Why Everybody Loves the TORONTO Sign

Since its instalment in July 2015, the 3D TORONTO sign has become one of the hottest tourist attractions in downtown Toronto. Initially created for only the 2015 Pan Am Games, the $90,000 sign has remained a firm fixture of Nathan Phillips Square following popular demand.

In fact, it was so popular after it came out, that City Councillor Norm Kelly even suggested that different variations of the sign such as “The 6” and “T. Dot” be made and placed in other parts of the city to reinforce the “cool” Toronto brand. This was eventually deemed unsuitable, given that it would take away the special-ness of the original sign.

But despite its popularity, the TORONTO sign is not unique in its design. Other cities such as Lyon, Budapest, and Amsterdam have been spotted with their own downtown 3D signs. As an international city ready to prove its place on the world stage, it was only a matter of time before Toronto became part of this global trend. I mean, wasn’t that why we signed up for the Pan Am Games in the first place?

The "I amsterdam" sign in the Netherlands.
The “I amsterdam” sign in the Netherlands. Look familiar?
Another 3D sign in Lyon, France.
Another 3D sign in Lyon, France.

What does make it unique, however, is the fact that it is able to change colour and design. As a result, this sign is more than just a tourist attraction, it has also served as an art medium (Nuit Blanche), and as a way to show solidarity with Torontonians and our friends all over the world.  Just a few days ago, the sign was lit blue and yellow for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Month, and before that green and white to remember the victims of the bombings in Lahore, Pakistan.

And while we have seen this display of support and empathy with more historic monuments around the globe, there is something more personal about the TORONTO sign that I can’t seem to explain. Perhaps it’s because of its location in front of city hall, it’s accessibility to everyone free of charge (I’m looking at you CN Tower), or the fact that I see it more frequently and have actually touched it?

Who knows, maybe it just looks great on Instagram.

Either way, it certainly has become a defining landmark of Toronto, and for the first time, I’m looking forward to sending some postcards with city hall in the background.
Fireworks at Nathan Phillips Square

So keep up the good work TORONTO sign! And don’t let any snarky lawsuits get in your way either…

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Albanian Born, Canadian Raised

Marvin was born in Elbasan, Albania, and moved to Canada when he was only eight years old. Although I usually only post about people who have been in Toronto for ten years or less, today I thought I would take a different perspective and see what it’s like for people who grew up here in surroundings much different from their parents.

So first things first, why did you come to Canada? And why Toronto specifically?

We came to Canada because it offered better opportunities and education. There was nothing specific about Toronto aside from it just happened to be the place we came to.

How long have you been living in Toronto for?

About 16 years now.

What do you do now?

At the moment, I’m a masters student at Ryerson University studying biomathematics.

What were the early years like for you and your family?

The first few years were difficult, but as time progressed it became easier. When we first came here we stayed in a one bedroom apartment, and I remember sleeping on the sofa for a while. Luckily, my aunt moved here before us so it was a lot easier to get settled.

Biggest struggle you faced when you first came to Toronto?

Like most people, it was the language barrier. It was easier for me to learn because I was young, my parents had a harder time

It seems like family played a big role in your move here. Do you still have family in Albania?

Yes, my grandparents are still there along with some aunts and uncles. I’ve never been back, but they like to visit once in while. I’ve lived in the same neighbourhood since we came here, and while we do like to be near family it’s also because a lot of our family friends from Albania live here as well.

What was it like growing up here for you? Did you have any trouble adjusting to school?

No, not really. The school system here is very welcoming to newcomers, and my school offered ESL classes for new immigrants. There were a lot of Albanian kids at my school too, so we all pretty much grouped together naturally and became friends. We’re all still close friends and live in the same area – but of course, we have friends from all cultural backgrounds now.

I think the European culture has remained strong in our house because my parents did not grow up here, so as a result they were more lax in some areas, for instance letting me drink before I was 19, but were stricter in some other aspects. My younger brother, on the other hand, was born here and he gets everything!

 

 

So You Want To Be Canadian, Eh?

Becoming a citizen is the next step for many immigrants who have decided to call Canada their home. Of course, most of the information you need to apply for citizenship can be found online, so there’s really no need to repeat that information here (the process is long and involves substantial paperwork).

That being said, having become a citizen in August 2014, I would like to share with you three fond memories from my citizenship journey.

1. The Citizenship Test

Do you know how many electoral districts there are in Canada? The answer is 308.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that, the only reason I do is because it was an actual question on my citizenship test (along with questions of who founded hockey, and the history of the Peace Tower).

If you’ve successfully applied to be a citizen, the next thing you will receive is a notification that you’ve been summoned for a citizenship test, along with a study guide.

