Category Archives: English

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Once, when I was looking for Germans in Ontario

If you are bound for Toronto, you’ll soon notice districts like Chinatown, Little Italy or Little Jamaica. It seems like every nation has found it’s place in the city. It goes without saying, England and France, the former colonial powers, are present everywhere. Though, if you are looking for Germans in Toronto, you need endurance.

Approximately ten per cent of all Canadians have a German background. Most of the ethnic Germans live in Ontario. In Toronto they are obviously well integrated and they seem to hide their origin from public – if I want to get real German bread, I must travel to the edge of the city.

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German pioneers helped to build Canada

German immigrants have not only shaped Toronto, they also helped to build the nation. William Moll-Berzy for example, who originates from Nördlingen, helped John Graves Simcoe to found the City of Toronto. With his German settlers, William Moll-Bercy also built a large part of Yonge Street – the longest and arguably most important street in the city.

Today, Toronto accommodates several German institutions, such as the German-Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Goethe Institute, several religious communities and one of three German Consulates General in Canada. Many German companies and financial institutions, such as Siemens, Deutsche Bank, BASF and Mercedes Benz coordinate their Canadian businesses in the GTA.

This could be a good point of departure for a stable German community in Toronto. Despite that I had to search until I connected to German groups. Fortunately there are search engines and internet based social networks which help to connect the German community.

If you are looking for Germans, you must go online

There are two very active German groups at Meetup: The German Meetup Toronto and the Greater Toronto German Club. Both provide frequent events, such as a regulars’ table at a pub and an afternoon for German parents with their kids. The meetings are casual, most of the participants want to make new contacts, they look for advice or they just like conversations in German. I’ve never been to a boring meeting, met many interesting people there and became acquainted to exciting life stories.

German immigrants found a new home in Kitchener

Actually the centre of the German-Canadian community is based northwest of Toronto, about one hour and a half away if you drive by car. German immigrants nestled themselves in Kitchener and Waterloo. Even today they maintain German traditions there. Kitchener boasts to have the second biggest Oktoberfest in the world.

There are also several German clubs and societies which are located in this region. If you set aside the official German institutions in Toronto, most of the initiatives that promote German culture come from those two cities.

Since 2000, German Pioneers Day has officially been celebrated in Ontario : Every year, one day after Thanksgiving, the accomplishments of German pioneers in Canada are honoured and German flags fly in Toronto and Kitchener. The German Pioneers Day is recognized by law in Ontario due to an initiative of Wayne Wettlaufer, resident of Kitchener and former member of the parliament of Ontario.

German-Canadians in Kitchener and Waterloo have been celebrating their German origin and culture, which strengthens their identity for generations. It seems to me that this consciousness of national identity is less important for Germans that have recently arrived in Canada. It’s a pity they hide their origin – especially because many Canadians have old fashioned stereotypes in mind, if they think about Germany. I’ll report about these stereotypes in the following post.

Despite it’s grey skyline: Toronto is a city of trees

At first glance, Toronto seems to be rather grey – especially because of the traffic which rolls continuously through it’s streets. At second glance you can see, Toronto also provides a lot of green spaces.

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The first time I arrived in Toronto I was shocked: The city didn’t meet the expectations I had of Canada. The highway upon which we entered the city had twelve lanes of traffic and the skyline, made of glass, chrome and cement, was twinkling aggressively in the evening sun. We drove several kilometres on Yonge Street, passing apartment blocks, pubs and hundreds of small shops.

We live on Yonge Street and the traffic flows in front of our windows 24 hours a day. After living here for three months I still haven’t adjusted to the noise and the dust the cars produce. Fortunately, from here it’s just a few steps to the next green and quiet spots.

Toronto is green aside the main streets

Even if it’s not obvious at first glance, nature has a significant value in Toronto. Almost forty per cent of the city is covered with trees, bushes and grass. Many of the side streets lead in shady residential areas, with gardens and trees growing in front of the houses.

This concept shapes Toronto: The main streets are busy, and the traffic flows as slowly as molasses. Indeed, if you turn onto a side street you find yourself in a quiet residential area with small houses, gardens and trees along the street. Unfortunately, to live there you must have a good salary. In some fancier areas, such as Rosedale which is around the corner, a modest house costs at least a million dollars.

You’ll find nature just a few steps further down

The city left streams, rivers and ravines to their own resources or recultivated them. A few steps from our apartment there is a trail that leads to a ravine. If I walk down there, the big city is out of sight and out of sound – it feels like I am walking in the German Black Forest. After walking for an hour, I arrive at the Don River Valley which leads down to the lakeshore.

Both big rivers in Toronto, the Don River and the Humber River, flow through the heart of the city, embedded in green valleys. Along the river beds grow trees like the Staghorn Sumac, a native tree which is well known for it’s beautiful ruby colored blossoms. The water of the Humber River is clear and families picnic at the river’s shore. There’s also the opportunity to rent a canoe to paddle down to the lake.

Lake Ontario is a destination for people who need a break from the big city’s rush. Bike trails and boardwalks go along the shore for kilometers. If you don’t have your own yacht or sailboat in the harbour, you can also explore the coastline with a rented sea kayak. Many people expect Lake Ontario is very dirty and polluted by the city’s waste and sewage water. Toronto’s beaches are actually awarded with Blue Flags – an international standard for cleanliness and sustainable management.

Some days ago the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail published an article saying fishing at the Toronto’s harbourfront is healthy and you can catch proper sport fish. However, not everybody is convinced: a friend of mine told me he noticed a lot of garbage on the when he was swimming at the Islands.

Birds rule the rubble on the shore

Toronto has many public parks. High Park, in the west end, is one of the most beautiful. It has almost 160 hectares and extends down to the lake. Besides many playgrounds and recreation facilities, the park has a small zoo and in summer theatre lovers visit the High Park Amphitheatre, where performances take place in the evening.

In my opinion, the green highlights of the city are the Tommy Thompson Park and the Toronto Islands. Actually at Tommy Thompson Park trucks unloaded stones, diggings and rubble for decades. Over the years a small peninsula developed on which rare plants, birds, butterflies, snakes and rabbits found a new home. Today it is called “Toronto’s urban wilderness”.

Nowhere in Toronto live more birds than in Tommy Thompson Park. It is said that about 300 different bird species visit the peninsula every year, some of them stay the whole year. If I bike down the park – one of my favourite routes ends there – I startle finks and Canadian geese that glance at me with irritation.

The Islands are a popular place of family excursions, I’ll write about them in detail in a following post.

More about Toronto’s nature

Toronto’s weekly newspaper NOW dedicated some articles to the ravines and valleys of the city:

10 things you didn’t know about Toronto’s river valleys

Ravine city

Ravine secrets