The worst thing about Toronto, after the wretched transit system and the brutal architecture, is its climate. Supposedly, it’s temperate. Temperate! Temperate? It’s 5 1/2 months freezing in the dark in Tuktoyaktuk, then 5 1/2 months of searing like a steak and then squatting under the driving rain in a steamy jungle on the outskirts of Manila, punctuated by four odd weeks of more or less tolerable weather thrown in for the regulation Autumn and Spring transitions.
Now, the Toronto winter is dreary and long, it’s true, and to walk home from High Park subway station on pitch black February evenings, scurrying like a frightened cockroach under the orange street lights between the apartment towers of Quebec Avenue, is to live through an almost fatal demonstration of the downdraft and vortex flow effects of tall buildings – look:
The long, thin concrete towers line both sides of the street like the closing jaws of a giant vice. There are those who insist that this isn’t a purpose-designed wind tunnel, but for that to be true, it would have to be generating a steady 270 knot air stream just by accident, I mean, sure, like anybody could be that dangerously incompetent at urban planning. Curiously, the deadly, frostbite-inducing blast of arctic air, whatever secret experimental purpose it serves, is always blowing directly in your face, no matter which direction you walk. This is true. I’ve proved it.
However, it’s the Toronto summer that sucks most roundly. Until I moved to Hog Town in the summer of 1985 (!), I’d never once in my life experienced the sort of heat that pounded down every day from the merciless sun of the GTA. When I grew up in Nova Scotia, we measured temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, and if an August day got to 80 or so, that was a stupid hot day. It was right some frigging hot. It might have gotten that way three or four times in a given summer; otherwise you were looking at 70s, and even 60s, with the evenings either cool or downright chilly. Despite the tendency towards rain and general dampness, the relative humidity wasn’t really a factor, as near as I can recall anyway. Steady breezes flowing to or from the ocean seemed to take care of it, and otherwise the mist and the clouds made you cold, not hot. Thus nobody I knew growing up had air conditioning – why would you? If it gets a little hot and stuffy, open a window, silly!
A good warm day, say 75 degrees Fahrenheit, is peaking at about 24 Celsius, so let’s be conservative and say a really hot Nova Scotia summer day would have a humidex of maybe 26-28 C. That’s how I grew up. To me, that’s still a hot day. To me, that’s uncomfortable, or getting there.
Imagine, then, the stunned, sweaty shock of waking up every day, that first summer in 1985, in an un-air conditioned apartment on the top floor of a four floor walk-up, sitting directly beneath a flat black tar roof, fixing to die, panting like a Golden Lab, and reading on the front page of the frigging Toronto Sun that today’s high was 35 with a humidex of 40. Day after god-awful day.
It was horrible. I hated it. I cursed the hideous Toronto summer, even before I started working at a law firm, and was forced to dog paddle through the liquid air in a suit and tie, while schleping back and forth between my reptile house of a dwelling and the blistering downtown core, riding on brutally crowded subway cattle cars that had no A/C, but only large noisy fans in the ceiling that circulated just enough air to keep the livestock from cooking off.
I hated it when I was feeding myself by painting the interiors of rich people’s houses in Rosedale, and had to leave the temperature-controlled havens of the wealthy every evening to come home to try to sleep inside an Easy Bake Oven at Carleton and Bleecker. I hated it when I moved to a craptacular new dwelling in Kensington Market, adjacent Chinatown – do you have any idea what that place smells like when the heat of Toronto starts broiling all the rotting refuse? Can you even imagine? I hated it when writing exams in first year law school, and they crammed us into this gymnasium that was so hot and humid that the paper in our exam booklets was limp and soft – you could crumple it up without making any crinkly sounds, just wad it up silently like it was wet kleenex. I hated it many years later, when I was finally settled enough to get a house, and realized that I couldn’t actually use the little backyard for 95% of the supposed BBQ season – on the average summer day it would be far more pleasant to go back inside, where the A/C was costing me 300 bucks a month in hydro bills, and sit on a sharp tack. The only happy organism on the property was a goddam wisteria that grew 18 inches a day in the tropical swelter.
Every summer I cursed hellish Toronto. I wailed every time the weather report came on, and some chirpy woman standing in front of a satellite map would exclaim that we had at least two more weeks of absolutely beautiful weather ahead, with highs ranging from 38-41! It was like somebody was trying to brainwash us into the Cult of Vulcan’s Forge. Punishing heat is Good. Punishing heat is Good. Relinquish your bodily fluids. Fear not your coming death, my children.
Oh how I yearned for the crisp, breezy summers of my lost youth in Nova Scotia.
Well then, happy ending, right? Because here I am, in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, finally back on the shores of my beloved Maritime homeland, where the classification of “temperate climate” is applied without irony! Happy happy, joy joy, yes?
Uh-huh. You don’t know jack about how the Cosmos works, do you? Sure, it used to be temperate around here, but not anymore! Nope, these days it’s just like living at the corner of Bloor and High Park. The humidex hasn’t dipped below 36 in three weeks. Every day here is now hotter than the hottest day I ever experienced in the 25 years I lived in Halifax before moving to Toronto. I brought Ontario back with me.
This is almost funny, in a hey-look-the-universe-screwed-Graeme-again kind of way, but the thing is, what I’m seeing here may just be a local manifestation of a long predicted global catastrophe that is now upon us. Everywhere in the world, like here, this is the hottest summer on record. Everywhere the effects of climate change, from droughts to flash floods to enormous wildfires, are being felt. The data are now incontrovertible. This is a climate map produced a couple of months ago by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which, somehow, the Republicans have failed to suppress:
Note how the little protuberance of Nova Scotia juts right into one of the “much warmer/record warmest” zones!
I can assure you, since this map was generated that block of deep brick-red has moved just far enough left to submerge the Nova Scotia South Shore.
This may be it. This may be normal from here on out. All those big fat climate pigeons are coming home to roost, and we’ve only ourselves to blame, but I sure was hoping for a few more years before it hit, and forever dashed my dreams of cool summer evenings by the sea.
It’s a good thing that I’m so relentlessly ebullient and upbeat, and nothing ever gets me down!
Post-script: at about seven this evening the heat broke. It’s 24, breezy, and heavenly. Never mind!