"Thanks, your tourist dollars are appreciated", Dan Jelly says to me after I my purchase four Hamilton neighbourhood maps at Hamilton's Mixed Media shop. It is March 2, 2020 and I'm visiting Hamilton to give a lecture at McMaster University.
For the 2019/20 academic year, I was a Fellow-at-Large of the University of Toronto and took up residence in a suite on campus in Downtown Toronto. Thus, becoming a Torontoian albeit temporarily.
I'm from Hamilton, in case you did not already know. I have been accused of taking my hometown pride too far. During my time living at UofT, they all came to know me as the person from Hamilton.
We should all be able to love our hometowns, and we should. I am confident if I were born elsewhere, I be just as proud of that place. My confidence is backed by the experiences of living in Winnipeg, and most recently Toronto.
What makes for a great place to live is opportunities to join a community of interest and to seek self-fulfilment. That community of interest can be geographically defined, interest defined, or academically definied.
I came to love living in Toronto, and to build a sense of community within the big city. Geographically, my community was the campus and amenities. For my interests of public policy and municipal affairs, I joined the community of academics at McLaughlin College at York University.
Most days, I looked forward to the conversations at the cafeteria restaurant in Tartu College. Tartu is an independently owned and operated student residence founded by the Estonian-Canadian community, and the restaurant on its main floor is popular with both the Estonia community and former University of Toronto students. Conversations of the idealistic experiment that was Rochdale College were common, as were discussions of Estonian culture and contemporary European affairs. I quite enjoyed conversations with an Estonian choir group each week.
On campus, being a Fellow-at-Large gave me the opportunity to be a positive mentor to young undergraduates and other students. UofT is a giantic campus, in the centre of a giantic city, and it is easy to walk the entire place without encountering anyone you know.
It is Friday, September 13, 2019. Around 3:30pm, I needed a break and left my office to go get ice cream off-campus. Wearing my finest suit, I have to attend a formal dinner this evening, I wander into campus orientiation. In a miracle of good luck, I see an ice cream truck in front of University College!
Standing in line, I notice a group of first-year undergraduates who are looked at me with curiousity. They are clearly trying to figure out what to make of a nicely dressed middle-aged guy standing in line at the ice cream truck. I can hear they are trying to dare each other to approach me and ask me who I am. Eventually, one of them walks over and very nervously asks if I'm a "professor or something". "Yes, kinda, I do give guest lectures", I respond.
Now, I am not exactly a professor, but I am not about to try to explain what a Fellow-at-Large is - even those of us immersed in the campus politic struggle to define the role.
We strike up a brief conversation, he asks "they let you get ice cream" (or something to that effect), and I try to be inspirational about how university is an experience of exploration, learning, and being yourself. I learn what he is studying, we chat about campus, I get my ice cream, and carry-on.
I'll encounter this student a few times walking on campus during the academic year, each time I enjoy our brief conversations and feel more part of the community as a result.
A chance encounter in January (or was it early February) behind University College involves a group of University of Toronto Student Union leaders offering me free Oreos! The student union president hailed from Hamilton, one of the UC reps hailed from Hamilton as well. I was lucky to meet so many young leaders through them.
I do enjoy public policy and municipal affairs. Friends of mine who know Toronto's universities well suggested McLaughlin College invite me to participate in their speakers series. I joined the community there, greatly enjoying reading recommendations provided by graduate students.
Thus, I found community in Toronto and enjoyed my time living them. I am back where I belong in Hamilton, and brought back a few University of Toronto masks and my UofT "Home is Toronto" shirt to "troll" around Hamilton wearing.
BTW, the shirt is two sizes too large, but that's all they have left.
As I wrote two weeks ago, "Wear a [UofT] Mask"