How one Toronto writer got over the stereotypes and learned to love Vancouver

Claire was the first person I met when I moved to Toronto from Northern Ontario. We lived across the hall from each other in the basement of an all-girls residence at U of T. I still remember the first time she walked over from her room to introduce herself, the two of us wearing matching frosh week T-shirts with our favourite flared jeans, as was the style at the time. We quickly became friends, spending lazy afternoons lying around together binge watching Sex and the City DVDs when we should have been reading Foucault

Claire was from Vancouver and, in my coming-of-age quest to form a new identity as a big-city sophisticate (basically, everything I was not), I followed the lead of my newfound GTA-born friends and turned my nose up at her beautiful hometown. For reasons still not fully understood, any mention of Vancouver would elicit scoffs of contempt. These young over-achievers were on the track to make bank on Bay Street, not drift aimlessly as peace-and-love yogis with a fondness for grass. And as Toronto was now the centre of my universe, I blindly decided I had no use for leisurely pursuits like snowboarding, hiking and whatever other second-rate activities I imagined went down out there. “But the ocean! And the mountains!” Claire would protest, a valid statement that fell on deaf ears. I’ve since visited Vancouver a handful of times, most recently to visit my dear friend, who’s now a boss lawyer engaged to a wonderful man. Each time left me somewhat “meh” about the city. Before I went, I decided this visit would be different. I would really embrace the mountains and the ocean, and the sort of laidback ’tude that I imagine goes along with B.C. life.

After stopping at the original Lululemon store, my first activity to really get myself in the B.C. mindset was a yoga class at Semperviva studio in Kitsilano. It was everything my usual Nike-led high-intensity training is not, including terrifying. Freestyle hip stretches and rotations that “feel good” in a roomful of blissed out strangers had the equal and opposite intended affect on me. I eventually loosened up when our instructor, preaching from a candle-lit platform, announced that he was going to blow our minds. “You know what’s weird?” he asked. “We all have a face.” Right? (“But like, wouldn’t it be weirder if I didn’t have a face?” I wondered.)

After 90 minutes of yogi zen, I took myself for a stroll along Fourth Avenue to look for the greenest cold-pressed juice I could find, winding up at Glory Juice Co where I discovered a little glass vial of something called QuintEssential Bioterrain Restore. Described as raw, unheated ocean minerals, no one really knew what it was for but I just had to try it, even if it meant paying $5 for 10 mL of ocean water (that’s two teaspoons!). This mystery liquid would come in handy as a restorative cure as, the next night, Claire took me to a party at an artists’ collective warehouse/studio on the city’s lower east side. When we arrived we were greeted in the parking lot by Daisy, the world’s largest solar-powered tricycle. Standing at least 20 feet tall with at 10-step ladder to climb into its carriage, Daisy looked like it had been to Burning Man and back, because it had. A corporate-sponsored, swagified Toronto fashion industry party this was not, and it was so much fun.

I was really starting to enjoy the Vancouver version of myself. Between a morning schvitz, a scenic stroll along the Seawall and the best sushi I’ve had outside of Tokyo, not even the never-ending rain could get me down. Who needs tiny, overpriced designer dives blasting ’90s hip hop so loud you can’t hear what your friends are saying? Packed-like-sardines streetcar commutes and hour-long line-ups for brunch? Not me. Perhaps the best indication that I was really feeling at peace was that I decided to meet up with two (yes, two) old flames for herbal tea while I was there, because #onelove. It was actually kind of nice and a little like the episode of Sex and the City when Miranda revisits her reformed cynic ex-boyfriend in Los Angeles—minus the eating disorder. They seemed, well, happy.

Back in Toronto, I quickly forgot all of the new habits I’d picked up on my West Coast getaway. I swapped my green juice for too much coffee and my all-night Burner parties for after-work catch-ups at trendy small-plates wine bars. All that time spent in the misty outdoors became a distant memory as I resumed my hurried lifestyle, leaving my yoga pants in the back of my closet. Still, I’ve held onto some of the B.C. lessons that I learned from Claire during the few years we spent together finding our way in a new city. Claire has always made a point of enjoying her life, whether that means going for a hike on Cypress Mountain (which we did once, me in my Converse All-Stars and her in proper hiking boots), taking the time to cook a delicious meal for friends or unapologetically indulging her penchant for sparkly gold shoes and sequined dresses. It turns out I can take or leave the mountains and the ocean, but a joie de vivre should follow you wherever you go.