February 22, 2020
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The great writer and commentator, Tom Wolfe, once described this city as "New York run by the Swiss". Now back then, in the 1960s, so unsophisticated were the locals that they regarded this as a compliment. "New York!", they’d exclaim, deconstructing Wolfe’s withering apercu, "and the Swiss, wow, he likes us?" Well these days, the great man might utter different words were he to steel himself for a trip outside Manhattan to this vast, gleaming megalopolis by the turbid expanse of Lake Ontario.

First he might notice that there aren’t many Swiss people running around. Toronto has become Canada’s—possibly North America’s—most culturally diverse city. Nearly half of its 3 million people were born outside the wintry shores of Canada, most of them decidedly Asian, African or Caribbean in appearance. Even those Europeans who still settle in Toronto are from the wilder bits of Europe—Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, Bosnia. It all makes for a teeming mix of nationalities and a welcome obliteration of the Protestant, strait-laced, Anglo-Saxon tone that gave rise to Wolfe’s parting comment. The bars stay open all night, there is a huge and demonstrative gay community, restaurants offer everything from Kerala seafood to Ethiopian flat breads. In St Lawrence market, the place to buy fresh food, I counted 17 different varieties of rice on sale. South Asians, of course, are among the deans of Toronto’s non-European inhabitants. Some even grumble unappreciatively at the hordes of newcomers, swamping the streetcars and filling the bylanes with the smells of their cooking. "I just wish they’d learn to adapt better, this is Canada you know," said a friend of mine from Peshawar, as we ate Macedonian pastries in a coffee shop run by Eritreans.

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