Street slices straight south to its buckle at Queen Street where two City Halls (the neo-Gothic “old” and 1970s “curved hands” one) rebound Bay Street slightly east and then south again past golden financial towers and finally Lake Ontario.

Eleven 21 condos, at 1121 Bay opens its doors on this overcast day to reveal a shiny marble floor in the eye-shaped lobby. In the center of this eye is inlaid a black and orange sun. A wall of frosted glass bricks with raised wedge-like slashes arcs along one side of the oval entrance like an eyelid.

1121 Bay Street

1121 Bay Street

Palestinian Mostafa Omar is the site’s property manager and well-dressed concierge. At his post since it opened six years ago, he calls the building’s design “the greatest” among the other Bay Street contenders “because of its simplicity.”

If there’s one word that almost universal to describe Toronto, it’s multicultural.

“People from all aspects of life live here,” he said, “students, young professionals, chairmen of big corporations. This is a little… what do you call it? A little U.N.”

Omar said since moving to Toronto nearly 20 years ago, he wouldn’t live anywhere else. He feels comfortable here with the five backgrounds he and his wife represent – Palestinian, Egyptian, Japanese and Saudi.

One change he seen over the years has been driven by the condo boom along Bay Street.

The very high end condos springing up around Eleven 21 have made them improve their service. “That’s competition,” he says.

Eleven 21 includes board rooms, fitness and playrooms as amenities.

Moving south along the damp splattered street, the grunting noise of downtown traffic is broken by the bells of St. Basil’s.

The campus of the University of Toronto touches Bay Street on its eastern edges. The University was originally a collection of different colleges founded by various churches. Here, the spiked neo-Gothic tower of St. Basil’s points a definitive finger to heaven while looking over its former charges below.

The soft pink glow from the middle windows of one Bay Street tower stands out against its darker reflective glass and the dour day like a flower in search of spring.

With its art deco-evocative awning of glass and steel, 1101 Bay Street beckons me inside to its hotel-sized lobby. On its walls are metal panels stamped with art nouveau-ish flowers in a vase, and inside there is lots of natural light to flatter the thick white pillars with gold straps that grow like trees. There is a handle-shaped, marble front desk long enough to run a race on.

1101 Bay Street

1101 Bay Street

Although the site manager, Carl’s six-foot powerhouse frame wouldn’t look out of place on a Canadian football field. He laughs easily and is known as the charmer among the ladies of this residence. He’s been attending this community of 564 units for 11 of the building’s 18 years.

About 25 percent of the natives on this reservation are students, he tells me, many of them recent arrivals from that up and coming economic power – China.

While the students generally stay just four or five years, giving this condo a bit of a summer camp feel where people come and go frequently, Carl says there are many residents who’ve lived there for 10 and 20 years.

With its full gym, swimming pool, squash court and aerobics room, I ask this shiny headed gate keeper if he keeps uses the condo’s equipment to keep his muscles toned.

“No,” he tells me. “I work out mentally while I’m here,” he says with a laugh, “and go home and relax.”

Nina Pan, a music teacher who lived in the building for 10 years, is one of Carl’s favorite banters. The two of them have a well-practiced rhythm in which he proposes to her and she quips back. She’s here to visit her parents.

“I moved out to buy a house. Now that I’m on my own, I wish I hadn’t left.”

I ask her why.

“I feel safer being part of the community in this condo. A friend of mine moved out too, but after six months she sold her house and moved back.”

Nina explains the safe feeling of the condo trumps the slight increase in the vice life of the urban street – drugs and prostitutes – that has moved into the neighborhood in the past few years.

And she loves the condo’s fitness facilities.

“It’s open from 6 am to 11 pm,” she gushes. “That’s better than most gyms!”

U of T student Abby Goldstein hands me a poster for her upcoming dance show, “psychobabble.” It features a dark haired dancer in white tutu and black evening gloves bound by black ribbons to the letters of the old typewriter-style title. I’m intrigued and ask her what she likes about her condo.

“I really like it,” she tells me, explaining its convenient location to the university, city center and near by café scene slightly to the north along Yorkville Ave. This young dancer and choreographer works in the restaurant attached to the building which makes commuting easy.

“I’ve made a lot of friends here.”

This slice of Bay, between Bloor and College Streets, is an orphan among the downtown neighborhoods. The street life is quiet, and there are grocery shops and some pubs and restaurants and even though it’s a main strip, the noise and traffic are moderate. But this area lacks a feel of its own. It’s more like airport mall where travelers swoop in and out as neighbors from other neighborhoods.

Just west, the leaf Annex neighborhood sprouts around the University. Sitting just north are the ultra-exclusive condos of the old town of Yorkville. Past College and the south entrance of U of T, the core of the downtown’s core begins at Dundas Street and its nearby Chninatown.

East of Bay is Yonge Street, the world’s longest which stretches northwesterly from Toronto for 1,178 miles until it touches the border with Minnesota. But in this walk-around section, Yonge St is the city’s Times Square.

909 Bay Street

909 Bay Street

At 909 Bay Street, the lobby is small, enclosed from outside light and features a faux ancient Egyptian style glass and metal table with similar fake candle holders.

Unlike the spacious entrance of 1101 where access to the elevators is controlled by passcard or Carl, here there is one long hallway leading past the security desk. There are no decorations in that hall.

Outside 909, a resident who calls himself Dave says what he likes best about 909 is the privacy. On the street, the jackhammers of construction, squall of traffic, lumbering streetcars and the fissures of police cars crackling around Toronto Police HQ pervade this crossroad like radio static.

“Inside you don’t hear anything,” he says. “It feels very safe.”



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