Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Still Clean, but Dull No More: `Toronto the Vibrant' Emerges Economic Hub of Canada Is Enlivened by High Culture - and Different Cultures Series: CANADIAN JOURNEYS. First of 8 Articles Appearing Today

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Still Clean, but Dull No More: `Toronto the Vibrant' Emerges Economic Hub of Canada Is Enlivened by High Culture - and Different Cultures Series: CANADIAN JOURNEYS. First of 8 Articles Appearing Today

Article excerpt

TORONTO is to Canada what New York City is to the United States - the economic and cultural hub of a nation. But this city is less frenetic and has a dash of British sensibility spicing its flavorful ethnic stew.

Compared with New York's conspicuous clash of rich and poor and its residents' well-honed survival instincts, Toronto's economic strata seem less extreme. And because they live in one of North America's safest cities, Torontonians don't need to be combat ready when out for a stroll.

It is this "civilized" quality that makes Toronto different while evoking a feeling of familiarity, especially among Americans. Yet there are unmistakable signs that this is a "foreign" city.

Canada is officially bilingual, so there are French translations on everything from highway signs to cereal boxes. And unlike Boston, for instance, pedestrians are king in Toronto - yet are admonished by street-corner signs to "obey your signals."

Metropolitan Toronto is home to 3.9 million people. Excluding adjacent municipalities, the city itself has about 700,000 inhabitants and is among the cleanest - if not the most spic-and-span - of the major cities in North America.

Tourists from the United States can scarcely believe it: No trash in the gutters. No wads of newspapers blowing down the street. It's a sure reminder to visitors that - despite the familiarity of the fast-food franchises - being in this city isn't just like being back in the good old (messy) USA. Visitors also get the distinct feeling of being a world citizen, a feeling that flows from Toronto's ethnic and cultural shift.

In 1957, Europe was the source of 95 percent of Canada's immigrants, most of them from the United Kingdom. By 1990, European immigrants were 29 percent of the total, compared with 49 percent from Asia, most of whom settled in cities. "Visible minorities" in metropolitan Toronto now make up 24 percent of its residents, say sociologists Larry Bourne and David Ley.

THIS shift is most in evidence when exploring Toronto's streets, where its ethnic and cultural vitality are on display: Chinatown stretches along Dundas St. West; Little Italy is on College St. West; "The Danforth" holds a Greek enclave.

A subtler indicator of change comes in conversation. Popping up now and again is the phrase "Toronto the good," a backhanded compliment Canadians pay their city that harks back to when everything from politics to cooking was white, European, and Protestant. Reinforcing the old image of a bland city that tucks itself in at night is the famous remark by W.C. Fields: "I went to Toronto last Sunday; it was closed."

But this city long ago shed the vestiges of dullness for a high-octane vitality that wraps into one package sports, architecture, multicultural festivals, food, theater, and film. Today it is "Toronto the vibrant."

For example, there's Caribana, a huge Caribbean festival that runs from July 18 to Aug. 1 with a big parade July 30. Such attractions have helped make Toronto the most-often-visited city in Canada, with 25 million visitors in 1992. …

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