To belong somewhere is as much a physical experience as it is a spiritual one. You can have everything you ever desired in one place and still not feel a sense of belonging.
Right now, I feel at home on the Danforth—and in Toronto. But this wasn’t always the case. Being an international student from Brazil, I was once wary of this unfamiliar neighbourhood.
I remember striding down Carlaw Avenue past all the trees and the houses with pretty porches, far from the main hub of shops, and asking myself, “Where do I fit here?” Between two of these houses, each with its own porch, garden, and colourful door, I stood and wondered whether this space could become home to me, too.
On my way to and from school, I walked up and down Pape Avenue. Week after week, I would challenge myself to get as far as I could from the station. I would enter any door that beckoned to me, and try something new—Greek desserts, Italian gelato–––anything that looked new and different. As I grew bolder, the space around me grew larger. Each day the neighbourhood felt a little brighter and friendlier. Still, it was not home. Not yet.
Then, one day, I laid eyes on the Danforth Music Hall. I was on the other side of the street and my excitement was such that I was almost run over by a car as I dashed towards the beautiful old building. Nobody seems to think it is odd that a concert hall stands in the middle of a suburban neighbourhood, just as the Holy Name Catholic Church nestles proudly among so many bustling stores. Yet these eclectic buildings all share the same space.
And that’s how I knew there was a place for me—and for anyone—on the Danforth. The community is as diverse as they come, and, because of that, its residents will make room for you too. It took me two months, but I now know all the usual faces at the Tim Hortons on Danforth Avenue and I recognize the people who share the subway with me–––I know who gets off where. Every morning, I tell the time to a nice man who takes his coffee by the avenue and he wishes me a nice class.
My favourite spot in the whole neighbourhood is the tiny Little Free Library right at the end of Arundel Street. Built like a deluxe birdhouse, the bright red structure is filled to the brim with books that anyone can take, with the hope that they will leave behind one book in return. At first, the whole concept behind that book exchange blew me away. I couldn’t imagine the level of trust involved in letting strangers take what they wanted, expecting that they would give back in equal measure. But now I understand. This isn’t just a neighbourhood.
This is a community, and communities are built on trust.
I watched as people returned the books they borrowed. I watched as they added new books, too. And I knew right there I could exist in a place like this, that I could belong. I went back the next day, took my prize, and left a nice little paperback edition of Siddhartha.
So, if you, kind reader, doubt that there’s a place for you on the Danforth, please don’t worry. You will find your niche, be it at The Only Café around the corner or at the Carrot Common outdoor market, eating a vegan cookie on the sun-drenched rooftop patio. I know I did.
Image by Manuela Farias
Manuela Farias is a 23-year-old Brazilian journalist. She doesn’t feel like such an outsider anymore.