Study guid citizen
The citizenship study guide.

Preparing for this test was one the most exciting parts of the entire process, simply because you learn so much about Canada and get to show off your knowledge.

There are different ways to study for this test. If you’re super studious like my Mom was, you can spend weeks reading this booklet, highlighting and making little notes in it. If, on the other hand, you’re pretty confident (read: lazy) and know the basics of Canadian politics and history, you can probably just read the book once and google “citizenship Canada practice tests.” I mean, we both got 10/10 in the end, so it’s really up to you.

Word of advice though, don’t even try to cheat from your family members taking the test alongside you. Not only will it lead to dire consequences, everyone is given a different test anyways, so your answers will all be wrong.

2. The Citizenship Ceremony

This is it. The big day.

The crown jewel of the citizenship process is without a doubt the swearing in ceremony. On this day you will see soon-to-be Canadians of all ethnic backgrounds gathering to take a pledge that will change their family history. There isn’t really a formal dress code, but most people tend to dress up for the occasion, some more than others. For instance, I saw one family dressed in full-on suits, including the baby, and another woman wearing the most beautiful sari I had ever seen.

The actual ceremony itself is pretty quick. After swearing the oath and singing the national anthem, everybody gets called up one by one to receive their citizenship certificate, shake the judge’s hand, and then sign some documents. After that, the judge will give a moving speech about being Canadian, and then everyone lines up to to take a tonne of photos with her and the Canadian flag (like tourists, ironically).

Canadian starter kit
The Canadian starter kit.

Since Canadians are so generous, you’ll also walk away with a swag bag full of goodies – a starter pack to becoming Canadian if you will. These include a mini Canadian flag, a book and poster of Canadian symbols, a 50% off VIA Rail discount coupon, and a Cultural Access Pass that gains you free entry into any Canadian museum and park for a year. The pass was particularly useful and I miss having that most of all.

3. The Aftermath

I remember my friend, who had been a PR (permanent resident) in Canada for many years, telling me about why she never applied to be citizen:

“You get everything Canadians get as a PR, except you can’t vote, so there’s really no need to become a citizen. Why bother?” she told me.

When I heard that, I did wonder if I was just wasting my time – I mean you still get free healthcare and OSAP no matter what, right?

But I’m happy to say that she was wrong. It’s been almost two years since I became a citizen now, and it’s interesting to see how how my life has changed since then. I’ve voted in two elections, become more politically aware, and am eligible for scholarships, grants, and government jobs that I wasn’t before.

I’m also treated differently when I travel. Not only can I go to most countries safely without a visa, I notice that people are kinder when they see my Canadian passport, versus when I had my Indonesian one before. I guess Canadians are loved the world over.

Even when Canadians are mean, they're polite

Aside from the obvious perks, it’s also great to be fully invested in this nation’s future. After struggling to get here and living here for so many years, it’s a wonderful feeling to know that you are now a citizen and belong to this country’s unique mosaic.

So now that you know my citizenship story, what was yours like? For those of you born Canadian, what has your experience been?

 

 

Succeeding in the Moment

In only five years since moving to Toronto from Lahore, Pakistan, Momin has accomplished what many international students strive to achieve.

Why did you come to Canada? And why Toronto specifically?

I moved to Toronto for university. I chose U of T because of the variety of disciplines that i could study and because it represented an opportunity to be immersed in a truly global environment.

What do you do now?

I’m currently head of community and social media at UrbanToronto, which a news website focusing on real estate development, urban politics and city-focused news. My undergraduate degree is in Urban Studies and Economic Geography, and I have work experience in both the digital media and non-profit environs so the position was a great fit for me. It allows me to use my city-building background and digital media interests at the same time.

Biggest struggle you faced when you first came to Toronto?

My biggest struggle was adjusting to the differences between Canadian and American culture. Having grown up on american pop culture and having also lived there as a toddler, I didn’t know how different Canadian culture to be. I was wonderfully surprised to find that Canadian culture is warmer, more welcoming and has a commitment to inclusivity and diversity unparalleled amongst major developed nations.

a happy momin
Momin graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015.

What shocked you the most when you came here?

What shocked me most about Canada was the high amounts of visibility that minorities have in society here. The immersion process and how it can work successfully was a pleasant surprise.

What do you like most about Toronto?

The pace. It’s both fast and slow at the same time, which is rare for a city as booming as it is.

Any tips for newcomers or refugees coming to Toronto?

Have an open mind – without it you may cut yourself off from what makes life here so attractive.

Let’s Talk Politics

If you were anything like me, it’ll take a while before you get around to figuring out Canada’s political system. So how does politics work here? Let’s start from the top shall we…

Federal Government

Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The federal government is the highest level of government in Canada. This means that decisions made at this level will impact Canadians all over the country.

