Roxanne Tellier: Big City Love

rox lolas May 2014 3

I have lived on a beautiful, quiet, residential street in Scarborough for 15 years this month. Up the street, just a stagger away, is a busy local pub called the Black Dog, where I’ve seen many a friend play, and drank many a cold pint.

At the very bottom of my street, a brisk downhill walk of about 16 minutes, is a GO station, and just beyond that, there’s a Waterfront Trail, that reaches from Pickering to Kingston Road, and beyond.

Rouge biker

For all of my whining and bitching about being stranded here in “Scarberia,” it’s a lovely area … very green, with well-tended homes and gardens. You could argue that my lack of enjoyment is 100% down to a lack of funds, my inability to drive, and the impossible vagaries of the easternmost point of the TTC. And I’m sure that’s largely correct. But there’s more to it than that … a craving deep in my soul that I’ve denied for too long … my love of city life.


I will miss some things about living here when we move, especially my private beach – well, it’s private because no one is supposed to be on it, but let’s let that be our little secret – and I know my lake will miss me. We’ve spent a lot of quality time together, she and I.


But at heart, I’m a city girl. My family moved from Edmonton to Montreal when I was about 11, and my formative years were spent exploring and enjoying what a big, sophisticated, multi-cultured city had to offer. I knew all of the cool places around town and on the Mountain as a teenager, danced to disco when Crescent Street was the most happening place in Canada, and hung out with the athletes in the Olympic Village in the summer of ’76.


I came to Toronto with little more than an overnight bag on September 1, 1976. It was only when I stepped off the train that I realized that I knew nothing about the geography of my new city. I knew only one person, whom I’d met just a few days before, so I called him and ran a list of streets by him – I honestly didn’t know where I was, or what areas of the city would be dangerous for a newly arrived young woman. Through a process of elimination, I found a room in a big house in Yorkville, run by a scruffy young guy who loved sex and drugs and rock and roll. And booze … lots of booze. Yep, I’d arrived!

lowther 1970

The house was a former ‘stately home’ that had been cut up into rooms, and in each one of those rooms, another male or female street character was pursuing their dreams of stardom or oblivion. The price was right, and I was steps from Yonge and Bloor, the self-proclaimed Center of the Universe.

And so began my adventures in the Big Smoke.

yonge and bloor 1970 drawing

I survived my youth with my City Rat skills, learning to survive on whatever I could scrounge that was cheap but nutritious, wriggling out of one scary trap after another, and trusting in my gut instincts. By nature and nurture, I’m a survivor.

cityrats dvd

A survivor who cannot be turned into a Country Mouse, no matter how hard she tries.


A Country Mouse prefers quiet streets, safety, and regular hours. This City Rat loves to roam downtown through the dark, teetering on high heels, and daring the world to show her its worst. I love new art, new music, comedy, and most of all, a steady diet of new information and education … one of the hardest things to leave behind when I moved to Scarborough was the classes I took in acting and improv … the nearly two hour journey downtown, and a connecting bus that stopped running at midnight sucked the energy right out of me.


I really did try to get used to having a big house, an even bigger front and back lawn, and the cleaner air of the suburbs. (I know. Poor me. First world problems.) But the effort nearly killed me. It’s time to get back to where I belong – downtown. Where all the lights are bright, as Pet Clark sang.

Editor’s Note: And don’t forget we also have a nap option here in Toronto after a long night of nightlife….

I’ve been reading lately about the reversed migration of baby boomers, who left the cities en masse, lemming-like, in the 90’s, but who now realize that they need to make their way back to where the transportation is more accessible, and where intellectual stimulation, both good and bad, awaits their aging brains. Yes, the city is noisy, often dirty, and the streets seem chock a block with people and cars and bicycles and prams and panhandlers. But contact with people who are engaged in really living their lives, not ‘fixing to die,’ is what a lot of us crave.


Last week, my friend Sue Peters, a writer and busker, wrote this about Toronto on Facebook: “ Last night after a quiet dinner in our park we went for a walk up Church Street. Blocks before we reached College we could hear the thumping bass! From there on north, it was shoulder to shoulder (or shoulder to head for us short folk) crowds. We walked back down via Yonge and it was crowded too. Downtown seemed so vibrant and alive!”

That’s the lure, for the City Rat. Being part of the human race, excited to see what might be around the corner. Sitting on a Danforth patio, watching the world go by. Shopping on Queen Street, east or west, popping into shops in the very European west end of Bloor, discovering new music in any of the many pubs and clubs that litter the city. Breathing in the smell of summer rain on wet concrete, or the briny, almost stink of the lake in the summer.

You can take the rat out of the city, but you can never take the city out of the rat. Time to get back to where I belong …

= RT =

Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

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DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. After years of doing things she didn’t want to do, she’s found herself working with a bunch of crazy people who are as batshit crazy and devoted to music as she is, and so she can be found every Monday at Cherry Cola’s, completely unable to think of anything funny to say, as the co-host of Bob Segarini’s The Bobcast. Come and mock her. She’s good with that. And she laughs. A lot. But not at you.

3 Responses to “Roxanne Tellier: Big City Love”

  1. mslobro Says:

    sweet column. 🙂

  2. So this feeling of missing the city still after 10 years is normal? 😞

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