When I first came to Toronto as a graduate student, I found the city exciting but lonely. My fellow students met weekly for short seminars and then scattered. Hart House excluded women, unless accompanied by a man. Massey College did not admit female students. I met a law student and we decided to share a flat near the Danforth. Apart from my new housemate and my landlady, I knew no one else, did not know the city, and spent a dismal year.
Today, newcomers to both Vancouver and Toronto needn’t despair. Meetup groups exist in both cities to bring people together around specific interests. It could be hiking, music, photography, local area groups, young mothers’ groups; options are broad and enticing, all described on the internet. Some Meetup groups are free; others have a small fee, to pay the facilitator and cover costs.
Meetup groups are not just for newcomers or young people. Anyone can take part. It occurred to me that the West End YMCA Walking Club, which meets Sunday mornings at the College Street West End YMCA, is like a Meetup group, although not structured the same way. Lori Myers, a dedicated and knowledgeable fan of Toronto, facilitates this particular group, maintains the webpage, and leads the walks. Participants can join in whenever they want, just by showing up at 9:00 a.m. The walks provide good exercise, interesting conversation, and great camaraderie. An internet search of “walking groups in Toronto” lists many other options in the city, including a power walking group, and groups that walk in malls.
I have a friend on the west coast who joined her local Meetup Walking Group in Maple Ridge in the Fraser Valley. Her membership is free of charge and gives access to all the other Meetup groups in the entire Lower Mainland. She receives notice of upcoming hikes by email and need only pre-register in advance by internet for each hike. She now hikes two or three times each week with different groups, each time exploring new areas of the city that she does not know, in the company of others.
Last month, I joined the Vancouver Walking Meetup group and, with my friend, explored the south end of Pacific Spirit Park near the University of British Columbia. A forest of trees, some old growth, intertwined with paths, Pacific Spirit Park has lots to offer. It is, however, a large area, and, even with a map, people may not feel comfortable exploring the park alone. The Meetup group is an ideal solution. An experienced guide with particular knowledge of the area led a small group of only fifteen or so hikers for two hours one Sunday morning. It was a perfect introduction to a wilderness area in the heart of the city which I had long wanted to visit and never had done.
The Sunday we went, it was raining hard. Hardly ideal hiking weather. But the trees in the woods shielded us from the rain, and the trails are well maintained so that footing is not a problem. The trees and the greenery are lush, and so aromatic. In the breaks in the weather, we stopped to dwell on the ferns, underbrush, hollowed out logs, evergreens, and pools of water. After two hours in the out-of-doors, we revel in our physical well-being and in the revival of our senses. Altogether a most delightful experience.