Most of you are probably aware of our head of government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Although he’s only been in office for less than six months, he’s already pretty popular outside of Canada (“pretty” being the key word here).

That being said, Canada’s official head of state is still the Queen of England. This is because Canada remains part of the Commonwealth (territories previously part of the British empire). And while it explains why her image graces Canadian currency, the Queen also does some other things that benefit our country.

The federal government also consists of the House of Commons, with elected representatives known as Members of Parliament (MPs). Basically, the House of Commons makes Canada’s laws, which are then reviewed by the Senate (who are selected by the Prime Minister). You can find your MP and read more about parliament’s shenanigans here.

Provincial Government

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

The next level of government makes decisions that affect our province, which in this case is Ontario.

In a nutshell: instead of a Prime Minister, there’s a Premier who is the head of government in Ontario. And instead of MPs, there are Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs).

The provincial government is important because it has exclusive jurisdiction over public life that the federal government cannot interfere with (important information if you ever want to differentiate between your MP and MPP).

This also means that education, hospitals, welfare, and other policies can differ between provinces. A good example of this is the different ways alcohol is sold across the provinces. Ontario just approved the sale of beer in grocery stores last year, so that’s good news for us.

Municipal Government

Mayor John Tory
Toronto Mayor John Tory

The final level of government is the municipal government, which deals with everything Toronto related. Residents of the city of Toronto elect a mayor and council members who lead local government and make decisions about transit, infrastructure, libraries, parks, and garbage disposal (to name a few).

The municipal government is perhaps the most accessible level of government for residents, since members of the public can readily present their concerns to councillors at committee meetings.

Our current mayor is pictured on the left, but you’ve probably read in the news recently about the death of our previous mayor, Rob Ford. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying he was an interesting character who generated quite a bit of scandal in his heyday.

So there you have it. What are your thoughts on Canada’s political system? How does it differ from your own country? Do you think Justin Trudeau uses a liberal amount of shampoo (ha-ha)?

Side note: Political parties are another thing to be aware of, but I won’t touch on them here. It’s enough to know for now that Trudeau and Wynne are Liberal, and Tory is Progressive Conservative.

Goodbye Bogota, Hello Toronto

Catalina moved to Toronto from her hometown of Bogota, Colombia seven years ago. Read her story, and find out where life in the 6ix has taken her since.

Why did you come to Toronto?

My step-dad had a job opportunity here through his brother. Also, my parents were aware that opportunities are very limited back in Colombia, and security was a huge concern for them. I also think we came here because Toronto is one of the largest cities in Canada, so there are more opportunities too.

What do you do now?

I’m currently finishing my undergrad in Architecture at Ryerson University. I will start looking for jobs in the near future. One of the problems is that there aren’t enough job offers right now, and competition is very high too.

What was the biggest struggle you faced when you first came here?

We were fortunate enough to not have any big issues. Perhaps a language and cultural barrier. However, I found that locals are very open and understanding.

Photo of Catalina (right) and her parents taken during their first year in Toronto.
Photo of Catalina (right) and her parents, taken shortly after their arrival in Toronto.

Have other members of your family faced difficulties moving here?

After we immigrated to Toronto, two of my uncles came here within the following two years. They have had more issues. One of them came with a student visa, but his process to become a Permanent Resident has been extremely long and unstable. The government changes its policies very often, making it harder to be up-to-date with the documents, time requisites, etc.

My aunt came here through the medicine plan, in which professionals with a medical background are more welcomed in Canada. However, she has been unable to practice medicine. She has presented exams in different parts of Ontario, and is still being denied.

What shocked you the most when you came here?

Something that still shocks me is the consumption and waste generation. Even though there is a lot of publicity about being green and recycling, people have very little environmental concern. Moreover, the consumption of goods…the consumerist culture here is just too much!

Do you ever go back to Colombia?

I’ve been to Colombia three times after I moved here. Everything feels different! The people, the social rules, the traffic, the lifestyle, security, everything. It feels like I’m not Colombian anymore. However, my family and I still have some of the Colombian traditions, with a mix of the Canadian culture. It’s like we don’t really have one specific culture defined anymore. After seven years, my family and I still feel like immigrants in Canada. But if we go back to Colombia, we would also feel like ones.

Any tips for newcomers coming to Toronto?

Just from family and friends’ experiences, the start might be rough, but people need to be open for new opportunities. The city is very expensive too, so bring a lot of savings!

The family today, enjoying some sightseeing in Huntsville, Ontario.
The family today, enjoying some sightseeing in Huntsville, Ontario.