Changing the scenery: from big cities to the suburbs

By / Magazine / October 30th, 2018 / Like

I love the smell of concrete in the morning. I have always lived in big cities. I was born in London, England, went to universities in Montreal, Cambridge, Mass., and Dublin.

I spent a few months in New York, looking for work in radio, and settled for 42 years in Toronto.

I have always considered myself a Big City boy. The only time in my life — I’m now closing in on eighty — that I have lived in a rural environment was when I spent a year working on a kibbutz in Israel, beginning two weeks after the Six Day War in 1967.

My job was to pick Ogen melons in the pre-dawn hours for shipment that day to markets in Europe. Back-breaking work. Then I graduated to laying pipes in the orange groves to water the young trees. Apart from that bucolic, super-charged chlorophyll experience, I have always lived among skyscrapers.

Until last October.

My wife and I decided then to move out of Toronto. Disenchanted by the overwhelming construction around us (20 condo buildings were being built within a half mile radius of our condo in mid-town Toronto, plus the never-ending construction of the Eglinton Crosstown Metrolinx). All of which would mean, for the next five years at least, there would be noise, dirt, congestion and insane traffic around us.

The question was, where to move? We could have chosen Prince Edward County, a two-hour drive east of Toronto, and lived next to a winery. We could have gone north of Toronto to cottage country (but there’s too much snow in winter up there and it breaks my heart to see my wife shovel); or we could have moved to the Niagara region where we already had a community of friends in the wine industry.

The decision was easy. We upsized and bought a four-bedroom house in Port Dalhousie, a waterfront suburb in St. Catharines. We moved bag and baggage, the wine cellar and our Wheaten Terrier, Pinot the Wonderdog, an hour and twenty minutes away from Toronto and a million miles away from its noise and bustle. (The house we bought, incidentally, was built some 18 years ago by the mother of my wine writer colleague Chris Waters, who edits Vines magazine — such is the closeness of the wine community here.)

Port Dalhousie, the home of the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, is pronounced ‘duh-LOO-zee’ and not ‘Dal-housie’ as any right-mined person would say it. Apparently the bizarre pronunciation came from the Scottish sailors and ship builders who frequented the area. The locals, who must be embarrassed by the pronunciation, simply call it “Port.”

And now when I have to travel in to Toronto for wine tastings and other wine events or to record my 680 News wine reviews, I drive by vineyards before I get on the QEW.

When I have to drive to and from Toronto, I resent fighting the traffic and am appalled at the parking fees. Walking Toronto’s streets, I now feel like a country bumpkin, staring up at the high-rise towers. In Port you look at everything from eye level; in Toronto you’re always craning your neck upwards.

Now instead of slipping into a neighbourhood pub for a drink, I visit a local winery; when my wife and I go out to dinner, it’s invariably to one of the many winery restaurants in the Niagara region. And whenever I visit a winery, I always buy a couple of bottles — which means my cellar is looking decidedly VQA Ontario.

It’s quiet here and the people are polite, acknowledging you in the street, waving from their cars. Wonderfully peaceful and rural — and yet, and yet, the CN Tower still beckons …


Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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