CBC News just mentioned that 10 years ago SARS hit Toronto. That means that it’s been 10 years since we came to Toronto to look for an apartment. We came to the city amidst the worldwide panic over the disease. Even my grandmother in Brazil had heard about it and called asking me to go back. I had been accepted at U of T’s PhD program and we were hoping to move early in the summer so we could have a few months to settle in. Alan took a week off work, and we drove to Toronto to look for a place to live. We stayed with a friend, who was a health care worker, and found ourselves in Chinatown when looking for Kensington Market (which I really wanted to visit). We weren’t worried. By then it was clear to us that the media had blown the crisis out of proportion.
After four years commuting to university, I wanted to live at walking distance from campus. We focused our search on the Annex on the first day and got very dispirited the first day. Our criteria was simple: 2 bedrooms, walking distance to campus, pet friendly. All we saw the first day were dingy basements with 6 ft ceilings or attics that looked hastily partitioned for $1400. We paid $900 for a three-bedroom townhouse with a yard in Pointe-Claire, a leafy suburb a 15 min drive from downtown Montreal. We were shocked and wondering if we were ever going to find a decent place. We decided to look east of campus. We visited an apartment near Jarvis st that wasn’t so bad but a bit pricy (around $1500). As we drove back, we saw a nice brownstone building on Maitland St. I called the number on the sign but they didn’t have anything available. As we walked back to our car, we walked by a sign for the rental office of 17-story high rise. Alan was not interested in living in a high rise but I insisted we ask to see what they had. I didnt want to live in a highrise either but I was getting desperate. It turns out they had a two-bedroom apartment that had JUST been vacated. They hadn’t even cleaned it yet and the Helga, the rental agent, warned us that it would not “show well”. We worried when she said that because people had shown us some very disgusting places without any warning of the sort. She then lead us into the cleanest apartment I had seen. It had a wide, l-shaped living room /dining room with wall to wall windows. It was a corner apartment with large rooms, a small kitchen and bathroom, and big windows. The trees in front (we were on the second floor) made us feel like we were in a house. The rent was reasonable ($1,350 at the time), the building was super pet friendly, there was central air. How could it be so cheap? Turns out that being in the gay village kept rents a bit lower. We saw it as a bonus. We took it immediately and have lived here ever since. We moved out when we went to Spain for a year. A week before returning from Spain, I emailed Helga. Turns out she had another 2-bedroom corner unit in the same corner we had lived in. She would hold us for us to look at when we got back in town. We came back to the building.
Whenever anyone mentions SARS, that’s what I remember. Apartment-hunting in a city that has since become our home and that I have adopted as my own.