Toronto the Mostly Good?

It’s hard for me to believe that Torontonians can be so unhelpful and even heartless, after this week’s news report of a 79-year-old man being mugged on the subway, without receiving help from his fellow passengers. So I was feeling a little more relieved to read that police feel that the incident happened so quickly that citizens could not react fast enough to help the poor man.

The heartless Toronto is not one that I’m familiar with. When we were getting ready to move from Montreal to this area, we were told by some friends and acquaintances, “Oh, they only think about themselves in Toronto. They’re all about business, living in a large, cold city, indifferent to others. They’ll step on the back of your shoes to get to where they’re going.” And so on.

So on our first full day in the big city, playing tourists, we readied ourselves for the worst. We stood at Union Station, looking at a map of the transit system. Several TTC users stopped by, not to consult the map, but specifically to ask us if we were lost, and if we needed help. When I waited on the platform, someone tapped me on the shoulder. Was he going to ask me for change, or even pickpocket me? No. “Excuse me, I just wanted to let you know that your backpack zipper is open. You might want to close it.”

Then, a couple of years later when I had two kids—one, an infant in the sling, and the other, a 5-year-old holding on to my hand as we navigated the slippery stairs down to Osgoode Station, during rush hour on a winter day—I experienced another Toronto moment on the transit system. A man about my age, dressed nattily in a business suit, picked up my 5-year-old under the arms. Before I could say anything, he reassured me quickly, “Don’t worry, I just want to make sure that she gets down safely. You have enough to worry about.” And he steadily made his way down the steps with my daughter held carefully, and deposited her on the ground. “Here you go, mom,” he said, and quickly disappeared into the crowd with his companion.

These are just some examples of the goodness that I have seen in the big city, while navigating the TTC system. I’m not saying that there are all good, helpful people in this city. But I’d like to think that there were people on that train, representative of the Toronto that I’ve come to know, who would have helped out someone in need if they had had the chance. I’ve ridden plenty of buses, subways, and trains in Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto, and I stand firmly by my statement that Toronto has the most courteous riders I’ve seen.

And not one of them has yet to deliberately step on my heels, in their rush to get to where they’re going.