Entry #1 June 18, 2009

Welcome to Babel.

I was born in the city of Toronto on the north side of Lake Ontario. From my early childhood, I watched the city grow from a dull provincial backwater into a vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis that has become home to millions of people from across Canada and around the world. You do not have to leave Toronto to see the world. It comes to you. I love the tumultuous mix of people who have made my city grow and mature. They bring a swirl of cultures, color and sophistication, rawness and an edge to life. No matter where I have travelled since in the world, in Asia or Europe, I am where friends were born and share a heritage. No matter where I go, I do not think of it as a foreign country, I am visiting relatives and friends of friends.

I now live in Babel. Babel is my name for a smaller city in the Greater Toronto Area. It is a bedroom community for people working in Toronto. There are regular GO trains and buses to the city and a six-lane highway goes straight to the city, an easy drive. In many ways, I have the best of both worlds. I have a magnificent view of the lake. It is a smaller lake than Lake Ontario but one large enough to disappear in the horizon. And, an hours’ drive away, I still have my Toronto.

The bay here in Babel affords an ever-changing vista. We shiver to the storms of winter and enjoy the happy cries of swimmers in the summer. We compare the lazy regattas of the yacht clubs with the remarkable speed of the iceboats. And there are always some of those misanthropes out there fishing.

Besides the view from my home, Babel offers the usual amenities. There are the same big box stores you will find in Toronto. Good shoppers can still find bargains at the grocery stores. There are two Canadian Tire Stores, one in the north end of town and one in the south. There is an excellent library. The main street downtown is wall-to-wall bars separated by the occasional struggling retailer, to break the monotony.

But Babel is not like the fabled small town of Mariposa fame. Babel is an accident. When the first British Governor of Upper Canada, Colonel John Graves Simcoe, ordered a great road north to be built by his engineers, they became lost in Babel. Everyone going north has been lost here ever since. It is deliberate. There are no signs in modern Babel to direct a traveller around the lake named for our first governor. His storied road ends abruptly somewhere in the middle of town, only to reappear in the wilds north of here. The unwary traveller who forgoes the province’s six-lane road, that now bisects Babel, is expected to stay and add to Babel’s burgeoning population.

Babel is now a city with a population of more than 135,000 lost souls. Regrettably, the city only has infrastructure and support services for about 85,000. The need for growth is the cause for the city enjoying a cacophony of pile drivers for the past two years as the city fathers add on to amenities such as increased sewage capacity so that Babel will not foul its source of drinking water. This building boom, with its attendant road closures reached the point where, at one time, the city closed all of the major north-south arteries east of the provincial highway. One city wag pointed gleefully to the traffic jams and claimed we were becoming more like Toronto every day.

Babel continues to grow in the time-honoured tradition of great cities: by stealing adjacent serviced land from neighbouring communities

Babel’s traffic patterns are something else. It is a rare street, of more than two blocks, that continues to go in one direction. Mind you, there is also the rare street in Babel that uses the same name for more than two blocks. Before the availability of cheap global positioning systems (GPS), taxi trips in this city were a venturesome experience.

It is been the influx of Torontonians that makes Babel an especially dangerous place in which to operate an automobile. Weird, illogical roads and the mix of farmers, small-town clerks and Torontonians adds up to trouble. The locals proceed at a dignified pace down the centre of the road with Torontonians skittering around them like fast moving balls in a pinball machine. Locals have to be sure there is no traffic seen, in any direction, before entering or crossing a thoroughfare. The Torontonians are the ones behind them leaning on their car horns.

Babel has its charms too. It is like the old Cheers theme: we need a place where everybody knows our name. Babel is that place.

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